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No Glory

Chapter Text

 

a gift

 I

A Gift

(Art by Acnara)

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

There was no glory in this. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry stood on shaking legs, fingers quivering at his sides. His hands were empty. The stone was dropped in the woods, lost to grass and sticks and dirt. His wand was resting in his pocket, but it may as well have been on the other side of the world.

He would not reach for it. He would not defend himself.

There was no glory in this.

 

 

"…Harry Potter…"

Lord Voldemort was a distorted, serpentine apparition on the other side of a veil of smoke. His voice was a whisper, a frigid hiss interwoven with the light crackling of the flames.

"…The Boy Who Lived…"

There was no one else.

The Death Eaters fell away, the sounds of Hagrid's muffled shouts became silenced. There was a dying fire, a fractured wizard, and a trembling boy who was now a man with his chin jutted forward and his head held high.

The Dark Lord tilted his face to one side almost imperceptibly. Pensively.

Harry waited for death. Voldemort lifted his wand, and Harry's thoughts spun with a velocity that painted the world in an adrenaline-soaked blur. His fingers twitched but he did not let his body betray him. He would not move to protect himself. Harry awaited the blow of the killing curse, the end of it all; he would look death in the face unflinchingly, with eyes wide open -

"Legilimens."

The wrong curse.

Harry Potter fell into himself.

The Dark Lord's mental claws reached in and tore their way through Harry's psyche, dragging him down into his memories in a whirlwind of searing pain.

…Lightning flashes of Harry as an infant, wailing in his crib while a man in black robes kneels on the floor at his side, sobbing equally hard, ignoring the baby's cries as he clutches a woman to his chest… Beautiful and crimson, delicate and dead…

…Harry as a child, eleven years old and his scar on fire as a stone manifests in his pocket…

…The scar, always his scar - memories of its pain and its occasional, accompanied emotions. Voldemort was following that neurological pathway with a manic intensity, and Harry was being strung along for the ride. He tried to fight it, to shake the Dark Lord off, but it was hopeless.

No, he thought with horror, as Voldemort edged closer and closer to the most damning of realizations.

No. No. No.

The Dark Lord's power was earth-shattering, devastating. Harry could feel the ghost of an emotion that resembled joy at his pain.

Yes.

…Harry convulsing on the floor of the Ministry of Magic, burning alive in a scorching pyre of agony as the Dark Lord spoke with his lips, begged with his voice for a death which was denied him…

…Sixteen, and feeling detached emotions coursing through his mind in waves of fury, fear and happiness…

No, no, no—

…Seventeen, and realizing that the Dark Lord had finally divined where the Deathstick rested, at last, at last…

...Hallows or horcruxes, hallows or horcruxes…

No, no, no—

...Hidden underneath of a wooden floorboard, only an inch of dead tree between Harry James Potter and Lord Voldemort himself… Severus Snape begged, but his pleas fell on deaf ears…

'I regret it.'

He didn't.

Snape's memories were siphoned into a glass chalice, and Hermione Granger was offering them up into the Chosen One's hands—

No—

Yes.

Harry's memories dissolved into Severus Snape's memories, and the rabbit hole of the past became amplified, plunging in its duality.

Severus and Lily. Severus and Lily. Severus and Lily. Unrequited love that told the tale of a traitor in Lord Voldemort's midst.

Severus Snape…had managed the impossible task of deceiving the Dark Lord…

Harry snapped his eyes shut, using every inch of resistance that he had left in his tired, aching body. He reached for his wand, fumbling through his robes with desperate hands that trembled like a child who was freezing to death.

Lord Voldemort reacted so quickly it was inhuman. One second, he was a distorted white phantom on the other side of the fire, the next, he was there, right there, a mere inch in front of Harry's shaking form. A pale hand snatched at his face like a viper, sharp nails sinking into the skin of his cheeks and forcing his jaw up so that when Harry's eyes instinctively flew open, they were met with a searing, crimson gaze, so close, frighteningly close.

"Show me."

There was nothing he could do. Harry couldn't even scream as the Dark Lord once more ripped open his unwilling mind.

…The ghost-like memory of Albus Dumbledore proclaimed his damnation to a horrified Severus Snape…and it was over.

Horcrux.

Harry was wrenched back into reality. Voldemort kept ahold of his face, staring with piercing eyes into the depth of Harrys' own. Not hostile. Not murderous, not angry.

Analytical. Intellectual and searching, despite their stillness.

The silence was suffocating in every conceivable way. Harry could barely draw breath as the Dark Lord held him there, frozen by red eyes and snow white fingers wrapped around his jaw.

"…Kill me."

Harry finally choked the words out in a raspy voice. A plea. A desperate request for the Dark Lord to do what he'd always wanted to do, what he'd been trying to do for as long as Harry Potter had been the object of a meaningless prophecy.

For a time, the Dark Lord did not react. He merely continued to stare at the Boy Who Lived with that detached demeanor.

Then he smiled.

A small, crooked grin that made the already inhuman face of Lord Voldemort appear altogether demonic. He chuckled so softly that Harry was sure no one else but he could hear it. The soft air from his laughter was inexplicably chilly as it brushed against Harry's lips, sending shivers down his already shaking spine.

Voldemort's breath smelled like ice and blood.

The Dark Lord didn't move at all when he finally did speak. He kept Harry's eyes locked under his, pinned down with little more than a stare. His next words, spoken loudly enough for all of his followers to hear, would be the declaration that ripped Harry Potter's world to shreds.

"A change of plans."

Chapter Text

"Do you see it, Harry Potter?"

Lord Voldemort had swept behind Harry, almost imperceptible in his quickness and quietness, like he was more of a phantom than a man.

Yet the Dark Lord's cold hand never left Harry's face. Voldemort's grip tightened even further as he wrenched Harry's jaw upwards, forcing him to look to the sky. The Dark Lord's voice was in his ear, his tone soft and his breath cold.

"Do you see the stars, how they shine in my name? How the heavens bear my mark, how that great constellation rests above the castle like a glorious, celestial crown? How the blush in the sky foretells of a new dawn, a better dawn…my dawn… Do you see, Harry?"

The Dark Lord's other hand rested gently on his shoulder, a great contrast to the sharp nails which practically pierced the skin on his face. Harry could see it, the Dark Mark above Hogwarts - orbs of light that glittered and sparkled with an unnatural, emerald hue. The sun was just beginning to rise, causing the sky in the east to bleed crimson into the navy of the night.

But Harry couldn't speak. His throat was far too raw, his mind far too shaken. Even if he could have formed words, Harry would have remained silent. For what could he possibly say?

What could he possibly say?

Harry's trembling hand was hovering over his robe pocket, like he might still attempt to reach for his wand and fight. He didn't. He was surrounded by Death Eaters; the Dark Lord himself was wrapped around his backside like a serpent. There was no hope.

Voldemort laughed at his silence. "Remember this," he whispered. Voldemort's frigid breath made the hairs on Harry's neck stand on end and his heart freeze.

"Say farewell to the sky, Harry Potter…"

The brilliant stars dimmed.

Harry's knees buckled and his vision blurred. The sound of cruel, sadistic laughter sounded all around him, but it was strange and distorted, an abstract choir of mirth in a vast and empty chamber. The remnants of it followed him as he fell, echoing on the periphery of his mind like a sickening song.

The blackness consumed him.


It was dark.

Harry sat on an ice-cold floor with his back against a wall of stone. His body ached everywhere. His neck, when he attempted to lift his chin, screamed in protest as he moved, the muscles contracting in searing pain.

His wrists.

Harry's eyes flew open as full consciousness washed over him. His wrists, his wrists were shackled above his head in heavy, iron cuffs. He pulled down on them in a panic, only to be met with the biting sting of metal digging into his skin.

He exhaled sharply. The gasp echoed into the space which he realized, now, was a large cell.

A… familiar space.

Harry's eyes narrowed as he examined the floor, the walls, the tall, metal bars… and the realization came to him.

Malfoy Manor.

Harry forced back the bile that threatened to crawl its way up his throat. His mouth was terribly dry. He ran his tongue over his chapped lips, and it felt like sandpaper ghosting over spent charcoal. When he swallowed, it burned.

Dehydrated. He was extremely dehydrated.

Harry blinked dazedly in the dismal cell, his glasses somehow, thankfully, still perched on the brim of his nose. As his eyes adjusted, he looked down to see that he was in the same filthy robes that he'd been in before. The same clothes that he'd worn while battling at Hogwarts…

This singed fabric had seen the Fiendfyre of the Room of Requirement. This dark and dirty cloak had beheld chaos and war and death.

This unraveling stitching had witnessed Harry Potter fail.

Harry pulled at his shackles again, ignoring the pain to the best of his ability. So weak, his entire body felt so weak. He was lightheaded after just a very short and pitiful attempt at standing. His ears rang with a dull buzz.

…What had happened at Hogwarts?

Harry focused his hazy mind as well as he could manage towards rational thought. What had happened to his friends? To the Order? Were they still fighting? Was it all over?

Had…had Lord Voldemort really, truly won?

No.

Harry yanked on his confinements again, biting his tongue to stop from crying out. The iron echoed dissonantly in the empty air.

No, no, no-

Footsteps.

Harry stopped struggling at once, his head snapping to the side towards where he could see a soft light approaching. Adrenaline exploded in his veins, bringing his foggy mind abruptly into focus. His chest was heaving with anticipation, his raw throat on fire with every breath—

Not him.

A woman.

Harry stared in some strange mixture of relief and anxiety at the lithe form of Narcissa Malfoy. She held her wand aloft, the light radiating from the tip illuminating her pale face dramatically on one side. Her blonde hair seemed more silver than gold in the magical glow.

She paused at the iron gate, staring down at him with an undecipherable expression on her face. Harry said nothing. He wouldn't have known what to say, even if he could speak.

There was a long moment of silence in which Narcissa remained still, simply looking at him. Then he realized what it was, the emotion simmering in the depths of her eyes.

Pity.

Narcissa pointed her lit-up wand at the lock. It clicked open and she entered, approaching Harry and kneeling down at his side. Harry cringed and recoiled away as far as he could at this unexpected advance. Her features softened into something much gentler.

"I won't hurt you," she whispered so quietly that he could hardly discern the words. Harry peered up at her apprehensively.

Then, to his astonishment, she reached forward and brushed the hair across his forehead, moving the tangled, sweaty locks out of his eyes. Harry was so stunned at such a tender motion that he could do little more than gape at her.

"Draco has told me what you've done. How you saved him," she murmured. Harry did not react, only continued to stare. Her eyes scanned across his forehead as she soothingly brushed the matted hair away, over his lightning bolt scar… until they landed on his. The shimmering wand-light made her irises look like little bits of silver.

"I am in your debt. I will… I will do for you what I can."

Her voice broke and her face became deeply pitying again. Harry was beyond shocked at the genuine concern that radiated around her, the aura of compassion that shone in her eyes.

There was a moment of stillness. Then, more footsteps. Much quieter this time, and no light to accompany them. Her gray eyes darkened.

"He comes."

Narcissa was on her feet in an instant, standing over Harry and glaring down at him suddenly with a much more familiar look on her face. It was the same expression he'd seen on her before, like she was smelling something unpleasant. Disgusted.

Harry barely had time to register what those words meant before a cold voice cut across his panic like the sharp blade of a knife.

"How does he fare?"

Narcissa raised her wand to shed light on the darkest wizard of all time.

Lord Voldemort stood tall and still in the open entryway. His white skin looked even more unnaturally pale in this setting, and his eyes—those disturbing, scarlet eyes—were as vivid as ever. Slit pupils sliced them in half, two black slivers of impenetrable darkness.

"He's well enough, my Lord," Narcissa sneered. She glowered down at Harry like his very presence was a plague on her existence.

Voldemort said nothing in response. His gaze settled on his victim, and Harry's muscles tensed under the clinical stare.

He smirked.

"…Harry Potter…" Voldemort said softly. A moment later, he was in the exact same position that Narcissa had been in just moments before, leaning down over Harry so that their eyes were level.

Harry flinched from the sudden proximity as raw, undiluted fear licked its way up his spine. The iron shackles banged against the stone wall behind him.

The Dark Lord's malevolent grin widened.

"Leave us."

Narcissa bowed before she left, taking the light with her. The world—Harry's entire, bleak, hopeless world—seemed even more horrific in the darkness.

"Harry Potter…" Voldemort repeated his name slowly, like the words had flavor and he was savoring the taste of them on his tongue. His head tilted to one side, and Harry was sure that, were his skin not so deathly bright and pale, he would be able to make out nothing other than those scorching red eyes.

"…What to do with you?"

Harry swallowed thickly, yet for some reason—some insane reason—the Dark Lord's condescending and rhetorical question had caused him to find his voice.

"What happened?"

Harry's words sounded frayed, raspy; syllables coated in the ashes left behind by his burning throat.

Voldemort took his time in answering his vague and desperate plea for knowledge. With each passing second, Harry felt his anxiety mounting, his terror reaching thresholds unknown to him before.

"…What happened…" the Dark Lord echoed quietly. His sinister grin slipped away.

"I have won, Harry Potter…"

He reached forward, touching the tips of his icy fingers to the scar on Harry's forehead. Though it was an action very similar to what Narcissa Malfoy had just done, the effect could not have been more different. Harry twitched instinctively, trying in vain to shift away. He expected pain, searing pain, just as when he had touched him before, like always—

But to Harry's great shock, none came. And as he thought about it, he realized that there had been no pain in the forest either, when Voldemort had gripped his jaw so tightly it must have nearly drawn blood.

No pain.

Harry stared at him in obvious confusion. Voldemort did not explain.

"I have won, the Order has fallen… The most intelligent of your comrades have surrendered, the foolish ones have fled… but Lord Voldemort will find them… No one can outrun my wrath, my justice…"

He pulled his hand away from Harry's forehead. His eyes remained fixed on his own, steady and unblinking.

"Who—who—?" Harry couldn't even get the full question out, his words cut off by a combination of his own fear and inability to speak properly.

Voldemort laughed. "Perpetually concerned for the welfare of your inferiors, Harry. That has always been your downfall. Just as I told you before… Lord Voldemort knew it then, as he knows it now… Pathetic…"

Fury swelled in Harry's chest, and his fear momentarily left him. "No," he spat. "Friendship is not pathetic. Not that I would expect you to know. You're heartless. Soulless… almost."

The Dark Lord's eyes widened for a fraction of a second at Harry's sudden daring, and then they narrowed into a malicious glare. A wand was being pointed forcefully into the flesh of his throat a moment later, and Voldemort's anger was tangibly saturating the air in the cell. It was terrifying, and yet, at the same time… incredibly satisfying. Harry smirked.

"If you say anything like that ever again, you will pay for it dearly," Voldemort seethed, his icy breath dancing across Harry's dry and chapped lips.

Harry just grinned a bit broader. He was unsurprised when, a second later, rather than curse him, Voldemort had risen and was making a swift and silent exit.

"What is it?" Harry called before he made it to the gate. Voldemort's tall form froze in the entryway. "Scared that if you curse me, you might hurt it? This little fraction of your soul that's in me?"

He let out a bitter laugh. Harry was filled with a resentment so terrible that it clouded his mind.

"Are you afraid, Tom?"

Voldemort turned in a flash of blood-red rage.

"Crucio!"

Screams, terrible and painful and searing in his chest, tore their way out of his throat. Harry's entire body burned from his lungs to his lips, and the pain, the pain was everywhere. It crawled over his skin in waves of agony. It ripped its way through him from the inside out. The shackles clanged together vociferously behind him as he flailed.

He screamed until he couldn't anymore. Voldemort did not lift the curse for what felt like an eternity, but Harry could not be sure how long he was forced to endure it. Time felt skewed in the midst of such torture.

Finally, Voldemort ended his onslaught. Harry's muscles quivered in the aftereffects of the curse, his robes drenched in a cold sweat. He hacked up copious amount of blood.

…But the salty flavor in his mouth tasted like victory.

At some point, Harry wasn't even sure when or how, his spluttering coughs transitioned into fragmented, delirious laughter. The Dark Lord stood motionless in the entryway, cold and silent.

"I knew it," Harry spat out in a voice that was somehow both weaker and more determined than before. He stared boldly up into Voldemort's mask-like face.

"You're weak."

For a long moment, Lord Voldemort said nothing. Harry coughed some more, splattering his robes and the stone floor around him with blood.

Eventually, Voldemort approached him again. The Dark Lord lowered himself so that his face was less than an inch in front of Harry's. His spluttering ceased at once, like Voldemort had cast some wordless and wandless spell to freeze his body completely, including his convulsing lungs.

"That…" Voldemort began softly, his tone cold. His red eyes were smoldering.

"…will be the insult which you will regret for the rest of your life."

And then he was gone, departing in a motion that happened so quickly that Harry barely felt the breeze from his robes flutter over his skin. Lord Voldemort disappeared into the shadows, vanishing even before the door to his cell swung shut with a resounding bang.

Harry Potter was left alone in the dark, surrounded by nothing but blood, sweat, and stone.

Chapter Text

The darkness, the stillness, the cold…

Harry was suffocating in it.

Once he'd finally managed to stop coughing up blood, his world fell into a deep and unnerving silence. The cacophony of sounds that his own body made was all that he could hear. His ragged breathing. His sporadic pulse. The thumping of his heart that said with every beat:

Alive. Alive. Alive.

He shouldn't be.

Harry rested the back of his head against the wall, peering up at a stone ceiling he could hardly make out through the bleakness. He may have ceased in his hacking, but his body was still trembling. Whether it was from the after-effects of the Cruciatus Curse or the cold, he couldn't be sure. Maybe it was both.

How long had Voldemort been gone? What had he meant with those final parting words? That terrifying threat? Harry could barely focus his addled thoughts on it. He was so drained—emotionally, mentally, physically. He had no energy left for lucidity, no vigor left for fear or courage, for fight or flight.

He was just drifting off into unconsciousness when a familiar, dull light woke him. It was soft, but even the small glow made Harry's mind fill with something almost like relief. 

Narcissa.

The pale witch had returned, and Harry knew immediately that she was alone, because her face was compassionate once more. She entered into the cell unswervingly. In one hand she held her illuminated wand up high, in the other, a goblet.

She knelt at Harry's side. The pity exuding off of her was tangible.

"Aguamenti."

The goblet filled with water, and Harry's dry throat ignited with fierce want and need at the sight.

She raised the brim of the cup to his lips, and he drank as deeply as he could—a man literally dying from thirst. He nearly growled when she pulled it away after only a moment.

"Slowly," she said kindly but firmly. And it had been sage advice, for Harry started coughing, having nearly choked when he tried to swallow.

Narcissa waited patiently for him to stop so that he could try again. This time, when she lifted the goblet, he forced himself to drink gradually, but soon, much too soon, the cup ran dry. He moaned when she took it away.

"More," he gasped, licking the last drops from his chapped lips.

"Not yet." She set the goblet aside. "If you drink too much too quickly, you may not be able to keep it down. You're injured. You must move slowly, or you will come undone."

Her eyes roved over his trembling body. Harry wondered if she had heard his screams earlier, if they had carried out of the cell and up into the halls of the Malfoy Manor. Were Lucius and Draco home as well? Others?

Had they all heard the cries being ripped from the supposed Chosen One's lips?

Narcissa looked deeply sympathetic. She brushed the hair from his eyes again in a tender, motherly way. "Poor child," she whispered. "I am… so sorry."

Harry stared at her, amazed at how one cup of water affected him so profoundly. His mind, while still a bit foggy, was already much clearer than it had been just moments ago.

"What's… what's happened?"

His throat flared up in protest when he spoke, but he ignored the pain. He needed to ask, to know. "Who's died, who's-"

"Shhh…" Narcissa quieted him as she continued to detangle his matted hair. However, to Harry's extreme relief, she acknowledged his plea for knowledge and explained.

"Your friends, Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley… They've fled. As have most of the Order of the Phoenix. Everyone else who sided with the light before has now surrendered. The Dark Lord is being merciful. He is pardoning most all who swear fealty to his regime… He does not wish to see any more magical blood spilt…"

Harry felt an intense rush of relief. Ron and Hermione… They'd managed to escape, to run…

Because he knew, without a doubt, that once the Dark Lord discovered that the three of them had been destroying his horcruxes… There would be no 'pardon' for the likes of Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley. The only reason that he, Harry, was alive was because he just so happened to be one of them.

"…Does everyone think I'm dead?"

It was the only thing that Harry could think that the Dark Lord would do. What better way to destroy all hope for the side of the light than by proclaiming that their supposed hero was dead? Maybe he transfigured a branch or something after Harry had passed out—a fake body to fool the masses…

He was surprised when Narcissa shook her head. "No. He has told them that you fled. That you abandoned them when you were summoned to the Forest."

Harry's eyes widened in shock. His mind raced. Why would the Dark Lord do that? If Voldemort had told the whole world that he was on the run... Then Hermione and Ron...

A lump formed in Harry's throat. Without question, he knew that his two best friends would tear the world apart to find him. They would stop at nothing to help him, because they were so true and loyal and good and brave and -

And they would probably slip up at some point when they became desperate, and the Dark Lord would find them.

Narcissa's eyes darkened in understanding.

"You have to help me," Harry choked out, desperation drenching every word. "You have to help me get out of here - they'll never stop looking for me, and he'll find them, he'll kill them, h-he'll kill them…"

He knew it was hopeless before she even spoke. Her conflicted expression grew only more pronounced.

"I can't, child," she said, and she truly did sound remorseful. "I can't. You must understand. He would kill us all."

And of course he knew that was the truth. Harry's vision blurred as tears gathered at the corners of his eyes. He blinked them away.

"Oh, child." Narcissa's voice broke, and Harry was momentarily distracted from his fear by the most shocking of actions. Narcissa Malfoy had reached forward and put her arms around him, wrapping him in an embrace.

For a second, Harry's body tensed. He was unsure of how to react to this—being held by this regal and austere woman while shackled to the wall—but then something broke in him completely, and he found that he was burying his head into the crook of her shoulder, attempting and failing to stifle a few wet, painful sobs.

But she pulled away after only a moment. "Here. Drink more. We don't have much time, I'm afraid." Her hand was shaking slightly as she refilled the cup with her gently glowing wand. "I would help more, I would fix your clothes and loosen your shackles, but I cannot—he would know, and—"

She stopped short, offering up the goblet instead. Harry drank as quickly as he dared. It was heaven pouring down his throat, paradise on his tongue. Water, blessed water. It was life, and his mind was even clearer by the time he was finished with the second glass.

"Is he going to punish you? To be angry?" Harry asked in a voice that was still quite raspy. "If… if he finds out you've even given me something t-to drink?"

"No." Narcissa refilled the goblet one more time. "Keeping you well is a task I have been given. But kindness…"

Harry understood. She lifted the cup to his lips again and he drank deeply.

"I must go." She vanished the goblet and got to her feet. Her silvery eyes, so like her son's, were glistening with unshed tears. The conflict and fear in them, in combination with her next words, made Harry's stomach drop.

"He will be here soon, and—and... Oh, child."

Her voice had waned to something barely above a whisper. She turned and headed towards the iron gate, apparently unable to look at him a moment longer.

"I'm sorry."

And Harry was left by himself in the cold and the dark, lost in his own silence and fear.


 He wasn't alone for long.

This time, the light that alerted him to the presence of another being was accompanied by a myriad of sounds. Stumbling footsteps; pitiful, desperate, incomprehensible shouts; and worst, worst of all, the worst sound in all of existence—

Laughter.

High, maniacal. Feminine.

Harry would know that cackling anywhere. He heard it in his dreams. It haunted him in his nightmares and in his waking thoughts. It scratched against his eardrums like sharp nails being dragged across a chalkboard.

Bellatrix Lestrange.

Harry's aching body bristled at the sound of her approach. He pushed himself up against the wall as hard as he could, yanking on his restraints.

But it wasn't just Bellatrix Lestrange who came into view. Harry's heart, which had been hammering wildly with dreadful anticipation, froze at who was shoved forward the moment his cell door was swung open.

Neville Longbottom fell into a pile at his feet, sprawling out onto the stone floor of his confinement. He was shaking and pale and looked utterly horrified, but otherwise appeared unharmed. His eyes snapped up to Harry's as he tried—and failed—to stand.

"Neville," Harry breathed in disbelief.

"H-Harry."

His round, ashen face broke out into a smile. "Y-you are alive," he gasped, looking amazed.

"Aw, isn't this just sweet."

Bellatrix's voice was a saccharine drawl, that horrid baby-talk that made Harry's skin crawl. "Best friends, reunited. I am filled with emotion."

Harry glowered up at her. She pointed her wand at a small sconce on the wall, filling the cell with a much brighter form of magical light before extinguishing the soft glow from her wandtip. She then twirled her wand in her hand, smiling with brilliant red lips and shockingly white teeth.

Freedom suited Bellatrix Lestrange well. Other than the dark eyes and wild, black hair, there was little resemblance between the witch that he had met in the Department of Mysteries and the woman before him. The gauntness in her cheeks had vanished, the evidence of her years in Azkaban nearly gone.

Her smirk widened at Harry's glare. "Hello, Harry." She lost the baby-tone, choosing instead to address him in a voice that was practically a purr.

A wave of pure loathing rolled through Harry. "Don't you dare hurt him," he snarled, yanking on his restraints.

Bellatrix laughed. "You Gryffindor children! So bold! Do you really think you are in any position to be giving orders, ickle Harry?" She leaned over and poked him in the forehead with the tip of her wand. Harry had to resist the urge to attempt to bite her hand.

"There is a severe lack of respect and intelligence in these ones…"

Harry's hot rage went cold in an instant.

Voldemort surfaced from the shadows, having made no sound at all in his arrival. Neville let out a horrified whimper from where he still sat on the ground, shaking and pale as a ghost.

The Dark Lord's face was undecipherable, but his eyes were smoldering in what was palpable, overpowering hatred. And Harry was terrified, absolutely terrified, because that lethal gaze was not fixed on him…but on Neville.

Bellatrix was smiling, fingering the wand in her hand in excitement. "I know how to garner respect, my Lord…" she said. There was a dangerous glint in her eyes.

Voldemort's face remained impassive, his focus still on Neville. "Yes, Bellatrix… I am aware. And you shall… but first."

The Dark Lord swept further into the cell. Neville scrambled away as best as he could, trembling violently in fear as he did.

"Neville Longbottom…"

Neville looked like he might pass out at being personally addressed by Lord Voldemort, who towered over him, raw ire rolling off of his body in waves. "Why don't you tell Harry exactly why it is you are here? What it is you have done that has sealed your fate…?"

His scarlet eyes remained fixed on Neville, though he inclined his head slightly in Harry's direction. Neville's attention flickered to Harry. His face was contorted with fear. Voldemort waited for a moment, but Neville appeared to be rendered incapable of speech.

Bellatrix laughed again. Harry's panic-riddled mind was racing, looking at the form of his shaking friend and trying to think of some kind of miraculous plan of action that could get him out of there.

He could think of nothing.

"Say it."

Voldemort seethed the words with such venom that Harry's spine quivered. Neville whimpered again and flinched as though he'd just been struck, though Voldemort remained still and unmoving. Bellatrix fell silent at once.

"…What happened?"

Harry asked the question without even meaning to. Neville stared at him, and it seemed that he was able to find something there, by looking into the eyes of Harry Potter, which gave him the ability to respond.

"I killed the snake."

A whisper, but his words echoed in the cell. Harry's jaw fell open in shock.

"And why, exactly, did you murder my Nagini, Neville Longbottom…?"

Neville's focus shifted to Voldemort again, but the dark wizard's attention appeared to paralyze him. His already white face paled even more.

But Harry already knew the answer to that. His heart felt like it had suddenly turned to ice in his chest, because it was he, Harry, who had told Neville to kill the snake…

How he had managed it in the aftermath of the battle, Harry couldn't even fathom—but based on the way that Lord Voldemort was staring at him, with that cold and merciless fury, he knew it must be true.

Voldemort's eyes finally flickered to Harry, and Harry's frozen heart fluttered in his chest. "Because of the request of Harry Potter…" he hissed softly, choosing to answer his own question.

Dread like Harry had never known ripped through him.

Neville was going to die.

"D-don't kill him," Harry begged, his voice breaking. "Y-you're right, I t-told him to do it. Take it out on m-me instead—"

"I am not going to kill him." Voldemort said, his response eerily calm and composed.

"…You are."

Harry's eyes went wide. "Wh…what?"

Voldemort's intense gaze fell back to Neville, but it was Harry he addressed. "We are going to play a game, Harry Potter," he said quietly. Bellatrix was grinning like a madwoman at his side, red lips curled up in a smile of deepest amusement.

"Here is how it will work. My dear Bellatrix has ample experience with the Longbottom family. I am sure you are very aware of the mental condition of Alice and Frank Longbottom… Yet Neville, their young son, was left untouched. I am a wizard who does not like to leave things unfinished, Harry…"

His eyes flashed frighteningly as he looked down at his newest victim. "And I am curious, deeply curious. Will Neville Longbottom cling to sanity longer than his parents?"

He nodded almost unperceptively to Bellatrix, yet she instantly reacted, the motion she'd been waiting for.

"Cruico!"

Neville's screams saturated the air, and Harry lurched forward in his chains at the sound.

"Stop it! Stop it!" he shouted hoarsely. To his great surprise, Voldemort heeded his words. He lifted a hand in Bellatrix's direction a moment later, who, looking a bit disappointed, retracted the curse.

"P-please—" Harry whimpered pathetically, but Voldemort spoke over him.

"But we may not find out. I am not going to kill Neville Longbottom, no… But if he is lucky, you will." The Dark Lord stalked over to Harry until he was standing directly over him. "You can end his pain at any time, Harry. All you need to do is say the word, 'mercy'."

Harry shook his head in outright denial. "No. No, please don't do this, d-don't—"

Voldemort ignored him, gesturing again towards Bellatrix.

"Crucio!"

More screams of agony. Neville thrashed on the floor like a fish out of water, frantic and flailing and desperate for air.

"Stop!" Harry yelled over and over. But the Dark Lord had stepped away. He stood on the far side of the cell, allowing Bellatrix and her target to take up the majority of the space.

After a much longer time, the dark witch lifted the curse. "Oh, how I remember that night…" she crooned down to a spluttering and shaking boy. Neville's eyes snapped open, and she smiled sadistically. "Oh, yes… your father went first… Pathetic man, your father… weak… such a disappointment…"

"Fuck you."

Harry's brows shot up in disbelief at Neville's outburst. Bellatrix, too, looked severely shocked for a moment. Then she started laughing manically once more—but not for long. Her mirth transitioned seamlessly into rage.

"Crucio!"

"No!" Harry bellowed his protests again and again, but he was wholly ignored; Voldemort remained a still and emotionless spectator in the corner of the cell.

She took even longer to lift the curse this time. When she finally did, Neville was hacking blood. Harry's vision was blurring as unwanted tears began welling in his eyes.

"But your mother… Now there was a witch."

Bellatrix began prowling around Neville's convulsing body like a predator circling its prey. Her heels clicked against the stone floor. "Much stronger mind. Very resilient, very… brave.

She paused. "But, eventually, she began begging, too…"

Harry tasted bile in the back of his throat. Bellatrix raised her wand again.

"Crucio!"

Useless. Harry's desperate pleas fell on deaf ears; Bellatrix never once looked at him. Neville's screams were becoming disjointed and fragmented.

Harry was looking at the Dark Lord when he begged, now.

"Please st-stop this."

Voldemort did nothing.

"And it was nowhere near as much fun once she started begging," Bellatrix went on after she'd lifted the curse, like she was having a perfectly normal, casual conversation. "It was quite a bore, once it was obvious that they didn't know anything about what happened to our Lord… though they were an excellent outlet for my suffering, for my pain…"

She sighed. "Do you know what your mummy begged for, ickle baby Longbottom?"

Neville's unfocused eyes stared up at her, but he said nothing. She leaned down over him so that her face was hovering over his.

"…Mercy."

The Cruciatus Curse was cast wordlessly this time. Bellatrix thrust her wand at him like she was snapping a whip, sending Neville flying forward and slamming against the wall before he began writhing and howling in pain on the floor again.

She held the curse for what felt like a lifetime. Harry had stopped with his stream of unheard pleas and was openly crying now, powerless to do anything to prevent what was happening. He couldn't utter the command to kill his friend, yet it was his fault that this was happening to him. He had been the one to tell him to kill Nagini… He couldn't, he wouldn't… He shut his eyes and felt hot tears drip down his face, fogging his glasses…

Harry hadn't even noticed when Bellatrix stopped the curse. Neville had lost his voice somewhere in the midst of it, finally losing the ability even to scream.

There was a long moment of quietness.

"….P…please…"

Neville Longbottom's small cry was barely discernible, even in the silence. Harry forced himself to open his eyes—to face what was happening.

Neville was looking right at him; blood dripped down his chin and splattered down the front of his robes.

"…It's okay," he whispered gutturally, and his next words shattered Harry's heart.

"I f-forgive you."

Another stretch of silence. Harry shook his head in refusal. "No," he gasped, looking back to the Dark Lord again. "No, you c-can't do this, don't—please—"

"Crucio!"

Neville let out one raspy howl of pain at Bellatrix's next curse before contorting in silent agony. His back arched in an unnatural curve, and his arms and legs jerked violently. His eyes rolled around in his skull in a rapid, sickening way. Harry roared his protest.

Lord Voldemort did nothing.

There was no hope. Horrible, dreadful, unwanted acceptance washed over his mind. He felt the heavy weight of guilt in his soul at what he knew was the only way to end his suffering.

It was only a single word, but it was easily the hardest thing that Harry had ever done. He closed his tear filled eyes and bowed his head.

"…M-mercy."

Harry waited for the flash of green… but it didn't happen. The sound of thrashing limbs continued to assault his ears, despite his request.

He looked up. Bellatrix had madness simmering in her eyes as she continued to keep Neville under the Cruciatus Curse, ignoring Harry's word. Neville's mouth was dripping bloody foam.

"Mercy!" Harry sobbed, louder.

But Bellatrix seemed to have lost herself. Her focus on Neville was deeply unsettling in its intensity, as if she was in a world that consisted solely of herself, her victim, and the dark, seductive magic that was coursing through her.

Harry opened his mouth to scream at her again, but his plea was cut off by another voice.

"Avada Kedavra."

A brilliant, blinding green light filled the cell… and when it faded, Neville Longbottom was dead.

Harry let out a horrible sob. Neville's glassy eyes were open, aimed at the stone ceiling. They were lifeless and flat.

Bellatrix raised her wand, blinking dazedly like she'd just awoken from a dream. She looked a bit flustered as she gathered herself. When she turned to look at her master, she seemed embarrassed.

"I…I apologize, my Lord, I—"

But the Dark Lord's piercing gaze was fixed on Harry. "Leave us," he said, ignoring her apology and dismissing her.

Bellatrix blushed deeply when she bowed, but did not question his demand. She left.

And then they were alone—Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort… and the body of Neville Longbottom.

Harry had never felt more horrible in his life. He wanted to be angry, to be furious… but he wasn't. He was flooded with guilt. Tears continued to pour from his eyes, even when he clamped them shut. 

For a long time, Harry could feel the Dark Lord's analytical gaze fixated on him, but he said nothing. Just silent, eerie observation. Until—

"...Consider this my mercy, Harry."

When Harry opened his eyes again, it was to see that Voldemort was standing over him. His gaze was that same calculating stare—cold and unwavering.

"Neville Longbottom had sealed his fate when he killed Nagini. He was already damned. I was therefore merciful in using his life to teach you the lesson of what insulting Lord Voldemort will result in… but I could have brought others."

He bent down so that they were at eye-level, and Harry's broken heart leapt into his throat. "A few of your little friends may have escaped, but they cannot run forever… Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley… I will find them. And in the meantime, there is nothing stopping me from taking whomever I please. How many people would you have die for you, Harry? Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnegan… Ginevra Weasley…"

Harry felt a rush of nausea when Voldemort's eyes flashed knowingly at Ginny's name.

"No," Harry barely managed to gasp. "P-please no."

Voldemort was silent for a moment. Then, in a motion that was so fast that Harry hardly saw him move, the Dark Lord lunged forward, his white hands on the shackles at Harry's wrists and his face unnervingly close.

Harry froze at the sudden advance. Voldemort moved so that his face was right beside Harry's, his strangely cold, thin lips brushing against the shell of Harry's ear when he whispered:

"Do I need chains to hold you, Harry Potter?"

Harry shivered violently. He wasn't sure how he found it in himself to answer through the overwhelming fear.

"No."

The shackles broke open under Voldemort's hands. He rose fluidly to his feet, smirking as Harry's arms dropped to his sides. His wrists were coated in a layer of dry and crusty blood.

"No," he agreed lightly. "I do not."

Harry pulled his numb, shaking hands to his chest. They both looked at the dead form of Neville at the same time.

"Should I leave you with the body?" Voldemort asked conversationally. "Do you need to live with the proof of what it is you have done?"

Harry shook his head and closed his eyes. "Please don't," he whispered.

Harry hated himself. He hated himself, he hated himself, he hated himself.

Voldemort took a long time in responding. Harry didn't dare look at him. Eventually, there was a vibration in the air, the sensation of wordless magic. When Harry opened his eyes again, Neville was gone. Voldemort stared down at him, his smirk gone.

"Never again, Harry."

Then he left. The gate slammed shut behind him, and the light from the sconce went out.

Harry's tears continued to fall long after Voldemort's departure. He rubbed his raw, aching wrists, thinking only that he deserved the pain. He deserved it and more, so much more. Neville was dead, because of him… because… because he had told him…

It was only then, in the endless sea of his guilt and misery, that Harry fully realized it. He, Harry James Potter… was the only tie to immortality that the Dark Lord had left.

Chapter Text

At some point, despite all of his inner turmoil, Harry's exhaustion overwhelmed him and he fell into an uneasy slumber.

His dreams were vivid. He imagined he was running through a field of tall grass on bare feet. The mud between his toes felt soft and real.

Thunder sounded from a crimson sky, and it began to rain.

"…Harry Potter…"

A silky voice sounded from somewhere behind him. It was smooth and high, and somehow, he knew at once that it was parseltongue.

"…Harry Potter…"

He ran.

Harry sprinted through the field, and he could feel the grass grazing against his legs like fingernails clawing at his skin. The serpentine entity followed him. Though he saw nothing, he could feel its presence all around him, on one side, and then the other. It was the monster in the shadows, the basilisk in the pipes—

"…Harry Potter…"

He tripped and fell—it was going to be upon him any moment, he was doomed—

"Wake up!"

Harry's eyes flew open.

He barely managed not to scream as Narcissa hastily shifted out of the way in order to avoid his flailing arms. The pale witch had returned to him—entering his cell and lighting the sconce without him being aware.

There was the briefest beat of relief when he woke as he realized that no—he was not being hunted by snakes in a field of grass under a blood red sky—but the moment of reprieve deteriorated almost immediately. No… he was here, in a dungeon under Malfoy Manor, being held captive by Lord Voldemort… and… and—

Narcissa was watching him carefully. "I won't hurt you. Come here, child."

Harry hesitated, but he quickly realized that no good would come from ignoring her requests, even if he didn't trust her. She was sharp-minded and able-bodied… and she had a wand.

Harry had nothing.

He moved closer to her as she'd asked. Narcissa smiled encouragingly.

"Good. Here, let me see your arms. Hold them out for me."

Harry did as he was told. She examined them briefly before casting a quick spell over them. His bloody, sore wrists felt momentarily warm—a wonderful sensation after being in such a frigid cell for so long—and when the heat vanished, the skin was soft and new. Harry ran his fingers over his healed wrists appreciatively.

"Stay still, and I'll clean the blood and dirt from your robes…"

Narcissa's voice was calming and gentle. Harry nodded before closing his eyes, letting her perform whatever spells she deemed necessary. He felt the strange, reverberating sensation all around him as she magically cleansed his clothes and skin from the many layers of filth he'd managed to accumulate since the Battle of Hogwarts...

The battle in which he had been destined to die.

"There," she finally said, and Harry opened his eyes. "That's better, isn't it?"

She was forcing herself to smile at him, but Harry could see the pity simmering in her eyes. He said nothing, only nodded again. Though he knew that a 'thank you' was probably warranted, Harry had no voice with which to speak. His throat felt raw from the crying and shouting, and he was sure his eyes were bloodshot from all of the tears he had shed earlier.

Narcissa finally looked away when she realized he was not going to respond.

"More water." She conjured up another goblet and filled it. "You will need it. Drink, please."

Harry knew she was pleading because this time, despite how badly his body craved sustenance, his mind was numb and unresponsive; the hopelessness must have been evident on his face.

"Please," she whispered beseechingly. "You must… You m-must drink and be well, child…"

Then the understanding washed over him.

'Making sure you are well is a task that was given to me...'

If he, Harry, was not well… than Narcissa would take the punishment for it.

Feeling hollow, Harry reached for the goblet. Narcissa's face broke out into another pained smile as he took it.

The cool water had just touched his lips when the world exploded in pain.

Harry screamed in agony, and his first thought was death, this must be death—his scar was on fire with a piercing, horrific pain, as if his skull might just split open from the inside out—

The goblet went flying across the room and Harry's hands were on his face. Narcissa reached for him in a panic, frantically asking what was wrong, what happened—Harry wanted to tell her to move, to run, for this kind of pain could only mean the devastating fury of—

Lord Voldemort arrived with a calamitous bang as the cell gate was nearly unhinged. His aura of fury was suffocating, and Narcissa, screaming, was wandlessly and wordlessly flung across the cell and went sprawling to the other side. In a sweeping motion that was utterly inhuman, the Dark Lord reached down with one hand and grabbed Harry by the neck, effortlessly lifting him up and slamming him against the wall.

Harry could barely breathe through the pain of those cold, white fingers which were now wrapped tightly around his throat. Voldemort held him pinned to the stone wall so that his feet barely touched the ground, and he did it as easily as though Harry weighed nothing more than a rag doll. Harry gasped as narrowed, crimson eyes seared into his, emitting a hot-blooded hatred—

He didn't even have a second to defend himself. He wouldn't have been able to, even if he had tried.

Lord Voldemort scoured Harry's mind like a ravenous python, sinking his teeth in and tearing his thoughts apart, and there was no hope of escaping his wrath, none at all—Harry's memories came flying forward, lightning flashes of his past—

…Harry was in a tent, fearful and anxious… and there, at his side, was Hermione… she was crying and Ron was gone and he wasn't coming back and Harry needed to escape the claustrophobia of their pitiful, sorry excuse for shelter in the woods…

He was alone when he saw the doe.

Shimming and beautiful, the silver doe led him to the frozen lake…

Harry watched in a horrified trance as the top layer of ice cracked beneath his spell. Fumbling and nervous, he stripped off layers of clothing before boldly diving in, and through sheer force of will was able to reclaim the sword of Gryffindor… But he only managed to escape with his life from the frigid pool because of the aid of his wayward friend; it was Ron, Ron had come back…

Ronald Weasley pulled him up from the pond, and the moment he hit solid ground he coughed up lungfuls of liquid, hacking out water while his long-lost ally thumped his back and reached forcefully for—

For the cause of his near-demise, of his burning agony—the locket—

It happened in an even more dizzying blur the second time around. The locket fell open at Harry's command, and before he knew it, Ron was swinging the sword in a crazed and frenzied blur—

The memory deteriorated in a manic haze, and the next thing Harry knew, they were at Hogwarts…

The very recent incident in which he, Harry, had braved the Room of Requirement in order to find the diadem…

And find it he had. Lord Voldemort watched in a maddening fury as Harry located the lost artifact, dodged Fiendfyre, and then, at the very last possible moment, had decided to save the life of Draco Malfoy…

He caught the diadem on the way out of the Room, but too late—the enchanted fire had already affected it too much, and before they had even touched the ground it was weeping unnatural, obsidian tears…

There was a snarl of fury from the real world which caused Harry to momentarily come to his senses. He clamped his eyes shut and tried for all he was worth to think of nothing—

But such a task was impossible. Unnatural winds tore through the cell, and Narcissa cried out in fear. Voldemort's grip around Harry's throat tightened when he hissed:

"Show me, or I will kill them all."

Harry did not want or need to know who was meant by that statement. Utterly terrified, he opened his eyes…and Lord Voldemort saw.

…The diadem, gone.

The cup, which used to lay in the Lestrange Vault at Gringotts…gone.

The ring, gone.

The diary, the locket, Nagini…all gone.

Only—

The Dark Lord's screech of fury was deafening. Harry was flung forcefully to the ground, the back of his skull colliding violently with the stone floor, and for the briefest moment the world went black—Voldemort's powerful, magical aura saturated the air, causing his robes to billow and the light to flicker and Harry could only imagine that both he and Narcissa were screaming, but he could not hear anything over the loud buzzing that had begun to sound in his ears the moment his head had hit the concrete.

And then the impossible winds stopped. The light ceased in its ominous flickering, and the room was still and silent but for the the high-pitched note in Harry's ears that continued to ring.

Harry's head was swimming. His mind was in a haze, clouded by fear and the light-headedness from being so brutally assaulted. Everything around him was blurred, and he vaguely registered that his glasses must have been flung from his face when he had been thrown.

Lord Voldemort said something. His tone was ice-cold and deadly, but his words were indecipherable through the reverberating buzzing that refused to fade.

The Dark Lord left.

Harry blinked owlishly as his distorted form retreated into the shadows. He barely felt the hands on his shoulders as Narcissa helped to prop him up.

Magic washed over him, and his mind became lucid once more. The ringing in his ears ceased. He was shaking. Harry's body was quivering from the after-effects of his mind being torn asunder… but not nearly as badly as Narcissa Malfoy was.

The blonde woman hardly managed to put his glasses back on his face, her fingers were trembling so terribly. Harry reached up to adjust them. His scar, he noted numbly… It was no longer searing in a sharp, intense pain, but aching in a dull throb…

Something wet dripped onto his eyelashes. Harry reached up to his forehead, and when he pulled his hand away, it was to find that his fingertips were coated in a thin layer of blood.

Narcissa was staring at him in horror. "Your…your scar…h-here…"

She pointed a shaking wand to his forehead…but nothing happened. Her face contorted in confusion before she tried again.

Nothing. The blood continued to drip onto Harry's nose and glasses. She settled for conjuring up a white piece of fabric. "H-hold this there…press firmly…" she whispered. Harry obeyed, first wiping the blood from his face.

Narcissa continued to stare at him, clearly in a state of shock at what had just transpired. Harry wondered how many times she had seen the Dark Lord in such a fury. Had she ever? Had Narcissa Malfoy been present when Lord Voldemort, newly resurrected, had discovered that her husband had lost the diary, or when he had realized with certainty that his first horcrux was damaged beyond magical repair?

Just like the others were. Harry wondered what would have happened to him just now, were not a horcrux himself.

The only one.

"What… what did he s-see, child?"

Narcissa's voice quivered when she spoke. Harry knew she asked only because of her concern for her family, to know if the Dark Lord had seen anything that would cause him to be angry with her, Draco, or Lucius… and while Voldemort had seen the moment where Harry had saved Draco's life, he did not think that the Dark Lord would be angry towards Draco for what happened in the Room of Requirement. He had been fighting Harry, after all, and Draco did not even know his horcruxes existed in the first place…

Neither did Narcissa. And Harry knew he could never tell her, or it would mean her death.

Harry just shook his head solemnly. "…I… Nothing to endanger you," he said.

Narcissa assessed him carefully, looking very much like she did not believe him and was considering asking again, but eventually she nodded. She was still shaking like a leaf.

Narcissa retrieved the goblet, refilled it with water, and offered it to him. Harry held it numbly with both of his trembling hands. Very slowly, he took small, tentative sips. It took all of his concentration to simply not spill the liquid all over himself.

There was a long stretch of silence while he drank. Narcissa was staring blankly into the lit sconce on the wall, her expression eerily vacant.

Finally, once the goblet was empty, Harry broke the silence.

"What did he say?"

Narcissa's eyes fell to him. They still looked slightly glassy. "…What?" she asked, shaking her head.

"Before he left, he s-said something, but I couldn't hear it over the ringing in my ears… What did he say?"

She swallowed thickly. Her gaze shifted back to the light on the wall, and the soft glow made the gray in her eyes shimmer like silver.

"Heal him," she said quietly, repeating the Dark Lord's parting words. Her voice carried none of the icy hatred that Voldemort's did, however. Her tone was flat and empty.

"His life is… so precious.'"

Chapter Text

Time felt warped and skewed.

The windowless cell was perpetually dark, save for the few times when Narcissa appeared, and were it not for her Harry would have had no idea how long he'd been there.

The last time she'd entered, she'd told him that it had been nearly two days.

Two days, and no news of Hermione or Ron.

Two days, and Voldemort had not returned.

Harry had little else to do in his prison other than speculate wildly on where his friends were hiding, how they were faring… and what the Dark Lord made of the revelation that he, Harry James Potter, was Lord Voldemort's very last means of eternal life.

Obviously, he was enraged—Voldemort had, after all, never intended to make his prophesized enemy a horcrux in the first place. If things had worked out differently, Harry thought, perhaps, maybe, after that initial anger had dwindled, the Dark Lord might have settled into being accepting of that fact. After all, what harm was one more tie to immortal life, intentional or otherwise?

The harm was, of course, in that Harry was not an inanimate diary or locket or chalice, but a very cognizant, aware, independent human being with a entire soul of his own. An individual who happened to be an acute victim of the Dark Lord's merciless regime; an orphan subjected to a horrible childhood who never even knew what he was until he inevitably received a letter from Hogwarts, all because Voldemort had murdered his parents and tried to murder him upon hearing an ominous prophecy. One which only became significant in the end because he, Lord Voldemort, secretly terrified at the prospect of a potential, worthy adversary, had acted and therefore given it meaning himself.

Harry would have been a normal boy were it not for the neurotic tendencies of an unstable Dark Lord. The prophecy concerning a child being born as the seventh month dies would have just been one of a thousand meaningless, glass spheres in the Department of Mysteries if Voldemort had only brushed the young Severus Snape's words aside.

But that wasn't what happened.

Instead, the unhinged mass murderer had taken what he'd heard of Trelawney's proclamation very seriously indeed, and had consequently and inadvertently fractured his already shredded soul… leaving behind a fragment which latched on to the only living being left in that broken home.

Harry was the only horcrux left, and he was the only one which Voldemort had not carefully planned for. And then, to find out that it was he, Harry Potter, his self-made, prophesized enemy and Dumbledore's man, through and through, who also happened to be his soul carrier… to discover that it had been he who had been destroying the other horcruxes himself?

Harry could only imagine what kind of internal turmoil this stirred in the old, dangerously powerful dark wizard, to not be able to kill the one person he surely wanted to murder above all others.

…Perhaps, Harry mused morbidly, if he had figured it out sooner…Voldemort might have tried a bit harder to sway Harry to his side when they had first met. When he was eleven, young and vulnerable in front of the Mirror of Erised.

We could bring them back, Harry… Together…

…But such long-ago recollections hardly mattered. Harry was here now, and he had no idea how the Dark Lord was going to handle this current, tragic state of affairs.

For his caretaker's part, the encounter with the Dark Lord had shaken Narcissa Malfoy very, very badly.

While she was still kind towards Harry, she never lingered long. More than likely, she was afraid that Lord Voldemort may appear at any moment, lethally incensed for any number of reasons towards Harry Potter and wholly uncaring as to whether or not Narcissa happened to be present. The Dark Lord was an inferno in his fury, and he destroyed everyone and everything in his path without concern.

Harry could not blame her for not staying long.

He was beginning to wonder if Voldemort would ever return at all, or if he planned to keep Harry here indefinitely, alone but alive and well. Physically well. A task which poor Narcissa Malfoy had the burden of shouldering.

She brought him water and bread. Nauseated, Harry only managed to find it in himself to eat because he knew that if he did not, the blame for his refusal would fall on her. But Narcissa was gentle and sympathetic, even going so far as to create a small addition to the cell that served as a tiny washroom of sorts. It wasn't closed off, but it was far better than the alternative which Harry had been envisioning—some kind of degrading bucket in the corner or something. He supposed she couldn't afford him any real comforts, because if she did, it could invoke the unintentional wrath of the Dark Lord.

And she had a family to think of. Again, Harry could not blame her.

Harry's world was a repetitious sea of fear, shame, and suspense. And while he was horribly exhausted in every conceivable way, the continual stream of adrenaline coursing through his veins made sleep a nearly impossible task—not to mention the permanent chill in the air. Harry found that he was constantly cold, no matter how he huddled into himself and shivered.

Rarely, despite this, despite everything, he would sometimes begin to nod off, only to awaken with a start moments later, thinking that he heard someone approaching the cell in the darkness. But it was only ever his imagination, and Narcissa was always proceeded by the soft light from her wand, anyway.

Harry had just been in one of his semi-conscious phases when that familiar glow caused him to jump.

It startled him more than usual this time, because she had just been there moments before to bring him water. Panic gripped him from the inside. He could only assume that the reason for such a swift return would mean something sinister—but he was even more shocked to see that, as she approached the iron gates, she was smiling, looking genuinely warm and happy. Harry was instantly drawn to what she held in her hands, and, amazingly, he found himself smiling too.

A blanket.

She entered into the cell. In her arms was a thin, ratty looking sheet and a pillow that was stained and old. Harry hardly cared about the state of them, though; he was used to far worse beddings from when he'd lived with the Dursley's under the cupboard—yet when Narcissa handed them over, his grin broadened significantly.

They may have looked shabby, but they felt impossibly thick and so very warm. She had enchanted them to look old and worn like that, she must have, because the material beneath his fingers was luxuriously soft, like nothing he'd ever felt before in his life, and they radiated an impossible, magical heat. He looked up at her, beaming, and it truly, physically hurt his face to smile so widely, it had been so long.

Harry opened his mouth to thank her, but she quickly put a finger to his lips to silence him. Instead, she smirked knowingly, and gave him a quick wink as she stepped away.

Our little secret, she said, without actually saying anything at all.

Harry was still grinning stupidly after she left. For some strange, undecipherable reason, the warmth of the enchanted fabric in his arms filled him with a sense of something almost like hope. He knew it was completely unreasonable—he was Lord Voldemort's captive and his last horcrux, he was defenseless in a cell under Malfoy Manor, and he was damned, utterly damned...but as he swathed himself in the illusory blanket and curled into the fetal position in the corner on the floor, his head resting on the cushy pillow which emitted the same heat, the magic warmed more than his body, and he blessedly fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.


 

When he first awoke, in was in a state of pure, blissful ignorance.

Harry was in an ephemeral existence of non-lucidity, his mind not yet properly cognizant. Perhaps waking up to total blackness added to this, because for a fleeting moment he questioned where he was, how he had gotten there, why was the tent so dark, and where were Ron and Hermione…?

It was a short-lived reprieve. The first thing that brought him crashing back to reality was the simple, instinctual act of reaching for his glasses—from a bedside table which was not there, as he had never taken them off in the first place, because he was on a stone floor, in a cell, at Malfoy Manor—

The dreadful realizations smashed together in his mind as his eyes flew open, and if he hadn't already been on the brink of a full-blown panic attack, he certainly was at the sight that greeted him.

Everything was in darkness…except for the narrowed, blood-red gaze that was silently, piercingly fixated on him from the other side of the cell.

Harry would have screamed in shock at the unexpected presence of Lord Voldemort just feet away upon awakening, but his heart seemed to physically lurch upwards and lodge itself in his throat, cutting off any and all sound that may have escaped his lips. He clutched the blanket tightly to his chest and recoiled, pulse racing and adrenaline searing in his veins.

His eyes adjusted slightly to the darkness. Lord Voldemort did not react. He did not even blink at Harry's sudden and fearful retreat against the wall, only continued to stare at him through menacing slits of vivid crimson.

How long had he been standing in the shadows like that, watching him sleep?

Now that Harry was painfully mindful of the Dark Lord being there, it seemed insane that he could manage for a moment to not be aware of his presence, asleep or otherwise. Voldemort's energy was heavy and dark; a dense, intoxicating aura that made the very air feel as though it had weight to it.

Harry's labored breathing was fast and loud. The sound of it echoed ominously in the cell, like the entire stone enclosure was sentient, alive and afraid.

Voldemort still did not react.

This went on for an unprecedented amount of time. Harry could do nothing but sit there, attempting to breathe properly while he waited in dreadful anticipation for the Dark Lord to finally reveal whatever reason it was he had for returning.

"…Harry Potter."

There was no suppressing the violent shiver that shot up Harry's spine. He bit his lip to stop from making some kind of horrible, pathetic sound. Voldemort blinked once. Harry could barely make out his impossibly white skin as he tilted his head to one side, a curious gleam shining in the depths of his scarlet gaze.

Inquisitive, thoughtful.

"…My human horcrux."

Angry.

A different brand of hatred emanated from the imposing figure of Lord Voldemort tonight. It was not the wild, untamable fury of a cyclone as it had been days before, when he had scoured Harry's mind and seen the way in which his horcruxes had been destroyed. No, the Dark Lord had composed himself…but the vast amount of animosity, cold and controlled as it now was, had not waned even slightly.

Those scarlet slits for eyes singularly harbored loathing as they stared down at him. Harry said nothing, only tried desperately to calm his rapidly beating heart.

Lord Voldemort slowly advanced with the smooth, inhuman grace of a serpent. Harry would have retracted further away were his back not already flush against the stone wall behind him.

Then, in a rapid, fluid motion, the Dark Lord's narrowed eyes were level with his own, those irises bleeding with a hue that sang of bloodshed.

Harry's racing heart stopped altogether.

"Do you remember this, Harry?"

His scar exploded in pain.

A ripple of white-hot agony burst across his forehead, sending waves of horrific, searing anguish throughout his entire body. Harry screamed at the sensation; it was horrible, it was too much, he could not bear it, he could not—

It ceased. Only seconds later, the suffering ended, and it had dissipated so quickly and entirely that Harry felt he might have imagined the intensity of it in the first place.

But the coy, sinister smirk that formed on Voldemort's lips indicated otherwise. Harry swallowed thickly at the Dark Lord's grin.

There was another long moment of silence before the dark wizard spoke again. "I asked you a question," Voldemort murmured softly. He leaned in closer, and Harry inhaled the familiar scent of blood and ice on his breath. "Do you remember that pain…?"

Harry couldn't find it in himself to speak, so he settled for nodding instead. At the same time, he reached a hand up to his forehead, and was at least relieved to find that his scar was not bleeding again.

It hadn't stopped weeping blood for hours, the last time he had felt Lord Voldemort's wrath.

The Dark Lord's grin became more twisted. "Good," he all but crooned, having watched the way Harry's fingers grazed his own scar inquisitively. "You do not enjoy that pain, do you, Harry…?"

Voldemort's intense gaze suddenly became softer, his expression less menacing. His red eyes stared unwaveringly into Harry's, shockingly, uncharacteristically gentle in their steadfastness. Harry was so stunned by this atypical demeanor that he hardly knew how to react. He was barely able to shake his head 'no', and even when he did, it felt foreign and wrong.

Voldemort smiled.

Harry had a deep sense of foreboding.

An even more warped, demented grin stretched across the Dark Lord's lips, and it made Harry's skin crawl in response. "I did not think so, no…" Voldemort murmured, moving his face closer to Harry's in the darkness. "You prefer pleasure over pain, just like every man… Don't you, Harry…?"

Voldemort lifted his pale, phantom-like hand. He hesitated slightly, letting it hover over Harry's scar and inhaling audibly like he, too, was filled with exhilaration about what was about to transpire.

"Don't you…?"

The Dark Lord ghosted his fingertips over Harry's forehead, and the moment their skin met, everything shifted and fell apart.

A burst of weightless, beautiful warmth that had nothing to do with the enchanted fabric draped over his legs exploded in Harry's mind. It was the antithesis of the pain he usually experienced, the complete opposite of the suffering—instead, he was filled with a lovely, almost dizzying buoyancy which radiated from where Voldemort's fingers brushed over his face, and he found himself leaning into his hand, clinging to this impossible, alluring sensation—

Harry's mind twisted in an unfathomable way. He was himself and he was not, he was a man and he was the snake, that same, serpentine creature which was coiled so intimately around him that he did not know where he ended and it began, and for a fleeting, transient moment Harry saw himself through eyes that were his and yet were not his, vision that was inexplicably clear despite the obscurity of the darkness surrounding them; he saw a raven-haired boy with parted lips and eyes fluttering close at his touch, and he could feel his own fractured self in this unfortunate child, deep within the boy's own, unmarred, virgin soul, and he could feel that, too—the overwhelming, all-encompassing sensation of being pure and whole and he wanted more—he leaned forward so that their foreheads were nearly touching, and the powerful feeling of blissful weightlessness escalated—the boy sucked in a sharp breath—

Everything stopped.

Harry blinked dazedly as the Dark Lord retracted his hand as though Harry's skin had burned him, and the beautiful sensation of light and warmth vanished. Voldemort quickly stood, backing away and receding to the far side of the cell.

He stared down at Harry in a way that was nothing at all like how he had been glaring before. His scarlet eyes were wide in shock, and, it was difficult to tell in the darkness for certain, but Harry thought that he almost looked…afraid.

Obviously, whatever the Dark Lord had done just now, whatever it was he'd anticipated…he had not expected that. To be flooded with such an indescribable weightlessness, to be swept up in such a powerful rush of light…

Voldemort continued to stare down at him, a plethora of contradictory emotions twisting his pale features in a way that looked very out of place on the Dark Lord.

"…What was that?"

Harry surprised even himself at his question, which seemingly left his mouth without his permission.

Voldemort's expression quickly slid into a glower. The sound of Harry's voice had, apparently, reminded him of just who it was he was towering over. Harry felt a spark of annoyance when he didn't say anything, only glared furiously in silence.

"What did you just do?" Harry tried again, his old, typical recklessness resurfacing.

For a moment, it looked as though Voldemort might respond, a strange flicker of something like consideration cutting across his scowl—but then, without a word, the Dark Lord soundlessly swept from the cell, disappearing into the shadows and leaving Harry with no explanation whatsoever. The gate swung shut behind him, and Harry was once more alone.

He stared vacantly into the darkness where Voldemort had vanished. His mind was racing, reeling over what had just happened, trying to make sense of it all. It had only lasted a few seconds, that extraordinary, powerful feeling that had consumed him when Voldemort touched his face…but the strangest sensation of all had not been the—and he hated to even think it, considering who he was referring to—pleasure, but the outlandish experience of having seen the world, however briefly, through Lord Voldemort's eyes…

It sounded ludicrous, to come to the conclusion that he eventually did. Harry continued to stare blankly into nothingness, and though he knew he was entirely alone, now, in his cold, iron cage, he found the words leaving his lips anyway, answering his own question like he was whispering a secret to the shadows.

"…You were feeling my soul…"

Chapter Text

Harry was beginning to wonder if he would ever see daylight again.

Voldemort had left him hours ago, alone and confused in the darkness. He had no idea what to make of the strange incident which had occurred, but he was certain it had not been what Voldemort thought would happen. Which begged the question: What had the Dark Lord been hoping for when he breached the connection of their souls, aware, for the first time while doing so, that Harry was a horcrux?

…Dumbledore… The headmaster had once said something to him about why it was he thought that Nagini was a horcrux… Something about Voldemort having a substantial amount of control over her, even for a parselmouth…

Was that what Voldemort had been hoping to do? Control him?

Harry shivered violently, gathering up the blanket around him. Well, if that was what he'd been going for, he'd failed miserably. Harry had felt Voldemort's rush of vicious emotions right alongside his own, his shock and astonishment at the unexpected weightlessness and his overwhelming—

Harry shuddered again. He couldn't even think it without feeling sick. His own face, too, had been a highly disturbing sight. He'd felt that pull towards Voldemort's touch like a magnet—a primal need to feel, to connect with the monstrosity of a man in front of him…

Harry nearly blanched. The horcrux. It was just the horcrux. It was the fraction of the Dark Lord's soul that was currently stuck in him, and… and he would figure out a way to get rid of it.

He had to. He had to.

Harry rubbed his temples, weary. How had it gotten to this point? He, Harry, a captive… Neville, tortured and murdered right in front of him… Hermione and Ron, on the run…

And how long could they possibly stay hidden? Harry bit his lip as he contemplated where they might be. Perhaps they had returned to Grimmauld Place…? But no, that would be stupid, seeing as a Death Eater had gained access to it accidentally, when they'd apparated back…

Oh, what Harry wouldn't give to be back at Grimmauld Place. It had seemed miserable at the time, but now, in hindsight, the entire experience felt like it had been a long holiday. Ron and Hermione at his sides, a roof over their heads… comfortable beds and warm, delicious meals… at least, once Kreacher had started to—

Harry nearly yelped. Kreacher!

Wasn't that exactly how they had escaped from this cell last time? Only it had been Dobby who had come to their rescue… Harry's heart ached at the thought of the poor, fallen creature who had sacrificed himself for them, but he forced such painful recollections away. Kreacher. Kreacher was still alive, and he, Harry, was still technically his master… If Harry could get him to appear, he could find Hermione and Ron before they did something stupid, before they were inevitably tracked down…

'Do I need chains to hold you, Harry Potter…?'

The recollection of Voldemort's threat in his ear sent shivers down Harry's spine, but he couldn't simply not try. If he didn't escape, then there was no hope for ending the war… and no one would be safe, ever again.

Harry swallowed thickly. If he summoned Kreacher now, would the old elf appear? Had the Malfoys—or the Dark Lord himself—put any extra wards in place in order to prevent such a thing from happening again?

Probably, Harry thought. But there was only one way to find out. He cleared his throat before calling into the dark.

"…Kreacher?"

A heartbeat.

And then—

Crack. The sound like a gunshot nearly gave Harry a heart attack when it shattered the long silence in the cell.

"…M-master Potter…?"

Harry could barely make him out in the darkness, the elf's tiny frame visible only by his giant, reflective eyes. He didn't seem to be able to see in the dreary cell any better than Harry—Kreacher was turned the wrong way, looking, confused—

"Kreacher!" Harry hissed, and the elf turned. Harry's body was trembling, adrenaline coursing through his veins. He jumped up at once, tossing the charmed blanket aside. "We need to leave, we need to—"

Someone screamed.

A horrid, blood-curdling screech ripped through the air. High-pitched and horrific, it echoed in the stagnant cell like a choir of suffering, bouncing off the stone walls and shaking Harry's very bones. Before Harry could so much as draw breath, something cold and hard was wrapping around his waist, yanking him backwards—

The chains—the chains hanging from the wall, which Voldemort had released him from—had sprung to life, literally. They were glowing now, a bright, furious red, and were bathing the entire cell in a vivid crimson. They coiled and wrapped around his body, and Harry saw, with a wave of horror, that they were no longer chains at all, but—but serpents; they had turned into writhing, hissing snakes—they pinned his arms to his sides, made it impossible to stay on his feet—

There was a blinding flash and a slashing curse that cut across the room at the very same time that Harry toppled and fell. He landed painfully on his side, eyes closed as he had braced for the impact of his head hitting the stones, and for a moment after the impact Harry's head was filled with a high-pitched ringing. He drew in a sharp breath. When his eyes fluttered open, it was to levelly meet that of Kreacher's...

Or Kreacher's head, at least.

The elf's body was clear on the other side of the cell. There was a violent splash of scarlet splattered across the wall, and the blood continued to spout from his neck. Kreacher's eyes were wide and vacant. The glowing serpents that had once been chains danced in the reflection of his unseeing eyes.

The screaming stopped.

There was a beat of silence in which Harry could do nothing but stare into the dead eyes of his house elf, too horror-stricken to so much as breathe—

Then his scar exploded in pain.

Voldemort appeared in a flash of pure, undiluted wrath. It was even worse than the last time he had done so—the cell gate nearly shattered apart, winds like a cyclone whipped across his skin—and Voldemort, bathed in the light of the glowing, scarlet snakes which coiled themselves around Harry's body, was a more terrifying sight than ever before.

The Dark Lord's eyes were blazing, but his face was cold and undecipherable. He looked down at Harry from the entrance of the cell with a flat expression.

The winds stopped. The pain in his scar stopped.

The entire world seemed to come to a standstill for a moment as Voldemort stared down at his horrified human horcrux. Harry's panic was so strong he could not breathe.

Voldemort lifted a hand, and with one long, spidery finger, beckoned to him—a seemingly mocking 'come hither' motion, and the snakes which held Harry pulled him to his feet, dragged him across the floor until he was directly in front of the Dark Lord, face to face.

Voldemort continued to simply look at him for a moment. Harry's heart was lodged somewhere in his throat, making him all too aware of its thundering pulse. 

"Oh, Harry…"

The Dark Lord's whispered voice made Harry's hair stand on end. Voldemort reached out to touch his face, and Harry was far too paralyzed in fear to attempt to pull away. He braced himself for that horrible agony in his scar, grit his teeth and held his breath—

Oh…oh.

Voldemort dragged his nails softly down Harry's cheek, and accompanying the physical contact was that strange rush of warmth, that horrible pull like a lure towards the monster.

"Do you take me for a fool, Harry Potter?" Voldemort asked, leaving his fingers under Harry's chin, grazing his skin. He looked at Harry intently, like a specimen he might one day dissect and take apart, piece by piece, until he learned its every intricacy. 

Harry couldn't possibly form words at that moment. His mind was too clouded with fear and—and that impossible, horrible yearning—

But then the warmth vanished and he was screaming, the weightless buoyancy instantly replaced by the far more familiar sensation of white-hot pain in his scar. Voldemort's hand was in his hair, fingers curled around his unruly locks and pulling, hard, yanking his head back and sending waves of anguish shooting down his spine—

It was then that Voldemort's eerie composure cracked, contorting in rage. His inhuman features twisted into something ruthless and fierce, and when he seethed it was so that his lips were hovering an inch from Harry's face, and Harry could smell blood and ice and—

"Do you take me for a fool, Harry Potter? Did you think I would not be aware of any living entity that were to enter this cell? Did you think I would ever overlook such details ever again?"

Harry's heart was beating so rapidly he was sure it must soon fail. Voldemort stared into his eyes with a debilitating rage, and it took Harry a moment to realize that the Dark Lord actually expected him to answer his questions. He couldn't. Harry's jaw was frozen, and there was no way that he could possibly speak.

Voldemort's incensed expression slowly melted away into something less hostile, and, to Harry's great surprise… he smiled. That same, demonic grin. It was somehow even more frightening.

He tilted his head so that his lips were next to Harry's ear, his voice dangerously soft. "Make no mistake, Harry Potter. You will never escape. You. Are. Mine."

Harry had only barely registered that he just hissed the words in parseltongue before he was flung to the floor. His back hit the stones with a painful thud, and he inhaled sharply, rolling to his side at the Dark Lord's feet.

Then the snakes began to burn.

They glowed a brighter, more vibrant red, and suddenly it was as if they were made of iron which had been sitting for days in a roaring flame. They scorched straight through his robes, incinerating the fabric and searing into his skin, dragging their coiling bodies along his torso and back, arms and legs with white-hot, fiery scales—Harry screamed in torment as they moved, hissing softly as they went, and he then realized what it was they were chorusing, over and over…

"…Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…"

Harry tried to thrash against them, but it was useless. The more he moved, the tighter they wrapped around his body and the hotter they became. Struggling made everything worse, so much worse, and he soon stopped—only laid there, shaking and trying to stop from screaming out in pain.

Voldemort continued to grin in that malevolent manner. His eyes flashed vindictively when Harry stopped moving.

"…I have… a few small tasks to see to, Harry," he said, glancing at the decapitated head of Kreacher. "But do not fret. I will be back shortly, and then we are going to go on a brief field trip. I have a meeting planned, and now, most unfortunately, your presence is required."

He gave Harry one last, demented smile before turning and taking his leave. Alarmed by this ominous statement, Harry fought against the constraints again, but it was no use—they would only glow brighter at his struggling, licking like living flames against him. Harry let out a pathetic cry as his robes started to turn to ash on his body, burnt fabric against his skin which melted onto the floor.

Voldemort paused in the entryway. He didn't turn around at the howl of pain, but Harry was certain that he was grinning maliciously.

"Resistance will only bring you pain, Harry… You cannot win."

He let out a low, soft laugh. Harry's breath hitched at the sound.

"You belong to Lord Voldemort now."

The Dark Lord disappeared.

The cell door swung shut, and Harry was left curled on the floor, doing his best to not move and cause his serpentine bindings to harm him even more. Fear riddled his mind as he stared at the severed head of Kreacher, which was still there, his empty gaze filling him with grief. Two pitiful creatures—one cold and unmoving, one burning and alive…

A meeting. He had said… he had said that his presence was required…

Harry involuntarily jumped when he came to the unwanted conclusion, earning another ripple of heat and pain from the cursed snakes. His robes were quickly turning to dust around him.

"…Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…"

A meeting.

"…Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…"

A Death Eater meeting.

"…Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…"

Harry thought that he would rather never see daylight again.

Chapter Text

It felt like a lifetime in which Harry laid there on the floor of the cell, Kreacher's severed head on one side of him and his decapitated body on the other. For such a small being, there was a devastating amount of blood. It pooled across the stones, puddles of crimson that had oozed towards him in his serpentine bindings.

Harry tried to inch further away several times, but every movement resulted in more pain, more blistering agony against his skin. The snakes would flash a brighter red, and the heightened heat wouldn't lessen until he stilled.

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…'

 

 

 

They continued to chorus the words in a low hiss. Harry tried to discern just how many of them there were—four? Five? It was difficult to tell, as they continually slithered around his body. They slid across his waist and shoulders, between his legs, up his back. His robes had been reduced to nothing but ashes in mere minutes, leaving him naked save for a layer of dust and charcoal.

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…'

His skin, though… His skin, Harry noticed with a wave of nausea, was—it was being burnt, he could feel it, it was horrible—but they were not actually harming him at all. Everywhere the snakes touched him with their fiery scales was scalding pain—but just for a moment. His blisters would heal over almost at once, leaving trails of pristine, baby-soft skin in their place. Harry's whole body was crisscrossed in tender, pink lines.

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…'

He tasted bile in his throat at the message that Voldemort was conveying through this monstrous act of torture:

I can burn you alive, Harry Potter… without burning you at all.

Harry shuddered.

It only made the pain worse.


When Voldemort did finally return, it was unnervingly silent.

Harry had been keeping his eyes closed the majority of the time he lay there, simply trying not to move, despite the fact that he was stuck in the middle of what was now a cold puddle of blood. Though the snakes did burn much less fiercely when he was still, they never stopped hurting him entirely. Harry had therefore begun the exercise of closing his eyes, focusing on his breathing, and…

Empty your mind.

He had never been very good at Occlumency, that was true enough, but Harry had come to the harsh conclusion in the past twenty-four hours that shielding his thoughts was a skill he simply must learn.

And if focusing on this, if practicing could help distract him from the pain, from the parseltongue mantra in his ears…

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold—'

Empty your mind.

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

Think of nothing… Think of no one…

Harry's eyes fluttered open, and it was easy, for a moment, to imagine that he was not in a cell bathed in cursed, crimson light, but back in his dorm room, in Gryffindor tower, and the red was just the curtains pulled round his four-post bed…

He closed his eyes again…

Empty your mind.

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

He slowly opened his eyes again, and—

Voldemort.

There, just there—no angry winds, no sound of the gate opening, not even footsteps—but there he was, standing ominously still in the corner where, just two minutes ago, when Harry had last looked, there had been nothing at all—

Harry jerked violently on the ground, startled out of his self-induced meditation in an instant. The snakes around him hissed their disapproval at his action and flashed, chanting more quickly.

'Hold him, hold him, hold him—'

Voldemort's lips twitched. He took a silent step forward, moving towards his human horcrux with a fluidity that was quite reminiscent of a basilisk. For a long moment, the Dark Lord did nothing but stand there, towering over his prisoner and watching him as he gasped in pain with every tremble and twitch.

His scarlet eyes trailed over Harry's body now that it was exposed, covered in nothing but soot. It was a very controlled action, very methodical. First his face, then his neck, then his torso, then…

Harry was burning in more ways than one.

But the Dark Lord's expression remained resolutely blank, and when his eyes flickered back to Harry's, it was without any hint of emotion whatsoever. He lifted a single finger, much in the same way he had earlier, and beckoned for him to rise.

"Come."

The second Voldemort spoke, the snakes slithered across Harry's body in different directions. One around his neck, two on each of his wrists, two on his ankles, and one around his waist.

Six. There were six of them.

They gathered at these places and then pulled him up, magically forcing him to stand and face the Dark Lord. His lips twitched again when Harry failed to suppress a yelp of shock at being so unexpectedly wrenched to his feet.

Voldemort's fingers curled around his wrist, and it was so strange, that moment in which they touched, because the burning pain seemed to fade, and instead—

Harry's astonished thoughts were quickly derailed. Voldemort gave no warning before somehow, impossibly, within the manor walls… they disapparated.


The second they reappeared elsewhere, Harry was thrown to the floor.

To his great surprise, however, the landing was not horrific. His head did not collide with hard brick or concrete, but he instead fell against what was an exuberantly thick carpet.

"Stay. Be silent."

Harry wasn't sure if those parseltongue commands were meant for him or the serpents which ensnared him—probably both. The snakes ceased in their repetitious mantra, though they continued to coil around him. Harry rolled as slowly as he could to his side, taking in his surroundings which, for the first time in what felt like an eternity, were not stone walls and iron gates.

He was laying on the floor of what looked like a dining hall. It was a large and garish space, in the center of which was a long table with over a dozen chairs around it. A giant fireplace on one side illuminated the hall in a soft, golden hue. It was empty. Save for he and Lord Voldemort, there was no one else present. Harry wondered if they were still in Malfoy Manor, or if they had gone somewhere else entirely.

The Dark Lord turned away from his fallen charge and sat in the chair at the center of the table with his back to him. Harry could just barely make out the side of his snake-like face from where he lay.

He couldn't help it. He couldn't not speak.

"Wh-what are you—"

"Silence."

Voldemort spat the command without even turning to look down at him. The snake which had been circling Harry's neck tightened, constricting and burning into the delicate skin there in an unfathomable way. The rest of his question died in Harry's throat, replaced by a sharp breath that he was hardly able to let out through the pressure against his airway.

It only lasted a moment, but it was enough. Harry didn't speak again.

It was quiet for a long time. Voldemort merely sat at the table with his eyes closed, his hands folded in front of him as though in silent prayer.

And then the fireplace flickered green.

Harry's heart fluttered at the sudden shift in the atmosphere, at the way in which the room had gone from scarlet to emerald. Someone had entered the space via the Floo network, but who, Harry couldn't see from the floor…

Footsteps, murmuring, more flashes of green, more muttering… People were arriving, speaking to each other in hushed voices before sitting down in what must have been a pre-arranged seating arrangement based on the way they moved. Voldemort remained motionless with his eyes shut the entire time, like some kind of unnerving, marble statue.

Slowly, they filtered in. The Death Eaters. Harry recognized a few, as they appeared here maskless and unafraid. Dolohov. Yaxley. Bellatrix Lestrange.

And they most certainly recognized him too. Every one of them gaped in shock when they first noticed the charcoal-stained boy in the corner, the supposed Chosen One, trembling and covered in cursed serpents and smelling of burnt skin.

There were two exceptions to this. The first, of course, was Bellatrix, who had just recently seen Harry Potter and was hardly surprised that her Lord had decided to humiliate him further. In fact, she looked gleeful when her eyes landed on his, and she grinned maliciously. Harry glared back at her, but it only served to make her smile widen.

The second person to react more than momentarily shocked was Draco Malfoy.

Surely the Malfoy heir had known that Harry was being held in the dungeon beneath his own home, of that Harry was certain. But nothing could have prepared Draco for this, the sight of his teenage nemesis reduced to a shuddering pile on the floor at Lord Voldemort's feet, covered in ashes and wrapped in slithering, red serpents. He paused when they made eye contact from across the room, and even from so far away, even as the room flickered green again when more people arrived, Harry could see the color drain from Draco's face.

For Harry had just saved his life. Only days ago, Harry had decided to fly headfirst into the Fiendfyre after all, to go back for him, despite the fact that he, Crabbe and Goyle had been the cause of it all…

Draco froze, petrified. It wasn't until his father prodded him impatiently from behind that he moved, snapping out of his stupor and ripping his eyes away from the fallen Chosen One. Lucius didn't look at him.

A few moments later, and the fireplace ceased in its green flickering. The room was bathed singularly in a dull gold, all of the chairs now occupied.

The Death Eaters waited quietly for their master to speak. For a time, there was no sound other than the crackling of the flames. Harry attempted to catch Draco's eye again, to try and convey what message he wasn't even sure, but it didn't work. Though he could just make out the Malfoy heir's profile in the firelight, Draco, along with everyone else, was not looking at him. Their silent attention was fixed solely on the Dark Lord.

Finally, Voldemort opened his eyes. He lowered his hands down towards the table, his arms stretched out wide on either side of him as though in greeting.

"My most faithful followers…"

He said the words in a low and silky voice, like he was paying them all a great compliment. Bellatrix, who sat at his right-hand side, looked upon him with eyes shimmering with adoration.

"We have much to discuss tonight," Voldemort continued. He did not so much as look in Harry's direction, nor did he acknowledge him. "First and foremost, I would like to hear from you, Yaxley. I anticipate that you have made…progress?"

Yaxley, who was a few seats further away and on the opposite side of the table, stood, and even Harry could see that he was very nervous. His eyes barely met the Dark Lord's before he looked to the ground, his head already bowed in submission.

"Most unfortunately, m-my Lord, we have not yet made any discernible progress towards locating the second and third Undesirables…"

His voice trailed off feebly. Voldemort's head tilted to one side as he seemingly contemplated the cowering man before him.

"No progress," he reiterated, his tone dangerously soft. "You have made… no progress."

"Well, no, technically, we have, as we now know that—we know that they are n-not anywhere within Diagon Alley, nor are they in Godric's Hollow—"

"Did I ask where they are not?"

Voldemort's interruption was hardly above a whisper, but it rendered Yaxley silent at once. His face flushed with color.

"I… No, my Lord."

A short but very pertinent pause in which no one dared to breathe. Harry's mind was reeling in the silence—Ron and Hermione were still on the run, they were still okay…

"You have the Minister under your control, and therefore all of the power which the Ministry of Magic has to offer. You have access to all of the Snatchers and have even been granted permission to hire as many more as you like. You have free reign to do anything you deem necessary in order to accomplish this task… and yet you are unable to locate two delinquent teenagers."

Yaxley's blush deepened. He said nothing, only remained standing with his head lowered in shame.

"…I want them found. I want them brought to me alive. And I want them soon." The Dark Lord leaned forward, red eyes flashing. "Is this understood, Yaxley?"

"Y-yes, my Lord."

Quivering, he sat.

"Dolohov," Voldemort said, suddenly much more conversational as he turned his attention to the man on his left. "Your report?"

"Of course, my Lord." The portly man cleared his throat and stood. "While nearly all magical people have pledged fealty to the Ministry of Magic's new regime, we were correct in assuming that the rebellious radio show would continue. Yesterday, they aired a short broadcast in which they told listeners they did not believe Undesirable Number One to be on the run, but with Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, wherever they may be, continuing to work on the secret orders of Albus Dumbledore… They said they did not flee out of fear, but were forced to retreat from battle in order to complete these tasks. They spoke of hope. They told their viewers that Harry Potter is still active, still a threat, and is working against you, my Lord, even now… and that this war is by no means over."

His eyes flickered to Harry, who instantly felt his stomach drop. Lee, Fred, and George were continuing to run Potterwatch, then… And they were telling everyone that he, Harry, was still out there, fighting the good fight with his friends…

"Indeed…"

The Dark Lord sounded unsurprised; in fact, he seemed amused.

It was then that he finally shifted his focus to Harry.

"Rise," he hissed, and the snakes immediately moved to obey. They slid across Harry's body to gather around his wrists, ankles, waist and neck as they had before, pulling him upright. The Death Eaters jeered when he stood, completely exposed and vulnerable before them.

Voldemort smirked, motioning him closer with a lazy gesture. "Come."

The bindings forced Harry forward until he was at the Dark Lord's side. Voldemort rose to his feet as well, his demented smile broadening at Harry's utter humiliation. "Tell me, my loyal followers… Does Harry Potter look very threatening to you?" 

They all laughed raucously. "What say you, Bellatrix?" Voldemort asked, glancing at his deadliest lieutenant. "Has his ferocity waned since your last encounter?"

Bellatrix turned in her seat to face him fully, and Harry met her gaze with the most murderous glower he could muster. Looking completely unfazed by his glare, she let her eyes trailed down his naked body, painfully slow, spending an unnecessarily long time lingering on… certain areas.

Whatever rage Harry had bolstered within him quickly died, replaced with sheer embarrassment. Bellatrix grinned, noting the way his face flushed and relishing it. "Yes, my Lord, I would agree with you… Dear Harry's fierceness has most certainly diminished… But other aspects are significantly improved." She paused, her gaze flickering down his torso again and making Harry's face burn hotter. "I must admit, Harry-kins, I prefer this attire much better than your old school robes."

Everyone laughed, and a few even whistled jeeringly. Voldemort let it go on for a while, grinning crookedly as he did, but after a few moments he rose a hand and effectively ended their hollering.

"No…" he said slowly, "Harry Potter is no longer a threat to us or our cause… But that is not to say that he is not without his uses." Voldemort brandished his wand, and before him appeared a tightly furled scroll. He uncurled the long stretch of paper to reveal a very official-looking document, and set it on the table in front of him.

"This here is the legal paperwork detailing the ownership of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place," he said, pointing towards it with his wand. "It was left to Harry Potter upon the death of its last familial owner, his Godfather, Sirius Black. Therefore, when the property was passed on to him, Harry also inherited the servitude of the manor's house elf… Kreacher, was what it went by. He summoned the elf to him in his imprisonment earlier today, in an ill-suited attempt to escape."

The Dark Lord paused, crimson eyes gleaming when they met Harry's. "Was that a wise decision, Harry?" he asked, to which the Death Eaters all chuckled. Harry looked down, unwilling and unable to meet any of their gazes.

"Answer me."

His tenor went from lightly amused to ice-cold in an instant. Though the snakes were still uncomfortably hot, Harry felt his skin break out into goosebumps at the sound.

"…No," he finally muttered under his breath, still staring at the ground.

Voldemort's fingers were immediately around his jaw, nails digging into his skin and forcing Harry to look at him. "No, what?" he seethed, murder in his voice.

Yet even though he was beyond terrified, even though he was surrounded by Death Eaters, his face in the Dark Lord's hands… Harry wouldn't do it.

He knew what the demented wizard expected him to say, and he refused. He outright refused to call him that.

"No, Voldemort, it wasn't wise."

Everyone gasped when he said his name, and Harry thought he even heard Draco yelp from the other end of the table. Voldemort's expression contorted as, for the briefest moment, he looked like he was going to do something truly horrible, and Harry braced himself for the pain that he'd expected in his scar the moment the Dark Lord had touched him—

But then he smiled… and laughed.

The Death Eaters surrounding him looked baffled at this most unexpected of reactions, glancing at each other nervously. "Isn't he a fascinating creature?" Voldemort jeered, his voice condescending in every sense of the word. His followers laughed then as well, though it was a bit hesitant. "Such a bold thing. I will take great pleasure in breaking you to pieces, Harry Potter… but not right now. I require your body to be functioning for at least a little while longer."

He flourished the Elder Wand again and a long quill materialized in his hand. It was extraordinarily sharp, and Harry recognized it as the same kind that Umbridge had forced him to write lines with years ago.

"This document states that Harry Potter has most graciously decided to gift his inheritance of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, to Bellatrix Lestrange, the witch who should have come into ownership of the home in the first place… as Harry hardly has any use for such things anymore."

Harry gaped, so outraged that he was at a loss for words. "Harry, darling! How very thoughtful of you, dear!" Bellatrix exclaimed, holding a hand to her chest and acting as though she was deeply flattered.

"Such a generous child," Voldemort agreed. He held the quill out towards him. "Sign here, Harry."

"No," he gasped, refusing the quill. "No, I won't, I—"

"Sign."

The snakes flashed, burning and tightening around him. Harry's scar throbbed in pain, and before he knew what was happening, the binding around his right wrist had forced his arm into movement, and the quill was in his hand. A second later and he was flung across the table, bent over the parchment with his fingers hovering over the line with an 'X' before it.

"Now."

The snake around his wrist jerked his unwilling hand into action, and then, quite against his will, Harry found himself signing his name in a very inelegant, messy scrawl. The words 'Harry James Potter' were being carved into the skin on the back of his hand at the same time they were being written on the parchment, making him gasp at the stinging pain. The moment he finished, he felt a kind of cool, tingling sensation sweep up his spine, and he knew it was magically binding.

"Very good," Voldemort drawled. He tapped his wand against the document, and it instantly curled back into a scroll. The signature remained imprinted on Harry's skin, weeping with blood—probably because he had been forced into applying far more pressure than was necessary when he'd signed. He stared at the back of his hand, furious.

Harry James Potter.

I must not tell lies.

He was riddled in scars.

"Thank you so much for your…generosity," Bellatrix purred, causing his eyes to snap up to hers. She winked, and everybody chuckled in amusement.

Except Draco. Harry just managed to glimpse his ill-concealed horror and discomfort before Voldemort was speaking again.

"Now that we have that out of the way…"

With a mere flick of his wrist, Harry went flying, landing harshly back in the corner from whence he had come. There was another round of boisterous laughter, and soon the snakes had begun writhing around him again, keeping him down.

"I shall deal with you and your insubordinate nature soon, Harry, I promise you… But we have much work to do here, so I am afraid you must have patience. Do you think you can manage to remain silent and obedient for all of an hour?"

Harry glared up at him, hating him and everything about him—his smug expression, the glint in his eyes, the curl of his lips—he hated him. Bellatrix's high laughter sounded louder than everyone else's, and Harry thought of what she had done to Neville, of how the Dark Lord had orchestrated it, and before he knew it, the words were flying out of his mouth—

"You're a fucking monster… my Lord."

…Silence.

It fell in such a heavy wave that even the fire flickered at the sudden shift in the atmosphere. Voldemort's lightly amused grin vanished, replaced by a cold, emotionless mask.

"…Leave us."

Everyone ran. The fireplace, giant as it was, did not seem capable of getting them out of there quickly enough. The fastest disappeared in a flash of green, but others simply opted to bolt for the door at the end of the hall. It couldn't have been more than five seconds before they had all vanished, every last one of them. The door slammed shut of its own accord after they had gone.

Voldemort stood. The fear that had been eclipsed by Harry's sheer bull-headedness came rushing forward as the Dark Lord advanced on him, his movements slow and purposeful. He motioned for Harry to rise again, and the snakes answered his call. Voldemort didn't hesitate before grabbing his wrist and disapparating with him.

Harry couldn't help but wonder where the hell they had just been, for it to be some place where only Lord Voldemort could apparate in and out of, apparently—but it was a thought that was cut very short indeed as he was flung back onto the familiar stone floor of his cell. Kreacher's body and head, as well as the giant puddles of blood, were still there.

Then, surprisingly, Voldemort vanished the snakes. Their glowing bodies disappeared, enveloping them both in darkness. All Harry could see was piercing eyes and pale skin.

"Do you know what I could do to you, Harry?"

Voldemort kneeled down at his side, his voice deceptively… kind. Harry didn't say anything in response, nor did he move, despite the fact that he was no longer covered in animate, scorching bindings.

He reached down and, after a split second in which he hesitated, Voldemort began running his long, spidery fingers through his hair. Harry stiffened at the action, was about to pull away, when—

That inexplicable sensation of light and warmth swept across his skin, radiating from where Voldemort touched his scalp. He closed his eyes, nearly sighing, because it felt so comforting, so pleasant…

"I could pick apart your limbs so running would never be an option for you again," Voldemort whispered, almost lovingly. "I could rip out your tongue so speaking such disrespectful slurs against your master would be impossible…"

He said it all in such a tender tone that it was deeply disquieting, and Harry was sure that, were it not for the strange ripples of warmth permeating his very being at that moment, he would be horrified. And part of him was, but another part of him… most of him, was just… was just so…

"I could castrate you and leave you as less of a man than your dead house elf," he murmured, his fingers leaving Harry's hair so that they could cup his face. He held his chin lightly, propping his face up so that when his eyes opened, he was looking directly into Voldemort's.

The warmth vanished.

The Dark Lord's blank expression became twisted when he grinned, a spark of sadistic glee glinting in his eyes that made Harry instantly nauseous.

"I could force amortentia down your wretched throat, and you could see what it is like, to love a fucking monster."

Harry made a choked noise that could only be interpreted as a laugh, he was so far beyond fear at this point. Voldemort's eyes narrowed at the sound, and for some insane reason, that just made him laugh again.

"Like mother like son, I guess," Harry spat, feeling delirious from the copious amounts of adrenaline coursing through him.

Voldemort looked uncharacteristically stunned at that. Harry's lips curled into a victorious smirk at being able to garner such a reaction from the Dark Lord.

His feeling of triumph didn't last long.

"How did you know that?" Voldemort seethed, fury cutting across his features. The Elder wand was pressed against Harry's throat so quickly that he hadn't even sensed the movement.

Maybe he was just beginning to crack completely, though, because Harry suddenly felt much more daring than he should have. "Oh, I know all about you, Tom," Harry drawled, grinning. "I know all about your sorry life… About your mum, about how you were born... You said your muggle father had his use in the graveyard that day you took his bone and my blood and got yourself a sorry excuse for a new body, but the best thing your dad ever gave you was his face. You probably would have had a much harder time wrapping the students and staff of Hogwarts around your finger if you had inherited Merope Gaunt's looks."

Harry laughed, and Voldemort looked so atypically horrified that Harry couldn't help but go on. "But I guess it doesn't matter, anymore. The outside matches the inside perfectly now. You look exactly like what you really are." Harry paused, eyes gleaming.

"A monster."

Voldemort was quiet for a long moment. His thunderstruck expression slid into one of cool indifference.

Harry was hurled across the room.

His back hit the stone wall, held against it by an invisible force which pinned him there. Voldemort rose to his feet as well, as inhumanly graceful in his movements as ever.

Harry struggled but couldn't move. The fear, all of the tumultuous anxiety which had been somehow muted before in his moment of reckless bravery, came crashing down.

"Is that what you see when you look at me, Harry?" Voldemort asked silkily. He took a step towards him, and Harry found that, for all he was able to say before, now he was rendered speechless. The Dark Lord's aura of fury was pressing against him like an actual, tangible force, his eyes flashing dangerously in the dark, vibrant and scarlet.

"And now what do you see?"

Harry's glasses shattered.

He hardly closed his eyes in time; slivers of glass went flying against his face—tiny, sharp fragments that he shook away at once. The empty frames fell to the floor, and when Harry blinked his eyelids open again, it was to find that his world, which had already been obscured by the bleakness of the cell, was infinitely hazier. The Dark Lord appeared before him as a blurry, white entity with unfocused blots of red for eyes.

He came closer still. Harry's breath caught in his throat when Voldemort came closer, and closer, too close—

"Do you remember the day you fell to me, Harry? Did you do as I asked? …Do you remember the sky?"

Harry swallowed thickly, his heart racing—there was something profoundly alarming about the way he was speaking, so gently, that made his skin crawl with foreboding—

Voldemort's unclear form was so near to him now that when he inhaled, he was once more hit with the familiar scent of blood on his breath. So cold. So unnatural.

And then, even stranger still, his already distorted outline was marred even further… Tendrils of what looked like smoke, maybe…

"Do you remember the stars, how they shone in my name? Do you recall how the heavens bore my mark, how that great constellation rested above the castle like a crown?"

Only it wasn't smoke, it was shimmery, and glowing faintly… It began swirling around his pale face like an ephemeral halo of silver…

It was… it was a memory.

"A gift," Voldemort said, and then he closed the small gap between their faces, touching their foreheads together. The moment he did, Harry's mind was drenched in a powerful wave of that weightlessness, and he felt himself falling, falling…

The world became bright and clear.

Before him materialized an impossible scene. Harry saw… He saw the sky, only it was the memory through the eyes of Lord Voldemort…

And it was glorious.

Harry couldn't help but think, then, that his own vision really was dreadful. Either that, or the Dark Lord merely saw things exceptionally well—possibly both. For the sky from Voldemort's point of view was nothing short of magnificent.

The stars shone with an impossible clarity, those celestial beings that formed the constellation of a snake within a skull. The colors in the sky were a cascade of indigo and violet and the barest hint of ruby towards the east, and they were so intense, so impossibly, passionately bright through his eyes, that Harry could have sworn there were delicate hues there that he had never even seen before, colors for which there was no name…

He was stunned by the all-encompassing beauty of it. Harry was left breathless, both by the vision and by that radiating lightness that pulsed deep in his soul, and it was his, and it was Voldemort's, and it was endless and they were inseparable—

The memory faded. The warmth faded. Everything turned black.

Harry blinked, momentarily overcome after such exhilarating sensations—but the cold of the cell brought him swiftly back to the horror of his reality.

Whatever magical force that had been holding him to the wall dissipated, and Harry collapsed to the ground. He narrowed his eyes, looking on the floor for his shattered glasses, reaching his arms out, but he couldn't see them, he couldn't see anything

He heard the gate creak open. Harry's head snapped up, peering through the darkness for Voldemort's pale skin and red eyes—

But he couldn't see them. He closed his eyes, and… no difference. None at all. There was only blackness; the same, unwavering, endless sea of darkness… whether his eyes were open or not.

Horror like Harry had never known gripped at his very heart. "I-I can't see," he gasped, his voice small and fearful. There was no response.

"You've… you've b-blinded me."

A long pause. Harry knew he was there, he could just feel him, near him, could tell he was listening…

But when he spoke again, it was not from where Harry expected it to be. The Dark Lord was further away than he'd anticipated, had crossed the cell and must have been on the other side of the gate, preparing to leave him…

"Another gift," Voldemort said softly.

The gate swung shut, and Harry learned what true darkness really was.

Chapter Text

Blindness.

For a long time after the Dark Lord left, Harry tried to deny it. He closed his unseeing eyes and covered his hands with his face, like maybe he could convince himself that everything that had happened in the past several days, weeks, years… That all of it was just one long, horrid nightmare, and that when he eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion he would wake up in his dorm in Gryffindor tower to a world that had not yet seen the resurrection of a Dark Lord. Unfortunately, sleep would not come to him. Harry was too unsettled to stifle his racing thoughts, or even entertain the idea of clearing his mind.

But he kept his eyes closed.

Harry had already thought that the cell was dark, but now he knew what darkness really was. Before, at least, he had been able to see his own hand when he held it in front of his face. Now there was nothing, and he knew there would be nothing if he checked again… and so he didn't.

Yet the devastation of being blinded did not lessen the chill in the air. Harry was shaking in the cold, for he was naked, now, his robes having been reduced to nothing but ashes.

Harry crawled forward, the hard floor biting painfully into his knees as he did. He realized then just how helpless he was. What would he do when he had to use the bathroom? How would he get to it? He couldn't even locate the enchanted blanket and pillow Narcissa had given him without feeling waves of despair. After just a few seconds of trying to find them, Harry recoiled back to his seated position against the two walls of the corner, leaning against the stones like they were some kind of anchor. The walls gave him some sense of direction, knowing he was on the opposite side of the gate. An irrational sensation of security. Being out in the middle of the cell felt like being lost in an endless ocean of shadows.

It was illogical to think that way. Harry knew that, but it didn't stop it from being true. He pressed his body further against the wall behind him, keeping his eyes resolutely closed as he attempted to breathe properly. He was sure that the blanket and the warmth it provided were less than a few feet away…yet he found that he couldn't remove himself from the false refuge of the corner he had backed himself into.

Harry sat there for what felt like days, quivering, cold, and afraid.


Indigo.

Harry was just sitting there, torrid thoughts whirling, when he… he thought he… well, not saw, exactly, but… felt …indigo.

It was a subtle shift, a gentle one. Apprehensive, and… concerned. The darkness of his world seemed thinly tinted by this deep, blue hue, and Harry lifted his head, though he kept his eyes shut.

Light footsteps… and then the gate creaked open. Harry held his breath.

"I-I've brought you more clothes, child, I was told you would need them…"

Narcissa's timid voice broke the silence.

Harry felt a rush of relief, but it was a feeling that lasted only a moment. She came closer to him, he could hear her movements, but  despair come crashing over him again when she did. Because he knew with certainty, now...

"Why are your eyes closed?"

Narcissa's presence was always proceeded by the glow of her wand, and Harry couldn't see it. Even through his eyelids, he should have been able to process the light. But there was only darkness.

There was nothing he could do to prevent the horrible sob that came out of his throat. When she placed her fingers under his chin, Harry quickly turned away, stifling his cries as best he could.

"Let me see," she demanded, gentle but resolute. "I won't hurt you, I promise, I'm only here to help. Let me see."

For a moment, Harry considered shoving her back, batting out and pushing her soft hands from his face, but he knew that was both pointless and unfair. It was not Narcissa Malfoy who had done this to him, and it wasn't like pretending was going to make his reality any less horrifying when he finally accepted it… Slowly, begrudgingly, Harry opened his eyes.

Nothing changed, and yet everything did.

The subtle indigo brightened, flashing a strange, abysmal tint of muddy yellow. And it was the strangest thing, because Harry could have sworn there was a taste in his mouth to accompany it. Something sharp and bitter.

The outlandish sensations were gone before he could fully process them. "My God…" Narcissa murmured, horror evident in her voice. "What… what has he done to you…?"

Harry didn't want to say it, couldn't admit it out. He shook his head dismally, another pained sob issuing from his throat.

"Are you… Are you blind, child…?"

She asked it in tones of deepest dismay. Harry found that it was, at least, easier to nod than speak.

A few seconds passed in which Narcissa was silent, having dropped her hand from his face, obviously distraight. Harry could contain the devastation of this tragedy no longer, and he began to openly weep.

Something broke in Narcissa. For all of her previous efforts in keeping her distance from him, in which she would simply bring him food and water and leave as quickly as possible in order to avoid the Dark Lord... Now she seemed to throw all caution to the wind, and pulled the poor, broken form of Harry Potter towards her, cradling his shaking body like only a mother could.

Narcissa wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and Harry felt the overwhelmingly welcome sensation of the enchanted blanket being draped over him. His head fell against her chest, and she started rubbing his back soothingly through the cloth.

Harry didn't stop her, nor did he want to. He had never been held like this before, in such a tender, parental way. He cried into the fabric of her robes, arms around her waist and holding onto her like her embrace alone might hold him together. She rested her chin on the top of his head, murmuring words that were indiscernible but nonetheless comforting while he cried.

It went on for quite some time. By the time Harry's sobbing finally quieted, he was sure that at least an hour must have passed. He could not possibly find the words to express his gratitude to her for staying with him, for not immediately leaving him alone in his new world of darkness.

They fell into silence. Narcissa held him, this boy who was no longer crying but so devastated. She continued to rub Harry's back, occasionally running her fingers up through his hair in an absent-minded attempt to disentangle it.

"…It will be temporary," she eventually murmured, her voice soft. "It… This is a punishment, child, and… and it w-won't be permanent…"

Harry nodded, but he could tell by the tone of her voice that she was not entirely sure that it would be temporary. For how could anyone predict the actions of a psychotic Dark Lord?

"I heard that you were very… bold, at the meeting." She paused, swallowing thickly. When Harry said nothing, she went on. "You cannot do that, child. Y-you must do as he says. You must act obediently, you must be submissive. You must…endear yourself to him."

Harry snorted, an involuntary reaction that surprised even him. Be submissive? Endear himself? To Lord Voldemort?

Harry didn't voice his apprehension, but he didn't have to. "I know that goes against everything you stand for," Narcissa said. "I know that it sounds, perhaps… unlikely, to win his favor, but… but nothing good can come from angering him. Do you understand me? Nothing at all."

Narcissa ceased running her fingers through his hair. "Do you understand me?" she asked again, her tone suddenly much firmer—a very motherly tone, indeed. Harry nodded, still unwilling to speak.

She resumed her pleasant but ultimately pointless attempt at fixing his hair. For another long stretch of time, they were quiet, and Harry was content to bask in the warmth of the blanket which radiated heat and her calming embrace. His mind felt oddly numb, now. He was mentally exhausted, and under the gentle ministrations of her fingers against his scalp, Harry thought he might actually drift off to sleep…

"…I… was thinking of something, earlier today," she said, instantly making Harry alert. "Of that time when we met in Madam Malkin's, when I was with my son."

Harry racked his brains, wondering what on earth she was talking about - and then it came to him. Over a year ago, when he, Ron and Hermione had needed new robes, before their sixth year… They had run into Draco Malfoy and his mother…

It felt like someone else's life, that memory. Narcissa cleared her throat before speaking again. "I apologize for what I said. About your Godfather. About Sirius. That was cruel."

Harry's mind buzzed, wondering why she was bringing this up at all. He finally forced himself to respond when he recalled what it was that he had spat at Narcissa to make her say that in the first place. "You don't need to apologize to me," Harry said hoarsely. "I had j-just insulted your husband…"

"That's no excuse," she muttered. "My husband was in prison, true, but he was alive… is still alive. Your Godfather is not. I should not have said that. The dead deserve our respect, especially those whose lives ended so tragically."

Harry was stunned at all she was saying. To hear Narcissa Malfoy speaking about Sirius Black in a way that was not entirely spiteful... Then, as if in response to this very thought, she said:

"He was my cousin, after all."

Harry had forgotten that fact entirely. For some reason, his troubled mind had placed Bellatrix and Narcissa in completely different categories, and he remembered only now that they were, in fact, sisters. Yet the two witches could not have been more different, both in looks and in dispositions. Narcissa was light and fair, while Bellatrix…

The sound of Narcissa's laughter derailed Harry's thoughts completely, it was so unexpected. Harry lifted his head slightly from her moving chest, confused. "I remember when we were younger, when we were all students," she explained, and though he could not see her, Harry knew there was a smile on her lips. "Sirius. I was a few years above him, a fifth year. I had just been made prefect for Slytherin… He was one of the first to be sorted. And then he had the audacity to go against Black family tradition, to be put in Gryffindor."

She laughed again. Harry couldn't help but crack a smile as well. "He was proud of that," he murmured.

"Oh, I know he was," Narcissa agreed, sounding both annoyed and amused. "It felt like my dear cousin existed solely to make my life more difficult, even when he was just a first year. I gave him more detentions than anyone else. Him and... and your father, both."

Harry's breath hitched in his throat. This was definitely a thought that had never occurred to him before. Draco's parents having gone to Hogwarts at the same time as his own…

"First year students, and by far the most obnoxious," she continued in that same tone of irately bemused. "Sirius and James. And while most Gryffindors and Slytherins had it out for each other, those two took it to new extremes. Sirius was the epitome of familial backlash, and his new friend was more than supportive. They pulled their little pranks every chance they got. Once, they even managed to enchant these dung bombs so that they wouldn't go off right away. They must have snuck them into Severus's bag right before he came into the common room… Oh, it was awful." She sounded truly annoyed, but when she laughed, it was a genuine sound. "The Slytherin dorms smelled horrid all day."

Harry couldn't believe that he was actually smiling. The foreign expression felt painful on his face.

But it was an odd, hollow happiness; an amusement that was laced with a deep sadness. Sirius, his father… Even Snape, now…

All dead…

"And they only got worse with age," she continued. "By the time I was a seventh year, they had multiplied. Remus Lupin had joined their little group, and while he wasn't as loud or outwardly annoying, he was a dangerous addition. He had a sort of intellect about him that made their pranks less frequent, but much more… efficient. And Pettigrew… Well, I honestly have no idea why they let him hang around."

Harry bristled at the name. Pettigrew… But he, too, was dead… As was Remus…

All dead…

"I'm sure you hear it all the time, but you really do look just like your father. The resemblance in uncanny."

"Yeah," Harry said, his voice still rather gravelly. "I've been told once or twice."

She laughed. Harry waited, sure that the next part of the observation concerning his resemblance to his parents was coming. "Except, of course, your eyes." Narcissa paused, swallowing audibly and carding her fingers through his hair again. "Your eyes… They were just like your mother's."

The pause that followed this statement was heavy and dark. Harry's blood ran cold. 

Were?

…His mouth seemed unwilling to move, his lips unable to ask.

"I remember her, too," Narcissa eventually said, her tone much lighter. "Your mother. Nothing at all like your father or Sirius. At least, not while I was still at school. She was quieter when she was younger, very studious… And oh, Slughorn just loved her."

Narcissa was clearly bitter about this fact, even all these years later. Harry listened with rapt attention. "Lily Evans, only in her second year, and already being invited to Slughorn's little get-togethers, right alongside students like Lucius and me. He usually only brought in older students, mind you, and generally he favored those in his own house… It wasn't very often that he was interested in someone so young. And then to find out that she was in Gryffindor, and a muggle-born, and so pretty and charming, well…"

She laughed again. "Naturally, we all hated her."

Harry, amazingly, found that he was laughing as well. It made his chest ache.

"Cheeky little thing, your mother. She made all sorts of bold, witty remarks that most of us never would have dared…and Slughorn just loved her all the more for it. He doted on her, it was infuriating." Narcissa sighed, shaking her head. "I apologize. I'm rambling…"

"No," Harry said quickly. "I… I don't mind." He paused, then, as the depressing realization washed over him. He did not want Narcissa to leave him, not at all. "But… H-he could show up any moment, and if he knows, if he sees—"

Harry's concerns died in his throat. Suddenly, like a cold breeze sweeping across his mind, Harry could have sworn he felt somethinghis presence, blacker even than this new world of darkness, and with it a sensation of unnatural iciness that rolled over his skin—

But the frigid feeling lasted only a moment. Harry shivered, and Narcissa wrapped the blanket more tightly around him in response. He must have… he must have imagined it, that sinister energy of Lord Voldemort, by thinking of him just now… For surely, if the Dark Lord were actually there, Narcissa would see him, and he would make his presence known, would do something horrible upon arriving…

Harry shuddered again. He did not want to imagine what Voldemort might do to Narcissa and him if they were discovered like this, with her cradling Harry in her arms and reminiscing about his parents, of all things…

Narcissa's muscles tensed, clearly thinking along the same lines. "Yes, I should leave soon. But first… Here, I brought you clothes…"

Nodding and feeling deeply embarrassed, Harry allowed her help him up. Narcissa was slow and sympathetic, taking her time with helping him into the new robes she had brought him, which were surprisingly soft (he wondered if they, too, were bewitched to look tattered yet feel new, but he did not ask). She then beseeched him to drink some water and eat as much bread as he could, which was very little. Afterwards, she showed him how to feel his way towards the bathroom along the stone walls so that he could find it on his own.

Harry had never felt more powerless.

Narcissa's hand found its way under his chin, cupping his face. Harry was sure that she was examining him, though he refused to open his eyes again. What had meant, when she'd said his eyes were just like his mother's…?

Again, he could not bring himself to ask.

"You do not look well, child…" Narcissa murmured. And then, "Wait. I will be back in just a moment."

She stood, and Harry heard her echoing footsteps and the sound of the gate closing when she went. After she was gone, he noticed that the odd tint of blue, which he had grown accustomed to in her presence, had vanished.

Odd.

He pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders. Harry took a deep breath in, and decided, in her absence, to attempt Occlumency again.

Empty your mind.

Think of nothing, think of no one…

Empty your mind.

Empty your—

Indigo, again.

Odd. Very odd. He perceived the minor shift in the atmosphere. Small yes, but definitely there.

The gate opened. "Here," Narcissa said, and then there was something being pressed to his lips. "This is a nutrition elixir. It doesn't taste very good, I'll be honest, but there's not very much, and it's full of vitamins and minerals. Things your body needs to recover…"

Harry nodded and dutifully accepted the vial. She was right. The elixir tasted awful, quite reminiscent of the Polyjuice Potion he'd taken in his second year. Harry grimaced when she took the empty vial back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

"One more thing," she said. Harry waited, and was surprised to feel another goblet being pressed to his lips. He inhaled the aroma of something familiar, a bit like lavender.

"It's a Sleeping Draught," Narcissa explained. Harry's brows raised in surprise, though he continued to keep his eyes closed. Such a thing seemed like a luxury that Voldemort would not be pleased about.

"Won't you be punished, if he finds out?" Harry whispered, gently pushing the goblet away.

Narcissa grabbed his hand and squeezed his fingers reassuringly. "Once cannot be well if they are not properly resting, child," she said, almost chidingly. He cracked a small smile at her tone. Probably, he mused, he should find it a bit condescending, the way that she called him 'child' and spoke to him as such—but he didn't. He found it comforting, and really didn't mind it at all, coming from her.

So Harry nodded, allowing her to place the rim of the cup to his lips, and drank deeply. It tasted like chamomile, a much more pleasant taste than the previous concoction.

It was a good Sleeping Draught, too. Harry instantly felt drowsy. Narcissa pulled the goblet away and placed her hands on his shoulders, guiding his body back so that he was laying down with his head on the enchanted pillow. She even tucked him in, making sure the blanket was snug around him on all sides.

"Th…thank..." Harry tried to express his gratefulness, but the potion was too powerful. Already he was drifting off. He heard laughter, quiet and feminine, and thought he felt the soft sensation of lips being pressed chastely to his forehead…

And the next thing he knew, Harry was lost to slumber, deep and blissfully dreamless.


When he opened his eyes, it was to pure darkness.

When he closed his eyes again, it was exactly the same.

Harry cringed, the wave of dread so powerful he thought he might be sick. There was no momentary reprieve of confusion when he awoke this time. He was perfectly aware of where he was and what had happened to him.

He was blind.

Harry was blind, and Voldemort had done it to him… All because of his damn mouth.

Why had he said those stupid, stupid things? Why had he, Harry, felt the need to call him a monster? To comment on his mother's looks, of all things? And then, perhaps even more interestingly... Why had that bothered Voldemort as much as it did?

Was it simply because he was enraged that Harry knew of his secretive past in the first place? Or was Voldemort actually offended that Harry had basically called him... ugly?

Harry assumed that it must be the former of the two. Surely the Dark Lord was unconcerned with such trivial things as appearances…

But he hadn't sounded unconcerned.

Harry sighed, realizing that it didn't really matter one way or another, now. Voldemort had blinded him out of spite, and if he ever hoped to get his sight back…

What did the Dark Lord even want from him?

That was a far more pertinent question. What in the world did Voldemort want from the fallen Chosen One? Who the entire wizarding world now thought missing, save for his Death Eaters… The thorn in his side whom he could not kill, because Harry had a fragment of the Dark Lord's soul within him…

Harry had no idea.

The one thing he could be sure of, though, was that Voldemort was probably searching for a way to get that very soul fragment out of the body of Harry James Potter. Then he could place it in something else, and finally do what he's always wanted to do - kill his prophesized enemy once and for all.

But Harry had a horrible, sinking feeling that Voldemort wouldn't be able to.

Remorse…

'You've got to really feel what you've done… Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can't see Voldemort attempting it somehow, can you?'

Hermione's words echoed in his head. Unfortunately, he was inclined to agree.

So if Voldemort couldn't get it out, and he couldn't kill him… What did he plan on doing with his human horcrux? If he was Lord Voldemort's last tie to immortality—and he was—then… Well, what about him?

He, Harry, wasn't immortal. What about when he died? He would age, he would grow old… Someday, somehow, Harry Potter would inevitably die. And then what? Lord Voldemort would be mortal once more…

Harry was just mulling these thoughts over when he felt it.

That same, frigid darkness that made his hairs stand on end. Deeply disquieting and radiating a blackness so deep that Harry shuddered. There were no footsteps to accompany it, no screeching of the gate swinging open, but Harry sensed it. He kept completely still, his posture rigid. Was he really there, or was Harry imagining it again?

Harry waited.

The seconds stretched on, turning into long, painful minutes. The cold atmosphere never shifted, stagnant and suffocating. Voldemort did not announce his presence, and Harry did not acknowledge that he felt him. And Harry refused, outright refused to beg…even if it was for something as invaluable as his sight.

The silence continued, strained and frigid.

Was he there?

Just as Harry was beginning to think that maybe it really was all in his head, there was a spark of something else. Something new…something light, and it was getting closer…

Long, spidery fingers grazed Harry's cheek. Warmth, blissful and weightless, danced across his skin and swept away all of the previous feelings of tension and iciness. Harry resisted the urge to lean into him, towards that magnetic pull of lovely buoyancy - but then Voldemort placed his other hand on the other side of Harry's face, and there was no stopping it. Harry gasped, his head falling forward at the sudden increase of it, that beautiful sensation that was so strong, so irresistible, wanting more, more… But was that feverish desire his, or the Dark Lord's…?

"A gift…"

Voldemort's voice was a sigh on his lips. Harry felt the cool breath of his words against his skin, tantalizingly soft… and then their foreheads touched, and the sea of darkness fell away.

Harry saw

It was… it was a forest. Harry was in the woods, standing firmly on his feet in some part of the country he did not recognize.

It was beautiful.

Trees in various hues of gold and red were all around him, the telltale signs of early autumn. But it was the sheer clarity of the vision that was most astounding. Harry had never personally experienced the world like this. His sight, even with glasses, had never been so crystal-clear, so vivid.

Harry gazed in amazement at the radiant varieties of colored leaves, the bright and cheery yellows and oranges. They were still mostly on the branches, but occasionally a gust of wind would pass through, causing a few to flutter off towards the ground.

Harry was smiling, totally lost in the blissful sensations of light and color and sight… until the sound of people shouting caused him to turn.

Children. He could see them through the trees, a group of children playing on the grass in the distance. Harry was just about to walk over to them when something—someone—else caught his eye.

One, lone child was headed towards him. A boy. He was smirking as he walked, unnaturally quiet in his movements. Harry stared at him in shock.

It was Tom Riddle.

Harry knew it; he would recognize that pale skin and those dark eyes anywhere. But he was young, much younger than when Harry had seen him as a child in Dumbledore's memory.This Tom Riddle couldn't have been more than four or five years old. He walked with a surprising grace, considering his age and size. He looked very smug. Harry got the feeling that this, sneaking off into the woods by himself, was something that the young Tom Riddle knew that he was not supposed to be doing.

Harry gaped, totally perplexed. Why was Voldemort showing him a memory from when he was a child…?

But Harry followed along anyway, realizing that he wouldn't have much say in the matter even if he hadn't wanted to watch. Which of course he did, because it was glorious, being able to see again, with such immaculate, perfect vision…

Tom Riddle sauntered through the woods, the unseen ghost of Harry Potter at his side.

For a few minutes, this was all they did—walked through the warm-colors trees underneath a bright, blue sky. And really, that would have been enough for Harry. It was a stunning forest, and he found himself quite content just walking and looking around, appreciating nature in a way that he never had before.

Then they came to a small clearing. Tom smiled when he happened upon it and the bubbling creek which cut through the middle. He knelt down, reaching his tiny hands into the water and cupping them, only to let the liquid sift through his fingers right back into the brook. He laughed, doing this no less than five more times, like he found the simple fluidity of water fascinating.

He paused when a leaf fell from a tree, fluttering towards him. Tom looked up, eyes wide and hands currently full of water—

The leaf froze.

Harry watched in amazement as the crimson leaf remained there, hovering right in front of his face, remaining in place. Tom looked even more shocked than Harry did—he dropped his hands, splashing water down his front when he did, but he hardly seemed to notice. His attention was fixed on the leaf, his gaze filled with wonder.

Tom reached out, slowly. Harry thought for sure that he was going to grab it, but then, to his surprise, Tom stopped short. The child held his hand in front of the floating leaf, and instead of wrapping his fingers around it, he moved his arm to the side... and the leaf followed.

He was moving it. Tom beamed as he wandlessly, wordlessly, purposefully guided the single leaf in a circle around him, twisting and twirling in midair as he slowly spun. Harry could tell by his radiant smile that this was the first time Voldemort, as a child, had performed magic. And it wasn't some kind of life-saving accident, either… It was intentional.

Another puff of wind blew through the air, and more leaves fell. Tom reached his other hand out, his smile faltering for a second as his brows furrowed in concentration… and, to Harry's amazement, he managed to make those leaves float too, just like the first one.

His grin was back in full force. Tom began to spin, then, both arms extended. As he did, the leaves moved with him, circling around him, orbiting him like he was the sun and they were his fluttering planets. Tom started spinning faster, laughing. The leaves matched his pace, and when the next gust of wind freed another dozen leaves from their branches, he collected more bits of gold and red and orange.

Tom Riddle was a miniature, human tornado, surrounded by colors and dancing winds. He turned faster and faster, laughing the entire time, dark eyes shining with joy. It was an infectious feeling, and Harry found himself smiling just as broadly, mesmerized by this child's whirlwind of autumn hues.

The memory started to blur.

Harry exhaled sharply, his bleak reality rising up to greet him. He desperately tried to cling to some scrap of light, not wanting to lose that precious vision, but it was fading, as was the sound of Tom Riddle's childish laughter. The warmth, the weightless sensation, the Dark Lord's hands on his face… They all began to fade.

By the time Harry had fully returned to his horrific present, Voldemort was gone. The darkness of his cell was no longer charged with Voldemort's sinister energy, but was the empty, hollow sea of shadows that held no one and nothing.

Harry put his hands to his face where the Dark Lord's had been just moments before, still feeling the ghost of them there. He pulled his knees to his chest, feeling dazed and strangely abandoned… unable to do anything other than wonder why Lord Voldemort had shared that with him.

Chapter Text

"How are you feeling?" 

Not long after Voldemort had made his mysterious exit, Narcissa returned. And with her, that strange, subtle… flavor of indigo.

Flavor. That was the word that Harry found himself thinking of to describe it. Because he couldn't see it, he couldn't see anything at all, but… deep blue, when she was near.

Well… most of the time, at least.

"Child? Are you all right?"

When he didn't answer right away, the atmosphere shifted slightly. More of a bright, green-ish blue color. Less pleasant, more… worried.

She was worried. Harry cleared his throat, turning his head in her direction. "Yes," he said. "I'm fine."

Harry heard Narcissa kneel down next to him, felt her soft hand on his shoulder. The green tint vanished, suddenly all dark navy again, calm and relieved.

"I brought more water. And… I know it's not very palatable, but I have another nutrition elixir for you, too."

Harry's ability to hide his grimace must have been very poor, because Narcissa laughed. "I know. But I have something else, too, if you manage to keep it down. A surprise."

"A surprise?" Harry asked, his eyes closed but brows raised. What in the world could Narcissa bring him as a surprise?

"Yes. But I'm not giving it to you until you take this elixir."

Harry felt the vial bring pressed to his lips, and he grinned crookedly when he took it. He wondered if this was the sort of thing Narcissa Malfoy had to do often in order to get her son to behave properly. It was no wonder Draco was so spoiled.

But Harry said nothing, only swallowed back the foul concoction. Narcissa took the vial away and replaced it with a goblet of water, which he then drank from deeply, trying and failing to rid himself of the disgusting taste in his mouth.

Narcissa pulled the cup away quickly too. "Here," she said, and Harry almost jumped, because the color had suddenly shifted again—something rosier and warmer. Lighter… excited. "I know it's not much, but, well, after drinking that dreadful stuff…"

Something small and hard was pressed into his palm. Harry examined it with his fingers, curious. Something on a stick…

He figured it out at the same time that she said it. "Sweet Crystals, from Honeydukes," she explained, and the pink-ish tint in the air brightened. "They were my favorite when I was a girl. Well, they still are, to be honest. Don't tell anyone."

Harry laughed. "I'll never tell a soul," he promised, grinning.

"Good. Then I won't need to feel guilty about having one with you, then." Harry heard the goblet being set aside. Narcissa shifted her weight until she was sitting next to him, their shoulders touching. "When I was nine, I contracted this horrible illness. The Black Cat Flu, ever heard of it? Awful sickness. I couldn't eat, I could hardly keep water down, even. I got so bad that I ended up in St. Mungo's for nearly a week. I lived on nothing but those nutrition elixirs for days."

Harry tentatively licked the surface of his treat, listening while he wondered what color the Sweet Crystal in his hand was. He was pretty sure they were all just sugar, though. He definitely didn't notice any particular flavor—just pure sweetness.

"So my father would sneak me in Sweet Crystals," she went on. "I couldn't keep down real food, but I could certainly eat candy. The promise of sugar made taking the elixirs bearable. At least, for me. As a nine-year-old. Not that you're nine, but I thought you might like one."

Harry found himself feeling amused rather than offended by any means. "You're never too old for candy, so far as I'm concerned," he said.

Narcissa paused, and Harry almost wondered if he'd just said the wrong thing. "Well played," she eventually murmured, and Harry could practically feel her smile. "Cheers to that."

Harry licked his crystal stick again, trying once more to discern any unique flavor. There was none. "What color is mine?" he asked, even though he knew it hardly mattered. "Just curious."

"Simple, unexciting clear," she answered. "I thought to give you the green one that I am currently enjoying, but I can't have your mouth colored oddly. It would be incriminating evidence."

Harry thought about that, about what the Dark Lord might do if he noticed that his captive inexplicably had a green tongue and lips. He couldn't help but snort at the notion.

"That was a lie," Narcissa continued jokingly. "I actually just wanted the green one for myself. I am a selfish, horrible person. I think it stems from being the youngest child."

"You are anything but a selfish, horrible person," Harry argued adamantly. Narcissa didn't say anything in response, though she did drape an arm over his shoulder.

They fell into silence for a while after that, each quietly enjoying their secret treat. The Sugar Crystals were small, and therefore didn't last long, but the sweetness really did get rid of all lingering tartness from the elixir.

"There's still no news of your friends," Narcissa eventually said, taking the empty stick from his hand. "They're still on the run…"

Harry swallowed thickly. He had been pointedly not asking, sure that if there was news, he would find out quickly enough. "Everyone still thinks I'm missing then, too?"

"Yes. Things have been very busy at the Ministry and elsewhere. The wizarding world is in a hectic state now that the war is over and the Dark Lord is officially victorious…"

At the mention of Voldemort, Harry instantly bristled—he felt it, sharp and frigid, like a slip of icy silk being dragged up his spine, soft but deathly cold—

But then, just as he noticed it, the feeling was gone, and Harry was sure he'd imagined it.

Narcissa went on, oblivious to his sudden rigidity. "New policies are being put into place, old laws are being overturned, re-written, or abolished completely… I daresay that the Dark Lord will not be back here anytime soon."

It was clear by the way she said it that Narcissa was not sure if this was good news or not. It was good, as it meant that he was not going to be tortured anytime soon…

But it was bad, as it also meant that there was no getting his sight back in the near future.

Harry fidgeted uncomfortably, unsure of what to say. "But I'll come back more often. Maybe… maybe…" Narcissa's voice trailed off thoughtfully. "Well. Anyway. Yes, I'll come back when I can. Here."

Harry felt a familiar rush of coolness wash over his body. A cleaning charm. "Someday, I will experience a shower again," Harry muttered, shaking his head. "I… I'm sorry you have to deal with taking care of me. I just… I'm sorry."

"You have nothing to apologize for," she said at once. "Not to me. Not ever." Narcissa leaned forward and embraced him. The veil of blue turned a deep, saturated violet as she did. "You saved my son," she whispered. "I will never forget that, child."

Then she sniffed loudly and let him go. "I will be back soon," she vowed. Harry heard her shuffling away, gently closing the gate behind her.

And he couldn't be sure, because he was unable see her…but Harry was fairly certain that she had begun to cry.


Narcissa's prediction of a Voldemort-less existence proved to be very wrong, very soon. It couldn't have been more than an hour before Harry felt it again—that black, chilly energy in the air, dark and slightly nauseating.

Their magic, Harry realized, precipitously yet inexplicably certain. He was sensing their magic

But he didn't have time to linger on this comprehension long. Rather than stand there and silently observe him for a time, the Dark Lord did not enter stealthily. The gate opened with its usual, high-pitched screech, and Harry snapped his head up at the sound as though surprised. He stiffened, held his breath, and didn't move.

Voldemort slowly walked towards him with measured, clearly audible footsteps. Like he wanted Harry to know exactly where he was, exactly how close he was getting.

Closer… and closer…

The Dark Lord stopped when he must have been right in front of him. Harry was sure that if he reached out, his hand would graze the dark wizard's leg. Naturally, Harry retracted further away instead, pressing his back into the wall.

But there was no escaping the Dark Lord.

Seconds later, and Voldemort was leaning down, his cool fingers gliding over Harry's forehead, lingering on his scar. No warmth, no light - but no pain either. Harry didn't do or say anything, only sat there, stock-still. Refusing to react. Refusing to give him anything at all.

…Until a single digit touched his mouth. An unnaturally cold thumb was being pressed onto his lower lip, tracing the shape of his mouth, unnervingly gently. Harry gasped at the unexpected motion, and the very slight but noticeable rush of lightness that accompanied it.

The blackness—that impenetrable, ominous energy that simply was Lord Voldemort—did something that Harry would have thought impossible, and darkened even further. And at the same time, something almost… bitter and harsh tasting, something ugly.

But Voldemort continued his tender action of outlining his lips, and when he spoke, it was in a deceptively kind tone. "How very resilient you are, my soul… How precious. How…sweet."

Harry's muscles tensed at the insinuation being made. Did he… did he know, about Narcissa granting him a kindness? Or was it just some kind of sick coincidence with his choice of words?

Harry didn't have a chance to ask. The surge of fear that plagued him was washed away almost at once, replaced by that dizzying, beautiful buoyancy, that weightlessness…

And it was weightless, the feeling that coursed through him, thrumming through his skin, his bones, his very being. It was beautiful, and it was whole, and it was perfect… Harry wanted to sing with the loveliness of it all, wanted to sink into the feeling and never resurface…

Then light, real light, was flashing across his mind… He was seeing, but it was not with his eyes which he saw… himself; it was he, Harry, but no—

This boy, he was looking at this impossible human… This entity which he owned in every conceivable way, and yet was so inexplicable, so beyond logic—this mystery who was leaning into his hand, his breath hitching in his throat, chest heaving, lips parting, and there was such light, such purity—it was irresistible, it was fascinating—he wanted it, needed

It had lasted only a second. Harry's existence had gone from black to white and back again, but the buoyant feeling never dissipated. Voldemort was still holding his face, and he had… Harry had experienced the world through Voldemort's mind, through the Dark Lord's eyes, again... And while Harry, personally, felt that magnetic pull in his own mind, it was nothing compared to what he had just felt a moment ago, while in Lord Voldemort's psyche. That longing for light, that insatiable desire…

Feeling confused, disoriented, and awash in that pleasant, dizzying sea of warmth, Harry did something that he had never done before. Without really knowing why, he reached his own hands up to try and find the Dark Lord's face. It was a slow, controlled action, as he was unable to see, but Voldemort didn't stop him, and soon his fingers found disquietingly cold skin and cool, hollowed cheeks. It was such a contrast to the warmth that was currently flooding through his soul, their souls…

As Harry ran his own fingers very cautiously along this murderer's jawline, he couldn't help but wonder - what must such a life be like? To be so cold, to be so eternally chilled…?

"A gift…"

Voldemort whispered the words, his fingers ghosting over Harry's own before their foreheads touched. Once more, the ocean of shadows dissolved, becoming something bright and visible

…Harry saw

He saw… but no… it couldn't be…

The Quidditch pitch?

Harry landed firmly on what he knew at once to be a most familiar, beloved landscape.

It was, it was the Quidditch pitch! Bright green grass and an endless sky of cloudy but harmless gray... Perfect flying conditions. The smile that stretched across Harry's face was painful, it was so wide. His best memories of Hogwarts had been made here, on these very grounds, soaring through the air… When, no matter what turmoil was plaguing his current existence, it had just been he and that dastardly little, golden ball… Harry Potter and the snitch, and while the winged orb was active, all of his worries of the oncoming war, Death Eaters, and their Dark Lord were forgotten.

As if on cue, at that thought, Harry saw him.

Tom Riddle was much more recognizable in this memory.

Eleven, and looking exactly as he had in Dumbledore's memory from the orphanage. He was with the rest of his class. The first year Slytherins, by the looks of it, and the Gryffindors, probably…

Yes, definitely the Gryffindors. Harry could tell by the way the two groups were shifting away from each other, by how they split so evenly down the center. Obvious animosity—just as it had been when he was in school, if not even more pronounced. They lined up, each child taking a designated spot next to a broom, which all lay on the ground in the grass…

Oh my God, Harry thought in shock. This vision, this memory—this was Tom Riddle's first flying lesson.

Suddenly intensely interested in seeing how this would play out, Harry turned to watch the young Tom Riddle, who was staring down at the broom at his feet with a blank expression on his face.

A portly man with thick, gray hair who had been pacing the grounds stopped once they each found a broom. "My name is Mister Carswell," he announced, making most of the first years fall silent. "I will be your flying instructor. Now, there are many different strategies for flying, many methods which I could sit here and try to explain to you—but years of teaching have forced me to come to terms with the fact that this would be useless, as none of you would pay attention anyway, just as most of you aren't paying attention now. Abbot!"

A boy on the Gryffindor side, who had been whispering under his breath to a friend, jumped at the sound of his name. "Quit blathering about your supposed flying prowess and listen up!" the teacher barked. Abbot flushed, but held his tongue. "Now, my approach to teaching the fine art of flying is... to just let you lot figure it out on you own. Ha!"

Mister Carswell let out a loud bark of laughter. Harry decided that he liked him. "This isn't Potions class, I'm not going to talk your ear off like Slughorn. Some things you just have to do! Now, everyone, put your hand up above your broom, and say—with confidence!—'up'!"

Most of the first years looked at each other nervously, but several of them didn't wait, and instead instantly began trying to summon their brooms.

Tom Riddle was one of those who did not hesitate.

"Up." He didn't shout the word like most of the other children. In fact, he said it so quietly that Harry barely heard it. Yet the moment the command left his lips, the broom sprung into his hands. It was the very first of the group's to do so.

The other first years stared at him—the Slytherins in disbelief, the Gryffindors in obvious irritation—but Tom didn't react to any of it. He just held the broom in one hand, looking towards the instructor and waiting patiently for the next step.

Harry, personally, found himself feeling conflicted. One the one hand, he was impressed, just as the other Slytherin students were. But on the other hand, he was, perhaps childishly, annoyed.

Flying—and, consequently, Quidditch—had always been Harry's only talent. Sure, he was decent at a number of other things, but flying… That had been his true skill, his only claim to fame that did not come from his name or some far-fetched prophecy. He wasn't amazing at Wizard's Chess, Charms, Advanced Potions, or anything else, really (unless one counted being able to survive dark magic on a regular basis). His natural ability to fly well the moment he'd touched a broom had been the only skill that Harry really took pride in… So how was it fair that Tom Riddle had been instantly amazing at that, too?

But he was. The instructor showed them how to mount, how to properly take off - and Tom Riddle, who had lived in a muggle orphanage his entire life and could not have possibly ridden a broom before this moment, unlike many of his classmates, was a natural. He flew with an absurd ease, turning corners and controlling his speed so seamlessly that it looked like he had flown for years.

"You're really amazing, Tom!"

Harry listened with intrigue as a girl from Tom's house gushed the moment the young Slytherin Heir hit the ground. Riddle's face was still pink from the wind, still smiling from that joyous, indescribable feeling of being airborne for the first time. The girl who spoke had been horrid at flying, choosing to remain on the grass with a few of her classmates. "You must have learned from someone. Did your father fly? Or an uncle, or something?"

Tom's expression darkened, his innocent grin faltering at her words. The girl, who had been grinning so zealously before, immediately stepped away.

"No," he said without looking at her. "…No one taught me."

There was a tense moment when the girls just stared at each other, as if waiting for one of the others to figure out the correct thing to say.

They were saved from coming up with something, though, for Mr. Carswell came bustling over. "Mr. Riddle!" he exclaimed, clapping Tom on the shoulder so forcibly the boy nearly fell over. "That was superb, best I've seen in years! And I've been doing this for… Good Lord." He paused, furrowing his thick, silvery brows. "…Over thirty years? Has it been that long?" He shook his head, sighing as he guided Tom away from the group of girls.

"I may be old, Mr. Riddle, but I'm not senile. You were incredible in the air, a real natural." The old man was speaking quietly, peering over his shoulder as if to make sure no one could hear him. "You know, I don't think I've ever said this to a first year student, but… You should consider trying out for the Slytherin Quidditch team, son."

Tom peered up at him, one eyebrow raised. "Really?" he said, skeptical. "But there hasn't been a first year player in…"

"Over fifty years," Mr. Carswell said, nodding. "A Hufflepuff boy, he played Beater. A muggle-born who had played some sport called baseball before he came to Hogwarts. Had a real knack for hitting things, I guess." The instructor shrugged, like he found this unimpressive. Tom visibly became more interested.

"But you, Mr. Riddle… You showed some real promise in the air today. Coordination, speed, control… even your landings were good. You could be a Chaser, no doubt in my mind."

"A Chaser…" Tom echoed, thoughtful.

"Yes sir, they're the real stars of the show. Though, I suppose the Seeker gets all of the fame for a few moments in the end… But trust me, you don't want to play Seeker. They really get the worst of it. All alone during the entire game, getting reprimanded if they pay too much attention to what's going on… Living in the dark, basically, knowing that they're only supposed to focus on the one thing. And if they do it, and their team wins by the correct margin of points, then great! They're heroes. But if they don't…"

He shook his head, almost sympathetically. "If they don't manage to complete the one task, then it's like they've let their entire House down. All of the efforts of the Chasers, the Beaters, the Keeper—all of their labor is for nothing if the Seeker screws up, and trust me…they know. Being a Seeker is hard. They sacrifice a lot. That's why so few people try out for it and they tend to not last very long."

Mr. Carswell poked Tom in the chest then, the spark in his eyes swiftly returning. "Ah, but to be a Chaser! That's where all the glory and the action is; that's the position everyone wants. And hey, if your team does lose, well… you just blame the Seeker!" He laughed heartily, beaming. "So, if you need a note or something for tryouts since you're a first year, let me know. I'd be happy to write one for you."

Tom looked at him for a long moment. "Thank you," he eventually said, his voice level and unemotional. "I shall… think about it."

The old wizard looked very smug, like he was so sure that Tom Riddle was about to become Hogwarts' finest Chaser. "You would be great, Mr. Riddle, I can feel it," he said, gripping Tom's shoulder and smiling confidently.

"Great."

The Quidditch pitch, the cloudy sky, the dark, inquisitive gaze of Tom Riddle…

All of it was deteriorating around him. Harry knew it was futile to try and hold on to the vision, but he tried nonetheless. Seconds later, however, and it was gone. The memory and the sinister wizard who had supplied it had both vanished entirely.

Except… no, not entirely. Voldemort was no longer touching him, the Dark Lord had moved away so that their foreheads were no longer pressed together… But the suffocating blackness of his magic was still present.

Harry ran a hand through his hair, surprised to find that he was shaking slightly. Voldemort was still with him in the cell, nearby, but…

But he couldn't know that Harry was aware that he was still there. Harry's mind raced, unsure of how to proceed. What should he do, being observed by the Dark Lord, when the Dark Lord himself thought that he watching his human horcrux unknowingly?

Unsure of why he was saying it, Harry just went ahead and verbalized the first thought that came to him.

"Seeking… and living in the dark…"

Harry laughed when he realized just how ridiculously poignant that old man's words were for his current circumstances. It was a cold, mirthless, sound.

"It is a hard role to play," Harry went on. "But I never tried out for my House. I never tried out… I was just sort of pushed into it, because there was no one else. Because they needed someone."

Tears, unexpected and unwanted, sprung to life in his sightless eyes. Harry buried his head in his knees, hiding his face from the voyeuristic entity that he knew was still there.

"I never wanted this," he whispered, now speaking only to himself.

"I never wanted this."

The blackness vanished. Harry wasn't sure if the certainty of solitude was reassuring or not.

Chapter Text

Tragic depression and endless fear could only keep Harry awake for so long.

His body was exhausted, and though he had managed to get one good night's rest when Narcissa had brought him a Dreamless Draught, it was not enough. Not long after the Dark Lord left him again, Harry fell into a fretful and disquieting slumber.

He dreamt in black and white.

Harry was in a cave…

The cave.

Only there was no Headmaster there with him, this time. Harry was alone on the island in the middle of a black and bottomless lake. The water's surface was as smooth as glass, dark, pristine, and currently undisturbed.

Harry turned towards the familiar stone basin. It was glowing faintly, colorless but bright. He approached it, peering warily over the rim, expecting to see it full of liquid with a fake locket in its depths…

He was very surprised, then, to find not a sickly potion or a necklace… but a bird.

A tiny thing, a canary. It sat in the bottom on the bowl and stared at him with shining, black eyes, its little head tilted to one side inquisitively.

But the most startling thing about the creature was that it, unlike the rest of his monotonous and sinister surroundings, was in color. The canary alone was a bright, vibrant gold-yellow, and it was its brilliantly hued feathers which emitted the pulsating light.

Harry gawked at it, confused. Maybe it was the way in which it shimmered, or maybe it was just because it was small and gold, and he was a Seeker at his very core, whether he'd chosen to be one or not…but Harry was suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to hold it.

He slowly reached for the bird. The canary didn't move as he leaned forward, it just sat there, unnervingly motionless…

But the second Harry's fingers came into contact with what were surprisingly warm feathers, the bird instantly took flight. Harry's heart leapt in his throat at the sudden motion. The canary had become frantic at his touch, panicked, and flew from the basin in a rush of flapping wings and chaotic, high-strung warbles. Harry watched as the terrified creature fluttered up and away, trilling notes of desperation which echoed eerily in the vast cave…

A moment later, and the bird was gone. Its song of terror lingered in Harry's mind, panicked and unsettling…

A ripple.

The slight movement from the flat surface of the water drew Harry's eyes to it at once. The plane of perfect blackness became distorted as a hand—a human hand, a pale hand—a rotting, deteriorating hand—burst upwards, just a few feet away from the island's edge—

Harry yelped and backed away, but when he turned, he saw that another arm had shot out of the lake on the opposite side, and then another—he spun in a circle, but they were everywhere, now, animated corpses erupting from their watery prison, and there was no boat, this time, not even the illusion of possibility for escape—

How, and why were the Inferi attacking? He had not touched the water, he had not done anything to awaken them—Harry reached into his robe pocket, but he found that he did not have a wand—

The first corpse crawled onto the island with him. Harry looked upon the face of the undead man, and saw, with a thrill of horror—

Sirius.

Harry screamed, panic and terror ripping their way out of his throat.

His dead Godfather was ambling towards him, arms outstretched. Harry turned, only to see that the next body which had emerged from the lake was another man which he recognized. Cedric Diggory, whose lifeless body he had once clung to, was animate and moving towards him, though he was anything but alive—

All around him, the corpses of those he had lost advanced, dripping wet and moaning, stumbling towards him, eyes hollowed and the flesh rotting off their exposed bones—

Alastor Moody, Remus Lupin, Lavender Brown, little Colin Creevey… Neville Longbottom… Harry was surrounded by them, his back pressed against the empty basin with no chance of escape, he was going to be dragged into the water by all those he had failed, who had sacrificed themselves for him…

And then he saw Ron.

Ronald Weasley came out of the water next, and Harry's terror was accompanied by the strangest, fiercest wave of denial.

"No!" he roared when he looked upon the deteriorating, deadened face of his best friend. "No, no, Ron, you're not dead, you're not—"

Surely he was imagining it, but Harry was certain he had seen a spark of life in those familiar, blue eyes that was not present in the others. Harry found himself shoving the other Inferi away from him, actually running into the lake to go towards his best friend. His frantic, chaotic mind was forcing his feet towards Ron, like he wasn't actually dead, and if he could just get to him he could save him, somehow, make it so that it was not real—

But Harry couldn't make it to him. The moment he was knee-deep in the icy water, the other animate corpses attacked, clawing at his clothes—there were too many to fend off, their water-logged bodies were too heavy—

"Ron!" he screamed, but he couldn't see anything other than a wall of rotting limbs and wet, putrid flesh. "Ron!" he yelled again, but his screams were drowned out by the guttural moans of the undead.

And then he was falling, being forced into the depths of the frigid lake. Harry's lungs filled with ice water, cold and horrible and suffocating—

"Wake up! Wake up!"

Harry woke with a scream on his lips.

The room was bathed in a vibrant, putrid yellow. He was writhing on the hard, stone floor, thrashing and shoving something—someone—away from him. Hands landed on his shoulders, and Harry jumped violently. But the stranger's grasp was resolute, holding him firmly and preventing him from scrambling away.

Harry took in a deep, shuddering breath. "It's okay," came Narcissa's calming voice, but her grip on his shoulders remained latched onto him, surprisingly strong. "You were just h-having a nightmare, child… You're okay…"

Harry nodded, breathing deeply and trying to slow his racing heart. A dream, he had been dreaming… He stop trying to force her off of him, and Narcissa's grip on his shoulder relaxed. It was still extremely disorienting, to wake up to darkness…

Except, not quite darkness. The sickly tint of yellow-green was shifting, slipping back into a deep and calming blue…

"Is Ron okay?" Harry asked the moment he was able to speak. "Have they caught him, have you heard anything, about him or Hermione? Has—?"

"Shhh, calm down, child," Narcissa said. "I have not heard any news about the whereabouts of your friends. They are still missing. And I would know at once if either of them had been found… Trust me."

Harry nodded again. A rush of relief so powerful swept through him that he nearly felt dizzy. He almost smiled then, too, as he realized the weight of her last words. He did trust Narcissa Malfoy, with her deep blue energy that washed over the cell. Strange, the way in which the hue changed. That yellow-ish tint had been laced with the bitter taste of fear and panic. Now, the air was flavored in a calm sort of navy serenity…

Very strange…

"I apologize," the witch murmured, pulling Harry towards her and holding him. He hadn't even realized he was shaking until he was pressed against her much more composed and rigid chest. "I should have brought you another Dreamless Draught. I was thinking to only bring one every other night or so, as they can be horribly addictive…"

Harry snorted involuntarily, feeling a bit loopy from the news that Ron and Hermione had not been caught. "All things considered, I think developing a dependency on Dreamless Draughts would be the least of my worries," he muttered, shifting so that he was sitting next to her more comfortably.

Narcissa laughed at that. "Fair enough," she admitted. She kept her arm around his shoulder when he moved, like she was unwilling to let him go completely until he stopped shaking. "I'll bring them every night, then. That sounded like quite a nightmare you were having… I could hear you from the Dining Hall. I thought…"

The navy atmosphere was tinged a bit greener, again. Her voice trailed off, but Harry was able to finish her statement well enough in his head: I thought the Dark Lord had appeared without warning to torture you.

"Just…just a bad dream," Harry said hoarsely.

They fell into silence. Narcissa started running her fingers through his hair, an action she always seemed to do when she visited him. Harry wondered if it was just because his hair was so messy, and she was used to such perfection in her life, such order. Harry remembered the few glimpses of Malfoy Manor, with its elegant furniture and dazzling chandeliers…and how she, her husband, and her son were all always so poised and sophisticated, not a hair out of place…

Well, Harry thought with a very morbid sense of humor, she had met her match in his unruly locks. He doubted there was anything, magical or otherwise, that would make it lie flat.

But the action felt nice, so Harry certainly wasn't complaining. Strange, too, because Voldemort had done the same thing to him, more than once… But the similar actions could not be more different. When the Dark Lord carded his cold, spidery finger through his hair, it was the creepiest, most unnerving gesture. Being touched by Voldemort made his skin crawl…

Except of course, when he was bringing forth that impossible light, tapping into the connection that they shared through the horcrux. Then it felt so welcoming, and weightless, so pleasant—so good

Harry shook his head slightly. No, there was nothing good about being touched by Lord Voldemort—and any time he thought otherwise, it was just because of the fragment of his soul in him. It wasn't his fault, Harry told himself firmly, that he felt so consumed by it. It wasn't him.

It wasn't him.

Ah, but being touched by Narcissa was entirely different. Her hands in his hair and her arms around his shoulder made him feel warm and safe. Cared for, even.

He relaxed into her embrace. Eventually, his body stopped shaking, and his breathing was slow and steady.

"Do you think you can eat anything? Are you hungry?" she asked after a time.

Harry shook his head. "No," he said, picturing nightmarish caves and rotting corpses. "I'm not hungry at all."

Narcissa sighed. "Okay. But a few more days, and nutrition elixirs won't be enough to keep you well… They work in a pinch, but you're losing weight. You'll need real food, eventually…"

Harry didn't say anything. The thought of eating solid food made him feel surprisingly nauseas.

"What's your favorite food?" she asked suddenly, and the indigo tint in the air became a bit more violet…interested.

Harry pursed his lips as he thought about it. "I don't know," he admitted. "Maybe treacle tart? I pretty much loved everything they fed us at Hogwarts. I thought the welcoming feast was a joke, my first day there. I don't think I'd ever seen so much food in one place."

"Oh, I bet you're just like my son," Narcissa said, and the atmosphere became rosier still. "He can eat for days, and he stays a thin as a broomstick." She laughed, never ceasing in her affectionate, useless attempts at combing his hair.

"Pretty much," Harry agreed, thinking of how no matter how much he ate during the school year, he had always remained a very scrawny child. "I think that's about it, though, when it comes to similarities between your son and me."

"Ah, not true." Narcissa's voice was almost smug sounding. "You're both competitive, aren't you? At least, that's how Draco always made it sound. Like you were his biggest rival in the entire world. I always heard about the Quidditch matches in the letters he would write. Two whole pages about every single thing that occurred which made it unfair that you won—beseeching his father to get someone at the Ministry to fire Madam Hooch, silly things like that. I remember when he first made Seeker, how he begged us to buy the entire Slytherin team new brooms—"

"Which you actually did," Harry muttered, unable to stop the twinge of resentment from seeping into his voice.

But Narcissa just laughed good-naturedly. "I know, I'm terrible. I told him no at first, that that was ridiculous…but then he threatened to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas break that year. So I gave in. I hope you don't judge me too harshly for a being an enabling mother."

"Not at all," Harry said. "I still beat him in every match."

"Oh, yes, I know. I heard all about it."

"I hope you don't judge me too harshly for a superior Seeker."

Narcissa laughed again, and Harry thought he liked the sound of it, her laughter. He wished he could see her face. The most vivid memory he had of Narcissa's face was either terrified, from when he had seen her in the cell, or like there was a bad smell under her nose, from when he had seen her outside of the current hell that was his life.

"See, that was why I never liked Quidditch when I was in school. It just consumed everyone who played or cared about it… One of my sisters played, but I never could understand what the appeal was. Balls and brooms and points, but at the end of the day, what did it matter?"

Harry normally would have spoken passionately about just how much it mattered, how it mattered more than most classes, exams and possibly even the war, but he didn't. For the rosy and somewhat cheerful purple tone had turned a cold, deep blue at the mention of her sister.

He could only assume she meant Andromeda Black, the sister who had married a muggle-born man and was subsequently burned off of the family tapestry…

"But not me," Narcissa went on. "I didn't care for sports. I was a choir girl."

"Were you?" Harry asked.

"Oh, yes. Professor Flitwick adored me. His one and only Soubrette Soprano, he called me. My voice was very high, I could hit any note." She paused, sighing wistfully. The aura around her was once more a pleasant, warm violet. "In my fourth year, I had a solo piece at the annual Yuletide festivities, the day before we all left for Christmas break. The Holly and the Ivy, have you ever heard it?"

"No, I haven't," Harry said.

"It's a lovely song," she gushed. "I was so happy to sing it by myself, too. Lucius asked me to be his girlfriend that day. Years later, on the day he proposed to me, Lucius confessed that he knew he had to marry me when he heard me sing that day." The atmosphere of purple turned redder, rosier.

"…Will you sing it?"

Harry wasn't sure why he asked…but he suddenly wanted to hear it, this song which had inspired an actual, happy relationship…

"Oh, I haven't sang in years."

"All the more reason, then," Harry prodded. And without really knowing how he knew, Harry could tell that she wanted to, and was just trying to act modest. "I'd love to hear it… If you don't mind."

She was quiet for a moment. Harry waited patiently as the silence stretched on, and then…

"The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown…"

Narcissa's voice was high and clear; beautiful. Harry had his ear against her chest, the song vibrating against him… But what was really amazing was what was happening to her magic, as she sang…

"Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown…"

The violet saturation had turned completely pink… And then it transitioned into orange, bright and cheery, then yellow… It was a mesmeric rainbow, all melding and blending with her words; not actually visible, not really, but tangible, in his mind…

"The rising of the sun, and the running of the deer…"

Harry was stunned. Her voice, her magic, the lyrics of this mystical song…

"The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir…"

While Narcissa sang, Harry's world of shadows did not seem bleak at all.


But when she was gone…

Darkness.

Harry was alone in the cell, left with nothing but the ghost of Narcissa's voice and the promise that she would return with a Dreamless Draught before long. The absence of her calming aura, whether it was its typical navy or fluctuating with her emotions, made his cell feel so cold and empty.

Harry thought furiously. This strange ability to sense…to feel the magic of people around him… It must have been his own magic responding to a crisis, a much more extreme version of bouncing when dropped or something…

It was fascinating. Harry wondered if everyone had their own flavor of magical energy. Probably, he mused, but it was hard to tell, considering that the only people he'd be in contact with since being blinded were Narcissa Malfoy and the Dark Lord…

Voldemort, with his aura of deep blackness that made his own, blinded world of darkness seem bright in comparison. Cold and frigid when he was calm, but when the Dark Lord was angry, it became so dense and heavy that it was suffocating, so overwhelming that it made Harry sick to his stomach, repulsed…

Which is honestly where he wished it all ended, when it came to his…relationship with his prophesized enemy.

But didn't.

That light, that brilliant light…

It was so warm and welcoming. And a part of it was definitely from the horcrux, that link was absolutely the reason such a shared sensation was possible in the first place, but…

But Harry thought he was starting to really figure out what was going on.

The light, the beautiful lure of it, the blindness, the memories…

And Lord Voldemort's oddly frequent appearances, considering just how busy he should be right now…

Just like that, as if on cue, Harry felt him.

Another stealthy, silent arrival. There was no creaking of the gate this time, no purposeful and ominous footsteps… Lord Voldemort was there in the cell with him, his dark presence emitting a cold, black shadow across his mind.

Harry hardly suppressed a smirk. Some part of him wanted to laugh, but he did not want to give away his newfound ability to sense people. If Voldemort thought he was completely blind and vulnerable, good. Harry wanted him to think that. The less the Dark Lord knew about Harry's power, the better.

Just one more power he'd know not

Harry did smirk, then.

He wondered what Voldemort was thinking, just standing there. Harry stayed perfectly still, sitting on the floor in the corner with his back against the wall, and focused… He furrowed his brows, reaching, trying to discern where, exactly, the Dark Lord was…

When he put effort into it, he could sort of tell. The cloud of frigid blackness was thinner to the right, and…definitely denser, over there, towards the opposite corner… It felt like he was reaching with phantom hands, ghostly fingers that were trailing along the edge of a sheet of silk…

Oh.

He knew when he found him, precisely. It was like touching a block of solid ice. Harry gasped involuntarily as he mentally skimmed the surface of the aura of the most powerful sorcerer of all time, withdrawing his force and shuddering.

Harry pulled the blanket more tightly around his shoulders. Had Voldemort felt that, too? If he had, the Dark Lord did not react at all—magically or otherwise. His energy remained static, completely still…

Ah. No, it hadn't. The blackness had…not lightened, no, but…something. It…shifted, somehow, became a bit more…active.

Curious.

Lord Voldemort was curious

Oh, right. Because Harry had just recoiled and shuddered, like he was physically reacting to something. Which he was, but Lord Voldemort couldn't know that. To the Dark Lord, it must have just looked like Harry had just randomly gasped and shuddered…

Harry bit his lip, pondering what to do next. Voldemort only stood there, just…watching. Silently observing.

Well, what the hell did he expect Harry to do? What did he think his prisoner did all day, down here in a cell, blind and alone?

Scowling, Harry decided to simply turn his back on his creepy, stalking captor. He rolled to his side, facing the wall and pulling the blanket up and over his head. He can stare at my arse, then, Harry thought bitterly.

Another tiny shift in that ocean of blackness.

Annoyed.

Harry hardly managed to bite back a laugh. Annoyed? Voldemort was actually insulted that his prisoner had turned his back on him? When Harry was blind and, as far as Voldemort knew, thought to be entirely alone?

But he was, Harry could feel it. The Dark Lord was irritated that Harry had turned away from him. Even though Harry supposedly did not even know he was there.

Lunatic, Harry thought, feeling an odd combination of incredulous, nervous, and a bit amused.

He pretended to sleep, though such a thing was absolutely impossible. Still. He wasn't sure what else to do while being so blatantly watched by such an unwanted audience. It really was unsettling. Just what was going through the Dark Lord's mind as he stood there?

It had probably only been a few minutes that passed like that, with Harry feigning sleep and Voldemort struggling with whatever inner turmoil was going through his twisted mind, but it felt like much longer.

Then, light.

The faintest pulse of that warmth. Harry physically didn't respond, but something deep in his very core lit up at the presence of it, a dormant part of his soul which instantly cried out:

Yes.

It grew. Harry still didn't move from his side, still kept his unseeing eyes closed… But the warmth was becoming brighter, closer… Voldemort was silently approaching him, and…

When cool, spidery finger grazed the back of his neck, Harry could feign sleep no longer. The weightlessness burst across his skin, made his nerve-endings flare to life with the heat of that energy despite the coldness of the Dark Lord's fingertips…

Involuntarily, Harry rolled onto his back, shifting closer to the source of buoyancy, that beautiful connection… His head softly brushed against something, was being guided to rest on a surface that was a bizarre muxture of cold and bright. It took Harry a moment to understand what was happening. His head was…was on the Dark Lord's lap, now, that must have been it, because that pulsating warmth was stronger than it ever had been before…

Then there were hands on either side of his face, tracing his jawline, outlining the contours of his cheekbones, his forehead, the lightning bolt scar… Studying him, learning every curve, every hardened line…and Harry saw

This strange entity, this inconceivable threat… No, not a threat, not anymore… A mystery, a puzzle, a complication he could not figure out how to rid himself of… Voldemort brushed his fingertips over the closed lids of the boy's eyes, thinking of those emerald irises which had haunted him for so long, threatening him with the promise of death which their hue so perfectly mimicked… but no longer… And that wholeness, that pureness… It was impossible, how captivating it was…such an irresistible lure, this virgin soul… He did not want to be so enthralled by it—but he was. He wanted to drink it in, to devour it and swallow it whole, he wanted that purity, he wanted it.

Harry was caught in the strangest of states, somewhere in between himself and the Dark Lord. The light and blackness were mingling in an outlandish way, fire and ice swirling together and making him dizzy. It was too much, Harry couldn't handle it—Voldemort's strange desire was escalating, making his dark energy grow, suffocating—but that beautiful warmth was rising too, and it was all so overwhelming—Harry's entire being was being far too overstimulated, part of him craving that connection with the weightlessness and the bliss it provided, and another part recoiling from that sickening blackness, that cold, sick darkness that currently sang of obsessive want and need—

Some sound that was between a whimper and a moan escaped his lips when Voldemort dragged his fingers across both sides of his neck. Harry's back arched, his frazzled body unsure if it wanted less or more—and then he was seeing with a bright clarity, looking at himself through Voldemort's eyes again—

Harry saw his own lips part when he let out another desperate, panicked sound, and his unseeing eyes involuntarily fluttered open, looking right at—

No.

No.

But the moment was fleeting. A split second of vision, and then it was gone again, back to blindness. Harry closed his eyes, willing that to have just been his imagination, a trick—

But he didn't have long to panic over it. The sinister, repulsive lust that was overwhelming him before dissipated, leaving nothing but pure, radiating light in its wake. Harry sighed, muscles relaxing at the sudden relief of it.

"A gift…"

The Dark Lord pressed his forehead to his human horcrux's again, so cool and yet so warm, and the plane of shadows disappeared.

…Hogwarts.

Harry examined the familiar space with a curious expression. It was the Transfiguration room, in the middle of a class. First years, it looked like. Only it was not Minerva McGonagall who stood at the front of the room lecturing…

It was Albus Dumbledore.

And there, of course, was a young Tom Riddle.

The much younger, redheaded instructor smiled. "Match boxes are to your left," he said, pointing his wand towards a table. "You may each grab a match and begin."

Ah, yes. Harry remembered this. The very first practical test in which they were to turn a match into a needle and back again. Harry recalled his own experience with this. No one in his class had been able to make anything happen on that first day… Except Hermione, of course, who had made one end pointy and shiny, and been awarded house points for her prowess.

Tom was the first one to snatch up a boxy of matches. He didn't open it and share its contents with the rest of the class, just took the whole thing back to his desk.

He pulled out a single match and sat it down. Then he stared at it.

Tom Riddle's dark eyes were filled with a very intense, calculating shadow. It was a look which Harry saw on Hermione often. Thinking, thinking, thinking…

Other students had already begun to fruitlessly wave their wands and mutter enchantments. Not Tom. For a full minute he just stood there, holding his wand still and staring at the match like it was the most complicated and deadly of objects, and could not be approached safely until he was quite certain he knew how to dispose of it.

Finally, Dumbledore ambled by. He looked at Tom with one eyebrow raised. The young Slytherin Heir was so focused on the match that he didn't even notice his Professor hovering over his shoulder.

"Well, Tom?" Dumbledore said softly, and Tom jumped like he'd been shocked. "Give it a try."

Tom nodded shortly, having never taken his eyes off of the match. A few of the students nearest to him paused to watch, already looking frustrated with their own failed attempts.

Tom pointed his wand, and with a very purposeful gesture and perfect pronunciation, muttered the incantation.

"Mutare."

The splinter of wood transformed before their eyes. Slowly, mimicking the way in which he had cast the spell, the match shifted and warped until before them sat a flawless, shining needle.

Tom snatched it up, beaming. "I did it," he breathed, dark eyes lit up in an almost manic pride. "A perfect needle."

The nearest students who had been watching gaped in awe. Tom turned to Dumbledore, who had an oddly flat look on his face. There was no sparkle in those blue eyes, now.

"Very good, Tom," he said quietly. No smile, no lavish praise. "Now work on turning it back."

And then he walked away.

For a split second, Tom almost looked wounded—but his disappointment turned into a scowl the second Dumbledore had his back turned. He jammed the needle into the wood of the desk once Dumbledore was further away, and proceeded to look at it with a much more heated glare than he had when it was a match, like it had personally insulted him.

Tom did not once try to turn it back.

Harry watched the glowering young Dark Lord, and really, he found that he couldn't quite blame him. Dumbledore was much more amicable with the other students, whether Slytherin or Hufflepuff, grinning and giving advice and showering praise for such simple things as a good wrist movement. Harry got the impression that, had anyone else managed to make any progress at all, they would have been awarded points.

Soon, the chime which indicated the end of class sounded. Tom grabbed his bag and stormed from the room, leaving the needle sticking out of the desk, like he wanted to make sure Dumbledore had to remove it himself.

He marched down the hall with a grimace on his face.

"Hey."

Three of the boys who had watched the interaction between Tom and their professor caught up to him. They were all from his house; Harry recognized them from the flying lesson. "We saw that, what happened. You transfigured your match on your first try. That was brilliant."

The other boys bobbed their heads in agreement. Harry could tell that they were not at all considered friends by the young Tom Riddle, but they were already in awe of him. "Yeah, that was worthy of like, fifteen points, at least."

The compliment had the opposite effect that the light-haired boy must have been hoping for. Tom's scowl deepened significantly, and the small blonde looked nervous.

"He's just biased, that ginger git," said another, a skinny brunette. "It's because he's Head of Gryffindor house. He hates all Slytherins on principle."

"No…" Tom said, ire in his voice. "It is me Professor Dumbledore does not like."

The other boys looked at each other anxiously. Harry was suddenly reminded of the last memory, in which the group of girls who had been praising his flying skills had done the exact same thing.

Bizarrely enough, they were saved from having to think of something to say by the exact same person. "Tom Riddle!"

Mr. Carswell, the flying instructor, came bustling down the hall. "Just the first-year I was looking for!" The silver-haired man stood next to Tom and smiled. He then quickly glanced at the other students and frowned. "Mind if I steal your friend for a moment? Very good."

Before waiting for a response, Mr. Carswell put a hand and Tom's shoulder, and once more pulled him away for a private conversation. Tom peered up at him, looking just as curious as his peers had.

"Slytherin Quidditch tryouts are tomorrow. I took a peek at the roster, and didn't see your name on the list. Are you still considering trying out? My offer still stands, I'll write you a letter, or anything else you might need…"

They began to walk at a slow pace as they spoke. Tom blinked up at him in surprise, all traces of bitterness from Transfiguration class vanished. "Oh. That. Yes, I did a lot of research on it, after we spoke. I'd never watched a Quidditch match before, you know, and I thought it would be unwise to try out for a sport which I'd never seen. So I went to the library and—" His eyes flashed in excitement at the mention of the library. Again, it made Harry think instantly of Hermione.

"Did you know that they keep memories on file of all the school matches? Oh, forgive me, what a stupid question. Of course you knew that, over forty of the memories there were yours, as you're the referee." Tom shook his head. He was speaking very quickly, and went on before Mr. Carswell could say anything.

"So I went to watch a few matches. And I was thinking of all that you said, and, well… I have come to the conclusion that I disagree. About the position of the Seeker, I mean."

Mr. Carswell cocked an eyebrow in surprise. "Oh?" he said, probably sensing that little prompt was necessary for Tom to go on.

"Yes," Tom replied, pointing a finger upwards and looking bizarrely academic for such a young student. "After watching several games, I really began to pick up on things. The Keepers, the Beaters, and the Chasers, of course… They're all in the thick of the action, as you've said, but…the Seekers are anything but dormant. Because they're really the only ones that matter. It has to be a bloodbath of a match if one team actually gets above one hundred and fifty points, and that almost never happens. So it really all comes down to the Seekers…and they're playing a game all of their own."

They turned a corner. Tom looked very serious as he spoke. "From what I can tell, the other players, with the giant quaffle, beating each other with sticks and being preoccupied with tiny hoops—they're all just noise, loud and flashy distractions to keep the crowds entertained… While the Seekers perform a much less visually entertaining but far more sophisticated task, where the only opponent they have is each other. They trick each other, mess with each other, are constantly watching where the other one is, what they're doing…each going after the same prize, knowing that only one can have it. The snitch, which will recognize the touch of whoever can captures it forever, due to flesh memory. Undeniable victory. And they play for it with stealth and speed and, above all…cunning."

Tom paused and looked up at Mr. Carswell with a smirk on his face. "To seek is to play an altogether different game."

Mr. Carswell looked totally dumbstruck. "Uh… Well, all right, then." He cleared his throat, probably confused that a first year student had actually felt the need to research Quidditch, when he was practically being told he would make the team if he tried out…a guarantee which any other first year would kill for. "So, you're going to try out for Seeker, then?"

"Sorry?" Tom said, the sparkle of excitement fading from his eyes. "Oh, no. I'm not trying out at all."

"What?" Mr. Carswell looked even more confused. "After all that? After all your studying and—and research and whatnot?"

Tom laughed, adjusting the bag on his shoulder. "Goodness, no. It was interesting to learn about, but I looked at the practice schedule. Three times a week! For two hours at a time! Not to mention the actual matches, which can literally go on all day… When would I do homework? How would I find time to read ahead in class, write decent essays? When would I study? No, thank you. Besides, I've found a different extra-curricular activity with a much less demanding schedule and which I think shall be vastly more useful and interesting than Quidditch."

Tom grinned and nodded his head respectfully to an utterly flabbergasted Mr. Carswell. "Thank you for offering to write me a letter, but that won't be necessary. Have a lovely day, sir."

Then he turned and walked away, just like that. The flying instructor watched him go several paces before he finally regained the ability to speak.

"Well—wait, Tom!" he called, and Tom looked over his shoulder. "If not Quidditch, then what?"

Harry was glad he'd asked, for he'd been thinking the same thing. What could possibly be more interesting than Quidditch?

In response to this, Tom did the strangest thing. He turned on the spot, slowly, and in one fluid, purposeful movement…he bowed.

Mr. Carswell stared at him. He must have reached his threshold for being confused, because he didn't say anything, just looked at him with his mouth hanging open and shaking his head.

Tom sighed deeply and stood up straight when he could tell that the old wizard just didn't get it.

"I'm joining the Dueling Club, of course," Tom said, and the glimmer of eagerness was back in full force, shining in his eyes. He smiled when Mr. Carswell continued to look baffled that anyone would willingly ever choose dueling over Quidditch.

Tom laughed. "I've no time for quaffles, sir!" he called over his shoulder. He headed down the hall, away from the stunned old man. The Slytherin Heir's young face twisted into a grin that was anything but cheerful as he descended the staircase, heading down into the dungeons where Harry knew his common room to be. The next words he spoke were murmured quietly to himself. Like a quiet vow, like a prayer.

"I want to play an altogether different game."

Chapter Text

Days passed.

Harry was alone the majority of the time, shrouded in darkness. His world was quiet, bleak, and cold.

When he was feeling particularly hopeless or on the verge of a mental breakdown, he would practice Occlumency. And while he wasn't sure if he was actually getting any better or not—as Voldemort had not, for unknown, miraculous reasons, tried to shred his mind apart again—it did stop him from dwelling on the welfare of his friends.

Life was perfectly miserable, and Harry wondered how long he would be forced to endure it.

…Though it was not entirely horrible all of the time. If there was one thing that Harry Potter was certain of in the current predicament that was his captivity, it was this:

He adored Narcissa Malfoy.

She had taken to visiting him more often now, and staying for longer periods of time when she did. She would bring him nutrition elixirs twice a day, always followed up with Sugar Crystals (which she admitted to doing a bit selfishly, as she said it gave her a good excuse to have one too) and had even managed to get him to ingest some solid food by bringing him treacle tart.

Narcissa Malfoy had personally hand-fed him some of his favorite dessert, and it was better even than what he recalled from Hogwarts (she admitted to having not made it herself, but instead purchased it from a bakery in Hogsmeade. Harry had adamantly promised not to judge her). Harry had only been able to eat about three bites, bit still. Progress.

And then, every evening, Narcissa always brought him a Sleeping Draught. The beautiful woman would give him a healthy dose, and as Harry was drifting off into slumber she would sing something soft and sweet, making her magical aura swirl about in the most magnificent way. Harry would fall asleep with a smile on his lips, and he couldn't help but wonder, if he somehow made it out of this war alive, well, and victorious, just how he was going to break it to Draco that he was stealing his mother.

The added benefit to this ritual of Sleeping Draughts and bedtime songs, besides the wondrous ability to sleep well and without nightmares, was that he always knew when it was night. Harry could now accurately keep track of how long he had been a prisoner in Malfoy Manor. The first few days were a blur, so he wasn't exactly sure, but Harry was certain now that he had been in this dungeon for at least a week. Over seven days of gloom, punctuated only by the occasional sweet and kind embrace of a concerned woman.

Yes, Narcissa Malfoy was the solitary light in Harry's dark, dark life.

…And then there was Voldemort.

The Dark Lord was… complicated.

Voldemort came to visit Harry with a distressing frequency, one which only seemed to be increasing with time. But what was truly unsettling was the way in which he did so.

Sometimes, the Dark Lord would appear in a most disquieting, silent manner, standing in the corner of the cell and just… being. He would not announce his presence in any way. Harry knew that he believed he was being stealthy—that Voldemort thought that Harry did not know he was there—but Harry did know, and it never failed to scare the hell out of him when the Dark Lord would just show up like that. Voldemort was like an unwanted, evil spirit haunting his life, clinging to the stone walls of the cell and filling the space with his black, sickening aura.

These quiet and disturbing visits would sometimes last only a few moments, but often they would stretch on for unbearable amounts of time. Harry was decent enough at pretending like he didn't know the Dark Lord was there, at least. He would usually feign sleep and face the wall. But the entire time, Harry would feel Voldemort's eyes burning holes into his back, a cacophony of conflicting, unpleasant emotions simmering on the outskirts of his mind.

The visits where the Dark Lord did interact with him were even more complex. Three things would always happen. The first was the initial, suspended moment of anticipation. It never failed that, on the occasions where the Dark Lord entered with the ominous creaking of the gate and audible footsteps, that once he was in the cell with Harry, he would wait. Always. Voldemort would stand there, knowing that Harry knew it was him, just a few feet away, and say nothing. Were it not for Harry's newfound ability to sense magic and fluctuating emotions, this would have driven him absolutely mad.

…However.

Harry was getting better and better at this miraculous skill. Perhaps it was because of his isolation; perhaps it was his own magic's  desperation for survival. Whatever the case, he was becoming quite good at being able to divine just what each shift in hue meant, what each flavor of energy represented. And so when Voldemort came into Harry's cell, revealing his company through sinister, non-verbal sounds, Harry may not have been able to glean his precise thoughts… but he could tell what he was feeling.

First, anticipation. A sort of great, impatient expectation, bordering on excitement. When Harry would continue to do nothing, this eagerness would shift to something a bit more hostile. Annoyance. A few more minutes of a stoic, quiet prisoner, and Voldemort became frustrated. A fierce irritation that was laced with confusion. And Harry knew exactly why this was the case.

Every time the Dark Lord knowingly revealed himself to his poor, blind captive, he expected Harry to beg.

Voldemort was just waiting his prisoner to break, to fall apart completely and beg, beg, beg for his sight back, beg for his freedom, for his friend's safety, for anything and everything. He was waiting for the moment that Harry would crawl on his hands and knees and swear that he would do anything the Dark Lord wanted, anything at all, if he could just see again, if he could just get out of the cold, darkness of this cell. And maybe, if Harry did not know that this was precisely what Voldemort was so eagerly waiting for, this might have happened already.

…However.

Harry did know this was what the Dark Lord was waiting for, and so whenever Voldemort showed up with that sadistic excitement permeating the air, it was more than enough to cement Harry in his decision to never, ever give him that satisfaction.

Voldemort would wait, Harry would just sit there, and Voldemort would become extraordinarily pissed off.

Not the Dark Lord knew that Harry knew he was angry, of course. Voldemort never said anything in those torturously long minutes of anticipation, but Harry could feel his fury like frothing, dry ice. Cold, Voldemort's aura was always cold, but it was the kind of frigidity that could burn straight through skin and bone.

Eventually, though, this icy rage would diminish, and following was a much smaller version of the initial hope that Voldemort had felt upon entering the cell. Like the Dark Lord was thinking, Next time.

After this very non-traditional sort of greeting in which neither of them said a single thing, they would commence into phase two of the Dark Lord's more invasive visits:

That beautiful, beautiful light.

Voldemort would reach out to his human horcrux with that mesmerizing weightlessness, and… well. Things always got confusing, then.

Sometimes it would remain relatively innocent, as the Dark Lord seemed able to practice some self-control. The welcoming light would stay to a minimum, and it was just pleasant, pulsating warmth that made Harry feel like he was floating on air.

It felt… good, when it was like that. Disturbingly good.

(But it was just the horcrux, it was just the stupid horcrux, and it wasn't Harry's fault that he was unable to stop himself from leaning into the murderer's touch, from sighing in bliss, from enjoying it, because he didn't enjoy it, no, no, no.)

Other times, Voldemort's mind would unhinge in the presence of that pure, captivating connection, and Harry's world would fracture and fall apart. The light would become too bright, too enthralling, too everything. Voldemort's dark energy would rise up like a tidal wave, all catastrophic want and need. It was devastating, and each time the Dark Lord's control slipped, it got worse. Harry would feel like he was going to be ripped apart from the inside out—half of him clinging to that seductive light while the other half of him tried desperately to retract, repulsed by Voldemort's own aura of blackness.

It was similar to the presence of a dementor, Harry realized the last time this had occurred. Voldemort's dark magical signature was that sort of awful, only it served to inspire fear rather than drain happiness.

The two sensations in tandem—that blissful, light warmth, and that disturbing, dark chill—were far too overwhelming. Harry's instincts would demand of him polar opposite reactions, desire and repulsion fighting for prominence, and his overstimulated body would twist, tremble and ache—

The only reprieve was Voldemort.

In those suffocating moments, trapped between lust and loathing…Harry could find solace solely in the Dark Lord's mind. And he would see. Harry would experience the world though Voldemort's eyes; he would look down at his own gasping, shaking body and feel the Dark Lord's emotions—which were always just so wonderfully and horribly conflicted.

For being a dark wizard who claimed to be so detached, Lord Voldemort certainly had a lot of feelings.

Harry could hardly keep them straight, the Dark Lord's emotions were such a convoluted mess. There was hatred, of course. A very unique, burning kind of hatred that Harry liked to think Lord Voldemort harbored solely for him, his unfortunate human horcrux. Yet right alongside that charming hatred were confusion, irritation, desperation, want, need, lust

(But it was just the horcrux, it was just the stupid horcrux, and it wasn't really Voldemort that was feeling such an inexplicable and unfathomable desire for Harry Potter, who wanted to touch his skin and bring forth that intoxicating light because he enjoyed it, because he didn't enjoy it, no, no, no.)

It was lust for power, for control… Obviously.

Obviously.

Either way, those insights into Voldemort's psyche always seemed to do the trick. The moment the Dark Lord realized that his thoughts were no longer entirely private, the waves of sickening need would fall away, and Harry would be banished from Voldemort's mind. Only the innocent, beautiful light would remain, and Harry could breathe again. Then, and only then, would Voldemort finally speak.

Which would lead them to the third and final phase of their stressful interactions:

'A gift…'

A memory.

Twice, sometimes three times a day, Voldemort would visit in this manner and bestow upon Harry the gift of a memory… of Tom Riddle.

Often, they were seemingly harmless and without any sort of grand, hidden meaning. Memories of Tom Riddle performing some extraordinary spell on his first try. Tom Riddle being charming and witty and admired by every single student within the castle. Tom Riddle being praised up and down by all of his professors for his amazing intellect and skill.

…All of the professors except Albus Dumbledore.

There were a number of memories which showed Dumbledore passing Tom by when he was performing incredibly well in class, of the former Transfigurations Professor looking the other way when Tom had his hand raised or was otherwise trying to get his attention. Sometimes, Harry wondered if Voldemort was making those memories up. For Dumbledore seemed to treat Tom Riddle… Well, he wouldn't say as badly as Snape had treated him, because such a thing would be impossible, but… just unfairly, he supposed. And these were in Tom's earlier years, too—long before any students were petrified or murdered due to the Chamber being opened.

Of course, Dumbledore had already known that Tom was a parselmouth, and therefore the descendent of Salazar Slytherin… but still. It seemed... wrong.

Half of the visions were just that, though. Simple and clean. Tom Riddle being a normal kid, really. A ridiculously gifted and intelligent child, no doubt… But just a kid, regardless.

Other memories would be far more insightful.

The last vision which Voldemort had shown him was one of these. It had struck Harry quite powerfully, making his mind reel in the aftermath when, once the memory had faded, the Dark Lord too had vanished. Because he was always gone then. Harry would still be just a bit high on whatever warmth and light lingered from their connection when, by the time he had come crashing back down to earth again, Voldemort was no longer with him.

The last memory was of a boggart.

Tom must have been in his third year, for it was the lesson in which their Defense teacher, Professor Merrythought, had told them that they would be facing their worst fear. The most impacting part of the memory—for Harry, at least—was that Tom Riddle, just like every other student in that class, had looked genuinely afraid.

Oh, he was much better at hiding his anxiety than the other children, that was true. But Harry had spent enough time with Dumbledore analyzing the face and history of Tom Riddle to pick up on it. The way his fists clenched, the way he worked the muscle in his jaw. Tom was good at pretending, but the young Heir of Slytherin had been afraid.

The girl that stood in line before him had been terrified of werewolves. The boggart was howling, rearing its feet and barring its claws, when—

'Riddikulus!'

Bang, and suddenly the werewolf was wearing a hot pink tutu, and the whole class laughed…

Tom had stepped forward confidently, wand held high and chin raised. But Harry could see it. In the depths of those midnight irises, in the twitch of his fingers.

Fear.

The boggart was covering its canine ears when it looked at Tom, trying to drown out the laughter of the class, and then… nothing.

It stared at the dark haired child, its currently amber eyes lit up in confusion, and did not turn into anything at all. It stumbled and fell, rolling to its side in the same, bright pink tutu, looking far more afraid than Tom had. The laughter died, and the boggart started screaming in a way that Harry was sure real werewolves never did.

That was when Professor Merrythought had stepped in. The boggart turned into a ghoul before she banished it back into its crate.

Everyone looked shocked. Tom too appeared perplexed. His lips parted in confusion, unable to voice his concern. Professor Merrythought's face had turned a stark white, her voice hardly a whisper as she addressed the future Dark Lord.

"…Do you fear nothing, Mr. Riddle?"

Silence. The entire class was slack-jawed, staring at Tom in amazement. Tom only looked stunned for a second before his face slipped into a seamless, believable smile.

"That's right," he said quietly, and the professor dropped her wand.

"I fear nothing."

But Harry knew that was a lie.

Lord Voldemort feared death, he had always feared death above all else… But death didn't have a face, and so the boggart had not known what to turn into. Harry was sure that, if the young Tom Riddle truly associated death with an image, like the grim reaper or something, that's what it would have been. But that icon of a black cloak and silver scythe was a muggle imagination, so Tom surely wouldn't have thought of that. And boggarts aren't very smart, so it probably just couldn't come up with anything when its victim had no reference.

Voldemort must have thought that impressive, to show Harry the memory of a supposedly fearless Tom Riddle. But the Dark Lord was wrong.

Harry did, howeverthink about it for a long time once he was alone again in his cell. The image of a frightened boy distracted him from his attempts at Occlumency, flickering in his mind like an irritating, unwanted fly which he could not swat.

Empty your mind…

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

Tom Riddle, young but subtly afraid.

Empty your mind…

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

Tom Riddle, waiting for the manifestation of death, jaw clenched and eyes blazing—

Empty your mind…

Harry couldn't.

Sighing deeply, he gave up on trying to practice any complicated, mental magic. Harry curled up on his side, pulling the enchanted blanket up over his head completely, and allowed his mind to drift. Something about a scared child who had possibly convinced even himself that he was fearless bothered him immensely.

Harry's head hurt. He felt weak, weaker than he ever had before in his life. Standing made him dizzy. He knew that what Narcissa had said was right—he was losing weight, and nutrition elixirs and Sleeping Draughts were no substitute for real health. He was a human; he needed exercise and sunshine and people.

Harry wondered how long Voldemort was willing to let this go on once he realized that his captive would never break. Harry would never beg the Dark Lord for anything.

Never.

And if he wasted away in here, then fine. Harry would die, and the Dark Lord would be mortal once more.

For the first time in days, Harry drifted off to sleep before Narcissa could arrive with a draught and a lullaby. Harry fell into slumber while wondering if Death had a face, and if, when his time came, he would be brave enough to greet it like an old friend.


Harry awoke with a shudder and a gasp.

If he had been dreaming, he couldn't recall what it was about. He only knew that his heart was racing, beating hard against his chest, and that he was shaking, panting—the world was black and cold and someone was gripping his wrist—

"Be still."

Not Narcissa.

Before Harry had the chance to be properly horrified at waking up to the Dark Lord again, the buoyant, inviting warmth danced across his skin. His confusion and fear were swept away with the ease of one brushing away a cob web, and he couldn't help it—Harry sighed in relief.

Voldemort's grip loosened. Even though Harry was no longer quivering without whatever nightmare he'd been having, the motion made him irrationally anxious. In that instant when the Dark Lord let go of his wrist, before the light could fade, Harry's entire being consisted of nothing but an all-consuming panic.

"Don't," he gasped, the crushing dread making him forget everything else. Harry reached forward and gripped the Dark Lord's chest, clinging to the front of his robes like his life depended on it. But he wasn't thinking 'Dark Lord' or 'mass murderer' or 'prophesized enemy'; Harry wasn't thinking anything at all except:

"Don't leave me."

Harry buried his head into the Dark Lord's neck, and his forehead against Voldemort's cool, exposed skin made the brilliant light explode on contact.

It was far more overwhelming than it had ever been before. It was beautiful, it was stifling, it was so perfect and he wanted it, now, now, now

A crushing weight of blackness struck Harry like a cannonball to the chest.

Voldemort's possessiveness, cutting across the brightness of that light like an eclipse. The Dark Lord had trailed one hand up Harry's back until he was wrapping his fingers around his neck. The additional touch of their bare skin made everything escalate even more—more light, more warmth, more disturbing, sickening desire—

Harry was sure he was going to be torn apart. "S…Stop," he gasped, but Voldemort's fingers were digging painfully into the delicate skin of his throat, persistent, and so Harry did the only thing he could. He personally reached out through their convoluted bond, and Harry found himself in the Dark Lord's mind.

There was nothing confusing about it this time, though.

Desire.

Passionate, ardent want. That was the singular thought that made up the Dark Lord's world as he looked down at a gasping, hyperventilating Harry Potter.

I Want.

You're killing me, Harry thought, desperately hoping that Voldemort would hear him over his own rabid, mental voice. You're killing me, you're—

Harry just caught the tail-end flicker of some emotion resembling comprehension before he was thrust from Voldemort's mind. When he breathed in through his own lungs, it was to find that the suffocating, horrendous blackness of the Dark Lord's desire was gone.

Harry sighed. Only the warmth remained, light and innocent. His body relaxed into Voldemort's arms, panting like he had just run a great distance.

Maybe some part of him was sure that he would, later, be incredibly distressed that he had begged the Dark Lord not to leave him. For he had sworn to himself that he would never beg Voldemort for anything, ever… but…

That request was surely one that neither party had expected. Harry had just been momentarily vulnerable upon waking up, clinging to anything to make whatever already forgotten nightmare he'd had go away.

And Lord Voldemort…

Well, Harry could not be bothered to think of it, now. He was blissfully thinking of nothing at all as the revolting blackness that was Voldemort's broken, desperate soul had faded, floating solely in the warmth that was the bond between them. Because Harry fully understood that's what it was, at this point.

There was Harry's soul, pure and untouched by darkness.

There was the horcrux, somehow a part of him, which connected him with the Dark Lord in an unfathomable way…

And then there was what was left of the Dark Lord. Broken, tainted by murder, evilness, and horrid rage… and the antithesis of everything that Harry was.

The in-between of their souls was pleasant all round. Harry felt like he was defying gravity with the buoyancy of it, when that warmth seeped under his skin and he felt a certain wholeness that he had never even known he'd been missing before.

And when Voldemort reached further, pulled and demanded more, the sensation of Harry's unbroken soul to the Dark Lord was just… miraculous.

Yet the absolute opposite was true for Harry. Feeling Voldemort's shattered core was nothing short of horrific. It disgusted him on the deepest, most intimate level.

But the in-between…

Completely unsure of why he was even doing it, Harry reached up with both hands, searching, blindly, for the Dark Lord's face. Just as he had done once before…

He never got there.

In a rapid movement, Voldemort unceremoniously forced Harry off of him, shoving him onto the hard, stone floor. The blissful light vanished. Harry felt like he had just been dropped into an ocean of ice water at the loss of it.

There was a long moment of silence. Harry's lucidity returned to him quickly enough, and he pushed himself into a seated position. He took in the familiar yet absolutely frazzled aura of the Dark Lord's magic from the opposite side of the cell.

Voldemort's emotions were running rampant, making his typical blackness shift into very dark but perceptible shades of…red, maybe. A deep, frustrated crimson outlining the vast shadow of his usual magic.

Harry, still feeling breathless, tried to decipher it. That emotion, that sensation, it was… it was…

Ah.

Harry opened his eyes, and even though he couldn't see, he knew that he was looking straight at the Dark Lord when he spoke. That his sightless, cursed eyes were fixed on Voldemort's.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of," Harry said, his voice raspy and low. "…Longing for that feeling. For wanting to be whole."

The deep, ruby hue intensified. Voldemort's aura was as un-black as it had ever been. Not warm by any means, but a tiny bit less icy.

Harry recognized that emotion too.

"Nor embarrassed about," he went on, as Voldemort remained silent. "I… I understand."

And he did understand. Harry had felt Voldemort's own soul firsthand. He couldn't even fathom what it must be like, to exist like that all the time. To be eternally so broken. Not that he hadn't done it to himself, but still. The thought of living in such a fragile state filled Harry with pity, despite everything.

"I'm sorry you've lost that," he whispered, envisioning a frightened boy awaiting his boggart, only to be met with the falsity that he was fearless. And it was quite possibly the most raw, honest thing that Harry Potter had ever uttered out loud.

"I'm sorry that you became this. I'm sorry that you never knew love… I'm sorry."

Harry buried his face into his hands. He braced himself for what he was sure was going to be a furious reaction from the Dark Lord.

But nothing happened.

Voldemort disappeared. Harry felt his absence like a veil being lifted, leaving the cell empty and void.

"…I'm sorry," he murmured again, long after the Dark Lord had gone. But he had no idea for what or to whom he was apologizing.

Chapter Text

Voldemort was strangely absent after that.

At least, in comparison to how frequently the Dark Lord had been stalking his human horcrux until then. An entire day followed in which Harry was not exposed to the unnerving, silent presence of Voldemort looming in the corner of his cell, nor any confrontations in which Voldemort announced himself through the creaking of the gate and slow, ominous footsteps.

Which meant no memories, either.

Harry's monotonous imprisonment was disrupted solely by visits from Narcissa Malfoy. Maybe it was only because Harry had finally had some distance from the sickly aura of Voldemort, but when she asked him to try eating more that day, Harry was able to. It was only bread, and he was still forced to take a nutrition elixir as well, but it was something. Narcissa gave him two sugar crystals afterwards.

They still hadn't caught Ron and Hermione.

Harry was almost disbelieving on that account. Over a week, and his two best friends had gone undetected from the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters, who were now openly and publicly hunting them down. Harry imagined the two of them out in the woods, camping without him. He wondered if they were miserable, worried about what had become of him and not knowing what to do or how to move forward. The conclusion he came to wasn't exactly a difficult one to reach.

Harry groaned, pulling the enchanted blanket around his shoulders and slumping against the wall. He hated to admit it, but he was actually feeling a bit…bored.

Of course he was panicked, of course he was afraid. But with his day no longer being punctuated by random intrusions from the Dark Lord—whether he announced his presence or not—Harry found himself with very little to keep his mind occupied.

He longed for vision, for light.

Harry's anticipation for Narcissa's evening visit was particularly high. She would be bringing a Sleeping Draught then, and, far more importantly, she would sing.

Narcissa's magic when she sang to him was nearly as beautiful as real light. More so, in some respects. It was fluctuating colors that danced in his mind's eye—gorgeous, kaleidoscopic scenes that he knew would be impossible to translate into actual sight. After a whole day of nothing but darkness, Harry had never looked forward to anything more.

As if the thought had summoned her, Harry felt the tranquil sensation of her presence—a calm, navy resonance. Harry smiled.

"Hello, child."

Narcissa entered into the cell with measured footsteps and a friendly tone. She knelt at Harry's side as she usually did. "Do you think you can eat any more today?"

Harry thought for a moment before shaking his head. He didn't feel nauseous, but he also didn't want to push his luck after successfully keeping down some bread earlier. "I don't think I should," he murmured.

"That's fine. Here, I have water for you. And since you took an elixir earlier I won't make you take one now."

"So no sweets then, either?"

Narcissa laughed softly, and her aura warmed. "I never said that."

Harry felt the goblet of water being pressed into his hands. He took it and quickly drank it all.

"Will you sing something?"

The question rushed out of Harry's mouth before he could stop it. He was just looking forward to the sensation of her swirling magic too much to contain himself. He felt her mood flicker with an emotion similar to embarrassment, but then instantly swell into something bright and positive, rose-gold interwoven with blue.

Flattered. Narcissa Malfoy was deeply flattered.

"What would you have me sing?" she asked, taking the empty cup from him.

Harry was too preoccupied with the buoyant display of her emotion to come up with anything. "Whatever you like," he said. Then, thinking on the spot, "Your favorite song. What is your favorite song?"

It suddenly seemed the most important thing in the world, knowing what Narcissa Malfoy's favorite song was. Harry could sense her mood brimming with an immediate, happy nostalgia, could hear her inhale a breath as she was about to answer—

"Nothing."

Both Narcissa and Harry started violently at the sound of Voldemort's voice from the far side of the cell.

Cold, soft, and icy. It was the slightest whisper that nonetheless cut across the air like a blade, slicing the warm atmosphere in half and filling it with blackness.

Narcissa's own aura became a stricken and frightened tone. Harry heard her scramble away at the same time that something clattered to the floor; she must have dropped her wand. "M-m-my L-lord," she stuttered, her voice high. "I-I-I d-didn't s-see—"

"Leave us."

Narcissa immediately obeyed her Lord's command in a panic. Without another word, Harry heard her dash away. Quick, light steps and the rapid swinging of the cell gate opening and closing. The fearful blue-tinge vanished with her, leaving nothing but the Dark Lord and his incensed blackness behind.

Harry wet his lips, pushing himself further into the wall like he might be able to disappear into the stones. He knew then, without a doubt, that his pleasant visits filled with sugar and songs had come to an end.

Voldemort's magic was dark, sour, and… sharp. So much so that Harry could actually taste it on the back of his tongue, filling his mouth with its bitter taste—worse than any potion or elixir. Tempestuous, as well; Voldemort's aura kept flickering from one horrid feeling to the next, as if the Dark Lord was experiencing an internal crisis that he was struggling to control.

Harry's head was spinning at the onslaught of it. Voldemort was ridiculously emotional on the inside, no matter what kind of cold façade he showed the rest of the world. But before Harry could figure out just what each of those chaotic emotions were, the whirlwind of bitterness faded… replaced by that heavenly light.

Harry hadn't been prepared for it. It was such a sudden switch from nastiness to bliss that he gasped, all thoughts or concerns for Narcissa gone in an instant.

Was it simply because it had been so long since he'd experienced it? Or was it just getting…better, as time went on? Harry wasn't sure; he only knew that when Voldemort tapped into the strange link which connected their souls, it felt warmer and more potent than ever before. There was no feverish, nauseating desire coming from the Dark Lord this time either. It was just light, pure and lovely. Harry wanted to sink into the warmth.

It got stronger when Voldemort approached him. Harry couldn't hear the Dark Lord in his silent, phantom-like movements, as he chose not to move with purpose, but he felt the proximity of him as he drew nearer. By the time Voldemort was kneeling in front of him, in the same spot Narcissa had been in moments before, it was all Harry could do to not lean towards him, towards that alluring light.

Physically cold fingers grazed his neck, trailing across his jawline. Harry's breath hitched at the odd combination of frigid skin and mental warmth. When he touched his forehead to Harry's, the brightness increased, but still no twisted, wanton blackness accompanied it. The Dark Lord was practicing exceptional self-control.

For a suspended moment they just stayed like that, completely still as the most powerful and dangerous wizard of all time cradled Harry's face in his hands. The dismal cell vanished. The darkness dissipated. The entire world was an impossible sea of pure, peaceful light.

"…A gift."

A silvery brightness wrapped itself around Harry's mind, and he fell into a memory.

Immediately, Harry was thrown off guard…because they were, for once, not in Hogwarts.With the exception of the first memory, in which a young Tom Riddle had trekked through the autumn woods, Voldemort had only shared with Harry recollections of his school days. They had also generally showed a Tom Riddle who was young and looked relatively harmless. A child.

Neither of these consistencies rang true, now. Harry found himself in a snow-covered forest in the dead of night. Yet despite this, it was not dark, for several reasons.

The first, and most mesmerizing, was the sky.

It was littered not only with stars, but with a fluctuating display of colors so vibrant and otherworldly that Harry wondered if this was, perhaps, a memory of a dream. He stared in awe as the veil of hues transitioned from a pastel lilac to an icy blue, only to quickly turn an emerald green, then blue again…

It was breathtakingly beautiful.

The second reason for the lack of darkness was the ring of brightly burning, bluebell flames dancing along the ground. Harry recognized them as the same ones which Hermione was so proficient at producing, only these were not contained in glass jars. They hovered independently, burning in a controlled manner without barriers.

And there, in the center of that ring of cobalt fire, was Tom Riddle.

Harry almost jumped in shock at the sight of him, because he was so strikingly different from the previous memories. He was older. Much older. Nothing near the monster he had become, no, but certainly not a child. In his twenties, perhaps? It was a bit difficult to tell. He looked similar to when Harry had witnessed him visiting Hephzibah Smith, when he had discovered the locket and the cup.

Yet another reason he looked so different was his attire. This Tom Riddle was not wearing school robes—or wizarding robes at all, for that matter. He was wearing tall boots, jeans, a long, black coat, and a thick, green scarf with a matching hat pulled down over his ears. To complete this picture of uncharacteristic casualness was the way he was just lying there… literally.

Tom Riddle was on his back in the snow, seemingly unaffected by what must have been a very cold climate. He had his hands behind his head, watching the display of lights with wonder-filled eyes and a slight smile on his lips.

Harry was hesitant about sitting with him, despite the fact that it was a memory and he was invisible. Feeling strangely uncomfortable about it, he did. Harry sat a safe distance away, on the outside of Tom's circle of bluebell flames. He pulled his knees to his chest and watched the sky.

"…I have come to the conclusion, my friend, that it really is the muggles which are the problem."

Harry jumped so badly that, had he still been standing, he was sure he would have fallen over. He looked at Tom with his jaw hanging open. Had Tom Riddle just talked to him?

But…he wasn't looking at Harry. Tom's gaze remained on the sky. "It's the truth, pure and simple. The muggles are destroying this world."

Tom sighed deeply. Harry was floored. This was a memory, and Tom Riddle was… He was just laying here, speaking out loud…

"Talking to yourself… Isn't that a sign of insanity?" Harry muttered. He then recognized that he, too, was technically talking to himself by asking that. He was in a memory. This Tom Riddle could not hear him.

"Perhaps they would not be so detrimental, if only there were not so many of them. There are just far too many muggles on this planet. Don't you agree?"

"He speaksss…"

Harry jumped again at the second, obviously different voice. He looked around wildly, but he saw no one else with them… And it had sounded like it was coming from right next to Tom, too, but he was by himself, on the snow…

Oh.

Harry laughed out loud when he spotted the snake. Or, at least, what he could see of the snake. A tiny serpent was wrapped somehow around Tom's shoulders and chest, with only its little, brown head sticking out of his collar, right above the green scarf. The rest of its body was concealed under Tom's clothes.

And though 'he speaks' seemed a very strange response to Tom's question, Tom just kept going like that was perfectly normal. "They are, and they know it, too. The muggles are very aware that they are overpopulating the earth, destroying it with their pollution… I was listening to a muggle radio broadcast recently—I know, how embarrassingpromise me you won't tell anyone—and this muggle environmentalist was going on and on about the ozone layer, a protective barrier around the planet which filters UV, and how the muggle pollution is destroying it! Of course, no one cares or even really believes him, but I investigated his research myself—I know, I know—you must keep this between us—but he's quite right. Mark my words, friend, in the years to come, we shall be hearing far more about this. Once it's become a dire issue that can no longer be ignored, of course. Typical of muggles, right?"

"…He speaksss…"

Harry grinned. Apparently this snake was a one-response kind of creature.

Tom didn't seem to mind. "They have all sorts of silly practices, these muggles," he went on conversationally. Harry got the impression that he spoke far more freely to this little snake than he ever did with people. "The way they act as though they own the earth, dividing up areas in grids like Mother Nature will bend to their rules and regulations. It's ridiculous. It's we who conform to the landscape, not the other way around, you know?"

The snake hissed wordlessly. Tom nodded.

"Indeed. And here, in Finland—do you know what the muggles who live here do? How they count their wealth?" Tom actually paused for a moment, like he might get a real response. He didn't. "Reindeer," he answered himself. "The locals tag the reindeer who live in these woods, claiming them as their own based on the insignia. Is that not the most asinine thing you have ever heard? Claiming to own another creature's life by branding it, to think that you can own a living being like that which wants nothing to do with you?"

"…He speaksss… A lot…"

For a brief moment, Tom's face was thunderstruck. Harry laughed out loud again, shocked at how the snake—which he had assumed to not be very intelligent—had just insulted Tom Riddle in a way that no witch or wizard would dare.

But after pause in which Tom looked stunned, he too was laughing. "Are you saying you don't enjoy my company, friend? Do my musings bore you?" And though his questions were probably honest, Tom sounded affectionate when he asked them. He was grinning fondly. "What, would you prefer I be a mindless source of warmth for you? Am I nothing more to you than a body-heat whore?"

Harry snorted he laughed so hard at that. He laughed even harder when the snake responded with a simple, unaffected, "Yessss."

Tom scoffed, but he couldn't seem to wipe the smile from his face. "Someday," he said curtly, "I shall have to acquire myself a serpent that actually likes me."

The snake didn't respond to that. Tom also fell into silence, returning his full attention towards the sky. Harry did too. For a long time they both observed it: the splendor of the Aurora Borealis.

Harry had never seen it before in person, but he was sure that even if he was someday able to—even if he got his sight back and was able to leave his prison—it would pale in comparison to this memory. Tom Riddle's vision was sublime. Harry's had been mediocre, even with his glasses.

The slight sounds of something stirring in the woods made both Harry and the Tom Riddle of the memory to turn. Tom sat up, causing his little friend to hide hurriedly under his scarf. Harry gaped in astonishment at what emerged from the tree line. It was a reindeer, just as Tom had been speaking about before. Shockingly close, but far enough away to be untouchable. A magnificent, fully antlered stag.

A stag.

It stood stock still, staring directly at Tom. The bluebell flames reflected in its wide, black eyes and bathed it in a cool light, making it appear ghostly and unnatural.

"…No one owns you," Tom said softly.

The stag watched him for a moment longer before quietly disappearing back into the forest.

The memory vanished.

For the first time, Harry didn't descend back into his cell in a world of blackness afterwards. When the woods of Finland disappeared, Lord Voldemort did not.

He was still there; had, apparently, been there the entire time. Voldemort continued to hold Harry's face in his hands, and that lovely light was permeating the air, warm and welcoming. But Harry remained blind.

Harry tried not to let the disorienting memory nor the blissful sensation of their connection disarm him. This was Voldemort. This was a mass-murdering sociopath, no matter what happy memories he showed him or what enthralling… thing he was able to do to him because he was his horcrux.

Voldemort's magic fluctuated slightly in anticipation. He was waiting for Harry to say something, to finally break.

Harry wouldn't. "I'll never beg," he whispered. Voldemort's fingers tightened on his face. "I'll never beg you for anything. Never."

A plethora of dark emotions stirred the air: anger, disappointment, disbelief. But among them was something which was not sinister, which made the black atmosphere of Voldemort's magic just a bit less dark. Harry opened his unseeing eyes in surprise when he realized what it was. And though he was blind, he knew with certainty that he was looking directly into the Dark Lord's face, could feel exactly where Voldemort's eyes were.

The Dark Lord was harboring just the tiniest hint of fondness for his human horcrux.

Harry waited for a fierce, angry response to his declaration. He was shocked even further by what Voldemort said instead.

"…Good."

The buoyant warmth vanished. Voldemort released his grip from Harry's face. Harry reached for him—an instant reaction in an attempt to keep the light if for only a second longer—but when he did, his hands met nothing but empty air.

The gate creaked open.

"Do not disappoint me, Harry."

And with that cryptic message swathed in an aura of conflicting resentment and mild affection, the Dark Lord disappeared.

Chapter Text

Harry was very confused.

The moment the Dark Lord left him, his mind went wild with speculation. Was he going to punish and harm Narcissa now? Would Voldemort truly care that she had been kind to him? Would Harry ever see the only person who made this existence bearable again?

And that memory, what on earth did the Dark Lord mean to accomplish by showing Harry that vision of the forest and the stag? And then, just before he'd left, when Harry had told him the opposite of what he'd wanted to hear—

'I'll never beg you for anything.'

Fondness.

…Why?

Harry threaded his fingers through his hair, resisting the urge to rip it from his scalp. He was baffled by all of it. He didn't understand what the Dark Lord wanted from him!

Harry took a deep breath and dropped his hands into his lap. At least he still had the enchanted blanket, he thought morbidly.

…But he would be receiving no Sleeping Draught, tonight.

Well, he certainly wasn't feeling relaxed enough to sleep without it. Maybe he wouldn't have been able to, even if he tried. Dependency and all that. Harry wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and decided to dedicate the evening to practicing Occlumency.

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

Think of no one, think of nothing…

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

The night passed slowly.


By the time he assumed it was morning, Harry hadn't slept a wink.

Had it really been that long? Maybe not, maybe only a few hours had passed. In the end, Harry wasn't entirely surprised when, though he heard footsteps, the aura which accompanied them was black and cold.

Harry supposed that answered his question about whether or not he would be seeing Narcissa again.

A rush of fury sparked to life in Harry's chest. He turned at the sound of the gate swinging open and had just opened his mouth to demand that Voldemort tell him what he had done to Narcissa, when—

"Hello, child."

What?

The rage-filled accusations died in Harry's throat at the sound of not Voldemort's, but… Narcissa's voice.

Harry said nothing. He did nothing. He held his breath as he sat there, feeling with certainty that familiar, icy magic. Black and ruthless. Voldemort.

"How are you feeling?"

Narcissa's voice.

Narcissa's footsteps, walking towards him. Narcissa's hands, smoothing the skin on his forehead.

Voldemort's magic.

"…Child?"

The ridiculous conclusion he came to almost caused Harry to gasp out loud.

Voldemort was here—under the influence of Polyjuice Potion—pretending to be Narcissa Malfoy.

Why?

But Voldemort had absolutely no idea that Harry knew it was him. Harry gripped the blanket wrapped around his shoulders tighter, still not wanting to give away his newfound ability to sense people. "F-fine," he stuttered, trying desperately to act as he normally would around Narcissa. "I'm f-fine."

His mind raced. Narcissa—Voldemort—handed him a goblet. "Drink."

Harry could feel his hands quivering. He took the goblet and drank as slowly as he could, stalling for time so that he could gather himself. Why on earth would the Dark Lord be here, pretending to be her? What the hell was Voldemort up to with this?

One part of Harry—the reckless, Gryffindor part—was tempted to call him out on it right then and there. To casually hand the goblet back to him and say:

'Thank you for the water… my Lord.'

And while that would certainly grant him one moment of extreme satisfaction, not even he, Harry James Potter, was that tactless.

Whatever the Dark Lord was planning on doing, he was confident that Harry thought this to be Narcissa Malfoy in his cell with him. Harry decided to let him believe that.

Once the goblet was empty, Harry handed it back to him. "Did he hurt you?" he asked, because that undoubtedly would have been his first question were this really Narcissa. "Did he do anything to you, or to—"

"No." Voldemort must have vanished the goblet. He began to run one hand through Harry's hair while the other cupped his face in a motherly fashion. But that blackness. Harry noticed the way that it almost twitched and swirled when he sounded so concerned, and—

Envy?

Lord Voldemort was envious?

"He did not harm me, child. He was… merciful."

Harry had no idea if this was the truth or not. "G-good," he said, trying to sound relieved. "I thought that he would—"

"Shhh…" Voldemort placed a finger to his lips, and Merlin was it strange, to feel Narcissa's warm hands on his face while at the same time experience the frigidity of the Dark Lord's magic. "Do not panic. I am fine."

And his acting was superb! He spoke with the same inflection, the exact same tone—and Voldemort was pulling him into an embrace, just like Narcissa would have—

Hug him back, Harry had to remind himself. If this were really Narcissa Malfoy, you would hug her back.

Hoping that the action didn't seem forced, Harry did. The second he wrapped his arms around Narcissa's waist, Voldemort pulled him even closer, even tighter, holding him in a way that the Dark Lord would surely never do in his own body. And before Harry could even begin to comprehend this bizarre occurrence, he was shocked even further.

Voldemort was smelling him.

Harry hoped that maybe he had imagined it, but he knew he hadn't. Voldemort had definitely pressed his face up against his neck, and just—just inhaled very deeply through Narcissa's nose, as if he was trying to breathe in the scent of him. Harry's arms went limp, but he otherwise did not react. Almost reluctantly, Voldemort pulled away as well. His magic began whirling about animatedly. There was something a bit antsy about it. Nervousness, maybe? Excitement?

"…I need something from you, Harry."

Harry's breath hitched.

Well, the Dark Lord had screwed up in his impersonation at least once, then. Narcissa never called him Harry, for whatever reason. But he couldn't really be bothered by that at the moment.

"You n-need something from me?"

Voldemort's magic stirred in response. Harry had a very, very bad feeling.

"Yes," the Dark Lord answered. His magic may have been anticipatory, but Narcissa's voice was convincingly dreadful and pitying. "He… has asked me to take something from you. I have to do it, I have to. It will be… very unpleasant. But it won't really harm you, and I will do it as painlessly as possible, I promise." He paused, running the fingers of a caring woman through his hair again. "You do trust me, don't you, Harry?"

Harry hesitated, thinking before answering. Whatever it was that Voldemort wanted from him—whatever he could possibly desire that he had not already taken—he was going to get it, no matter what. What could possibly be gained from fighting him?

Harry reached up and grabbed his hand. It felt incredibly surreal, to hold a hand which was pleasant and warm and know that he was touching the Dark Lord. Harry opened his eyes, knowing without question that his gaze was directed towards irises of silver that concealed the monster within.

"Do what you have to do," Harry said resolutely. "Take whatever you have to from me, so long as it means that no one else will get hurt…" He paused, his voice full of real, raw emotion.

"My life is worthless down here anyway."

The black aura shifted at once. It became brighter than it ever had been before now, tinted with a scarlet hue that was disarmingly fierce. Harry almost winced at the intensity of it.

"Your life," came the stern but feminine voice of Narcissa, "is anything but worthless."

Harry was quiet for a moment. He held Voldemort's false hands more tightly, continuing to make sure that the Dark Lord was staring right into the eyes he had stolen the sight from.

"Do what you have to do," he repeated in a whisper.

Voldemort stepped away. Harry heard the sounds of shifting robes when he stood, and he wondered wildly for a moment just what lengths Voldemort had to go to in order to accurately impersonate Narcissa.

"Don't move," the Dark Lord said quietly. "And know that it will be over soon."

There was a short, pregnant pause in which Voldemort's magic seemed to freeze as well. Like maybe, for just a moment, he was reconsidering doing whatever it was he was planning. Like he might change his mind.

He didn't.

Harry braced himself.

"Expecto magicae."

At first, Harry wasn't sure if anything was happening. He was certain that a spell had just been aimed at him, and had felt a sort of tingly sensation in his chest when Voldemort had uttered the words... but then nothing.

"What… What are you—"

Excruciating pain.

It exploded in Harry's very core, a manic energy tearing at his ribcage. It felt like Voldemort had just reached into his chest with razorblades and was hollowing him out. Harry screamed, a bloodcurdling and chilling sound. It ricocheted off the walls and assaulted his own ears.

Harry would have begged then—he would have begged the Dark Lord to stop, only he couldn't form words. It was far worse than the Cruciatus Curse. This was a pain that went beyond his body, deeper than his skin and bones. It was as if his very essence was being ripped in half, a part of him that was never meant to be touched forced to endure the darkness and pain of his reality.

Just as he was certain that the pain couldn't get any worse, it did. Bone-shattering agony tore across his mind, stealing his breath away and ending his screams. The turbulent force inside of his chest finally broke free in one violent moment of anguish.

And then, light and… emptiness.

The pain became dulled after that climactic moment, but it was replaced by a coldness that was entirely different than Voldemort's magic. It wasn't icy or frigid, no, just… absence. Harry's body felt hollow.

But outside of his body…

There was a light like nothing he had ever experienced before. Brilliant and warm. It shone like a sun, bathing the dark space with an amber glow that could only be described as golden. It hovered over him, saturating the air and making the Dark Lord's blackness seemingly recede into the corners of the cell like unwanted shadows.

The sharp sound of Narcissa Malfoy gasp told Harry he wasn't alone in being fascinated.

Harry was so mesmerized by this light that it took him a moment to realize what it was. This warm hue, this golden entity that was so vibrant and pure, was… It was attached to him. It was clinging to his skin, thrumming in tandem with his racing pulse…

This was his magic…

This, here, was Harry's own magical energy, only Voldemort had somehow pulled it from his body... but not entirely. It was still linked to him with filaments like liquid light. Harry felt like his heart had been torn from his chest, still beating, continuing to pump blood through veins which remained connected, even when exposed to cold, empty air.

"You truly are everything that… he is not," whispered the voice of Narcissa reverently. The blackness twitched in excitement.

Harry's own astonishment died at once. Fear, more crushing than Harry had ever experienced, consumed him. "Don't take it," he begged, not caring even slightly that he had sworn to never do such a thing. Because he knew, without a doubt, that if Voldemort somehow severed the filaments which connected this light to him, he would be worse than dead. If this absence in his chest became permanent, he would not be able to stand it, he would—

"No," Voldemort responded. Harry heard him take a step, and imagined that he was getting closer to that brilliant light. The Dark Lord's magic was becoming livelier, eager. "I could not take it from you. Not completely. No one could… It is yours."

Then Harry felt the strangest sensation of all. Not very painful, but… uncomfortable. It felt like a dulled version of the sensation he had just experienced within his chest before, like nails being dragged along the outside of that light and scraping away some of its radiant surface. Harry had a horrible feeling that the only reason it was not as agonizing as before was because it was currently not inside of him.

But that slight pain was nothing compared to the emptiness he felt in his chest. Harry would absolutely choose pain over this hollowness. Any pain, the worst pain, the entire world's pain would be preferable. Harry curled into himself, pulling his knees to his chest and shaking violently. "H-hurry," he whispered, hardly able to get the word out though quivering lips.

The dulled, scraping sensation stopped. "Prepare yourself," Voldemort said. The tone was a bit too emotionless to convincingly belong to Narcissa.

Harry got his wish.

The emptiness within him vanished, and Harry's entire being was filled with a violent, horrid agony. His soul was on fire with it. He howled at the onslaught, an emotional wail that instantly made his throat sore and his eyes water. There was no help for it. It was too intense. Tears fell from Harry's eyes the second the pain hit him, and once they started, they would not stop.

Harry cried.

The gorgeous light from the cell was gone, having been placed back where it belonged. But it wasn't the same. Harry felt like some vital part of him had been ravaged, stripped bare so that the nerve endings were exposed. Only it was inside of him once more, and so it radiated in every bone and muscle. With every labored breath he felt it—burning, torrid pain.

"You will heal," Voldemort said, and again, the tone sounded wrong coming from Narcissa. It seemed that the Dark Lord, who had been perfect at pretending to be something he was not for much of his life, could not keep up the façade now. For if the real Narcissa Malfoy had been forced to do this to him, she would have rushed to his side the moment she finished. She would have held him and whispered apologies into his ear. She may have even cried with him.

Voldemort did none of these things.

The Dark Lord left, and Harry was too consumed by suffering to tell what he may have been feeling as he went.


Eventually, the pain lessened.

Not entirely, but it diminished to something more bearable. After hours of endless, pathetic sobbing, the fire in Harry's core had dulled so that it was no longer burning, but… smoldering. It still hurt, especially when he moved too suddenly. Harry hissed in pain when he sat up. He imagined this might be how it would feel to recover from surgery, only without any pain medication.

Harry thought he would give just about anything to see the real Narcissa again, with her sweetness, lullabies, and the promise of a dreamless night's sleep. But he knew he never would.

Harry stifled another sob, wiping away the residual tears on his face. If Narcissa was not going to be the one to take care of him any longer, then who would? Harry had a feeling that Voldemort wouldn't be able to do it. The Dark Lord hadn't even been able to stay in a cell with him for five seconds when he'd started crying, and that was when he was supposed to be pretending to care. So who would it be?

Not much time passed before Harry could tell that he was going to get his answer.

Very timid footsteps announced the presence of someone new. Harry could hear whoever it was hovering outside of the gates, wary and extremely nervous.

Yet the aura was fascinating. Harry could appreciate it even through his pain. It was bright, silver with just the slightest hint of blue. Somewhat reminiscent of Narcissa's, but not overly so. It was far too light. It made Harry think of healing and restoration; of a patronus.

Perhaps this was Madam Pomfrey, he mused. The second he thought it he realized he was probably right. It was entirely possible that the Dark Lord had acquired either her or some other Healer to tend to him now. Harry waited patiently, not saying anything. The gate creaked open slowly when they finally mustered up the courage to enter.

"Fucking hell."

Harry's head snapped up, his eyes instinctively flying open. The voice did not match the aura. "Malfoy?"

Draco Malfoy verbally winced, and his light and luminescent magic became frazzled. Stunned at the sight of Harry's eyes, probably. And the rest of him. "What… what the hell has he done to you?" he gasped.

Harry didn't deign that question with a response. He was sure that Draco knew he had been blinded. "He sent you down here? …Why?"

"I… am equally unhappy about the arrangement." Draco swallowed audibly. "Potter," he added.

There was a very tiny pause in which Harry thought he might laugh. But the amusement was fleeting, and the pain in his chest too strong.

"H-here," Draco said, fumbling. "I'm supposed to… I don't know, give you—"

"I don't need anything," Harry interrupted. He was suddenly very bitter. Voldemort had put him through hell, gifting him excruciating, lingering pain so that he could—what? Use whatever residual magic he had stolen from him for something? Harry was suffering too much to think of what that could possibly be—and now, now he had taken away the beauty of Narcissa Malfoy... and given him her son instead.

"Just leave, Malfoy."

"I…I can't—"

"Yes, you can," Harry snapped. "Just turn around and walk away. You're good at that."

"Don't." Surprisingly, Draco didn't rise to the bait. He knelt at Harry's side and forced a cup into his hands. "You have to drink water, at least. I'm… I'm not leaving until you do."

Harry hated that this was a real incentive to cooperate. Grudgingly, he took the cup and quickly drank. "There," he said when he was done. Rather than hand the cup back to him, Harry tossed it across the cell where it hit the wall with sharp bang.

"Cute," Malfoy muttered.

Harry was just about to tell him to piss off when his thoughts took an abrupt turn. He reached out and grabbed the front of Draco's robes.

"You owe me, Malfoy" he said. Draco's magic shook in anxiety. "I didn't need to go back into that Fiendfyre and save your arse, but I did. You owe me." Harry pulled him closer, pleading now. "Help me get out of here. Help me escape. Please."

Draco tried to pry his fingers off of his clothes, but Harry's grip, despite how weak he felt, was ironclad. "D-don't ask me to do that," he said. "Don't, you know I can't, you know that's impossible—you're blind, and—and even if I could somehow get you out—which I can't—he'd k-kill me—"

"Then come with me," Harry said. "We can both go, the Order will protect you—"

"Then he'd kill my parents!" Draco shouted, unmoved by Harry's pleas. "Or my friends, or—"

"And what about my friends?" Harry snarled, furious. "What about Ron and Hermione? They're still out there, and if he finds them while I'm in here, he'll—he'll—"

"I know!" Draco finally succeeded in shoving Harry off of him. He hastily stood, fleeing and backing away until he was far from Harry's reach. "You think I don't know what will happen? You think that they're the only ones out there who are freaking the fuck out, trying to survive?"

Harry gaped, trying to think of a response to that. Draco's aura turned a slightly deeper hue, weighed down by misery and guilt. "It's a fucked up world out there, Potter. His world. We're all just trying to figure out how to live in it."

Draco shuffled away, opening the gate so that he could escape.

"Wait," Harry called. "Wait, I… I have a question."

Draco paused. Harry could feel his magic shaking on the outside of the iron bars, nervous again. "…What is it?"

Harry swallowed thickly. "What… What reason has he given you for keeping me here?"

It was something that Harry had been curious about for a while. He knew exactly why he was being held here, of course, but Harry wondered what reason Voldemort could possibly have given to his Death Eaters. What explanation had he told his closest followers for keeping alive the very person he had wanted desperately for years to kill?

Draco fell silent. Harry feared he was going to ignore his question and just leave.

"He said… He said he likes trophies," Draco finally answered, his voice hollow.

Harry laughed. The action hurt almost more than he could stand, but he couldn't help it. He laughed harder and longer than he had in a long time.

He didn't notice when Draco left.


The next time Harry was forced to endure his schoolboy nemesis's presence, he was determined not to be hostile.

Harry had hours to plot, alone in the darkness of his cell. Hours in which Voldemort did not visit him again, hours where he thought up ways that he could appeal to Draco's guilt and possibly convince him to help him escape. Harry knew, deep down, that it would never happen, but what else could he do? He felt it was a better use of his time than to practice Occlumency, and it did manage to somewhat distract him from his pain.

Yet the moment Draco reappeared, with his bizarrely light, magical energy, Harry's plans became derailed. There was a powerful, undeniable wave of anguish which filled the air the moment Draco came close. His emotions were highly distraught. It was suffocating.

"What is it?" Harry asked, not caring if it would come across as weird that he could tell something was very amiss before Draco had even spoken. "What's happened?"

Draco's magic became an even more powerful cloud of strain and indecision. Harry could sense how torn he was, how deeply he did not want to answer that question. Harry's heart thundered in his chest.

"Malfoy," Harry said, his panic mounting, "Malfoy, tell me what—"

"It's Weasley."

Draco's voice was the tiniest whisper, but Harry heard it loud and clear. Harry's sporadic heartbeat froze.

"They…found Ron Weasley."

Chapter Text

"…No."

Denial.

Harry's initial reaction to Draco's words was complete and total denial. They had not, could not have caught Ron. It was not possible.

No.

"Yes."

Draco's voice was hoarse but irrevocably honest. His magic was stringent with a tension that screamed of truthfulness. Harry hid his face in his hands, not wanting to believe it, but Draco continued on. "They f-found him just a few hours ago. The Snatchers."

Harry looked up, eyes open but seeing nothing. "Hermione?" he gasped.

"No," Draco answered. "No, they… It was just Weasley they caught. Not Granger."

"What? How?" Harry shook his head disbelievingly. How could they possibly catch one of them and not the other? He had a very hard time believing that Ron and Hermione would separate for any reason.

"I dunno," Draco said, speaking quickly and with a shaking voice. Harry could hear him begin to pace, and his magic, too, became more sporadic. "I dunno, it all happened really quickly and-and I was just told that it was only Weasley they got, but now my parents are both at the Ministry, helping to deal with all of the madness—"

"What's going to happen to him?" Harry interrupted Draco's rambling, cutting straight to the point. "Malfoy, what are they going to do with Ron? Where is he now? What's…"

His voice trailed off, unable to finish, but Draco must have understood. His aura calmed into a melancholy state, less frazzled and infinitely more pitying. "My parents didn't get a chance to tell me all of the details," he admitted. "And I probably shouldn't even be telling you—"

"I swear to God, Malfoy," Harry seethed, and he even began to push himself to his feet. "If you don't—"

"I'm going to!" Draco put his hands on Harry's shoulders, easily pushing his emaciated form back into a seated position on the ground. "Merlin, don't threaten me, Potter, you're not in any state—and yes, I owe you, so yes, I'm going to tell you—so just calm down."

The very last thing Harry could do was calm down, but he stayed still and listened all the same. "As I was saying," Draco continued, stepping away once he was certain that Harry wasn't going to try blindly charging at him, "they found Weasley a few hours ago, and I guess Granger was with him, but she got away somehow. I don't know exactly how it all happened, so don't ask. But Weasley is in Azkaban now, and he's going to have a trial on Monday."

Harry felt numb. "What day is it?" he asked in a bizarrely calm voice.

"It's… It's Sunday."

Harry took a deep breath, holding onto his odd state of detachment and wishing that it would last forever. "What is he being tried for, exactly?"

"Treason, mostly," Draco answered. "For conspiring against the Ministry and for consorting with a wanted, unregistered muggle-born."

Hermione Granger, of course. Harry's hands curled into fists at his sides, his fingernails biting into his skin. "And what's going to happen when they inevitably find him guilty?"

Draco was silent for a long time, but his magic whirled in a cloud of indecisiveness. Harry could sense that he knew the answer, but was just unwilling to say it. "Malfoy, you have to tell me. I'm going to find out inevitably."

"They're going to offer him a deal," Draco said. "You don't… You don't know what things have been like, just in the past few hours, Potter. Everything is insane at the Ministry, what with Ron Weasley being captured, and with the Dark Lord…"

His magic shuddered. It seemed that, whatever train of thought Draco was having concerning his master, he was unable to articulate it.

"What?" Harry prompted, panicked. "What about him, what's happened with Vol—"

"Don't say his name!" Draco hissed at once. Whether it was because of the Taboo or for other reasons, Harry wasn't sure. "Just—let's just say that the Dark Lord has become very, very public as of this morning, and it just so happened that Weasley was kidnapped at right around the same time, and it's all just total fucking mayhem right now."

He paused, his aura vibrating with stress. "They're going to tell Weasley that if he says it was all Granger who talked him into turning against the Dark Lord and the wizarding community of Britain—that it was she who persuaded him to turn against his own kind—then they'll give him a tolerable sentence. Ten years, maybe. Especially if he gives them information that leads to her capture."

"He will never do that," Harry said at once. "Even if they tried to Imperius him. He'd fight it. Ron would never, ever do that to her."

"I know," Draco whispered.

There was a heavy stretch of silence. Harry hated that he had to even ask the next question, because he knew that Draco could feel it coming. "…What will they do to Ron, then? When he fails to cooperate?"

Harry hated even more that he knew the answer before it was spoken.

"The… He'll be sentenced to the kiss."

"No."

Harry was on his feet before he realized he wanted to stand. The blood rushed to his head, making him dizzy, but he steadied himself against the wall. "No, no, no," he repeated. When Draco came to make sure he wouldn't fall, Harry clutched at his shoulders with all of the energy he had left.

"Ow—don't—"

"Get me out of here," Harry demanded, both forceful and desperate. "Take me now, while there's no one else here and everyone else is distracted—take me to—"

"To where?" Draco snarled, but his voice was too full of emotion to come off as sinister as he'd probably intended. "To the Ministry? To Azkaban? To the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, which could be anywhere now, if it even still exists—"

"I don't know!" Harry shouted, and his whole body ached with the horrible, lingering pain from whatever Voldemort had done to him. "I don't know, just—take me to him, take me to the Dark Lord so that I can talk to him, before—"

Draco's laugh was instant, cold, and mirthless. "Talk to him? You?" he balked. "Have you lost your mind completely, Potter?"

"I have to do something, Malfoy. I can't just sit down here in this cell while my friend becomes worse than dead. You have to take me to him, you have to let me try—"

"Absolutely not." Draco shoved him away, hard. Harry fell to the floor, hissing in pain when his elbow collided with the concrete. "I was told to keep you here and keep you alive, and—and that's what I'm going to do."

Harry scrambled to his feet again, but by the time he was standing, the gate had already opened and closed. Draco was leaving him.

"No—No! Malfoy!" Harry shouted, reaching blindly for the metal bars towards where he could feel his magic. "Malfoy, don't you fucking leave me here, don't you dare—"

"I'll be back once you've stopped screaming," he muttered. Draco's voice was empty, and his aura deepened into a hue of unfathomable, deep remorse.

But the proof of his guilt was meaningless to Harry. "Malfoy!" he screamed, beyond furious when he heard him walk away. Harry shook the gate violently, manic in his desperation. "Draco Malfoy! Don't leave me, don't do this—I didn't leave you! I saved your life, Malfoy! I saved you! Help me save him!"

No response. Draco's magic vanished.

Harry screamed and screamed, shouting pleas and demands, but Draco never once answered him. It wasn't long until he lost his voice entirely. Harry rattled the bars of his cell until he grew too weak to do even that. He was already so frail that it did not take long. His body failed him, and after only a few minutes he slumped to the floor, voiceless, blind, and entirely hopeless.

Harry had nothing left.

It was the tragic feeling that would change everything.


Harry never had the thought of not wanting to live anymore.

He did not lay there, curled on his side on the cold stones and think, 'I want to die.'

No. What he thought, with a mind that had fallen into a state of numbness, was:

So this is it.

This was the end of it all. Soon, Ron would be soulless, Hermione would surely be caught as well, and he, Harry Potter, would exist forever as a prisoner in a dark and frigid cell. Blind, weak. Constantly in pain.

And while he did not have the thought of wanting to die, Harry certainly had the notion that he would like the pain to stop.

I just want this suffering to end, he thought blankly, though to whom he was making the request, he wasn't sure. God, maybe? Harry decided that was good enough. He pulled his knees to his chest and tangled his fingers together, wrapping them around his legs. For the first time since he'd gotten out of the cupboard, Harry James Potter said a silent prayer.

Just let the pain end. Just take it all away.

He received a response in the form of a cold, nearly intangible wind. A chilly breeze that swept across his skin like a phantom's caress. It didn't scare him. Cool as it may have been, it was not sinister or black like Voldemort's fierce aura. This was a friendly energy.

This was his.

Harry had heard many stories of how accidental magic had saved people's lives, and had even experienced such miracles himself, but he had never heard of the opposite being true. Yet now, as the coolness wrapped around his limbs, he could sense that this was what was happening to him.

His magic was saving him from this suffering.

Harry sighed. The chill was like a balm, numbing the pain in his bones and lessening it. And though the cold was uncomfortable—highly so, at first—the discomfort was fleeting. Soon, he could hardly feel his body at all, and he knew that the descent into death would not be a long one.

Everything was cold, dark, and silent. Harry decided then that no, he was not afraid. His lips twitched into the ghost of a smile. He thought of his parents, of Sirius and Remus. He was ready to greet Death like an old friend, and he was not scared at all.

He thought it was over when the light danced across his mind. It was bright, radiant, and welcoming.

Harry opened his eyes, but he did not see the familiar faces of lost loved ones. He didn't see anything, but that light

It was overwhelming, so brilliant and alluring. He felt arms being wrapped around him, warm and soft, and with the physical contact, the light became exponentially stronger.

"Come back to me, come back to me, come back—"

There was a voice chorusing a panicked whisper, the sensation of lips like fire pleading against his temple and into his ear. Hands were rubbing his arms and face, like they were trying to warm him; to force the life back into him and stave off the coldness.

It was working. Harry gasped when he realized exactly what was happening. This light was not the peace of death… but the horror of Lord Voldemort.

Once he figured it out, Harry tried to resist it. He grappled for the coolness of his magic to return, to reform and pull him back under its surface and end his miserable life. With limbs that were heavy and weak, he pushed against Voldemort's chest, trying to force him away.

It was useless. The second Harry tried to resist him, the beautiful light became so warm and inviting that it was like a siren's call. "No—come back to me, my soul, come back—"

The surrender was inevitable. Harry's muscles all relaxed at the same time, practically melting into the pleasant warmth of Voldemort's arms and sinking into the light. The Dark Lord let out a very uncharacteristic, emotion-filled sound; something that was beyond relieved. He pulled Harry to his chest, gathering him into a tight embrace that, were he able to focus properly on anything other than that feeling of weightlessness, Harry would have found extremely unnerving.

As it was, Harry could only sigh in content. The radiance just felt so… good. The aching pain from before was completely, blessedly gone. Unable not to, he buried his head into the crook of the Dark Lord's neck, relishing the sensation of such bliss. Then, without thinking about it, Harry reached up to touch Voldemort's face.

Voldemort caught his hand before he could. And maybe he had just died after all, Harry thought, and this was some crazy vision his mind had conjured up, because… because the Dark Lord had grabbed his hand and started to kiss his fingers, trailing his lips across his knuckles in an fashion that was far too tender to ever be done by Lord Voldemort.

There was no coldness in his kisses. Just light.

"Not you," he whispered into his palm. "Never you," a promise breathed into his wrist.

Voldemort wove his fingers between Harry's. His other arm curled around his waist.

"Rest," he murmured. The Dark Lord pressed his lips to Harry's forehead, soft and gentle.

Harry fell at once into a dreamless sleep.


"…A gift."

Harry awoke to the sound of the Dark Lord's voice.

He felt more than a bit disoriented as the memory formed itself around him. A world of snowy planes and thick forests materialized. Harry was sitting in a familiar scene. It was Finland again. Harry shook his head, trying to gather himself under a sky of magnificent, transient hues.

…Had that all really just happened? With Draco, Ron, and everything? Or had it all been a nightmare? Maybe… Maybe he had just fallen asleep without the aid of a Sleeping Draught, and that horrifying experience had been the result. Just a nightmare.

Feeling unsure, Harry decided to hold onto this possibility for the moment. It wasn't like there was anything he could say or do while he was trapped in another of the Dark Lord's memories, anyway. Harry looked to his immediate left, where the Tom Riddle of the past rested, once more surrounded by a ring of bluebell flames.

He looked older than the last memory in which Harry had seen him. Older, and much more… regal. He was not in muggle clothes, this time, but long, sweeping robes of black. His face, while still youthful and handsome, was a bit gaunter than before, his skin paler. It was difficult to see his features clearly, however, as he had his eyes closed and his head bowed, like he was deep in thought. Like the glorious sky held no significance to him any longer. This must have been sometime before Tom Riddle went to Hogwarts to apply for a teaching position, Harry concluded. His late twenties or early thirties.

But what was most astonishing by far about this memory was Riddle's magic.

Harry must have been getting better at his ability to sense auras every day, for he had never been able to feel anyone's magic in a memory before. He could certainly perceive it now. Harry could sense it both with his mind and, while in the memory, visibly.

Harry gasped, watching in awe at the way Riddle's magic flickered and whirled around him. It was a very different experience than solely being able to sense it; Harry could literally see the way the black cloud of darkness shifted about, as well as feel its icy temperament.

But it was not as black or cold as the Dark Lord of the present's magic was. This aura was dark, true, and ominous, but… But there was a bit of a glint to it, a hint of light. Harry could see it when it twitched and moved, the slightest sparkle of something glimmering, almost golden. It reminded him of an obsidian ore, shining when it caught the light just right.

It was both exquisite and frightening. Harry sat at Tom's side and watched it for a long time, much more mesmerized by its loveliness than the kaleidoscopic sky.

When Tom Riddle spoke, his eyes still closed and head still bowed, Harry physically jumped.

"Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"

Harry turned, looking to see if this memory really did have someone else in it. He didn't see anyone. He didn't see a snake either. Harry scoffed, looking up the sky that Tom Riddle himself seemed so uninterested in.

It was beautiful, even more so than the last memory. The colors seemed brighter, the stars a bit more glittery. He watched with speculative interest, wondering if this was a place that Tom Riddle used to visit often, and that was why he had so many memories of it. Harry couldn't blame him. It was extremely peaceful here.

"…I asked you a question."

Harry's heart skipped a beat.

He looked back to Tom Riddle to find that Tom Riddle was looking back at him.

Riddle's face, illuminated by the cerulean light of the bluebell flames, was expressionless, but his gaze was undoubtedly focused on Harry. And his eyes… His eyes were not the dark, nearly black color of Tom Riddle's, but a vivid, far too familiar scarlet. His irises shone like garnets in the cool firelight, bright and crimson.

Voldemort's eyes.

Harry gasped as it fully dawned on him.

Fingers quivering, he reached forward, half-expecting his hand to pass right through Tom's when he went to touch him. It didn't. Harry's fingers rested on a hand that corporal and solid… and warm, so warm, not inhumanly cold…

The glinting, black magic whirled energetically, the fragments of light glittering within the darkness like bits of gold.

This was not a memory.

This was real.

The Dark Lord lifted his hand, bringing Harry's up with it and intertwining their fingers together as he did. Warmth, pleasant and lovely, blossomed in Harry's soul at the action, irrevocably seductive. Harry stared into the eyes of Lord Voldemort. He was unable to say or do anything, he was hardly able to process that this was reality.

He could see.

Voldemort smiled. His lips were not thin and withered but full, youthful. He took in Harry's expression and laughed softly. It wasn't the sound of a mass-murdering villain. It wasn't the expression of the most dangerous, ruthless man in wizarding history.

Lord Voldemort didn't look like a monster. Not anymore.

His smile widened. When he spoke, his voice was kind and gentle.

"Hello, Harry."

Chapter Text

ng 2

II. Turbulent Discord

(Art by Acnara)


 

Harry was numb and frozen for only a moment.

His mind lurched back to life with a sickening jolt. He yanked his hand away, clutching it to himself and shaking. The light vanished. His chest heaved as a sense of terror started to crawl up his spine, mingling with the shock and confusion and making him feel ill.

Too many fearful questions and accusations came to Harry for him to be able to articulate a single one.

How did Voldemort become like this? Is that what he used his magic for? Was Narcissa all right? Did he hurt her or Draco? And, most importantly, what happened to Ron? Was he still alive—would he still be alive tomorrow? He couldn't kill Ron, he couldn't subject him to the Dementor's kiss, he—

"Quiet."

In a movement that was as quick and eerie as Voldemort usually moved, the Dark Lord had slipped silently behind Harry and draped his arms around his shoulders. Harry was instantly reminded of that fateful moment in the forest, when Voldemort had first used Legilimency to see that Harry held a portion of his soul within him. Only this time, Harry was sitting, and Voldemort was now kneeling behind him with his chest pressed against Harry's back. The action startled him so much that his torrid thoughts froze again, once more paralyzed by the ethereal—and now beautiful—presence of Voldemort.

"Say nothing," the Dark Lord softly murmured into his ear. Yet the way his muscles tightened slightly around Harry's shoulders made him almost shudder. However gently he was speaking, Voldemort's words were a threat. "The world and all of its turbulent discord will still be there, exactly as it is now, in five minutes' time. So for the next five minutes, I ask that you say nothing, only look." He placed his long, no-longer cold fingers under Harry's jaw, lightly tilting his face upwards. The sky was a mesmeric shade of lilac; a dazzling, celestial blanket of stars.

"If you do this for me, I will answer all of your questions. I will listen to your concerns. I may even take them into account. But only if, for the next five minutes, you… remain… silent."

Harry did shudder then. Voldemort had leaned in so close to his face with those last words that Harry could feel his lips against his ear.

Harry's mind raced. How badly did he want to scream incoherently, how tempted was he to slam his skull back into the Dark Lord's face and—and what? Try and get his wand? Make a run for it, here, in the middle of Finland? Maybe just go all in, and try his best to grab the Dark Lord by his pretty, new throat and strangle the life out of him?

Harry could feel Voldemort's muscles tense again, probably anticipating the very likely outcome of Harry Potter responding in a resilient and moronic fashion. But Harry paused, looking at the stars and taking a deep breath.

He'd said… He'd said that he would listen to him, if he just stayed quiet. Maybe even listen to his requests. Five minutes of obedient silence, and he could, conceivably, be saving Ron's life.

It wasn't a difficult decision to make, once he'd taken a moment to think it through.

Harry shut up and watched the sky.


Exactly five minutes later and the Dark Lord was true to his word.

Voldemort whispered one softly spoken word of praise in his ear, effectively breaking the spell of silence, before tightening his hold around Harry's shoulders. Harry didn't even have a moment to blink before he was being ripped away from Finland, and he and the Dark Lord appeared in yet another familiar setting.

It was Malfoy manor, but not the cryptic cell he had grown so unfortunately accustomed to. Or, at least, Harry assumed it was a part of Malfoy's giant, lavish home. They were in the Hall with the massive fireplace—the place where Harry had been forced to sign away Grimmauld Place to Bellatrix Lestrange, naked and mortified.

The memory did little to boost his confidence. The Dark Lord released his possessive hold on him and stepped away. He first motioned towards the empty fireplace, wordlessly and wandlessly causing a fire to ignite. He then gestured lazily with the same hand towards the table. A chair instantly scooted away from under its mahogany surface.

Harry stared. Voldemort turned and faced him, inclining his head towards the empty seat with no expression on his distressingly handsome face.

"Sit," he said simply.

Rage, which had admittedly waned during the eternity that was five minutes of star-gazing, sparked back to life in Harry's chest. He did not want to sit. He did not want to sit at all. "What have you done?" he spat, pleased to hear that his voice did not sound weak or shaky, even if that was how he felt. "To yourself, to me—to Narcissa, to—to Ron, what have you done with him—"

"Nothing." Voldemort's clipped response was impassive. His magic, too, was relatively still. "I have done nothing to any of them."

"He's—Ron is in Azkaban, isn't he?" Voldemort nodded, almost imperceptibly. "He has a trial tomorrow, and he's going to—you can't expect him to—he'll never blame Hermione for anything, he'll—you can't—"

Panic, wild and untamable, started to consume him. Voldemort was directly in front of him in an instant, gripping both of his hands, and the light and blissful warmth bloomed in Harry's core at the touch.

"Don't," Harry snarled, trying to pull his hands away. He couldn't. Voldemort was far too strong.

Harry glowered, hating that the buoyant feeling wiped the panic away so effortlessly. He hated that it made him want to sink into it and forget about absolutely everything else, because absolutely everything else was—what had he called it? Such turbulent discord.

"Ronald Weasley has a trial scheduled for tomorrow afternoon in front of the entire Wizengamot," Voldemort said in a detached voice. "He will be tried for treason against the Ministry. He will be given the opportunity to aid in the mission to locate the unregistered muggle-born, Hermione Granger. If he fails to cooperate, then his sentence shall be severe."

Harry opened his mouth to scream his protests, but Voldemort continued speaking first. "He will not be subjected to the Dementor's kiss," he said, and Harry's jaw clicked shut. "He will be sentenced to life in Azkaban."

His relief was very short-lived. "No," Harry said, trying again to pull his hands away. Voldemort let him, this time. The lightly pulsating warmth dissipated. "No, he can't—he can't stay in prison forever, stuck with dementors for the rest of his life."

Voldemort's magic twitched sporadically, and though his face remained unreadable, Harry could tell that he was annoyed. "He will live," he said quietly. "Your friend's life is being spared. You should be grateful."

Harry laughed mirthlessly. "Grateful?" he yelled, incredulous. He must have met his threshold for fear and panic again, because Harry was suddenly feeling very unafraid. "Grateful that my best friend is going to rot in a cell, as miserable as physically possible, for as long as he may live? Which probably won't be very long, seeing as the life expectancy in Azkaban isn't exactly high! Oh, yes, thank you, I'm so grateful!"

Harry's own magic stirred chaotically. The chair which Voldemort had so politely invited Harry to sit in snapped in half. The unintended action made his chest hurt with a stinging pain, and Harry was reminded viscerally that he had not yet entirely recovered from whatever the Dark Lord had done to him. The realization made his fury soar.

Voldemort did nothing when the chair shattered. He only stood there, as still and as cold as stone. His lack of reaction only fueled the fire of Harry's rage. "And I'm so grateful, too, for the gift of my sight back!" he snarled. "Thank you so much for the vision that you took away—because what? I called you a fucking monster?"

Whatever patience Voldemort had garnered upon his human horcrux's near magical suicide was quickly waning. He remained motionless as Harry screamed, but Harry could see it in the way his magic blackened and whirled, growing in a cloud of ominous fury.

Harry didn't care. "You lock me up, take away my sight, force Narcissa Malfoy to take care of me and—and do whatever it is she did that has me feeling so bloody wonderful, now, imprison my friend, and I'm supposed to be grateful?"

Harry stepped towards the Dark Lord, looking boldly up into his crimson eyes. "I don't care what you did to yourself on the outside," he hissed. Voldemort didn't move. "You are still, and always will be, a monster."

The Dark Lord finally snapped. In a dizzying rush of magic, Harry was flung against the wall, his head colliding with it so forcefully that his ears rang. In the very same instant, Voldemort slammed his hands on either side of Harry's face, not touching him, but caging him against the wall with his arms. Harry's scar burned with a familiar pain that he hadn't felt in days.

The Dark Lord's magic was a suffocating mass of anger, pressing down on him like a blanket of blackness. He leaned in so that he was speaking in Harry's ear, his voice quiet but deadly.

"Insult me one more time," he whispered, "and I shall tear your insolent tongue right out of your mouth."

Harry wasn't sure what came over him. Rather than find that terrifying, like he knew he should have, he smirked. He leaned in so that he, too, could whisper in Voldemort's ear, and with the exact same inflection that the Dark Lord had just used to threaten him, said:

"Fuck. You."

The reaction was instantaneous.

The first thing Harry registered was the taste of blood.

A sharp, stinging pain exploded in his mouth, and it took him a second to comprehend what was happening. Voldemort had wrapped his fingers around Harry's throat, viciously tight, and in the same moment had—had crashed his lips over Harry's, wrenching open his mouth and had ensnared his tongue with his teeth—

He is literally going to bite my tongue off, Harry thought with a blank horror as the pain increased exponentially. Blood, hot and metallic, filled his mouth.

And just when he thought that it was actually going to happen—that Voldemort was going to tear away and take Harry's tongue with him—everything changed.

Harry wasn't sure how or why it happened, but it was such a rapid switch that he could hardly understand it. Voldemort had released his painful hold on Harry's tongue, and, with blood still pouring in his mouth, had begun to feel it with his own. The grip on his throat slackened slightly, and somewhere in the midst of all of this shock Harry realized that he was experiencing the most violent kiss of his life.

From Voldemort.

The pain in his scar vanished. The Dark Lord reached with his other hand, intertwining his fingers into Harry's mess of hair and forcing his head back against the wall, demanding more access. Harry was too stunned to do anything about it. Voldemort ravaged his mouth, claiming every crevice with his teeth and tongue, completely unbothered by the fact that there was blood everywhere.

Perhaps the most horrifying part of all was that Harry, in the messy whirlwind of it all, found himself almost instinctually reciprocating.

The second he realized just what the hell was happening, Harry reached with both his hands, hoping to push Voldemort away. He never got the chance. At that moment, Voldemort abruptly ended the violence of their kiss, his hands still on Harry's throat and clawing at his hair. Harry gasped for breath, having not realized just how starved for oxygen he had become.

Voldemort's lips and chin were covered in blood. Harry was sure that he must look much worse, considering that it was his tongue which was currently pooling blood into his mouth, even still.

Voldemort smirked, and it was possibly the most horrifying sight that Harry had ever seen, to witness someone who looked like Tom Riddle give such a charming and crimson-stained smile. "I've changed my mind," he murmured, releasing his hold on Harry's throat and reaching into the pocket of his robe. "I like your insolent tongue just where it is."

He then placed something to Harry's wet, sticky lips, and Harry realized with a jolt that it was the Elder Wand. Voldemort leaned in closer so that his blood-coated lips were against Harry's jaw when he whispered, "Episkey."

The stinging pain disappeared. The wound that Voldemort had inflicted stitched itself shut, though the copious amounts of blood remained.

The Dark Lord held him like that for a second longer before stepping away and releasing him.

Harry was entirely too stunned to react, other than to spit out what he could of the blood in his mouth to one side. Voldemort, however, turned and strode away from him, quite casually, like nothing out of the ordinary had occurred at all. He pointed his wand at the fractured chair and it reconstructed itself in a flash of magic.

"Your friend will be given a life sentence in Azkaban… though I may lessen his sentence if he does, at the very least, admit that his previous views on wizarding society were misguided." Voldemort walked over to an ornate mirror which hung against the wall, and began vanishing the blood from his face and lips as he spoke. "If he surrenders completely, as most wizards and witches who previously aligned themselves with Albus Dumbledore have, then I may be inclined to be more…" He paused, adjusting his robes and hair. By the time he turned to look Harry fully in the face again, he looked as pristine as he had before.

"…Merciful."

Harry, whose body had started shaking at some point during the chaos of their kiss and hadn't stopped yet, finally reached his limit. Already so weak from his weeks of imprisonment, he could no longer remain standing. His knees buckled beneath him, and he fell.

Before he could hit the ground, Voldemort crossed the span of the room in an instant. He caught him with ease, and though Harry wished he could shove him away, he knew the fight was futile. He had no physical strength left. Harry's head fell against Voldemort's chest in defeat.

But that didn't mean he was unable to fight. "I want to talk to him," he gasped, deciding that the best way to respond to the fact that Voldemort had just kissed him in the most horrifying fashion was to not respond to it at all. Harry's voice was extremely hoarse. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Let me talk to Ron. He won't—he'll never surrender on his own, but… But I might be able to convince him."

Voldemort's magic shifted strangely, as if he was both perplexed but also mildly pleased. "And why would you do that, Harry?"

"Because I don't want my best friend to die in Azkaban," Harry answered, blunt but honest. His head was swimming, but Harry forced himself to focus. He wanted Voldemort's word before he inevitably passed out again. "Let me talk to him before his trial. If… If I can guarantee that Hermione will live if he surrenders, then I'm sure I can talk him into it."

Voldemort's aura darkened again. "Hermione Granger deserves death," he hissed venomously.

"No." Harry's head snapped up, looking up at Voldemort unflinchingly. "If Ron lives and Hermione lives, then… then I live."

Harry knew at once that he had said the right thing. Voldemort's face gave away no emotion whatsoever, but his magic, which Harry was still able to sense so aptly, betrayed him. It whirled with vigor, glimmering with hints of gold in a desirous, almost happy way.

Voldemort wanted Harry to want to live far more than he wanted Ron to be imprisoned or Hermione to die.

Yet his expression remained blank. "…We shall see," Voldemort said. He then pulled Harry to his chest, holding him like a parent might hold a small child. As mortifying as it was, Harry couldn't do anything to stop it.

"You have to let me talk to him," he continued adamantly as Voldemort stood, cradling him in his arms. "You have to, you—"

"In the morning."

His snappish response made Harry fall silent at once. "His trial is at noon. I shall allow you to speak with him before then. At this time, you are too weak to stand, let alone convince anyone that they should be changing their morals for the promise of life. You are both physically and magically exhausted. You need rest."

Harry nearly laughed at that. He was just about to say something that would have surely gotten him into trouble again—something along the lines of how Dumbledore was right, Tom Riddle really was one of the most brilliant minds in the world, to be able to see that—but thankfully, he never got the chance.

The Dark Lord pressed his lips to Harry's temple and sighed against his skin.

"Sleep."

Instantly, Harry did.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text


Silk.

Harry awoke on a soft surface, surrounded by smooth, velvety fabric. His hands slid against the sheets as he raised them to his face, yawning groggily.

He felt…good.

Better than he had in days—physically, at least. Harry rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands and opened them. He briefly took in his surroundings before glancing up at the ceiling.

He screamed.

Not because he was in some horror-filled dungeon with chains that might come to life and torture him with ephemeral burns. Not because there was a sinister Dark Lord waiting there, glaring with piercing red eyes and fury in his heart.

No. In fact, Harry was in a very luxurious room, one which he assumed must have been a part of Malfoy Manor. It certainly looked like it. The walls were covered in a minimal, deep green wallpaper; the furniture was a rich mahogany. It was a space that was exuberantly decadent and rich.

The sight which had caused him to shout was not Voldemort… but himself.

The surface above the four-poster bed on which he slept was a giant mirror. Harry was looking up at himself, and it was an extremely unsettling sight to see upon waking. His face, jaw, and neck were still covered in dried blood. His hair was even wilder than it usually was—longer than he'd ever had it before and looking like he'd just stepped out of a windstorm.

But those features were nothing at all compared to his eyes.

Red.

Vibrant, ruby red.

Harry screamed, because even though he had seen them through the Dark Lord's mind before, he had been in denial… and he had assumed that, if and when he was given his sight back, they would be returned to normal.

He was wrong.

Harry sat up quickly and stood, the blood rushing to his head and making him dizzy. He was just about to stand when the door on the other side of the room opened.

His panic vanished in an instant.

Narcissa Malfoy stood in the doorway. Her magic was just as beautiful, visually, as Harry might have imagined: a deep, saturated navy that glimmered slightly. Yet at the moment it was withered, echoing the look of fear and concern on her face. The moment Harry saw her, he smiled, and a tidal wave of relief washed over him.

Narcissa rushed over and quickly enveloped him in an embrace.

"You're all right," they both said at the same time. Harry laughed into her shoulder, all thoughts of his eyes momentarily forgotten.

"He didn't do anything to you? Or to Draco? He didn't—"

"No." Narcissa answered him without letting go. "No, he did not say or do anything to me, I'm fine—but Draco?" She paused, and her magic swelled with alarm. "Why would you ask that, did Draco do something, did—"

"No," Harry lied at once. He couldn't tell her the truth of his concern for her son. Harry had feared that Voldemort might have taken it out on him personally after Harry nearly killed himself with his own magic, considering that Draco was supposed to be watching him. He was both shocked and relieved to hear that this was not the case. "Draco didn't do anything at all, I just worried that he might do something to him, instead…"

Harry didn't need to explain any further than that. Voldemort had already been known to use her son as a means to punish his parents before. Narcissa's magic darkened suddenly with a great and powerful spite. Harry almost gasped at the intensity of it. He had never felt such an overwhelming hatred coming from this woman before.

Hatred… for Voldemort.

But the cold fury of her magic vanished nearly the moment he felt it. It transitioned back into a much lighter hue, no longer hostile but full of anxiety.

"But what has he done to you, what—"

"Nothing," Harry said quickly. "He didn't do anything, just… gave me my sight back. Obviously."

"Yes, I was informed, thank goodness. I had been at the Ministry, with Lucius—making appearances, being seen with the right people and making sure to be in the right photographs alongside my husband—it's exhausting, politics—but I was suddenly ordered to return here, to tend to you…"

She finally released him. Narcissa stepped away just far enough so that she could look at his face, but kept her hands on his shoulders. "Oh, child," she sighed. Her silver eyes were so sad, and her magic was heavy with empathy. "Things have… It's… Your friend, he—"

"I know." Harry's voice broke. He forced the emotion away, knowing that he needed to remain level-headed. "I know about Ron. Your son told me." He then jumped, startling Narcissa so badly at the action that she dropped her arms. He looked wildly about the room for a clock—noticing only then that his own watch was missing. "What time is it? His trial—it's at noon, he said—"

"It's early. It's only eight."

"Where is Vol—?" Harry paused when Narcissa eyes widened. "Where is the Dark Lord?" he quickly ameneded, if only for her behalf.

Narcissa exhaled, ignoring his near use of the Dark Lord's name. "Not here," she said. She put a hand on his shoulder again, like she might be able to quell his worry with a touch. "He said he needed to tend to something, but that he would be back within the hour. And that…that he wanted you to be awake and prepared to leave at that time. I was just on my way to wake you when I heard you scream." Her expression became deeply concerned again. "Why is there…?"

Her voice trailed off, seemingly unable to ask why there was blood all over his mouth and neck, and why his eyes were still… wrong.

Harry's stomach churned. "Um," he started, and his face began to burn. "I, ah. Bit my tongue."

Narcissa stared. Harry didn't bother elaborating on his pathetic lie that, horrifically enough, had a ring of truth to it. "And I don't know why my..."

Apparently Harry could not put it into words either. Narcissa stood up straighter, sweeping her long, blonde hair behind her back and clearing her throat, bolstering courage. "Well," she said, her voice crisp. "Let's just get you cleaned up then, shall we?"

Harry just nodded and let her mother him.


Only half an hour later, and Harry almost looked like a normal human being again.

Narcissa had showed him to a bathroom that was adjacent to the room he'd slept in. It was so lavish it was gaudy, with a white marble floor and tiled walls that looked like they were flecked with diamonds. The tub was enormous, but Harry wasn't in the mood for lazing around in suds, even if he was sure the basin would have filled in moments.

Showering after all that he had been through felt like paradise. The warm water was heaven against his skin, washing away the blood, sweat, and grime in a way that cleaning charms just couldn't quite accomplish.

Afterwards, Harry found a set of very slick and expensive looking robes that Narcissa had left for him, folded up neatly on a vanity. They were entirely black, with bright, silver buckles. He put them on, and was unsurprised to find that they were a bit loose around the waist and shoulders, even though the length was about right. It wasn't until after he was fully dressed that Harry realized they must belong to Draco.

Once he was fully clothed, Narcissa returned. She took one look at him and beamed, but there was a strange determination in her magic that made Harry a bit uneasy.

"Here, sit," she said, gesturing towards the chair in front of the vanity. Nervously, Harry did. He looked at Narcissa in the mirror, not wanting to pay attention to the scarlet eyes of his own reflection.

"Stay still," she instructed. "I'm going to attempt to fix your hair. It dearly needs a trim."

Harry immediately laughed, unable not to. "Determined to be disappointed, are you?" he said. She narrowed her eyes at him, looking mildly offended. Clearly, Narcissa had no idea what she was going up against. "No, please. By all means, give it a go. Witches who cared for me and my appearance far more than you have tried and failed."

"I doubt that," she murmured. Harry didn't even have time to appreciate just how much that touched him before she started, trimming off the longer, more unruly bits that had actually begun to form into dreadlocks.

Harry watched her work in deepest amusement. While her expression remained the same—fiercely focused—her magic revealed just how irritated she was becoming. It gradually became more and more frazzled as, no matter how much she trimmed or how she tried to comb it, his hair continued to defy her.

She eventually caught his eye in the mirror, frowning when she saw him grinning. "Funny, is it?" she said, just before casting a wordless spell in desperation. Harry felt a kind of tingling on his scalp, and watched, in utmost fascination, as his hair actually got worse.

"…Does it ever lie flat?"

Harry grinned merrily. "Absolutely never."

She pursed her lips, looking like she was trying to think of another plan of attack. But after a few moments she shrugged and pocketed her wand, admitting defeat. "You know," she said, running her fingers through it—an action which did nothing at all to help its appearance but which Harry found pleasant all the same—"I think I kind of like it."

Harry was baffled. "Yes, I do," she said more firmly. "It's kind of nice, being wild like that. It just sort of screams defiant."

"Is… Is that the message I want my appearance to be screaming, these days?"

"Well, no," Narcissa admitted, though she was smirking despite herself. "But it suits you." She stepped away and motioned for Harry to stand. "Follow me. He'll be back soon, and you're to be in the foyer when he arrives."

Whatever temporary respite Harry had been experiencing from the horror of his reality died with that statement. The smile slid from his face as he stood, bracing himself to see Voldemort again—and if the Dark Lord was true to his word… Ron.


Malfoy manor was enormous.

Harry only came to this realization because the foyer was evidently located miles away. They walked down one corridor, turning only to walk down another, just to go down some stairs and then pass yet another hallway filled with doorways that led to Merlin knew where. Narcissa walked quite briskly, like she was very accustomed to this massive labyrinth of a home, and Harry kept falling behind, distracted by everything that was around him. Crystal wall sconces lit up every corner; paintings of landscapes and portraits of what were probably Malfoy ancestors watched them curiously from within their frames. At one point, they passed a large bay window, and Harry was stunned to see a beautiful garden filled with flowers, trees, and strutting, white peacocks.

Narcissa smiled when she caught him staring, rushing to catch up with her again. "Lucius enjoys them. I find them difficult to care for, myself," she said, in response to his unasked question concerning the albino birds in her yard.

Finally, after what felt like ages, they descended a very wide staircase, and arrived in what Harry was sure was the foyer. Harry's heart sank at the sight.

This, here, was where Dobby had been stabbed to death by Bellatrix Lestrange…

Harry looked up at the glittering chandelier. It was perfectly intact now. Like it had not once crashed to the ground and shattered into thousands of fragments of broken glass as Harry Potter and his friends escaped…

And Harry knew that he would never have such a savior as Dobby the house elf ever again. Because Kreacher, he recalled with a rush of guilt, Kreacher was dead now too…

Narcissa gently touched his shoulder but said nothing. Harry looked around the hall, trying to locate a fireplace or a door where Voldemort would conceivably appear. Narcissa noticed and shook her head.

"He will apparate," she said shortly. There was something about her tone and the way in which her magic darkened that made it perfectly clear that this was a very, very unwelcome ability which the Dark Lord had—to be able to apparate in and out of her home.

They didn't wait long.

Harry only knew he had arrived by the familiar feel of his magic. Voldemort's presence was a dark and sinister power, and he could sense it the second it was near.

Yet unlike any wizard or witch Harry had ever known, Voldemort didn't make a sound when he apparated. Narcissa was completely oblivious to his arrival in the foyer, as he had appeared somewhere behind them, and so Harry, too, feigned ignorance.

His heart raced in silent anticipation.

"Narcissa… Harry."

Narcissa turned and immediately fell into a deep, deferential bow. Harry just stood there, unsure of what he was supposed to do, but definitely not about to do that.

Voldemort's eyes were fixed singularly on Harry when he said, in a soft voice, "Leave us," though it was clear he was speaking to Narcissa. She stood and, with one fleeting, worrisome glance at Harry, ascended the staircase and left. Harry watched her go, missing the peacefulness of her aura before it had even fully gone.

Voldemort's focus never left Harry's face. His magic was especially energetic, convulsing with something that Harry couldn't decode. The golden flecks glinted like gleaming eyes between pockets of darkness.

But his face, his handsome, deceptive face…was completely blank. "Are you prepared to leave?"

"Yes," Harry answered at once, confident despite his nerves. "Where exactly are we going?"

"Azkaban."

It was a response that Harry was only partially prepared for. He'd known that's where Ron was, but he hadn't been sure if Voldemort was planning on taking him there or relocating his friend. He'd been hoping desperately for the latter.

It would seem that he was wrong...again.

Before Harry could ask any of the many questions he had, Voldemort reached into his robe pocket. He then revealed something which managed the impossible task of distracting Harry from his fear completely.

His Invisibility Cloak.

The Dark Lord raised his arm, and it took Harry a moment to comprehend that he was actually offering it back to him. "Take it," he said, when Harry simply stood there, certain that this must be a trap. "You are thought to be missing by the entire Wizarding World. I will not have you outside of these walls undisguised… Even if it is only prisoners who would see you."

Harry slowly reached forward and took the cloak. The silvery fabric felt cool against his skin, and he had to resist the urge to pull it to his chest like a child's beloved toy. He couldn't help but smile as he held it, this cherished belonging which he thought he would never see again.

"I will be taking you to the edge of the prison by apparation. Put the cloak on."

Harry was just about to do that before he froze, a sudden wave of wrath rolling through him. "My eyes," he seethed. Voldemort's magic whirled, but his face and his stature remained still. "Why do they still look like this?"

Voldemort's own crimson eyes narrowed. "Because I did not restore your abysmal eyesight. I graciously gave you sight like mine. Or has the fact that you have not needed your glasses failed to dawn on you yet?"

"I…" Harry started but then paused, his brows furrowing as he tried to discern just what it was Voldemort's magic was revealing that his face was not. It was shifting to some hue that was flavored with something sort of familiar, some emotion that Harry had sensed in him once before, when he'd been blind…

"…You're lying," Harry finally concluded, though he was still a bit unsure. "You could make them green again if you wanted to, they shouldn't have to be red just because you've fixed my vision—you're Lord Voldemort, you can do anything—"

Harry stopped speaking far too late, clapping a hand to his mouth like he could take saying his name back. To his great surprise, Voldemort did not look angry. In fact, his magic swelled with a jarring…pride? He was instantly, overwhelmingly pleased…

Harry might have laughed, if it weren't for the fact that the Dark Lord's expression was, contrastingly, cold and indifferent. But he wasn't. Voldemort was secretly so pleased that Harry had just acknowledged his magical prowess, so much so that he hadn't minded the use of his name at all.

Harry looked around, half-expecting Fenrir Greyback and his henchmen to appear and relive some new configuration of his last experience in this hall. When nothing happened, he looked at Voldemort, confused. "What happened to the Taboo…?"

"The Taboo Curse was removed from you," Voldemort said emotionlessly. When Harry's brows raised in disbelief, he went on, looking almost disappointed. "No one aside from my closest Death Eaters knows that you are being held here. If you had said my name during your imprisonment and triggered the Taboo, it could have led to… complications."

Harry took a moment to think about that, feeling like a complete idiot that it had never once occurred to him to try that. And he had said his name during that horrid meeting, and nothing had happened then, either…

"So only I can say your name without consequence," he muttered. "How fitting."

"Is that the conclusion you have come to?"

Voldemort's voice was perilously soft. Harry held the cloak closer to his chest, swallowing thickly and fighting the desire to back away. "That's not—I didn't—my eyes."

It wasn't an eloquent diversion, but it seemed to work. Voldemort's magic shifted in that semi-familiar way again, brightening. "You did this on purpose. Why? Why would you make them red, like yours…? In fact, why are your eyes still like that? You changed the rest of you, why not the most inhuman part?"

The statement had a profound effect. Voldemort's energy churned, and Harry realized what it was: Shame. The Dark Lord was ashamed…and also quite angry.

The second emotion was obvious by his expression, too. Harry spoke again before Voldemort could, the realization dawning on him. "You can't change them back, can you?" he gasped. "You could change everything else, but not your eyes. You couldn't get them back to normal, so you just—you just decided that if you had to have crazy, red eyes, I did, too."

The spike in fury and embarrassment that manifested in Voldemort's aura confirmed it. Harry was beside himself.

The Dark Lord was… He was like a toddler; a murderous, adult toddler, throwing the world's most dangerous and passive-aggressive temper tantrum. And were it not for his newfound ability to sense magical auras, Harry would have never figured it out.

"Are you well versed in dark curses and their reversals, Harry?" Voldemort murmured, and though Harry knew that he was right in his accusation, the Dark Lord seemed keen on denying it. "Do you have any idea the intricate nature of what I did to blind you, and what I had to do to impart on you superior sight? Your corrected vision is a gift." He moved forward in a rapid, viper-like motion, making Harry's heart skip a beat. Harry could feel the heat of his breath on his face—no longer cold, no longer smelling of blood. "The very fact that you are standing here, with me, being allowed to go and speak with your friend and convince him to avoid a life of imprisonment and turmoil, is a gift. Or are you suddenly feeling ungrateful? Have you changed your mind, have you decided that Ronald Weasley deserves life in Azkaban… or worse?"

Harry shook his head, and he did back away this time. "N-no," he stuttered. "No, I d-don't think that—I just—how on earth am I supposed to convince him to listen to a single word I say, looking like this?"

Harry gestured up towards his face. Voldemort looked unfazed. "If you take me there, and I talk to him, with your eyes—he'll think that you're possessing me, or something! ...Which isn't unheard of," he added, spiteful.

"Stay under the cloak."

The Dark Lord said it like it was the most obvious solution in the world, one that he had already come up with. "I want you to stay invisible regardless. You didn't ask that he be able to see you, only that you be allowed to speak with him. He is aware that you have a cloak of invisibility, yes? So he should not find it so alarming that he cannot see you."

Harry had just opened his mouth to respond to that when Voldemort continued. "You cannot go in the cell with him," he said, his tone much sharper. "You will not be able to touch him, he will not be able to approach the bars. If he asks why you will not remove the cloak, tell him that I commanded that you did not."

Harry was incensed. "Why not? Why won't I be able to touch him—he's just in a cell, isn't he?"

"You shall see."

Without warning, Voldemort grabbed Harry by the shoulders. Instantly, that buoyant light blossomed between them, warm and pleasant.

There was a very short but powerful moment, then. Harry, holding his cloak, and Voldemort, with his fingers digging into his shoulders…but Harry saw it, in those seconds just before the Dark Lord pulled him away from Malfoy manor, where Voldemort's eyes fluttered shut, almost blissfully, and his magic

The blackness of his magic brightened and shimmered, and Harry could feel such an overwhelming sense of relief coming from him…

But then the moment was gone, and the two wizards vanished.


They appeared near the sea.

The smell of salt water hit Harry with a sharp intensity, the wind whipped against his skin with a cold bite. He clutched the cloak to his chest as the fabric caught in the breeze. Voldemort released his shoulders and they turned as one to face the dark, desolate prison.

Harry had never seen Azkaban before, but it looked more sinister than even he could have imagined. It was huge, with black, brick walls, tall, wrought iron gates, and a nondescript set of double doors for the entryway. Harry could see tiny windows at set intervals high above, where he assumed the cells must be.

But there was one, very noticeable monstrosity missing.

"You don't use dementors anymore?" Harry asked, scanning the flat, gray sky for signs of darkness. He'd been mentally preparing himself for their presence, but there were none to be found.

"Of course we still use dementors. They are very loyal to me… I dismissed them from the island for the duration of your visit. They will return shortly."

Harry was only mildly surprised, before an onslaught of cataclysmic revelations stormed his mind.

"Oh… my… God." Harry actually smacked a hand to his forehead, covering his scar. Of course Voldemort would clear the whole damn island of dementors; the creatures which literally sucked the souls out of people. And he, Harry…

"That's the real reason why they've always affected me so badly," he gasped. He wasn't looking at Voldemort when he spoke, but up at the empty sky, gaping. "Not just because I have a bad past, loads of people have bad pasts, but because I… I have a whole soul, but then I also have an extra piece in me. I'm like—I'm like a full meal, with an extra side dish!"

Voldemort's magic whirled with a powerful emotion, and when Harry glanced at his face, it was to see that it was uncharacteristically mortified—appalled that Harry had just referred to a fragment of his soul as a side dish—but Harry's racing mind was already leading him to the next jarring realization. "And—and that memory, the one I always relive when they're near—I always thought it was weird, because I had never remembered it before—but that's not my memory, is it? That Halloween night."

Harry stared at Voldemort with giant, accusatory eyes. "It's yours."

Voldemort's thunderstruck expression quickly turned into one which was void of emotion. His magic became eerily still, a stagnant cloud of blackness, and Harry could hardly see any of the recently acquired gold glinting in it at all. "…You are wasting your time," he said, completely ignoring Harry's words and looking towards the prison. "I will accompany you to near where he is. Ronald Weasley is being kept in a high-security cell in the east tower. You are to keep your cloak on at all times. Put it on now."

"Wait." Harry shook his head, and though his mind was still reeling from all he'd just comprehended, he forced himself to focus on the task at hand. Ron. "What… What can I say to him?"

Voldemort tilted his head to one side, one brow arched. "And here I was, assuming that you had some idea of what to say in order to convince him to submit."

"I know what I want to say," Harry snapped. "If I can tell him that by surrendering and saying whatever you want him to that Hermione will live, then I'm sure I can get him to agree. But I need to know you'll do that. I need to know you'll spare her."

Voldemort's aura became so bitter and black that it nearly resembled what it had looked like days before, when Harry had first perceived it. "You may tell him that if he surrenders and is complacent, that it will greatly increase the likelihood that Hermione Granger will be allowed to live."

"No." Harry refused to compromise, though Voldemort's hatred towards Hermione was deeply unsettling. Had something else happened, to make the Dark Lord's ire towards her so catastrophic? Or was it simply because she was a muggle-born and Harry's friend?

Harry's wasn't sure, but he wasn't about to ask. "Hermione has to be allowed to live. You need to give me your word."

"I do not need to do anything, Harry," Voldemort hissed, his eyes brightening threateningly. A particularly strong breeze whipped past, making the Dark Lord's cloak billow and his hair disheveled, and Harry couldn't tell if he had done that or if even the weather conformed to Voldemort's will. "My mercy is not limitless and my patience is waning. Either you take the offer I have made you and you speak to him now, or we leave this moment and you damn them both. Make your choice."

Harry scowled, glaring despite how frightening the Dark Lord was when he was angry. It wasn't much of an option. Harry clenched his teeth and pulled the cloak around his shoulders. "Let's go, then," he muttered.

Voldemort nodded, his vicious magic lessening into something a bit more satisfied. He turned towards the prison and started walking, motioning for Harry to follow. "Stay near me," he said, and Harry felt a thrill of terror sweep up his spine when, despite the fact that he had the cloak on and they had moved, Voldemort looked directly into his eyes and added, "I will know if you are not."

Harry barely had time to contemplate how he had done that before they reached the tall, black doors. They slowly swung open when they approached, as if they recognized the Dark Lord by his presence alone.

The space within was ominously dark. Harry swallowed hard, bracing himself to enter into the place where his Godfather had suffered for so many years…

Voldemort crossed the threshold without hesitating. Harry quickly did the same, following the Dark Lord into Azkaban.

Chapter Text

The temperature within the prison was significantly colder than it was outside, which only added to the disturbing atmosphere of Azkaban. The doors swung shut once they'd entered, and the darkness surrounded them—shadows punctuated only by slivers of light which streamed in through the small windows.

Despite the all-encompassing bleakness, it took only a moment for Harry's eyes to adjust. As they ascended a narrow staircase to the first of the cells, Harry couldn't help but appreciate just how…focused everything looked, so much clearer than anything had ever appeared to him prior to the loss of his vision. There was texture in the walls that he doubted he would ever have noticed before, and there were flecks of dust floating in the gray light from the windows that he was sure he'd never have been able to perceive.

He could see extraordinarily well… but Harry wasn't about to start feeling grateful. Excellent vision wasn't worth the loss of the only trait he had inherited from his mother.

Harry was struck with a sudden flood of deepest sadness. A memory—a rather recent one, in which he had stood in the Forbidden Forest, surrounded by the apparitions of his mother, his father, Sirius, and Remus—appeared to him. They stood at his side, acting like corporal patronuses to stave off the dementors which hovered between him and the Dark Lord…

'You've been so brave.'

'We are…so proud of you.'

Harry had gone to die, dropping the ring to the forest floor before facing Voldemort alone; their loving praise the only thing which had given him the courage to face what he must do…

Only he had failed. Harry had failed them, he had failed everyone… He was alive…

The sharp sound of a woman's sob made Harry jump, and his thoughts instantly returned to the present. For a wild moment, he thought he might turn to see the ghost of his mother, crying for her son's tragic life…

Who he saw instead made his blood run cold.

Professor McGonagall.

Harry's former head of house was practically unrecognizable. She was huddled on the floor in the furthest corner of her cell, as far away from the gates as possible. Her knees were pulled to her chest, and her dark hair was disheveled and matted.

The sobbing sound which she had made must have been a result of peering up through the bleakness and seeing what looked like a young Tom Riddle walking past. Harry paused when he saw her. He had just opened his mouth to call out to her when Voldemort's magic suddenly rose with a sharp and angry energy.

Harry stood there for a moment, flustered and overwhelmed. Voldemort froze, perfectly still, somehow knowing that Harry had stopped following so closely. He was waiting, and even without turning to face him Harry sensed his impatience so strongly that he could practically taste it. The gold flecks within his magic glinted like pointed shards of glass.

Voldemort's power was as beautiful as it was terrifying.

Harry took one last look at his former professor, wishing that he could will some courage into her, that she could feel his presence and hear his silent vow:

I will get you out of there.

Harry turned and resumed trailing after the Dark Lord.

Voldemort began walking much quicker then, perhaps in an attempt to make sure Harry's eyes couldn't linger long enough on any of the other cells to notice who their occupants might be. It wasn't long before they made it to the far side of the second-floor corridor, at the end of which was another narrow staircase, though rather than going straight up, this one curved. It reminded Harry of the stairs which led to the Headmaster's office in Hogwarts.

Harry was just examining them with trepidation when Voldemort stopped. He grabbed Harry by the shoulders and pulled him close enough that their chests were touching. Harry hardly had time to register that he'd been ensnared before the Dark Lord was speaking quietly in his ear through the silvery fabric of the cloak.

"There is only one cell at the top of this tower. You will find him there. You have ten minutes."

Voldemort released him. Harry's heart was thundering in his chest, but the Dark Lord merely took two steps back and stood against the wall, his wand in his hand. He closed his eyes and raised his hands in front of him, almost as if he had begun to pray.

Another memory hit Harry so viscerally he swore he could see it. Lord Voldemort, in this exact same position, on the other side of a fire…

How extremely different such a pose looked in the form of Tom Riddle.

Except this was Lord Voldemort, Harry screamed at himself, and he had just told Harry that he had ten minutes—ten minutes! —in which to talk to Ron, and he had probably already begun to count down the seconds he had left.

Despite how badly Harry wanted to argue for more time, he knew that would be both fruitless and stupid. If he so much as spoke loud enough that there was a possibility someone might hear his voice, he was certain that Voldemort would disapparate with him right then and there.

Harry grit his teeth and dashed up the stairs.

It wasn't his smartest decision, running. The tower was much taller than he had anticipated, and Harry hadn't actually moved much in the past several weeks. He only made it ten steps before he started to feel dizzy with overexertion. Scowling and hating how weak he'd become, Harry slowed his pace. He wondered vaguely what would happen if he just passed out in the stairwell. Would Voldemort hold that against him, seeing as it was his fault he was so weak in the first place?

Probably.

Forcing that thought aside, Harry carried on. By the time he reached the top of the stairs, he was breathing heavily, and feeling a bit woozy.

The sight of Ron sobered his mind in an instant.

There he was, directly in front of him, the iron bars of his cell just ten feet away. Horror and disbelief gripped at Harry's heart.

Nothing could have prepared him for this.

Ron wasn't just sitting in a cell like McGonagall had been. He was on the ground with his back up against a wall—tethered to the stones. He was held there not in the way in which Harry had been when he'd initially arrived at Malfoy manor, but by a manner even more disturbing. Around Ron's neck was a thick, metal band which curved around his throat, coming out of the wall and pinning him to it—a silver collar so tight against his skin that Harry wondered if he could breathe properly. Currently, he was staring out of the one small, barred window which was high above him, giving him only the barest glimpse of the outside world. His gaze was vacant.

Harry swallowed thickly and approached the bars. Whether or not Ron heard the sounds of his approach, Harry couldn't tell. His empty, blue eyes never left the window.

Harry took a deep breath before saying, in as calm a voice as he could manage, "Ron."

Ron's whole body twitched. The massive collar around his neck flashed a brilliant red, and Harry winced at the same time that Ron did. It obviously hurt him when he moved too suddenly.

Lord Voldemort certainly was not taking any chances when it came to the imprisonment of Harry Potter's best friend.

"Sorry!" Harry said, feeling confident that here, at least, he could speak without fearing that anyone could hear him. As that thought struck him, he wondered why that was the case. Why had Voldemort not ascended the staircase with him, so that he could hear what Harry and Ron said?

Harry forced the question away, unwilling to waste time lingering on why Lord Voldemort did any of the things that he did. One could spend a lifetime doing that, and at the moment, Harry had only ten minutes.

"Sorry, sorry!" Harry repeated. The metal collar returned to its previous silver. Ron was staring in Harry's general direction, his eyes wide and chest heaving. "Ron, it's me—it's me, Harry!"

For a long moment, Ron did nothing but stare. Harry's heart dropped when he saw just how ashen and bruised his friend's face was, like he'd stepped out of a violent battle and had been tossed in Azkaban directly afterwards.

Then, much to Harry's surprise, Ron lifted one shaky hand to his forehead and started laughing.

"Holy shit," he murmured between breaths. "Oh, bloody hell. I've only been here for a few days, and I'm already mad."

"You're not mad!" Harry said quickly, caught between being irritated and irrationally amused. Ron had said it in such a casual way, so jokingly. The tone of voice he might have used when they were talking in the common room about how horrible Potions class was, or how much they would rather be out playing Quidditch than writing essays.

"You're not mad, it's really me, Harry—I'm right here, under the cloak!"

"Sure you are," Ron said hoarsely, smiling in a loopy manner. "And I'm Romilda Vane, I just took some Polyjuice Potion on accident. So I shouldn't even be here, really. You can go ahead and cancel the trial for Ronald Weasley if you'd like."

"Ron! I mean it! I'm here, and I don't have much time to talk to you, so quit wasting it by being in denial!"

The sloppy grin slid from Ron's face. "All right then," he said seriously, though Harry could tell he was still unbelieving. "Prove it. Tell me some things that only Harry would know, because I'm pretty sure that Harry is dead and I'm about to follow suit."

Harry ignored the morbidity of that statement. "Your patronus is a dog, I taught you how to cast one," he said.

Ron shrugged as well as he could with his constraints. "That's easy, lots of people probably know that. Go again."

"I was in the common room with you after you asked Fleur Delacour to the Yule Ball in our fourth year. We both failed abysmally at getting dates that day. We bonded over being mortified."

Ron snorted, but shook his head—again, an action which was pained and constricted. "Lots of people heard about that. The whole school, in fact. Something else."

Harry tugged at his hair, incensed. "I was there when you had a bunch of bloody basilisk fangs in your hands, having apparently opened the Chamber of Secrets by fumbling your way through parseltongue. You mentioned saving the house-elves. Hermione threw herself at you, and I witnessed my best friends snogging in the middle of a war."

Ron's expression became slack. "What did I say?" he murmured. "When you kindly reminded us that a war was going on, what was my response?"

Harry's lip twitched. "I know, mate," he said, feeling absurdly emotional as he repeated Ron's response word for word. "So it's now or never, isn't it?"

Ron looked away, back up towards the window, but Harry could see his eyes glistening. "Merlin," he muttered. "Are you… I don't… How are you here, if you really are here, Harry? I thought… We were so sure that you went off into the Forest after all, because he… he told you to, to sacrifice yourself…"

"I didn't die. But… that is what I went to do, yes," Harry admitted. Ron closed his eyes and exhaled a long breath. Harry's mind raced, trying to figure out a way to make Ron believe him without damning him further. Surely, if he told Ron that he was a human horcrux, Voldemort would not hesitate to kill him after all. "I went to him so that he would stop the fighting. I thought he was going to kill me. He didn't. I've been in Malfoy Manor ever since, locked in one of those cells like we were before."

Ron looked completely dumbstruck. "But…why?"

"I guess he decided that I would be more useful to him alive than dead."

Ron ran a hand through his hair. "Take the cloak off, so I can see you," he commanded, clearly still skeptical.

"I can't. He demanded that I don't. It was the only way he would let me talk to you at all."

"Why?"

"I don't know, I don't understand much at all about his choices! If I did, neither of us would be here! But right now, you-know-who is… He's waiting outside the prison, and he said I have ten minutes to talk to you. Less than that by now."

"So that's why the dementors were cleared out…" Ron mumbled, glancing up at the window again. "Did—did you know dementors can talk, Harry?"

Harry was admittedly distracted by that statement. "Er… No, I didn't."

Ron laughed, and it was a disconcertingly high and giddy sound. "Oh, yeah. They sure can. They've been hovering around my window a lot. They know that I'm about to be offed, given to one of them, I'm sure. They've been whispering sweet nothings. I think they're fighting over me." He laughed again. It was the most chilling laughter that Harry had ever heard.

"I've never been more popular!"

"Ron! Snap out of it, this is serious. You need to listen to me!"

"Right, sure. Sorry, it's just that their absence has me feeling a bit slap-happy. Obviously, seeing as I'm having a conversation with Harry Potter."

"You are having a conversation with Harry Potter!" Harry seethed. "And I'm here to tell you that if you want Hermione to have a chance at surviving at all, you need to surrender at the trial later today. You need to say that—that you were wrong, that everything we believed in before was wrong, and that you see the error of your ways or whatever. You need to side with him, Ron, or Hermione and you are both doomed."

"Ha! Now I know I'm fucking imagining this. Because Harry would never say to give up, and because Hermione, if she is ever caught, is absolutely doomed, no matter what I say or do."

"I would say to give in, and I am, considering the circumstances," Harry said, feeling heavy with guilt. "Ron, listen. I'm being held prisoner by the Dark Lord. He's won. I hate that, and I know you do too, but that doesn't mean we stop fighting completely. I just… I need you two to live. I need you." Harry's voice trembled and broke. Ron's face became serious again, and Harry thought that maybe he was starting to believe that he was really there. "If you surrender and comply with whatever he wants, if you answer whatever questions he has, then he'll spare Hermione. I know I can convince him to, I just… I need you to do what he says, first."

"Why on earth would he listen to you?" Ron shifted so that he was facing the gates as much as he could. "Harry, why would he kidnap you when all he ever wanted to do was kill you?"

"I… Like I said, he plans on using me. To get the rest of those who fought on the light side to turn, eventually. Like… like a weapon."

Harry could see the conversation they'd had from years ago storm Ron's memory. His face turned a delicate shade of green. "But why would he listen to you? Why do you think you could convince him of anything? Especially sparing Hermione… There's no way he'll do that. Not after what happened."

Harry's stomach dropped. He was afraid to ask, but knew he had to. "What happened?"

"Ah, Harry. It was a real mess," Ron answered, and his face took on that loopy smile again. "We were in the Forbidden Forest when it all went down, just the other day… Was that two days ago? I don't even know anymore. The day that you-know-who publicly announced that he was the new Head of the Wizengamot on the WWN."

"What?"

"Oh? You haven't heard?" Ron asked lightly, as if this was a perfectly ordinary conversation. "He made himself the Chief Warlock just the other day. And Hermione and I—we were all over the place, looking for you for days on end—and that just really set her off. She'd already been such a wreck, worse even than I was… She never slept, just feverishly researched things, trying to think of places you may have gone… Both of us were refusing to believe that you had sacrificed yourself and were dead, even though we both knew it had to be true… Because you would never just run off like that without us, and…"

He paused, blinking away tears. "But I'm not dead," Harry intervened. "Ron, please. My time is running out. Tell me what happened."

"After we listened to that broadcast, Hermione kind of lost it. She said that we needed to do something more proactive. So we went to the Forbidden Forest."

Harry gaped. "Why on earth would you go anywhere near Hogwarts?"

"To interview the centaurs, of course!" Ron said in brightest tones of sarcasm. "Excellent idea, I know! But she was convinced that maybe one of them had seen something, that if you had gone into the woods, they probably would have noticed, and…"

He ran a hand through his hair again, sighing. "So we went. It felt like we had nothing else to lose. We went to the forest and found the centaurs, and… And we thought for sure that they were on our side. Really."

"Weren't they?" Harry asked. He specifically recalled centaurs fighting Death Eaters at the battle…

"Not all of them, apparently," Ron muttered scathingly. "Maybe they all were at some point, and you-know-who just got to them before we did. Maybe he convinced a few to act as spies, in case we ever thought to reenter the castle grounds. We were talking to this one who seemed like he genuinely wanted to help us when another—this dark-haired asshole—completely stabbed us in the back."

"How?"

"By triggering the Taboo, of course," Ron said. "He just looked right at us, smiling all smugly, and said his name."

Harry's hand clenched into a fist at his side. He was certain that it was Bane. "That bastard," he hissed.

"But wait, there's more," Ron continued airily. "So that centaur says that, and there was this split second of just silence and horror—pure suspended disbelief, if you will—and then, just moments before the Snatchers appear, Hermione grabs my shoulder, looks me in the eyes, and says, 'I'm pregnant.'"

…Harry was certain he'd misheard him. He waited for Ron to say something else to disprove what he'd just declared. When he didn't, Harry finally asked for confirmation himself.

"...Are you kidding me, Ron?"

Ron laughed weakly. "Nope! Hermione's pregnant. Unless she was lying, but I don't know why she would make something like that up and tell me right then if it wasn't true."

"Hermione is pregnant," Harry repeated blankly, effectively distracted from everything else at the moment. "And… and it's yours?"

"Well damn, Harry, I hope so. Otherwise that's just one more layer of misery and woe to add to the pile of shit that is my life."

Harry's mind raced, trying and failing to do simple math. "What—but how—when did you two...? God, were you two—were you shagging in the forest or something while I was asleep? Was I in the tent when it was happening!?"

"What? No, I—we—" Ron stuttered himself into silence, blushing but looking incredulous. He nearly made eye contact with Harry when he said, "Really, mate? That's what you want to focus on right now? Precisely when I lost my virginity?"

Harry took a deep breath. "No. I do not want to focus on that. You're right, it's just… God, couldn't you have used protection?"

"It was sort of a heat of the moment thing. What can I say? I'm a Weasley. We're a very potent bunch."

"For fuck's sake, Ron!"

Ron laughed again, clearly still giddy from the lack of dementors. "Ah, but I haven't told you the best part of the story. Because normally I'd think that Hermione being pregnant in today's day and age could only be a tragedy, really, but I'm actually glad. I don't think she would have left me, otherwise. I think she had to tell me then, because… because she just needed to explain herself, to justify running…"

Ron hurriedly wiped his eyes. "I'm so glad that she ran."

"Ron… What happened after the Snatchers appeared?"

"Mayhem, fire, and bloodshed," Ron said dramatically, though Harry could tell he really meant it. "And they appeared fast, too; you-know-who must have had portkeys prepared in case he ever got wind that we entered onto Hogwarts grounds. So, Hermione told me that she was pregnant, and I didn't even have time to process it—she just grabbed my arm and we started running, trying to make it to the edge of where the anti-apparition ward was—and then, next thing you know, Yaxley is to our left and Bellatrix Lestrange is to our right, alongside a dozen Snatchers."

Harry cringed. Ron wasn't finished. "Of course we fought. But we were outnumbered right from the beginning, not to mention just who we were fighting against… Bellatrix went straight for Hermione, and I sort of threw myself in the way, firing off some crazy, spark-like spells that I didn't even know I knew, like I was trying to be a dazzling, human distraction—I think I even did some serious damage to a few Death Eaters too—and it worked, getting their focus off of Hermione for a minute. She was able to get further away, and Bellatrix had to put some crazy hex on me to get me to stop lighting trees on fire. I have no idea what it was, but it made my whole body freeze up, and she grabbed me with one hand around the neck, her wand up against my throat… Or her new wand, I suppose, seeing as Hermione has hers. Oh!" Ron snapped his fingers suddenly, his eyes widening. "That's probably why she went straight for Hermione like that. Because she pretended to be her, and has her wand, too… Just like I have Pettigrew's and you have Draco's, right Harry? Ha…"

"I don't have any wand anymore," Harry muttered.

"Well right, I wouldn't imagine that you do—I just meant that it's sort of funny, how we all were fighting Death Eaters with their own weapons… And the animosity towards Bellatrix is pretty mutual with Hermione. You know that scar on her arm? The one Bellatrix carved there with that cursed knife in Malfoy manor?"

Harry nodded—he recalled that day very well—until he remembered that Ron could not see him. "Yeah," he said quietly. "Of course I do."

"I would catch her up at night sometimes, in the days after you disappeared. Scratching at it, like she was trying to peel off her skin. She tried everything to get that damn thing off. She never could."

Ron fell silent for a moment, his gaze drifting up towards the window again.

"…Ron, tell me the rest of what happened, please. I don't have much longer."

Ron blinked dazedly. "…Ah, sure. Back to the riveting tale of the end of my life. So, Bellatrix Lestrange has me in a choke hold, and the other Snatchers are looking for Hermione, and… and then this insanely dark, powerful curse comes hurling towards us. At Bellatrix precisely. And when I say dark, I mean dark, Harry. It was like a wave of pure, female spite that came barreling towards us. It would have killed Bellatrix if it hit her, I'm sure of it. I think it may have been the same curse that Snape used on George, actually, when he lost his ear. Dark."

He laughed feebly. "I never really appreciated just how much Hermione studies everything before, you know? I think she's been looking into some very questionable stuff when we've had our backs turned, Harry. And that bag! I never asked what all she had in that enchanted bag of hers, but I should have."

"Ron," Harry hissed impatiently. "Time."

"Right, right. Sorry. So this curse would have killed Bellatrix I think, and she could have avoided it completely if she would have just released her hold on me—but she wouldn't. Instead she sort of stepped away, and—and the curse cut her arm clean off."

Harry's jaw dropped. Ron laughed again in that delirious manner again. "And that bitch still wouldn't let me go! Her fucking decapitated arm didn't just stop working, like one might imagine; in fact, her grip actually got tighter—even though she, personally, was howling in pain. I guess that's how badly she wanted to follow her master's orders. We were supposed to be caught alive, otherwise she probably would have just used me as a human shield. But she'd rather lose a fucking limb than go against you-know-who's instructions. Anyway, Hermione didn't kill her or save me, but she did get her revenge in a way. Bellatrix scarred Hermione's arm. Hermione cut hers off."

Harry was gaping again, trying to imagine this scene: Ron being held in place by a decapitated arm while Bellatrix Lestrange screamed in agony, literally detached from it.

"That was when you-know-who showed up."

Harry felt the blood drain from his face, even though this was just a retelling of a story that had already happened. "And we could only tell it was him because there was a mention of his altered appearance on the broadcast that morning, and because he still has those crazy, red eyes. Hermione showed herself then, and it was obvious she had purposefully waited for him to arrive. She was looking right at him, and she had her wand in one hand, with this sparkling curse sort of hovering over the tip of it, and something else in her other hand that she was holding high above her head. A phoenix feather."

"A phoenix feather? Where did she get a phoenix feather?"

"I don't know!" Ron shouted. "I don't have any idea how or when she got it, but thank Merlin that she did! And you have to imagine what it looked like, Harry. She was holding a phoenix feather up high, and you could just see it, clear as day, almost like she'd purposefully made it stand out—and maybe she had—the word 'Mudblood', right across her arm. Then she flicked her wand and the curse that had been waiting there floated towards us, and she disappeared in a bog ball of phoenix flames. Which is, you know. Sort of Dumbledore's thing. She just dropped that bomb and left."

"I'll say," Harry muttered in awe as he tried to visualize it. Hermione, wearing her scar like a banner and disappearing in a fashion that would have made Albus Dumbledore proud… all while looking Lord Voldemort right in the face.

No wonder Voldemort wanted her dead so badly.

"No, I meant literally. That's what that sparkly curse was. A massive, delayed 'bombardo'. But you-know-who recognized it at once, because he threw up a shielding spell right away, protecting those who were closest to him, including me and the Death Eaters. But my God, Harry. She must have taken out a fourth of the forest. Obviously she was hoping it kill us all with that curse. And it would have worked, I bet, if she had used it the way that we intended it to be used, rather than delayed like that."

"What do you mean, the way that you intended for it to be used?"

"As a self-destruction technique, of course," Ron said casually. "We agreed days ago that if it looked like we were going to get captured again, we would sooner die and take them with us. Because death would be better than…"

He gestured dismally around at the cell. He didn't need to finish his statement. "But she ran, and I'm positive she wouldn't have done it like that if she wasn't pregnant. I'm… I'm actually happy. I'm happy to let a dementor suck out my soul if it means Hermione lives. Course, I suppose her chances of staying alive for much longer are pretty slim…"

Harry's heart ached at the raw emotion in Ron's voice. "You're not going to have your soul sucked out, Ron, and Hermione can live… You just have to tell the Dark Lord whatever he wants to know at your trial, and you have to surrender."

"Tell the Dark Lord whatever he wants to know? Like where Hermione went?" Ron scoffed. "Even if I did know—and I would never say anything if I did, I don't care if they force veritaserum down my throat—I can't. I have no idea where she is, Harry… thankfully."

"Well," Harry said hesitantly, preparing himself for the backlash. "He… They might expect you to sort of pin it all on her, Ron. To make it seem like Hermione was the one to make you choose the 'wrong side', or whatever."

Ron scoffed again. "Yeah, I was offered that lovely little option last night by the Minister. I won't do that, Harry. I won't make up some bullshit story about how Hermione is a devious muggle-born who manipulated me into falling in love with her and doing whatever she said, or something. I won't."

Harry's heart sank, but at the same time, he could hardly argue. "I don't blame you," he admitted. "I would never do that to you or Hermione either."

"So that's it, then," Ron concluded, clapping his hands together. "I'm going to go to trial, be found guilty, and get the Dementor's Kiss."

"No," Harry said. "The very worst you'll be sentenced to is life in Azkaban, but—"

"Even better!"

"—Ron, please, I think it will be much, much less than that if you at least surrender. Don't go along with the whole 'It's all Hermione's fault' thing, but just—say that you were wrong, that you were both wrong, and that you swear fealty to the Ministry of Magic and whatever else. Please, Ron. You have to. Think about what will happen if you don't. You have your family to think about. You have Hermione to think about, and this is the only way to give her even a chance to live…" Harry paused for a moment, amazed that the words were leaving his mouth even as he said them. "…You have a future child to think about, now."

"Don't say that." Ron's bruised face paled significantly. "Don't—just don't."

"It's true, though. If you want even the slightest chance at anyone you care about having a life, then you have to surrender. Please, Ron. Do it for them. Do it for me."

Right at that moment, Harry's scar prickled. He knew at once that it was the sign for 'time's up'.

"Promise me, Ron," Harry said adamantly. "I have to go, but I won't leave until you give me your word that you'll surrender."

"You're really leaving?" Ron's eyes flickered directly over Harry's, wide and fearful. "D-don't leave me, Harry."

He looked suddenly so small and afraid. Harry was sure in that moment that Ron had never believed for a moment that Harry was really there at all, that he was sure he was talking to a ghost. "Yes, I'm leaving, I have to. It's… it's him, he… I just—just tell me, Ron. Tell me you'll surrender, promise—"

"Let me see you."

Harry stopped short. "Show yourself, show me something, Harry. Otherwise I really am just going to believe that I made this all up. Please."

The prickling in Harry's scar intensified, bordering on painful. He ignored it. There was no way he could deny his friend's request.

"…Okay."

Harry knelt down. Very slowly, he revealed his arm, extending his hand through the iron bars. Ron stared with giant, watery eyes as he examined the words on the back of his hand, which Harry made sure were visible in the dim light of the cell.

Harry James Potter

I must not tell lies.

Ron didn't question the first scar, which Harry had only recently acquired. He just sobbed and reached for Harry's hand, leaning forward as much as he could against the metal collar which pinned him to the wall.

When Harry saw what he was doing, he too reached further. They were just barely able to cling their fingers together when they both tried, though the collar on Ron's neck began to glow faintly.

He didn't seem to notice. Ron clung to Harry's fingers and cried, squeezing his eyes shut as tears flooded down his face. "It really is you," he gasped. "Oh, God, it really is you."

"Y-yeah," Harry replied, trying very hard not to cry himself. "It's me."

"Harry. I don't think I can do this. I don't think I—"

"Yes, you can," Harry interrupted. "You can. You have to. Going to trial? Please. It's easier than your first Quidditch match."

Ron ignored Harry's attempt at light-heartedness. Instead, in a completely heartbroken voice, he said, "I'm afraid."

"…Me too," Harry admitted. "But you can do this, Ron. Surrender. Promise me. And I'll do whatever I can to help Hermione too. But this is what you can do for her, and for yourself. Surrender."

Ron finally nodded. "Okay. I-I'll do it, Harry."

Harry's scar began burning in earnest. "I have to go," he said, releasing his hold on Ron's fingers and becoming completely covered by the cloak once more. "You'll be fine, Ron. I believe in you. Goodbye."

Then, knowing that lingering or waiting for a response would only make leaving him more difficult, Harry turned and walked away. He fought back tears as he descended the spiraling staircase, mentally preparing himself to face the Dark Lord again.

When Harry made it to the bottom of the stairwell, Voldemort was in the exact same position as before. Hands folded, eyes closed. Harry stood there for a moment, unsure if he should say something to announce his presence.

He didn't have to. A second later and the burning in his scar stopped. Voldemort opened his eyes and, without hesitating, grabbed Harry by the shoulders, and they disapparated.


They landed back in the bedroom.

Before Harry could even adjust to the sudden brightness of the space, Voldemort had slid the cloak from his shoulders and was stowing it in his front pocket again. Harry opened his mouth in instant retaliation concerning a number of things—to fight for his cloak back, to bring up the fact that he wanted McGonagall freed too, for Ron, for Hermione—but Voldemort put a single finger to his lips, effectively silencing him before he could speak.

Voldemort tilted his head to one side, examining Harry's face with a keen interest as his fingers moved from his lips to beneath his jaw. The buoyant light blossomed at his touch, catching Harry off guard.

"St-stop that," he said. Harry backed away, not realizing that the bed was directly behind him and stumbling. Rather than remain standing, he just sat down on the bed, acting like he'd meant to do that.

Unfortunately, Voldemort ignored his request and followed him, sitting next to him and trailing his fingers over Harry's forehead. The pleasant warmth returned, light and welcoming.

Harry felt far more flustered by these actions than he ever had before. It wasn't like this was anything new—Voldemort had been creepily touching him like this for weeks—but the entire interaction was vastly different now. Being blinded had made everything so disconnected. Harry had felt like he was in some conglomeration of a nightmare and a dream, being sightless in that prison cell. But now, with clear vision, eyes wide open, and with Voldemort looking like that…

"Did you succeed?"

The Dark Lord's question forced Harry to look up. He did his best to ignore the blissful sensation and the urge to lean into Voldemort's unnaturally welcoming touch. "I think so," he said. "You… you weren't listening to every word we said?"

"No. If you knew I had been listening, would you have been able to say what you needed to say?"

Harry bit his lower lip and contemplated that. It wasn't an easy task, when all he wanted to do was sink into the warmth of that indescribable connection. "Probably not. You could have listened anyway, though."

"I could have," Voldemort agreed. "But I did not. I shall be able to see the truth of it all soon enough, regardless."

Harry scowled, not knowing if that was a lie or not. He supposed it didn't really matter. "Right, because you're the Head of the Wizengamot, now. Congratulations."

Voldemort's magic twitched with something akin to amusement, but he chose not to respond to Harry's sarcasm. Instead, he began to card his fingers through Harry's hair, continuing to stare at his face thoughtfully.

Harry's eyes nearly fluttered shut at the lovely feeling, but he remained focused. "You will remain here while we are at the trial," Voldemort said as he trailed his fingers along his scalp, almost affectionately.

"We?"

"Yes… The Malfoys, including their son, will all be present. You, however, will be staying right here."

Harry couldn't help it—his eyes instantly brightened at the notion of being alone in the manor, and the opportunities which could possibly arise. Voldemort's magic whirled possessively, enveloping Harry in a cloud of glimmering darkness. "Escape from this room is impossible," he said, his tone much icier. "If you so much as touch the door handle, I will know. And I can promise you that it would not bode well for your friend if I was forced to leave in the middle of his trial to return here… In fact, I can guarantee that it would end very, very badly for him if that were the case."

Voldemort's eyes flashed perilously. Harry shivered, the weight of his aura was so strong. It was that strange, simultaneous sensation, feeling Voldemort's overbearing power alongside that beautiful light. Only… his aura was not as nauseating as before, not so sickening…

Just…frightening.

Harry nodded to show that he understood, but that wasn't good enough for Voldemort. He grabbed Harry's hand with the one which was not currently stroking his hair, running his thumb over the scars there.

Harry James Potter

I must not tell lies.

"Say it," he commanded.

Well, Harry thought, if he was about to see the Dark Lord off to go sentence his friend personally, he wanted to make sure he left in as good a mood as possible. "I won't," he promised. When Voldemort's face remained the same and his magic hardly moved, Harry took a deep breath and decided to do the thing properly—even if he did hate himself a bit for saying it.

"I'll never, ever try to escape from you and your overwhelming power again. Never. Everything I am belongs to you... I am yours to command."

Harry wondered for a moment if he'd gone too far, using the same words which Voldemort had once said to Dumbledore when he'd applied for the teaching position which was denied him.

Which Voldemort hadn't really meant, of course. Harry could have smacked himself. How was it that he managed to be rebellious, even when he was honestly trying not to be?

Voldemort's brows raised slightly, but his face otherwise remained neutral. If he picked up on Harry's reference, he decided not to comment on it. His magic, though, lightened with that same hint of fondness that Harry had sensed before.

The Dark Lord pulled Harry's hand up so that his wrist was level with his face, his other arm leaving his hair to trail his long, pale fingers along Harry's forearm. Harry watched, confused, as Voldemort stared directly into his eyes and brought his wrist to his lips, murmuring against his skin the words, "Good boy."

…And Harry wasn't sure what it was precisely about the Dark Lord semi-kissing him through words of praise right at his pulse point, but it felt like the most intimate and taboo thing in the world. Harry's mind came to a complete standstill. He could do nothing but sit there while Voldemort kept his lips against his wrist, where he was sure his pulse was racing.

Then he was gone. In a nearly imperceptible flourish, Voldemort released his hold on Harry and stood, silently vanishing into thin air.

Chapter Text

For a long time, Harry sat with his arm suspended in midair, as though Voldemort still held him in his clutches long after he'd departed.

Feeling deeply flustered, Harry finally realized this and dropped it. He felt extraordinarily warm. Perhaps he had a fever? That wouldn't surprise him, all things considered.

Harry stood. He was just looking around the room again, trying to find a clock somewhere, when his eyes fell on something else which greatly surprised him. Behind him, on the other side of the bed, was a small bedside table full of food. Not just a few things, either. It was  covered with a massive spread that would easily feed several people. Fruit, toast, eggs, a silver tray filled with various cheeses—and were those olives?

Harry gaped as he walked around the bed to examine it properly. There were beverages as well. Behind the silver tray were glasses of water, orange juice, milk, and even a cup of tea, which was steaming as though it had just been poured. Everything was served on the finest china that Harry had ever seen—white porcelain that was rimmed with what was probably real gold.

Harry was baffled. When had this magical breakfast spread appeared? Had it been here the whole time, or had Voldemort somehow made it appear after he'd disappeared?

Either way, the implication was clear.

Eat.

Harry laughed out loud. How ridiculous was his life?

Harry walked away from the tray and started pacing. Though he hadn't eaten properly in a long time, there was no way that he would be able to now. The fact that Voldemort seemed to think this was even a possibility was ridiculous. How could he possibly be expected to have an appetite when he had just been left here, waiting to hear the verdict of his best friend's fate? He hadn't even been able to eat before his own trial, years ago… and then, the worst case scenario would have just been his own expulsion.

Harry scanned the room erratically, eyes widening when he finally found what he was looking for. Behind the vanity and its massive mirror was a grandfather clock. Harry's stomach dropped when he saw the time.

It was only ten in the morning.

Ron's trial wouldn't even start until noon! Harry's arms flew to his face, his fingers tangling in his hair as he fought the very powerful urge to pull at it. He had hours in which he could do nothing but sit here in this room, waiting.

Well, he thought humorlessly, at least the Dark Lord had polite manners, and had left his hostage with plenty of food and drink.

Harry glowered. He eyed the tray from across the room, half-tempted to rush over to it and fling it all against the wall and smash the gold-rimmed china into a thousand pieces.

No, stop that, Harry berated himself. You are not fifteen anymore. You will not resort to breaking things in a fit of rage… Especially when your friend's life hangs in the balance.

After taking several steadying breaths, Harry released his death grip on his hair. He lowered his arms and looked back at the grandfather clock, watching the second hand move for what felt like an eternity, though it had actually been less than one full minute.

This, Harry realized, was an altogether new kind of tortuous imprisonment. A gilded cage rather than a cold and dismal cell.

And that was something, wasn't it? Harry made his way back over to the bed, perching himself on the edge of it so that he was facing away from the offensive plate of food. His whole transition from tormented hostage to pampered prisoner was quite astonishing.

Harry bit his lower lip as he thought about that. A few weeks ago, Voldemort had been throwing him against walls in violent whirlwinds of fury. Harry could even understand why, horrible as it had been. The Dark Lord had just found out, in relatively quick succession, that Harry Potter was his own horcrux…only to then realize that Harry Potter was also responsible for the destruction of all the rest.

The Dark Lord had been incredibly hate-filled in those first days… but at some point, everything had changed.

It was after he blinded me, Harry concluded. That was when the Dark Lord stopped being cruel and began being eerily affectionate, instead.

And Harry thought he understood why.

Harry sighed again, falling onto his back on the luxurious, silk-covered bed. He was momentarily shocked when he was once more met with the sight of his crimson-eyed reflection. Already, he'd forgotten about the mirror on the inside of the canopy. Harry wondered if Voldemort had put it there on purpose, for no other reason than to scare him when he woke up to his own likeness—disheveled and covered in dried blood. To make certain that Harry had no doubts in his mind as to whether that violent kiss had been a dream or not.

Harry shuddered. That kiss…

His whole body felt uncomfortably warm again. He probably was getting sick, after all…

Harry's mind suddenly felt very sluggish, a wave of exhaustion washing over him. He blinked up at himself slowly, trying to remain focused. He couldn't just pass out, not while Ron was about to go to trial, he couldn't…


Harry awoke to the sensation of being held.

He might have thought it a part of some pleasant dream if he didn't know better. Warm arms encircled him from behind, gently pulling him out of his state of slumber… and it was a case for serious alarm.

Harry jumped, instantly lunging forward to escape Voldemort's disquietingly tender embrace. Surprisingly, Voldemort let him go when he stirred, and Harry almost fell in his flight. He barely managed to stay on his feet as he turned and took several hasty steps backwards, retreating until he collided with the wall. Harry's heart was racing as he faced the Dark Lord from across the room.

Voldemort smiled innocently. He was sitting on the corner of the bed, his magic rhythmically swishing back and forth behind him, glimmering softly and reminding Harry of some sort of magical, abstract cat's tail.

"What—how—"

Harry couldn't even form a full sentence. His head snapped to one side, and his jaw dropped when he saw the time.

It was nearly one thirty! How had he slept so soundly and for so long? Harry looked back at Voldemort, horrified. "What happened, what—"

"Ronald Weasley performed admirably well," Voldemort explained in a low, soothing voice. He stood languidly. "He will not be returning to Azkaban. In fact, he shall be here this evening."

Harry was rendered speechless by such a declaration. Voldemort laughed. "Yes. Ronald Weasley gave us enough pertinent information to allow for his… pardoning. He is on house arrest and he has been stripped of his wand privileges, though he has the possibility of regaining them, should he behave appropriately and prove himself over the course of the next six months…"

Voldemort's face was emotionless and serene as he spoke, but his magic was so energetic, almost merry. Like there was something which he found deeply amusing, an inside joke that Harry was not privy to.

"I… Really?" was all Harry could manage—partially because he was so shocked, and partially because Voldemort had begun to slowly walk towards him, making that mesmeric light build in the depths of his being again.

"Yes." Voldemort's magic was fascinating when he moved, it was so spirited. Harry had a hard time not being caught up in the sparkling bits of gold, despite everything. "He has surrendered and is cooperating with the Ministry, spared a life of imprisonment…"

Harry was frozen to the spot as Voldemort closed the space between them, cupping his face with one hand in an adoring manner. Harry was distracted from his sheer disbelief when he was flooded with a tidal wave of warmth. He couldn't even try and fight the magnetic pull of Voldemort's touch; it caught him so off guard that Harry instantly leaned into it, sighing and momentarily forgetting everything that was not that light.

Voldemort put his other hand on Harry's neck, leaning closer so that his lips were grazing his forehead, directly over his scar.

"Gorgeous…"

Voldemort whispered the one word so quietly that if Harry hadn't felt the movement of his lips against his skin, he may have thought he imagined it. The enthralling light was so vibrant…

"Stop," Harry gasped, putting his hands on Voldemort's chest. "Stop…"

For a second, Harry thought his feeble demands would have the opposite effect—Voldemort's magic spiked in a sudden, horrific desire—but then it waned, shifting to something far less overwhelming and more bearable. A soft, pulsating warmth that was only mildly distracting.

"You said… here?" Harry asked breathlessly, wishing desperately that the Dark Lord would stop touching his face and neck in such an intimate way. "Ron is… coming here?"

"Yes…" The hand which Voldemort had placed on Harry's neck trailed up to his hair, running his nails gently along his scalp. "He shall be placed under house arrest, but he shall not be going home…"

"Why?"

"Because I require his presence here."

Harry stared at that, nervous at the way in which Voldemort's magic vibrated with a pure, undeniable excitement.

"Why?" he asked again, his voice sharper.

What was left of the gentle light vanished. Voldemort's eyes narrowed, both his expression and his aura displaying his deep irritation. "I have just informed you that your friend is not only being spared his soul and the rest of his life, but that you will be seeing him in a few hours' time. Rather than be grateful, you instead have the audacity to question me?"

The one hand which he had been carding through Harry's hair dropped to his side, while the other one tightly gripped his chin, making it so that Harry could not escape his fierce glare.

"I—uh—you're right," Harry said defensively, sure that upsetting Voldemort now would not do him any favors. "You're right, I—thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Voldemort's expression didn't change. Harry wasn't sure what he expected him to do—fall to his knees and worship him from a kneeling position?

…Possibly.

Harry may have been trying to play the role of obedient captive, but he was not about to start bowing and prostrating himself before the Dark Lord like a slave. After a few more seconds of being scrutinized, Voldemort released him.

"What about Hermione?" The concern rushed out of Harry's mouth the second Voldemort stepped away. "You promise you'll spare her, then? Since Ron—"

"The issue of Hermione Granger shall be solved soon enough. I have a plan," Voldemort responded, cutting Harry off and smiling in a way that was anything but reassuring. "Do not look so worried, Harry; you will be intimately involved, as will Ronald Weasley. I shall tell you about it in extreme detail when the time is right. It should be…fun."

By the way Voldemort's eyes gleamed and his magic twitched, Harry was sure that whatever plan he had in mind would be the exact opposite of fun. "No," he said adamantly. "No, I did what I said I would, I got Ron to surrender, and—and you have to promise me that—"

"I can assure you that the very best thing you can do to ensure the safety of Hermione Granger's life is to never tell me what I can or cannot do ever again," Voldemort seethed, his aura darkening threateningly. "If you want to see her live past this week, then you will hold your tongue on the matter and obey."

Harry would have backed away further, were he not already up against the wall. As it was, he simply nodded, saying nothing, his heart pounding in his chest.

Voldemort waited a few moments until he was seemingly appeased. His aura became less hostile as he fixed him with a smiled that was disarmingly charming. "I must confess, Harry, that I have another mystery which has been plaguing me… One which only you can solve…"

Harry continued to hold his tongue. The Dark Lord reached into his pocket, and Harry felt a thrill of terror sweep up his spine as he expected to see him withdraw the Elder Wand. He gasped in shock at what Voldemort revealed instead.

It was his mokeskin bag!

Harry instantly grinned, nearly as delighted to see it as he had been when Voldemort had shown him his Invisibility Cloak—

But then Harry's blood ran cold as his brain caught up with his heart. He knew what the Dark Lord was going to tell him to do, even before he spoke.

"Open it."

…Because only Harry could.

"No."

…Because Harry could never be anything other than difficult and idiotically defiant.

Voldemort's perfect mask of control cracked as his eye twitched. His magic whirled in irritation. "Open it, and take out everything which you have stored in it," he commanded in a much icier tone, nodding towards the vanity where he surely expected Harry to place every single item. Voldemort held the bag out to him expectantly. "Now."

Recognizing defeat, Harry begrudgingly took it. He knew there was no way to escape this, and that refusing to do as the Dark Lord demanded would only result in something horrible. As slowly as he dared, Harry opened the bag.

The first things he pulled out was the Marauder's Map, which appeared as nothing more than a blank piece of parchment. Next was the letter his mother had written to his godfather, crinkled and torn at the edges, and then the accompanying portion of the photograph which had been ripped in half. After that was the sliver of glass which had once been a part of his godfather's mirror. Harry nearly cut himself as he pulled it out. Then the snitch, which was now cracked in half from when he had opened it, whispering the declaration of his own death…

Harry didn't even recall doing that, putting the broken snitch back in his bag. He had been in such a numb state…

But the ring… The ring he had dropped, he had left that in the forest…

The very last thing which Harry pulled out was his wand. Snapped in half, held together only by the strands of a brilliant phoenix feather.

Harry's heart felt hollow as he laid each one of these seemingly useless, damaged things out on the wooden surface of the vanity. Voldemort watched him with an unreadable expression, but his magic showed his true, albeit mild, feelings. With each item it whirled a bit, slightly curious or confused. It was not until Harry revealed his broken, holly wand that it reacted greatly, and Harry was surprised to sense that Voldemort felt…

Empathetic?

Harry said nothing as he stood there, staring down at what was left of his most prized possessions, other than his cloak. He set the mokeskin bag down next to them, open and empty.

Voldemort began to examine each one of the belongings more closely. Harry just stood there silently, his heart thundering as he watched the Dark Lord quickly read the letter his mother had written, look at the photograph of himself as a baby riding on a toy broomstick with his father laughing in the background, glance quickly at the broken mirror shard which had belonged to his godfather

"Why did you feel the need to keep these?" Voldemort finally asked as he held the shattered snitch in one hand. "Such broken and damaged things?"

Harry fought back the very visceral urge to grab the snitch from his fingers, to put everything back in the bag protectively and hoard it away. "Maybe I have an affection for broken and damaged things," he muttered contemptuously.

Voldemort's muscles visibly tensed. His magic froze too, and Harry wasn't sure what to make of that strange reaction, why—

Oh.

Harry's face burned. He really was good at saying poignant, idiotic things without meaning to, wasn't he?

"I didn't—I meant—they weren't always broken," Harry spluttered, trying to distract from his own, awkward statement. "They're just…broken now."

Voldemort stared. Harry quickly went on, realizing that he might actually be making things worse. "I mean. The letter has another part somewhere, and the photo I found like that, because Snape—"

Voldemort's magic suddenly surged, black and venomous. Harry stopped talking at once.

Yet the Dark Lord's face remained immaculately composed. He raised one brow in surprise—confused, probably, as to why Harry had just abruptly fallen silent like that.

Doing his best to ignore the cloud of hellacious black magic stirring the air, Harry continued. "...He, ah. Ripped it, before I found it," he said quickly. "And this mirror shard used to a part of a larger mirror…"

Harry's hesitated, unable to elaborate on any of these items much… least of all to Lord Voldemort. "And the snitch, I-I only broke recently, but it's nostalgic, I guess, it was the first one I caught… and well. My wand."

He didn't bother explaining that one. Voldemort set the snitch back on the vanity and nodded, his threatening magic diminishing to its usual haze of blackness and glinting specks of gold.

"…And this?" The Dark Lord held up the Marauder's map, which was currently blank. Harry didn't look at him when he responded, just shrugged and kept his head down.

"One can always use space parchment," he mumbled.

Voldemort didn't buy that for a second—not that Harry expected him too, but still. It was unnerving to sense the way in which his aura danced with curiosity, the see out of the corner of his eye the way in which Voldemort's long fingers grazed the surface of the parchment like he was searching for the secrets there.

"…I see."

Then Voldemort did something which stunned Harry so badly he was sure he was imagining it even as he watched it happen.

The Dark Lord took another long look at each of the remaining items on the vanity—the letter, the photo, the mirror fragment, the snitch, his broken wand—and then, in one fluid and seamless motion, retracted the Elder Wand from his inner pocket and with a single, wordless spell, vanished them all, even the empty mokeskin bag.

Harry stared at the now vacant space in a state of total shock. "…Did… Did you just vanish them…?" he gasped.

"Your observance is remarkable," Voldemort responded coolly.

Harry snapped. "Why would you do that!?" he roared, rage exploding in his chest. Harry's hands clenched into fists at his sides, and he did, in fact, have a huge desire to punch Voldemort in the face. "Why would you do that, why would you—"

"Because it was trash," Voldemort seethed in disgust. Rather than be intimidated by Harry's anger even slightly, Voldemort drew himself to his full height, his dark magic rising behind him and making him seem impossibly tall and threatening. "Moments ago, you had not thought you would ever see your broken possessions again. Yet now that I have vanished the remains of your past life, you are upset? Are you angry, Harry, that I disposed of some objects that held great meaning to you?"

Harry's fury dwindled and died, replaced by a mounting fear as Voldemort's magic became deadlier by the second. Harry didn't respond, just held his breath to see what Voldemort would do.

After a tense moment, the Dark Lord's magic stopped swelling in spite and his face became blank once more. Harry could breathe again. "They were just things," he said, somewhat contemptuously.

Harry eyed the Marauder's Map, which the Dark Lord still held in one hand. "Why not that one?" he blurted out, pointing to it. "You vanished all the rest of my things. Why not that?"

Voldemort smirked. "One can always use spare parchment," he murmured, placing it in one of his pockets.

Harry's face burned and his jaw dropped, wanting to say so many things about that and being unable to voice a single one.

Voldemort's smirk widened before he turned and glanced over his shoulder. "You did not eat," he said casually. His expression, absurdly enough, bordered on disappointed.

Harry was so baffled by this abrupt change of demeanor and topic that he could do nothing but stand there, utterly incredulous. "I don't have much of an appetite these days," he finally said.

Voldemort's magic shifted in way that was almost like he was feeling… Well, not guilty—far from it—but some sort of unpleasant recognition that he might have had something to do with Harry's abysmal physical state.

"You need to eat," Voldemort said emotionlessly. "You are extremely malnourished and thin."

"That's my general state," Harry responded, his tone equally detached.

"You realize that I can retract any and all of my previous, merciful actions at any point, don't you, Harry?"

Harry was perfectly still for a long moment. Voldemort's magic swelled in anticipation, like he was just daring Harry to defy him.

Moving very slowly, Harry walked towards the tray of food. Everything that had been cooked was cold, now, and the tea was no longer steaming. He picked up an apple and, looking right at Voldemort, took one, single bite before setting it back down again.

"Wow," he said as soon as he'd swallowed. "Full already. Thank you, I am eternally grateful."

Voldemort smiled sweetly. It was an expression that was in great contrast to his magic, which had blackened significantly. "I am beginning to think that you lied to me, Harry," he purred. His magic became even fiercer, darker. Harry's stomach churned.

"…I am beginning to think that you do like pain."

Harry's scar exploded in white-hot agony. He howled, accidentally knocking over the table filled with food when he jerked uncontrollably. The fine china went crashing to the floor, a cacophony of shattered porcelain to accompany his screams.

It didn't last long. The pain stopped after only a few moments, though Harry's scar continued to throb afterwards. He leaned against the wall, panting.

"Is that why you continue to be so disrespectful, Harry? Do you enjoy the experience of my wrath?"

Harry glowered and stood up straight. Maybe he was even more malnourished than he realized, because surely he otherwise would have had more sense? "Oh, yeah," he said sarcastically. "It's my favorite thing, that."

The same pain immediately struck him even harder than before. Harry bit his lip to stifle his outcry this time, determined to not scream again. He closed his eyes and tried with all of his might not to yell, not to—

Beg, was the unspoken message which Voldemort's magic commanded from across the room. The same exact message it had been saying for weeks when he'd had Harry locked in a cell, blind and alone.

Beg for the pain to stop.

Beg for mercy.

Beg. Beg. Beg.

Harry had refused then, and he refused now.

The horrific pain only got worse. Harry had to put both hands against the wall to remain standing under the vicious onslaught of it, biting his lip so hard now to stop from shouting that he drew blood. He shook his head, trying desperately to fight it, to find some other way to stave off the pain.

There was none. Voldemort slowly approached, standing next to him and looking down at him with that same, innocent grin on his lips. His magic became far more eager, like he was so certain that Harry was about to finally break and plead with him to stop.

Beg. Beg. Beg.

Harry wouldn't.

Maybe his threshold for pain had simply increased that much. While this misery was horrible, it was far preferable to the agony he had experienced when Voldemort had messed with his magic.

"Beg," Voldemort finally said out loud. The pain lessened, possibly just so that Harry would be able to speak properly.

Harry looked up at him with watery eyes, glaring.

"Never. You can't make me do that."

"Can't I…?" Voldemort tilted his head to one side, scarlet eyes accessing him thoughtfully. "Did you not say you were mine to command, Harry?"

"Not that," Harry said at once. "I'll never grovel at your feet and beg for anything. Nothing you can ever do will make me do that."

Voldemort's sadistic grin widened. "I can make you do anything I want."

Before he could respond, Harry gasped, and the pain vanished entirely. That pleasant warmth rushed through his veins, surging through him and making him lightheaded. It was so intense that Harry could feel it like an actual entity; a living, breathing thing like a serpent which was coiled around his very soul, moving, writhing, and Harry could not tell where he began and this twisting, coiling serpent ended…

It was all so familiar and yet... not. It was the same kind of serpentine entity that he recalled from the Ministry so long ago, only this was all blissful warmth, not burning misery…

Harry felt his knees buckling and his jaw moving of their own accord, yet it was not with an agonizing wrench, but a sweet, gentle persuasion with which his body moved… When his lips parted to speak, it was not painful in the slightest…

"I…"

Harry's euphoric mind was filled with an instant, sobering horror as he realized what was happening.

Voldemort was possessing him…and it wasn't hurting.

No, he thought in a state of absolute panic. No, no—

The second he internally refused, the light and pleasantness turned into a fierce and terrible storm of pain.

Now it was exactly like it had been at the Ministry. Pain so terrible that Harry wanted to die from it. Harry screamed and crumpled to the floor, seeing nothing but a flash of violent red—

Then it vanished. The pain lifted like a veil, leaving not even a lingering trace behind. Harry's heart raced as he tried to regain his breath, disoriented from such extreme sensations.

When he opened his eyes, Harry was shocked to find that he was eye-level with Voldemort. The Dark Lord too had fallen to the ground, and looked to be in a similar state. He must have shared in that same, earth-shattering pain.

Voldemort instantly glared when Harry caught his eye. Despite what a horrible experience it had been, Harry couldn't help but feel supremely smug. Voldemort had tried to make him beg—had tried once more to possess him, even—and he had failed.

"…Ha," Harry said between labored breaths, grinning.

Voldemort recovered from the pain much quicker than Harry did.

In an imperceptible motion, Voldemort had him around the throat, pinning him against the wall with a single hand by the neck, his strength obscenely inhuman. "I should put you back in that cell and leave you there for all eternity," he snarled, eyes blazing.

Harry didn't even care that a significant amount of his oxygen supply was being cut off. "That's no way to treat your last horcrux," he said in a raspy voice.

True, honest fear cut across Voldemort's features, and his magic became flavored with anxiety. The sight made Harry feel high with superiority, and far, far too reckless.

"You shouldn't force their magic to exist outside of their bodies, either, just so you can harvest whatever you need… So you could heal your broken and damaged body."

Harry knew that his somewhat shaky hypothesis was correct by the way Voldemort's magic brightened, a mixture of even more surprise and—there it was—embarrassment. Voldemort let go of his neck, eyes widening in disbelief. "Yeah, I knew it was you!" Harry shouted, uncaring of the fact that this was sure to end badly for him. "I knew it was you impersonating Narcissa, because you screwed up! She never called me by my name, for whatever reason… Maybe she was afraid of me."

He paused for only a second to laugh before carrying on, relishing Voldemort's thunderstruck expression. "What I don't understand…is why. Why would you bother impersonating her to do whatever it was you did? Why not just do it yourself?"

Voldemort's expression quickly became cold and blank. He was silent for a long time, looking at Harry's face with no visible emotion, though his magic was glimmering in an odd fashion. Harry could not decipher at all.

"…Light magic," Voldemort murmured, "cannot be forced. It was dark magic which damaged me. Only light magic could heal it… That must be given willingly, and it needed to come from a soul which was whole."

He said it all in a quiet, reverent tone. Harry was simply astonished that he was getting any explanation at all. "A whole soul that was willing? Couldn't… couldn't you have used just about anybody, then?"

Voldemort didn't answer, but Harry could see the truth of it in the way his aura shimmered and lightened just barely. Harry laughed coldly and started pacing. "Why me?" he shouted, incensed. "Haven't you tormented me enough? Kidnapping me, blinding me, torturing me—"

"Because I only use the best."

"Making me—huh?"

Harry froze at the implication in those words. Voldemort's face was still undecipherable.

"…The best," he repeated in a whisper.

Harry’s mouth went dry, his stomach coiling in an uncomfortable way which he adamantly ignored. He found that he was unable to look anywhere but at the floor, suddenly. "…And you just… thought I would say no?" Voldemort's answering nod was very slight, but Harry caught it from the corner of his eye. "Well, you were wrong," he said, his gaze still downcast.

The air rang in the silence. Harry had never felt more awkward or uncomfortable in his life, standing in a bedroom with Lord Voldemort, who had just told him that his magic—his soul?—was the very best…

It was an unbearable situation which was made even tenser by the way Voldemort's aura was… doing something, something that was both mesmerizing and deeply confusing.

Harry didn't even see Voldemort move when he finally did. The Dark Lord was just suddenly directly in front of him, making Harry's heart skip several beats when his hands ghosted over his hips.

"I have work to do," he murmured vaguely. "You will be tended to while I am gone. I expect you to be fully rested and capable when I return in a few hours' time with your wayward friend..."

"Are you—"

Harry's inquiries were immediately and literally disrupted when Voldemort trapped his lower lip between his teeth. He bit Harry in the exact same place where he had bitten himself earlier, when he'd been determined not to scream.

Voldemort held it there and ran his tongue along his swollen lip, and a heat that was completely unrelated to anything pertaining to souls pooled in Harry's stomach.

The kiss which followed was the antithesis of the bloody, violent affair which had occurred the night before. Voldemort was exceedingly cautious and gentle, his tongue easily slipping between Harry's lips when he was met with no resistance.

Harry had no coherent thought whatsoever. His body just reacted instinctually—which was, in all actuality, illogical and conflicting. His hands flew up to Voldemort's chest, weak but undeniable attempts to push him away. The rest of his body, however, yearned for the exact thing he was trying to disentangle himself from. Harry's back arched and his head tilted back, his mouth opening further like he was starving for the Dark Lord's kiss.

It was dizzying but very brief. When Voldemort pulled away, his magic was glittering more vibrantly than ever before, like stars in a night sky. His scarlet eyes were darkened, fixed on Harry's with such an intensity he thought he might faint.

Before he vanished, Voldemort smiled, murmuring words that felt more like a confession than a farewell.

"You fascinate me, Harry Potter."

Chapter Text

Harry was left in such a deep state of shock that his mind was frozen, his body feeling completely numb.

It was a fleeting sensation.

He slowly raised his hand, grazing his fingers over his swollen lip where the Dark Lord had just bitten him—gently—and then…

His face suddenly felt like it had been lit on fire the blush that followed was so strong. "What the fuck," he breathed, shaking his head. For a time, that seemed to be the only coherent thought that Harry James Potter was capable of.

What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?

Harry started pacing, a practice which was quickly becoming a habit for him. He forced his mind, which seemed intent to just race in circles with swears, to form some coherent, logical thoughts.

Voldemort had told him that his magic was the best.

Voldemort had then kissed him.

And he, Harry… hadn't exactly hated it.

Harry covered his burning face with his hands. This…was very bad.

You're just really messed up right now, Harry, he told himself, continuing to pace and crossing his arms. Stress is very high, you've been held prisoner for weeks, and wasn't that a thing, growing… affectionate towards your captor?

But Harry did not harbor anything even resembling affection towards Lord Voldemort… Did he?

No, I don't, Harry thought stubbornly. Not at all. Voldemort is still a murderous, dangerous monster, no matter what he looks like… And I am not attracted to him anyway. Regardless of his current features. Not at all.

Harry's fingers traced over his lower lip again, his heart racing and face burning even hotter.

I am also a liar, he then admitted.

Harry groaned, lamenting the undeniable truth of it. How many times had he referred to the Tom Riddle he'd seen in memories with Dumbledore (in the privacy in his own mind, of course) as handsome? He hadn't thought anything of it at the time though, because they were just memories of a boy. It had been so easy, then, to differentiate between the attractive teenager from the past and the monstrosity of the present.

But now…

Harry felt the blood drain from his flushed face. This was all just a horrible and complex manipulation, he realized—one that had been going on for a long time. The Dark Lord had been underhandedly trying to influence him for weeks now, doing things to endear himself to Harry slowly and stealthily.

The memories, for starters. Voldemort had been feeding him innocent memories of Tom Riddle, young and harmless looking, either acting brilliant and charismatic or being treated poorly by Dumbledore. Memories which were Harry's only moments of being able to see, so that Harry was constantly craving the Dark Lord's presence.

Only Voldemort didn't know that Harry was aware of all the other times that he had visited him, too. Those long stretches of silence where the Dark Lord would merely watch him as a quiet observer in the corner, his black magic writhing covetously and making Harry feel ill.

And thank Merlin he had been able to detect him! Harry could only imagine how much worse his state of mind might have been, if he hadn't experienced those disquieting moments to ground him—to viscerally remind him just how deranged the Dark Lord really was.

…There was also the light.

That blissful buoyancy that felt far too good.

Yet that particular form of manipulation, Harry thought, might actually be backfiring on Lord Voldemort. It was a truth that had been dawning on Harry for some time, and now, after sensing that brief but powerful emotion of relief that had emanated in Voldemort's magic before they'd left for Azkaban, Harry knew it with certainty:

Voldemort was becoming increasingly addicted… to Harry's soul.

Even more bizarre was that Harry was not at all surprised by this. He had felt it himself, during those moments when he'd broken into Voldemort's psyche. What was left of Voldemort's soul was so fractured, so cold. It must have been heavenly for him, to feel what it was like to be whole again… Even if it was through the act of feeling the soul of Harry Potter.

Harry shuddered. Was Voldemort still that way, after using Harry's magic to heal his body? Harry contemplated that. More than likely, yes. Light magic could only do so much—the only way to repair a fractured soul was through remorse, and Harry was pretty sure the Dark Lord hadn't been doing any sorrowful penitence recently.

A blackened soul within a beautiful body. Lord Voldemort was a more complex entity than ever before.

But Harry couldn't help but wonder… Why return to looking like his old self? Why bother to regain the appearance of Tom Riddle? Wouldn't it have just been simpler to create a new appearance, to—

A horrible fear gripped Harry so abruptly that he nearly swayed.

Did Voldemort know? Did the Dark Lord know that Harry had thought of Tom Riddle as handsome? Harry was suddenly imagining a terrible possibility, recalling all of the times that he had been asleep under the influence of a Sleeping Draught, wondering if Voldemort might have appeared during those times, and—and could one perform Legilimency on an unconscious person? Was it a real possibility that the Dark Lord had combed through his memories without him being any the wiser, seeing exactly how Harry had known about Tom Riddle Senior and Merope Gaunt and thinking just how handsome their son was?

Harry forced those thoughts away. You're being irrational and paranoid, Harry. You would know, if he had done that. You would know.

He sighed heavily. Harry realized then that he had to come to terms with a few things about himself.

He wasn't gay… was he? No, he had certainly been attracted to Cho, and he had been irrefutably, irrevocably—

No. Don't.

…He fancied girls.

Harry frowned, biting his lower lip and then instantly thinking of Voldemort doing the same thing, heat pooling in his stomach and his back arching instinctively.

…He was attracted to blokes too, then.

Harry stopped pacing, turning to face himself head on in the vanity mirror. He stared into his own, scarlet eyes, blood-red irises which were the exact same hue as the Dark Lord's. It was disquieting, just how different he looked without his characteristic green eyes and glasses.

Trying not to linger on that, Harry took a deep breath and gave himself a pointed look.

"I... am bisexual," he said flatly.

It was enough of a statement to shock his reflection out of mimicking him. The Harry Potter in the mirror raised both of its eyebrows, looking dubious. "…Congratulations," it finally responded. Then, "Fix your collar, dear, you look a mess."

Scowling, Harry turned away, ignoring it.

Okay, he thought, okay. That's all fine. Attracted to both sexes—that's fine.

Attracted to Tom Riddle… a bit more problematic.

But he could deal with this. He was a rational person. Being attracted to someone physically didn't mean being attracted to them in any other way. It was absolutely possible to remain unaffected by someone's looks. This was Lord Voldemort—nothing that he could do would ever make it possible for Harry to be so idiotically manipulated, especially not by something as shallow as his appearance.

And yet you keep touching your lower lip, imagining Voldemort kissing you, a small but extremely judgmental voice whispered in the back of his mind.

A momentary lapse of bad judgement! Harry roared back at himself defiantly. A few seconds of being caught off guard!

You enjoyed it.

I did not!

You want it to happen again.

"No!"

Harry jumped when his outburst was met with a high-pitched squeal of surprise. He whipped around to see Narcissa Malfoy in the doorway, clutching her chest and looking very frightened.

"I'm sorry!" she shouted, thinking that Harry was yelling at her. Her magic was frazzled and vibrant. "I should have knocked, I—"

"No, no, I'm sorry, I—er, I was just—" Harry stopped short, not even bothering to try and explain. He walked over to her, feeling awful for having scared her so.

Narcissa recovered quickly, though, and pulled him into a quick hug. She held him at arm's length afterwards and fixed him with a serious expression. "Your friend will be here soon," she said. "He's still at the Ministry, but they will be bringing him here shortly. The Dark Lord sent me back to tend to you." She paused, examining his robes and quickly fixing his collar which he had ignored. "Do you think you can eat something?"

"Er… I really don't think so, no."

She nodded understandably. "All right, well… Come with me. We can wait in the foyer; they'll be coming by Floo..."

"Okay." Harry said. "Thank you, Mrs. Malfoy."

"Oh, no. You must call me Narcissa," she responded, smiling.

"Well, then, you must call me Harry."

Narcissa's expression fell for a moment, like she was conflicted, but then her smile returned. "All right, then… Harry. Come along."

She motioned for Harry to come with her, and he quickly followed.


Waiting in the foyer of Malfoy manor with Narcissa had been a strange enough experience the first time around. Now it felt even more surreal, as they sat in two of the most luxurious arm chairs that Harry had ever seen near a giant, currently empty fireplace.

They were silent for a few minutes, their eyes both fixed on the vacant space where they expected emerald flames to erupt at any moment. Where soon, the Dark Lord, Lucius Malfoy, Draco, and Ron would be arriving…

Harry physically jumped when a jarring comprehension struck him. "My eyes," he gasped, looking at a startled Narcissa like she might be able to provide the solution. "What in the world am I supposed to tell Ron about my eyes?"

Narcissa stared at him, her lips parting uselessly, speechless.

Harry wasn't sure what he expected. Narcissa herself probably didn't understand why they were red, she just didn't question the things that her master did.

Eventually, she offered him a wordless shrug, but no advice. "Shit," Harry said, feeling hopeless. She didn't chide him for swearing.

The fireplace sparked to life with bright, green fire.

Harry instantly closed his eyes, delaying the inevitable. He and Narcissa both stood, and Harry relied on his other senses for the moment. Right away he could feel the odd, light magic of Draco, which had an almost air-like quality to it. Next to his was a similar aura, only denser, grayer… It must have belonged to Lucius. And then—

How had he not noticed it, before? Why had he not felt Ron's magic when he was in Azkaban? Had he just been that distracted? Or perhaps that thick, metal collar had been suppressing it, smothering Ron's magic and weakening him?

Harry wasn't sure, but he could certainly sense it now. He almost smiled when he did. Ron's magical energy was exactly as Harry might have thought it would be—warm and friendly, a sort of orange hue that reminded him very much of the Weasley's hair.

"Harry!"

Ron's magic brightened significantly. Harry kept his eyes closed, but Ron didn't question it, yet—he simply rushed forward and grabbed him, pulling him into a rib-breaking hug.

Harry hugged him back, opening his eyes only to look over Ron's shoulder to where Narcissa, Lucius, and Draco stood. Draco was watching the way that Ron was clinging to Harry and looking highly uncomfortable. Lucius also seemed disturbed.

Voldemort's absence was duly noted. "Where is the Dark Lord?" Narcissa asked her husband. Harry was glad that she did; Ron was hugging him so tightly that Harry was having a hard time breathing.

Lucius turned away from Ron's evidently inappropriate display of affection to look at his wife. "He and your lovely sister are still at the Ministry, finishing a few things… They should be here shortly."

Harry's stomach dropped at that. Bellatrix Lestrange would be coming, too…

Narcissa nodded. She glanced at Harry and Ron, the latter of which seemed intent to never let his friend go again. "We'll just… give you two a moment," she said. "Shall we? Lucius, Draco…"

Draco didn't need to be told twice. He quickly turned and left, obviously wanting to get as far away from Harry and Ron as possible. Lucius, however, looked concerned. His wife glared at him, and Harry almost laughed at the way his magic withered under her stare, instantly resigned to listen to her without a word.

Before they turned to follow their son, Narcissa shot Harry a quick look which he recognized very well. It was the same expression he had seen on Mrs. Weasley countless times when addressing the twins, a look that said:

Don't do anything stupid.

Harry nodded, sure that with that single gesture she understood. Narcissa and her husband stepped away, giving Harry and Ron the illusion of privacy.

Ron finally released him. Harry shut his eyes again, his mind reeling. "Harry," he said, still gripping his shoulders. "Harry—why won't you look at me? Where are your glasses? What—"

"Ron, I—I need you to not freak out," Harry interrupted, eyelids still tightly closed. Ron's magic was pulsating with anxious energy. "I'll explain everything, but I need you to not scream or something. All right?"

"O...Okay?"

Harry slowly opened his eyes, looking up at Ron with a weak smile that might have made the moment worse, not better.

Ron's bruised face paled to the color of snow. He released Harry's shoulders at once and took several hasty steps back. Before Harry could say anything, he spat out the single word, "Why?"

"I'm going to explain!" Harry said quickly, putting his arms up defensively. He ran one hand through his hair, and even though he tried to come up with some simple reason, he knew he couldn't. Harry exhaled slowly, realizing that he was going to have to do something crazy: tell the truth.

"Er… Well, so, I was brought here right after the battle at Hogwarts, like I said," he began, and Ron stood perfectly still, listening. "And… Well, I tried to escape once by summoning Kreacher, and um. That didn't exactly work. He kind of… cut Kreacher's head off, and then dragged me along to a Death Eater meeting and forced me to sign over Grimmauld Place to Bellatrix—which is why I have another fucking scar on my hand, by the way. So that made me pretty mad, and I kind of… called Voldemort a fucking monster in front of all of his Death Eaters."

Ron jumped violently and his magic twitched—whether at Voldemort's name being spoken or the information Harry was relaying to him, Harry wasn't sure. He didn't say anything, though, so Harry kept going. "As you might imagine, he didn't like that, and so he took me back to the cell, and, um. Well, he made a threat about amortentia, and long story short, I basically called him ugly?"

Harry paused to laugh weakly. Ron's face and magic were both so frozen with shock it was like he'd been petrified. Harry cleared his throat and carried on. "So, uh, he blinded me. I was blind for… I don't know, a week, maybe? And when he gave me my sight back, he looked like he does now, and my eyes were like… this."

Silence. Ron stared at Harry with that same, unmoving expression of pure shock.

"…Oh," he eventually said, his voice far too high. "Okay."

"Just… Just okay?"

Ron actually shrugged, then. "Sure," he said, his tone still a bit too high-pitched. "That all seems relatively in character for everyone. Yeah, Sure."

Harry was deeply concerned. "You are taking this… well," he said cautiously.

"Right, well, I think I've just figured it all out." Ron glanced around the foyer, his eyes lingering on the chandelier that had once been their saving grace. "Hermione managed to kill me in the forest after all. I'm dead. This is it." He threw his arms out on either side of himself, grinning.

"This is hell."

"Ron, you're not dead," Harry said, trying not to laugh at what was anything but a humorous situation. "You're not in hell."

"Are you sure?" Ron asked, lowering his arms. "Are you quite sure? Because I can literally not think of worse circumstances. Do you know what my sentence was, Harry? Do you know what my life is going to be for the next six months, if this is, in fact, reality?"

Harry shook his head. Ron's grin was becoming wider and more troubling by the second. "Six months of service to the Ministry of Magic, working directly under the Head of the Muggle-Born Registration Committee to re-educate me on my misguided ideals. Do you remember who that is, Harry? Do you?"

Harry's hand flew to his mouth, too horrified to say it out loud.

"Umbridge!" Ron answered for him, his arms flying out again. "Six months of being forced to help Umbridge run that foul operation! Umbridge, Harry!" He giggled in the same way he had when he'd been attacked by giant brains in the Department of Mysteries. Harry cringed at the sound. "But the silver lining is that I don't start until next Monday. Maybe between now and then, something truly awful will happen, and I won't have to go at all."

He stared up at the chandelier longingly, like he was hoping it might fall on him. "Why couldn't he have just killed me?" he murmured morbidly.

"No—Ron, no, get a grip on yourself!" Harry shouted. "It—it could be worse, it…"

Harry tried and failed to come up with something worse, short of life in Azkaban. Ron laughed again. "Oh, but it is worse, Harry!" he exclaimed. "The trial… Do you know what I've done? What he made me tell him?"

Harry's heart skipped a beat. "Hermione?" he asked, dreading the answer.

Ron shook his head. "No… In fact, he only asked me a few questions about her. Only where we went when we first went on the run, the three of us, and if I knew where she was now. I couldn't lie, Harry, they made me take veritaserum, but I wasn't able to tell him where she was, because I don't know. That was all he asked about Hermione…"

His eyes went out of focus for a moment. Harry didn't say anything, and a second later Ron blinked rapidly and kept talking. "No, it was… It's Fred and George, Harry. I… He asked me if I knew who the hosts of Potterwatch were, and I couldn't lie, I couldn't, I…"

Ron's voice broke. Harry instantly put his hands on his arm, a futile attempt to make him feel better. "It's not your fault," he said. "It's n-not your fault, Ron, you couldn't help it... Do they know, though? Do they know that the Dark Lord knows who they are, now?"

"I imagine they probably do. They knew that I knew it was them, and it was all over the news when I was taken into custody… Fred and George are smart, I'm sure they went on the run the moment they heard I was in Azkaban, knowing that I would be forced to tell you-know-who everything I knew." Ron wiped at his eyes, obviously trying very hard not to cry. "He did it on purpose, Harry. Having my trial today when he did. They're supposed to host another show this afternoon—soon, really soon. Like, in an hour soon. At four," he said as he frantically checked his watch.

Harry gaped. "You don't think they're still going to broadcast, do you?"

Yet even as he asked the question, Harry knew the answer. "Are you kidding? Of course they will, now more than ever. They'll want to tell everyone what happened from their point of view. But they always move around when they broadcast. They had to start doing that when the Snatchers started looking for them… Just because you-know-who knows who they are now, that doesn't mean he'll be able to find them. Right? I mean, he couldn't find us… Right?"

He looked at Harry pleadingly. Harry nodded, though he was feeling a very dark sense of foreboding. "Right," he said, forcing a smile. "Right, I'm sure they'll be fine…"

Ron swallowed thickly. Harry pulled him into another hug, noting then that Ron's body was shaking in a way that he hadn't been able to see by looking at him.

"Aw… Isn't it just so sweet!"

Bellatrix's voice made Harry's skin crawl. Ron jumped away, his magic whirling in a panic.

Lord Voldemort had arrived silently with his deadliest lieutenant at his side, apparating directly into Malfoy manor without notice. His magic was glittering perilously, and there was a hungry gleam in his eyes as he looked back and forth between Harry and Ron.

Harry's focus, however, was on the witch who was currently cackling like a mad woman. Harry had never seen Bellatrix's magic before. It was a deep red, like wine, and it moved with a liquid elegance that was strangely dark and mesmerizing. Powerful, Harry could sense that at once. Bellatrix's magic was full of graceful deadliness.

Harry felt a bit overwhelmed for a moment, sensing the magical auras of three people at once which were all so full of emotion. They couldn't have been more different from one another—Ron's a bright orange which was so friendly feeling, Bellatrix's a rich burgundy which made Harry think of velvet, and the Dark Lord's veil of blackness which shimmered with flecks of gold…

Harry almost entirely missed Bellatrix's arm. Her right hand, which Hermione had severed with a dark curse, had been replaced. Unlike Pettigrew's gift of a new limb, however, Bellatrix's was black, like polished gunmetal.

"Ickle Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, together again at last!" she drawled in that atrocious baby voice. "How adorable!"

"Yes…" Voldemort's tone was the exact opposite of Bellatrix's. He spoke in a soft, low murmur, tilting his head to one side as he assessed the two of them. The gleam in his eyes made Harry's stomach twist into knots. "And yet, they look so… incomplete. Don't you agree, Bellatrix? Only two of the three of Dumbledore's little Trio. They look so wrong without their missing puzzle piece. It fills my heart with such… sadness."

Voldemort took a step closer to them, moving with an elegance that bordered on unnatural. Ron and Harry both were too shaken to even think of retreating. "Yes, I think we must do what we can to remedy this terrible tragedy. After all, I like to have the full picture, the complete set… I confess, I have an insatiable interest in collecting rare things… Ah, but you already knew that about me, didn't you? Harry… Ron?"

Ron's face turned a worrisome shade of green when Voldemort call him by his first name. Harry wondered if he, personally, looked any better.

Voldemort smirked. "Bellatrix," he said. "You are dismissed for the time being. I will summon you when we are ready to leave. Be prepared."

"Of course, my Lord," Bellatrix murmured. She bowed deeply before exiting through the same door which the Malfoys had earlier.

Voldemort turned to face his captives again, his eyes bright with excitement. His magic glinted in an almost playful way.

Harry had never been more worried.

Without warning, the Dark Lord grabbed them both, ensnaring Harry's right wrist and Ron's left in each of his hands. A fluttering sensation of that familiar light danced across Harry's skin, slight but irrevocably present. Voldemort looked right at him, smiling deviously.

"This is the part… where things get fun."

They all disapparated.


The three appeared in an unfamiliar chamber.

It reminded Harry somewhat of the Potions classroom at Hogwarts, though that was probably only because there were many shelves full of glass vials, elixirs, and draughts. Harry saw Polyjuice Potion among them, and was that Felix Felicis?

He didn't get a chance to look long. Voldemort released his hold on them once they landed, instantly moving across the room and flicking his wrist at one of the cabinets. The doors flew open, and from within came a fragile, silver instrument which Harry recognized. Dumbledore had used one in front of him in his fifth year, after Mr. Weasley had been attacked…

Harry wondered if this was that same instrument, or if Voldemort had acquired one of his own. The Dark Lord levitated it—completely without the use of his wand—until it rested on a table before him. He looked at it intently for a moment before he finally reached into his robes and withdrew the Deathstick.

Harry and Ron exchanged a terrified look. Ron's face was still an abysmal shade of green.

Then, without explaining what he was doing, Voldemort tapped the surface of the silver instrument where there was a small, shallow basin. Smoke began emanating from within, a silvery gas that looked very different from the puffs of green smoke which Dumbledore had conjured.

The gray mist hovered a few inches over the silver basin. Voldemort watched it with little expression on his face, but his magic whirled, curious and enigmatic.

In a rapid motion, Voldemort had Ron's wrist in his hand again. He held it over the basin and, before he or Harry could so much as draw a breath, slashed the Elder Wand across Ron's palm, cutting into his skin and drawing blood. Ron yelped in pain, and though his body jerked away instinctually, Voldemort easily held him in place.

The blood trailed down Ron's hand and dripped into the mist. The second it did, the gray fog became tinged with red. Voldemort grinned sardonically, casting Ron's arm aside and sending him staggering back towards Harry.

The Dark Lord's eyes never left the mist above the silver instrument.

Harry grabbed Ron by the shoulders to steady him, as he was now visibly shaking. Neither of them said anything as they both became engrossed in whatever it was Voldemort was doing. The red mist began whirling, moving like a living entity that had yet to take form.

"Show me," Voldemort murmured to it. "Trace, hunt, find."

The red fog twitched and a soft, hissing sound emitted from within it. "Oh God," Ron whimpered quietly under his breath. "Oh, God, oh God…."

The mist expanded and grew until it was a cloud of ruby plumes. Its shape was becoming clearer—a serpent, a red snake of smoke. Voldemort watched it avidly. "More," he urged, and the serpentine entity became more solid, a scaly face emerging. It opened its ephemeral mouth, hissing the same word back to Voldemort.

"More…"

Without hesitating, Voldemort had Ron's still-bleeding hand once more over the basin. The ghostly, red serpent unhinged its jaws and tilted its head back, its forked tongue flickering out greedily. Voldemort looked sadistically gleeful as Ron whimpered, more of his blood dripping into the serpent's mouth.

The snake's jaw snapped shut. Ron was cast aside again, and they all watched as the snake deteriorated into something… something human…

There were two of them…

"No," Ron gasped in horror.

Fred and George.

Their likenesses were appearing in the bloody mist, sitting at a table where they hastily rearranged papers. It was like watching a movie made of crimson haze. Voldemort's eyes were shining when they appeared, hissing the word, "Yessss…"

Voldemort then held both hands over the silver instrument, and when he moved them out on either side of him, the scene before them became smaller, like a camera lens which was zooming out, showing a larger picture…

He is going to find out where they are, Harry thought blankly, as they looked down upon what was now an urban, outdoor environment. He is going to find Fred and George.

Voldemort examined the city street for a few seconds. Harry could sense the precise moment when he realized where it was—both by his magic which swirled and the way his grin widened, exposing his teeth predatorily.

He brandished the Deathstick over the bloody fog, and it vanished. The silver instrument looked so small and innocent in its absence.

The Dark Lord then turned his attention to Harry and Ron.

"Don't look so troubled. Ron, you should be happy. You are going to see your charming brothers again."

"No," Ron said, his face no longer tinged with green but a stark white. "No, you can't kill them, you—"

"Kill?" Voldemort's head tilted, his lips curling even further. "You insult me. I do not kill so lightly, though Rapier and Rodent have certainly earned themselves horrible punishments for their transgressions. However… I will not kill them, so long as you two cooperate."

He flashed them both another smile that would have been charming on anybody else. He grabbed Ron by the elbow—much more gently, this time—and quickly healed the wound on his palm. Ron had clearly reached his threshold for terror and panic. He didn't even try and pull away when Voldemort did it, just watched with a blank expression as the cut sealed shut.

"A quick briefing, before we depart," Voldemort said, placing his wand back in his pocket. "You are going to play a very important role in this plan of mine… both of you. I need to make sure you know your lines. So pay close attention. If you so much as utter a single uninstructed word, then there will be death. Is this understood?"

Harry and Ron shared a despairing glance. What else could they possibly say?

"…Yes," Harry finally breathed. Ron swallowed and nodded, unable to speak. Voldemort's magic swelled with pleasure, gold sparkling with exhilaration in a shroud of blackness.

The Dark Lord spoke, and Harry and Ron could do nothing but listen.


They arrived at exactly 3:59.

Voldemort disapparated with both of them, and as if things weren't bad enough, he brought Bellatrix along as well. Harry and Ron clung to each other when they landed, each one gripping the other's forearm like a life line.

There were no wards, there were no sinister enchantments or protective spells—Fred and George were relying completely on the fact that they had chosen a random basement of some muggle building in London to hide themselves. There was nothing at all preventing the Dark Lord from apparating directly into the room which he had just discovered using a brand of blood magic that Harry had never even known existed. Ron's blood, somehow tracing the blood of his siblings through whatever that silver instrument was and dark magic.

Their quiet apparation into the twins' hideout made for quite a scene.

Fred and George were sitting next to each other at a wooden table, papers with scribbled notes and a tall, silver microphone in front of them. The microphone emitted a strange energy; it must have been enchanted to broadcast their show. Fred had just pulled it closer to him, looking like he had been on the verge of speaking when Voldemort appeared before them—their brother and Harry Potter behind him, Bellatrix Lestrange at his side.

Fred's words went unspoken.

It was such a tense and suspended moment that it felt unreal. Fred and George's auras—which were similar to Ron's, only more of a rust-colored red than orange, and Fred's even more so—stilled like frozen static. They both stared with expressions of such disbelief that they did not yet appear to be afraid.

Voldemort and Bellatrix didn't give them the chance to get that far.

Hexes went flying and Fred and George were disarmed, bound, and silenced in seconds. Bellatrix smiled maliciously as she swept them into the corner with a quick and wordless spell. They both attempted to cry out, but no sound left their mouths.

Harry watched miserably as it happened, powerless to stop it. His heart broke as the twins, who had probably thought him dead just moments ago, stared up at him in obvious terror—Harry Potter, alive, at the Dark Lord's side… with eyes that were not his own.

Voldemort touched his shoulder, drawing his attention away from them. He guided both Harry and Ron towards the table, giving them a look that quite clearly said: Obey.

Reluctantly, they did.

Voldemort smiled as he too sat, taking the seat which Fred had just occupied moments ago. Bellatrix remained in the corner, towering over the twins with her wand pointed down at them threateningly.

Harry's stomach was doing summersaults as he sat there, thinking of how many people must be whispering passwords into their radios right now, tuning in to Potterwatch… Hopeful, expectant witches and wizards who were still resisting, who craved to hear the familiar voices of the usual hosts, Rodent and Rapier…and who would instead be met with the cold, cruel voice of Lord Voldemort.

…Hermione would be listening.

Wherever she was, however she was surviving, Hermione would undoubtedly be listening to every word.

Voldemort leaned forward. He looked so casual, sitting with his hands folded on the table in front of him and a smile on his lips. "Good evening," he said smoothly, his magic a dark and lustrous haze.

"…And thank you for listening to the very last broadcast of Potterwatch."

Chapter Text

Voldemort paused after his greeting, presumably to allow the severity of the situation to weigh on all of those who were listening. Harry could feel the blood draining from his face, envisioning Hermione's own reaction in that moment, wherever she was.

"…Though I am sure such clarification is unnecessary, I want there to be no incorrect assumptions made by the end of this broadcast. This is your Lord and ruler speaking. The war is over. The side of the so-called light has lost, and I have won. Resistance is both futile and illegal, and continuing to rebel will result in punishments in accordance to the severity of your crimes. Consider this your official pardoning for listening to an unauthorized broadcast."

Harry's eyes flickered to the floor, where Fred and George were watching the Dark Lord with terror-filled eyes. Guilt pooled in Harry's stomach.

Voldemort continued, and Harry's attention was once more on that shimmering aura which gleamed with such enthusiasm—a liveliness that was in great contrast to his cool composure. "We are entering into a new age… One which requires magical unity. We must stand as one. Witches and wizards between the ages of eleven and seventeen must attend Hogwarts, as education is a pillar for the foundation of the future. Muggle-borns must be registered officially with the Ministry of Magic. We must be far stricter with our ties to muggle society, and take a stronger stance on eliminating the threats which they pose. We are superior, and it is time that we begin the meticulous process of claiming our rightful place in this world. Magic is might."

There was a clear definitiveness to his last words, his magic swelling with a fierce emotion. Harry and Ron shared a despairing look as he leaned a little bit closer to the microphone. His voice, when he spoke next, was slightly but notably softer.

"I speak now, Hermione Granger… directly to you."

Voldemort was silent for a long moment after saying this, holding his fingers to his lips and looking thoughtful. Everyone's magic was reacting in ways that made Harry's head spin—Voldemort's and Bellatrix's whirling in excitement, Ron, Fred, and George's quivering in dread.

"As of this moment, the only crime you stand accused of is refusing to registerand possibly conspiring against the Ministry of Magicthough this remains to be seen." Another short pause. "…Should you turn yourself in, these accusations shall be dealt with in an orderly, peaceful manner. The time for fleeing is past. There is nowhere to run. One way or another, you shall be brought to justice, as shall all who feel they can escape from the might of the Ministry of Magic. I can assure you, however, that the manner in which this occurs will make a very great difference in your judgement. It would be in your best interests to surrender willfully."

Voldemort's declaration that Hermione had only committed one crime with certainty was loaded with insinuations; as far as the current regime was concerned, this could not be further from the truth. Hermione Granger had definitely conspired against the Ministry, for a long time—not to mention that she'd blasted off Bellatrix's arm, blown up a portion of the Forbidden Forest, and disappeared right in front of the Dark Lord in a flash of phoenix fire.

Of course, Voldemort would never admit that a muggle-born had managed such things to the public.

What the Dark Lord was essentially saying to Hermione with this statement was, 'I may not kill you for everything that you have done, but the only possibility for this outcome is that you surrender at once.'

Harry knew that the last thing Voldemort wanted was Hermione Granger to remain outside of his grasp, carrying on the resistance. No matter how much he hated her and would discriminate against her for the order of her birth, there was no denying that Hermione Granger was a threat.

"I understand that this is a very daunting decision," Voldemort went on. "The greatest one you shall ever make in your life, in fact. Such choices should not be made lightly. Because I am merciful, I am granting you the opportunity to consider your options for a time. Sleep on it."

His lips curled into the tiniest smirk, waiting several seconds before he continued. "Should you come to the wise decision to surrender, this is how you shall do so. Tomorrow, between the hours of eight and nine in the morning, go to the place in which you first found solace when you fled the wedding of Bill and Fleur Weasley. Go to the counter, where a muggle woman with dark hair will be working. Order anything you like.

"She will go into the back room and return to you with a portkey. It shall be an item you will recognize… and it will recognize you as well. It is a very special portkey, one which only you can activate, and one which requires not just a touch or a moment in time, but a very specific action in order to become activated. You're a smart girl; I trust that you shall figure out what this action is without issue."

Bellatrix failed to suppress a short, quiet laugh at this. Harry wondered whether it was loud enough to carry to the microphone, if Hermione could hear the shrill sound. Voldemort didn't seem concerned either way. "Once you have completed this small but meaningful task, the portkey shall activate, bringing you… to us."

Voldemort folded his hands on the table and looked meaningfully at Ron, whose face was pale as a ghost. He seemed paralyzed under Voldemort's stare, and Harry felt a thrill of terror when Voldemort's magic immediately twitched, impatient. If he or Ron screwed this up, Voldemort would have no issue giving Bellatrix the command to kill Fred or George.

Harry touched Ron's shoulder, drawing his focus away from the glower of Lord Voldemort to him. He nodded encouragingly, hoping that, despite his crimson eyes that were hardly reassuring, Ron would find the courage to persevere.

It worked. Ron nodded back, leaning closer to the microphone and speaking into it with a voice that was surprisingly level. "Hermione," he started, and his eyes instantly welled with tears when he said her name.

Harry had to look away; the emotion in Ron's face and magic all too much. He could just imagine Hermione right now, her hand flying to her mouth when she heard Ron's voice coming from the radio, right after hearing the Dark Lord's.

"It's… It's not what you think. What we thought," he said. "We were wrong, Hermione. I see that now. It was all explained to me properly before my trial. The Ministry's new regime actually makes a lot of sense. The muggle-borns aren't being registered as some means of repression, it's for the good of everyone. We don't fully understand spontaneous magic, so it's important that such individuals are documented and studied. It's to make sure that it isn't dangerous—it's for everyone's safety, including the muggle-borns themselves."

He glanced at the Dark Lord, who nodded his approval. Ron turned back to the microphone, looking anything but relieved. "…I know that you're scared, but you don't have to be. The war is over, Hermione. If you just surrender and follow protocol, you'll be safe. You don't need to be afraid."

A tear slid down Ron's face. He quickly wiped it away, forcing himself to finish. "The Dark Lord is merciful. Even though I was accused of treason, my sentence was light. Beneficial, even. Working within the Ministry will be enlightening and rewarding… I even get to spend all day, every day with my brother. You know how much I love Percy."

For the briefest moment, Ron grinned, a slap-happy look on his face. Voldemort shot him a warning glare, and the smile vanished at once. "I-I'm grateful," he said hurriedly, his voice going up an octave. "So grateful, and… And I'm sure that if mercy can be granted to me, then it will be granted to you too. I'll be here for you, Hermione. You don't need to run anymore."

He fell silent. Voldemort's eyes locked onto Harry's, his black aura glittering in expectation.

Harry and Ron were both fully aware that Hermione would not believe a single word that Ron had just said—as was the Dark Lord. This was all according to Voldemort's plan, though—everyone else who was listening might take Ron's words at face value, but some, especially Hermione, would hear the real message.

This was Voldemort's way of saying, 'I have Ron Weasley, and I can and will do far, far worse things to him than make him act as my puppet if you don't submit.'

And maybe, if it were just Ron speaking, it wouldn't work. He and Hermione had essentially made a suicide pact, after all. They'd agreed to take each other out if it ever looked like they would become kidnapped.

But Hermione had failed and gone on the run instead, because she was pregnant—a fact which the Dark Lord was currently unaware of. Still, Harry thought that she might not give in if it was only Ron, because he knew that she would know that Ron would never, ever want her to turn herself in, no matter what he was forced to do. She would know that Ron would want her to run away, to leave the country and never look back.

But it wasn't just Ron speaking.

Harry's heart sank as he pictured her, alone and terrified, staring at the radio with tears in her eyes. Right now, at this very moment, Hermione still thought Harry was dead. And while most of the people listening would probably not recognize Harry's voice… Hermione would.

Harry took a deep breath, his heart aching as he prepared to deliver the one line that could possibly make Voldemort persuade her.

Because Hermione had never once abandoned Harry. Not once.

"Hermione," he said, his voice raw and shaking. Voldemort's aura was dancing in satisfaction because of it—the more broken Harry sounded with his plea, the better.

"…Please come home."

Voldemort raised his wand and flicked it at the microphone, effectively vanishing it. All across the country, the Potterwatch broadcast would be turning back to music, to static, to radio silence.

"Very good," the Dark Lord purred, standing and looking back and forth from his two captives with a crooked smile on his face. Bellatrix laughed, and he turned his attention towards the two struggling, silenced wizards on the floor.

"Thank you, gentlemen, for letting me commandeer your little radio show. Now, what to do with you…"

Fred and George inched away from Voldemort as much as they could in their bindings. "You said you wouldn't kill them!" Harry yelled, jumping to his feet. "You promised you wouldn't if we did everything you said!"

Ron got up as well, but he only nodded, unable to raise his voice to the Dark Lord in the same manner that Harry could. Voldemort stared at Harry, eyes flickering thoughtfully across his face. Harry got the feeling that he was resisting the urge to touch him, his aura darkening with a hunger that Harry was growing disturbingly accustomed to.

Though he would never do such a thing in front of anyone else, surely. "I know I have said it before, and that you are fully aware of it, by now…" the Dark Lord murmured, smirking.

"But fate truly does favor Lord Voldemort."

A series of cracks made Harry and Ron both jump; Ron let out a whimper of surprise and grabbed Harry's arm. Three wizards whom Harry could only assume were Snatchers appeared. The moment they realized that it was Voldemort himself who had summoned them, they all fell to one knee, looking terrified to be in the Lord's presence so unexpectedly.

"Place these two men under arrest, for the crimes of treason by broadcasting an unauthorized radio program in opposition of the Ministry of Magic," he said calmly. The Snatchers quickly nodded and got to their feet, obeying without question. Harry, though he desperately wanted to, didn't voice his protests—not yet.

He would get them out of this. Harry would, somehow, in some way, save Fred and George from a life spent in Azkaban. He had managed to save Ron, he could do the same for them.

…He was unsure if he would be able to do the same for Hermione.

"Bellatrix," the Dark Lord said once Fred, George, and the Snatchers were gone. "You know what to do."

"Of course, my Lord." Bellatrix bowed reverently before looking at her master with deepest adoration. "At once."

Voldemort nodded, and with that gesture, Bellatrix disapparated. Harry wondered wildly what he'd sent her to do, certain that it was nothing good.

The Dark Lord was smiling when he turned back to Harry and Ron. He put a hand on each of their shoulders, like some mockery of a proud parent who was pleased with how his children had performed. "Shall we?" he said, eyes glittering. "Ron?" he added, because he seemed to derive a sick sense of gratification at the way Ron's face turned putrid colors whenever he said his name.

Without waiting for a response, the three vanished, leaving the empty basement behind.


They arrived, to Harry's surprise, back in the bedroom he'd been staying in. Ron looked equally bewildered. He seemed at the end of his rope, so overwhelmed with suspense and confusion as he was.

Voldemort clearly didn't care. He lifted his hands from their shoulders when they landed, and Ron instantly back several paces away, bumping into the vanity and scaring himself when he spotted what was only his own reflection. It promptly told him he looked a right mess.

Harry half-wished Ron wasn't there. He had a feeling that the Dark Lord in the presence of someone else would act very differently than if it were just them.

"I shall be leaving you two here," Voldemort said calmly. "The door is open. The Malfoys are aware that you shall be staying with them for an indefinite amount of time; Narcissa shall be with you shortly. As there is no possibility that Hermione Granger shall be arriving before eight in the morning tomorrow, I shall not return until that time. I would recommend that you rest."

He turned, surely just about to disappear again, when Harry reached out and grabbed his wrist. It was an instinctual reaction that surprised even him when he succeeded. Voldemort glared at his daring, yet at the same time, his magic reeled, darkening with a sense of need that he was currently repressing.

There was no light or warmth now, though. "Wait," Harry said, heart pounding. He couldn't stomach the thought of Voldemort leaving without some kind of reassurance, as unlikely as he was to get it. His mind raced as he tried to come up with something to say to make him stay. "Why did you do it like that?" he asked. "Why make her wait until tomorrow? Is it… Is it just because you like the idea of her freaking out all night, or something?"

Harry's voice, which had started so hesitantly, was a furious growl by the end of his last question. Voldemort smirked, deftly twisting his wrist so that he was the one holding onto Harry instead. Ron watched the interaction with a frightened look on his face. "Because coffee shops close in the evenings, Harry, and it would look strange to have an Imperiused muggle operating on my orders at night," Voldemort said condescendingly, like one explaining something to a small child. "That, and I have other matters to attend to before that time."

"…Oh." Harry hated that this simple explanation made his face burn. He tried desperately to stop himself from blushing. "Er—what is the portkey? What will she have to do?" he went on quickly.

Voldemort was already growing irritated by his questions. "It is unimportant. If we are fortunate, you shall know tomorrow."

He released Harry's hand. "Wait!" Harry shouted again, making Voldemort glare but pause. "I'm sorry, I just—what was that magic? That silver thing you used, with the fog and the snake? I've n-never seen such magic performed before. It was incredible."

Harry knew he'd struck success. Voldemort's annoyed expression softened only slightly, but his magic swelled at the word 'incredible'. Harry repressed a grin—the Dark Lord truly was extremely arrogant.

He also ignored Ron's boggled expression, who was staring at Harry like he'd just sprouted an extra head. "That was a Circuitus," Voldemort explained. "An extremely rare and powerful magical object. Dumbledore held one of very few in existence. They are generally used to confirm abstract ideas and visions, but they can be…persuaded to give more information, if the wizard is skilled enough and the right ingredients provided."

"Like blood," Harry murmured, glancing at Ron.

"Yes," Voldemort agreed. "Blood magic is a very powerful brand of sorcery. It can forge connections, create unbreakable bonds, bridge gaps… That method of finding his brothers worked especially well, because they share two parents. Their blood is very similar."

"Would it have worked, otherwise?" Harry said, dreading the answer. "Like… If they had only shared one parent...?"

"It may not have been as quick or simple, but yes, ultimately—under my influence, at least. Though it is easier with direct siblings, or parents and their children..."

Ron fainted.

It happened so quickly that Harry hadn't been able to even try and catch him. One moment, he was standing there, looking sickly but steady; the next, he was on the floor, the back of his skull hitting the wood with an unnervingly loud thud which sounded very much like a bowling ball being dropped.

"Shit! Ron!" Harry fell to his knees at his side. He slapped his face a few times, trying to rouse him, but it was no use. Ron was out cold.

"I think you may have killed him," Harry said, though he was fairly sure that this was untrue. Though he was undoubtedly unconscious, Ron was breathing normally, and his magic was still present.

Voldemort looked bored. "If merely being in my presence killed him, then he was hardly worth keeping alive in the first place," he drawled.

Harry glared at him. "I'm serious. He's probably very injured."

"Probably." Voldemort offered up nothing else in consideration of Ron. "I have more important matters to tend to. I know it may come as a shock to you, Harry, but you are not my only concern."

Harry stood, realizing suddenly that Ron passing out may have been a blessing in disguise. "No," he said, agreeing with the Dark Lord, "I'm sure I'm not. Just the most... fascinating one."

He held his breath, wondering if Voldemort would take the bait or not. His scarlet eyes darted down to Ron again, like he was making sure that he truly was unconscious. Seemingly satisfied, he refocused on Harry. "Yes," he agreed, stepping closer to him. His dark magic glittered and whirled.

"…I would never deny that."

Then he was holding Harry's face in his hands, touching his forehead to his and bringing forth such a powerful wave of light that Harry's knees almost buckled. Voldemort sighed, drinking in the sensation of it all, basking in the feeling of wholeness.

Harry didn't say or do anything for a time, just closed his eyes and let Voldemort relish the respite which his intact soul offered. It was difficult to keep his own mind level, despite the temptation to also sink into that warmth in a state of complete thoughtlessness.

He had to focus.

It was bizarre how difficult it was for Harry to act, then. He'd flown past dragons, he'd faced off against dementors, he'd escaped inferi—he'd even reached out and touched the Dark Lord of his own volition before. But there was something about this moment which was more frightening than all of those memories combined. Perhaps it was because Harry moved with an underhanded intent, this time. With purpose.

Harry slowly raised one hand, trembling as he placed it on the Dark Lord's neck. The warmth escalated at the increased contact, so pleasant and inviting. Harry wondered if Voldemort could feel his emotions through all of the blissful light, if he could sense Harry's nervousness. Probably. Harry wasn't sure if that would work in his favor or not.

"You won't just leave them there, will you?" he asked quietly, their foreheads still touching, his eyes still closed. "You won't damn them to Azkaban forever?"

Voldemort didn't respond for a long time. Harry waited, expecting the warmth to abruptly vanish at any moment, for the Dark Lord to release him, tell him that he would do whatever he damn well pleased, and leave Harry alone with his friend who was probably experiencing a concussion to drown in anxiety for the night.

"…No."

Voldemort's reply was the softest whisper. Harry could feel the heat of his breath, making his heart beat faster. And then, before Harry could process that response and what it meant, he was lost.

Voldemort closed the small gap between them, claiming his lips in a gentle, severely uncharacteristic manner. The warmth that exploded at the contact was overwhelming. Harry gasped, and when his lips parted with the sound Voldemort's tongue dove in, taking advantage, claiming his mouth and—

Oh, God.

This had never happened before. They had never touched in such an intimate way while Voldemort was calling forth that light, tapping into the connection to Harry's soul which the horcrux provided. It was such a powerful sensation that Harry's spine felt like it had been lit on fire, hot, electric currents shooting throughout his body.

His knees did buckle, then. Voldemort easily caught him around the waist, his magic amplifying, glittering in a haze of lust and wrapping around Harry with a pressing sense of possessiveness.

Unsure of how it had happened, Harry found himself with his back against the wall. The Dark Lord was holding him against it and ravaging his mouth, his nails digging into his hips, his magic darkening, wanting more, more, more

A low, pain-filled groan caused Voldemort to stop what he was doing and turn, the light and warmth dissipating as he released his vicious hold on Harry and stepped away. Ron had moaned, though his eyes were still closed and he did not appear to be cognizant.

Harry, who hadn't been standing on his own, slid to the floor: the second time that he'd been reduced to such a state after being ravaged by Voldemort—though at least there was no blood this time around. Harry was panting, feeling far too overheated for it to mean anything good. Voldemort looked down at him with a blank expression on his face.

His magic however, told a very different story. It was vibrating and glinting, emitting a plethora of emotions that tangled together confusedly—a slight amount of shame that he had just lost control of himself like that, a sense of both relief and spite, simultaneously, that they'd been interrupted, and then, mostly, overpoweringly—

Oh, god.

"…You are not my only concern," he repeated, but it sounded like he was saying it more to himself than to Harry.

He disappeared.

In his absence, Harry realized what a dangerous game he had begun.

Chapter Text

Harry's skin felt like it was on fire. He sat with his back against the wall, his thoughts racing with revelations that were as shocking as they were unwelcome. Harry's heart was still pounding as he forced his mind not to wander into dark, dangerous places where it should never dare togo.

Unwelcome, Harry said to himself with decisiveness. Absolutely unwelcome.

Feeling too unsteady to stand, Harry crawled the short distance on the floor so that he was next to Ron, then sprawled out on his back next to him. Ron was passed out, but Harry was confident that he was fine—physically, anyway. His magic was undulating in a peaceful manner, and Harry was pretty sure that if he was in mortal peril, this would not be the case.

Harry sighed heavily. "What a shit situation we're in, Ron," he muttered, and even though his companion was not conscious, it did feel nice to have Ron by his side again.

They were not left alone for long. Only a few moments passed before there was a soft knock at the door and Narcissa entered. Her deep, navy aura was beautiful.

It became worried, however, when she spotted Harry on the floor next to an unconscious Ronald Weasley. "'Lo," Harry said while still on his back, too tired to attempt being polite.

"Oh, my—what's happened to him? To you?"

She rushed over so that she was kneeling beside Harry, who at least had the decency to sit up then. "I'm fine," he said, forcing a smile. "And I think he's all right, too—Ron just sort of, er, passed out. From shock," he clarified.

"Oh." Narcissa frowned and retracted her wand, pausing before waving it over Ron with intricate wrist movements, saying nothing. After a moment, his body began to glow a dull, greenish color. It was a light that traveled up and down his spine before turning white, then dissipating.

"He's not suffering any internal damage," Narcissa said, interpreting that bit of magic. "He's just unconscious—like being hit with a powerful stunning spell. I could wake him up…?"

Harry shook his head. "I think it may be kinder to just let him stay unconscious."

"I think you may be right," Narcissa agreed. She stood and reached down, helping Harry to his feet before pointing her wand at Ron again. Narcissa slowly levitated Ron into the air, before gently and quickly guiding his body so that he was laying on the bed which Harry had slept in last night. It was made now, Harry realized suddenly.

Narcissa moved him so skillfully that Ron didn't even twitch when he landed on top of the comforter, his head on a pillow and looking deceptively peaceful. "You're really good at that," Harry commented.

Narcissa smiled and pocketed her wand. "Wordless spell-casting is one of my specialties," she said. She then crossed her arms and looked at Harry, her expression very judgmental. "You need to eat."

Harry almost laughed at the motherly tone. "I don't know if I—"

Narcissa cut him off with the clicking of her tongue, waved her wand, and conjured up a chair and a tray with a bowl of soup on it, as well as a tea kettle and a cup. "I made this earlier," she said, motioning for him to sit. "It's broth, you should be able to drink it easily enough. And you definitely need to take another one of these."

She pointed towards a nutrition elixir, which sat at the edge of the tray. Harry felt nauseous at just the sight of it. "Maybe two," she added, giving Harry another scrutinizing look.

"Please don't make me."

Narcissa's lip twitched. "All right, just one—but only if you finish the soup. And I'm not leaving until you do."

Harry laughed as she conjured another chair and sat across from him. "Yes, ma'am," he said.

"Narcissa," she corrected, fixing him with a stern look—one which didn't soften until Harry picked up the spoon and started eating the broth dutifully. Narcissa smiled, then, and her posture relaxed. "Have I ever told you about my sorting?"

Harry's brows rose in surprise at the question, as they both knew that she hadn't. Clearly, she was just asking so that she could tell him another story.

Harry grinned as he listened to Narcissa, who told him all about her first time walking into Hogwarts, and how the hat had truly considered putting her in Hufflepuff, telling her that she had a very gentle, loyal heart, deep down—a declaration which had terrified the eleven-year-old girl, who begged to be placed in Slytherin. Eventually, the hat obliged, and Narcissa Black went on to not disappoint her family.

Harry almost told her about his own, questionable sorting, but decided against it.

"It's our choice, in the end," Narcissa finished, staring detachedly at Ron's sleeping form. "No matter what our inclinations are, we make the final decision… and it's those choices that make all the difference."


Narcissa eventually left them, though not before she offered to show Harry around the house and to another bedroom. Harry declined, not wanting to leave Ron's side in case he woke up.

Time seemed to be moving at an unnaturally slow pace. Harry stared at the clock, lamenting that it was only ten in the evening. He sat on the foot of the bed and sighed, looking at Ron with an intense jealousy. What he wouldn't give to just pass out and feel nothing for a while.

As though the thought had struck him, Ron's magic stirred. He groaned softly and his muscles tensed. He was waking up.

Harry moved so that he was standing at the side of the bed, but he wasn't the first thing that Ron saw when his eyes flew open. Ron looked up, and upon seeing his own reflection directly above him, he did what Harry had. Ron screamed, and it was the highest, most feminine sound that Harry had ever heard come out of Ron's mouth. His orange cloud of magic fluctuated in sporadic bursts.

"Ron! It's—"

Harry was interrupted when Ron shot up and looked at him—Harry Potter with his bright, red eyes—and screamed again. He jumped so badly with fright that he fell off the bed, landing with a thud and taking the whole comforter and several pillows with him.

Harry couldn't help it. He laughed.

He knew there was nothing funny about their situation at all, but watching Ron wake up and scream like a ten-year-old girl was easily the funniest thing he'd witnessed in a long time. Harry laughed so hard that he was doubled over, almost falling to the floor as well.

Ron eventually gathered himself enough to stand, trying to look angry but failing. Harry stopped laughing, but couldn't wipe the massive grin from his face. "Are you okay?" he asked, like he hadn't just found Ron's tumble hilarious.

"Oh, yeah," Ron drawled, rubbing the back of his head. "Never better."

There was a beat of silence before they both started laughing. Harry suspected there was something irreparably wrong with the pair of them, to find humor in anything, all things considered.

"Why is there a mirror up there!?" Ron exclaimed, dumbfounded. "Whose room is this?"

"I don't know," Harry answered. "I don't know much of anything, to be honest. I try not to ask questions when I can stop myself."

Ron shook his head and sat. "Blimey, I think I just had three heart attacks in a row… Shame it didn't kill me," he murmured. He looked up at his reflection mournfully.

"Don't say that," Harry said as he sat next to him.

"My head feels like it's been hit with a bludger. What happened?"

"You uh, passed out. Pretty spectacularly, might I add. I didn't get a chance to try and catch you before your head hit the floor."

Ron frowned, looking thoughtful, until his face suddenly paled as it all came rushing back to him. He looked about the room, like he thought the Dark Lord might still be there, lurking in the corner.

Which wasn't exactly out of character for the Dark Lord, but Harry chose not to voice that unhappy fact. "He left," Harry said, and Ron exhaled in relief. "It's just us… Until the morning, I imagine."

"Shit," Ron said, looking at the clock. "Harry, what's going to happen, if she actually does what he said? If she comes here?"

Harry didn't give him an answer. He didn't have one. "And… and the fact that she's pregnant," he went on, looking haunted. "I-if you-know-who finds out about that, then can't he…?"

His voice trailed off, but Harry didn't need him to finish his question to know what he was thinking. Would Voldemort be able to find Hermione while she was pregnant, using that same brand of dark magic he had used to find the twins?

"I don't know," Harry said. "I… I guess that depends…?"

Ron looked at Harry imploringly, grabbing his shoulder uncomfortably tight. "When do they have blood of their own? How does magic differentiate between individuals like that? When does a-a fetus become a person with a soul and blood and magic of its own?"

"I don't know," Harry repeated. "But that is a very, very loaded question, and I kind of want to stay as far away from it as possible."

"She's doomed, Harry," Ron lamented. "She's doomed! If she doesn't come tomorrow—and she probably won't—then you-know-who will eventually find out, and he'll track her down, and then that will be it! Unless…"

He released Harry's shoulder's, looking suddenly hopeful. "Unless, you think she might know about that kind of magic? Maybe she's aware that people can be tracked using blood like that, and she'll, you know… terminate the pregnancy before it's too late?"

Harry's jaw dropped, unable to respond to that for a moment.

Harry doubted that Hermione knew about that specific type of dark magic, despite all her vast knowledge. Voldemort himself had said that the silver object he'd used was a rare one, that Dumbledore had one of very few Circuituses in the world. The likelihood of what Ron was hoping for seemed very improbable: that Hermione would terminate the pregnancy, go on the run, and never get caught by the Dark Lord... especially considering that the reason Hermione had run in the first place was because she was pregnant.

Yet this was clearly the hope which Ron was clinging to. Harry didn't have the heart to disagree. "Maybe," he said, trying to sound genuine. "This is Hermione we're talking about, here."

"Yeah," Ron said, nodding. "Yeah, she… She might know. She could still get away… But… Harry, what if she does come here?"

"He'll keep his word," Harry said firmly, though he was uncertain. "He will."

"That's rubbish," Ron muttered. "You know he'll probably just kill her anyway. Despite whatever he's told you, even if she does come willingly and surrender…"

Ron's eyes were hollow as he stared at the floor. Harry wanted to say something, anything to wipe the pained expression from his face, but he couldn't find it in himself to do so.

He couldn't, because he knew that Ron was right. The possibility that Voldemort would decide to rid himself of the threat of Hermione Granger permanently was very real.

"I never thought I'd say this," Ron continued when Harry remained silent. He looked up, and the tiny smile he gave was heartbreaking.

"I hope I never see Hermione again."

"Me too," Harry whispered.

They were quiet for a long time. Ron wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. When he glanced at Harry again, he flinched. "Merlin, those are creepy. It's hard to look at you, mate." It wasn't difficult to figure out that he was talking about Harry's delightful new eyes. Ron frowned and pointed at his face. "Also—that's impossible."

"Sorry?"

"That. Your eyes, your vision being fixed. It's not possible. Magic can't fix bad eyesight. Do you think wizards like my brother and dad would wear glasses if they didn't have to? It's not possible."

Ron stared at Harry's face with an intense look, like he might be able to make Harry's eyes turn green again by sheer force of will.

"Er," Harry said, unsure of how to proceed.

"I reject this reality," Ron announced.

Harry laughed, unable not to at Ron's overly serious expression. Ron smiled too, and dropped his arm. "This is all so fucked, Harry," he said. "Nothing makes sense anymore. People don't even look the same! What the hell is going on with you-know-who? How'd he get a new body—again?"

"Dunno," Harry lied.

Ron shuddered like he'd just gotten a chill. "You know, I think he's scarier now than when he looked like he was part snake," he admitted. "It's so freaky, seeing someone that looks almost human but then has those fucking crazy eyes. Sorry," he added, seeing as Harry now had them as well.

"I'm not offended," Harry muttered darkly.

"But he is, isn't he? Creepier now, I mean," Ron went on. "He's fucking terrifying. Being on trial with him staring down on me was the scariest experience of my life."

Ron grabbed his hair with both hands in frustration. "He's just such a conniving bastard!" he exclaimed, suddenly angry instead of afraid. "Everything he does, everything he says! And it's not just what he does, it's how he does it, you know? Like, everything he said on that broadcast was so precise, worded so that no one else would be able to figure out what place he was talking about, so that no one listening could conceivably go there to stop her. Only you, me, and Hermione know it's that muggle coffee shop. And what did he mean, when he was talking about the portkey? What does he want her to do?"

It was a thought that had been plaguing Harry too. He honestly had no idea.

"Well, with any luck she'll never have to figure it out, because hopefully she doesn't go," Ron went on when Harry said nothing. "I hope she just... gets rid of the baby and disappears, hiding somewhere far, far away from here."

Harry murmured in agreement.

"…You know she won't though," Ron said, morbid. "Hermione would never just run away. She'll stick around, she'll find what's left of the Order and start rebuilding a resistance. You know that's what she'll do, if she doesn't come."

Harry did know that. He hadn't wanted to voice his opinion on the matter, preferring to let Ron cling to the thought that she might flee—but they both knew Hermione Granger too well. If she did not surrender for the potential safety of her friends and unborn child, then she would fight the Dark Lord and his new regime tooth and nail, to the death.

"Yeah," Harry said, his voice hoarse. "Yeah. I know."

They didn't talk anymore, after that. The two sat in silence, unable to sleep and watching the clock as time slipped away, each second bringing them closer to what would either be the true end of the war, or the beginning of a new one.


They were gathered in the foyer.

Narcissa had come to get them at half past seven that morning, wordlessly guiding them to the hall in the front of the manor where, presumably, the portkey would bring Hermione—if she chose to take it.

Lucius, Draco, and Bellatrix were there too. The Malfoys were standing against the wall like they wanted to be anywhere else but in their own home. Draco adamantly did not look at them when Harry and Ron entered, keeping his gaze firmly on the chandelier above him.

Then there was Voldemort.

The Dark Lord was standing in the center of the hall with his eyes closed. It was the exact same stance he'd taken in the Forbidden Forest and again in Azkaban, like he was deep in prayer. The Deathstick was held between his fingers, black against white. His magic was still.

Bellatrix was at his side, her own magic quivering with excitement. When Harry and Ron entered with Narcissa, she smiled maliciously at them. Harry's blood boiled at the sight.

Voldemort did not even open his eyes upon their arrival, looking as lifeless and cold as a marble sculpture.

They waited.

Harry and Ron stood a few feet away from the Malfoys, near the wall to the left of the Dark Lord. Narcissa grabbed both her husband's and her son's hands, looking extremely stressed.

For a moment, Harry was distracted from his anxiety by their magic. Narcissa's dark and calming navy, Lucius's, which was a light, silvery gray, and Draco's, which was lighter even still, like clouds and light. Their auras melded together when they were close, almost familiarly. It was strange and beautiful.

The clock struck eight.

Hermione did not appear.

Harry was certain in that moment that this meant she would not come at all.

Hermione was punctual if nothing else, and he was sure that she had probably come to a decision last night about which course of action she would take. The fact that she did not arrive right when she could have made Harry think that she had chosen to fight.

But, then again, he was unsure of what Voldemort required that she do to trigger the portkey. Maybe it was something that took some time.

They waited.

Five minutes, ten minutes minutes, twenty minutes. They all glanced continuously at the clock on the wall, growing more nervous as time went on. Bellatrix began pacing, her heels clicking against the wooden floor like a metronome. The Malfoys eventually sat, sitting around a small table in the corner. Harry and Ron remained standing, their backs leaning against the wall. Only Voldemort remained standing, perfectly still, his magic unmoving. It was the longest hour of Harry's life. It seemed infinitely longer than the hour he had been given to answer the Dark Lord's summons, back when he had made his way through the Forbidden Forest, prepared to die.

It was not until five minutes to nine that Voldemort's aura started to stir.

The cloud of glittering gold and black began to twitch, irritated, angry. Even though Harry was the only one who could sense it so precisely, everyone else must have felt the sinister energy emanating from him as well. Draco, who had been staring at the chandelier again, fidgeted in his seat. Lucius and Narcissa shared despairing looks. Bellatrix stopped pacing.

Harry and Ron grabbed each other's forearms at the same time. Time was almost up.

Everyone waited with baited breath. Voldemort did not open his eyes until there was one minute left. His magic was moving, whirling and furious, but his posture remained rigid.

The clock struck nine.

"She did not come," he hissed, his voice icy and soft.

Everyone in the room looked terrified, each wondering who would be the one to suffer the wrath of Voldemort's displeasure. Harry shifted so that Ron was behind him, as he had a dark feeling about who that person might be.

Harry knew what Voldemort's next line would be before he said it. The Dark Lord opened his eyes, not looking at anyone when he spoke.

"I thought she would come."

No one breathed.

The walls started screaming.

Harry's hands flew to his ears, the cry was so shrill and high. It was a familiar shriek—a caterwauling curse. It emanated all around them, like Malfoy manor was a living, tormented entity. The Malfoys all jumped to their feet at the sound, looking horrified and backing away, Narcissa clinging to Draco protectively. Bellatrix, however, started laughing, and Voldemort…

Such a sinister smile could only mean one thing.

Harry thought he might faint, the panic which gripped him was so strong. It was only Ron's hand clasping his arm that kept him grounded, trapped in this moment, this nightmare. A loud crack resounded in the hall. The screaming ceased, and Bellatrix stopped laughing.

There she was.

Hermione had appeared in the center of the foyer, and in her hand she held…

A knife?

Hermione was holding a blade in her right hand, and it was dripping with blood. Harry stared, shocked as his eyes flickered to her other arm, which had the sleeve ripped off and was bleeding profusely.

Mudblood.

The knife had been the portkey.

Harry felt bile clawing at the back of his throat. Voldemort had not only required that Hermione cut herself to activate the portkey—the knife which would recognize her by her blood—but had forced her to re-carve the entirety of the word into her arm, the scar she could not rid herself of, which Bellatrix Lestrange had branded onto her forever.

Mudblood.

She looked horrible.

Hermione's skin was pale and tinged a slight blue color, unnatural and sickly. Upon seeing her, Harry was suddenly stuck with a memory, an old man's voice echoing in his head as though from a different life:

"Oh, surely not. So crude… Blood…"

Harry thought he might be sick.

Hermione dropped the knife, looking frail, but somehow standing tall. Despite her awful appearance, what caught Harry most off guard was her magic. It was a deep, reddish violet, and though it was currently in a weakened state, it moved and looked very similar to Bellatrix's magic.

Very similar.

"Ha!"

With a flourish and a shout, Bellatrix cast a spell, and a wand came flying from Hermione's pocket—Bellatrix's wand. It soared straight into the dark witch's outstretched, metallic hand, and the moment she caught it her magic danced in triumph. Her wand, too, emitted a bright and vibrant aura—back in its rightful master's possession once more.

"No!" Ron screamed, rushing forward. "Hermione, no! No!"

"Take him to the cells," Voldemort commanded, his eyes never straying from Hermione. Instantly, Bellatrix obeyed, hitting Ron with a curse which bound and gagged him in a flash. Harry had to fight the powerful urge to try and help him, knowing that doing so could only make the situation worse. He watched helplessly as Bellatrix laughed and dragged Ron from the room with a spell, who struggled against his constraints in vain, his shouts stifled.

Hermione never looked at him.

Not when he screamed, not when Bellatrix hexed him. The moment Hermione appeared in Malfoy manor, her eyes had only flickered for a moment to Harry's before landing on Voldemort's, and she hadn't looked away yet.

Voldemort's eyes were gleaming.

His magic was an energetic cloud of black, glistening and whirling. Harry looked back and forth between the two, his heart pounding as he realized what must be happening. Voldemort was using Legilimency, seeing Hermione's thoughts, delving into her mind.

By the way that Hermione was standing there, staring back at him unflinchingly, it was clear that she was putting up no resistance whatsoever. Right now, a silent, one-sided conversation was happening. Right now, in this moment, Voldemort was deciding Hermione Granger's fate.

The Dark Lord's magic only became more spirited as time went on. His smile became more sinister, almost demonic. Whatever it was he was seeing, it pleased him immensely.

"…Hermione Granger."

Voldemort's voice was soft and disarming. Harry nearly lost it, barely resisting the overwhelming impulse to throw himself in front of her, to protect her, to do something, but he knew doing anything at all would have the opposite effect. If Harry did a single thing to anger Voldemort now, he might kill her just out of spite.

Hermione didn't wince or react whatsoever when Voldemort said her name, like Ron always did. She only stood and waited, her chin out and her arm dripping blood on the floor.

Mudblood.

"Are you familiar with the phrase, 'Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer'?" the Dark Lord asked.

Hermione was quiet for a moment. "…Yes," she eventually said, her voice cracking and raw. Then her lips curled into a tiny smirk.

"A muggle man said that."

Narcissa gasped and Lucius pulled his wife and son closer to him. Harry's jaw dropped, both amazed at Hermione's daring and horrified that she would say such a thing.

Astoundingly, the Dark Lord only smiled. "Correct," he murmured, stepping closer to her. His eyes flickered down to Hermione's injured arm, his magic whirling hungrily. His smile widened.

"Five points to Gryffindor."

Voldemort grabbed her wrist like a viper ensnaring its prey, and pressed the Elder Wand to her left forearm. For a wild, fractional moment, Harry thought he was going to heal her.

He was only partially right.

"Morsmordre."

Hermione's knees buckled and she screamed, a blood-curdling cry that was far worse than the caterwauling curse.

No.

Harry watched in absolute disbelief as the bleeding cuts were covered with what looked like black ink swirling on her skin, forming into a serpent which protruded from the mouth of a skull. He shook his head, his hands in his hair, unable to process even as he witnessed it happening, because Voldemort could not be branding Hermione with the Dark Mark, it could not be

"You belong to me, now," the Dark Lord hissed, dropping Hermione's arm. She fell to the floor, howling in pain. Voldemort flicked his wand and the scream was stolen from her throat, silenced. "Your mind is mine. Your every thought, your every idea, your every concern, is mine."

Voldemort's magic was building, swelling with his power, suffocating. The Malfoys were all cowering together, shaking while they watched with huge eyes, as shocked and as terrified as Harry was.

"There is nowhere in this world where you can run from me. There will never be one moment in which you could hope to escape from my ownership. You are mine, and your obedience will be absolute. The very second you think to cross me, you will remember."

Hermione was clutching at her arm, still screaming in agony, though no sound came out. Voldemort towered over her, his magic continuing to build to monstrous proportions, infecting the hall with his crushing power. Unnatural winds stirred the air, causing the chandelier to shimmer and shake.

"The moment you think to undermine me, you will remember your filthy, muggle parents in Australia, and how I will tear them apart, slowly. The second you think to oppose my rule, you will remember that the unborn child you carry can be killed before it has even drawn a breath."

The impossible winds blew more fiercely, and the lights flickered. Hermione continued to scream in silent suffering, tears now streaming down her face as she held her arm to her chest, which Harry was sure was burning with an unfathomable pain.

Voldemort was losing control. His power was too great; he was going to bring the entire manor to the ground, he was going to kill her with his devastating magic alone.

"Stop!" Harry cried out, unable to watch any longer. He tried to go and stand in front of her, to shield her from Voldemort's wrath, but he couldn't. There was a force of some kind which was impossible to move beyond, keeping him from her.

Voldemort carried on, ignoring Harry, intent only on filling Hermione's mind with crushing, immeasurable fear. "You will remember this moment forever, Hermione Granger," he seethed, and she was on her side now, sobbing and writhing. "You will—"

"Stop!" Harry shouted again. "Stop it, Volde—"

"Do. Not."

Voldemort's focus snapped to Harry, venomous. The two words alone were far more frightening than anything else he could have said, because Harry's mind instantly came up with a dozen different possibilities: Do not interrupt, say that word, dare to speak, move, breathe—

Harry was flung backwards, his skull colliding with the wall behind him before he fell to the floor. His ears rang. His vision went dark for a moment before the world came back into focus, though everything was blurred when it did.

His fear only allowed him to be disoriented for a moment, however. Harry looked up to see that Voldemort's tempestuous fury had ceased, the winds had stopped… and the Dark Lord's magic was its usual, glittering haze of darkness, deceptively beautiful.

Voldemort stared down at Hermione, his face expressionless. "Congratulations, Death Eater," he said quietly, with just the slightest hint of amusement.

"I shall be seeing you… frequently."

He then strode from the hall, passing the Malfoys, who immediately cowered reverently at his proximity. "Do your job," he commanded vaguely.

He didn't so much as spare Harry another glance before he vanished.

The moment he disappeared, Hermione's sobs became audible. Harry scrambled across the floor as quickly as he could to get to her, shaking as he pulled her to her chest, where she cried into his shoulder and held him with what must have been the last of her strength.

It was like a wall came crashing down. Harry started crying with her, a wave of emotion so strong washing over him that he thought he might drown in it.

"You shouldn't have come," Harry whispered, his hands tangled in the mess of her hair, breathing in her familiar scent. She only cried harder.

"You shouldn't have come."

Chapter Text

Hermione must have been extremely fatigued, because her chest-heaving sobs quickly quieted into whimpers, and her grip on Harry's shoulders weakened. Harry rubbed her back and forced his own tears away, trying to put on a brave face. He needed to be strong for her.

Just before she approached, Harry sensed Narcissa's familiar magic. It sparked with a sudden liveliness, and when she leaned over to speak to them, she had a sense of purpose about her, her face stern.

"Can you stand?"

It took a long moment for Hermione to realize that Mrs. Malfoy was speaking to her. Her magic was quivering and anxious as she looked up, a fluidity about it. Harry tried not to think of how closely her aura resembled Bellatrix's.

Hermione finally shook her head. Harry adjusted her so that she was no longer leaning on him, moving to stand so that he could help her up himself. "Here, I can—"

"No."

Narcissa cut Harry's offer off with a single word, snapping in her family's directionthe corner from which her husband and son had not yet moved. "Draco, come here. Help me move her to a guest room."

"He's not touching her," Harry instantly retaliated, glaring in Draco's direction. "I'm fine, I can help her—"

The second Harry stood and went to pull Hermione up, he realized how very wrong he was. He was struck with such a strong spell of dizziness that Narcissa had to hold him steady, grabbing him about the waist as white spots danced across his eyes.

"Child! You were just flung across the hall, you've hit your head—you're probably very injured!"

"It's… Harry."

Harry's knees buckled and Narcissa gently lowered him back onto the ground, right next to Hermione. "Draco!" Narcissa hissed. "Over here, now!"

Harry was still seeing stars when Draco finally came over, but nothing could stop the overwhelming, somewhat irrational urgency to not let Draco Malfoy lay a finger on Hermione, and to help her himself. "Don't touch her, Malfoy, I—"

"Here." Narcissa held out her hand to Hermione, offering to be the one to assist her. Hermione looked as astounded as she did miserable—and skeptical on top of that. Narcissa wasn't deterred. "I'm just going to show you to a room. I have a salve that will h-help lessen the pain…"

Hermione's bloodshot eyes fell to her forearm, almost trance-like, staring at the vividly black Dark Mark like she thought she must be dreaming. Harry could hardly blame her. He felt the same way.

"Come on."

Hermione finally accepted Narcissa's outstretched hand. Her fingers were trembling violently as she did, but Narcissa pulled her up and supported her weight with a surprising ease. Harry had to appreciate how calm and in-control Narcissa was at the moment, while everyone else around her—he, Harry, whose ears were still ringing, her son, who looked like he might be sick at any moment, and even Lucius, still standing in the corner, frozen uselessly with shock—was so visibly shaken.

He wondered if it was a skill all mothers had, or if Narcissa alone was just that competent.

"Draco, help Harry up, we'll take them to the nearest guest room, here in the west wing…"

Draco made a face as though his mother had just asked him to foster a dozen blast-ended skrewts, but he didn't argue. He reached down to pull Harry to his feet, who immediately refused.

"I don't need your help," Harry said, pushing himself up again. The world spun a bit less the second time, but he must have still looked bad, because Draco's arm was immediately around him, pulling Harry's arm over his shoulder.

"Don't be stupid," Draco muttered, but there was none of the characteristic sneer in his voice. "Just—just let me help you." When Harry opened his mouth to argue, he whipped out his wand with his free hand, pointing it in Harry's face. "Don't make me levitate you like a child, Potter."

Harry glared, wanting to shout a number of angry, threatening things, but he realized even through his annoyance that that would be stupid. His head was starting to poundan aching pain that must have been dulled by the rush of adrenaline now making its absence apparent.

Besides, his concern for Hermione was far greater than his hatred for Draco Malfoy and whatever was left of his pride. Begrudgingly, Harry allowed Draco to help guide him, far preferring an arm around his torso to being levitated like someone who'd just been knocked out on the Quidditch pitch.

Narcissa, holding onto Hermione, led them away from the foyer. Lucius remained behind, his magic as paralyzed with shock as his body seemingly was. Harry might have found that funny under other circumstances.

Fortunately, the guest rooms in the west wing of the massive building which was Malfoy manor were much closer than the room Harry had been staying in. Narcissa and Draco brought their two injured charges to a bedroom which was not far at all, only down the hall. It was decorated very differently than Harry's room. This one was monochrome and simple in design, very modern—there were no posts surrounding the bed, nor furniture that bordered on garish, though it was all still very nice. The west wing must have been a more recent addition to this manor.

Narcissa deposited Hermione on the bed, who sunk into the mattress and looked alarmingly pale. "One moment, I'm going to go get the ointment…"

Without pause, she swept from the room, leaving Harry and Hermione alone with her son.

Harry pushed Draco away and sat next to Hermione, ignoring the unwanted Slytherin. "Hermione, I—why—"

She shook her head. "Don't," she whispered, barely audible. Hermione clutched her left arm to her chest, and two, fat tears rolled down her cheeks.

"Please."

Harry shut his mouth and said nothing else. Draco kept fidgeting, staring at the ceiling and clutching at his own arm, perhaps subconsciously. Harry imagined that the pain of being branded by Lord Voldemort was one which his Death Eaters never forgot.

Draco's magic was even twitchier than he was, edgy with discomfort. It was making Harry increasingly unnerved, more so than he already was. Thankfully, Narcissa returned quickly with a vial full of clear liquid and a cloth. "Here, hold out your arm…"

Hermione silently obeyed. The Mark was disturbingly black, fresh and emanating a sinister, dark magic. Narcissa wet the cloth and placed it over the brand.

The reaction was instant: Hermione's eyes rolled back and she sighed, slumping against Harry's side like she'd just sunk into a warm bath. Harry held her up, capable of doing so while he was sitting, at least. Narcissa pulled out her wand and conjured up a bandage which wrapped around Hermione's arm, keeping the salve in place and concealing the cursed mark from sight.

"Now you," Narcissa said when she was done, pointing her wand at Harry and setting the empty vial aside. "Stay still, Harry."

Harry did. Narcissa cast a wordless spell over him, and he felt a kind of tingling sensation sweep up and down his spine—he assumed it was the same charm she had used on Ron before.

"…Just some swelling, nothing terrible," she announced after a moment. "I can fix it, now… Just close your eyes for me and don't move, all right? Draco, hold… hold the girl."

The hesitant pause was not missed on Harry—the conflicting moment in which Narcissa did not know what to call the young woman she once referred to as Mudblood, who had just been marked by her Lord as one of his own.

Just like her son.

"Her name is Hermione," Harry said coolly, feeling that if she could be on a first name basis with him, she could deign Hermione with the same curtesy.

To his surprise, Narcissa nodded. "Of course," she said. "…Hermione. Draco, hold Hermione up, please, so that I may heal Harry."

Draco's jaw fell open in shock, his aura trembling with what Harry thought might be the magical equivalent of a seizure, but he recovered quickly. He sat on Hermione's other side and held her steady, grimacing but obeying.

Hermione, for her part, looked like she couldn't give a damn less—her eyes were closed and she was holding her arm, clearly basking in the fact that she was no longer suffering from the injury of a cursed blade or the agony of a fresh brand. The ointment must have been a very powerful balm.

"Okay. Close your eyes."

Harry did as he was told. Another spell hit him, one which felt much cooler than the last one. It was like a winter breeze fluttering around his head, only it was very strange, because the sensation of the cold wind was occurring inside his skull. It was effective, though. The throbbing pain that had been increasing with every second diminished at once, and the dull ringing in his ears vanished. When Harry opened his eyes, his vision was clear, and he practically felt normal.

Physically, at least.

"Thank you," he said. Narcissa flashed him a quick smile before turning her attention to Hermione, concerned.

"You're pregnant," she said bluntly. Hermione's eyes fluttered open at what was not a question, but a statement.

"Yes," she whispered. It only struck Harry then that Hermione was probably unable to speak any louder than that; her voice must have been raw from screaming.

"How far along are you?"

"S-six weeks."

"What?"

The exclamation left Harry's mouth before he could stop it. Hermione recoiled away from him at the shout, which, unfortunately for Draco, meant she was closer to him. He looked as scandalized as Harry, and Narcissa shot both boys a warning look.

Harry cleared his throat and looked down.

"You are going to be fine, Hermione," Narcissa said pacifyingly, grabbing her hand and smiling with a reassurance Harry was sure she couldn't truly feel. "You made the right choice, coming here. We are going to take care of you. You and your baby are going to be fine."

Hermione blinked owlishly, more tears simmering in her eyes at Narcissa's kind words. Her bottom lip trembled, speechless.

"Just do what I say, and everything will be all right. No one has to get hurt, not anymore… Can you do that? Will you listen to me, will you let me take care of you?"

Hermione nodded slowly, her eyes wide and shining. Harry wondered what a state of numbness and shock her mind must be in.

Yet Hermione did listen, taking the nutrition elixir Narcissa gave her without so much as a grimace. She let Narcissa examine her in the same way she had Harry, only Narcissa made Hermione lay flat on her back on the bed, first. Harry stood and moved out of the way. When the spell lingered on Hermione's stomach, flashing white, Narcissa assured her that this was normal and she was perfectly fine.

"This is a Sleeping Draught," Narcissa said when she was done, offering her a cup. "You need to rest."

Hermione didn't accept it. "I can't," she whispered weakly.

"One time, at this stage, won't hurt anything," Narcissa said knowingly. "Not recovering from high stress will be far more detrimental."

Hermione stared at the cup, clearly torn, but still didn't take it. Narcissa sighed and set it on the bedside table.

"All right… I'll leave it here, in case you change your mind. Either way, we should leave you to rest."

Draco made for the door at once, immediately acting on the ability to leave and doing so without hesitation. Harry almost laughed at how quickly he bolted from the uncomfortable scene.

Narcissa made no comment on her son's cowardice. "I take it you'd like a moment?" she said, looking between the two.

Harry waited for Hermione to nod before speaking. "Yes," he said. "Please."

Narcissa nodded as well, pocketing her wand. "I'll be in the foyer, Harry," she said. Then, pausing in the doorway and looking over her shoulder, she added, "Please don't do anything reckless?"

Harry smiled despite himself. "Me? Reckless? …Never."

Narcissa did not return his grin, but Harry could tell by the way her magic brightened that she was amused. "I'll be in the foyer," she repeated with finality.

Narcissa then left, closing the door behind her. Harry and Hermione were left by themselves.

"Hermione," Harry said once she was gone, sitting at her side again. He knew it was not the kindest thing, asking her right away when she so clearly needed rest, but he couldn't help himself. "Why on earth did you come here? Why?"

Hermione buried her face in her hands, a pained sob escaping her throat. Harry's heart broke all over again, and he pulled her to his chest in another gentle embrace. "Not that I'm not happy to see you," he said in an ill-attempt at a joke.

Unsurprisingly, Hermione didn't laugh. "Oh, Harry," she said, her voice still hardly above a whisper. She pulled away from him and grabbed his shoulders, examining his face with bloodshot eyes. "I th-thought you were d-dead… We th-thought you w-went to him in the f-forest…"

"Yeah, well… I did." Hermione hiccupped, but Harry didn't pause to let her get emotional. "I did, but he didn't kill me, and I'm fine. Er, alive."

Unlike Ron, she did not ask why this would be the case. Harry decided to not to let the conversation go that route if he could help it—at least, not right now. "But why would you come here? He could have killed you, Hermione, w-would have…"

Harry's voice trailed off as he shuddered, the reality of how close Hermione may have just come to being murdered in front of him, once more in Malfoy Manor, truly sinking in.

"I wasn't going to."

Hermione whispered it like she was admitting a vile, atrocious sin. Her eyes looked vacant as she stared at the wall. "I wasn't going to… I decided last night that I couldn't. He had Ron, he had you. I had to keep fighting, I was the only one left… All night I said I wouldn't come. Morning came, and I told myself, No, I can't."

She looked up at Harry, her eyes once more wet with tears. "I cracked just before nine. Five minutes left, and I fell apart completely. I…"

Hermione twisted her fingers together in her lap, her magic spiraling anxiously. "But why?" Harry asked again. "What made you change your mind at the last minute like that, why—?"

"Because I'm selfish," she interrupted, and Harry would have never thought such a fragile voice could sound so bitter. "Because I knew that to fight would be to die, eventually. I could form a resistance, but I would undoubtedly wind up dead, probably soon. And… and I knew the only chance of living at all—even if it was an infinitesimal one—would be to do what he said. The only chance for us to live…"

She stopped talking, eyes glassy as she looked at the ceiling, deep in thought. Her magic began undulating in a mesmeric way, like liquid velvet. Harry tried not to be distracted by it.

"And I couldn't leave you, Harry," she said after a long moment, seemingly coming back to herself. "Not after I thought you were dead. I'd never run if it meant both you and Ron being hurt… You know that, don't you?"

Harry was honestly shocked. He knew that Hermione was loyal, but he never would have thought that her friendship with Ron and him outweighed her conscience, her need to fight for what she believed in.

She must have seen his disbelief on his face, because her magic withered with guilt, and she let out a shrill sob. "D-does that make me a terrible person?" she asked, tears clinging to her lashes. "Does that make me horrible, valuing the life of my few friendships more than countless, faceless others? For caring more about my present than everyone else's future?" She paused, swallowing thickly, her hands falling to her stomach. "For someone who doesn't even exist yet?"

Harry grabbed her hands and held them. "No," he said carefully. Her face looked so pale, the bags under her eyes so dark they may as well have been bruises. "It doesn't make you terrible. It makes you human."

"Is that a good thing?"

To that, Harry had no answer.

Hermione squeezed his hands, and her head fell on his shoulder. Harry suddenly felt so heavy with guilt; it was unbearable. He remembered vividly how badly he had wanted to rest right after the Triwizard Tournament, how he had wanted nothing more than to sleep dreamlessly under the influence of a draught… and how Dumbledore had made him relive it all anyway, right then, right there.

Now here he was, doing the same to Hermione. As much as he wanted to ask her a hundred more questions, he knew it wasn't fair or right. "You should take this," Harry said, grabbing the cup. "You heard Narcissa, she said it wouldn't hurt anything…"

She sniffed and looked up at him, and Harry had never seen such a defeated-looking Hermione Granger before. "B-but what about Ron, what's going to happen with him, and with—"

"He'll be fine, I promise," Harry said firmly. "I'll talk to Narcissa, to… to the Dark Lord. He listens to me, sometimes. Life is crazy. I'll explain everything later, but right now, the best thing you can do is rest."

She stared at him for a long, long moment. Her magic whirled in a steady rhythm, making Harry think of something prowling, like a feline walking back and forth along a ledge. Analyzing, thinking.

"Okay," she said at length. Then, to Harry's astonishment, she took the cup and drank with no further argument.

She handed it back to him once she drained it, and Harry stood so that she could lay down. "You'll stay?" she asked, her aura suddenly flickering with anxiety. "Until I fall asleep… You'll stay?"

Harry smiled and grabbed a chair, pulling it up so that he was sitting at the side of the bed. "Of course."

Hermione's magic calmed, and she laid down, holding on to Harry's hand as she did.

It was almost laughable, watching how quickly the draught worked. Harry knew the feeling—Narcissa Malfoy certainly knew how to brew.

"I'm so glad you're okay, Harry," she whispered, her eyelids falling shut even as she spoke.

"That you're alive… that you're…"

Her sentence went unfinished.

Hermione was asleep, her magic confirmed it. It moved slowly around her in a peaceful manner, like dark, ruby waves. Harry smirked and grabbed a blanket from the foot of the bed, tucking her in. As tempted as he was to stay, he thought it best to let her sleep.

It wasn't until he had his hand on the door handle that Harry realized it. Hermione… She had just been staring at him, blatantly, extensively…

And she had not commented on his eyes.

She had not so much as reacted to them, in fact. Harry had forgotten to even think of explaining them, and it never occurred to him to do so once he was alone with her, because she never said anything. He turned and looked at her sleeping form over his shoulder, his mind racing. She looked so innocent and peaceful, lying there.

Harry shook his head, running a hand through his hair. Later. He would talk to her later, when she was somewhat recovered.

With that internal promise, Harry quietly left, closing the door behind him and heading towards the foyer. He would speak to Narcissa and plead with her to get Ron out of the dungeons. Harry's stomach churned, bile clawing at the back of his throat at the thought of Ron being held in the same cell he had been. Was Bellatrix still down there with him, tormenting him, torturing him?

Harry increased his gait, almost running with the sudden need to go to Narcissa, rushing to the foyer—but Harry never made it there. He never even made it down the hall, as short of a distance as it was.

He only had a split-second warning.

The familiar feel of Voldemort's dark and glistening magic coming from behind him…and it was radiating a fierce and toxic want. Harry couldn't possibly turn quickly enough. In a flash that was imperceptible in its swiftness, Voldemort had him by the throat, effectively preventing whatever sound he might have made.

The Dark Lord didn't say anything. He just held his human horcrux by his neck and smiled, the softest tendrils of that intoxicating light fluttering across Harry's skin before he vanished, taking Harry with him.

Chapter Text

They disappeared, and in that unfathomable split-second of disapparation, Harry feared that they would reappear somewhere horrible. Where, he had no idea, but he was certain it would not bode well for him.

He was very surprised when, after a moment of feeling terribly suppressed, they reappeared in the same room he had been staying in… still in Malfoy Manor, just on the opposite side of the home.

Once they'd landed, Harry instantly thought to shout about a dozen different, venomous things—but Voldemort's grip on his throat tightened, trapping the very breath in Harry's throat mid-inhale. Voldemort leaned into his neck, hissing the threat:

"For the sake of your friends, their families, and every single thing you hold dear in this world— hold your tongue."

The words were spoken with such finality that Harry wouldn't have argued even if he could have. His jaw clicked shut, and when it did, Voldemort smirked. His magic glistened enigmatically… Pleased, Harry realized without much effort. The Dark Lord was very pleased.

But that toxic want hadn't waned one bit.

"Good boy," Voldemort murmured, loosening his grasp on Harry's throat.

Harry wasn't even granted a moment to feel indignant. That indescribable warmth began washing over his very being, buoyant bliss that radiated from Voldemort's touch and traveled to the depths of his soul.

His whole soul, his pure soul. Harry could sense Voldemort's desire for it—powerful but… contained. It was not the nauseating need that had made him feel like he might be torn apart, as he'd experienced before, but it was disorientin, nonetheless.

Voldemort pulled him closer. For a moment Harry thought he was going to kiss him again, but he didn't. The Dark Lord simply touched his forehead to Harry's, just like he had when he'd gifted him with his memories.

Harry struggled to not lose himself in the sensation of weightlessness, to remain level-headed, though it was very tempting to do so… and it was exactly what Voldemort was doing.

The Dark Lord actually sighed, his eyes fluttering shut as he released Harry's throat and began to run his fingers gently along his scalp—an action which, admittedly, felt so pleasant it was disorienting. Voldemort was just drinking in the beautiful light that was Harry's soul, basking in the feeling of being whole…

Like an addict, Harry thought. He'd considered that this might be the case before, but now he could tell with absolute certainty. With the way Voldemort's magic was movingglittering and brimming with such a powerful relief now that he was touching his human horcrux again—there was no question that the Dark Lord was addicted to Harry's soul.

And wasn't that the most horrifying concept in the world?

Harry pulled away slightly, and Voldemort's fingers twitched in response, tightening in his hair and keeping Harry close to him. "Do not," he hissed, his eyes still closed, his breath ghosting across Harry's face.

It was such a quietly vague yet perilous command. Harry never would have thought he could hate two, simple words so fiercely.

Still, he listened, and stopped leaning away. Harry closed his eyes and resigned himself. Despite Voldemort's ambiguousness, Harry knew exactly what he was demanding and why. Once it was clear that Harry was going to obey, Voldemort started running both his hands through Harry's mess of hair, practically petting him.

They stayed like that for a long time: Harry, motionless and trying not to get lost in that seductive connection which hummed like a live wire between them; and Voldemort, doing precisely that as he carded his fingers through his locks… rather shamelessly, Harry thought with some mixture of distress and bewilderment.

He was bewildering, wasn't he? Voldemort was so unstable that Harry was in a constant state of emotional whiplash. One moment, he was focused solely on imposing as much fear into everyone in the room, not even glancing at Harry once, and then, just minutes after the most unsettling departure, returning just to grab him by the neck in—

In the hallway, Harry realized, barely keeping his mind from slipping into that warmth, that tempting loss of thought. He came to get me in the hallway, when I was alone, because… It was all a show. The fear-inducing exit, the way in which he terrified them all before leaving as though they meant less than nothing to him… It was all a show. He must have been waiting for the second when I was by myself, so that he could whisk me away and they wouldn't see… because he didn't want them to know, doesn't want them to find out about… this.

Voldemort's magic lessened in its powerful respite, and began to slowly surge back and forth, undulating like a placated, gilded serpent. The blissful light receded to a more bearable level, and it was easier to think clearly.

Physically, Voldemort had not moved at all. He kept his forehead to Harry's and his hands remained in his hair, lightly stroking his scalp.

"The trial for Fred and George Weasley will be held in two days' time," he said, and though he spoke softly, the unexpected sound of his voice after such a long stretch of silence made Harry's heart skip a beat. "If they are acquiescent, they shall face minimal charges. They no doubt will be, knowing that I hold their brother." He paused, lowering one of his hands and trailing his fingers down Harry's face, down his neck, stopping only to rest his palm on his collarbone. Harry's eyes flew open, but Voldemort's remained closed as he continued speaking.

"Hermione Granger will not be harmed—in fact, she shall be well cared for. Tomorrow morning, she will be accompanied by Lucius and Narcissa to the Ministry, where she shall officially register as a muggle-born witch. She shall go through all the necessary protocol under the new regime of the Ministry of Magic. Afterwards, if all goes according to plan—and it will—she shall, in the Ministry's eyes, be a free witch."

Harry was stunned. His mind raced as he tried to comprehend what was happening. The Dark Lord was… briefing him? Actually informing him of what was going on without first insisting that he beg, or… or torture him in some other, unethical manner?

"Of course, she shall be staying here as well. As troublesome as I know the you three have been in the past, I have no such concerns this time… as I so undeniably and unquestionably own all of you."

He lifted his head and opened his eyes, the smallest smirk brimming with superiority gracing his lips. Harry's shock at being informed vanished, replaced by malice. "You don't own anyone," he snapped, knowing it was unwise even as he did it.

It didn't matter. Harry's words served only to amuse the Dark Lord, whose magic writhed around him like silent laughter, black and glinting gold. "Even with impeccable eyesight, you are blind, Harry," he murmured, and there it was, again—that emotion resembling fondness emanating from his magic.

Harry hated it.

He shoved the Dark Lord away from him, feeling triumphant when the action caught Voldemort off guard, making him step back and his arrogant smile disappear. "How could you?" Harry snarled, and the pleasant warmth disappeared. "How could you brand her with the Dark Mark, Hermione, how could you, how—"

"I have given her an honor far above her station," Voldemort interrupted in a perilous tone. "I have granted her a place among my own which many wizards and witches would kill for—some who have done precisely that. Hermione Granger shall serve to act as the poster-child which every muggle-born shall strive to be for generations to come, so long as she does not do something incredibly foolish… She is being given the gift of life, a protected and envious life, and you have the thoughtless nerve to question this decision?"

His magic darkened, rising behind him in a wall of blackness. The specks of gold were hardly discernible. "Perhaps it is my own fault, that I continue to be shocked at the foolish audacity that is Harry Potter," he seethed, advancing on Harry. "Allow me to extend the vast and endless sea which is my patience when it comes to you and your snap-judgements, Harry. By marking Hermione Granger and making her one of my own followers, I am protecting her life. Not even Bellatrix would dare to lay a hand on her now, knowing that she is branded. She will be safe. Her future child will be safe."

Harry clenched his hands into fists at his sides. Voldemort was doing what he always did, backing him into a wall, making him feel powerless. Harry stood his ground, refusing to allow him to do that to him yet again.

"Everything you do is so—so fucking underhanded and confusing!" he spluttered, unable to stop himself. Shockingly, Voldemort didn't seem upset at the outburst. In fact, he looked only mildly interested, saying nothing and waiting for Harry to elaborate.

Harry did. "Why be so horrible as to make her reopen that wound Bellatrix gave her—with the same blade? You wanted her to come, didn't you? So why not just give her a normal damn portkey that didn't make her hurt herself? Not to mention is was a bloody fucking riddle—what if she'd wanted to come, but just couldn't figure it out? And then—and then the timing thing! Was it really necessary to make us wait an hour, wondering if she was going to show up? Why not just tell her 'be there at eight' and be done with it? Why the window? Why? Just…why?"

Harry was panting by the time he was done, having not paused to take breath once. Voldemort's expression and magic remained neutral the entire time.

"…Because," the Dark Lord began after a moment, crimson eyes flickering briefly to Harry's heaving chest before settling once more on his face, "I wanted to learn, Harry."

"What?"

Voldemort took another step closer, drawing near enough that their foreheads were almost touching again, but Harry didn't step back in response. "One can learn a great deal about other people, but one must give them choices in order to do so," he said, like this was all perfectly obvious. "I discovered a great deal about Hermione Granger, by the manner in which she arrived, by how she appeared at the very last moment, standing tall despite her bleeding wound… a very different statement than if she had showed up right at eight, on her knees and begging for mercy. And if she would have not showed up at all, whether from defiance or inability to do so, well… Then I would not have wanted her at all."

His lips twitched, his aura saturated with egotism. Harry may not have believed such vanity possible, if he couldn't feel it for himself in Voldemort's magic.

"And just what do you really expect Hermione to do, now?" he asked, deciding not to acknowledge the Dark Lord's admittedly admirable cunning; he seemed to be doing a fine job of secretly acknowledging it himself already. "Do you honestly think she'll serve you as a Death Eater? She will never do that. It doesn't matter that you have Ron and me, or that she's pregnant; Hermione is a muggle-born herself! She came to surrender, not join you! People's rights matter to her! Even if you make some kind of exception for her, she'll never willingly help you!"

Voldemort's head tilted to one side, looking honestly confused—a rare expression on the Dark Lord's face. His magic, too, seemed perplexed.

Then he laughed.

A few beats of suspended silence, and then the Dark Lord was laughing, his magic dancing and glistening around him. It wasn't a mirthless sound. It wasn't cold, high, or cruel. It was a genuine laugh; the likes of which Harry had never heard from Voldemort before. Harry... wasn't sure how to feel about that.

Before he could make up his mind, Voldemort fell silent, though his delighted expression remained. His lips were curled in a smile that reached his scarlet eyes, that made his whole, deceptively beautiful face light up.

He almost looked human.

Harry was still processing that thought when Voldemort suddenly had his hands under his chin, pressing his lips to his forehead in a chaste gesture. Warmth bloomed at his touch, the softest tendrils of light like a caress. "Oh, Harry," Voldemort murmured against his scar, cradling his face. Harry was too befuddled to react. "You are so pure that it is nearly unforgiveable."

Harry's blood boiled in an instant. The Dark Lord was smiling so superciliously, his magic radiating such arrogance that it made Harry want to scream. It reminded him of the moment after Ron's trial when Voldemort had just sentenced him to six months of Umbridge, but had just decided to keep that information from Harry at the time.

"You're purposefully not telling me something extremely pertinent."

Harry made the accusation in as controlled a voice as he could manage. Voldemort only laughed quietly in response.

Harry snapped. "Wow," he said loudly, deciding he really must be an audacious idiot after all, but not much caring in that moment. He crossed his arms and looked away from the Dark Lord.

"And I thought Dumbledore was bad."

The tendrils of warmth disappeared.

Harry only got to relish Voldemort's pure, undiluted shock and revulsion at being compared to Albus Dumbledore for a second. His vision blurred, his feet left the ground, and the next thing Harry knew, the world was shattering apart around him in the form of sharp fragments and splintered wood.

The vanity—the actual vanity. Voldemort had grabbed him by the collar and shoved him with an inhuman strength into the mirror over the vanity, causing the glass to break and the wooden surface of the dressing table itself to break.

"If you ever compare me to Dumbledore again, you will find out precisely how different we are," Voldemort snarled, his magic convulsing with rage.

Harry didn't feel what he knew should have been pain. Even Voldemort had a few cuts on his face from the shattered glass; surely he, Harry, had far more on his backside, seeing as it was his body which had been thrown into the mirror.

But Harry felt nothing but spite. "Maybe you shouldn't act like him, then," he said coldly.

He braced himself, ready for the torturing curse that was assuredly headed his way, for the pain—but then Voldemort's magic whirled in a different manner, and Harry didn't understand it at all.

"And what would Dumbledore do with you, Harry?" Voldemort murmured, pressing him more firmly against the shattered mirror. The glass dug into his back through his robes, and suddenly Harry was very aware of every little bit of silver, like hundreds of teeth on his shoulders and spine. "You would be worthless to him now. He would want nothing more than your death; struck by the killing curse which he expected me to cast… But he was wrong, and now he is dead, and I own every, single part of you. I control you, Harry Potter—mind, body, and soul…"

"Wrong," Harry gasped. He tried to shift away from the mirror fragments, but he couldn't move under Voldemort's grasp. Rather than try and shove him off, which he knew would be useless, Harry stayed still and jutted his chin forward, speaking evenly. "You're wrong. You've tried twice, now. You can't control me. You don't have any power over me, not like that—not over my mind, not over my body, and definitely not over my soul."

He expected to be thrown into another piece of furniture, or perhaps onto the floor. He was shocked when the vicious expression on Voldemort's face melted away, replaced by a thin smile.

Would he ever be able to anticipate the reactions of Lord Voldemort?

"Don't I?"

Voldemort leaned in closer, releasing his hold on Harry's robes so that he could trace his lower lip with his thumb. The Dark Lord's magic started to swell with a different kind of want, one which Harry had seen before.

Oh, God.

"I can make you feel bliss, if I want."

Voldemort all but purred the words, making warmth bloom in Harry's heart like a sunrise, and for a moment everything else vanished, eclipsed by beautiful, thoughtless light.

"I can make you hurt, if I want."

Immediately, the light vanished, and a white-hot pain cut across Harry's forehead, burning in his bones. Voldemort held him against the shattered mirror when his body jerked. Harry had just opened his mouth to scream when it was gone, a fleeting moment of agony.

"I can make you fall into a pit of oblivion, I can render you unconscious with a touch… or did you think that was normal magic? The way I have been able to merely tell you to sleep, and your body so eagerly obeys?"

That statement struck Harry with an abrupt and colossal wave of terror.

He had never considered this. He had always assumed that Voldemort was just that powerful, that he could make anyone pass out without a wand or an uttered incantation. Judging by how twisted Voldemort's smile was, savoring Harry's pale face, this was not the case.

It was just Harry.

"What else, I wonder…"

Voldemort's words were a whisper, his magic lustrous.

Oh, God.

"…can I make you do?"

Voldemort leaned over the vanity and pressed his lips to Harry's neck, making that unfathomable light blossom there. The vanity wood creaked in protest as Voldemort pushed against it, and the broken mirror rained down fragments of silver—sharp stars spilling over Harry's shoulders.

He barely noticed.

The room could have been on fire, and Harry wouldn't have been any the wiser. His blood ignited under Voldemort's touch, at his tongue against his neck, and the all-encompassing, radiant light—

And it was radiant, it was exquisite, it was everything—it was his, all his, and he wanted to drown in it, this light; he wanted to sink below its surface and breathe it in, liquid gold in his blackened lungs, he wanted

Harry gasped like someone coming up for air, having briefly experienced Voldemort's thoughts. The Dark Lord's magic was ravenous, but despite the momentary loss of control in which Harry trespassed into his mind once more, Voldemort's body moved with expert control, ravishing Harry's neck with his mouth but otherwise barely touching him.

Yes, said a voice, and it was Voldemort's, but Voldemort couldn't be speaking, because his lips were on his throat, and oh, oh

Harry's whole body was burning in a glorious way. Some small part of him knew this couldn't be a good thing, but it felt like such a good thing, oh, it felt so good—

Look at you.

Heat like a volcanic eruption was pouring down his spine, pooling in places it shouldn't and making Harry's spine arch back into the mirror again. Vaguely, he perceived glass piercing his shoulder blades through his clothes.

This is wrong, Harry thought, his pulse quickening. Voldemort's lips found his ear, and he ran his tongue along the shell of it before speaking.

"Unlike you, Harry, I am not blind," he murmured, pausing for a moment to lightly bite his earlobe, making Harry's breath hitch. He felt like he was burning alive yet paralyzed at the same time. "I know you and all of your flaws… I know your every weakness… Look at you."

Voldemort began trailing one hand down Harry's chest, and heat followed his fingertips. "Do you see how you bend to me?" His mouth was still to Harry's ear, every word making his heart beat harder. "How badly you crave my touch…"

Harry opened his mouth to retaliate, to deny it—I don't want this, I don't—but just as he was about to voice his protest, Voldemort bit his neck, turning his words into a gasp before he could give them life.

Tell me, came the same command, Voldemort's smug voice in his mind. Tell me how much you don't want this.

Harry threw his head back, hitting the broken mirror but feeling nothing but the sharpness of the Dark Lord's teeth on his throat. He tried again to say something, but just as he was about to speak, Voldemort sucked on the sensitive skin on his neck, making what was meant to be a plea turn into another sharp intake of breath.

Tell me, Harry. Tell me.

Such suffocating arrogance with every unspoken syllable. It was like a game to him, demanding that Harry say no, only to so skillfully ruin his every attempt with his lips and his tongue, to make every intended refusal come out as a gasp or a muffled, wordless cry.

Tell me how much you don't want this.

Voldemort's hand went lower, lower… Harry put his palms against the Dark Lord's shoulders, meaning to push him away, to end this before—

But then Voldemort's hand was between his legs, and Harry's fingers clenched at the fabric of Voldemort's robes instead, an involuntary reaction.

"Look at how your body betrays you," Voldemort breathed into his ear as his fingers curled around the hem of his pants.

And it did. Harry had started to become hard the moment Voldemort's lips touched his neck. With his other hand, the Dark Lord grabbed Harry's jaw, forcing him to look into his eyes.

"Tell me you hate this, Harry," he commanded at the same time that he forced his pants down, just far enough so that Harry's erection was irrevocably, mortifyingly exposed.

Despite what he was doing, Voldemort's eyes never left Harry's, and his other hand never released his hold on Harry's chin. His magic was going wild with lust, but Voldemort's face was so carefully controlled, looking smug. "Tell me just how much…" he said, his mouth far too close to Harry's own. Harry bit his lower lip, knowing words were beyond him, and any sound which might come out would be a sin.

"…you hate the touch…"

His fingers ghosted over Harry's length, his eyes smoldering with challenge.

"…of a fucking monster."

One slow caress, and there was no help for it—Harry moaned, the sound choking out of his throat like it was escaping. The buoyant light that had been coiling up his spine bloomed there, too—such a pleasurable sensation that Harry knew he was lost. He closed his eyes, unable to meet Voldemort's intense stare any longer under such a wave of pleasure and, somewhere on the periphery of his mind, shame.

"You see, Harry?" Voldemort whispered, touching him so teasingly and slow that Harry thought it could qualify as torture. "How weak you are… You are a slave to your desires, to your traitorous body…"

Harry kept his eyes closed, clenching the fabric of Voldemort's robes far too tightly. Voldemort was relentless, never fully wrapping his fingers around his length, only touching him enough to make him whimper and moan and—

Not beg, Harry told himself firmly, refusing to not, at least, lower himself to that. I won't beg.

"It's fascinating," Voldemort said, laughing softly.

"It's pathetic."

And yet, even through all the gorgeous light and heat and veil of shame, Harry had one very poignant thought in that moment.

Hypocrite.

Lord Voldemort was the most horrendous hypocrite to ever live. Here he was, telling Harry that he was weak for the way his body reacted—because of his forced ministrations—but the truth was that, despite his expert control over his body… Voldemort was far more aroused than Harry was.

The proof of it was in that fleeting transgression into his mind; it was in his magic, which Harry could sense so clearly—he was so ravenous with lust that Harry wondered how he was maintaining his façade of cold, haughty detachment at all.

Harry realized two things, then.

There was nothing more dangerous than the Dark Lord when he wanted to prove a point for the sake of his pride… and that this front could not possibly last forever.

Harry failed to stifle another whimper when Voldemort's nails dug into his jaw. "Look at me," he hissed.

He knew he shouldn't.

Harry did it, anyway.

Maybe it was just the overabundance of buoyant light; perhaps it was only because the bond between them was thrumming with such an intensity, and this was one more way in which Voldemort had some control over his human horcrux… but Harry found himself unable to disobey Voldemort's command right then.

His eyes were dark with lust, but Voldemort only smirked, like he merely found all of this so amusing and pathetic.

His fingers finally wrapped around Harry's aching erection.

"Come for your master."

Harry did.

Only one satisfying stroke, and Harry came harder than he'd ever come in his life. His muscles quivered, his hips bucked. He was sure his skull would have rammed back into the broken mirror, had Voldemort not had such a tight hold on his chin.

But he did. Voldemort had Harry's face in one hand and his cock in the other, and he held his gaze the entire time he came, that dark magic glistening with triumph as he watched the Boy Who Lived come undone in his grasp.

Harry's taut body went limp after his orgasm finally ended, though he was panting heavily and his pulse still raced. Voldemort didn't loosen his hold on him afterwards, only continued to stare into his eyes.

"…Do you know what I think, Harry?"

Harry tried and failed to catch his breath, to say something, anything… but he couldn't. He had no words.

Voldemort smiled.

The intoxicating light finally dissipated, and Harry felt a cold wave of dread wash over him in its absence. Reality returned in the form of sharp fragments and splintered wood, of stinging pain and blood on his back.

"I think it is time… that the elusive Undesirable number one is found."

Chapter Text

Nothing, it would seem, satisfied Lord Voldemort more than rendering his human horcrux incapable of speech.

Harry's jaw hung open uselessly at that statement. He wanted to ask what exactly that meant—and he was certain that Voldemort could see the question burning in his eyes, even without Legilimency—but was unable to form words.

Voldemort's magic, which was still swollen with a lust that he was clearly in denial over, glistened with a flash of that familiar and unsettling fondness. He still had his hand on Harry's jaw, seemingly content to keep ahold of it indefinitely, though he did finally release his grasp on his cock. Harry was almost glad that he was incapable of looking down, trapped in Voldemort's grip as he was. He didn't think he could handle seeing the evidence of what had just transpired.

Harry swallowed thickly, and Voldemort's eyes left his own to glance at his throat when he did. He stared at Harry's neck for a few moments, his aura a thick cloud of blackness that gleamed with fragments of gold. It was suffocating, saturated with conflicting emotions as it was.

Harry held his breath. He felt like if he made any sudden, unexpected movements… something would happen. Something—

Terrible, horrible, sinful, wrong, wrong, wrong—

"...You are bleeding."

The smile slid from Voldemort's face. He let go of Harry's chin to reach behind his throat for a moment, wrapping his fingers around the base of his neck before raising them. When he lifted his hand again, his fingertips were covered in blood. The mirror fragments were still digging into Harry's back even now, so he was hardly surprised that the back of his neck, the part of him which was most exposed to the broken mirror, had been cut so badly.

Voldemort stared at the blood on his fingers with an unreadable expression on his face. His aura darkened. "My intentions are to spill less magical blood, Harry," he murmured, eyes flashing up to Harry's again. "Least of all yours, precious as you are… And yet you have always been so skilled in that aspect, haven't you? Ruining my carefully laid plans, forcing me to act in ways I never intended…"

Harry couldn't help it. He scoffed, his usual defiance sparking back to life. "Precious," he choked out mockingly, finally finding his voice again.

Voldemort glared. He grabbed Harry's shirt by the collar and roughly pulled him forward so that their faces were far too close. "You are precious," he seethed, so adamant and yet angry about this fact. "You are the bearer of my soul, unintentional as it was, unwelcome as it is. There is nothing I value more than your wretched life."

Harry wasn't sure if he should find his words terrifying or hilarious. Voldemort's face and magic both twisted in conflict.

He despised Harry.

But he also… didn't.

Before Harry could react, the light was back, that warmth radiating between them and making the pain from the glass fragments all but disappear. Voldemort pulled Harry forward and held him to his chest, pulling him to his feet, away from the vanity.

Harry tried to struggle—for a moment. The second he attempted to push away, Voldemort's grip tightened, and his magic flashed in annoyance. "Don't," he hissed, a short but venomous command. Harry reluctantly obeyed, hating how good it felt to be near him when he was calling forth that pleasant buoyancy. It made it so difficult to focus, to ground himself.

It wasn't fair.

"So stubborn, Harry…"

Voldemort pulled his wand out from within his robes. The tip of the Elder Wand was pressed against Harry's back before he could do anything about it. A ripple of magic washed over him, a cool, tingling sensation that swept down his spine, and Harry realized that Voldemort was wordlessly healing his wounds. He then vanished the blood and… other bodily fluids that were on the front of Harry's robes, smirking slightly as he did.

Once he seemed content with his handiwork on his captive, Voldemort pointed his wand at the vanity. Bits of glass and splinters of wood hovered in midair before reconstructing themselves, like many pieces of a complex puzzle. In seconds, the vanity was whole again. Harry caught his reflection for the briefest of moments in the mirror, and was jarred at the sight—he, Harry Potter, red-eyed and pale, being held in Lord Voldemort's arms.

He closed his eyes and tried not to shudder.

"You will eat tomorrow."

The command surprised him; Harry looked up at the same moment that Voldemort unexpectedly scooped him up off the ground and began carrying him away from the vanity… towards the bed.

Maybe a thrill of terror would have coursed through him, had that blissful light not just increased ten-fold in that moment. "You will remain here, and you will behave yourself. I shall be preoccupied. Nothing could possibly be worse for you or your friends than you rebelling in a way that would distract me from my business… Remember that, Harry."

They were definitely threats he was making as he carried Harry like a child towards the bed, but he spoke them in such a soothing tone that Lord Voldemort may as well have been singing a lullaby. Harry felt suddenly very groggy, his head heavy.

"But for now, you need rest."

He gently laid Harry down on the bed and sat down next to him. Harry realized what was happening, then; he was going to make him fall asleep against his will, he was going to leave him here—but he couldn't do that, he couldn't, not with Ron still locked up in a cell with Bellatrix—

Harry opened his mouth to voice this concern at the same time that Voldemort leaned down and brushed his lips over Harry's scar, grazing his forehead. The light was so strong and pleasant that all of Harry's racing thoughts were obliterated. He sighed, powerless to stop the sound.

"Tell me," Voldemort crooned, his voice sweet like liquid honey in his command. He lifted his lips from Harry's forehead to look at his face. "Tell me you will behave tomorrow."

Harry's eyes slowly opened. They felt so heavy already. He grappled for resilience—what was it he had been so determined to say just a moment before?—but found it nearly impossible. Light and warmth was thrumming between them, and it would be so much easier to just sink into it…

Then he glanced up, and clarity flickered back to life.

"Why is that there?"

Of all the questions to ask.

Voldemort followed Harry's accusatory gaze to see that he was referring to the mirror on the canopy of the bed. The image of the Dark Lord sitting at Harry Potter's side stared back at them, and Harry hadn't realized it before… But he couldn't see Voldemort's magic in the reflection, nor could he see his own…

"…The mirror?" Voldemort turned his attention back to Harry, looking bemused. The light lessened slightly, and Harry clung to lucidity.

"Yeah. Why would you put a giant mirror above your bed?"

Voldemort looked far more amused at that. "My bed?" he said, smirking. "You think this is my bed—my room?"

Harry stared. He'd never really considered it before, but he had just sort of assumed that this was Voldemort's room that he'd been dumped in. Now that he took the time to think about it, that did sound a bit… stupid.

"It's not?"

Voldemort laughed, looking at him in that same manner he had earlier, like he thought Harry was the most adorably ignorant being alive. "No. Malfoy Manor is just one of many places I use as a base of sorts... And besides, I do not require a bedroom." He paused for a moment, his expression clearing.

"I do not sleep."

Harry was sure he had said that in a way that was meant to be impressive—that Harry should find it imposing that the Dark Lord didn't need to sleep like weaker, lesser men—but his magic said something else. It lost any of its previous light and vigor, settling like a dark and heavy sheet around him.

Voldemort said that he did not need to sleep… but Harry was able to divine the reality was that he couldn't sleep, even if he wanted to. It was obvious by his magic that this was an unwelcome truth.

Voldemort misinterpreted Harry's thunderstruck expression. He smiled again, and the warmth between them grew. "No, I do not require such excessive rest… but you do."

He leaned down and touched his lips to Harry's forehead once more. The room began to darken. "Wait," Harry said, unable to recall in that moment why he had wanted to stay awake, but remembering that he did. "Wait, don't—"

His words were cut short when Voldemort pulled back, his mouth hovering just over Harry's. Harry's breath hitched. Was Voldemort going to…?

But the anticipated kiss never came. "Rest," Voldemort breathed, the warmth of his breath ghosting over Harry's lips.

Slumber pulled him under.


Harry hit the ground running.

The ground beneath his feet was cold and damp, and his feet were bare. The wind blew, the sound a continuous note of shrill foreboding. Static filled the air. The world was a monochromatic blur, consisting of only tints of gray.

"…Harry Potter…"

He was in the maze.

It was the labyrinth of thick hedges and magical obstacles, the Third Task. Harry was racing along those same pathways, only this foliage was colorless, the sky a steely veil.

"…Harry Potter…"

He ran.

Heart thundering, adrenaline coursing through his veins, Harry sprinted. A left, a right, another left. There was something following him, something chasing him—that serpentine entity of his nightmares, it was coming for him

Harry made another turn, and found himself in a clearing. This, in the past, was where the giant spider had attacked him, had attacked he and Cedric…

But there was no fierce beast, here. No trophy, no end in sight, no portkey to whisk him away to the death of his friend and the rebirth of a monster. But there was something. Where the gleaming, golden trophy had once awaited the champion atop a raised platform, there now stood the Mirror of Erised.

Harry warily approached.

The moment he stepped onto the platform, the wind stopped, and all was eerily still. He left footprints on the stone when he moved towards it; evidence in residual water that Harry Potter was here, walked here, stood here.

He held his breath as he looked into the mirror. He was wearing the same, ragged robes he had been dressed in when he'd gone into the forest to die—that same, fringed fabric and stained cloth. He wondered why he was barefoot.

The reflection, for a long moment, remained unchanged. Harry waited for his parents to appear, to see his family… He choked on his breath, suddenly, an emotion he was unprepared for swelling there with the guilt-ridden words forming in his mind…

Mom, dad… I failed you, I'm sorry….

They did not appear. 

It was Voldemort.

But not in his newly acquired, handsome body. This was the Dark Lord in his freshly resurrected, serpentine form, the truth of what he was. Pale skin, slits for nostrils—and those eyes, those same, searing eyes that were the precise hue of fresh blood. Voldemort's irises alone had color in this nightmare.

Harry turned instinctively, thinking the Dark Lord must be standing behind him. He wasn't. The monster existed only in the mirror. Harry watched the horror unfold in the silver.

His reflection was acting of its own accord, no longer mimicking him. Voldemort stood behind his likeness, and when the Dark Lord reached one long, unnaturally white hand to card his fingers through his hair, the false-Harry melted into his touch, eyes fluttering closed in obvious bliss at the physical contact. Voldemort pulled the reflection closer to him, whispering something which Harry could not hear into his reflection's ear, wrapping his arms around his waist, gloating, smirking—

And the entire time, those scarlet eyes never left his.

No, Harry thought as he witnessed Lord Voldemort, the murderer of his parents bite his ear, kiss his neck, lower his hands down his chest…

No.

Across his stomach and over his hips…

"…Harry Potter…"

No, no! This is not my heart's greatest desire. This is not, this is not, this is not!

…Then why was he staring, watching, enthralled like someone in a trance?

Voldemort's eyes were gleaming. Harry's reflection was panting, and when his eyes opened again, they, too, were no longer colorless, but a startling red, pupils dilated with lust—

"No!"

Harry awoke with his heart in his throat and someone's robes in his hands.

The world snapped into focus, far too bright. Harry hissed at the abrupt and vivid clarity.

"Fuck, Potter!"

Harry released his death grip and sat up straight, shoving blankets off himself. His pulse was racing, the sudden return to reality far too jarring for his liking.

"…Draco?"

It was, indeed, Draco Malfoy. He was scrambling away from Harry's bedside like Harry had just tried to hex him, glaring once he was at a safe distance. He looked mutinous. His magic was a bright blur of light, a chaotic shroud around him.

Harry's attention was diverted rather quickly, however, by the sound of laughter.

None other than Ron Weasley was standing at the foot of his bed. "I told you not to do that!" he shouted at Malfoy, grinning broadly. Ron's magic, in great contrast, was bright, fuzzy, and animated, a brilliant orange. "I told him not to do that," he repeated, looking to Harry and laughing again.

"Not to do what?"

"To wake you up. I told him you have a history of getting tangled in sheets, shouting things, and all other manners of waking up dramatically, but he didn't listen. I think he nearly pissed himself when you grabbed him."

"I did not!" Malfoy spat indignantly. "And I wasn't trying to wake him up, I just wanted to make sure he was still breathing."

"I'm still breathing," Harry mumbled. His mind was reeling as his eyes continued to adjust. His focus flickered from Malfoy, who was huffily straightening his robes, to Ron, to the corner of the room, where…

The vanity was perfectly intact.

Right, because Voldemort had fixed it… right after—

"Are you all right, mate?"

Harry's attention snapped back to Ron. Ron, whom Harry had last seen being dragged off to a cell by Bellatrix. Ron, here, with Draco Malfoy. "You're out of the cell," he gasped. Harry jumped off the bed, all thoughts of Voldemort and their… disquieting interactions forced aside. "What did she do to you? Are you all right? How long was I asleep? Where is Hermione, what—"

He'd gotten to his feet too quickly. Blood rushed to Harry's head, and Ron quickly moved to steady him in the same moment that Draco retreated further towards the door. "Whoa," Ron said. "Easy, there. I know you're excited to see me, but trust me, passing out while on your feet is not a pleasant experience. I would know."

Harry couldn't help but smirk—he knew that Ron fainting before was not funny, but… well, it had been rather funny.

"And I'm fine, thanks for asking," Ron went on, his tone extraordinarily light and conversational. "They didn't torture me or anything, just left me in the cell overnight… They let me out earlier today. And you've been out for… I dunno, twelve hours? Longer? It's almost two in the afternoon, in any case."

"What?" Harry gaped. How had he been asleep for so long?

"Yes, it's late, and I came here to make sure you hadn't died in your sleep or something," Malfoy said moodily. His magic had settled a bit, now swarming around him like a halo that could not have looked more out of place on Draco Malfoy. "That's the last thing I need to happen to me, when I'm left in charge." He crossed his arms, looking down at Harry with a sneer on his face.

His typical, pompous attitude caught Harry off guard. Surely, he would not be speaking so nonchalantly—if also condescendingly—about Harry dying if he had known that precisely that had nearly happened a few days ago.

Voldemort hadn't told him, then, Harry concluded. The Dark Lord had sensed on some level that his human horcrux was dying, and had come straight to him, not bothering to inform and be angry with Draco Malfoy either before or after the fact.

Something about this struck a chord with Harry, but he didn't have time to try and decipher what it meant now. "You're left in charge?" he asked instead, matching Draco's patronizing tenor. "Why?"

"Because everyone else is at the Ministry," Ron answered first. "With… with Hermione. His parents took Hermione to the Ministry of Magic this morning so that she could register. They've been gone all day."

He couldn't have put more venomous of an emphasis on the words if he'd tried. "What about Bellatrix?" Harry asked. "She went too? …And... and you-know-who?"

It was amazing, really, how just mentioning Voldemort sucked all the air out of the room. Ron's face paled slightly, and Draco's eyes fell to the floor—learned, submissive behavior when his master was being discussed. "Dunno where those two are, I'm just glad they're not here," Ron muttered.

"And they left this morning, you said," Harry responded, and Ron nodded. "To to register Hermione…"

"Yeah. It's quite an ordeal, I guess."

"How long will she be gone? Is she on trial?" Harry recalled all too clearly what it had been like when they had witnessed of the Muggle-born Registration Commission in action, when they'd infiltrated the Ministry to steal the locket.

"Dunno. I suppose so. We were only told that, so long as she does everything she is supposed to do, she'll be released today… Apparently, they're in the process of improving their system for registering Muggle-borns, as more research is being conducted within the Department of Mysteries to study and fully understand 'sporadic' magic. You know how they were so intent on making it seem as though anyone who couldn't prove they had magical ancestry must have stolen their magic?"

Harry nodded, his blood boiling just as it had when he'd first heard this. "Well, now they're saying this may not be the case, after all—that it may be a different kind of magic for some, and needs to be studied further. It's just a lure, though. An incentive to persuade the muggle-borns who are still on the run to turn themselves in, with the false hope that they might be accepted within the magical community under you-know-who's regime."

Malfoy shifted uncomfortably, obviously unwilling to participate in this conversation. "Come on," he said, motioning for Harry and Ron to follow him. "I'm supposed to make sure you're cared for, Potter, to be a proper host to our lovely new guests. Which means feeding you."

He started walking away without another word, out into the hall. Harry and Ron exchanged a quick look and they both shrugged, unsure what else to do but follow him.

Malfoy glanced over his shoulder to make sure they were coming, then quickly fell into his usual, arrogant stride. There was something oddly comforting about Draco Malfoy regaining his old pompousness—like some things would never change, no matter what the circumstances were.

Draco's pretentiousness was one of them. "Malfoy Manor was built over five hundred years ago," he said as they walked. His pace was, at least, much slower than his mother's had been. Draco seemed in no hurry to show off his impressive home. "It was built by the finest magical architects of the 15th century, which my father says were the most skilled in their craft—that was before restrictions on permanent expansion charms were made, and there was very little in the way of legal constraints to prevent them from building the best interiors."

Harry had no idea what that meant, but obviously Ron did. He tore his attention away from a particularly garish light fixture to look at Malfoy in surprise. "But that's dangerous, that," he said. "Too many expansive charms. They can conflict with each other, cause the air to feel unnaturally heavy and the like." He explained only for Harry's sake, when he saw that he was confused.

"Not if they're done properly," Draco retorted. "As all the ones within our manor were, of course. But they're very difficult, and the problem was that too many idiots went about doing them the wrong way, getting people killed when living rooms would suddenly implode because the charm was faulty. Laws were put in place, after that. A few incompetent fools ruining it for future generations. Shame. I'm sure many overly large, magical families could use the extra space."

He cast Ron an extremely condemnatory look. Ron's hands curled into fists at his sides, but Harry grabbed his wrist, shooting him a warning glance. Draco Malfoy had a wand; they did not.

Draco smirked. They kept walking. "There's more magic within these walls than any other residential wizarding establishment," he continued. They turned a corner, and Ron stared just as dumbfoundedly as Harry had when they came across the huge bay window. White peacocks strutted across the lawn, and lush gardens were visible in the distance.

"Merlin," Ron gasped. "Why on earth do you have albino peacocks, Malfoy?"

Malfoy shrugged. "Why not?"

"This is ridiculous." Ron shook his head as they kept moving. "How many of you live here, again? Three?"

"That used to be the case," Draco muttered. "We seem to be acquiring more and more occupants all the time, though."

Harry thought about that. How long had Bellatrix been staying here? And what about her husband—was Rodolphus also staying in Malfoy Manor? And now there was he, Harry, Ron… and Hermione; Harry knew that Hermione would not be allowed to leave, either…

They passed many doors and hallways, and Harry recognized where they were headed. He could see the stairway up ahead, which led down to the main foyer with the grand chandelier. It was the last room he would have chosen—the place where they had just waited for hours for Hermione to appear. "Why are we headed to the foyer?" he asked, surprised.

Draco cocked an eyebrow at him. "It's the only room with a fireplace that's currently connected to the Floo Network. I assumed you would want to be there, to know the moment Granger's back?"

"Oh. Yeah, I do," Harry said. Then, smiling slightly, "Wow. That's oddly thoughtful of you, Malfoy."

Malfoy scowled, but gave no other response to that.

"God, look at the wallpaper," Ron murmured, completely distracted from that bit of conversation by all the garish decorations surrounding them. "It looks like something my great Aunt Muriel would like."

He shared a knowing look with Harry, his fiery aura dancing in amusement. Draco wasn't fooled. It was clear by Ron's tone that this was not a compliment. "It's sophisticated, not that I would expect you to appreciate something like style," Draco sneered.

"It's repulsive."

"You're repulsive."

"Stop it," Harry said, quickly intervening before Ron could snarl another insult. "Just—stop it. The last thing any of us needs is to end up at each other's throats."

It felt very strange to be the voice of reason. Harry was so used to being the one who needed to be reminded to keep his mouth shut.

Even stranger was how it seemed to work. Perhaps it was only his red irises that were the cause, but Draco's glower lessened, his magic calmed, and he couldn't hold eye contact with Harry for more than a second. "Don't insult my home then, Weasley."

"You've insulted mine plenty of times," Ron responded coolly.

"We've all been right pricks to each other for years," Harry said. He looked to Ron, keeping his face impressively straight as he spoke. "He's insulted our families, we've insulted his… He was turned into a ferret and bounced around the hall once, Hermione punched him in the face and he almost cried, he lost the Snitch to me in every Quidditch match ever—"

"At least I've never spit up slugs for hours on end!" Draco interrupted heatedly, his face having turned red at the word 'ferret' and grown brighter with every word. He glared at Harry, his expression vicious and his aura sparking like colorless firecrackers. "At least I never got caught trying to spy on someone, getting myself petrified and my nose smashed under the heel of someone's boot."

A frigid silence fell between them. Draco hadn't yet retracted his wand, but Harry could see his fingers twitching, hovering over the pocket where he obviously kept it.

"…We have all been terrible to each other," Harry said at great length, forcing himself to remain calm. "But none of that matters anymore, we—"

"You would be dead, if it weren't for him."

Ron had drawn himself to his full height, and his aura was a wall of vivid orange, bright and solid. Draco's red face paled when Ron towered over him, looking more ruthless than Harry had ever seen him before. "I didn't want to go back for you, I said we should leave you in the Room of Requirement and let you burn—but we didn't. Harry wanted to save you, for some godforsaken reason. You tried to kill us, and he saved you. You should be dead."

Draco cringed at the last word. It seemed he had no response to that, and he just stood there, not backing away from Ron's glare, but not fighting back, either.

Harry's mind raced as he tried to figure out how to diffuse the situation. "…The way I see it," he said slowly, carefully, "we should all be dead. But we're not. We're here, now, and we're in this together, whether we like it or not… Actually, I'm kind of amazed that they left the three of us here alone. Whose bright idea was that?"

Draco's lips twitched, but he suppressed a smile. "We're not completely alone, truthfully," he muttered. He turned and began descending the stairs.

"What… what does that mean?" Ron shouted, looking panicked now as they followed him into the foyer. "Who else is here?"

Draco waited until they were at the bottom of the stairs to respond. He glanced at Ron before yelling, in a clear voice, "Binny!"

A soft pop, and a house-elf appeared. A male, it looked to be, and somewhat young. He bowed reverently when he arrived, wearing what seemed to be a burlap sack.

"Yes, young Master Malfoy?"

"Bring us something to eat. Bring us—I dunno, what do you want?"

He glanced at Harry and Ron, waiting for a response. Harry had no idea what he wanted, if anything—he felt mildly nauseous nearly all the time. But then he remembered what Voldemort had commanded yesterday, and knew he would have to eat something

"I don't care," Harry said.

"Anything," Ron added, whose stomach growled just then as though in confirmation.

Malfoy shot him a disgusted look at the sound. "Helpful. Fine, bring us a spread, Binny. Impress me. Make it quick. And bring us tea first."

The elf nodded and disappeared.

Draco then went and sat at a table in the corner near the fireplace, the same one which he and his family had sat at while waiting for Hermione. Strange that they would be doing the same thing now, though the situation had changed drastically.

"Well?" Draco said, when Harry and Ron simply stood there. "Do you plan to eat standing up, then? Or is the prospect of joining me at a table that daunting?"

Harry had to give him some credit; Draco had regained his haughty attitude again with an impressive swiftness. "Extremely daunting," Harry said sarcastically as he sat. "I can't think of a single thing I've ever done that's more nerve-wracking than this."

Ron chuckled and sat at Harry's side, across from Draco.

"You think you're funny, don't you?" Malfoy sneered.

"I think you're funny, Harry," Ron said. "Not as funny as I am, but you do all right."

"Thanks, mate."

Draco rolled his eyes like he found their friendship disgusting.

Another pop announced the return of Binny, who carried a tray with three porcelain tea cups and a lightly steaming kettle. It was the same, beautiful china that Harry had seen before—white and decorated with gold designs. "Thanks," Harry said when the elf poured him a cup and offered it to him. Binny did the same for Ron and Malfoy before disappearing again, presumably to go prepare food.

Ron was ogling at the gilded cup. Malfoy watched him with narrowed eyes, like he was waiting for him to insult their dishware, too. When he didn't, he took a sip of tea. "So," he said, his eyes gleaming over the rim of the porcelain in a devious way that Harry was sure could mean nothing good.

"Which one of you knocked Granger up?"

Ron, who had just gone to take a sip of tea, immediately began choking. His body turned red in record time, instantly reaching his ears and probably everywhere else, too. Harry felt his own face burning out of sympathy.

"Weasley, then?" Draco said casually, keeping a flawless composure. "Hm. I would have put my money on you, Potter. Not that I think either of you are great options, mind, but I would have thought Granger to prefer you over him."

Ron slammed his teacup down so hard it nearly shattered. Harry flinched; there was no way that Draco could have known just how expertly he had stabbed at Ron's insecurities. It was not so long ago that Harry had witnessed his own likeness in a fog emanating from a locket, snogging a very cruel and unrealistically beautiful version of Hermione…

"Oh, did I touch a nerve?" Draco said when Ron only glared, incensed beyond words. "My sincerest apologies."

Draco looked anything but apologetic.

"Malfoy, do us all a favor, and shut the hell up," Harry snarled.

"What? I was just asking. I thought I ought to know who the father was of the Dark Lord's newest recruit's future child."

"Wh… what?" Ron's eyes widened, and his scarlet face quickly turned white. "What did you just say?"

It took Harry a moment to realize why Ron looked so shocked. He had not been present in the hall when Hermione had been branded, he hadn't witnessed it…

"He doesn't know?" Harry said, looking to Draco. "No one has told him—you haven't told him, yet?"

"Slipped my mind." Draco took another sip of tea, clearly loving this drama.

"Told me what? Harry, what is he talking about?"

Harry felt heavy with guilt. He didn't know how to go about breaking this news to Ron, so he decided to just be blunt. "He… The Dark Lord branded Hermione with the Dark Mark," he said quietly. "He's made her a Death Eater against her will. It happened right after you were taken down into the cells."

Harry could see the pain unfold in his eyes. Ron didn't say anything, just stared, silently horrified. His magic was like a dead weight around him, losing nearly all its vibrant saturation.

Pop!

"Oh, good," Draco said cheerfully. "Lunch."

Binny had followed his master's orders exceptionally well. Three trays full of food and silverware hovered in the air before landing in the center of the table—fruit, bread, cheese, crackers, and more. Draco helped himself to a bagel at once, looking completely unbothered by Ron's turmoil as he spread jam over it. The elf bowed and disappeared again without a word.

Ron stared at the food like he was looking straight through it. "He made her a Death Eater…?" he said hollowly. "But… but why?"

"I think… I think he plans to use her," Harry murmured. Neither he nor Ron reached for any food. Harry was sure that Ron's appetite, just like his, had vanished.

"Of course he does," Draco said. "If he didn't have a use for her—or anyone, for that matter—then she would be dead." He took a bite of his bagel.

There was a long stretch of silence where Ron continued to stare vacantly at his teacup, and Harry fidgeted in his seat, unsure of what to say or do.

After a few minutes of this, Draco finally spoke. "Well, starving yourselves isn't going to make anything better for anyone," he drawled. "You both look like you haven't eaten in days. Do you think not eating is going to improve your circumstances—her circumstances? Have you no sense of self-preservation at all?"

Harry glowered at his callousness. Ron blinked owlishly, like he was coming back to himself.

"But that means… Hermione will never be able to escape him," he whispered. "She will never get away."

Ron was looking at Harry when he said it, but it was Draco who responded. He set his bagel down and his face became rigid. Even his magic took on a fierce demeanor—an impenetrable, white sheet. "No one can ever escape the Dark Lord," he said, looking back and forth between the two of them. "No one. We are all just pawns to him, pieces to be moved around to bring him more power, more control. Disposable and meaningless, despite what he tells us to our faces. The sooner you accept this, the better off you are. You lost. He won. So, you can sit there and mope about how hard life is and waste away, or you can man up and eat some fucking crackers."

Draco leaned back in his chair and grabbed his bagel again. He took another bite, glaring at them both while he did it like it was a challenge.

Harry didn't miss that Draco had said he won rather than we.

Ron reached forward. He moved very slowly, his face blank as he grabbed a cracker. "I don't like you, much," he said, and then popped it in his mouth.

Draco snorted.

It was a most ineloquent response to Ron's theatrics, an instantaneous noise as his cold façade broke. Draco tried desperately to conceal it, to look down and pretend like that horrid sound had not escaped his lips, but it had. His magic fluttered in an amused but embarrassed way.

Harry could hold it in for about half a second before he started laughing.

Once he did, there was no stopping it. Ron and Malfoy began laughing, too, and it was extremely surreal, to be sitting at a table breaking bread with Malfoy and just… laughing.

Maybe they were all a bit delirious.

Whatever the reason for the abrupt and unexpected end in hostility—as temporary as it surely was—the three were all able to relax for a time afterwards. Ron devoured two bagels and a dozen crackers with cheese. Even Harry could eat more than he had in weeks, and he didn't feel sick afterwards.

When they had eaten all they could, Draco snapped his fingers and Binny appeared. "Clean this up," he said, and the elf immediately obeyed. Once he and the dishes had all disappeared, Draco cleared his throat, his tone taking on a business-like tone.

"Good. Now that you've both managed to eat something, I can show you this."

Draco stood and went over to the fireplace. For a moment Harry thought he was going to gather up some floo powder, but then he reached for something which was resting on an end table next to it.

It was a newspaper. "It's your favorite thing in the world, Potter," Draco said, and though Harry was sure he meant to speak in his usual drawl, the sneer fell flat. His magic was a still and silvery mist. "A front page article all about you."

He handed the newspaper over. Harry slowly unfurled that morning's issue of The Daily Prophet, Ron leaning over his shoulder so that he could see as well.

Harry's heart stopped when he read the title.

'UNDESIRABLE NUMBER ONE, HARRY POTTER: FOUND.'

And the sub headline underneath:

'The Infamous Boy Who Lived, notorious criminal, rebel, and suspected murderer, has finally been captured. Olivia Flint reports.'

"What?" Ron gasped, his magic twitching in sporadic bursts. "What?"

Draco smiled humorlessly. "You can read it all, of course, but it's a really lengthy article for how little actual information it has. Basically, it says that Potter here was caught yesterday when he unwittingly sought refuge in his godfather's old home, which was being monitored by the Ministry."

"And that you're being held in a high security cell in Azkaban while you await trial!" Ron shouted as he read, looking up at Harry. "In two days!"

"Yes, well, I suppose it would sound bad to say, 'the notorious criminal is staying in a cushy mansion with the Malfoy family'," Draco said.

But Harry's eyes had fallen on the word 'trial' and hadn't left. "Trial," he said blankly. "I'm being put on trial… for rebellion against the Ministry of Magic and for the suspected involvement in Albus Dumbledore's murder?"

The newspaper fell from his hands. He could think of about a dozen different things that he could be accused of and put on trial for, but the suspected murder of Dumbledore?

"That was their reasoning for putting a warrant out for your arrest before, remember?" Ron said darkly. "I guess they couldn't just do away with that accusation now… Have to keep the lie going, and all that…"

And so many lies, Harry thought as his eyes tore across the page. Harry wondered just how far the Dark Lord was going to make this all seem believable to the general public. Had he used some poor muggle-born and forced them to take Polyjuice potion or something? Had he made someone play the part of notorious Harry Potter, just to have them arrested and tossed in Azkaban, so it looked like this was what was truly happening?

"It says my trial is happening the day after your brothers'," Harry murmured, and then read, "'Potter's trial is to be held on Friday, May 22nd, before the entirety of the Wizengamot—the day after the also much anticipated trial for conspirators and rebels Fred and George Weasley.'"

"Oh, hell," Ron said. "What is he going to do to you all?"

"He's not going to kill Fred and George," Harry said quickly. "And he's not going to sentence them to Azkaban for life either. He told me."

Ron let out a breath of relief.

"I imagine he'll give your brothers a similar sentence to the one he gave you," Draco said. "So long as they're not stupid enough to admit they've lost and swear allegiance to the new regime."

"They might be," Ron muttered. "And even if they don't… the same sentence, you think? Fuck." He ran his hands through his hair, looking utterly miserable. "Umbridge is going to collect Weasley's like chocolate frog cards."

Harry grabbed the paper again and turned his attention back to the article. A large portion of it was rather redundant; a longwinded and reverent report of how important the new regime was for the safety of the magical community, and how rebellious acts would not be permitted to continue…

"What kind of sentence is he going to give you?"

Ron was staring at Harry with wide eyes. Harry said nothing, as he honestly had no idea. What would Lord Voldemort, current ruler of the Wizarding World and Head of the Wizengamot, sentence Harry Potter to?

"Something similar, probably," Draco answered instead. "He obviously has plans for using you, and you wouldn't do him much good being locked in Azkaban, would you? Hell, he doesn't even want you there now, for some reason. Probably worried you'd pull some crazy stunt and escape somehow."

But Harry knew that wasn't the real reasoning at all… not that he was about to bring that topic up. "This is madness," he said instead. "All of this—these trials, these compounding lies. It's madness."

Draco leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table.

"You're failing to fully grasp the situation, Potter. This madness? This is it. This is the beginning of an entirely new world. Wizarding society is changed forever, and for whatever unfathomable reason, the Dark Lord has decided to keep you around… all three of you. He wouldn't do that if he weren't planning on either locking you in a cell and using you for his own personal enjoyment, or controlling you and parading you out in the public eye for his political agenda. Seeing as neither of you are in cells any longer, Weasley here is already considered a free man, and you're on the docket… congratulations. That means you've made it to the upper crust."

He smiled crookedly. "Welcome to pureblood, wizarding society," he said in thick tones of sarcasm. "Where every decision is made for you before you ever realized you had a choice. Where a slightly outdated article of clothing could mean your social downfall, where a single hair out of place could spell your demise…"

His gray eyes lingered first on Ron and then on Harry, who were both so clearly guilty of these transgressions.

"It's a life of no choice, no freedom, none whatsoever. It's a cage." Draco paused and threw his arms out on either side of him, gesturing towards the marble floors, the crystal chandelier, the beauty that was his glorious, enviable manor.

"…But it is gilded, and it is fabulous," he finished dramatically.

His distress was thinly veiled, purposefully so. Harry shared a look with Ron, and he could tell they were both thinking along the same lines—perhaps Draco's life as the sole heir to the Malfoy family was not all it was cracked up to be.

"If you don't manage to screw things up for yourself at your trial, of course," Draco added after a moment, addressing Harry. "Though it's possible you'll be given a script, who knows. The Dark Lord likes things to go a very specific way. Try not to let your brash, Gryffindor nature ruin everything for the rest of us when you're in front of a crowd."

Harry's face paled. The full reality of the situation as he envisioned precisely this filled him with dread.

In two days' time, he was going to be taken to the Ministry.

In two days' time, he was going to be out in the public eye, and everyone was going to see him, and—

"What about my eyes?" he said suddenly. "He can't—what did you say?—parade me around for his political agenda with my eyes looking like this, everyone will think that I'm not really me, or something…" But then Harry grinned, a feeling like triumph blossoming in his heart. "He'll have to change them back. He'll have to."

His moment of confidence was short-lived. "Oh. You might want to flip to the fourth page, where the article is continued. Right at the end."

Frowning, Harry followed Draco's instructions and ripped the paper open. He found the end of the article, and he read aloud the last two paragraphs.

'…Our Lord's wisdom and mercy is a source of inspiration for us all. He has gone to great lengths to show compassion to even his longest standing opposition. As stated earlier, when Harry Potter was finally captured to be brought to justice, he did not surrender peacefully. He fought against Ministry officials, and was affected by several curses as a result of the struggle—one of which was a particularly dark spell that should have rendered him permanently blind. However, the Dark Lord, in all his infinite knowledge on magic, was able to grant Potter his sight back—though there were some distinct side effects which altered the color of his eyes.

It is a parable we should all keep in mind. Even the most ignorant and rebellious of wizarding kind can find forgiveness in the Dark Lord's new order, and by the light of his vast wisdom, we can all see with true clarity.'

Harry set the paper down. Ron was staring at the floor and Draco was looking up at the ceiling—both of them quite ostentatiously not looking at Harry.

Harry thought to tear the paper to shreds. He considered screaming and flipping the table over, or maybe even magically breaking something, if he worked himself up enough. He wondered if he could unhinge the chandelier without a wand—he wanted to watch the light fixture fall again, just to hear the crashing of the metal frame and shattering of the glass.

He didn't do any of those things.

Harry folded the paper up neatly and laughed, a soft and harmless sound. Draco and Ron both glanced at him, then, looking concerned.

"He's good," Harry said, his tone absurdly casual. "He is really good."

Chapter Text

The flames erupted, vibrantly green.

Harry, Ron, and Draco all got to their feet as the fireplace ignited. Narcissa and Lucius appeared first—Harry perceived flashes of corresponding navy and gray when they entered—and then, following directly behind them—

"Hermione."

She looked pale and thin, but physically far better than she had yesterday. Hermione's magic hung heavy around her, a deeply saturated burgundy that flowed in lethargic waves. Her eyes landed first on Harry's, then went quickly to Ron's.

No one spoke. Harry and Ron both stood there, staring, and Hermione too seemed unable to move. It was the first time the three of them were together again. The first time since…

Harry almost couldn't recall when. The three had not been united since the battle of Hogwarts, after they had witnessed Snape's murder and he had taken his memories to Dumbledore's office…

Harry hadn't said goodbye, before going to meet what he had anticipated to be his death.

And Ron, the last time Hermione had looked at Ron had been right before she disappeared in a fiery wall of phoenix flames, attempting to destroy both he and the Dark Lord in a cursed explosion in her retreat…

Ron's magic was vibrating with emotion, though which one, Harry couldn't decipher. Draco's light aura was twitching almost just as much, his eyes darting about the three of them as he waited to see what would happen.

Hermione swallowed audibly, and spoke in a small, timid voice.

"…H-hi."

A wordless, unanimous decision was made. Harry and Ron both walked towards her at the same time, and in a single motion trapped her in an embrace from both sides.

If any of the Malfoys reacted to this, Harry had no idea. For a blessed moment, his mind was flooded with a singular emotion, something so pure and simple he had forgotten how it felt.

Joy.

Hermione and Ron were here, they were alive and in his arms and safe

And so long as he had them, Harry felt he could do anything.

The heartwarming moment of reunion was shattered rather quickly. Lucius Malfoy cleared his throat, loudly, and they all turned to look—though none of them released their hold on one another.

"As… touching as this is, your presence is required. The Dark Lord wants you at the Ministry. I was instructed to bring you to him. Now."

Harry exchanged an anxious glance with Hermione and Ron, but nodded and stepped away before they could say anything. Lucius smirked when he moved forward, shaking his head.

"Not you, Potter. You're supposed to be in Azkaban, remember? I meant you."

His silvery eyes flickered to Ron. Ron, who still had his arms around Hermione's waist, blinked in surprise at the unexpected focus. He even turned and looked over his shoulder, like Lucius Malfoy might be talking to some other ex-vigilante who had been hiding behind a chair. "Me?" he asked, his voice going up an octave. "H-he needs me? Why?"

"I suspect you shall find out when we get there," Lucius drawled. He beckoned towards Ron with one hand, impatient. "Now, Weasley. Believe me when I say you do not want to keep the Dark Lord waiting."

Ron looked ill. Hermione grabbed his face, stood on her tiptoes, and placed a swift kiss to his cheek. "It will be fine," she said, sounding confident. "Everything will be fine."

Ron stared at her as though he was in a daze. Harry was certain that if she had not given him a stern look afterwards and pushed him in Lucius's direction that he would have been content to just stare at her forever.

Finally, Ron nodded. "Well. All right, then," he said in a most painful, forced attempt at casualty. He caught Harry's eye one last time before following Lucius towards the fireplace. Harry could tell he regretted the action at once—he winced afterwards, and Harry knew it was because of his new, crimson eyes that he was about to go see on a far more terrifying face.

Lucius gathered up a handful of powder and tossed it into the fireplace. "The Ministry of Magic," he said clearly. When the flames burst in plumes of green, he motioned for Ron to go first—like he didn't trust him to use the Floo network correctly himself. Ron grimaced and stepped into the fire, disappearing in a flash of emerald. Lucius followed him immediately afterwards.

Narcissa turned her attention to Harry and Hermione once they'd gone. "Are you feeling all right, Harry?" she asked, her soothing, blue magic deepening with concern. "I trust my son has been a courteous host?"

"Er, yeah," Harry answered. It felt very surreal, to be having such a cordial conversation with Narcissa Malfoy in her home… about the quality of her son's manners, of all things. "Very courteous."

Narcissa beamed, and Draco snorted. "Right, and now I'm done," he said. He looking at his mother expectantly. "Can I go to Zabini's, now? He's been inviting me over for ages, says Parkinson's been driving him completely mental without me around..."

"All right... But be back before dinner." Narcissa raised her arms as though to hug him, but Draco stepped away, eyes flashing quickly towards Harry with a distraught look on his face. He glared at Narcissa, and it was easy to tell what he was thinking. Don't embarrass me in front of Potter, Mother.

Narcissa's arms fell to her side, looking crestfallen. Draco ignored her and went to the fireplace, tossing some powder in the flames and shouting, 'Zabini Manor!'. He stepped into the flames and disappeared without so much as a backwards glance towards any of them.

Narcissa's magic withered, so saddened. Harry felt abhorrently upset by this. Realizing that telling her that her son was a sodding idiot would probably not make her feel better, Harry instead smiled sheepishly and said, "I'll hug you."

She let out a short laugh. "You're sweet," she said. She laughed again when Harry followed through—captivity was making him oddly affectionate, it would seem. She was still smiling when he pulled away, and Harry would be lying if he said that didn't make him feel like he accomplished something.

"Hermione, are you hungry?" she said, turning to her. "Shall I have our house-elf make you something?"

Hermione shook her head. Harry noticed then how glazed her eyes were, and though he had sensed her magic being lethargic before, realized just how sluggish it was.

What had they done to her at the Ministry?

"All right, then. I'll show you to your room, again, in case you've forgotten. You're on strict bedrest."

Narcissa motioned for Hermione to follow her. "Can I—?"

"Of course, dear." She answered Harry's question as to whether or not he was allowed to go with before he could ask it. Harry's heart welled with sadness, though—there was something about the way Narcissa said dear that reminded him painfully of Mrs. Weasley.

She led them to the same room Hermione had slept in before, when she first arrived. "Your other friend will be staying in that room there," she explained to them, pointing towards a door further down the hall. "There are some clothes in the wardrobe, Hermione; there should be plenty there to choose from until you get your things in a few days. If something doesn't fit just let me know, and I'll have it adjusted for you."

Hermione nodded feebly. "All right. I'll let you sleep… Don't keep her up long, Harry. She needs rest."

Hermione did need rest; she was blinking slowly at the door as Narcissa closed it in a manner that had Harry very concerned. "Hermione, are you all right?" he asked the moment they were alone. She looked at him and her magic undulated slowly around her, dark red and flowing.

"Yes… Just tired, is all… It was a very taxing day…"

She sat on the edge of the bed, and Harry joined her. "What did they make you do?"

"I had to give a blood sample for genetic testing, to see if I have any familial ties to any witches or wizards that I am unaware of… which I don't, of course. They declared that my magic was inexplicably sporadic but seemingly stable, in the end. The paperwork has been submitted to the Muggle-born Registration Committee… the official request for my ability to use a wand."

Harry's brows rose at that. A wand. Lord Voldemort was actually allowing Hermione Granger the use of her wand?

Before he could dwell on this, Hermione went on. "Then they had me answer some questions in front of the entire Committee, rather like a hearing, though I wasn't being accused of anything… in front of Umbridge and all of them. They asked me about my background and upbringing—all under the influence of veritaserum—and… and they made me vow that I would never contact my muggle relatives again…"

"What?" Fury burned in Harry's chest. His jaw dropped, appalled by this—and yet, in nearly the very same thought, was not surprised by this news in the least. "They won't let you talk to your family again? Ever?"

Hermione's eyes went further out of focus, her gaze drifting over Harry's head towards the ceiling. "Hermione?" Harry said after a moment. She blinked and came back to herself, and then she pursed her lips, frowning.

"Sorry," she murmured. "My head feels a biz fuzzy. I don't think I should have taken that Sleeping Draught last night…"

Her voice trailed off. Harry couldn't shake the feeling that something else had happened to her at the Ministry, something very… wrong.

"What else did they have you do?"

"That was it," she said. "I'll supposedly hear from them in a few days' time if my request for a wand has been approved."

Harry wasn't sure if he believed it. He felt the way her magic was whirling as though it were stuck in slow motion, and figured that there must be more to this story.

…But then again, as he thought about it, maybe that was the whole truth. Was it so farfetched to think that Hermione would be in a bit of a daze, after all that she had been through? Besides, it wasn't like it was what he knew what being pregnant felt like. He decided not to prod her further on her trip to the Ministry. "What… what does the Dark Lord need Ron for?" he asked instead, a new brand of anxiety pooling in his stomach at the thought.

Hermione looked up, shaking her head slowly. "I don't have any idea."

"You don't?" Harry balked. She had seemed like she knew, before Lucius took Ron with him.

"No, I really don't. Maybe they want him to meet with Umbridge and the rest of the committee? Before he begins his community service or whatever it is they're calling it…"

"Maybe," Harry conceded.

There was a stretch of silence in which Harry contemplated asking her a question that continued to bother him. He wondered why it was she had not commented on his disquieting eyes, before…

But then she was laughing, and Harry was so surprised at the sound that his thoughts were derailed. "What?" he asked, more alarmed by this behavior than anything.

She pulled the sleeve up on her left arm, revealing a very crisp, black Dark Mark. "Do you remember," she said, and Harry thought she sounded a bit slap-happy, "when we were younger, and I made some tactless comment about how you and Ron could run away and join the Death Eaters if you wanted, but I couldn't because I was muggle-born?"

Harry felt himself smiling despite how morbid this was, despite everything. "I do," he murmured. "I believe I said something along the lines of, 'yeah, if they just quit trying to do me in, we'd get along just great.'"

"Funny, that."

There was a beat of silence, and then they were both laughing. Life was such tragic irony.


The rest of the evening passed painfully slow.

Narcissa showed Harry to their family library after he left Hermione to get some much needed rest—evidently, she was on bedrest until Narcissa deemed her well enough not to be. Harry mentioned that it was a good thing that she had not told Hermione that they had such a massive personal collection of books, or her bedrest would have been happening in their library, instead.

It was not as impressive as Hogwarts' library, of course—at least, not in terms of number of books. What the Malfoy Manor library lacked in texts, however, it more than made up for in decadence. The grandiose staircase, decorative wallpaper, and plush carpets made Harry feel like he was in some mansion from the Victorian ages.

He passed the time there, and though he attempted to read some book about contemporary wizarding politics—he figured he should become well versed on such things, considering—Harry had a tough time focusing. His thoughts kept straying, wondering what Ron was being forced to do at the Ministry, when he would be back, and…

Voldemort.

Harry tried desperately not to think about what had transpired between the two last night, but found it very difficult not to now that he was alone with his thoughts. He stared at the text in his hand, not taking in a word as his mind wandered.

He kept trying to come up with reasons to justify Voldemort's supposed… control over him, in some respects. Reasons other than the fact that he had a fragment of Voldemort's soul within him, that the reason might be something other than the unsolvable issue of Harry being a human horcrux.

Each explanation he came up with was worse.

It isn't a horcrux thing, I just naturally find him that attractive, so much so that I just… finished really quickly.

It isn't a horcrux thing, and I don't find himspecifically very attractive, I just… always come really quickly.

It isn't a horcrux thing, I don't find him that attractive, I do not always come that fast, and…

...Okay, maybe he did have some control over him.

Harry groaned and rubbed his temples. Wasn't it bad enough that Voldemort made his scar hurt with a thought? How was it fair that he could also make him feel that thrumming warmth of the connection between them, and with a single touch make him pass out, or—

'Come for your master.'

God, damn it Harry, he berated himself, his face burning. Thinking about it isn't going to make anything better. Quit thinking about it.

...He couldn't stop thinking about it.

He's a bastard, I hate him, he is not my master, and if it weren't for him threatening my friends, I would toss myself off a bridge so he'd be one step closer to death, Harry thought with fierce determination. Everything about him is a lie, and the only reason I find any part of him attractive is because he went and changed his body, and... and I hate him.

You dreamt about him in the Mirror of Erised, that horrible voice in the back of his mind said. He wasn't in his new body, then.

That was just a bloody dream, that means nothing.

You enjoyed it when he touched you.

I did not!

Yes, you did.

Well, fucking fine, of course I did, but it wasn't my fault!

Because it's a horcrux thing.

Yeah, because it's a horcrux thing!

He almost hit himself at his own internal argument, at which he had just proven his own point against himself. He did not want to come to terms with the fact that Voldemort could make him scream and sigh and faint and—and do other things so easily… especially not with how hypocritically Voldemort was dealing with his own desires.

One of these days, the Dark Lord's perfect sense of control was going to shatter, Harry was sure of it—and it would not end well for Harry when it did. Because if just touching made the light that blossomed between them increase, and mere kissing had been like fireworks bursting in his soul, then—

"The conservative party," Harry said loudly, interrupting himself and forcing his attention elsewhere, "is comprised mainly of—"

"Blimey, Harry!"

Harry jumped and dropped the book. "Ron!" he shouted, spotting his freckly friend and his bright, fuzzy aura. "You're back!"

"Yeah," he said, "And you scared the hell out of me when you started shouting. Mrs. Malfoy just showed me my room and then how to get to where you were—this is place is massive, I'm going to get lost constantly if we have to stay here—but were you reading, just now? Out loud?"

Harry blushed and picked up the book he'd tossed. "Mighta been," he muttered. "But you! What happened at the Ministry, what did he make you do?"

Suddenly Ron was the one blushing. He turned a deep scarlet and had to look at the floor. "I, er, I can't tell you… Not until, ah, all the involved, necessary parties involve sign off."

"…What?"

Ron looked up, shrugged. "I can't tell you," he repeated. "Sorry."

Harry had a bad feeling. When he'd been asked to sign something last, he'd been forced to give away his property to Bellatrix Lestrange. "Was it something horrible? Can you tell me that, at least?"

Ron's blush was now so powerful that Harry could feel the heat radiating off him. His magic was chaotic, too, trembling and whirling with frazzled energy. "N-n-not terrible, no. I promise."

Harry scrutinized his face at length. "…But you can't tell me."

"Nope."

A pause. Ron made a great show of looking around the library, though his face was still a bright crimson. "So, a library, huh? Where, uh… Where is Hermione?"

His voice had gotten extremely high when he said Hermione's name. "Asleep," Harry answered carefully.

"Ah. Right, that makes sense. I reckon she should be."

Ron looked very torn—like he wanted dearly to say something but just… couldn't.

Before Harry could try to determine what was happening, Ron grabbed his shoulder and looked into his eyes, his face full of very uncharacteristic emotion. "I am really, really glad you're alive," he announced, to Harry's shock.

"I... I'm really glad you're alive too, Ron."

Ron smiled and looked up towards the shelves of books. "So, reading then? That's what we're doing to while away the time in Malfoy Manor as captives. Excellent. Great day to read and not be dead."

Harry stared. First Hermione acting almost as though she'd been drugged, and now Ron, some weird mixture of embarrassed and… giddy?

"When will you be able to tell me what's going on?" Harry asked.

"In a few days… I think," Ron said, blushing again.

In a few days. After Hermione may or may not get approved for a wand, after…

My trial, Harry realized.

Were all the plans that Voldemort was currently setting into motion hinging on the outcome of his trial? An outcome which, Harry was sure, the Dark Lord already had meticulously planned…

"…Right."

 Ron's slight smile suddenly fell away. "Fred and George are being tried tomorrow," he said numbly. "I… I overheard some Ministry people talking about it, when I was there."

Harry tried to look reassuring. "They'll be all right," he said. "He told me that they wouldn't go to Azkaban, and he wouldn't have any reason to lie about that…"

"Yeah," Ron said, but he looked grim. "Yeah… Hey, I meant to ask you. Do you know anything about Neville? He's supposedly gone missing. I heard people talking about that too."

Harry's blood ran cold. The remaining pinkness of Ron's blush instantly left his face, replaced by fear.

Harry wanted to lie. He wanted to say that he had no idea. He wanted to spare Ron that pain, to shrug and say that he didn't know, maybe he'd gone on the run…

"…He's dead," Harry found himself whispering, despite all this. "He killed the snake, and now… He's dead, Ron."

Harry couldn't, however, bear to give him details. He couldn't tell Ron how Bellatrix had tortured him, how Neville had looked into Harry's eyes and forgiven him...

How it had been all Harry's fault.

Harry couldn't say any of that, and Ron didn't ask.

"Oh," he said hollowly, his magic wilting. "I… He… Will you excuse me?"

Ron left the way he came in, walking out of the library like he had already forgotten where he was and didn't want to remember. Harry watched him go, and felt something horrible stir in his chest.

It wasn't just the awful sadness for how Neville had died, though that was terrible enough on its own—it wasn't even the fact that he, Harry, was responsible—

It was that he had forgotten.

Harry had been so preoccupied with trying to decipher the Dark Lord's perplexing mood swings, with worrying over what would happen to Ron and Hermione and everyone else, that—

He hadn't thought about Neville once since the tragedy of his death.

…Was it a coping mechanism? Was that a usual response after witnessing such trauma—to force it from your mind? Harry didn't know, but he felt the tidal wave of guilt and shame crash over him, and suddenly, he couldn't breathe.

Harry fell to his knees and clutched at his chest, tears blurring his vision. His body ceased to function as it should. He couldn't inhale properly. It was like something was gripping his lungs, stopping the air from getting in.

Harry felt dizzy and sick and how could he have forgotten?

Somewhere, as though from a great distance, he thought he heard someone calling his name, but Harry wasn't sure.

Everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Blue and indigo, fuchsia and ruby. There was a kaleidoscope of colors whirling in the air, and the hues were moving to music. 

Harry felt heavy and numb. He was laying on his side, swathed in something soft and warm. Though his mind stirred with a sluggish awareness, he found that he couldn't open his eyes.

But Harry didn't need his sight, not to perceive the beautiful and familiar magic that belonged to Narcissa Malfoy.

Narcissa was holding him close, one arm draped over his shoulder as his head rested on her lap. He could hear the distinctive sound of her voice, though Harry could not make out the words. She sounded muffled and quiet—unnaturally so. It almost felt as though Harry's ears were stuffed with cotton.

In fact, his whole body felt very… off, like his muscles and bones had been replaced with solid lead. Harry tried for a moment to lift his fingers, to once more open his eyes, but was unable to do so. Incapable of moving, Harry instead tried to recall what had happened. He had been in the library, and Ron had left, because…

Neville.

And then he, Harry, had been suddenly unable to breathe...

Harry deduced that he had been having some sort of panic attack. Narcissa must have found him, and…

She's done something to me, Harry realized without much effort. For he felt beyond calm as he lay there—though Narcissa's singing was more than soothing—he felt… drugged.

She must have needed to place some spell on me to get me to stop panicking…

Harry decided not to let this bother him. It had probably been necessary, as he knew that Narcissa would never be malicious towards him.

Harry was relieved and surprised to have been found by Narcissa Malfoy at all, rather than wake up to the far too seductive, magnetic pull that was the Dark Lord. Perhaps Harry's fit had not been that devastating; maybe Voldemort hadn't felt it from where he was in London, tending to political matters…

Harry tried to not dwell on such things—he could do nothing about them when he was unable to move, anyway—and let the mesmeric feel of Narcissa's magic and song enchant him. Her aura shifted to a picturesque violet, and as Harry put forth a bit more effort, he could discern what it was she was saying.

"…Good morning, my glory, good morning…"

It was not a song Harry recognized. A slow, peaceful melody, somber yet sweet.

"I've been waiting for you for hours…"

Narcissa began to gently run her hands through his hair, and Harry might have sighed if he were able. As it was, he simply let the comfort of her music lull him into a state of calm.

"Good morning, my glory, good morning…"

Her magic melted from a deep purple to a garnet red, her aura like liquid gemstones bleeding into each other. It was lovely. Harry wondered if this was her favorite song.

"You are a beauty and a gift…"

Blackness.

It came from somewhere behind them: dark, cold, and glimmering with bright slivers. Concerned.

Voldemort.

The Dark Lord had just silently arrived, and in his typical fashion, he did not immediately announce his presence. If Harry could have reacted, he was sure he would have jumped, twitched, done something.

But he could not move at all.

"You are the reward for painful patience…"

Narcissa, completely unaware, continued to sing and stroke his hair. Her aura turned a brilliant tint of ocher, such a contrast to the blackness in the corner. Harry could feel Voldemort's worry, and realized then that he must have been wrong. Voldemort's concern could only mean that he had been aware of Harry's panic, and was unsettled over it. He must not have been able to escape whatever it was he was doing at the Ministry until just now…

"Good morning, my glory, good morning…"

Harry could do nothing other than hold his breath as he felt the Dark Lord's shuddering magic… and how it shuddered when it shifted; the initial, glittering concern dissipated abruptly into—

Envy.

A putrid rage that was overwhelmingly characterized by such a powerful envy that Harry felt instantly sick with it. All traces of gold were gone. There was nothing but blackness emanating from the Dark Lord who lurked in the shadows, and it was horrifying.

Harry's pulse was racing for as still and heavy as his body was. Narcissa must have noticed something was amiss, for her magic stilled as she put a hand to his chest, surely feeling his thundering heartbeat. Her legs shifted beneath his head, and Narcissa leaned down, pulling his body closer to her before singing in an even softer, more angelic tone.

"You always make me wait for hours…"

Harry wanted to warn her, to push her away, but whatever magic she'd cast on him to end his panic attack earlier was still in effect. Narcissa was holding him and rocking him gently in her arms and Voldemort was furious

Just when Harry was certain that something horrible was going to happen, it vanished.

The blackness, the jealous hatred, the all-encompassing wrath… Lord Voldemort disappeared, taking his hellacious aura with him when he went.

For a long moment, Harry waited with bated breath, unsure if the Dark Lord would be making a swift and murderous reappearance. After what felt like hours but was probably no more than a minute, Harry convinced himself that this would not be the case—Voldemort was not returning anytime soon.

Eventually, Harry's heartrate slowed. Narcissa began humming, her magic transitioning to its usual navy.

He tried to get lost in it once more; to become immersed in the loveliness of her voice and let her magic carry him back to sleep, but he couldn't. Voldemort's presence had lasted only a few seconds, flickering into the peacefulness of Narcissa's colorful ambience like a black cloud briefly eclipsing the sun… and though the blackness had faded, the terror he had invoked lingered. Harry had a bitter taste in his mouth and trepidation in his heart.

He wanted to let the false sense of security take him. More than anything in the world, Harry wanted to let Narcissa hold him and pretend that this was something normal and innocent: that he was just a child who was sick, perhaps, and this was his mother, reassuring him that all would be well…

But that reality which Harry so desperately wished for had always been denied him, and he could not fantasize about it now. There was no possibility for such redemption.

"Good morning, my glory, good morning…"

There was no glory in this.


He must have fallen asleep at some point, because when Harry could finally open his eyes once more, he was alone in his room.

Narcissa was gone. Harry blinked up at his reflection, the strange mirror above the bed no longer jarring though still rather unwelcome. He felt sluggish as he sat up, a slow and difficult movement. He wondered if he was still being affected by whatever Narcissa had done to calm him down, or if he was just naturally so drained. Pushing the covers off took far too much effort.

Moving carefully, Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. He rubbed his eyes and forced himself to focus.

How much time had passed? Harry glanced at the clock, and saw that it read a little after eight—though whether that was in the morning or afternoon, he hadn't the foggiest idea. There were no windows in this room, only garish wallpaper and an unnecessary number of mirrors.

Harry stretched his arm above his head and failed to stifle a yawn. He was midway through the action when he felt it again—the telltale sensation of darkness, of Voldemort's magic.

The Dark Lord was back, once more silent in his re-emergence, but his aura could not have been more different than the last time he'd appeared. His magic was lively, gleaming with speckled gold—and when Harry yawned, it swelled with an incomprehensible fondness.

Harry lowered his arms and tried to act unaware. He had taken only two steps towards the door when he was struck with that pulsating warmth—the mental bond between them sparking to life with a soft yet inviting light, almost like a greeting.

In comparison to how his magic had been before, this energy felt… sweet.

Voldemort's hand was around his wrist before Harry could turn—not a forceful grasp, but a light, tender hold. He moved so close that his chest was against Harry's back, making warmth blossom everywhere they touched. The sensation chased away Harry's mental haziness like a sunrise obliterating a fog.

"Good morning."

Voldemort's tone was laced with a hint of amusement and disarming affection. Harry swallowed thickly, trying keep his composure—a difficult task when Voldemort was in the vicinity, channeling that radiance between them with such expertise.

Harry had the distressing notion that the Dark Lord was getting better at this.

"What's happening?" Harry skipped the greeting and turned to face him, Voldemort keeping a loose hold on his wrist as he did. "Are Fred and George's trials happening soon, are—"

"They have already happened."

Harry abruptly fell silent, confused. "…But… but you said it was morning. Unless you were just saying that?"

"It is morning. It is Friday."

"…What?"

Voldemort tightened his hold on Harry's wrist as his confusion turned to anxiety. "You mean—I've been—"

"In a relatively comatose state for the past day, yes," Voldemort said. The light between them intensified, making it very hard for Harry to be as incensed as he would like to be at that statement. He tried to wrench his arm from Voldemort's grip, but was unable to do so.

"But—but why?"

"Because your emotions," Voldemort said, pulling him closer, "were a distraction."

…The Dark Lord said it in such a way that would lead him to believe that he found Harry's troubling emotions just a mild nuisance, but Harry knew this was a lie. He had felt genuine worry in Voldemort's magic when he had first appeared, bordering on fear, and Harry knew that it must have been debilitating for him.

Voldemort had nearly lost his human horcrux once, after all.

Harry scoffed and tried to step away. Voldemort, unsurprisingly, did not allow it. "Do you no longer wish to know what has happened to your friends?" he asked lightly, though there was an edge to his voice that spoke of a greater warning—do not move without permission, or suffer the consequences.

Harry grit his teeth, nodding and holding his tongue. Voldemort put his free hand on Harry's neck, making the connection between them grow, distractingly so. Harry willed himself to pay attention. "Fred and George Weasley have been given a similar sentence to their brother, though they shall be serving at the Ministry of Magic for a period of two years rather than six months. Their transgressions were greater, after all... Should they perform well, they shall regain the privilege of their wands after this time."

"Working in the Muggle-born Registration Commission?" Harry couldn't help but ask. "For two years? With Umbridge?"

"Yes."

Harry grimaced. He could only imagine the smug look on Umbridge's face as they were given their sentence, considering how her last interaction with the Weasley twins had gone.

'Give her hell from us, Peeves!'

It could not possibly bode well for them. "They might actually prefer Azkaban," Harry muttered.

Voldemort laughed softly, his breath warm against Harry's temple. His fingers were trailing up his neck, once more intertwining in Harry's mess of hair. "How do you feel?" he asked, and though his tone was even, his magic glimmered with concern.

"F-fine," Harry stuttered, momentarily caught up in the pleasant feeling of that light.

"Good… You have an exciting day ahead of you, after all…"

This statement made Harry's thoughts snap back to reality. It was Friday. It was Friday. "I have a trial," he said with a blank horror.

"Yes."

Voldemort, in great contrast, sounded rather lax about the whole thing. He had even closed his eyes, far more focused on the alluring light that was thrumming between them than Harry's imminent trial.

"But you haven't told me anything!"

This time, in his sudden panic, Harry managed to break away from the Dark Lord. The light flickered with the loss of physical contact, lessening significantly as he stepped backwards.

Harry immediately wished he hadn't done it. Voldemort's magic convulsed with a sharp anger as he did, and Harry couldn't help but think of a wild animal that had just had its recently acquired prey taken away from it.

His expression was livid.

The Dark Lord, who was usually exceptional at concealing his true emotions with a cold mask of indifference, was unable to do so now. His crimson eyes were bright with wrath when the light he had been so shamelessly basking in diminished.

Fear licked up Harry's spine, but he refused to let it overwhelm him. "You haven't told me what you want me to say, what you want me to do!" he said, holding his arms out to his sides in exasperation. The last thing he wanted was to say the wrong thing and make Voldemort angry, not when he had his friends held captive.

He wouldn't be the cause for anyone else's suffering.

Voldemort considered him for a moment before his annoyed expression slipped away, his lips curling into a smirk. "Oh, Harry… always so concerned for everyone but yourself…"

The feelings of patronizing fondness were once more so strong in his aura that Harry had to clench his jaw to stop himself from shouting. Harry's muscles tensed as he attempted to control himself, his hands clenching. "Your role is simple," Voldemort continued, moving closer to him. Though Harry wanted to shove him away, to do something stupid, he did not. Voldemort grabbed both his wrists, light radiating from his fingers with an intense and disorienting heat. Harry's muscles relaxed at once, involuntarily, and Voldemort unfurled his fists with ease. He intertwined Harry's fingers between his own.

It was too much. Harry's eyes fluttered shut and he sighed, nearly moaned when Voldemort spoke with his mouth against Harry's ear.

"All I require of you, my Undesirable…"

He paused, taking a moment to graze his lips along Harry's neck, the ghost of a kiss enough to make Harry's breath hitch and his pulse quicken. Voldemort laughed, a soft and breathy sound, before returning his lips to his ear.

"…is that you be yourself."


Harry winced when the so-called auror forced him towards the green flames, his wand hitting him with some curse that was far more painful than a mere stinging hex. Harry scowled at him. It wasn't exactly easy to walk with heavy chains wrapped around his ankles and shackles binding his wrists together.

He hadn't had much time to gather his bearings after Voldemort had left him.

Harry had not even been able to see Hermione or Ron before Narcissa was fussing over him, giving him clean robes and attempting once more to fix his unruly hair—until she remembered that Harry was supposed to look as though he'd been staying in a cell, not a mansion. He was then ushered out into the foyer of Malfoy Manor, where no less than six massive, brutish looking wizards awaited him. Narcissa explained that they were aurors, but Harry could tell at once that they were dark wizards. Their auras were all deep and unsettling shades, making Harry feel sickly. He tried not to focus on them.

"Don't worry," Narcissa had said in an attempt at sounding reassuring. "I will be there, in the courtroom, along with my family…"

The fact that the Malfoys would be watching his trial was anything but encouraging to Harry. He was relieved, if also unsurprised, to hear that Hermione and Ron would be staying at the manor. If it were up to him, no one would witness this event.

Unfortunately, many people would be present. The Malfoys left long before him, just as Harry was certain Voldemort was already at the Ministry, waiting for his so-called suspected criminal to arrive and await his judgment. Narcissa had given Harry a brief but warm hug before departing. Draco and Lucius didn't look at him, only went straight into the fireplace and disappeared.

Once the Malfoys had gone, the aurors had laden Harry with chains. Obviously, this group of wizards was important enough to be in on the fact that Harry Potter was not being held at Azkaban. Harry wondered if they were newly-made Death Eaters, like Hermione…

He tried not to focus on that either.

Regardless, the rest of the wizarding world thought that Harry Potter was being kept in a maximum-security cell in Azkaban, and so he was made to look the part of vigilante and prisoner.

The chains were heavy on his frame, suffocating in every sense of the word. The moment his anger spiked in annoyance for being hexed, the thick collar on Harry's neck burned—a sensation reminiscent of the scorching, animate snakes that Voldemort had once cursed him with. A magically suppressing collar, just like the one Ron had been wearing when he was in Azkaban. It was worse than painful; it made Harry feel like there was something dark and heavy in his chest, repressing his magic.

Harry took a deep breath and stepped into the fire.

…Everyone was staring.

There was a split second in which all was perfectly still. Hundreds of people were gathered in the atrium of the Ministry in anticipation of the Undesirable's arrival for his public trial, watching with wide, curious eyes. For a moment, Harry was wholly distracted—but not by their bright expressions or unsettling gazes.

It was their magic.

The magical auras of so many people in one place was dazzling; a sea of mottled colors, textures, and glimmering light. Each witch and wizard had one, a unique flavor to their aura that contrasted with the person who was beside them. No two were alike.

Upon arriving, this vision of magic consumed Harry entirely. He thought he might faint from the sheer overabundance of it all.

Then cameras were flashing, people were shouting, enchanted microphones were being shoved towards him, and Harry came crashing back to reality. He couldn't make out one voice over another, and he found that when he forced himself to not dwell on their magic, their auras were less distracting.

Their shouts, however, were not.

"Mr. Potter, look over here!"

"Potter, let us see your eyes!"

Harry did his best to not look at any of them, moving as quickly as was possible. The aurors flicked their wands, instructing the reporters to give them space so that they could move, but only half-succeeded. There was no stopping the onslaught completely.

"Potter! Is it true you disarmed two aurors before being detained?"

"Did you know before arriving that the Dark Lord dismissed the dementors, Harry?"

The last voice stood out from the others. Harry's eyes snapped up to settle on none other than Rita Skeeter.

The new regime suited Rita well—she was back to her old self, her hair glossy and lovely, her make-up flawless and her crystal-encrusted glasses polished. She smiled with a vindictive triumph at having accomplished what her fellow reports had failed to do—winning Harry's undivided, if fleeting, attention. "What?" he gasped, unable to stop himself.

The flashes of light that went off from behind her were nearly blinding, but Harry kept his eyes on Skeeter's. He could make out the distinction of her aura—a bright, bubbly turquoise. "The Dark Lord has disbanded the use of dementors for your trial, given your history with how detrimentally they affect you," she said. "An act of mercy on his part. How does that make you feel?"

She shoved the microphone under his chin. A quick quill and a piece of parchment seemingly appeared out of nowhere, ready to jot down whatever contrived version of the statement Harry was about to make, he was sure. Harry gaped at her malicious grin, and for a moment, everything seemed to come to a standstill. The cameras stopped, and even the aurors who were supposed to be forcing him onward had paused, watching him curiously.

Harry glanced at the floating quill before looking back to Rita, his eyes narrowed. His angry expression had more of an impact than he would have thought—the excited reporter winced, and her magic withered.

Then it hit him. It was probably extremely unsettling to have scarlet eyes the same color as the merciful Dark Lord's fixated on you. Harry had almost forgotten that the Ministry had begun using dementors for the muggle-born trials, here. But he knew the real reason Voldemort was keeping them away, and it had nothing to do with kindness.

Yet it was, evidently, widely known that dementors affected Harry Potter quite powerfully… and Rita Skeeter had the nerve to ask him how this made him feel. Harry leaned in closer to the microphone, looked directly at her, and smiled.

"Go fuck yourself, Rita Skeeter."

There were gasps and laughter and even an appalled shriek, but Harry only registered blank shock on Skeeter's face before he was forced onward by his guard. They moved past the other reporters and spectators whom Harry could only assume were not important enough to be able to witness the trial themselves, down in the courtroom. Fearful that he may see someone else he recognized and wanting to avoid that for as long as possible, Harry aimed his gaze upwards, over their heads. He kept his chin high, despite how mortifying it was to be dragged through the atrium in such a manner.

The Ministry of Magic was much like Harry recalled it from the time he, Ron, and Hermione had infiltrated it while under the guise of Polyjuice Potion, with a few notable differences. The massive sculpture of a handsome wizard and witch upon thrones constructed of living, tormented muggles remained, black stone with foot-high letters carved onto the front: Magic is Might. But there was something else that caught Harry's eyes, something flickering.

It was a banner.

High up near the ceilings, where Harry was fairly certain there used to be British flags, were now large banners of deepest green. They were all the same, each with a massive V in the center, a single letter shining in gold. Encircled around this gilded character was a serpent in equally bright but contrasting silver; a snake which was in a perfect circle, its jaw open as it consumed its own tail, its gleaming head and pointed teeth centered directly in the middle of the golden prongs of the V. The banners were so large that even from far away, Harry could see the serpent's single, visible eye was red, a small but vibrant scarlet.

Just like Voldemort's eyes… just like his eyes.

Harry stared at it. The Dark Lord had crafted himself a new emblem, then. He couldn't deny that it was imposing; the V reminded him of a Roman numeral, powerful and bold. But what confused Harry was the colors he had chosen. The green and the silver he understood, and perhaps even the red, considering they were the hue of his own eyes.

…But gold?

He was forced onwards.

By the time they made it to the gilded lift, Harry felt like he had walked ten miles. The aurors had to work exceptionally hard to get the crowd to back away enough for Harry to make it into the elevator, and three of them remained outside the gates, keeping them at bay. The other three guards stepped onto the platform with him, wands up and ready, and the doors slowly closed.

When they did, it was like all the air had been sucked out of the room. Everything was suddenly very quiet and still, the ceasing of camera flashes jarring.

They went down.

'Level 9, the Department of Mysteries.'

Harry knew he should not have been surprised at these words, but they still made his blood run cold. The gates slid open, and it was the most surreal sense of déjà vu, to be walking these halls once more… Only he was not accompanied by Arthur Weasley this time, and the stakes were so much higher.

The courtrooms on level ten were accessible only by stairwell. Harry might have stumbled and fallen in his constraints if one of the aurors had not held him steady, a painfully tight grasp on his arm.

Finally, they made it to the courtroom—and of course it was the same courtroom he'd been in before, Harry thought with a scowl. The doors were still closed, and one of the aurors checked his watch. Harry could see the time as well—it was five minutes to eleven, which was when his trial was officially set to begin.

At least he was early this time, Harry thought morbidly.

"Stay still." One of the wizards pointed his wand at Harry's chains, and they broke apart and fell into his waiting palms. Harry's hands flew to his throat once he was finally free from the collar, the weight of it suppressing his magic almost enough to make him sigh.

"It's time," the same man said. Harry nodded and took a deep breath, bracing himself.

They opened the doors.

The familiar, dungeon-like hall of courtroom ten filled Harry with an unexpected dread. The dark stone walls, the torches which illuminated the space with an eerie glow… Along the perimeter of the courtroom were a decent number of spectators—Harry spied the Malfoys, as well as a few other vaguely familiar pureblood families. They were all murmuring to each other in hushed voices, soft but lively whispers. Harry decidedly did not look at them, afraid of who might be in the audience, of whom he might make eye contact with. Besides, his focus was quickly ensnared by the man directly in front of him, at the end of the courtroom.

Voldemort was like a King upon a throne.

Harry hated that this was the thought that came to his mind, but it was. The Dark Lord was taller, grander, and far more imposing than anyone else in the hall. He was the only one to not be wearing the official, plum-colored robes of the Wizengamot which were embroidered with a silver 'W', even though he was Chief Warlock. Voldemort was wearing black, and fixed on his chest was a gleaming pin of the same emblem representing the Wizarding High Court of Law—but his 'W' was larger, and made of gold.

Harry had not truly appreciated just how… striking the Dark Lord was, with his unnaturally pale skin and vivid, scarlet eyes. He was an enthralling sight to behold, and that was even without taking his distracting magic into account. Voldemort's aura glistened in anticipation when the doors opened and Harry Potter was revealed, but his handsome face remained unreadable.

Harry might have just stood there and stared if the aurors at his side had not prodded him, forcing him to walk. Harry's eyes flickered to those who were gathered at the Dark Lord's side as he did. The entire Wizengamot was present, though Harry recognized almost none of them… with the exception of one.

Dolores Umbridge was failing to suppress her gloating, vindictive smile.

A rush of hatred so deep it was almost debilitating coursed through Harry at the sight of her. Umbridge's giant eyes widened at his angry expression, and her magic brightened, too—a vivid, unattractive yellow that reminded Harry of some kind of poisonous toad.

Harry tore his eyes away, and he was instantly distracted by a head of flaming red hair. Sitting at a wooden desk between the crowds of spectators and the jury was someone else Harry recognized, and his heart felt as though it had suddenly become lodged in his throat. Percy Weasley. Harry almost couldn't believe it. Percy was here, and he was resolutely not looking up at him, his eyes focused instead on the parchment at his desk in front of him. He was recording the trial, just like he had years ago, surrounded by an aura of an amber-ish hue…

Harry was beyond baffled. Had Percy Weasley avoided all punishment, then, despite the fact that he had fought against the Dark Lord in the end? Had he been pardoned in order to keep him in the Ministry's clutches—another weapon to be used against his family, perhaps?

Harry wasn't sure. He was forced to look away from Percy when one of the aurors roughly shoved him forward, towards the center of the hall, where his gaze landed on the only item present there.

A single chair, and there were many heavy, threatening looking chains curling on the floor around it. Harry had a dark sense of foreboding that his freedom from shackles was going to be short-lived. He felt the weight of everyone's eyes on him as he was ushered towards it, and did his best not to tremble as he walked.

The aurors motioned for him to sit. Reluctantly, begrudgingly, Harry did.

The reaction was instant. Harry hissed in pain and his eyes clamped shut as the chains flew from the floor, ensnaring his wrists and legs with a vicious swiftness. They were so violent that the aurors all scrambled away, nearly tripping in their haste to get away from them. They fled to some vacant seats to Harry's right, where they were clearly meant to preside for the rest of the trial.

"…Quite unnecessary."

The chains loosened and fell back to the floor. The murmuring died the moment the Dark Lord spoke, and the hall became eerily quiet.

Harry did not immediately open his eyes, but he could sense the Dark Lord's magic glimmering. Harry rubbed his wrists where the chains had nearly broken the skin.

"Harry James Potter."

Harry slowly looked up.

It was as if the entire courtroom was holding its breath as Voldemort assessed him, his scarlet eyes gleaming. "You stand accused of involvement of the murder of Albus Dumbledore, of the attempted murder of several Ministry officials, and of opposing the Ministry of Magic's new regime… treason," he said with little emotion in his voice—yet his magic flickered, twitching in excitement.

"Before the trial commences," he went on evenly, "it has been decided that extraordinary measures and precautions must be taken. The Ministry of Magic is adamant that the public have no doubt in their minds that this is a fair trial… An honest trial. And so, before we begin…"

Voldemort gestured towards one of the guards to the left of the jury. The tall wizard had a glass phial in his hands. At the Dark Lord's nod, he held the small tube up so that the crowd could see.

"Veritaserum."

Harry's eyes widened. He gaped as the guard walked towards him, the serum in his hands that Harry was quite certain he could not take, if he wanted to make sure not to displease Voldemort in some manner.

"And to test the potion for authenticity…" Another motion, and a separate guard turned and opened a door on the other side of the hall. A moment later, and Harry felt another sickening jolt of shock.

Walking alongside the second guard was Horace Slughorn. Harry watched in disbelief as his old Potions Professor shuffled towards him, his eyes on the man holding the phial. His magic was a heavy and gray, full of despair. He walked past Harry without looking at him.

"Horace Slughorn," Voldemort said quietly, and the crowd began muttering in animated, hushed voices again.

Slughorn only very briefly glanced up at the Dark Lord before nodding. He seemed unable to look at him, and of course Harry understood why. Voldemort was speaking, addressing the crowds as he listed off Slughorn's credentials—Potions Master as Hogwarts for over forty years, Founder of the Apothercarium of Horace E. F. Slughorn, 'Outstanding's' in Potions at both the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. level—but Harry hardly heard him as his mind raced.

Most people may not have known or recognized the striking face of Tom Riddle, but Horace Slughorn surely did. He didn't look exactly the same, of course—the Tom Riddle of the past was not so deathly pale, his cheeks not quite as gaunt, and, of course, those eyes—but the resemblance was clearly there to those who knew it. Harry was sure that Slughorn was hardly aware what Voldemort was saying, either, and was instead hearing different words…

Can one split the soul only once…? For instance, isn't seven…

A few seconds later, and Voldemort had fallen silent. Slughorn waved his wand and conjured up a small table. He then took the veritaserum from the guard and began examining it in earnest, beads of sweat visibly forming on his forehead. He conjured up another container, magically filling it with some strange liquid. He was standing not even two feet in front of Harry; facing him, even, but he refused to so much as look at him.

Harry was suddenly incensed. He watched as Horace Slughorn, the man who had stated before how much he adored his mother, how much he detested the Death Eaters, was now clearly working on Voldemort's orders. It filled Harry with rage. He didn't care that he was probably forced into it just like everyone else; Harry was suddenly furious, because Slughorn didn't have the courage to acknowledge him.

"Look at me."

Harry said it so quietly that only Slughorn would be able to hear. He paused for a fraction of a second, but then continued his examination of the serum, ignoring him. Slughorn poured one drop of veritaserum into the container he had conjured, and the strange liquid, which was clear before, suddenly turned green.

"Look at me," Harry hissed again, malice in his voice.

This time, Slughorn did look. His beady eyes locked onto Harry's, and his lined face contorted into a pained expression. Harry didn't blink. He wanted him to see, to look into his green eyes and see his mother there…

And then he remembered that he no longer had Lily's eyes—a fact which Harry was still so quick to forget.

Slughorn swallowed, and quietly, so quietly Harry almost didn't hear it, said, "I'm sorry."

Harry wanted to jump out of the chair and rip the veritaserum from his hands, but even as he had the thought the shackles on either side of him twitched. They had, evidently, felt his surge of emotion, and were prepared to bind him again at a moment's notice.

Slughorn turned away from him and held the phial up in his hands. He addressed the Wizengamot directly when he said, "It is pure."

More muttering from the crowd. Slughorn was escorted not from the courtroom from whence he had come, but to a seat in the crowds. Harry refused to look at him again.

The first guard thrust the phial towards Harry. "Drink," he commanded. Harry took it, his heart pounding. Was this all supposed to happen? Was this really veritaserum, or had that all been an act? If it was, he couldn't possibly drink it, for surely he would say something that would go against the Dark Lord's wishes. He glanced up to Voldemort, searching for confirmation that this was all according to plan…

But there was no indication of anything whatsoever in that passive, emotionless face. His scarlet eyes were indecipherable, and his glimmering magic, while whirling, gave Harry little reassurance.

"Drink," the guard said again, this time pulling out his wand. Feeling there was nothing else he could do, Harry slowly lifted the phial to his lips, and drank.

It tasted like nothing. It felt like nothing. Of course, that was how it was supposed to taste and feel, but… had it worked? Harry didn't feel any different at all.

Before he could contemplate the matter further, Voldemort spoke again. The quiet muttering from the crowd ceased at once.

"In order to further assure the public that this is, indeed, Harry James Potter, a second precaution has been decided upon." Voldemort made another gesture towards the guard which had escorted Slughorn to his seat. He nodded and left the room, presumably going to retrieve someone else. Harry wondered what familiar face he was going to see this time.

He was surprised when the man returned not with another person, but with a thin, wooden box. The guard went and stood next to Harry, holding the box in his hands as though it were the most precious item in the world.

"It has become somewhat common knowledge that Harry James Potter is capable of producing a corporeal patronus," Voldemort said. He was clearly addressing the crowds, but his penetrating gaze was fixed on Harry. "Tell us, Mr. Potter, what form does your patronus take?"

Harry swallowed. "A st-stag," he answered, and his voice sounded hoarse. "It's always a stag."

That was the truth, he hadn't needed to lie; but the words hadn't felt like they had just burst out of him, either… Was the veritaserum working? Harry didn't know.

More hushed murmurings in agreement from the spectators. Voldemort glanced at the guard next to Harry and nodded.

"Please," the Dark Lord said, and his voice was slightly lower now as he looked back to Harry. "Produce one for us."

The guard opened the box, and Harry saw, to his astonishment, a wand. And not just any wand, it was Voldemort's wand… his original wand, yew with the phoenix feather core. A feather from Fawkes, the same that had been in his broken wand, which was vanished now, gone…

"Get up," the guard seethed under his breath. Awkwardly, Harry stood, the blood rushing dangerously fast to his head when he did.

He didn't think it was possible for his heart to beat any faster. He was actually being expected to produce a patronus? Now? After all that he'd been through, after not having a wand in his hand for weeks…

Harry did not think he could do it.

He glanced nervously from Voldemort to the wand and back again, as though this must be a trap. For the first time, the Dark Lord's face betrayed the ghost of an emotion—his lip twitched ever so slightly in what Harry knew was amusement. "By all means," he prodded, and although Harry could see that same amusement dancing in his magic, his voice was flat and emotionless.

Harry's mouth went completely dry. He wet his lips in anticipation as he slowly reached for the wand, quickly wiping his sweaty palms on his robes before he did.

It felt peculiarly warm in his hands. Like the phoenix feather core recognized him, like an old friend. It was a disquieting feeling, considering that this was the wand which had killed his parents, which had attempted to kill him

For a long time, Harry simply stood there. A patronus. Something happy, think of something happy… A more difficult request could not have been asked of him. Why hadn't he been warned about this, he thought bitterly; if he had been told ahead of time, he could have at least had a happy memory ready to go… for now he could think of nothing, not a single happy thought came to mind. His old go-to's were all tainted. He could not think of Hermione's warm smile without hearing her screams as the Dark Mark was burned onto her skin; he could not think of Ron without seeing his face go slack with cold realization as Harry told him that Neville was dead

He could not think of G—

No.

He could not think of her.

The seconds slowly ticked by, turning into minutes during which Harry just stood there, still as a statue with the wand in his hand. He had his eyes closed tight as his thoughts raced… Something happy, something happy… The crowd was beginning to grow restless, the murmuring was growing louder…

"Hem, hem."

Harry's eyes snapped open at that most awful of sounds. Umbridge, clearing her throat in impatience. Harry glared, the heat rising to his face as he stared at her wide, toad-like mouth. She grinned again when he looked at her, seemingly unbothered by Harry's red eyes. She relished watching him squirm in his horrible situation…

Harry clenched his fist tightly around the wand in his hand, the words 'I shall not tell lies' still visible there as a faded scar, right beneath the recent addition of his name. He imagined a world without Dolores Umbridge. The idea of her having never existed made him smile, and that, Harry thought, was the closest thing he was going to get to happiness.

Her smug expression faltered at Harry's suddenly malevolent grin. He was staring right at her when he raised the wand, pointing it towards her, and for a moment the tension in the room was paramount—her face paled—

"Expecto patronum!" he shouted… and there it was.

A magnificent, silver stag burst forth from the wand tip. It charged with a staggering speed, straight towards Umbridge's aghast face. She screamed and ducked beneath the ledge as the stag lowered its antlers as if to run her down. The old wizards on either side of her jostled out of the way, causing a bit of a commotion.

But of course, it couldn't really harm any of them. The patronus passed straight through, cantering about and making a wide loop before returning to Harry's side. He smiled. The stag stood there next to him, and as Harry stared at it, he was filled with something that had been so long absent from his life that it felt foreign to him now.

Hope.

Here, in the form of a glowing stag, the same as his father's, was the undeniable proof that he didn't even realize he had so desperately needed. He really was still himself, deep down, the same Harry James Potter he'd always been.

Umbridge's wide face was bright red as she pulled herself up, her magic frazzled. She looked mutinous as she glared down at him, but a few of the spectators, to Harry's great surprise, actually laughed.

"There you have it." Voldemort still had an undecipherable expression on his face, having watched that interaction with no visible reaction. His magic had lessened in its intensity, and Harry thought he perceived the strangest emotion in it.

Disappointment?

"The irrefutable Harry James Potter."

Had he done something wrong by succeeding?

The guard which had brought him the wand shoved the box towards him, open, clearly indicating that he should return the wand. Harry gave his patronus one last, meaningful look. The presence of the silver stag had given him a new-found sense of courage. He took a deep breath before letting the wand fall from his fingertips into the wooden box, and his patronus vanished.

The guard motioned for Harry to be seated once again. He looked up towards Voldemort, the dark wizard staring down at him intently, impenetrable mask artfully in place. And, although still very nervous, although the silvery glow of his patronus had gone, the strength it had imparted in Harry remained. He sat.

The shackles twitched slightly, but did not bind him.

Voldemort's red eyes were fixed on Harry unblinkingly, his magic rising behind him like an ethereal crown of black and gold.

"Let us begin."

Chapter Text

The entire courtroom's attention was fixed on Harry, but Harry's focus was only for the Dark Lord.

Voldemort must have been implementing Occlumency against him, for Harry could not feel so much as a trace of his emotions. There was no light, no warmth, no hint of expression on his  face. Were it not for Harry's newfound ability to sense magic, he might have been convinced that the Dark lord did not feel at all.

To the naked eye, Voldemort appeared an emotionless figure of power.

A lie.

"You first stand accused of being involved with the murder of Albus Dumbledore," Voldemort began in a toneless voice. "How do you plead, Mr. Potter?"

"Not guilty."

"Did you witness this murder?"

Harry's eyes fell to the floor as his mind flashed to that fateful night, one of many memories which would forever haunt him. Albus Dumbledore, his posture stooped and his hand blackened, a curse colliding with his chest before he was flung backwards, falling…

And Harry hadn't been able to move. He hadn't been able to do anything.

"Yes," he answered quietly. "I witnessed his murder."

"When and where did it happen?"

"At the end of June last year, the 30th, I believe… at Hogwarts. He… was cursed, and fell from the Astronomy tower."

"Who cast the curse that ultimately killed Albus Dumbledore?"

Harry's focus betrayed him—his eyes flickered to where he'd seen the Malfoys sitting, and for a fractional moment, he made eye contact with Draco. His silvery magic glinted in alarm, but Harry was looking away again before Draco's face could convey an emotion.

"Severus Snape," Harry answered, his attention once more on the Dark Lord.

Voldemort's expression remained blank, but the witches and wizards of the court all reacted in obvious, if silent, ways. Their eyes widened, their magic whirled. Harry wondered how many of them had known that the man who next claimed the title of Headmaster had murdered his predecessor. To his side, Harry perceived a wave of relief that stuck out from the rest—from Draco, probably, or maybe Narcissa.

"You witnessed Severus Snape, previous Potions professor, murder Albus Dumbledore on the top of the Astronomy tower on the night of June 30th, 1997," Voldemort stated. His magic had flashed perilously at Snape's name. Harry had a horrid feeling of trepidation. "Is this correct, Mr. Potter?"

"Yes."

"And you were in no way involved with the planning or executing of this crime?"

"No, I wasn't."

"Did you have any knowledge prior to Albus Dumbledore's death that such a violent act would be taking place on the night of June 30th, 1997, that could in any manner condemn you to being accurately labeled as an accessory to murder?"

Harry's thoughts raced, trying to process the words which so quickly and tonelessly left Voldemort's mouth. He swallowed thickly and shook his head. "No… No, I had no idea that was going to happen. Albus Dumbledore's death was a shock." A pause. "A tragic shock," he added, voice thick with emotion.

Harry hardly cared that, in the end, Dumbledore had betrayed him. He couldn't harbor any resentment towards the man whom he had looked upon with such great respect for so many years.

Who had died so horribly, in the end…

"…A tragic shock."

Voldemort repeated the words with no inflection, but his magic darkened portentously. Harry's skin crawled at the quality of it.

"All in favor," Voldemort said, raising his voice, "in clearing the accused of the charges concerning his involvement with the murder, or accessory to murder, of Albus Dumbledore?"

There was a moment where the members of the Wizengamot glanced at each other, but then, one right after another, they began to raise their hands… A few at first, and then—

All of them. With Dolores Umbridge being the last to put her short arm in the air, every member of the Wizengamot had voted in favor of Harry's innocence on this matter.

Which should not have been surprising, because he was innocent, but Harry felt an unwarranted rush of relief all the same. Voldemort's face remained impassive as his eyes swept over the many raised arms, though his magic glinted with a sort of mild satisfaction.

"Very well," Voldemort said, his scarlet eyes returning to Harry. "Mr. Potter, you are hereby cleared of the charges of murder, and accessory to murder… in the case of Albus Dumbledore."

Harry's feeling of relief instantly vanished. It was never that accusation he had been concerned about, anyway. That had all just been a contrived accusation, an excuse to have the Ministry looking for him before it was completely under Voldemort's control. Harry had no reason to fear he would be condemned for that crime.

The rest of his charges, though…

If Voldemort was not planning on tossing him in Azkaban—and Harry knew he was not—then Harry hadn't a clue on how the Dark Lord was going to make him seem innocent in the eyes of this regime.

In a Ministry run by Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter was not innocent.

"You also stand accused of opposing the Ministry of Magic on a number of accounts… This includes fleeing when there was a warrant out for your arrest, attempting to consort with known rebels, and violent assault against Ministry officials. Treason."

Harry's heart raced, having no idea how Voldemort was going to approach this. If he simply asked, 'how do you plead?' and Harry really had just taken veritaserum…

"Tell us, Mr. Potter… about your relationship with the now deceased Albus Dumbledore."

"Er… what?"

Harry was not the only one who was baffled. The spectators shifted animatedly as well, sharing confused looks.

"Tell us about your previous relationship with Albus Dumbledore," Voldemort repeated.

Harry stared, unsure of where to even begin with such a request, and deeply concerned as to why it was being asked.

"Where and when did you first meet Dumbledore?" the Dark Lord prompted, using a much simpler, direct question when Harry remained speechless.

"A-at Hogwarts," Harry finally stuttered out. "I first met him at Hogwarts, when I was eleven."

"At Hogwarts." Voldemort's magic writhed, but Harry wasn't sure what the emotion simmering there meant. "You are saying that Albus Dumbledore, then Headmaster, did not come to see or speak to you, Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, before you arrived at Hogwarts alongside the other first-year students."

"Yes."

The muttering of the crowd grew louder; Harry was beginning to find it distracting. It dissipated when Voldemort spoke again. "Tell us, Mr. Potter… Where did you grow up?"

Another baffling question. "Number 4, Privet Drive. Little Whinging, in Surrey."

"With your muggle relatives, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, your aunt and uncle, as well as your cousin. Is this correct?"

"Yes," Harry said, and he couldn't help but think it was the most surreal thing in the world, to hear the Dark Lord say the word 'Dursley'. It was even stranger than when Vernon had mispronounced 'Voldemort'.

"Did your relatives ever inform you that you were a child with magical capabilities, Mr. Potter?" Voldemort asked. "Surely, if Albus Dumbledore left you in their care, they were made fully aware that you were a magical child. Petunia Dursley knew about witches and wizards. Her own sister attended Hogwarts and married a pureblood wizard. Did Petunia Dursley tell you that you were a wizard?"

"No... She never told me."

"And why would she conceal this from you, do you think?"

"She—and my uncle, too—they hated magic," Harry said, the answer leaving his mouth before he had even thought it through. Instantly, the room became fraught with tension. Muttering that was undeniably irate reverberated around him.

"So much so that they concealed your ancestry from you, raising you to believe you were a mere muggle as well?"

"Yes." Harry was trying to see where this was headed, but his concentration was derailed by the spiteful whispers surrounding him from all sides, the pureblood families disgusted at the concept of his life.

"Was Albus Dumbledore ever in contact with your muggle relatives, to your knowledge?" Voldemort continued.

"Yes. Dumbledore had sent my aunt letters…"

"Do you know what they were pertaining to, specifically?"

"Well, me, obviously." Voldemort's magic flashed, and his face almost betrayed his annoyance at the blunt and uninformative response.

"What about you, Mr. Potter?"

"They, er… They were pretty much all threats to stop my aunt from throwing me out, as far as I know," Harry said.

"Am I therefore correct in saying, Mr. Potter, that Albus Dumbledore knowingly sent you to live with muggles who not only detested magic, but who went out of their way to conceal from you your magical heritage? Who were, in fact, purposefully neglectful towards you because you were a wizard?"

Harry felt like there was something lodged in his throat, making it difficult to swallow, to breathe, to speak. "Yes," he said, despite this. "Yes, he... I suppose he did. And they were."

"An unsettlingly common situation," Voldemort said, and he was clearly addressing the Wizengamot and spectators. "I've touched on this subject publicly only briefly, but the truth remains that nearly all muggles who are aware of their superior, magical brethren are not tolerant, but heavy with jealousy and resentment… Non-magical siblings become dangerous in their envy. Parents who do not understand the capabilities of their sporadically magical children become malicious…"

The Dark Lord paused, allowing the hisses of disapproval to grow before continuing. His magic was glistening, so vibrant where it glinted in gold that Harry hardly noticed anyone else's auras, though they were just as active.

Voldemort's focus fell back to Harry. "And so Albus Dumbledore, who was fully aware of all of this, left you there regardless. The most important magical child in Wizarding Brittan, as far as he was concerned, to be raised in a neglectful household by spiteful, prejudiced muggles… Why, Mr. Potter, do you believe he would do this?"

Harry opened his mouth to answer, but Voldemort decided to elaborate and interrupted before he could. "And you can skip the expected, ignorant response that it was for your protection. The very notion that living with Petunia Dursley and her family—who barely tolerated your presence, in a home which would have been easy for you to flee from, had you attempted it—offered you more protection than what the very best of the Wizarding World had to offer is incredulous. A better, safer household could have been provided for you… but Albus Dumbledore denied you this, preferring to leave you with muggles who detested what you were. Why do you think this was the case, Mr. Potter?"

Harry stared. His heart was beating too loudly. He barely heard his own voice when he responded, saying, "I… I don't know."

Voldemort almost smiled.

"Tell us about your relationship with Albus Dumbledore after you arrived at Hogwarts," he went on, his aura shimmering brightly. Harry was still unable to tell why he was asking these questions in the first place, but it was clear by the way his magic shined that, thus far, this was all going the way he intended it to.

"He was… nice to me," Harry said. "I liked him a lot, actually, right away. It was difficult not to. I'd only heard great things about him."

"From who?"

Harry's booming heartbeat stuttered. He was awash in a sudden, terrible wave of guilt. He had not even thought of him since…

"Rubeus Hagrid," he said, his voice breaking twice in two words.

What had become of Hagrid?

"The half-breed who had been employed at Hogwarts first as the Gamekeeper, and later as the Care of Magical Creatures instructor?"

"Yes," Harry choked out, and how badly he wanted to ask, and yet how badly he did not want to know… "H-he came to get me when the Dursleys refused to give me my Hogwarts letter."

"They refused to give you your Hogwarts letter?"

Voldemort's tone was suddenly higher and colder. His magic swiftly darkened again, and it was so chilling that Harry shivered at the feel of it.

He hadn't known that.

For as informed as Voldemort seemed to be, it was abundantly clear—to Harry, to everyone—that this was something the Dark Lord had not known. He was blatantly perturbed.

Harry wasn't sure how to feel about this. His initial reaction was simple astonishment. Why, after everything he had just declared, did the Dark Lord find it shocking that his relatives had prevented him from reading his Hogwarts acceptance letter? Harry didn't know, but for whatever reason, Voldemort was genuinely surprised and enraged by this.

His magic was flashing. Frightening.

"Yes," Harry confirmed, adrenaline rushing through him.

"Explain."

Harry felt his face turning red. This was a mortifying story to relay. "…When my letter came in the mail, well… No one ever wrote me, obviously, so my uncle was suspicious, and my aunt knew what it was at once. She threw it in the fire. Another one came the following morning, and she tossed that one too... It got really out of hand really quickly. More and more letters came every day, to the point where they were exploding out of our fireplace, our house was filled with them… it was like a snow globe of letters in our living room, but I still couldn't manage to get my hands on one. My uncle ended up dragging us all to this tiny island in the middle of a lake out in the country, even though there was a crazy storm going on, to get away from the owls…"

The crowd sounded completely aghast. Harry noted how stone-like Voldemort's face had once more become, despite his active magic.

"But then Hagrid came. Gave me my letter. And a birthday cake… right, because this was all happening the night before my birthday. The Dursleys never acknowledged mine… When my cousin tried to eat it, Hagrid gave him a pig's tail with his pink umbrella." Harry found himself smirking at the fond memory despite himself. "Best birthday I'd ever had."

There was some scattered laughter from the spectators, but the Dark Lord did not look amused in the slightest.

"So Albus Dumbledore sent an incompetent half-breed to rescue you from these hate-filled muggles, even when he must have known that things had escalated to such a level."

Harry scowled, heat rising to his face. "Hagrid wasn't—"

"I always said Dumbledore was off his rocker!"

A short, bald man whom Harry did not recognize from the Wizengamot had stood, interrupting Harry with a booming shout. "I said he was inept years ago, when he first spoke out against my proposal for the Muggle Displacement Act—"

"That will do, Rowle," Voldemort said. The man immediately fell silent, but he was glowering when he sat. The rest of the Wizengamot murmured in agreement with his outburst, and Harry comprehended fully just how much the High Court had changed.

Voldemort had not only placed himself as the Chief Warlock, but he had, evidently, replaced everyone he could on the Wizangamot with conservative, like-minded individuals… Many of whom had probably harbored personal vendettas against Albus Dumbledore when he was alive.

"Mr. Dawlish," Voldemort called suddenly, looking down towards the guards that were on either side of the elevated bench where the Wizengamot sat. A man on the far left, whom Harry had not noticed before, jumped as though he'd just been struck at the sound of his name.

Harry recognized this wizard. He was an auror, one who had been commanded by Minister Fudge to seize Dumbledore in his own office, years ago…

"Y-yes, my Lord?" he stuttered, quickly getting to his feet and facing the Dark Lord presiding. His magic was a deep blue-green, and it shuddered under Voldemort's scrutinizing eyes.

"As the current Head of the Auror Department, it is your solemn duty to track down and locate dangerous criminals. So, tell me… where is Rubeus Hagrid?"

Dawlish's statue shrunk. "W-we have been searching for Rubeus Hagrid as a high-priority rebel, but, er, as of this moment, we are unable to locate him…"

Harry was hit with a rush of relief so strong he felt dizzy. Hagrid had gotten away…

How on earth he had managed that, Harry could not even fathom. The last he had seen of Hagrid was on that crucial night in the forest, when he had been bound and silenced, forced to watch as Harry surrendered himself…

But if what Dawlish was saying was correct, he had somehow escaped. "You are unable to locate him," Voldemort drawled. "What of his brother, the fully grown, murderous giant that wreaked devastation on Hogwarts and was responsible for the deaths of several aurors?"

Dawlish looked on the verge of fainting. "We have been… unsuccessful in finding the giant, as w-well, though we suspect they are t-together…"

"The entire auror department is incapable of finding an uneducated half-breed and his full-blooded, giant brother," Voldemort sneered, his tone supremely condescending. He turned his attention back to the court when he said, "And to think, there are those in the Ministry who still think I am wrong in my wishes to revamp most departments."

Dawlish turned a bright red. The crowd chuckled at Voldemort's words, and Harry came to a sudden and chilling realization.

They weren't terrified of him anymore.

Well, no, that wasn't true—Harry was certain that every single person in the courtroom harbored a deep fear for Voldemort—but it was no longer the only feeling they had towards the dark wizard. Just weeks ago, even those who were working within a Voldemort-run Ministry were afraid of the mere idea of him. He hadn't come out in the public eye, preferring instead to remain as a mysterious, omniscient entity in the shadows…

But that had all changed.

Now, Voldemort was very public, and he was holding trials and making humorous remarks and—

And people liked him.

Harry's jaw was dropping as he examined the crowd. Nearly all of them were smirking, nodding in agreement and casting the Dark Lord admiring glances. It reminded Harry viscerally of Slughorn's memory, when a sixteen-year-old Tom Riddle sat in his office, surrounded by his peers… In fact, except for Slughorn himself, whose eyes were fixed on the floor, and Draco Malfoy, who was clearly not as good an actor as his mother and father yet, everyone was looking at the Dark Lord with reverence. Their auras, for the most part, seemed to reflect these feelings too.

Voldemort wasn't forcing them into following him solely out of fear anymore, Harry grasped. He was truly winning them over. With his words, with his ideals, with his charming, handsome face…

Harry felt sick at the comprehension. Lord Voldemort regaining a more human appearance was, perhaps, the most effective and dangerous thing he had done… and it was Harry's fault he had done it.

"That will be all, Dawlish," Voldemort finished. Dawlish sat, bowing his head and looking miserable.

Voldemort's scarlet eyes returned to Harry. "Hagrid was fine," Harry snarled before he could be asked another question, a sudden defiance burning in his chest.

The light atmosphere that Voldemort's joke had cast was quickly gone. His eyes narrowed, and everyone fell silent. "…Was he?" Voldemort said, his voice detached once more. "Was he truly, adequately helpful? In a completely unbiased manner? Tell us, Harry, what did Rubeus Hagrid do when he came to retrieve you from the Dursley family?"

"Well, he cursed Dudley, so that was great—"

"With his illegal, fragmented wand, the pieces of which he kept in an umbrella and which was a hazard to use," Voldemort interrupted smoothly, and though his tone was level, his eyes flashed a brighter red. "He cursed your cousin, performing magic in front of muggles and breaking several laws in the process. But please. Continue with this tale, Mr. Potter. Where did Rubeus Hagrid take you?"

Harry was outraged, and though he wanted to argue about the fact that Hagrid should have been allowed a wand, he found himself answering the question, anyway. "To Diagon Alley, obviously," he said. "To buy school supplies."

"And did he explain to you all which you needed to know about Hogwarts in order to prepare you for attending the school?"

Harry hesitated, thinking. The truth was that he recalled all too clearly how very unprepared he had been. "Er, no, not really," he admitted. "But—"

"What did he tell you?"

Harry bit his lower lip and he contemplated this. It felt like he was recalling someone else's adventure into Diagon Alley. "He… Well, he talked about how wonderful Hogwarts was, of course… That it was the greatest place on earth, especially under Albus Dumbledore… He talked a lot about Dumbledore, actually. Said he was Dumbledore's man, that there was nothing the Headmaster couldn't trust him to do… Er."

He felt like he was rambling, but the Wizengamot was listening with rapt attention, and Voldemort did not interrupt him. "He told me a bit about the houses," Harry continued, "about how he was in Gryffindor when he was a student, just like Dumbledore…"

"What else did he tell you concerning the houses of Hogwarts specifically?"

Voldemort's magic glinted in a way Harry was coming to recognize far too well. It was almost devious, swelling with a foreboding anticipation.

"He said… He said that Gryffindor was the best, that it was the house my parents had been sorted into as well," Harry answered. "He said that Ravenclaw was all right, that Hufflepuff was… well, it wasn't great, but it wasn't as bad as Slytherin…" He cleared his throat, hoping that he would be cut off. He wasn't. Voldemort was looking at him expectantly. "He said that Slytherin was the worst, that there wasn't a dark witch or wizard who hadn't come from that house."

Harry was surprised when Voldemort didn't comment on that. "Did Rubeus Hagrid continue to watch over you, from this point on? You stated previously that this occurred on your birthday, which is July 31st. There was an entire month from then until the first of September. Were you still forced to spend the remainder of the summer holiday with the Dursley family?"

"Yes."

"Were plans set in motion to make sure that you would safely arrive at King's Cross in London on September first? Clearly, this was a family that would not willingly help you attend Hogwarts, as they had gone to such extremes to keep your letter from you."

"Er. No," Harry said, but it now seemed like that should have been discussed. "No, but, ah. They drove me to King's Cross… Though my uncle did say it was only because they were going to London anyway. My cousin had to have the pigtail removed by a surgeon… Unintentional planning on Hagrid's part?"

Harry wasn't sure why he couldn't stop himself from adding unnecessary thoughts as he had them. Was it just his extreme nervousness, or was he truly being influenced by veritaserum?

The Dark Lord's magic was dim, the opposite of amused. "Was your arrival at Hogwarts seamless, Mr. Potter?"

"…No, not at all," Harry admitted. "Hagrid… sort of forgot to tell me how to get on the platform. I had no idea where 9 ¾ was, that to get to it you had to pass through that section of wall… My aunt and uncle left me there, wandering around with my trunk and an owl… I asked a muggle guard where the train that left at eleven was, but he said there wasn't one, and I was too afraid to show him my ticket…"

There was some mumbling in the crowd that sounded suspiciously like it was sympathetic. Harry hated it, hated the idea that these people might be looking at him with something like pity.

"How did you eventually board the train?"

"I got lucky," Harry said. "I happened to hear Molly Weasley muttering something about the station being overrun with muggles, and turned and saw her and five children… Four of them were boys, and they had trunks and even an owl, too…"

Harry recalled it all so perfectly. Molly Weasley, arriving at King's Cross with less than ten minutes to go, rushing to get her children on the train…

Percy's magic brightened considerably as Harry recounted this memory, but he kept his face down, writing and recording his words. "Molly Weasley told me how to get onto the platform," Harry finished softly.

Voldemort was still, his glinting magic such a contrast to his cold expression. "And so this was your introduction, as an impressionable, eleven-year-old boy, to the wizarding world. Raised with neglectful muggles, no idea of who or what you were, and suddenly a giant of a man comes to rescue you, performing rudimentary, illegal magic on these relatives, whisking you away and telling you skewed, scattered, and ultimately frivolous information about the world in which you knew nothing. A man who told you of the greatness of a wizard who, as it transpired, knowingly damned you to that household, who told you of his preference of Gryffindor and who slandered the great house of Salazar Slytherin, who gave you very little useful information… leaving you to fend for yourself, to be rescued, yet again, by the Weasley family."

A pause.

"All when he could have gone himself. Albus Dumbledore had been known to personally go and inform muggle-born children of their abilities. At the very least, he could have sent an official to go in his stead. The Ministry has been coordinating with Hogwarts for years, producing trained representatives to go to the households of muggle-born children to explain what Hogwarts was, and why their magically sporadic children should attend. And yet when it came to Harry Potter, he chose instead to send a half-breed who was banned from performing magic. Someone who was incredibly indebted to him, who was fiercely loyal to him… who would, of course, do nothing but sing his praises. Glorified words spoken to an oblivious, neglected boy, so that when he would finally escape the torment of his muggle family, he would first see Albus Dumbledore, seated in the middle of the glorious Great Hall of Hogwarts, in a very flattering—one might say godlike—light."

Harry stared, lips parted uselessly in shock. The crowd was buzzing.

"Mr. Potter, in hindsight, do you feel as though these circumstances caused you to arrive at Hogwarts with unfair prejudices?"

"Yes," Harry bit out unthinkingly.

"Do you believe such unjust biases affected your decisions upon your arrival at the school?"

Voldemort's magic was alight with eagerness when he asked, sparkling golden flecks shining between spans of darkness. For the first time, Harry tried to lie. The fib was there in his mind, the word 'no' on the tip of his tongue—

And the question as to whether he had taken veritaserum was definitively answered.

He intended to deny it, but the word, "Yes," came spluttering out. As though to make matters worse, Harry instinctually clapped a hand over his mouth right afterwards, and the entirety of the court reacted. His own response was a dead giveaway.

Harry Potter had just tried and failed to lie.

The Dark Lord's aura was so glittery with satisfaction that Harry was nauseated perceiving it. "Give us an example," Voldemort demanded, face still betraying no emotion.

Harry clamped his eyes shut and tried to hold it in. Hadn't he heard once that some people could resist veritaserum if they practiced Occlumency? Harry bit down harshly on his lower lip, mentally chorusing the words empty your mind…

But Harry had never been good at Occlumency. He had no sooner attempted to clear his thoughts when the words burst out of his mouth, quite against his will. "At my sorting," he said in a rush. "My sorting was greatly affected by my pre-conceived notions of Hogwarts because of the conversations I had with Hagrid, as well as my initial friendship with Ronald Weasley, whose entire family was in Gryffindor house."

He couldn't stop. Harry suspected with dread that it was because he had attempted to lie—the effect of the veritaserum was obvious now, and he was powerless to stop speaking. The confessions spilled out of his mouth like water pouring from a broken faucet.

"Draco Malfoy confronted me and offered me his friendship, saying he could help me figure out the right sort of families to associate myself with in the wizarding world. I denied his offer because he had made fun of Ron Weasley, who was the first and only person I had considered even close to a friend at this time. Before the Sorting Hat had ever touched me, I knew I wanted no part of Slytherin house. But—"

Harry managed to pause for only a second, taking a short breath before the rest of the story came rushing out. "But then the Sorting Hat was on my head, and it said I was difficult, very difficult, with an interesting thirst to prove myself, and I just thought, 'not Slytherin, not Slytherin', to which it seemed very surprised, telling me that it was all there, in my head, that Slytherin could help me on my way to greatness, no doubt, but I kept saying no, and finally it put me in Gryffindor. Reluctantly."

Harry took a deep breath afterwards, and even though he thought he was finished, he wasn't. He seemed unable to not voice his thoughts as he had them now, and it was with greatest humiliation that he found himself adding, "The Sorting Hat seemed to think I had bravery, loyalty, and ambition, but in hindsight, I don't think it ever considered Ravenclaw—evidently, it thought I had plenty of strong qualities, but intelligence wasn't fucking one of them—fuck."

Harry kept his eyes closed as he blushed furiously, his body far too hot with embarrassment. The crowd was reacting in a myriad of dramatic manners—some were gasping, aghast; some were muttering derisively; and some were even laughing—probably because of that last bit Harry had added, unable to even stop himself from voicing aloud the internal swear words he was thinking.

He could stay silent now, at least. Harry sensed the enigmatic auras around him before he opened his eyes, and the Dark Lord's magic was the most vibrant of them all. Tangled sensations like honest shock at Harry's confession, followed quickly by a gratification so powerful it was suffocating.

Harry finally opened his eyes, looking up at the Dark Lord as slowly as he dared. He couldn't be entirely sure, but Harry thought it looked like Voldemort was trying not to smile. His impenetrable mask of indifference appeared on the verge of cracking.

"Your experience at Hogwarts was extremely altered, then, by the influence of Albus Dumbledore… and this was all before he ever bothered to speak with you."

"Manipulative crook!"

The same, balding wizard who had shouted before was on his feet again. He slammed his fists down on the counter in front of him, seething. "I always said Dumbledore was an underhanded, scheming man! Why, when he sought to—"

"That will do, Rowle," Voldemort repeated, a bit sharper this time—and though his expression was one of mild annoyance, his magic danced with obvious approval.

Rowle fell back into his seat. The spectators were nodding, and a few even shouted quick words of agreement, but then the Dark Lord raised one hand, and silence fell.

"Mr. Potter," he said. "Tell us about your first conversation with Albus Dumbledore."

Harry's hesitation at this question was not from a desire to lie—he now knew how futile and potentially damaging such an act was—but from uncertainty. When was the first time he had spoken to Dumbledore? He furrowed his brows, thinking…

"It was not long after Christmas," he answered as it came to him. "I had just gotten my invisibility cloak as a surprise Christmas present, left for me without a note, though now I know it was from Dumbledore himself… So, naturally, I went out after hours—"

"Why?"

It was not the Dark Lord who had voiced the question. Bile instantly clawed at Harry's throat at the sound of Umbridge's high, sharp voice, her eyes fixed on him with utmost dislike. Her neon-like aura was putrid.

"Because I wanted to go to the Restricted Section of the library," Harry muttered, injecting as much venom into every syllable as he could.

"Why?"

"Irrelevant."

Voldemort cut Harry off before he could speak, shooting Umbridge a quick and icy look. Her face paled and her magic wilted, terror at being addressed personally by the Dark Lord in a disapproving manner evident in every feature. Harry felt a completely unwarranted rush of something like affection for the Dark Lord in that moment. "You were out of bed after hours under the guise of your invisibility cloak," Voldemort said, turning his attention back to Harry. "Continue."

"I went to the Restricted Section of the library," Harry said, casting Umbridge one last, scathing look, "and the very first book I opened screamed bloody murder. So I ran, barely escaping Filch and that awful cat of his, and—and I don't even know how I got there, but I stumbled upon this room that had the Mirror of Erised."

Harry paused, dreading what was assuredly going to be Voldemort's next question. He tried not to think of the nightmare he'd had, the one in which he had seen not his family in the reflective surface of the mirror, but Lord Voldemort, snake-like and monstrous, his lips grazing his ear—

"And Albus Dumbledore found you?"

Harry seized on the question at once. "No," he said. "At least, not that time. I went back the next night, bringing Ron with me. Then I went again, a third time, by myself… and that was when Dumbledore found me."

Voldemort's aura was light and curious. "Was the then-Headmaster angry? Did he punish or otherwise reprimand you for being out after hours?"

"No, he wasn't mad at all… Just told me what the mirror did, that it showed you your heart's true desire. He seemed more concerned than anything. He warned me against coming back, because it was dangerous, and the mirror was going to be moved soon, anyway."

The Dark Lord's magic flickered like he was conflicted. He was quiet for a moment, but eventually decided to voice the question Harry wished he would not. "…What did you see in the mirror, Mr. Potter?"

"M-my family," Harry stuttered, both to his relief and discomfiture. This was the last place in the world he wanted to talk about his family. "I saw my parents for the first time..."

"Your parents."

Voldemort's face and magic both became sinister. He addressed the courtroom at large when he spoke next. "James Potter and Lily Evans. A pure-blooded wizard, who ultimately revealed himself to be a blood-traitor, and a muggle-born woman."

A long stretch of silence. Harry held his breath.

"Lily Evans, sister of the muggle woman Petunia Evans, who raised Harry Potter, was a mudblood who had somehow attracted the interest of both James Potter and Severus Snape," the Dark Lord went on. Several members of the Wizengamot scoffed disdainfully. "One wonders how such an undesirable individual could manipulate not just one, but two wizards with blood status into pursuing her… Horace Slughorn."

The Dark Lord's voice suddenly calling upon him caused Slughorn to nearly fall out of his seat. He peered up at Voldemort, squinting, rather like he was being forced to look into an uncomfortably bright light. "Tell us… as the Potions Master in her day, how did Lily Evans perform as a student in your class?"

Slughorn was trembling when he stood, his eyes darting around to look at anyone else on the Wizengamot bench besides the Dark Lord. "She… she was magnificent," he said truthfully. "Lily Evans was easily one of my best students. Brilliant at Potions, really. She always got top marks. One of the few to receive an 'Outstanding' both in her O.W.L. and in her N.E.W.T."

"Then it would not be unreasonable to assume that Lily Evans was capable of creating the most complicated brews… such as amortentia."

Slughorn's face turned an unsettling shade of green. His magic was a heavy shroud of desolation as he realized what the Dark Lord was willing him to insinuate. But surely, Harry thought, Slughorn would never actually go along with it…

Harry was wrong.

"I… No, it would not be unreasonable to say that," Slughorn murmured, acquiescent. "Lily Evans would have been more than capable of brewing love potions."

"Thank you," Voldemort murmured, and Slughorn sat.

The anger that erupted in Harry's chest was sudden and fierce.

It consumed him so wholly that he forgot himself, forgot everything; he was on his feet so quickly he hardly registered that he'd stood before he was shouting, fists raised, blood boiling—

"How could you!?"

Harry fleetingly caught Slughorn's stricken face and shifting magic, had only taken two long, fast strides when the chains on the floor sprung to life. One caught him around each of his wrists and yanked him backwards.

Harry resisted, pulling against them, using every ounce of willpower he had to ignore the burning pain they caused and keep his focus on Slughorn. "You—!"

Before another word could leave his mouth, a third chain snapped around his throat, viciously tight. It turned his accusation into a strangled cry, and in one viciously fast motion, the shackles pulled him back towards the chair. Harry's knees buckled and he was forced to sit. His skin burned, white-hot and horrible as the chains twisted around him, securing him so tightly to the chair that he could hardly breathe.

"Enough."

The bindings cooled and loosened but didn't completely relinquish their hold. Harry inhaled a shuddering breath, and afterwards began coughing. His eyes watered. His ears rang. Harry barely perceived the gasps and shifting movement of the crowd, nor their trembling magic.

The pain had done little to sober his anger. Harry turned and glared at Slughorn.

You said she was one of your favorites. You said you adored her. You said she was charming and brilliant and good.

Harry could say none of these things, as a chain was still wrapped around his throat, but he thought them with as much vitriol as he could. Slughorn, who had been so adept at staring at nothing but the floor before, seemed trapped in Harry's glare. His magic was motionless and dark.

How could you?

"Mr. Potter."

Harry begrudgingly looked back to the Dark Lord. Voldemort waited a moment to lift his hand, and when he did, the chain around his neck went limp and fell to the floor. Harry's vision was blurred with the involuntary tears that had surfaced, but Voldemort's magic was crystal clear. It glistened strangely with something… something odd, something like…

Awe?

Harry couldn't care to linger on it. "She'd never," he finally spat out, his voice gravelly and raw. The shackles on his wrists, which still ensnared him, burned slightly hotter. "She'd never use a love potion."

Voldemort's face was, as usual, meticulously void of emotion. "No one can make an accusation one way or the other, Mr. Potter. I was merely asking if such a thing were conceivable. After all, these kinds of incidents generally go unreported, but that does not mean they are unheard-of phenomena… Ah, but you already knew that, didn't you?"

Harry felt the hot blood drain from his face. He was so stunned at those words and the manner in which Voldemort said them that his rage was eclipsed by utter shock. Voldemort's aura became thick with smugness, and Harry knew exactly what he was referring to.

'Like mother, like son, I guess.'

This was revenge.

"…Were you not once the intended target of a love potion yourself, Mr. Potter? While you were a student at Hogwarts, no less."

Voldemort folded his hands in front of him, continuing with his questions in a cool, level tone. His aura, however, was whirling with unbearable arrogance at how pale Harry had become.

It took Harry a moment to even consider what it was the Dark Lord was talking about. "I… yes," he answered after a suspended moment.

Romilda Vane, and the chocolates she'd sent… Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts hardly felt real to him anymore. The members of the Wizengamot were whispering to each other behind their hands at his admission, nodding knowingly…

"But my mother would never have used a love potion!" he shouted. Voldemort's magic flashed when Harry spoke out of turn, and the whispering ceased. "She would never have done such a thing! My father loved her for who she was! She…"

Harry looked round the room, looking for someone, anyone to speak out on his behalf. His eyes landed on Narcissa, and he brightened with hope—she had known his mother, she knew that Lily Evans was not a manipulative witch, but kind and good and—

His hope died as quickly as it had come. Narcissa stared right into Harry's pleading eyes, and her navy magic became saturated in both understanding and deepest remorse. She said nothing, she did nothing. Narcissa looked away, irrefutable guilt in her aura.

In the same moment that Harry felt betrayed, he understood. Of course Narcissa Malfoy was not going to defend a muggle-born woman in the Dark Lord's court room. Anything she did to oppose Voldemort could spell death for her, or, far more pressingly, her family. Draco was sitting right next to her, her only son, and she would do anything to ensure his safety. Narcissa may have come to care for Harry, but she was not his mother.

Harry's mother was dead.

"You never knew your parents, Mr. Potter," Voldemort said calmly, as though Harry was not aware of this fact. He turned back to face him, scowling. "What are your sources for such a claim?"

"Sirius Black said as much, and Remus Lupin, his best friends—"

"A blood traitor and a werewolf, both of whom are now deceased," Voldemort cut in icily.

Harry's fury returned with a vengeance. The chains tightened on his wrists, but he ignored them and the pain they caused. "I saw it myself!" he roared. "In a memory, I saw it—for the longest time, my mother wasn't even interested in my father at all, he was the one who pursued her!"

"And whose memory was this?"

Harry's rage stuttered, suddenly very unwilling to say the name out loud again.

But he didn't have a choice. The words were forming on his lips, and he could not stop them. "Severus Snape's," he said quietly.

"And we arrive again at the man himself… Severus Snape."

Voldemort practically hissed the name. For the first time, the Dark Lord made no attempt to mask his emotions. Undiluted ire radiated about him, his magic blackening and swelling so intensely that Harry was sure everyone could feel it. The witches and wizards nearest to him cowered, shifting as far away from him as they could in their seats. Harry's fiery rage was quenched in a moment.

"…The ultimate traitor," Voldemort continued, his quiet voice nonetheless carrying in the cavernous courtroom. "Severus Snape, who, as you stated previously, was responsible for the murder of Albus Dumbledore. Who, at the time, I presumed committed this act in order to gain further favor with me… I thought him loyal to me, then. Was he, Mr. Potter?"

"…No."

"No," Voldemort repeated with unconcealed fury. He addressed the Wizengamot, his eyes fiercely red. "No, Severus Snape was, at this point, working on Dumbledore's orders. Dumbledore had come into contact with a cursed item in the months leading up to that night on June 30th, 1997. He was already dying. He consorted with Snape, the turncloak, using his own, imminent demise to work towards his obsessive goal of destroying me. He ordered Snape to kill him… and Snape, still devastated over the death of the mudblood traitor whom I did not spare, also completely committed to seeing my demise, complied. It would seem no part of Dumbledore's life went untainted by his manipulative and destructive agenda… not even his death. Such a shame, that dead men cannot take the stand. How… unfortunate."

And it was clear by his tone that by unfortunate the Dark Lord meant convenient. Voldemort's eyes and magic flashed brilliantly, turning once more to Harry, who was shaken with disbelief. Everything he was saying was so wrong, and yet…

"Did you know, Mr. Potter," Voldemort went on, his tone suddenly much more conversational, "that memories rarely stand up in court?"

"N-no. I didn't know that."

Voldemort's lips curled slightly on one side, a crooked smile. "They do not. The reason for this is that memories are subjective. The manner in which we remember our pasts varies greatly based on time elapsed, perception, cognitive abilities, willpower… Yes, Mr. Potter, that is correct. Oftentimes, especially when powerful emotions are involved, we remember things the way we wish to remember them."

His tone was cruel and patronizing. Harry shook his head, refusing the implications. "No, Snape didn't make that up—she really didn't want my father at first, she—"

"Your words at this very moment are proof of the power of will. Right now, under the influence of a truth serum, you are able to vehemently argue that I am wrong, and you are right. Yet you cannot possibly know the truth on this matter. All of your beliefs have been based on what traitorous, biased men have told you, on subjectable memories…"

And Harry knew in that moment that Voldemort was referring not only to Snape's memories of his parents, but to Dumbledore's memories of him.

He knew.

Voldemort knew that Dumbledore had shared with Harry memories of Tom Riddle, memories gathered from Slughorn and house-elves and which had come from the former Headmaster himself…

But in the same second that Harry realized this, he thought of all the memories that Voldemort had shared with him.

A gift…

Were they all lies? Was any of it reliable information?

Harry's head was spinning. Voldemort's smirk was small but malevolent.

"You have been led to believe many inaccurate things about your family and the wizarding world, Mr. Potter… before you even understood what magic was, you had been manipulated into thinking that Dumbledore was an honorable and noble wizard, that the house of Salazar Slytherin was toxic, that your entire family was good and just… Your whole world had been constructed by ignorant muggles, mudbloods, blood traitors and half-breeds… the truth always being kept from you. Always just out of reach."

Harry opened his mouth, trying to come up with an intelligent retort, but he could not. Voldemort's magic was so bright where it glinted with gold that it was nearly blinding. "Have there been times where, in hindsight, you now realize that Albus Dumbledore purposefully kept information from you, Mr. Potter? Were there occasions where you had asked about your past, honest facts which you were entitled to, but that Albus Dumbledore denied you for his own manipulative purposes? The truth about your family, yourself… about me?"

Harry bit his tongue and tried uselessly to contain his response. He couldn't manage it for more than a second.

"…Yes."

The sudden frazzled, energized magic of the spectators was disorienting, and their murmurings buzzed around Harry like a swarm of insects. Voldemort let it go one for a few moments, allowing them their hushed words of disdain for Dumbledore.

"No, Albus Dumbledore justified keeping critical information from an innocent child by telling himself that he was acting for the greater good… It was Dumbledore's greatest ambition to destroy my regime in his failure to recognize my superior ideals. He did everything in his power to see my demise… to see to the fulfillment of a prophecy."

Harry felt like his heart turned to stone at the word 'prophecy'.

The stillness which followed was so all-encompassing that Harry swore no one was breathing. Even the crowds' magic froze, fluctuating auras becoming still as they listened with rapt attention.

"Yes," Voldemort reiterated, who alone looked unfazed as he breached this dangerous and thrilling subject. His magic was twitching with something akin to excitement. "It is not a rumor, nor a falsity which was perpetuated by The Daily Prophet… but a reality. Tell us, Mr. Potter—did you know of this prophecy which concerned both of us?"

"I… yes," Harry responded hoarsely. "But not until the end of my fifth year at Hogwarts."

"Did you hear this prophecy in its entirety?"

"…Yes."

"Please…" Voldemort inclined his head only slightly, but his magic gleamed with bright pinpricks of gold. "Tell us about it."

The tension in the room could not have gotten any higher. Harry's heart thundered, but the words were pulled from his lips, fear and anxiety nowhere near powerful enough to stifle the effect of the veritaserum.

"I… the prophecy… There was a prophecy. About you and… someone else, someone unnamed… who you took to mean me," Harry grit out, a truth which was vague only in that Harry wasn't quite sure what the Dark Lord wanted.

"Who made this prophecy?" Voldemort asked softly.

"Sibyl Trelawney."

"When?"

"Before I was born, I think. I don't know exactly when…"

"Where and under what circumstances was this prophecy made, to your knowledge?"

"Er… she made it when she was interviewing for a teaching position with Albus Dumbledore… for Divination. At a bar. The Hog's Head…"

"To Albus Dumbledore himself," Voldemort confirmed, and Harry nodded. Voldemort's magic was growing livelier by the second. "Was he the only one who heard the prophecy?"

"No."

Voldemort's eyes flashed dangerously, and his magic whirled in clear agitation. Well, he had answered the question, hadn't he?

"Who else heard the prophecy, Mr. Potter?"

"…Severus Snape."

"Severus Snape."

Voldemort said it with little less fury in his voice the third time. "Correct. It was Severus Snape who heard this prophecy. At the time, he was truly loyal to my cause, and came to tell me at once… Tell us, Mr. Potter… What did this prophecy say?"

Everyone was staring at him, their auras thick and oppressive in anticipation. Harry's mouth was far too dry, and there was a strange, acidic taste in the back of his throat. He felt like he might be sick.

But then he wet his chapped lips and spoke. "I-it said… that someone born in the end of July, to parents who had thrice defied him, would have the power to… vanquish the Dark Lord… that he would have power the Dark Lord knows not." He looked down at the floor, unable to meet Voldemort's eyes.

"…Was that all it said?"

"No." Harry all but whispered, still looking at his feet. "It said that the Dark Lord would mark his opponent as his equal… and that neither could live while the other survives."

Silence. It stretched on and on. Harry didn't dare to look up.

"So it did." Voldemort's voice sliced through the stillness of the room like a blade. "We can see quite clearly now how irrelevant such prophecies are… but when this particular prophecy was made, Severus Snape only reported half of it to me. He did not inform me of the second, more pertinent, portion. He only told me of my supposed downfall, and consequently that of our regime, our mission, of all that we had been so close to accomplishing…

"Why he did this is painfully obvious now. Severus Snape was an intelligent man. Intelligent, but clearly influenced. He wanted the woman, Lily Potter née Evans, for his own. He sought to get rid of the other man, James Potter, as well as the unwanted son, in one fell swoop. He informed me of this prophecy only partially. Snape made it sound to me as though both James Potter and the newborn child, a mere infant, were an intricate part of the potential downfall to our regime. He told me it was imperative for the future of our new order that the man and the child be eliminated. And yet… he begged me to spare the mudblood."

"But you killed her."

Harry looked up, and suddenly it was as though everyone else had vanished. There were no spectators, no Wizengamot.

It was just Harry Potter and the man who had ruined his life.

"You killed my mother and my father. You say it was Dumbledore who damned me to a life with the Dursley family, but it was youYou put stock in a prophecy. You murdered them in cold blood, and then you failed to murder me." Harry's breath hitched, and tears, hot and unwanted, welled in the corners of his eyes.

"Everything terrible that's happened to me is your fault."

Voldemort's magic became unreadably motionless and black, and his eyes empty. Harry stared, his body shaking, hardly noticing the way the chains burned on his arms.

"…James Potter and Lily Evans were rebels and traitors," Voldemort stated tonelessly. "At the height of the first Wizarding War, I personally sought to recruit them for my regime in a peaceful manner… Yes, you heard me correctly. Both of them. I am capable of seeing beyond birth status. But they refused my offer, defying me and the new regime for the first time. That act alone was punishable by death.

"They escaped the faithful Death Eaters I sent for them after this initial transgression. Unfortunate, but unsurprising. I would not have offered such individuals a place in my order if they did not have prodigious skills. James Potter was responsible for the murder of Gregory Greengrass, and Lily Evans irreparably maimed Alexander Burke… the second time they defied me."

Voldemort fell silent. Harry was overcome with the strangest feeling, like he had just run into something solid and heavy. It weighed in his chest like a stone. It took him a moment to realize why this was the case, what it was precisely that had disturbed him so… and then the comprehension dawned on him.

It was the notion that his father had killed.

Why was such a thought so unsettling to him? It had been during a time of war; James Potter and his mother were being pursued by Death Eaters who were surely aiming to kill… His father was simply defending himself and the woman he loved. It was a reasonable act, killing someone who was trying to kill you. Necessary, even.

So why did Harry feel so empty?

The answer came to him a second later. It was because he, Harry, could never do that.

It wasn't that Harry thought himself better or kinder than anyone else; it was just a fact. Harry had been pursued by Death Eaters who'd aimed to kill him and his friends. He'd had killing curses shot at himself and those he cared about far too many times… But never once had Harry attempted to kill in response. Nothing could ever drive him to commit murder. Harry knew that, if it had ever come down to it—to he and Voldemort facing off, the Chosen One and the Dark Lord, with Harry knowing that Voldemort meant to kill him, and knowing that if he, Harry, were to fall, that Tom Riddle would go on to kill and kill again—

Harry still wouldn't do it.

Harry would still shout 'Expelliarmus!' as his greatest hope to the heavens, he would still do whatever he could to make a broken wizard try for some remorse.

Harry was not sure how to feel about this insight. He was not sure if this inability to kill was a flaw or not. All he knew was that, for as much as people told him they looked alike… Harry was not like his father at all.

He felt numb.

"They later went on to join Albus Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix, openly opposing the new regime," Voldemort eventually continued. Harry's ears were ringing again, struggling to take in his words. "Three times, they defied me. Their deaths were warranted. It was for this reason that I did not hesitate to act on the prophecy which Severus Snape reported to me… albeit his slanted version of it. He was adamant that this prophecy meant none other than Harry James Potter, that he would be the destruction of our entire cause. He purposefully did not tell me the part of the prophecy which stated that I would mark the other as an equal, that he would have a power I knew not… Had he done so, I would have waited to see what this meant. But Severus Snape was impatient, blinded by greed and lust. He made it seem as though the child had to be destroyed right away. I listened."

Harry was too paralyzed with shock at how Voldemort was twisting the truth that he could do nothing but gape at him, his jaw dropped. That wasn't right, Snape hadn't told him the entirety of the prophecy because he hadn't heard it, and it was Voldemort who had decided it meant Harry, not him—and the moment Snape learned that Voldemort meant to kill the Potters, he told Dumbledore, he switched sides then

But Voldemort kept speaking, and everyone in the courtroom was listening, drinking in every word. "Yet the Potters were under protection. Albus Dumbledore, having heard the prophecy in its entirety himself, divined who it meant. He informed the Potters of this prophetic message. At his suggestion, they were then hidden under the Fidelius Charm. The supposed Secret-Keeper was Sirius Black, but, as we all now know, this was a ruse. They chose instead to trust their lives to Peter Pettigrew… an untalented, unintelligent man, a rat in every sense of the word… a wizard who had been working for me as a spy for months. He ultimately told me where the Potters were, and so I went. To rid the world of the rebellious blood-traitor and the supposed downfall of our regime, the last deaths necessary, or so I had been told, to mar what would soon be the uninterrupted rise of Britain's great magical community…"

Voldemort's face became stony, wrath lurking behind his blood red eyes. "…But even that had Dumbledore's manipulative hand in it. For what parents would prefer to place the safety of their only son with Peter Pettigrew, when they could have had Dumbledore himself be their Secret Keeper?"

Spectators were frowning, their magic whirling as they contemplated this. Harry was having a difficult time breathing.

"I have a theory on this matter," Voldemort continued smoothly, speaking more to the court now than Harry. "I believe the only sort of person who would willingly place the safety of their family in Pettigrew is one who was confounded. The most reasonable explanation is that Dumbledore implanted the idea in the Potters' minds in the first place. For Albus Dumbledore was a master Legilimens, he surely knew that Pettigrew was weak, a spy just waiting for the opportunity to win my favor. I propose that Dumbledore, while acting as though he was trying to protect the Potters, was actually doing everything in his power to make certain that I attacked them. He wanted to see the prophecy come into fruition. He wanted me to mark a prophesized child as my equal, uncaring of the fact that this would surely spell the deaths of James and Lily Potter in the process. He would sacrifice any number of his own followers to help in the supposed progression of my future downfall. Tell us, Harry…"

Harry registered somewhere on the periphery of his mind that the Dark Lord had, perhaps unintentionally, called him by his first name. He looked up, feeling dazed.

"…For all your previous, misplaced feelings towards the man, do you believe Albus Dumbledore to be the sort who would willingly let his own followers—those who trusted him completely, who proclaimed to be his men, through and through… Do you think he would sacrifice them if it meant seeing me fall?"

If he had been asked this question just a month ago, Harry would have said no. He would have undoubtedly proclaimed that Dumbledore would never, ever do that, that the former Headmaster would sooner die himself than watch his own followers perish.

'You have used me… I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to keep Lily Potter's son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter…'

Snape's words echoed in Harry's mind like a ghost speaking in his ear. His eyes were watering again. Why were his eyes watering?

"Yes," he answered. His voice sounded like someone else's.

If Voldemort was affected by Harry's emotion, his face did not show it. The Dark Lord's magic was glinting brightly again, but Harry couldn't decipher it. He hardly had the wherewithal to focus at all.

"Albus Dumbledore was a terrible man," Voldemort declared. "I suspect that he knew exactly what Pettigrew was, just as he surely knew that Sirius Black was innocent of Pettigrew's murder. Another monstrous crime, to add to the long list of atrocities performed by Dumbledore."

Harry's heavy heart leapt in his throat at the mention of his godfather. Was Voldemort going to ruin his memory with some convoluted version of the truth, too?

"Dumbledore knew Sirius Black was innocent of that particular crime, yet did nothing to prevent him from being thrown into Azkaban without a trial. For his own purposes, of course. He preferred Harry Potter to be raised in a neglectful household so that he would arrive at Hogwarts a desperate, ignorant child; one he could easily manipulate and control. But it is fascinating to think of, isn't it? In a world largely influenced by Albus Dumbledore, witches and wizards were wrongly placed in Azkaban without so much as a hearing in their defense. And yet under my rule, my supposed, greatest threat sits before you, having a just and fair trial."

The spectators murmured approvingly, their auras once more glistening with reverence. Voldemort's own magic was dancing with superiority at their admiring looks.

"Ah, forgive me," he said after a moment, shaking his head and looking shockingly human. "I have allowed my own ire towards a man who no longer lives to distract me. I was in the middle of a very critical story.

"As you all know, I fell for this most complicated of ploys. I went to the Potter household with every intention to end the war with what I believed would be the last death. I confess, I did not look forward to it. But what was one death, I thought, to prevent the slaughter of thousands more? He was the son of a blood-traitor and a mudblood. If killing him would mean saving my people—unlike Dumbledore, I do not reward faith with sacrifice and death—then it had to be done. I ended the lives of James and Lily Potter quickly—merciful, painless deaths. Then I attempted to do the same with their son… Harry James Potter."

His red eyes brightened as they bored into Harry's. Harry wondered if he was reliving that moment right now. Was he recalling what Harry looked like as an infant? A baby with bright eyes, vibrant and green?

"…And was then struck with my own curse. Prophecies exist as only poetic explanations. As it transpired, the 'power which the Dark Lord knows not'—the supposed 'power' of Harry Potter which has been whispered about for years…was my power. The mudblood, as well as James Potter, died protecting their son, instilling a powerful protective enchantment around the boy… A mere deflective shield, but one which I did not foresee, as I did not know the entirety of the prophecy to begin with… an ancient magic I overlooked… My own curse rebounded on me, nearly killing me in the process. Harry Potter was 'marked'… but not as my equal. Not as my prophesied downfall, no…"

The Dark Lord's face was bloodless and white.

"…merely as a victim."

More muttering, the loudest it had been yet, filled the room. Harry's pulse was loud in his ears.

"Mr. Potter," Voldemort said, and the room became silent again at once. "Do you confess that you feel as though you've been manipulated into believing falsities about your life and your family from an early age, largely due to the words and manipulations of Albus Dumbledore?"

Harry swallowed thickly. "Yes," he answered, because that was the truth.

"Do you renounce your former, misguided beliefs on the treatment and standardization of muggle-borns and blood treachery? Do you renounce your former, misguided support of Albus Dumbledore and his rebellious forces, should they continue to attempt to de-stabilize the current regime of the Ministry of Magic? Before you answer, Mr. Potter…"

Voldemort leaned forward, his magic gleaming vivaciously. "I advise you to think carefully on this matter. We all know that whatever response leaves your mouth, that you will be saying it with honest intent. Consider all which your answer may mean… and all which you have to lose."

The air in the courtroom felt like it was electrically charged as everyone waited for him to answer. Harry's mind was buzzing, and though the Dark Lord's words were vague enough to be spoken in front of so many people, Harry knew what he meant.

Consider that I have your friends' lives in my hands. Consider what, if you refuse to submit to me here and now, I will do to them… what I will do to you.

When Harry envisioned Ron and Hermione, stuck in Malfoy Manor, he knew there was only one truthful answer he could give.

He would do anything for them.

"Yes," he whispered. "I… I renounce everything."

"Do you, Harry James Potter, pledge your unwavering allegiance to the judicious might of the Ministry of Magic?"

Everyone was craning their necks, the tension in the room was paramount—Harry ignored all of it, thinking only of his friends and how he did not have a choice—

"Yes."

Voldemort's magic was a cascade of gilded sparks, so bright they made Harry think of fireworks. He turned and addressed the Wizengamot with his next words. "All those in favor of pardoning the accused, Harry Potter, on the grounds that he had been unfairly coerced, manipulated, and victimized by Albus Dumbledore?"

"Cleared of all charges?"

Umbridge looked aghast, her bright, yellow magic lighting up around her. "Victimized or not, my Lord, there must be some punishment! All of the Weasley boys who were accused of similar crimes were at least given sentences!"

A few of the other witches and wizards looked like they might be about to murmur agreements, but Voldemort silenced them before they could speak. "The major difference in these cases being that Ronald, Fred, and George Weasley all grew up in pureblood, wizarding households. Their choices were informed, intentional, and, therefore, far more grievous. To look at these cases from the same perspective would be irrational. The days of treating every criminal indiscretion with similar disregard are over, Umbridge."

Harry couldn't believe it. Umbridge was gawking, mouth opening and closing like a dumbstruck fish, clearly torn between her fear of Voldemort and hatred towards Harry. She ultimately settled on nodding in submission, and Harry realized…

Voldemort was actually going to pull this off.

"Though if most of the Wizengamot agrees with you, then we shall, of course, determine a fair sentence… but first." Voldemort looked as though he could care less about the results on the surface, but his magic trembled with a very uncharacteristic nervousness. "All in favor of pardoning the accused?"

Slowly, a few arms rose in the air… Then a few more…

It wasn't all of them, but it was clear very quickly that over half were voting in Harry's favor. The majority of the Wizengamot, even. Only Umbridge and a few others kept their arms at their sides.

Voldemort turned and looked back to Harry, the same triumphant cascade like fireworks lighting up around him. Harry might have thought it beautiful if he were capable of thinking clearly.

"Of course, there is the issue of rehabilitation."

Harry blinked in surprise. Voldemort elaborated in a sly tone. "Being forgiven for past transgressions is one matter, but with this ruling, we are also recognizing that you have been victimized for nearly your entire life, Mr. Potter. Some structure would be… ideal. I propose a temporary living arrangement, that you stay with a respected, pureblood family who can educate you properly on the wizarding world."

Before Harry could react, someone else stood, clearing his throat and drawing everyone's attention. "My Lord," Lucius Malfoy said. He spoke loudly and clearly, and Harry could tell at once that this was planned. "My family would be honored to take Mr. Potter into our home and attend to this matter. Our son did, after all, initially offer his guidance to him years ago, but alas, he had already been influenced by Dumbledore… Allow us to right this wrong."

Narcissa nodded eagerly, and Draco forced a grin that looked so painful even Harry's jaw hurt. Voldemort smirked. "Very w—"

"My family can do it."

Everyone looked in shock to Percy Weasley.

Having set his writing aside, Percy was now on his feet, his magic fiery and bold. He glanced at Harry before he turned and addressed Voldemort directly. "The Weasley's have been like a family to Harry Potter since the moment they helped him at King's Cross, he even said so himself. My brothers have risked their personal safety on more than one occasion to free him from his horrible, muggle family; he has been staying for as long as Dumbledore would allow at our home at every opportunity. My parents look at him as another son. During such a traumatic and stressful time, Harry should be allowed to stay in a place where he feels safe, with people he trusts."

Voldemort's smile was gone, and his magic frightening. Lucius scoffed loudly, once more drawing everyone's eyes to him. "Your family? You think that a household which has produced three rebellious children a suitable place for Mr. Potter to learn proper wizarding protocol?"

"'All pureblood families who have sworn allegiance to our Lord, even those previously seen as traitorous, must be pardoned for their transgressions and looked upon with equal favor,'" Percy said defiantly. "Your words from the address you gave just two days ago, Lucius Malfoy. My family has sworn fealty to the new regime. According to you, my family is equally as honorable as yours."

Narcissa paled, grasping her husband's forearm as her magic flashed in alarm. Lucius's face flushed and he floundered at the unexpected opposition. "To—I didn't—that doesn't mean—"

Percy turned his back to him and addressed Voldemort again. "'We must grant them opportunity to prove themselves loyal in this new era, where magical unity is paramount,'" he said, and Voldemort's magic darkened tremendously.

"Your words, my Lord."

Harry was stunned. Percy Weasley was standing up bravely to Lord Voldemort…and it seemed he was going to win. "I beseech you, my Lord. Allow the Weasleys to prove their loyalty to you by housing Harry Potter. There is no family alive who cares for him more."

And what could Voldemort possibly say in argument of that?

Harry felt suddenly so light he thought he might float, regardless of the chains which still bound him to the chair. To go and live at the Burrow… Harry couldn't even think of what that would mean for Hermione and Ron just then. If Percy succeeded, this would mean seeing Molly and Arthur Weasley again, it would mean staying in the same household as—

"Harry Potter shall be staying with the Malfoy family until he is deemed fit for independence," Voldemort hissed, his voice laced with such a cold rage that Harry's skin broke out into goosebumps. The hope that had inflated in his chest popped like a balloon. "My decision on this matter is final."

…And that, it seemed, was that. Percy's magic swiftly dwindled, filled with disappointment.

Voldemort raised one hand in Harry's direction. The shackles on his wrists went limp, releasing him and falling to the floor at his sides.

"Harry James Potter…"

The Dark Lord's bloodless face was once more diplomatically composed, but his eyes were practically on fire as they looked down at Harry, his magic glistening evocatively.

Voldemort, as always, simultaneously terrified and enthralled him.

"…cleared of all charges."

Chapter Text

Voldemort stood, and the rest of the Wizengamot followed.

It was like someone had pressed play on a paused television program. Spectators began to rise after the Dark Lord, speaking to each other in excited voices over what they had just witnessed. Everyone was suddenly very animated, whereas before they had been still with tension.

The Dark Lord, for his part, had already turned his back to Harry. He became quickly engrossed in conversation with several of the older wizards of the Wizengamot, like he had forgotten Harry Potter so quickly, as though the Boy Who Lived was no longer worth his time.

One of the guards approached Harry, reaching into his robes and pulling out a small phial filled with amber liquid. "Here, Potter," he said, handing it to him. He frowned when Harry didn't immediately take it. "It's the antidote to the veritaserum you took. Your trial is over. You are no longer required to be under the influence of a truth serum… Unless you want to go spluttering out confessions to anyone who asks for the next ten to twelve hours."

That statement garnered the reaction he'd been hoping for. Harry stood and snatched the phial up at once. He had just uncorked it, was about to swallow it down, when he paused.

He knew it was a stupid thing to do even as he moved to do it, but then again, such realizations had never stopped Harry from acting before. Harry marched to the side and intercepted Slughorn before the old man could escape, as he had been making his way towards the door in the back. Harry gripped his shoulder, forcing him to turn and face him.

Slughorn's muscles tensed and his magic trembled, but Harry wasn't letting him flee. He held his robes tightly in one hand and the glass phial in the other. Harry noted the way his former potions professor glanced at it, and he was certain that Slughorn knew it was the antidote for veritaserum.

A few people were turning to watch what he was doing, pointing and murmuring, but Harry ignored them. He held Slughorn's gaze and gave him a look of deepest loathing. "You are a pathetic excuse of a man," Harry murmured quietly enough so that only Slughorn could hear him.

"And you disgust me."

Harry lifted the phial to his lips and drank it in one gulp. He never took his eyes off Slughorn's as he did, whose face went ashen and whose magic wilted in shame.

Harry didn't give him a chance to respond. He dropped the phial, letting the glass shatter at Slughorn's feet before he turned and left him standing there, spectators staring and whispering.

Harry only managed to take a few steps before he was stopped again.

"Harry."

Percy.

The familiar redhead swiftly pulled Harry in to an embrace. Harry's anger towards Slughorn was immediately forgotten, and as he hugged Percy back a different variety of emotion bubbled in his chest.

Harry thought he preferred the anger.

"I'm sorry," Percy whispered quickly into his ear. His aura was thick with guilt. "I'm so sorry…"

Voldemort may have been feigning negligence, but Harry noticed him then. His magic had suddenly begun to swell in annoyance, black and horrendous.

Harry was astounded. The Dark Lord was looking the other way, smiling and nodding and talking to other people, and yet it was perfectly clear—to Harry, at least—that he knew Percy was hugging him… and it irritated him to no end.

Harry stepped away. "Don't apologize," he said in a choked voice. "Thank you, that was… you were really…"

Harry couldn't think of words great enough to convey how he felt. Percy smiled knowingly.

"Mr. Potter."

It was Narcissa who beckoned to Harry next. Harry turned, a bit surprised that she had called him 'Mr. Potter' before he remembered where they were, what roles they were all playing while out in public.

Everyone at the Ministry of Magic was wearing their finest masks.

Narcissa gave Percy a fleeting smile that was anything but kind, yet when she looked at Harry, her eyes softened and her magic warmed. "Come along," she said. "Draco is going to take you straight to our manor. My husband and I will remain to deal with the press."

Harry felt his stomach drop. Of course, to leave the Ministry, they would have to go back up the stairs, up the lift, and through the atrium… Where hundreds of people would be waiting, including reporters with cameras and quick-quills, eager to hear of what the Undesirable's verdict was…

Narcissa squeezed his hand reassuringly. She had just begun to pull him away when Percy grabbed Harry's other arm and stopped him. Percy's magic was bold again, and he fixed Harry with a meaningful look.

"I'll give her your very best for you," he said firmly.

…And Harry knew that he was not speaking about Molly Weasley.

Harry's mouth went dry. Before he could even attempt to come up with a response, Narcissa was pulling him away impatiently. Percy released his shoulder and let him go.

The spectators gave the Malfoy family and Harry Potter a wide berth when they made their exit, two guards accompanying them on either side. Lucius went first, striding through the courtroom like the Ministry and all those present were lucky to have him there, and Harry was mildly impressed to see that Narcissa did the same. She released Harry's hand to walk alongside her husband, head held high and haughtiness etched into her every feature.

Which left Harry to fall into step with Draco directly behind them. They caught each other's eye for a second and then both instantly looked away. Harry wondered what he was thinking. Draco's magic was unsettled and agitated, making Harry believe that he was nearly as desperate to escape this place as he was.

They took the first lift up, and it was such an absurd situation that Harry felt like he was in a dream. No one spoke. The guards stood like statues near the elevator's golden door. Lucius was staring at the ceiling with his brows furrowed. Narcissa gave Harry another fleeting smile, and Draco was trying and failing to look as unaffected as his father.

"Level eight, Atrium," the cool, female voice announced. The doors to the lift opened, and Harry's senses were assaulted.

Camera flashes, shouting voices, and a plethora of magic. Harry instantly felt dizzy.

The guards went out first, brandishing their wands and being much fiercer towards the spectators this time around. "Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are being escorted to the Floo by myself and Nott," he said, nodding towards another guard. "Stay out of our way as we cross the atrium. We have been given permission from the Minister to use Unforgivables."

His threat had a profound affect. Harry wondered for a wild moment where the surely still Imperiused Minister Thicknesse was. He hadn't seen him in the courtroom.

Then again, he had been trying not to look at anyone... Just like right now.

"Any questions regarding the trial may be directed towards my wife and I," Lucius declared. He stood proud and tall, Narcissa next to him, and Harry had to admit—they truly did look like a formidable, powerful couple.

"Come on, you two."

The other guard—Nott—motioned for Draco and Harry to follow him. The witches and wizards gave them room to pass almost begrudgingly, their eyes fixated on them as they made the journey across the atrium.

Harry did his best not to glance at any of them as they went. He wondered for a moment why Voldemort would be granting him this kindness, allowing him to leave afterwards with a guard and not be accosted by the press.

He came up with the answer almost at once. Of course Voldemort would not let him talk freely to anyone working for the Prophet, he probably assumed that Harry would say something stupid and reckless and screw everything up.

Well, he wasn't wrong, Harry mused. He was suddenly glad that he'd run into Rita Skeeter on the way in.

"Here you are."

They'd finally arrived at the wall lined with tall fireplaces. Nott grabbed some floo powder from a shelf and tossed it onto the hearth. "Malfoy Manor," he said firmly.

Draco cast him a scathing look as the enchanted fire erupted in green. "I could have done that myself," he muttered. He then pushed past the guards and disappeared into the flames, not even offering to let Harry through first.

Nott glared at the space where Draco had just vanished before glancing at Harry, as if to ask if he had a problem with him doing his job. When Harry didn't say anything, he tossed more powder into the fireplace and once more shouted, "Malfoy Manor!"

Harry took a deep breath and stepped into the green fire. Everything blurred and whirled around him, and though Harry was glad to leave the Ministry of Magic behind, he dreaded where he was going next.

His new home.

Harry's feet hit the ground, and Malfoy Manor came into view.

"Harry!"

He'd only taken one step into the foyer before Hermione had her arms wrapped tightly around his midsection, her bushy hair in his face. Her velvety magic coiled over him, oddly pleasant with her emotional relief.

"What happened?" Ron asked. Hermione relinquished her death grip on him. "What did he say, what's your sentence?"

"I was just about to tell you—"

"Shut up Malfoy, I want to hear it from Harry," Ron snapped, and Draco crossed his arms indignantly. "Are we, uh, going to be doing time with Umbridge together?" Ron smiled humorlessly.

"No," Harry said. "No, no Umbridge for me…"

Ron frowned. "Well, what, then?"

Harry opened his mouth but found he suddenly couldn't speak. He'd just noticed how similar Ron's magic was to Percy's.

"…Cleared of all charges!" Draco blurted out when Harry took too long. Ron and Hermione both gaped at him. "Yeah, you heard me," he went on, and Harry couldn't tell if he was upset about this verdict or not. "Harry Potter was deemed innocent on all accounts. By the Dark Lord himself!"

"How?" Hermione asked sharply.

"He blamed all of his crimes on Dumbledore and Snape, basically," Draco said.

"Dumbledore and Snape? But…How?" Hermione repeated. "How on earth could he possibly have done that and—and sounded logical? This was with the entire Wizengamot present, wasn't it?"

"Yes. And, er…"

Draco furrowed his brows, then looked to Harry as though requesting help. Harry just stared, shaking his head. He didn't even know how to begin explaining what had just happened.

"You… sort of had to be there," Draco finished in a mumble.

Ron was dumbfounded. "You've seriously been cleared of all charges? No… no lifetime of servitude to the Ministry of Magic or anything like that?" Harry shook his head numbly. "Blimey, Harry… You're free!"

Malfoy scoffed loudly. "No one is free here, Weasley, don't be an idiot. Potter has to stay at our Manor for rehabilitative purposes. He's not going anywhere, and neither are you, and neither is she." He glanced at the three of them, his expression souring. "Lucky me."

"I can't believe that he didn't take advantage of this, though," Hermione said, ignoring Draco's contemptuous drawl and looking at Harry. "Why wouldn't he want to claim you were guilty…? And how on earth did he make it seem plausible that you weren't?"

"You have no idea what the Dark Lord is capable of," Draco muttered darkly. "Though I suppose you will be learning much more about that."

His eyes flickered down to Hermione's forearm, and Harry was surprised that there had been no ire in his voice. His light magic settled with something like pity.

"What exactly did he say? What questions did he ask?" Hermione said, shifting so her arm was behind her, away from his gaze. "I'd ask your mother, if she were here... Why isn't she here?"

"She and my father stayed at the Ministry to deal with the reporters," Draco said. "So it was up to me to come back with Potter."

"Why you?" Ron snarled. "I'd prefer your mother, honestly. Not that I'm fond of any Malfoy, mind you, but at least she's nice now."

"Because I get all the fun jobs!" Draco was suddenly shouting, throwing his arms out on either side of his body like he'd reached his wit's end. "I really do. Kill Dumbledore, Draco! Entertain your crazy aunt with violent tendencies while she can't leave the manor, Draco! Be a courteous host to the no-longer golden trio, Draco! Bloody brilliant."

"Quit being so dramatic," Hermione said. "Having to deal with us is hardly the worst task you could have."

"You think so, Granger? Dealing with just these two was a nightmare! I had to make something as simple as eating a damn cracker into some chivalrous, noble deed to get them to cooperate... Fucking Gryffindors."

He scoffed again. Hermione shook her head and ignored his rambling outburst. "Tell us what happened at the Ministry," she said, looking back and forth between Harry and Draco. "I want to hear what happened from people who were there, not read some reporter's rendition of it in the Daily Prophet."

Harry tried feebly once more to speak, but was still unable. His mind was reeling, and his mouth still felt weirdly dry.

'I'll give her your very best for you.'

"Er… well. They gave him veritaserum, first," Draco started uneasily once it was clear that Harry was not going to answer. "Oh, and made him cast a patronus to prove that it was him. He sent it charging right at Umbridge, which was pretty funny—"

"Did you really?" Ron interrupted. Harry nodded numbly. "That's hil—"

Hermione shushed him. "Then what happened, Malfoy?" she asked impatiently.

"Clearing him of the accusation about killing Dumbledore was easy, because he didn't do that," Draco continued, "and then… well—"

Draco's explanation was cut short. Hermione inhaled sharply and clutched at her arm, her magic shaking and a look of terror flashing across her face. Draco's eyes instantly fell to her arm.

"What is—what—" Hermione yanked the sleeve of her robes up. The Dark Mark was dark and foreboding, and as Harry stared, he could feel a sinister energy radiating about it—black, just like Voldemort's magic, but with none of the glimmers of gold.

"You're being summoned," Draco said blankly.

"S-summoned?" Hermione's voice was high with fright. Ron's face had turned a worrisome green-ish hue, and his magic was whirling with fear. "B-but how—I don't know—"

"Stop freaking out and just pay attention," Draco said, his tone suddenly, impressively composed. "You should be able to tell where to go, what he wants. Instant information. Can you feel it?"

Hermione took a deep breath. Her eyes went slightly out of focus, her gaze went somewhere over Draco's head. "…I… Yes," she murmured. "I-I can, he… He wants me to come to the Ministry, now…"

She shook her head and looked at Draco again with lucidity. "How does that work?" she asked breathlessly. "Messages being transmitted like that, through a Mark? It was like the information was just—just there!"

Her eyes were shining with curiosity, like she was so intrigued by this brand of magic that she had momentarily forgotten why she was asking these questions in the first place. "I don't know, Granger! I don't know how the Dark Lord does much of anything, just that he does—and when he summons you, you go." He jabbed his finger towards the fireplace.

Hermione paled again, the light in her eyes instantly gone. "R…right…"

"You're not going there alone," Ron said at once, standing tall despite what a worrisome color his face was. "I'm going with you—"

"Don't be such a moron, Weasley—"

"No," Hermione said, cutting Draco off. "No, he's… He's supposed to come with me."

"I… really?"

Hermione nodded slowly. "Yes… You and I are supposed to go to the Ministry of Magic, together. Second level. Now."

They all stared at Ron. Something like comprehension flickered in his eyes, and Ron's green-ish face turned a bright red. "I-is that right?" he asked weakly.

"Ron…" Hermione's expression and tone were suddenly very accusatory. "Why is the Dark Lord summoning the two of us to the Ministry of Magic?"

Ron's blush deepened. "I h-have no idea—"

"You're stuttering and your ears are turning red, that always happens when you're trying to keep something a secret," Hermione said mercilessly.

"That's not t-true," Ron stuttered, turning redder still.

"Ron, what have you not been telling us?"

Harry was equally curious, as was Draco—evidently, this was something that he did not know about, either. Ron glanced at the three of them, his magic vibrating in a flustered way. "I don't—I mean, I couldn't—"

Before he could attempt to explain further, Hermione let out a shrill cry that bordered on a scream, grasping her forearm again. At the very same moment, Harry felt a stinging pain shoot across his scar, the irrefutable emotion of anger accompanying it. His hand flew to his forehead instinctively.

"Wh-what—" Hermione began, looking panicked again.

"It's because you're hesitating!" Draco shouted, but he did not sound angry. He looked truly worried. His magic shimmered in anxiety. "You've been summoned, and he knows that you're here, that you have no excuse for making him wait!"

"He's pissed," Harry added unhelpfully as he lowered his hand. The pain in his scar had diminished, but Hermione's magic and expression indicated that her arm still burned.

Draco glanced at Harry. "Even scarhead gets it," he muttered before refocusing on Hermione. "If you and Weasley are supposed to go to the Ministry of Magic, now, then go. The pain will only get worse the longer you make him wait, trust me."

Hermione did not need to be told again. She nodded weakly, reaching for Ron's hand. Ron cast Harry a look that he could only interpret as pleading before she quickly pulled him towards the fireplace.

It must have been truly horrible, the pain which the Dark Mark caused when Voldemort was unhappy. Hermione's magic was still whirling in discomfort, and she moved very quickly now, clearly desperate to get the burning to stop. Her right arm was shaking as she reached for the Floo Powder, but Ron stopped her and grabbed it instead. He cleared his throat and tossed some into the fireplace.

"The Ministry of Magic," he said, and the flames turned green. Hermione stepped into the fire and vanished. Ron repeated the action after she was gone, and shot Harry one last, nervous look as the emerald fire erupted once more. "See you soon, I hope," he said. He was gone before Harry could even nod in response.

The fire and Ron both disappeared… leaving Harry and Draco alone.

An uncomfortable silence settled between them. Harry felt oddly numb, if also a bit queasy. It was almost as if his mind had shut off. He knew he should have been feeling a plethora of emotions—anxiety for his friends, who had just gone off to meet Voldemort face to face at the Ministry; curiosity as to why this was the case and why Ron had been acting in such a strange manner; and angry, Harry definitely should have been feeling angry at how his trial had gone, at everything the Dark Lord had said…

But he didn't. Harry didn't feel much at all. He stared vacantly at the empty fireplace, a dull buzzing ringing in his ears.

"Er…" Draco scratched the back of his head, finally breaking the awkward silence. Harry was snapped out of his emotionless state when he looked at him, reality threatening to crash over him. Draco was there, had witnessed everything that happened… He had listened to every deceptive word the Dark Lord had said, had heard him speak about Harry's home life and past and his mother…

Suddenly, Harry could not stand to be anywhere near Draco Malfoy.

Harry turned and headed towards the staircase. "What—Hey! Where do you think you're going, Potter?" Draco shouted. His silvery magic bristled in annoyance.

Harry looked at him over his shoulder, no expression on his face. "My room, I guess," he said, shrugging.

Draco stared at him suspiciously. "Your room?"

"Yeah. I live here now, remember?"

Harry turned around and started walking again. "Just—just don't even think about leaving the manor, all right? I'll know if you try! There's wards and—"

"Malfoy, do you honestly think I'm going anywhere?" Harry interrupted, facing him once more. His monotonous voice and lack of retaliation perturbed Draco; it was obvious in his face and in his magic. "My two best friends just went off to go meet the Dark Lord. Do you think I would do anything to risk their safety?"

Draco was quiet for a moment, his aura trembling as he thought. Harry was just about to walk away from him when he spoke.

"You saved me," he said quietly. Harry raised a brow at him. "In the Room of Hidden Things. I remember Weasley screaming at you not to come back for Goyle and I, but you did. You risked their safety, then."

Harry wasn't sure what to make of the way Draco's magic shimmered around him. It was thick and heavy, like a vapory mist draped over his shoulders.

He also found that he didn't much care. "Yeah, well. I always was a bit of an idiot," he said tonelessly. He turned and walked away before Draco could react to his sullenness, and this time, Draco did not call after him or stop him from going.

Harry walked numbly up the stairs and through the manor halls, his feet somehow knowing where to take him. He'd only made the journey across the massive home from his room to the foyer a few times, but he recognized painted portraits and crystal wall sconces, and knew he was going the right way.

He stopped for a moment when he came to the bay windows which looked over the gardens. Harry's heart ached at the sight. The sun was shining, the grass was a luscious green, and the sky, the sky was so blue…

How long had it been since he'd been outside? Harry thought furiously for a moment before it came to him—the last time he'd been outdoors was when he'd gone out into the Forbidden Forest, the ghosts of his loved ones at his side, accompanying him to death…

Harry forced the coiling emotions that threatened to consume him away. He didn't want to confront them right now. He didn't want to think of anything.

He kept walking.

Harry finally arrived at his room. It was clean, the bed made so pristinely it looked as though it had never been touched before. Why he had come here, he wasn't quite sure. He wasn't tired. He supposed it was as good a place as any, so long as it was away from Malfoy…

Then Harry noticed the door which led to the bathroom, and knew exactly what he wanted. He went in, closing the door behind him and quickly stripping out of his clothes. He avoided looking in the mirror.

A shower sounded glorious.

Harry turned the water on and stepped into the marble basin, sighing when the water streamed down his bare chest. He let it run through his hair and over his back, and even though the water was hot, he realized that it was nowhere near hot enough. Harry turned up the heat as high as it would go. It was almost scalding, filling the bathroom with steam. It didn't bother him; in fact, Harry welcomed the burning sensation. It kept his attention, making it easier not to think about anything other than the discomfort it caused.

Harry didn't even know how long he stood in the hot stream of water, scrubbing at his skin and hair with soap like maybe he could cleanse himself of everything that had gone wrong, like he could wash away a lifetime of mistakes and emerge from this shower as someone else.

Of course, such fantasies were impossible. Harry eventually turned the water off. His skin was red and raw when he stepped out of the tub, the air thick and damp. The mirror was completely covered in moisture.

Harry grabbed a towel and dried off, only then realizing how much he may have overdone it. His skin was tender to the touch. It hurt when he tugged his shirt back on, and even more so when he pulled his boxers and pants up over his legs. He decided to forgo the rest of his robes for the time being. Harry went to his bedroom door and locked it, though he knew such a thing would hardly be effective at keeping anyone out.

Unsure what else to do, Harry went over to the bed and sat on the edge. He wondered vaguely how long Hermione and Ron would be gone, and what he would learn when they returned. Something horrible, probably. Harry didn't bother speculating.

Not wanting to be met with the disturbing sight of his reflection in the mirror above the bed, Harry closed his eyes and kept them resolutely shut. He slowly leaned backwards until he was laying on his back, careful not to move too quickly. The silky fabric of the blanket was pleasant and cool against his skin.

He decided that he might as well practice Occlumency again.

Think of no one, think of nothing…

Empty your mind…

Thoughts of the trial threatened to creep into his psyche, but Harry willed them away, not wanting to dwell on it…

Empty your mind…

Think of no one, think of nothing…

'Did you know, Mr. Potter, that memories rarely stand up in court?'

The Dark Lord's voice echoed in Harry's mind, cold and condescending. He shook his head, trying to shake it away…

Breathe in…

Breathe out…

'…We remember things the way we wish to remember them.'

Harry couldn't do it.

As much as he wanted to empty his mind and think of nothing, he no longer could. In the absence of scalding water to distract him with heat that bordered on painful, Harry couldn't keep his thoughts from drifting to the trial.

He ran his hands through his hair and stood. He went to gather the rest of his clothes when he turned and, almost despite himself, caught his reflection in the vanity mirror. He stood in front of it, examining himself and his scarlet eyes that he detested so much. He had half a mind to smash the thing again. He tried not to think about how it had broken the first time.

At least his skin didn't look as bad as it felt, Harry thought. He touched his cheek gingerly, and though his face was flushed, it was not red or blotchy.

"I almost didn't have to come back here," he said mournfully, recalling Percy's boldness and the aftermath of the trial. "I almost never had to step foot in this godforsaken place again."

His reflection frowned. "Rude," it muttered.

Harry's heart stopped.

Voldemort had chosen that exact moment to appear. Harry watched the Dark Lord materialize a few feet behind him in a flash of gilded darkness, a black cloud covered in specks of gold. He was still in the flowing robes he'd worn at the Ministry, the golden 'W' pinned to his chest.

His eyes found Harry's in the mirror. He smiled.

Harry swore under his breath and turned, his stilled heart now pounding and adrenaline exploding in his veins. The Dark Lord's unexpected appearances were something he would never be prepared for.

"Harry," Voldemort murmured as a greeting. His crimson eyes flickered down the length of Harry's body, his magic glittering amusedly.

"You can't just do that!" Harry yelled, one hand on his chest where his heart thundered against his ribs.

Voldemort smirked, a silent yet patronizing response. Harry knew what he was thinking—that he was Lord Voldemort, that he could do whatever he pleased.

"Where are Ron and Hermione?" Harry asked, forcing his anger aside.

"Out," Voldemort responded vaguely. "But perfectly safe."

"Out? What the hell does that mean? What have you made them do?"

Predictably, Voldemort ignored his questions and immediately began invading his personal space. "You performed well today, Harry," he said as he took a step forward. "I was very pleased."

"I wasn't performing," Harry growled. Rage bubbled in his chest, momentarily sidetracking him from the topic of his friends. "I was being honest… unlike you."

"And yet I hardly had to lie at all. Dumbledore made it so easy for me. Nearly everything that was said today was true."

"No, it wasn't!" Harry shouted. "You—you tried to make it sound like Snape purposefully made you come after my father and I—but that wasn't what happened, you were the one who decided that it was me, not—"

His sentence ended abruptly. Harry couldn't say his name out loud.

Voldemort's magic flashed, but he did not complete Harry's statement either. "Is that truly so unbelievable, Harry? What do you think is more likely—that Severus Snape foolishly told me about the prophecy before considering what it meant himself, and then was shocked when I took it to mean you…? Or that Snape, an intelligent man, contemplated who it might possibly mean first, and sought to use the information to his advantage? He knew that I would have found out about the prophecy eventually; I had Death Eaters working undercover in all departments within the Ministry, including the Department of Mysteries. What do you think someone like Severus Snape would have done in his position?"

Harry's mouth went dry. He shook his head, still refusing to believe him. "Dumbledore said—"

"Dumbledore said and did many things, the majority of which were underhanded and vile," Voldemort spat.

"Wow. I bet you have no idea what that's like," Harry shot back.

"It is almost impressive, your inability to learn respect."

"I only pay respect to people who earn it. From where I'm standing, you hardly seem deserving."

Voldemort smiled like a monster barring its teeth. "From where you're standing..." he repeated softly. Then his voice rose, sharp and bitter. "I should force you to wear a magically suppressing collar at all times, strip you bare and drag you on a leash through the Ministry of Magic. Then you and the entire wizarding world will know exactly where you stand... or don't."

Harry's face paled dramatically. Voldemort's grin became more twisted at the reaction, demonic as he was most assuredly envisioning this exact situation. "No, you won't," Harry said tonelessly, like he could will the concept away with an opposing statement.

"But chains suit you, Harry," Voldemort crooned. His magic was glinting merrily.

"No, you won't," Harry repeated, and as he said it a second time he realized that it was not just wishful thinking, but true. "That would undo a lot of your own hard work. You've been putting forth a lot of time and energy, convincing the public that you're not completely insane. If you were trying to rule like the mad man you are, you wouldn't have gone to the trouble of that trial. You wouldn't have bothered to free me. You're trying to appear as a just and level-headed ruler, and dragging people around on leashes isn't exactly the behavior of a sane man."

Voldemort's expression and magic darkened. "Has it ever occurred to you, Harry, that I am a just and level-headed ruler?"

Harry almost snorted. "No, that thought has never once occurred to me," he said. "You may be able to fool the rest of the world, but not me. I know what you are. A skilled liar, someone who underhandedly and vilely twists words and warps the truth to fit his agenda."

Voldemort's magic continued to darken in rage, though his face remained composed. Harry hardly cared, ignoring the warning signs as his own anger soared. "I merely presented the facts in a different light," Voldemort said. "None of what I said was a fabrication."

"I remember it differently," Harry responded coolly.

Voldemort took another step closer to Harry, closing the gap between them, but Harry refused to back away from the Dark Lord ever again. His outrage at all that Voldemort had said made it easy to act unafraid. "Tell me then, Harry," Voldemort murmured, moving closer still. "Tell me when I lied."

"When you talked about my mother," Harry grit out. Rage was simmering in his chest, threatening to explode at any moment.

"That was not a lie, merely a speculation… Though there is evidence to suggest that what I said was accurate. But we'll never know, shall we? The dead don't talk."

"Except for when they do," Harry responded darkly. "I wonder, what did your victims say when they prowled near you, that fateful night in the graveyard when you failed to best me, yet again? What did my father say, what did my mother say, as you tried once more to murder her son?" Harry's lips twitched at how stone-like Voldemort's face had become. "I can't imagine it was anything kind," he finished, smirking.

"They were not real," Voldemort hissed.

"Convenient, that. How you get to pick and choose what's real and what's not."

"Yes, I do decide what is real, what is the truth," Voldemort said. "Or are you unaware that the history of the world is written by the victors? I have won this war, and I will declare the truth in the manner which I best see fit to do so, in whatever way I see necessary."

"And you saw it necessary to make my mother out to be some manipulative witch?" Harry laughed bitterly. "No, you know that lie was anything but necessary! You just said that because you're terrible and bitter, because you're angry at me for knowing the truth! Just because your mother had to drug your father with a love potion doesn't mean that mine did! You can't force your tragic life onto mine!"

Voldemort was moving closer; his magic was whirling in a perilous manner and he was watching Harry with bright, blood-red eyes. Harry ignored all of it, too caught up in his own fury to care how much he might anger the Dark Lord. "My mother was good, but you just had to get revenge, didn't you? Because that's how twisted you are! Because you're a horrible, manipulative, twisted, spiteful, evil—"

"You're beautiful."

Harry's train of thought came to a jarring halt. He stared stupidly for a moment, thinking he must have just imagined that outlandish statement—but with a thrill of anxiety realized that he had not. Voldemort's magic had not been growing with anger, as Harry assumed, but with… something else. It was glinting, moving in that strange way which made Harry think of a cat's tail flickering back and forth, a focused predator about to strike.

The Dark Lord, against all logic, was not angry. His aura was glistening with an irrefutable, dark lust, that toxic want.

And he had just said…

Oh, god.

Voldemort took another step closer, and despite his previous desire to never back down from the Dark Lord again, Harry took a step back. "Wh-what?" he stuttered, flustered as he willed his rage-fueled boldness to not abandon him.

"You should have seen yourself," Voldemort purred. He was completely undeterred by Harry's small withdrawal. He looked at Harry's face with far too much interest, with far too much of that insane fondness glimmering in his magic. "You nearly managed to escape the enchanted chains which monitor emotional energy and respond accordingly. I've never seen anyone move so quickly. You made it halfway across the court room. It was such a lovely rage, such passionate magic…"

Harry was frozen as Voldemort spoke in an unsettling, velvety tone. He was moving closer still, and soon the backs of Harry's legs were hitting the vanity in his retreat, that damn vanity, and he could back away from the Dark Lord's advances no longer.

"Your magic is divine," Voldemort finished with reverence. Harry's anger had fled, replaced by a high-strung anxiety. His heart was fluttering like mad as the Dark Lord stared at him, leaning in as his gilded, black magic wrapped around Harry possessively. Harry was immobilized as the heat of Voldemort's breath fanned across his face.

He was far too close.

"I hate you," Harry whispered shakily.

Voldemort smiled as though Harry had just said the opposite. He lifted his pale fingers to Harry's chin, gently tilting his head back. That evocative warmth bloomed at his fingertips.

"You do so… beautifully…"

And without further warning, Voldemort was pressing his lips to Harry's.

Light, vibrant and lovely, radiated from his kiss in an unfathomable way. It was thought-annihilating, it was debilitating—Harry felt like someone had just knocked him from his broom and he was caught in that moment of suspension, that weightless feeling before the inevitable plummet to his damning…

Except the weightless feeling never ended. When Voldemort's tongue ran across his lower lip, Harry's mouth opened as though moving of its own accord, his mind buzzing with that buoyancy as Voldemort's tongue slid against his own, effortlessly coaxing him into reciprocation…

It was easy, far too easy, to forget. Everything was light and bliss, and Harry felt like he was floating as Voldemort's hands found their way into his unruly hair. A heat began to rise in Harry's chest, fire to accompany that weightless ecstasy—

No, some very, very small voice in the back of his head said. No, this is Voldemort, and you're falling for his trap—this is just another kind of manipulation, what he's doing now, and you're letting him use you—

Bolstering every ounce of resolve he had, Harry willed it to stop.

…He had never tried that, before.

Many times, Harry had tried to not let the pleasant light of their connection overwhelm him, but he had never once attempted to make it go away. He had never considered it as a viable option. He assumed that he had no power where their bond was concerned, that only the Dark Lord could control that beautiful warmth.

This did not seem to be the case.

It was difficult, yes, but Harry was astounded to find that it was working. He concentrated with all his might, and as he did, the light began to slowly but undeniably fade.

Harry felt a flickering of slight confusion that definitely wasn't his. Voldemort's grip in his hair tightened and his magic brightened hungrily. He forced Harry's head back further, demanding more access, like he might be able to reach into Harry's mouth with his tongue and swallow the light of his soul—

But when the warmth continued to diminish despite this, Voldemort finally pulled away. His magic twitched with a mixture of confusion and mild panic, clearly wondering why it wasn't working, why the sensation of a whole, virgin soul was being denied him. He locked eyes with Harry, his brows raised.

Harry smiled crookedly. He didn't need to speak for Voldemort to know what he was thinking. He knew the Dark Lord could read his thoughts as clearly as though he were screaming them.

I can keep this from you.

Harry wondered if the Dark Lord was seeing the same glint of superiority in his red eyes that Harry had so often had to endure from Voldemort. He wondered if his haughty grin was just as demeaning.

He wondered if, in that brief moment where the Dark Lord's handsome, deceptive face read blank horror…

He wondered if Voldemort felt helpless.

Harry's moment of power was very short-lived.

The world turned red in a blinding flash of pain. White-hot agony exploded across Harry's forehead, igniting in his scar and quickly spreading throughout his entire being. It was a horror he knew—the torturous, endless pain of the Dark Lord's unwanted influence over his body…

A bloodthirsty, crimson serpent was coiled intimately around him, inside him, scorching in his skin, boiling in his blood… The monster was twisting in his heart and wound within his soul, it was bleeding into his bones and woven into his muscles…

When the monstrosity that was Lord Voldemort spoke, he used Harry's jaw, and it was from Harry's own mouth from which the warning issued. A threat which the Dark Lord had said to him once before, only this time the words came from Harry's lips.

"…Never again…"

It ended. Harry's sight came rushing back, no longer lost in a sea of red. He was on the ground, heart pounding, body shaking so violently it was like he was laying in a bed of ice. His scar still stung, and as Harry's trembling fingers touched his forehead, he found that it was once more weeping with blood.

Voldemort remained on his feet. Harry looked up at him, quivering on the floor.

The Dark Lord may have been able to cope with the pain better than Harry, but it was clear that he had experienced it just as profoundly. His magic was unsteady, animated darkness with flecks of gold glinting sporadically, and there was blood on his neck…

It took Harry a moment to realize where it had come from. Voldemort's ears were bleeding. Harry wondered if he noticed.

Despite how badly his body was shaking, Harry pushed himself up so that he was in a kneeling position. Blood dripped from his scar into his eyes, but he didn't wipe it away. Harry looked up onto the face of the Dark Lord, feeling inexplicably bolder than he ever had.

"This is what you are," he said, ruby red drops falling into his ruby red eyes, blurring his vision and tinting his world scarlet again. Harry let it happen, like the blood pouring from his scar was all the proof he needed.

This was the truth.

"Everything you touch breaks, and someday, you're going to break me, too... And then what will you have, Voldemort?"

The Dark Lord's magic was going wild with conflict. There were so many emotions there, a tangled mess of black and gold… but most apparent in that whirlwind of feelings was fear.

Fear as he looked down at Harry's bleeding scar, fear at the realization that he could push his last horcrux beyond repair…

Voldemort's face was a porcelain mask. Harry held his breath, waiting for his reaction—he shook his head slightly, some other emotion shimmering from within that cloud of blackness—

He disappeared.

Harry gaped, stunned at the sudden retreat… because that was what it was. A retreat.

Lord Voldemort… had fled.

Harry exhaled and fell to his side, finally wiping the blood from his face. He lay there, his limbs shaking and mind reeling at what he had just learned.

He could keep that seductive light from him, if he wanted…

Voldemort may have been able to cause Harry terrible pain while possessing him, but he hadn't been able to make that connection open back up again with sheer force—otherwise it would have happened just now, Harry was certain. No, Harry had to let him…

This changed everything.

Harry let out a mangled, breathy laugh. Now they were playing an altogether different game…

And the next move was Voldemort's.

Chapter Text

Harry waited until his body stopped violently shaking before attempting to stand. It was a long time. Nearly twenty minutes had passed by the time his hands were no longer trembling. Once he finally felt that his limbs were steady, he pushed himself to his feet.

His scar was still bleeding.

Harry had continually wiped the blood away as he knelt on the ground, his hands and forearms now stained red. Once he felt capable of walking, he quickly made his way to the bathroom to wash it off.

The moisture from his overly hot shower had long since dissipated. Harry glanced fleetingly at his reflection before looking away, rinsing his arms in the sink and washing away the evidence.

Except his scar still stung, and blood continued to drip from it—albeit at a much slower pace. As soon as his hands were clean, Harry grabbed a tissue and held it to his forehead. It had bled for hours the last time he'd suffered Voldemort's wrath…

Harry waited a moment before tentatively removing the now stained tissue. He groaned. Yes, it was still bleeding. Harry watched with great annoyance as beads of scarlet welled along the lines like lightning before tipping over, dripping down his forehead and traveling towards his eyes.

He wiped it up before it could get there. Great, he thought morosely. Either he had to wait until it stopped, or he would be walking around Malfoy Manor holding a cloth to his bloody forehead…

Harry threw away the tissue once it was too saturated and grabbed a towel instead. He felt mildly guilty, placing a pristinely white hand towel to his bleeding scar. Then again, the Malfoys had a house elf. Surely Binny could clean it?

Deciding that ruining a towel was the least of his offences, Harry left the bathroom and went back to the bed. He laid on his back again, towel pressed firmly to his forehead. He was just going to have to wait it out, then.

Harry closed his eyes to avoid the eerie mirror above him and slowly exhaled. He did not even consider practicing Occlumency again; there was no chance at all that he would be able to clear his mind after what had just happened…

The pain had been so absolute that Harry, shaking and bleeding profusely in the wake of Voldemort's flight, hadn't been able to properly dwell on what he had done. He'd been blinded by agony. When he'd spoken directly afterwards, so boldly, it was like some other person had made the accusation.

'Everything you touch breaks, and someday, you're going to break me, too... And then what will you have, Voldemort?'

…How could he have said such a thing? How could he still be stupid enough to taunt Voldemort when he knew that he held his friends' lives in his hands?

Because I was delirious with pain and rage, Harry thought, answering his own question.

Though his body still ached and his scar still bled, Harry was delirious no longer. His mind was far too lucid, and now he could only wonder with dread how Voldemort would react once he'd gathered himself.

Harry was certain that it would be horrible.

Terrible thoughts of Ron and Hermione being tortured jumped to his mind first, but Harry was not so sure that the Dark Lord would be quick to harm either of them just now. At the moment, Voldemort was using them for… something. At the very least, that meant that they were out in the public eye, for they had been summoned to the Ministry of Magic. Harry knew that such things did not guarantee their safety—nothing could guarantee that for anyone associated with the Boy Who Lived at this point, Harry thought sourly—but it did… lessen the likelihood that the Dark Lord would interrupt whatever task he had set them, only to drag them back to Malfoy Manor to teach his human horcrux a lesson.

Or did it? Harry frowned, considering this at length as he tried to see the world from the Dark Lord's point of view. Maybe he was wrong. Perhaps torturing Hermione and Ron was exactly what Voldemort would do once he'd managed to get his many conflicting emotions in check and settle on rage… as he usually did.

But then a startling comprehension made Harry sit bolt-upright. No, Voldemort would not use Hermione and Ron, not when they were working for him—but he had said it himself, hadn't he? Days and days ago, after he had first taken Harry captive and Neville's body had laid on the dungeon floor, bleeding and sightless—there were countless others he could take—

'Do I need chains to hold you, Harry Potter?'

"He's going to kill Percy," Harry said aloud to himself. Percy Weasley, who had just spoken for him so boldly at his trial, who had hugged him afterwards, the action causing Voldemort's magic to blacken horrifically…

He had to do something.

Harry stood, grabbed his shoes and outer robe from the bathroom floor, and began walking as quickly as he could towards the foyer. His scar was still bleeding, but he ignored it, heart thumping rapidly now with this realization storming his mind. There was only one fireplace in this Manor that was connected to the floo network; if he was lucky, Draco would not be near it and he could take it to the Ministry, just as Hermione and Ron had… Percy was probably still there, too…

But luck was not on Harry's side as of late. Draco was sitting at the table right next to the fireplace, sipping on tea and reading a book, looking extremely bored. He perked up at once when Harry arrived, almost running as he came down the stairs.

"What are you—"

"I'm going to the Ministry." Harry went straight for the fireplace, but Malfoy dropped his book, stood, and whipped out his wand before he could get close.

Harry cast him the most menacing glower he could muster—which must have been rather effective, considering his scarlet eyes and ominously bleeding forehead—and though Draco's magic danced in apprehension, he did not back down. When Harry reached for the shelf which held a glass container full of floor powder, he raised his wand higher. "Don't even think about it," he said.

"I have to, Malfoy."

Harry reached for the glass container. Malfoy glared and shouted "Stupefy!", and red flash of magic shot out from the tip of his wand, forcing Harry to jump back in order to avoid it.

"Hey!" he shouted angrily. "You can't just stun me—"

"I absolutely can," Draco snarled back. "And I've been told to do so if I need to, and—and why do you want to go to the Ministry, anyway? To go after Granger and Weasley? Because I can guarantee that if you think you can save them from whatever the Dark Lord wants them to do, you're just wrong—"

"That's not why," Harry seethed. Blood dripped onto his eyelashes; he hurriedly wiped it away in annoyance.

"So why, then?"

"I don't have time to sit here and explain it to you, Malfoy! It's just very important, I need to go warn someone about something is all—I won't be gone long, just a quick Ministry excursion—I'm good at those—"

Harry reached for the floo powder again, and narrowly missed a second curse. "No!" Malfoy yelled afterwards, keeping his wand carefully pointed at Harry's face. "No fucking way! And if you try that again, I will knock you out, Potter!"

Harry's fingers curled in his hair, the urge to tear it from his scalp overwhelming. "Malfoy, you don't understand. It's not Hermione and Ron, it's someone else, and if I don't go warn them…"

"Who?" Draco asked sharply when Harry's voice trailed off.

Harry didn't see the point in not telling him. "Percy Weasley," he said tersely. "I just—I did something stupid to piss him off a few minutes ago, and—"

"A few minutes ago?" Draco's magic twitched in great alarm. "What do you mean, a few minutes ago? The Dark Lord was here? Just now? I thought he was at the Ministry still!" Draco turned and looked all around the foyer in great alarm, like perhaps Voldemort was there with them and he had somehow missed his murderous master.

"Er. Yeah, he was. For a minute, but then he left again—"

"What for?" Draco's focus—and wand—snapped back to Harry's face. "What did he come back here for?"

Harry's mind went blank.

He knew the reason why, of course. The Dark Lord had returned so quickly to Malfoy Manor for Harry—or more precisely, Harry's soul. Harry knew the reason for his swiftness was to bask in that horrendously addictive light that Harry's unbroken soul allowed him, that affected both of them in a bizarre yet glorious way…

But there were about a thousand different reasons why Harry couldn't explain this to Draco. Harry felt his face growing warm despite his best efforts, and Draco's head cocked to the side suspiciously.

"Because—because he lives to torment me, obviously!" Harry shouted, hoping that his red face would be interpreted as anger rather than… something else. "He came back to gloat, and I said something idiotic in response—"

"As you do," Draco interjected drily.

Harry glowered at him. "…As I do," he agreed regardless, "and now I am almost positive he's going to take it out on Percy Weasley."

Draco looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding. "Yeah," he said. "I could see that."

"Great. So, I'm going to—"

"What? Oh, no, I'm not letting you go," Draco sneered, his magic brightening in amusement. "I agree with you, yes. That doesn't mean I'm letting you leave."

Harry gaped at him. "But he's going to—"

"Torment another Weasley to punish you? Yeah, probably. Guess you should have thought of that before you pissed him off."

Harry's hands clenched into fists. Blood dripped into his eyes again, and Draco watched him wipe it away with great apprehension. Harry could tell he was curious as to why his scar was bleeding but was too anxious to ask. "Malfoy, let me go."

"And what if I did? What do you think would happen?" Draco took a step closer to him, but Harry was unaffected by his advance. He supposed having Voldemort constantly attempting to make him back down caused everyone else to look pathetic in comparison. "Say you go. Then what? You find Percy Weasley, tell him to go home, and that's that? Harry Potter has saved the day?" He scoffed condescendingly. "No, what would happen is this. You'd go and you'd be accosted by a hundred people in the atrium and make it absolutely nowhere near your goal. The Dark Lord would find out that I let you leave, and then I'd be the one on the receiving end of a Cruciatus curse right alongside Percy Weasley. And that's the best-case scenario. Besides, even if you did manage to warn Weasley, it wouldn't do him any good anyway. The Dark Lord can find anyone. If he wants to make someone suffer, he will. Running only makes that suffering exponentially worse."

Harry contemplated this for a moment. As much as he wanted to tell Draco he was wrong, he knew he couldn't. "You're right," he said blankly. He ran a hand through his hair, probably getting blood in it but not much caring. "Fuck. You're right."

Draco looked mildly astonished that Harry Potter had just admitted that he was right about something. "Yeah," he said in a hedged tone, "I am."

Harry was hardly focused on Draco enough to care about his state of disbelief; his mind was already rushing on to other options. He couldn't warn Percy. No, that wouldn't work… He was coming at this from the wrong angle…

What he needed to do was convince Voldemort.

If he could talk to Voldemort again before he sought anyone else out for retribution, then he could make it right, he could persuade him to leave Percy alone…

But where had the Dark Lord gone? Back to the Ministry? Harry doubted it. He had no idea where the Dark Lord might go to sort through his mess of feelings and… plot his next move, undoubtedly, but he was sure it was somewhere secluded. Harry closed his eyes and focused, willing their strange connection to show him the Dark Lord's mind, to allow him to see through his eyes where Lord Voldemort was…

"What are you doing?"

"Shut up."

"You look like you're about to have an aneurism."

"Shut up, Malfoy, I'm trying to focus—"

"On what?"

Harry's eyes flew open and he let out a strangled, angry sound. "God, you're insufferable!"

Malfoy's magic twitched in amusement at getting a rise out of him. Harry glowered. As much as he wished he could blame Malfoy for being unable to see through Voldemort's eyes, he knew that this was not the case. This was not the battle of Hogwarts; Voldemort was not unaware of the extent of their connection anymore, nor was he distracted by a myriad of immediate pressing concerns. Harry could not simply close his eyes and see what the Dark Lord was seeing. Wherever he was, Voldemort was without a doubt practicing Occlumency against him.

Another drop of blood landed in Harry's left eye. Feeling more frustrated with every passing second, he wiped it away with the back of his sleeve. Malfoy's nose wrinkled when he did, and Harry  remembered that these were more than likely his robes.

Before he could say anything, the fireplace ignited in green flames. Ron stepped into the foyer first, his magic strangely cheery, followed shortly by Hermione.

Harry opened his mouth with every intention of spewing out the first of a series of questions—Were they okay? What had the Dark Lord made them do? Had they seen Percy?—but then Hermione took a step further into the room, and Harry's attention was effectively sidetracked.

Harry never would have thought he was the type to be distracted by something as asinine as jewelry, but he wasn't quite sure if the thing glinting on Hermione's left hand could qualify as that.

The diamond—was it a diamond?—was absolutely massive.

It was so big and attention-grabbing that it simply had to be enchanted, catching the light as though there were a miniature, magical spotlight shining directly on it. Hermione held her hand to her chest at Harry's wide-eyed stare, and when she moved, it glittered with the majesty of a thousand tiny prisms.

Harry said, 'What is that?' at the same moment that Draco said, 'Holy fuck'. Hermione flushed and her magic whirled nervously.

"What is that?" Harry repeated, glancing quickly to Ron and seeing that his face and ears were turning red. "Hermione, what is that?"

He knew what it was. There were probably people back in London who could see the lights shining off the massive stone on the ring finger of Hermione Granger's left hand. Hermione cleared her throat before saying, in a very timid voice, "M-my engagement ring."

"You're engaged," he said blankly. She nodded meekly. Harry looked at Ron. "Are you also engaged?"

Ron managed to give him a sarcastic, annoyed look before laughing. "Yeah," he said, scratching the back of his head. "Yeah, we're… We're engaged!"

Hermione's eyes fell bashfully to the floor. Harry had never before seen her face turn redder than Ron's.

"Is that what the Dark Lord wanted you both for?" Draco asked in tones of great disbelief. He was still staring at the obviously very expensive ring like it might be a joke.

"Actually, yes," Hermione said quietly. Harry could tell that she was trying to regain her usual composure. "Th-they've begun developing a new sub-department at the Ministry of Magic, one which falls under the Department of Magical Law Enforcement… The Magical Marriage Registration."

"What?"

Harry and Draco once more spoke at the same time. Harry took some small comfort in knowing that this information was just as new to Draco as it was to him.

"Yes, it—oh, Harry, your scar—"

Harry hurriedly wiped the blood away again. "I'm fine. It's fine," he lied. It did seem to be bleeding less now, at least, and it no longer hurt. "They're forcing people to get married now?" he asked with great revulsion.

"No, no, nothing like that," said Ron quickly.

"Not exactly," Hermione said in a much darker tone. "It's something the Ministry of Magic has never done before. Anyone who wants to get married from now on must first get the approval from this committee—I'm sure you can guess a few of the people who are on it. They're arguing that it's a way to keep track of the growth of magical families more reliably, but that's obviously not the real reason."

Ron raised an eyebrow at her. "It's not?"

"Honestly, Ron, weren't you listening to a single thing he said?" Hermione snapped. For a brief moment it almost felt like they were back in school, and Ron was merely being chastised by Hermione for not paying attention during History of Magic.

"I was, of course I was—"

"Then the underlying reasoning should have been perfectly clear!"

"Excuse me for not catching on to the underlying reasoning. It's a bit hard to think about devious tactics when you know it's very likely that the next words out of the person you're supposed to be listening to's mouth could be 'crucio' or 'avada kedavra' or—"

"What underlying reasoning?" Harry interjected.

"This committee is coming into existence to make sure that muggles can't marry anyone with magical capabilities, obviously," Hermione explained in a distasteful tone. "Along with the need for approval, the Ministry is now only recognizing unions that are made in the traditional, wizarding way… Ron and I are essentially the trial run."

Harry was about to ask what the traditional, wizarding way was, but Draco spoke before he could. "You didn't buy that," he blurted out insensitively, pointing towards Hermione's ring but looking at Ron. "There's no way you could afford something like that, Weasley."

Ron glared at him, and his magic darkened so much that it was nearly red. "…No, as a matter of fact, I didn't pay for it," he said coldly. "I would have, I expected to… but I didn't have to. Harry, remember when I was called to the Ministry the other day, after Hermione came back?"

Harry nodded mutely. "Well, this was why I was summoned. To fill out the first half of the paperwork and—and go ring shopping. With your mum and dad," he finished, looking at Draco. "Yeah. It was the strangest experience of my life. They took me to the kind of store I never would have even considered walking in before, and when I said I couldn't afford anything in there, your dad almost hexed me. Do you seriously think anyone expects you to pay for this, Weasley?"

Harry thought that Ron's impersonation of Lucius Malfoy was rather poor, but he didn't say anything. "Anyway, the insinuation was clear. I said, 'Oh, well. If that's the case, I want the nicest and most expensive ring in the shop'. I didn't expect them to take me seriously; the shop owner certainly didn't. The poor wizard stared at me like I'd lost my marbles… but then your dad was showing him his Dark Mark, your mum was making this face like the shop owner was the dirt beneath her shoes, and then, well…"

He gestured towards Hermione's dazzling ring. "Blimey," Harry said, staring at it and its unfathomable size. "That thing must weigh a ton! I'm surprised you can lift your hand, Hermione."

"Actually, it doesn't weigh much at all. It's enchanted to be light. I hardly feel anything."

She waved her hand around as though to prove the point. Harry's mind was positively reeling. "But—so—you're getting married!"

"Er, yeah," Ron said.

"When!?"

"…N-next Saturday."

"What?" Harry gasped. "But—how? Where?"

"Um." Hermione fidgeted uncomfortable. "H-here. At Malfoy Manor."

"No."

They all turned at Draco's perilously low tone. His magic turned an unsightly shade of bluish-gray, and his expression was nothing short of horrified. "Here?" he asked, gaping. "Here?"

Hermione nodded. "Yes… I think that's where your mother went, actually, to m-meet with wedding planners… She asked if we wanted to go, but we said we'd rather c-come back here, obviously… And I don't know where your father went, to be honest…"

"No, of course you don't. No one does. Fuck." Draco's face paled further. "A wedding, here... FuckThis… this is horrible!"

"Why?" Harry asked. Even though he was still in a state of complete shock, he was beginning to grin despite himself. Ron and Hermione were getting married

"You don't know my family," Draco said in tones of deepest despair. "My mother—she and my father host a huge party for Yuletide every year, and every year, it's absolute mayhem. My mother goes insane when she plans those things. My father always mysteriously vanishes, and I have no idea where he goes, because he doesn't take me with him—just leaves me here with her, scrambling as I try and cover for him… And those parties are with months of notice! But a wedding? A wedding? In a week?" Draco shook his head and looked devastated. "It's going to be a fucking nightmare."

Harry's only experience with wedding planning had been his time at the Burrow for Fleur and Bill's wedding, and he vividly remembered Mrs. Weasley's high-strung attitude. He tried to imagine the equivalent of that anxiety in Mrs. Malfoy.

Somehow, he had a feeling that Draco was not overreacting.

"But why here?" Harry asked, trying to wrap his mind around this most unlikely of situations. "Why are you getting married here, and so soon?"

"Because that's what we were told was going to happen," Ron murmured. "Apparently it's going to be a huge thing. A huge thing. I don't get it either… You-know-who never struck me as the type to care about weddings or parties…"

"Honestly Ron, how can you be so naïve? He isn't having Mrs. Malfoy organize a huge wizarding wedding because he cares about weddings or likes to party, he's using this as a political event!"

Ron gaped at her. "What?" he said, having clearly not realized this at all.

"He's using us as a way to show just how wonderful it can be in his new world. A union between a muggle-born who's been properly registered and a pureblood who's been pardoned, both of whom are known to be close to the Boy Who Lived—if we can be in good graces with the Dark Lord, than it makes the statement that anyone can. He's making our wedding a grand event and basically demanding that everyone even slightly important attend the reception as a statement, to convince those who still oppose him that he's not the tyrannical ruler they think he is. It seems he's already begun to do that quite efficiently by regaining a much more human body and by handling Harry's trial the way he did…"

"He told you about that," said Harry. It was not a question but a statement. Hermione nodded solemnly. "Yes, he did… He was very informative, actually, and unexpectedly polite…"

"Oh, yeah, real polite," Ron muttered angrily. "Once he stopped making your forearm burn like it was on fire, of course."

"But that's not even the craziest thing that happened," Hermione went on in a rush, ignoring Ron. "Harry, look."

She reached into her robes. Harry's eyes went wide as Hermione revealed something even more unimaginable than her engagement ring.

wand.

Her wand.

Hermione Granger had been given her wand back.

"I know," she said, staring at it like not even she could quite believe she was holding her wand again. "I'm officially and legally allowed to carry a wand now…"

They all turned when Draco, quite unexpectedly, laughed. He began explaining himself before any of them could yell at him or ask. "The muggle-born's a Death Eater, the pureblood was found guilty of treason and is now indentured to the Ministry of Magic for six months—wand privileges suspended, of course—and Harry Potter's a free man." He looked about at the three of them with his hands on his hips, surveying them with false cheer. "Ah, but at least there's a wedding to look forward to! Fuck… You know, If you would've asked me before how everything would pan out after the war, I would have been way off."

Ron glowered at him, but Harry just nodded and shrugged. "Yeah. Can't say I saw any of this coming, either."

Harry turned his attention back to Hermione, who was still staring at her wand in a state of suspended disbelief. Harry's mind raced at the implications. Draco had just said it himself, after all… Harry was, supposedly, a free man as far as the general public was concerned. He hadn't been sentenced to work for the Ministry, he hadn't had his wand privileges suspended…

A fierce desire to carry a wand again stirred within Harry's chest like a laden monster sniffing the air in anticipation. Of course, it wouldn't be his wand if he was allowed one, seeing as Voldemort had vanished it…

Harry forced that boiling anger aside. Hermione's hand and magic had begun trembling, making Harry instantly concerned. "Hermione?" he said, touching her shoulder.

"You know, I thought it was strange, when Malfoy said he made you make a patronus before your trial," she murmured, not lifting her gaze from her wand. "Why would he bother doing that? It was obvious it was you to everyone in the courtroom; you'd supposedly been held for days at Azkaban. Even the most potent Polyjuice potion can't last more than twelve hours… So why would he do that? Why would he demand that you make a patronus? A spell that is really difficult to cast no matter when you attempt to do it, but significantly more difficult when you're distressed, or after you've experienced some horrible trauma…"

Harry, Draco, and Ron were all staring at her, her hand trembling more with every word she spoke, but they didn't interrupt. "And I think I know why, now. I don't think it had anything to do with proving it was you. I think he was curious. Because patronuses can change, and they often do after traumatic experiences—especially where regret is involved. I think he wanted to know if you were still the same Harry Potter. He wanted to know if whatever horrible things he's put you through managed to change you, and to broadcast it to the entire world. I think he would like to know that he could accomplish that… But he couldn't." Hermione's eyes suddenly welled with tears. She looked up at Harry and smiled. "Of course you're still you, Harry. Nothing could change you."

She looked back to her wand. Harry suddenly understood her anxiety.

Hermione was wondering if the same was true of her.

"…Something happy," Harry said gently.

Her magic was dark and heavy with anxiety. She swallowed hard and shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. "I don't know how you did it, Harry," she whispered. "How can you think of something happy enough to make a patronus after all that's happened, with everything that's happening now? We've lost the war, I-I've been marked as a Death Eater, Ron was forced to propose to me so that the Dark Lord could use us to his advantage—and I'm going to bring a child into this world—"

"Is that what you think?"

Ron interrupted her in a quiet but cold voice. Hermione looked at him, and as he stared back, Harry was certain he'd never seen a more serious expression on his face. "You think I only proposed to you because I was forced to?"

The atmosphere in the room became instantly tense. Hermione looked taken aback. "W-weren't you?"

"I wasn't forced to," Ron snapped, sounding uncharacteristically angry. Hermione winced. "I wasn't forced to propose to you, I could have said no—you seriously think I only asked you to marry me because I was threatened or something? I didn't even think about some underhanded bullshit, I was just thinking about you! I thought it was obvious that I'm ridiculously in love with you and want to be with you!"

For such a great confession of love, Ron looked very upset. His magic was quivering and his face was turning red again, but this time it was in anger. "Do you actually want to be with me? Or did you just say yes because you thought you'd be cursed otherwise, or something?"

Hermione's eyes were huge and shining with tears. She was staring at Ron like she'd never seen him properly before. "I… N-no, I…"

The tension was paramount. Harry and Draco looked at each other, and without saying a word, Harry knew they were both thinking the same thing. Draco jerked his head to one side and started walking away.

"We'll just…" Harry began explaining, but neither Ron nor Hermione looked at him. Their eyes were fixed on each other, contrasting emotions so great that Harry wasn't sure if they were about to have a horrible row or something else entirely. He turned and followed Draco.

Clearly, Hermione and Ron had a lot to talk about.

Draco and Harry left as quickly as possible without breaking out into a run. They left through one of the doors at the back of the foyer, and didn't stop walking at a brisk pace until they had turned into a room at the end of the hall, far, far away from whatever drama was about to unfold between Hermione and Ron.

Harry was surprised to see that Draco had led him to a very old-fashioned looking sitting room. There were cushy chairs, bookshelves filled with books and odd but impressive-looking magical items, and a game table of some sort that made Harry think of pool but was clearly a wizarding equivalent.

There was also a bar, and Draco went straight for it. He walked behind the counter and grabbed a glass bottle full of amber liquid. Without a word, he pulled out two glasses and filled them, and then slid one across the bar towards Harry.

"I've heard of worse reasons to drink," he said. "You can't say I'm not a courteous host now, either."

Maybe, if he were thinking more clearly, Harry would have declined Malfoy's offer of alcohol. He didn't. Harry reached for the glass without even asking what was in it.

"To the glorious new regime," Draco said, smiling brightly and sarcastically. He lifted his glass towards Harry.

Harry's lips twitched despite himself. At least my scar has stopped bleeding, he thought as he quickly touched a hand to his forehead.

Harry clinked his glass to Draco's. "Cheers," he said with equal fake enthusiasm.

They both forcibly grinned and drained their glasses.

Chapter Text

Firewhisky.

It burned with a familiar feeling as it seared down Harry's throat, and for a fleeting moment he felt as though he were transported back in time.

He was not in Malfoy Manor but in the Burrow. He was raising a glass with his friends who had survived, who had risked everything for him in order to escape from Privet Drive unscathed… They were drinking to their fallen comrade who had died at the hands of Lord Voldemort himself, Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody…

Mundungus had abandoned him in the midst of their flight and Voldemort had killed him…

And just as Harry set the glass back down on the bar, reality came crashing back with a sickening wave of force. The whisky did not dispel the numbness, nor give him a sense of courage now as it had then, but burned in his gut in a nauseating way.

How could he have allowed himself to be so sidetracked?

He felt like he was losing his mind.

"Percy," he said the moment he was able to speak. His eyes were nearly watering with how strongly the whisky burned at the back of his throat. "I need to go back, I need to ask them—"

"Don't," Draco said shortly. He then pointed his wand at the door and said, "Colloportus."

Harry crossed the room and scowled as he attempted to wrench the door open. It was futile of course; Draco had just magically locked it, and Harry did not have a wand of his own to cast the counter charm. He rounded on Malfoy. "Let me out," he demanded.

"Or what?" said Draco, who looked glad to have the bar between himself and Harry—as well as the only wand in the room. "Those two were on the verge of either killing each other or shagging, and I don't think you want to be in the middle of either of those interactions—or maybe you do, and you're more of a trio than I thought—"

"What? No, don't—that isn't—shut up!" Harry hated that such a ridiculous statement managed to fluster him. Draco was pouring himself another drink and smirking. "I need to ask them if they saw Percy or not, if they know if he's okay—"

"Obviously they don't know anything about that or they would have said something. What, do you think the Dark Lord makes a scene and swoops in to abduct people in the middle of crowds? If he did or is going to take Percy Weasley, he'll do it stealthily. Probably have someone else escort him from the Ministry under false pretenses, and no one will be any the wiser that Percy Weasley is mysteriously missing until he wants them to know."

Harry was gaping at just how casually Draco was discussing Percy's possible murder. "I have to do something," he said, his hands beginning to shake. "I need to get there, I need to do something—you have to let me out—"

"No, I don't." Malfoy lifted his glass to his lips, this time taking only a small sip. "Sit down, Potter," he said. He poured Harry another drink. "I'm going to tell you a story."

Harry gaped at him. "A st…? Malfoy, I don't have time for a story, I don't have time to just—to just sit here and have a bloody drink with you!"

"Trust me, you do," Draco murmured. He slid the glass closer to him. "Right now, there is nothing that you can do to stop the Dark Lord from doing whatever he wants. In fact, the only thing you can do is not act like a moron and make matters worse for everyone. So take a seat."

Harry grit his teeth and didn't move. "Or don't," said Malfoy, shrugging. "Be stubborn. Fine. I can summon my house elf and have him take you to your room and force a Sleeping Draught down your throat instead, if you like. Or just stun you and leave you passed out in here on the floor, locked in. My instructions for being a courteous host end the moment I feel you're on the verge of doing something reckless."

He was no longer smirking or looking haughty when he made those threats, which Harry found very surprising. Even his magic had brightened with some emotion that was fickle and confusing. It wasn't gleeful, whatever it was. Harry would have expected Draco Malfoy to be relishing the fact that he had so much power over him.

But the days of Draco Malfoy being a prefect—or a member of the Inquisitorial Squad—who liked nothing more than to make Harry Potter suffer were long gone, and Malfoy looked oddly expressionless as he motioned towards the barstool in front of him.

Forcing aside the very powerful urge to lunge across the bar and attempt to wrestle Draco's wand out of his hands, Harry sat. The very last thing he wanted was to be sentenced to an unwanted nap or knocked out and locked in this room, alone.

"Smart choice," said Malfoy as he pocketed his wand. Harry stared down at the second glass he'd poured him but didn't touch it. Draco didn't seem offended, just took another sip of his own drink before speaking. "I never would have thought that this summer could be more stressful than last year's," he murmured. He wasn't looking at Harry anymore when he spoke, but somewhere over his head with his eyes slightly out of focus.

"After I succeeded in getting Death Eaters into the school, I thought I had done well. My father had been in Azkaban that entire year, but I didn't realize just how much danger he was in. In hindsight, it was rather naïve on my part. I thought that the Dark Lord was punishing him by simply keeping him in there until he thought that he and the others who'd been captured at the Ministry had had enough. I honestly thought he believed in me being able to do Dumbledore in. I never would have thought myself capable of such a feat, but I believed it after he talked to me. He's good at that, you know. Convincing people to believe in impossible things."

Draco took another sip of whisky. Harry didn't join him, though he did wrap his fingers around his glass simply so that he had something to do with his hands. He wondered why Draco was bothering to tell him this. Harry already knew the ending to this story.

"My mother was frantic, but I just blamed it on her being overprotective as usual. My aunt, on the other hand, was so proud, just fueling the fire of my arrogance. I went to Hogwarts with a Dark Mark on my arm feeling like some kind of god… It didn't last long. The full weight of everything really settled in after a few weeks. It became obvious pretty quickly just how hopeless it was. How could kill Albus Dumbledore, one of the most powerful wizards in the world? I couldn't kill him. I couldn't kill anyone."

"You nearly killed several people, none of which were your intended targets," Harry interjected. "You almost killed Katie Bell with that stupid necklace, you almost killed Ron with—"

"I know!" Draco's eyes snapped to Harry's, his magic shimmering with guilt. "You don't think I know? You don't think I feel bad about all that? Just because I didn't like either of them doesn't mean I wanted to kill them—I was just—I couldn't think of anything better, and I was too big-headed to let Snape help me! I thought I had to do it on my own, because if I did, then surely my father would be forgiven? Surely he would break him out of Azkaban and we could be a family again?"

He ran a hand through his white-blonde locks, his calm disposition effectively shaken. He took a deep breath and regained his composure quickly enough, though, and carried on. "I didn't kill anyone, but I did succeed in getting the Death Eaters into the school. The Dark Lord was pleased overall—Dumbledore was dead, that was what he'd really wanted—but my father wasn't entirely forgiven. He promised then that he would break my father and the others out of Azkaban… and I'd never seen my mother look so afraid."

Draco laughed mirthlessly. "Do you know how strange it is to dread your father being freed from the most horrible place in the world? To realize fully that someone you care about was better off staying in a fortress surrounded by dementors than back at home, because home was where the Dark Lord's wrath awaited him?"

Harry didn't say anything. He recalled Dumbledore saying something along those lines himself after the fiasco at the Ministry, that Lucius Malfoy was probably thankful to be far away from his master's rage at his failure…

"It happened in late summer—not that the second mass breakout from Azkaban was reported in the Daily Prophet, mind you. Scrimgeour was still alive then, and he didn't want the wizarding world to know just how badly it was fucked, I guess… Anyway. My father was broken out by my aunt and a few of the newer recruits, dragged back here where the Dark Lord already was, where my mother and I were ordered to wait with him. He wanted us to see."

Draco took another drink of his whisky, a much longer one this time. His glass was nearly empty again. "I know you think you have the full measure of me," he said, feigning nonchalance. "I know you think I'm just some cowardly Slytherin who would never risk his own safety. But I'm not. We're more alike than you might think, Potter."

Harry scoffed. "Are we now," he said drolly.

"We are," Draco said seriously. "We both do reckless things when we shouldn't because we think we're saving someone—I think I proved that plenty of times in our sixth year, don't you? I wasn't thinking about who else I might've hurt in the process that year, I was only thinking about saving my father. The major difference between us is just that, though. I only get that kind of daring when it's someone really, really important to me. You? You'll do stupid shit to save just about anyone, even if you barely know them. Even if you despise them, in fact."

Harry's body burned at that. He couldn't exactly deny it. Feeling the sudden need to hide his face, he took a tiny sip of whisky. Draco finished his and poured himself another healthy dose.

"So my father came home," Draco went on conversationally, "and was thrown down by my aunt in the middle of the foyer before the Dark Lord, my mother and I standing behind him, forced to watch. He didn't look good, my father. A year in Azkaban had about as profound an effect on him as eleven years did on my aunt. I imagine it was because he spent his time in there dreading the day he would be inevitably rescued… He looked like he was on death's doorstep already. The Dark Lord was hardly sympathetic."

He paused. Draco's airy magic became darker than Harry had ever seen it. "You've been under the Cruciatus Curse when the Dark Lord's cast it."

It wasn't a question, but an undisputable statement. Draco must have heard it, then, when Harry had first been brought to Malfoy Manor after the Battle of Hogwarts… before he was blinded, before Voldemort had gained a new body and still looked like the monster he truly was…

'Are you afraid, Tom?'

"…You know how terrible it is," Draco concluded when Harry did nothing but nod. "Two seconds under his curse feels like an eternity. For my father's punishment… he said he would place him under the curse for fourteen minutes." He paused again, took another drink. "One minute for every year the Dark Lord spent without a body. Fourteen minutes."

Harry's mind reeled, wondering how long he personally had been held under the curse. Fierce memories of Neville writhing on the floor flooded his unwilling mind. It had seemed that Bellatrix had held him under the curse for ages, but Harry knew that in all actuality, no single curse could have lasted more than a minute at a time…

"He conjured an hourglass and everything. Fourteen minutes of torture for fourteen years of abandonment, and the Dark Lord said my father's failure at the Ministry would be forgiven… And my mother and I had to watch… We were told not to say or do anything, just watch what happens to those who fail him…"

Draco shuddered. Harry's heart was filled with an absurd pity for the entire Malfoy family.

"I couldn't do it," Draco said, and suddenly he was smiling. "That's right! I, Draco Malfoy, completely snapped and defied the Dark Lord's orders. I threw myself at his feet and shouted, begging him to end it at just four minutes in. That was when my father had stopped screaming and his mouth had begun to foam like a rabid dog's… My mother couldn't even hold me back. And you know what happened then?" He laughed coldly. "The Dark Lord lifted the curse from my father just to send me sprawling to the floor at his side, bound by an incarcerous. I begged and begged and begged. 'Please, torture me!' I yelled. 'Please, curse me instead!' Because my father already looked so weak. He was so frail, so emaciated. I was sure that he would not last the full fourteen minutes… But I could. I could do anything for him.

"The Dark Lord didn't care for my outburst at all."

Draco ran a hand through his hair again, his magic trembling far more than his body was. "He didn't even acknowledge my request to take it all upon myself. He just said that for my interruption he would be adding a full minute to my father's sentence. Now, I know how that sounds. What's one minute? Sixty seconds more, that doesn't sound so horrible, does it?"

Harry was not making any such argument, though Draco continued speaking as though he had. "It was the longest minute of my life, Potter. Every moment of his long torture was horrifying, don't get me wrong—each second my father was under that curse I felt like I should have been the one suffering, I should have been the one in pain. I had been the one who failed to kill Dumbledore myself, and maybe if I had, he would have been spared that… And it was all made that much worse by the fact that I saw it all happen at eye level. I was on the floor with him, tied up and unable to do anything to help him…

"Those last sixty seconds, though… He had stopped screaming a long time ago, at that point. His eyes were flickering around in his skull like he was having a seizure. During that last minute, with every second I thought, 'What if this is the moment his sanity cracks? What if this is the exact moment he loses his mind?'"

Harry's heart was racing. He felt like he was reliving this precise, final minute of torture with Draco right then, whose magic was trembling as he recalled the memory. Even though Harry knew that Lucius Malfoy had clung to his sanity after the fact, adrenaline was coursing through Harry's veins, imagining the older Malfoy who was usually so dignified thrashing on the floor, unable to even scream. Draco took another long drink, finishing what was his third serving of firewhisky. Harry followed suit and drained his own glass. It left him feeling unnaturally warm afterwards.

"The point I'm trying to make, Potter," Draco said after a long stretch of silence, "is that you should never try and stop the Dark Lord from doing what it is he wants to do, especially when it comes to hurting the people he wants to hurt. It only makes things worse for them. My mother tried to teach me that lesson herself so that I wouldn't have to learn the hard way. I wish I would have listened. She stood by the entire time my father was tortured and I was bound at his side, never once making a sound… because she knew what would happen if she had. Learn from my mistake. Don't run off trying to be a hero when the Dark Lord is involved, because if you do, you will end up damning whoever it is he's targeting even more than they already are."

Harry knew that there was irrefutable wisdom in his words, but he couldn't just nod and accept them. "I can't," he said, "I can't just sit here and do nothing, not knowing what he—"

"Yes, you can. I know it sucks, I know it's probably the hardest thing for you in the world—little hero Harry Potter, needing to sit still and not run off on some dangerous, thrilling adventure—but it's the only thing you can do. What you need to learn, Potter, is how to compartmentalize."

A strangled laugh was escaping Harry's throat before he could stop it. "Compartmentalize?" he repeated dubiously. He shook his head, his heart beating rapidly. "I can't do that, I can't just shut off my feelings—because I'm not like you, I'm not—"

Harry abruptly got to his feet. His pulse was racing, and he swayed when he stood as the blood rushed far too quickly to his head. He felt dizzy and too warm, too trapped. He rushed towards the door again, ignoring the reality that it was locked and that he could not get out.

"Potter!" Draco snapped, but Harry didn't turn. A moment later and Draco was grabbing him by the shoulder and twisting him around, slamming him against the locked door with his wand at Harry's chest. He did so with ease; Harry was still so weak from his time in the cell beneath the manor. "Calm down, or I'm going to have to—to stun you or—"

Harry barely heard his threats. His heart was thundering so loudly and there were screams echoing in the back of his mind—he couldn't tell whose they were; they could have been his own or Neville's or his mother's or someone else's entirely—his breath was catching and Draco's eyes were so wide—

There was a flash of glinting darkness and Draco released his hold on Harry's robes.

Harry's racing heart froze.

The Dark Lord did not arrive silently nor stealthily; even Draco was aware the moment Voldemort appeared in the room with them. All the lights flickered violently, the glasses trembled loudly on the bar. Voldemort's magic was suffocating and undeniable, and Draco had turned and was on his knees with his head bowed before Harry could blink.

"M-m-m-my Lord," Draco stuttered out in a high voice. Voldemort was towering over him, his face bloodless and his eyes fiercely red. Harry had never heard Draco sound so afraid. Perhaps he thought that he was about to be severely punished for being found like this, for having Harry up against a wall and looking like he was about to hex him… which he was, but then again, Draco had been told that he could.

Voldemort didn't deign Draco with his attention for long. The lights swiftly returned to their usual incandescence and the Dark Lord turned his attention to Harry.

Harry's pulse started up again as he mentally scrambled to gather himself. He was still shaking from what he was sure was about to be another panic attack.

Voldemort's magic was unreadable, whirling with too many emotions for Harry to try and decode it, but his sinister expression softened slightly when his eyes met Harry's. He stepped past Draco—whose bright magic shuddered violently as his master drew near—and grabbed Harry by the forearm.

"Breathe," Voldemort instructed in a low voice.

Harry hadn't realized he wasn't. He drew in a deep breath, and Voldemort's magic flickered with something like approval.

Then, without even the slightest of explanations to Draco, they disapparated.


Harry's lucidity came screaming back into existence.

He and the Dark Lord were being compressed with the familiar, uncomfortable sensation of apparition, and in that fragmented moment Harry's thoughts reeled.

This is it. I am being taken to some dungeon where Percy will be waiting, bloodied and bound, about to be murdered. He is going to make me watch. Percy is going to die, and it is going to be all my fault.

They landed. Soft daylight danced across Harry's eyes.

Instantly, Harry made to turn on the spot, but Voldemort did not release his arm. Harry looked around him, held in place as he was, and was immediately confused.

Outside. They were outside, they were somewhere that Harry recognized vaguely… There were woods in the distance and the sky was a mixture of intense indigo and purple—the violet brighter than any color Harry had ever seen in the sky in his life—but whether it was sunrise or sunset, Harry was unsure…

More important than where they were, though, was the fact that they were alone. Harry looked up at Voldemort questioningly.

He did not look furious. He did not look as though he were on the verge of murdering someone in an incensed rampage. Even his magic was oddly still.

Why?

Had he really not thought to torture someone in order to punish his rebellious, human horcrux? Afraid to voice what he thought was an obvious concern on the off chance that Voldemort had not thought to do this, Harry remained silent. Voldemort's magic was glistening. It looked more like the sky than the actual sky did; a star-scape against a backdrop of bleeding purple and blue. Towards the west, the barest pinpricks of stars were visible, but they paled in comparison to the glints of gold in Voldemort's swarming aura.

Voldemort gave Harry a sweeping, appraising look. He seemed to be waiting for something.

"Breathe," he repeated, his command a bit sharper this time. Then, when Harry looked baffled, "slower."

Was he breathing that quickly? Harry put one hand to his chest and he realized that yes, yes he was. Putting forth a great deal of self-control for such a simple action, Harry closed his eyes and took a slow, steadying breath, and then another, and then another.

Voldemort released his arm.

Harry's eyes flew open to see that the Dark Lord was no longer watching him but walking away. He moved several paces from Harry before sitting, rather casually, on the ground where fresh, young grass had only just begun to grow. He sat facing the violet half of the sky, his legs crossed and his back ramrod straight. He turned his pale face towards Harry and, nodding towards the space at his side, said "Sit."

Harry was more confused than ever. Voldemort's magic and disposition were both calm—eerily so. Rather than reassure him, this filled Harry with a great sense of foreboding.

What kind of new trick was this?

At Harry's hesitation, Voldemort's magic flickered in annoyance. Unable to see a way out of this ploy, whatever it was, Harry slowly moved and sat next to him as instructed—though he left a healthy gap between them.

Voldemort was quiet for a long time. Harry waited, trying to breathe properly and slowly.

"…Do you have any idea how your heart haunts me?"

Harry stared, sure he must have invented that statement spoken in the detached, cold voice of Lord Voldemort. The Dark Lord was still looking up, away from Harry, his magic simmering about him.

"Your feelings, your torrid emotions… I feel them often. Even suppressed by Occlumency, they constantly flicker on the edges of my mind, especially when you are distraught. Earlier this very day, I felt one with precision. Outside. That thought and the recollection that the last time you had been outside was when you fell to me in the Forbidden Forest… But you were wrong."

Harry held his breath and waited. He felt like he was edging along the side of a cliff, and at any moment something would snap, causing the avalanche of viciousness that he continued to anticipate.

"I brought you here. The last time you were outside was here, precisely here… That was not a memory."

Harry gaped and looked out towards the horizon, and that was when it hit him—Finland, of course, this was northern Finland… Only it looked so different. It was not night but twilight… The aurora borealis were not currently flooding the sky, which was now a blanket of purple and blue…

But of course Harry had not thought of that moment as the last time he'd been outside. He'd been convinced he was in a memory even as it was happening.

Still, Harry was beyond confused as to why Voldemort was saying this and why they were here. Why was he so calm, what was he getting at? Harry was convinced that this situation would take a horrid turn at any moment, and he prepared himself for the worst.

"I thought it my own madness at first… your whirlwind of a soul," Voldemort continued, his voice low. "I thought it must be the repercussions of going without a corporal form for so long; I assumed it was merely a disturbing side effect from the ritual which gained me a solid, if pathetic, body… Random bursts of emotion that had no connection with anything I was doing… Why would I feel a strange surge of happiness when I had nothing to be joyful over, when I was still in such a fragile and pathetic state? Why should I feel anxiety when I was safely hidden behind wards and enchantments, Nagini's protective form coiled around me? I thought it was only because that small body was so unstable. I told myself the bizarre, mysterious emotions would end once I took your blood and was reborn as something stronger… But I was wrong. They became worse."

Harry's heart was now thundering in his ears. He had once more stopped breathing altogether, listening hard, unwittingly fascinated.

He had never considered that the Dark Lord might have been feeling his emotions, too…

"I felt them more often and more powerfully. Pangs of pure grief that I had never once experienced in my own life, searing hatred that was not related to anything I was doing… I once felt the sensation of someone's lips being pressed to mine and tears staining my cheeks… I felt the ghost of pain on the back of my hand, could feel blood dripping from a wound that was not there… I felt vicious… Madness, I told myself. This is madness."

He turned to face Harry, his magic glinting in a disturbing yet gorgeous manner. "But I was wrong yet again. I was not suffering from madness as I secretly feared… I was feeling you."

Harry was unable to hold his silence any longer. He wasn't sure what grand and profound point the Dark Lord was trying to make and he didn't much care, not when he was so distraught. "What is this?" he blurted out. "What are you doing, why are we here, what's happening—what did you do to Percy—"

Harry shouted his name before he could stop himself. His hand flew to his mouth, and Voldemort tilted his head to one side at the outburst. He looked surprised.

…But his magic revealed other emotions. Voldemort's aura darkened at the word Percy in a black and menacing way, and Harry knew without a doubt that Percy Weasley had not been forgotten by Lord Voldemort. "Percy Weasley?" he asked, sounding so convincingly nonchalant that Harry was sure he would have otherwise believed it. "Why would I do anything to Percy Weasley?"

"Because—because he questioned you in court, and because you're s-so…"

Harry's words trailed off, suddenly so uncomfortable that he could no longer speak. The thought was there in his mind, but his jaw froze, unable to say it.

Because you're so angry that I can keep this sense of wholeness from you. Because I threatened to do just that when your hungry tongue could glean nothing from my unwilling mouth.

And that was something, wasn't it? The way that neither he nor Voldemort had actually put into words the pleasant warmth that bloomed between them because of the shared fragment of Voldemort's soul. It was possibly the most powerful, beautiful thing that Harry had ever felt, that light—and it was certainly the most wonderful thing that the Dark Lord had experienced since he'd first shredded his soul with Dark Magic—but it was a connection that went unspoken.

Harry thought he understood why.

It was such an intimate bond, one that neither of them had wanted nor anticipated, and neither of them wanted to admit that it was real… despite how ostentatiously real it was. To utter the pleasure of the connection between them out loud was nearly impossible, it was so... uncomfortable.

Voldemort's magic whirled but his expression remained light. Harry already knew that this distressing fact remained truer for the Dark Lord than it did for him. Voldemort would never admit that he was infatuated—addicted—to the light of Harry's soul. The Dark Lord would never admit that Harry held something within him that made him feel peaceful and warm and whole, because to do such a thing would be to admit that he was, at least on some small level, wrong.

Lord Voldemort would never confess that having murdered so many innocent people to shatter his soul was wrong.

"…Percy Weasley did nothing wrong by making his arguments," Voldemort eventually said when Harry's voice trailed off. "He thought that he was correct. He repeated my own words. He is uninformed of the full complications of your predicament, of course, but he had every right to speak. Why would I feel wrathful towards a wizard who was pardoned under my own ruling? Those would not be the reactions of a just and level-headed ruler."

Harry was astounded. His words were so carefully spoken, his expression so sincere, but his magic—his magic had darkened tremendously, and Harry knew that Voldemort felt nothing but ire in his heart for Percy Weasley.

Was that all this was to him, then? Proving Harry wrong? Trying to show that he wasn't a madman when Harry knew that the opposite was true?

Harry wasn't completely sure, but he was positive that if that was the only reason Voldemort had not instantly acted on his impulse to harm someone, it was a temporary respite at best. "You're lying," Harry spat, no longer caring if he seemed more perceptive than he should. His heart thumped against his ribcage like it was trying to escape, and his hands began to shake. "You're lying, you wanted to kill Percy the moment he spoke against you and you want to kill him now! And you probably will at any moment, just because you can, just because—"

Harry's outcry was silenced. In a movement that was unsettlingly swift, Voldemort had grabbed Harry about the waist and pulled him towards him, and before Harry even had the presence of mind to register what was happening, his legs were spread and his jaw and was in the Dark Lord's hands and—

"This must end."

…Harry was sitting on his lap.

Harry blinked, thinking he might be imagining things, but no—Voldemort had just grabbed him and settled him rather jarringly and quickly onto his lap so that Harry was straddling him. Voldemort grabbed his face with one hand so that Harry was for once looking down at the Dark Lord's face rather than up into it under his tall, towering form.

Harry's panic was effectively derailed to say the least. His legs were on either side of the Dark Lord's hips; their chests were separated by barely more than a few layers of fabric. Harry was so close to Voldemort's face that he could count his lashes if he wanted, he could feel his words against his face as he spoke them.

"This panic must stop. Your friends are safe. Anyone who is dear to you is safe. If they are alive now and they have been pardoned then they are under my protection. This constant panicking for their safety is debilitating and unnecessary and it must end."

Harry ignored the fact that he was in such an intimate, physical position with Voldemort and forced himself to focus entirely on what he was saying. "They're not safe at all," he said, incredulous that he had to even make such an argument. "You made that perfectly clear yourself—you'll hurt anyone to punish me, y-you've already—"

"No longer."

Voldemort's magic softened. Harry had never seen it quite so glittery as it was now, the gold sparkling almost blindingly. "I swear to you, from this moment on, that they are safe… No one else needs to die. No one else needs to suffer."

Rather than reassure him, Harry felt his disbelief spike. "Until I do something to piss you off again, or—or one of them says or does something to defy you that's grave enough—and they will, because they don't support you and your ideals and they never really will and—"

Harry's statement was cut off by a sudden onslaught of his own emotion. Voldemort's magic darkened uncomfortably; even his expression, which was usually such a carefully controlled mask, cracked just a hair.

"And Hermione will figure it out."

Harry wrenched his face from Voldemort's grasp. He thought to try and move away but found that his body wouldn't listen. Words were streaming out of his mouth before he could manage it anyway.

"Hermione will figure it out," he repeated, and it was only as he spoke that he realized the weight of his own statement. It was a fear that had been forming in his subconscious since the moment Hermione had first arrived at Malfoy Manor, since she had looked at Harry's frightening, crimson eyes and not said a word about them.

"Hermione is too smart, she will figure it out, she will find out that I'm a h-h—"

"Hermione Granger knows exactly what you are."

Voldemort's expression had regained it's controlled, rigid look about it. Harry stared, dumbfounded. "What did you think I was looking for in her mind when she first came to me, to us? She knows. She has known for some time, truthfully, though she did not accept it as a reality until very recently."

Harry was beside himself. He barely noticed when Voldemort moved one hand to rest against his neck. "Wh-what do you mean?"

"Hermione Granger became suspicious that you may be a horcrux of mine on the day that the two of you escaped Godric's Hollow… She sat and tended to you for hours afterwards as you writhed, unconscious yet moaning, hissing… She wiped the sweat from your face and watched as, when your eyes would occasionally flash open, she swore she saw scarlet in the usual green of your irises…

"But no, she convinced herself that it could not be true. Surely Dumbledore would have known? Surely he would have figured out long ago that you were a horcrux if that were the case? And if he had known, Dumbledore would never do something as conniving as purposefully keep that from you for his own purposes… would he?"

Voldemort's voice was not smug nor condescending. He said it all in a soft, neutral tone. "She convinced herself that it could not possibly be true—that the unheard of connection between us was just the repercussions of dark magic and nothing more. She knew that she was wrong the moment she heard your voice on the Potterwatch broadcast. For what other reason would I have for keeping you alive?

"And so she came. A night full of contemplation, but she made her choice to come in the end. To fight me meant to murder you, and she would not do that. Her loyalty to you is unprecedented... I once may have said that friendship was dangerous, that to have faith in anyone was idiotic… but it would appear that in this instance I was wrong. Hermione Granger's unwavering friendship to you was her saving grace. She would never do anything to betray or endanger you… Therefore, her loyalty now also belongs to me."

"She… she knows?" Harry asked stupidly once he had finished. Voldemort nodded. "She knows… Hermione knows…"

Voldemort's expression suddenly became distraught and his magic danced with distress. It took Harry a moment to realize why he had become so uncomfortable again. Harry's body had begun reacting before his brain could catch up.

Crying… he was crying…

Silent tears were streaming down his face, and it was with that comprehension that Harry was hit with a debilitating sense of relief.

His repressed fears came bubbling to the surface. Deep, deep down, Harry had been afraid that Hermione would soon learn what he was, ever sense he left her to rest that day she came to Malfoy Manor—if she had not guessed already. That she would someday turn on him, determined to kill him because that was the only way, the only way…

But now, as the truth came out that this was not the case—that Hermione knew what he was and wanted him to live anyway, that she would not forsake him for something he had never wanted to be—Harry's buried anxiety was washed away, and the rush of gratitude he felt towards Hermione was so strong that he was crying because of it.

They were tears of relief.

Voldemort didn't seem to understand. His magic was tense and his hand went rigid against Harry's neck. He got the distinct impression that he would like nothing more than to be as far away from Harry's display of emotion as possible.

But Voldemort could not run from his horcrux's emotions even if he wanted to.

Harry wiped the unbidden tears away as quickly as he could. "Ron?" he choked out, needing to know. "Does Ron know?"

"…No. He does not know, and Hermione Granger is sworn to secrecy… I see no reason for Ronald Weasley to be aware."

Harry just nodded and hid his face in his hands, not wanting to begin the discussion as to what would happen if Ron did find out. He was also aware that Voldemort had made horcruxes…

Voldemort didn't breech the subject either. He reached up with both arms and pulled Harry's hands away from his face, shockingly gentle. "This must end," he said quietly but firmly. "I will not harm anyone you care about. They are safe."

"You aren't happy about that."

Harry wasn't sure where the spiteful tone came from, but it was a sudden voice he couldn't silence. "You aren't. You wanted to curse Percy right then and you still want to now. You want to torture anyone who displeases you. Just like you tortured me so many times, just like you've tortured and killed so many others."

Voldemort stared at Harry's incensed, tear-stained face for a long moment. Harry fully expected him to lie, to make some comment about being level headed and just yet again… and was very surprised when he did not.

"Yes," he admitted in a cold hiss, his magic dark. Harry's skin crawled at the frigid honesty. "I do. My instant reaction is always to cause pain. I wanted nothing more than to skin Percy Weasley alive for the mere suggestion that you could be taken from me."

Voldemort's hands tightened on Harry's wrists like living shackles. Harry's heart fluttered, anxiety sweeping up his spine. "…But I did not act on the impulse. I may have the gut reaction to strike and kill when one opposes me, but those urges do not matter so long as I do not immediately act on them… We all have individual, visceral reactions, do we not? I cannot control my instincts to wish to kill any more than you can control your instincts which demand that you try and save…"

His dark magic lightened slightly, once more glittering with gold. "Because that is what you do, isn't it, Harry?" he murmured. "You always want to save people…"

"And you don't," Harry agreed tensely, ignoring the way Voldemort's magic had begun to shine. "Since when do you take your time to thoughtfully consider whether you should punish someone? You hurt people all the time without thinking—I would know. I saw the way you treated your followers through your own eyes multiple times throughout the years. You curse and kill people without consideration."

Rather than make him angry, this statement only served to make Voldemort's magic glisten more. "For a time, I did," he agreed, "but that was when I had only recently regained a body. You think that was how I acted before? Fourteen years as something less than a ghost… changed me. I had been shattered. I was burdened with some emotions that were mine and some which weren't, and I thought that if it was madness that plagued me then it should plague the world… I felt broken."

The last word caused his smooth and tenuous voice to break. Harry stopped breathing again at the sudden intensity in his eyes, at the way his magic flashed… Need, he was suddenly consumed by a deep-seated need, and Voldemort's hands were so tight around Harry's wrists that it bordered on painful.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, nor embarrassed about… I understand."

Voldemort's magic was rushing in a whirlwind of emotions, all of which were twisted in desperation. It made Harry's heart ache even as he grappled to understand what he was talking about.

"I'm sorry you've lost that." Voldemort's words were heavy, his voice low in a way that Harry had never heard before. The sensation of desperation in his magic soared. Black and gold. "I'm sorry that you became this…"

Realization struck Harry like a bolt of lightning. Voldemort was… He was reciting Harry's own words back to him, from back when he had been blinded, woken up in a state of desperation by the Dark Lord himself… The one time Harry had begged him for anything…

Don't leave me.

A torrential wave of guilt washed over him. Harry had said that. He had said that he was sorry for what the Dark Lord had become, had even said that his desire to feel whole again was nothing shameful…

And then he had gone and kept it from him in a moment of viciousness.

He knew his guilt was unwarranted. Harry knew that what he had done in that situation was understandable, if bold—Voldemort had just twisted his entire life story to fit his agenda in public, had turned him into some sad little victim and made his mother out to be a terrible, vindictive woman—

And yet he felt guilty anyway. Voldemort's magic was undulating with a fierce need that was so raw and desperate that it tugged at his heart strings and—

This was just another manipulation.

A small but very present part of Harry's mind spoke up, a dark voice lurking in the corners of his psyche. This, right here, is another manipulation. Rather than get you to do what he wants through threats to torture your friends—which inconvenience him because of your emotions—he is using another tactic. He knows you, and he's just said it himself—you're Harry Potter, you have a saving people thing. He's used this against you before. He's using it against you now.

Only this time, it was Voldemort himself Harry was being guilted into saving… Though saving from what, precisely, was questionable. Merely from feeling broken? From that horrid sensation of coldness?

Or was he, Harry Potter… could he perhaps save the Dark Lord's soul through this light that bound them?

Voldemort's eyes were searing into his as Harry's mind raced with these thoughts. His usually crimson irises looked more lilac than scarlet under the brightly colored sky; a violent violet that was unquestionably desperate.

"I'm sorry that you never knew love…"

Harry thought for a moment that it was his own body that had begun to shake again, but no. It was Voldemort's hands that had begun to tremble around his wrists.

Harry's heart was breaking and he hated that it was happening. The small, dark voice in the corner of his mind fought against the inevitable—it screamed at him to remember that this man had done this to himself, he had killed his parents and Neville and he was the reason that Sirius and Remus and Tonks and so many, many others were dead—he should deny him the feeling of a whole, pure soul because he did not deserve it, he was a monster

But then Voldemort spoke again, and the spiteful voice was silenced.

"I'm sorry."

…Was he still just repeating his own words back to him? Harry would have thought so without question were it not for the Dark Lord's magic enveloping itself around him. Harry felt like he was being swathed in constellations. And… it was not remorse that was cradling him from all sides, no…

But it was something like it.

The tiniest glimmer of warmth flickered between them. The irrefutable bond of their souls sparking to life, but it only lasted for a second before dissipating.

A request.

Harry knew he was being manipulated, he knew it… but he let it happen anyway. He said nothing, only looked at Voldemort and nodded.

Light, lovely and all-encompassing, bloomed between them. Voldemort's eyelids fluttered and closed, blessed relief exuding from his aura. His head fell against Harry's chest and his arms wrapped around his waist, the warmth so strong that Harry felt like he was floating up into the twilight sky.

Unthinking, Harry did something he had never done before. He ran his fingers through Voldemort's hair in the same manner that the Dark Lord always did to him, his smooth, wavy locks that reached just a few inches beneath his chin. Voldemort allowed it, his grip around Harry's waist tightening and the beautiful warmth escalating. Harry could feel it radiating from his very core all the way to his fingertips, where he carded them through the Dark Lord's hair like silent promises.

Rationally, no, Harry did not think Voldemort's soul could be saved. The Dark Lord had done too many terrible things, he had hurt too many… He was probably too damaged and broken…

But Harry was stupid enough to try.

Voldemort clung to his body and the light of his soul like a starving man. Harry let him bask in it, uncaring that he was a big-hearted fool, because that was who he was, and he did not know how to be anything else.

Even if the Dark Lord was irredeemable, even if his words were nothing but echoes of Harry's own; cunning manipulations…

"…I'm sorry."

Even if he did not know for what or to whom he was apologizing.

Chapter Text

'Midnight. Every night you are to be here, in this room, alone. Do not be late. I will not wait.

Midnight.'

These were the cryptic, softly spoken instructions that Voldemort had left Harry with before disappearing from his bedroom, not even waiting for his captive to agree. Harry might have been surprised by that, but after a moment of consideration realized that no, he was not. The Dark Lord didn't need to hear his acceptance.

He already knew he had it.

Every night before midnight, Harry was to be back in this room with too many mirrors at the far end of Malfoy Manor… alone.

Harry felt like his life was turning into a dark and twisted fairy tale.

He sighed heavily and fell onto his bed, staring at his reflection above him. He looked and felt exhausted. He wondered how long he and Voldemort had sat beneath that twilight sky before the Dark Lord had brought him back to Malfoy Manor. It had not seemed like very long. But then again, time felt warped while under the influence of that blissful warmth.

Harry closed his eyes, ignoring the strange, fluttery feeling in his stomach as he trailed his hands over his chest, recalling how Voldemort's arms had felt wound around his waist. He had felt so warm, his magic had been so lovely and glistening… And that light, as always, had made Harry feel like he was floating…

Floating…

Harry was not on a bed in Malfoy Manor, but atop a fluffy, white cloud. He was floating through the sky, a gentle, pleasantly warm breeze rustling his hair. The sun had set, and Harry looked up into the beauty of the star-strewn sky above him, scanning the heavens intently.

He quickly found what he was looking for—the brightest, most vibrant star in the sky. "'Lo, Sirius," he murmured, waving.

He did not expect a response. To Harry's very great surprise, the brightest star brightened even further, flickering and twinkling like a celestial wink.

"Don't forget," came the familiar tenor of Sirius's voice. Harry sat up, his feeling of contentedness dissipating.

"Sirius?" Harry shouted, hardly daring to believe what he had heard. "Is that really you?"

The star flicked again. "Don't forget what he is, Harry."

Another gust of wind stirred the air, but this time it was icy and cold. Harry shivered as chills shook his spine, a dark feeling settling over him. The cloud beneath him felt like it was getting thinner. Harry looked down on it with dread; it was, the cloud was dissolving beneath him, he could feel himself slipping through it, into it—he was going to fall—

"Don't forget."

"Sirius!" Harry shouted, trying to stand to see if he could escape, but it was pointless—there was nowhere to go but down.

"Don't forget."

The cloud vanished completely, and Harry went plummeting towards the earth—he fell from the heavens, his screams swallowed by the cold air rushing past him.

Down, down, down…

Harry woke with a jolt.

His heart was pounding and he was broken out in a cold sweat, but the dream he had been having—it had been so visceral!—was already fading. He bit his lower lip, trying to remember…

It was gone. Harry sat up and shook his head, deciding it was probably better that he could not recall whatever his nightmare had been. He looked around at the bed he was on in confusion. He did not remember taking his shoes off, nor getting under the covers…

Harry tossed the blankets aside and stood in a panic. How long had he been out? He glanced at the clock and gaped—it was eleven.

Feeling annoyed at himself for having fallen asleep, Harry rushed to the door, heading towards the foyer. What was wrong with him, napping with everything going on…?

Harry walked quickly through the halls, ignoring the curious looks that various portraits gave him as he past. He paused only when he came to the bay window overlooking the gardens, where he stared, slack-jawed at the sight that greeted him.

Daylight. He had thought that it was eleven at night when he'd looked at the clock in his room, but he could see now that he was very wrong. It was morning. He had not slept for a few hours, but all night, well into the morning!

Harry ran. A few painted renditions of Malfoy ancestors scoffed as he past them by, but Harry hardly cared. He'd slept all night; any number of terrible things could have happened in that time…

He turned a corner and barreled right into Ron. Ron's magic brightened, and he nearly fell backwards with the force of how hard Harry had collided with him. It was a testament to how on edge they were that they both screamed, which in turn caused the portrait nearest to them to scream as well—a blonde witch who looked to be from the Victorian era. She dropped her feather fan and ran out of her frame, fleeing to another.

"Sorry!" Harry shouted as Ron clutched at his chest, looking as taken aback as Harry felt. "Are you all right?"

"Barely," Ron muttered. "I was just coming to see if you were all right. You've taken to sleeping in, I see."

Harry felt his face growing warm. He wasn't sure why he slept for so long when he did. Maybe he was still making up for a sleep debt…

"Sorry," Harry repeated, mumbling this time. "What's happened? What's going on? Where is Hermione?"

Hermione. The moment Harry said her name, he realized how badly he wanted to speak to her in private.

She knew what he was…

"Gone," Ron said sourly. "She's been gone all morning. Summoned again…"

His magic darkened to a rust colored hue, heavy around him. "Oh," said Harry. "I, er, supposed you don't know what for?"

"No. She just had to go…"

"Is… Is everything okay? With you two?"

Harry knew it was a ridiculous question; nothing was okay at all, with any of them, but he had to ask. Ron's face reddened and he looked to the floor.

"Er… Yeah, we're… We're okay," he said. He scratched the back of his head and looked back up to Harry. "Guess we better be, seeing as we're getting married in exactly a week."

Which was what Harry had wanted to ask, but didn't think it would be wise to state his question so bluntly. "Yeah," he said. "I forgot to say it before, but, uh… Congratulations!"

There was a beat of silence, and then they were both grinning despite themselves. "Not the circumstances I would have imagined," Ron said, "but I'm still happy about that one aspect of my life. You wouldn't believe what I had to do last night though, Harry. After—after Hermione and I, er, talked (his face turned a much brighter red, and his magic quivered erratically), I realized—I had to tell my family. My mother. Preferably before our engagement was, you know, announced in the Daily Prophet for the rest of the world to see."

Harry stared at his slightly delirious grin. "Yeah. I had to write my mum and dad a letter, telling them about how I'm staying with the Malfoys of my own free will, and that I'll be busy all week up until then here and at the Ministry, and would she mind sending me my things? And that I'm here with you, and—and my girlfriend who is now my fiancé for a wedding that is happening next week, who I will be marrying in the ancient, traditional wizarding manner… Mrs. Malfoy had to proofread the whole thing— making sure I didn't say anything I wasn't supposed to, I guess—before sending it off with their owl… I expect I'll get a howler back…"

"Did you tell her that Hermione is pregnant?" Harry asked.

"We decided it would probably be best to tell her that bit in person," Ron said, his face quickly turning red again. "The letter was already pretty… jarring."

"Ron… what is the ancient, traditional wizarding manner for getting married?"

Ron looked conflicted and his magic trembled with anxiety. "Let's... Let's go sit down, shall we?" he said, sounding falsely casual. "Instead of standing around in the hall; that witch just came back into her frame, and she looks nosy…"

Indeed, the painted blonde woman had reappeared, and she was clearly eavesdropping, hiding most of her face behind her large feather fan. "Well don't run this time!" she barked after them as Harry followed Ron down the hall, snapping her fan shut.

Ron led him along the familiar path which led to the foyer, where, in his typical, sullen fashion, was Draco Malfoy. He was reading a book and sitting at the same table that Harry had seen him at the day before. "Sorry about the company," Ron muttered, and Draco looked up from his book with narrowed eyes, "but I wanted to be near the floo for whenever Hermione gets back, and he wouldn't let me out of his sight… Except for when I said I was going to wake you up."

"Because I didn't feel like getting attacked again," Draco drawled. His gray eyes settled on Harry and he closed his book. "Look who's finally awake. Did you try and strangle Weasley when he woke you up, scarhead?"

"No, just tried to run me over in the hall is all," said Ron cheerfully. "He was already up. Anyway, you can leave if you like Malfoy. We're not going to go anywhere."

Draco scoffed. "Yeah, right. This one will try to floo himself to god knows where if I walk away from this fireplace," Draco said, nodding towards Harry. "I'm staying right here."

Harry glared but didn't bother arguing. He and Ron took a seat, and Draco smirked, his eyes suddenly gleaming. "Here, Potter. This might interest you. This morning's issue of the Daily Prophet covers your trial."

Draco slid the current issue of the Prophet across the table; Harry didn't touch it. Reading that article was the last thing he wanted to do. "No thanks," said Harry darkly.

"Don't worry, Rita Skeeter didn't write it. It's actually pretty dry… but speaking of Skeeter. What did you say to her, Potter?"

Harry stared as Draco leaned with his elbows on the table, magic flashing in curiosity. "That's what I want to know. The author of this article mentioned that you only answered one question on your way to your trial, and that you did so with a 'carefully worded obscenity towards Rita Skeeter'. You weren't supposed to talk to anyone so far as I knew. What did she ask? What did you say?"

Harry felt Ron's magic brighten curiously as well. He remembered how the guards had ushered away the reporters on his way to the lifts, but when he, Harry, had frozen upon hearing the voice of Rita Skeeter, intent on saying something to her, even the guards had paused, curious to hear the Undesirable Number One speak…

"She…er…" Harry cleared his throat, his face flushing. He pondered whether or not he should tell them this, but both Draco and Ron looked so eager that he decided to do it anyway. "She asked me how I felt about there being no dementors for my trial, and… and I told her to go fuck herself."

Ron and Draco stared at him, similar looks of shock on their faces… and then they both broke out into laughter.

"That's amazing," Ron said, beaming. "I can't wait to tell Hermione."

Harry grinned sheepishly. He wasn't sure if he should be proud or ashamed of having said that. He supposed a bit of both.

Though Draco did not offer up similar compliments, he looked amused and perhaps impressed despite his best efforts not to be. With a crooked smile still on his face, he looked to the side and shouted, "Binny!", and the elf appeared with a soft 'pop!'.

"Well, what would you like?" Draco asked, looking to Harry. Harry stared at him, saying nothing. "To eat. To drink," he prompted.

"Oh. Ah, tea would be fine. Thank you."

"No," Draco said, the smile sliding from his face. The elf froze mid-bow. "You have to eat something too, Potter."

Harry shot him a venomous look. "Fine," he said. "Toast would be lovely if you don't mind, Binny."

"Of course, sir," Binny squeaked. He then disapparated.

Malfoy made a noise as though he were disgusted. "If you don't mind," he repeated in mocking tones, shaking his head. "Honestly…"

Harry ignored him and turned his attention to Ron. "What is the traditional way wizards get married?" he asked, burning with curiosity. Draco's magic sparked with renewed interest from across the table.

"Er… well," Ron began, looking uncomfortable. "It's, um… more like a magical ritual then it is a normal wedding…"

His voice trailed off. Before Harry could prompt him to continue, Binny reappeared, hovering a tray of toast, butter, jam, and tea not only for Harry but for all of them onto the table. "Thanks," Harry said distractedly, not touching any of it and staring at Ron. "What does that mean, then?"

Draco's magic was growing brighter still, and Harry was sure that he would interrupt at any moment. Ron cleared his throat and said, "Well. It's between two people, you see…"

"I gathered that, Ron, believe it or not," Harry muttered.

"Er—right—and, well… th-there's a Bonder, and those are the only people necessary for the ritual… They're traditionally really small, intimate things, wizarding unions…"

"It's an oath," Draco said, cutting in just as Harry suspected he would. "A blood oath. There's one blade, which is enchanted by the Bonder, and each individual uses that blade to make a cut on the other person, here." He held out his left palm and traced a section of it with the index finger of his right hand. "On the heart line. And while they're making the cut they utter an incantation. Then, once they've both performed the spell on each other, they press their palms together, thus completing the bond with blood."

Harry stared dumbfoundedly. "Blood magic," he said blankly. Ron's magic was twitching anxiously. "And… and there's a Bonder." Ron nodded. "That… sounds an awful lot like an Unbreakable Vow."

"It sure does." Ron's voice was suddenly very high and strained.

"It's so romantic," Draco sneered, grinning widely and stirring some sugar into his tea.

"Wait, wait," said Harry, shaking his head. "What does this mean? What is the incantation you have to say?"

"Er… Habes… Habes con—"

"Habes cor meum et animam meam," Draco recited. "Merlin, Weasley, it's not very long. I do hope you manage to memorize it properly before your wedding day…"

Rather than look offended, Ron looked worried. "Me too," he said gravely. "Imagine what kind of nightmare it would be if I said the wrong bloody thing…"

"But what does that mean?" asked Harry. "Habes cor… cor whatever—"

"You have my heart and my soul," said Draco loftily, lifting his tea cup. His eyes were glittering with mirth. "It's so romantic."

"Shut up Malfoy, you're not the one who has to do it," said Ron, but he did not sound angry as he usually did when speaking to Malfoy—just nervous.

"Well, I will someday, won't I?" Draco said, shrugging.

Harry and Ron both raised a brow at him. "Of course I will. There are a lot of benefits to it, believe it or not, and besides. It's how my parents were married. It's how most respectable wizarding couples get married... The ones who give a damn about our magical roots and noble traditions, of course."

"But if this is really like an Unbreakable Vow… What does that mean? What does it do? Are you never able to—to cheat on your spouse, or something? And what happens if you do?"

"Don't be so crass, Potter," Malfoy said before taking a sip of tea.

"…Well, is that what it does?" Harry asked again, for neither Draco nor Ron answered his questions.

"Of course not," said Draco. "No one would get married that way if it did. It just opens up a sort of emotional connection between the two people getting married. Heightens your sense of empathy towards the other person or something like that."

"Empathy?"

"Yeah. Makes you understand that person more clearly, I guess. I dunno how it works exactly seeing as I'm not married, but my father said it just made it much easier to understand why my mother would react in certain ways. That he comprehends her emotions better, and vice versa. Intimate empathy."

"Oh," Harry said, still not quite understanding. "Well… that doesn't sound so horrible, I guess," he said slowly. "But if it's an oath… a blood oath… Can it ever be broken?"

Draco looked genuinely confused by Harry's question. "Like, what if one person in the marriage decided they didn't want to be married any longer? That they didn't like those extra feelings of empathy. Is divorce even possible?"

Draco went from looking perplexed to irritated. "That's a muggle thing," he muttered.

"What?" Harry shouted. "A muggle thing? How can divorce be a muggle thing?"

"I've never heard of witches and wizards getting divorced," Draco said simply.

Harry looked to Ron, whom he expected to argue against Draco. He didn't. "I actually haven't either," he said thoughtfully.

Harry was astounded. "Is it illegal in wizarding society?"

"I don't think so," said Ron. "It's just… not really something that ever happens, I don't think."

Harry ran a hand through his hair, messing it up even more than usual. Draco watched him distastefully. "So, these blood oaths are permanent, huh?"

"No one ever said that," Draco said, his eyes gleaming. "The blood bond ends if one person in the union dies, of course. You can't be married to a ghost."

Ron laughed nervously, his magic too bright and trembly to mean anything good. Harry looked at him and, in a voice that was impressively casual, Ron asked, "How many husbands did you say Zabini's mother went through, Harry?"

Draco glowered. Harry thought he recalled it being something along the lines of seven but decided instead to answer with, "A… few. But wait, who is your Bonder going to be?"

Ron's magic and expression darkened. "Take a guess."

"...No," Harry gasped. "Not him."

"Yeah."

"Really?"

"Really."

Harry leaned back in his chair and let out a long breath. "Wow," he said, his mind reeling. "My best friends are going to get married in Malfoy Manor… in a week… by the Dark Lord."

"…Yep."

No one seemed to have anything to add to this unsettling truth. They fell into a long and awkward silence. Draco picked his book back up, Harry quietly ate his toast, and Ron sipped at his tea, occasionally glancing up at the chandelier like he hadn't quite given up hope that it may fall on him.

Binny had just vanished with the dishes when the fireplace flickered to life in a burst of green flames.

It was Hermione. She entered the foyer with her magic swirling in a much healthier manner than Harry had ever seen it, and she was carrying several large bags in her hands. Upon seeing Harry and Ron she smiled.

"Is everything okay?" Ron said at once, jumping to his feet and rushing towards her. "What did he want?"

"Yes, everything is fine," she answered reassuringly, and Harry stood as well. She gave them each a quick hug, which was not an easy feat considering how full her hands were. Draco remained seated, looking like he might be sick as he watched them embrace each other.

"What did he want?" said Harry, repeating Ron's question.

"What happened to you last night?" Hermione asked instead, giving Harry a pointed look. "You and Malfoy left, and when we went looking for you later, you'd disappeared…"

Harry's mind went blank. Draco's magic was quivering in a strange fashion, and Harry could tell at once that he had not told Hermione and Ron that Voldemort had snatched him away…

"Fell asleep," Harry said, hoping that his embarrassed look would not be suspicious. "Sorry. I just sort of passed out. I didn't mean to, honestly…"

Hermione scrutinized him for a moment, her magic undulating back and forth in suspicious, burgundy waves… but then she smiled. "You probably needed your rest," she said. "I doubt any of us have slept well lately…"

"So what did the Dark Lord want?" Harry asked, desperate to not talk about himself. As he asked it, he wondered when exactly it had become normal for him to say the Dark Lord rather than you-know-who, or, his preference, Voldemort… And why he was not calling him that now.

He could. Harry was the only one who could say Voldemort's name without triggering the taboo…

"He… wanted to explain a few things to me," Hermione answered. "And I, er, went to St. Mungo's…"

"St. Mungo's?" Ron balked, his magic flashing in panic. "What for? Did something—"

"Nothing happened!" Hermione said quickly. "I just went with Mrs. Malfoy, I picked out a pediatric Healer… I have an appointment with her tomorrow. F-for a prenatal exam. Healer Macmillan, she's really great, I think you'll like her… If you want to come with me tomorrow?"

She looked at Ron nervously, who immediately said, "Yes. Of course I want to be there with you."

Hermione smiled, and as she and Ron exchanged an extremely fond, loving look, their magic reacted to each other's—fuzzy, vibrant orange gingerly touching smooth, burgundy waves. Harry felt like he should back slowly out of the room and be nowhere near them, and it was obvious with a single glance towards Draco that he felt the same way.

Perhaps sensing this, Ron cleared his throat. "Er, here, let me take those… What are these?" He took Hermione's bags from her, looking curious.

"Just a few things. I sort of went shopping with Mrs. Malfoy after she took me to St. Mungo's. You weren't exaggerating, Ron, that is an odd experience. She said she's taking you on Monday, Harry, she said that you need robes? She should be here any moment, by the way." Hermione said it all very quickly, her cheeks slightly pink. "Did Ron tell you the details of th-the wedding, Harry?" Hermione asked lightly.

"Yeah, sort of," Harry answered.

"Oh, good. So… w-will you be my witness?"

"Sorry? Witness?" Harry raised at brow at Ron, who was now holding all of Hermione's many, heavy-looking bags.

"Didn't explain that bit," Ron said. "I'll just… put these in your room…"

He shuffled away awkwardly, leaving Harry standing next to Hermione. Draco had hidden behind his book again, looking like he wanted to be anywhere else.

"He explained how the ceremony works, at least?" Hermione asked.

"The basics of it, yeah," Harry said. He was surprised that she did not look more perturbed at the notion of a blood bond. Perhaps she had simply had enough time to accept it.

"So it will be happening here, all of it—this massive reception and the wedding—but the ritual itself is going to be very secluded… Traditionally they only have the three people—the Bonder and the two getting married—but we're each allowed one witness to be in the room with us, and… and Ron has already asked his mother, he had to owl her last night about it, can you believe it? They wouldn't let him leave… But anyway… Harry, w-will you be my witness?"

Harry stared, noting the way Hermione's magic trembled and her eyes glistened as she looked up at him. It took him a moment to realize why.

Harry was probably the only person Hermione could ask. She had no siblings; her parents were in Australia with no clue that they even had a daughter… Her entire family was muggles; of course Lord Voldemort would not allow them to attend…

"O-of course," Harry said, though he had no idea what being a witness entailed. "Absolutely."

Hermione beamed and pulled him into a hug, burying her head in his chest. "Oh, thank you!" she said, her magic swelling with a suffocating emotion. Harry hugged her back as he considered what this meant.

In a week's time, he would be alone in a room with Ron, Hermione, Voldemort, and Mrs. Weasley, watching his best friends perform a blood ritual…

The thought of seeing Mrs. Weasley again made his heart ache… and the thought of everyone else that he would see at this reception afterwards made his stomach twist into knots. Surely the entire pardoned, Weasley family would be there… Bill and Charlie and Percy and Fred and George and—

The fireplace once more ignited in green.

Hermione released him. Draco swore under his breath, dropped his book, and jumped up as a slew of people paraded into the foyer.

First was Narcissa Malfoy, followed by no less than six witches and a wizard, all of whom were dressed in long, stylish dress robes. "Welcome to my home," Narcissa announced curtly, and the people surrounded her all made comments along the lines of 'lovely space!', 'such high ceilings!' and 'that chandelier is to diefor!'. They each brandished their wands, and quick quills and bits of parchments appeared, all of which immediately began taking notes.

"Mother," Draco said, a smile fixed on his face. "Welcome back."

"This is my son, Draco, and our current guest, Mr. Potter."

The group all stared in awe at Harry. Harry waved awkwardly, but Narcissa spoke again before he needed to say anything. "And this is the lovely bride, Miss Hermione Granger. Hermione, these are the best wedding planners, florists, and decorators that Wizarding Britain has to offer… or so I've been told. Now, where is—? Oh, there."

Ron returned, looking baffled at the group of people who had manifested in the foyer in the few moments he'd been gone. "This is Ronald Weasley, the groom," Narcissa announced. Ron flushed. "Now, the wedding is in one week, so we have much work to do. Hermione, Ron, of course, your input will be valued; we were thinking the reception would be in the rose garden, but we have options… Draco, where is your father? He was supposed to be here."

"H-he went to Diagon Alley," Draco answered. "He said he was going to—er—"

"Meet with that calligraphy artist who should be sending out the invitations by owl later today, I hope?" she said, her usual navy magic flashing dangerously.

"Yes," Draco said at once. "That's exactly what he said."

"Good." Narcissa then turned to her group of wedding planners, most of whom were still blatantly staring at Harry. Narcissa noticed this and snapped her fingers, drawing their attention to her. "I'll give you all a tour of the gardens and the manor, so we can decide which location would be most suitable. There are going to be three hundred people at this event, so space will be an issue… Ron and Hermione will of course accompany us; Harry, Draco, you're welcome to join if you like."

"Actually, mother," Draco said at once, "I just told Harry that I would show him to our infirmary. He said he has a bit of a headache, and I didn't want to be rude and leave him with the house elf when he's still gathering his bearings…"

Harry, Ron, and Hermione all gawked at him. He had called him Harry, and he had said it in such a charming, convincing voice. Narcissa and the group of wedding planners didn't seem to notice their confusion though, and they instead cast the youngest Malfoy admiring looks. "That's sweet of you, Draco. Of course," Narcissa said. "But don't be gone too long, I'll have work for you later. Right. Come along, everyone."

She began to briskly walk away, motioning for the planners, Hermione, and Ron to follow her. Hermione bravely followed, but as she reached for Ron's hand, Ron turned and looked over his shoulder. He shot Harry an extremely desperate and unhappy look, like he was being dragged off to a torture session. It was such a comical expression that Harry almost laughed.

"Come on, Harry," Draco said with the most dazzling smile Harry had ever seen gracing his pointed features. They were still within earshot of the others. "Let's get you something for that headache."

Harry said nothing as he nonetheless allowed Draco to guide him away from the foyer. "Your son is such a lamb," he heard one of the witches say behind them, to which Narcissa quickly agreed.

"What," Harry muttered as soon as they were down the hall, "was that?"

The fake smile slid from Malfoy's face. "That was me getting us both out of a very painful afternoon. You're welcome," Malfoy muttered.

Harry didn't see why getting a tour would have been painful; if anything, he would have appreciated being shown around this massive manor and the gardens outside. "Do you really have an infirmary in this house? Because I don't have a headache."

"Of course we do, but I'm not taking you there," Draco said. He was walking very quickly as they turned a corner into another corridor. "I have to go to Diagon Alley now and find whoever the calligraphy artist is…"

"What? Why?"

"Because I just lied for my father and now I have to cover his arse. Try and keep up, Potter."

Draco stopped abruptly, directly in front of a large painting of a what Harry thought must be the entryway to this very manor.

"Why are you covering for him?" Harry asked suspiciously. "If he just disappears and leaves you here when your mother is stressed out, planning things?"

"Because if I do, then he owes me."

Harry stared. "Do you… blackmail your father, Malfoy?"

"Well, it sounds ugly when you put it like that," Draco muttered. "But trust me. It all works out in the end. We're a family of snakes, what can I say? I was probably going to sneak out of here the moment my mother was back, anyway—"

"But we just left the foyer with the connection to the floo network," Harry interjected, baffled.

Draco smirked. "Please. There's more than one way out of this manor aside from the floor or walking out the front door. This is an old, magical house, made by wizards. I bet it has more hidden passages and rooms than Hogwarts."

Still smirking at Harry, Draco reached up with one hand and… knocked on the door in the painting. When he did, it made a rapping noise that sounded very much as though he had just struck a wooden door, not a canvas. "I'm going to Diagon Alley," Draco announced to no one.

The door swung open.

"No way," Harry said, staring in awe as Draco stepped into the frame.

Draco's smirk widened, his magic bright and merry. "Don't get too excited Potter, it wouldn't work for you. You're not a Malfoy," he said, one foot in the frame, one still firmly in the corridor with Harry. "This whole house has secret passages that are enchanted to only react to witches and wizards with Malfoy blood in their veins… And those who have gone through blood oath with a Malfoy, of course. So, unless you plan on trying to marry me, you're shit out of luck."

Malfoy laughed at Harry's expression, which must have been some mixture of revolted and angry. "You're just going to leave me here, then?" Harry shouted, incredulous. "Just like that?"

"No, not just like that. Binny!"

The elf instantly appeared, bowing. "Make sure Potter doesn't go within ten feet of the fireplace in the foyer, or even try to step foot out of this manor." Malfoy's eyes gleamed, giving Harry a vindictive smile. "If he does try to leave, punish yourself severely."

The elf trembled and fell into another bow, and for the first time, Harry noticed it—just barely. A spark of magic emanating around Binny.

He'd never noticed magic around an elf before.

It was gone as soon as he'd perceived it. Trying not to let himself get distracted by this insight, Harry glowered at Malfoy. "You're such an arse."

Malfoy just continued to grin. "Have a lovely day," he said brightly. Harry barely resisted the urge to grab him by the shoulders and throw him to the ground—the knowledge that Draco had a wand and he did not the only thing keeping him from doing so.

Then he was gone. The painted door closed behind him, and when Harry ran his hands over it curiously, it felt like canvas to him.

Great, Harry thought sourly. He looked down to the tiny elf, who had watched the way Harry's hand touched the painted like he was terrified he might try and make it work for him… and then be forced to punish himself severely.

"I'm not going to try and leave," Harry said reassuringly.

What he was going to do, he had no idea. "Take me to the library?" he said, unable to come up with anything else.

The elf nodded, grasped Harry's hand, and the two disappeared on the spot.


The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

Harry didn't see Draco nor Narcissa again—and, unsurprisingly, there was no sign of Lucius Malfoy either. He only saw Ron and Hermione when, many hours later, long after Binny had thoughtfully brought him dinner, they found him in the library. Harry had made himself quite comfortable, sitting in a chair next to the roaring fire that Binny had conjured for him, lost in a torrid, murder-mystery novel. It had been surprisingly relieving, getting lost in somebody else's fictional problems.

"Well?" said Harry when they entered, closing the book. "How did that go?"

They shared despairing looks. "Malfoy wasn't joking about his mother being a nightmare," Ron said bluntly.

"She was nice enough to us," said Hermione, "but she was pretty awful to some of those poor planners… and they haven't even done anything yet… She's gone again now, I think she went to go try and track her husband down…"

Harry snorted. "Draco will probably tell her he's off doing something else important…"

"Draco?" Ron said questionably. He plopped down on the sofa across from Harry, and Hermione began perusing the bookshelf nearest to her. "Are we all on a friendly, first-name basis, then?

"No, not really, but it gets confusing with them all being Malfoys."

"Narcissa insists that I call her by her first name," Hermione said, her still eyes scanning the books. "She told Ron to call her that as well…"

"Oh. Yeah, I guess I do too." Harry took a moment to appreciate how odd that was. To be on a first name basis with Narcissa, only to still refer to her son as Malfoy…

Hermione seemed not to hear him. "Wow, this library is large, isn't it?" she said, turning a corner and looking around appreciatively. "Look at all these books on dark magic…"

"Books on dark magic? In Malfoy Manor? I'm shocked," Ron drawled from where he sat. He looked like he was half asleep already; Harry could tell by the way his magic was settling around him that he was tired.

And maybe, for all that had happened to them over the past few days, they should discussed a thousand different hopes and fears, but they didn't. Hermione selected a number of books for herself and sat next to Ron, immediately losing herself in one; Harry continued with his, and Ron dozed off, leaning on Hermione's shoulder. Once it was clear by his magic (as well as his slack face, where he began drooling) that Ron was dead asleep, Harry considered breeching the subject that he most desperately wanted to discuss with Hermione—that of his being a human horcrux of Lord Voldemort's—but he just couldn't do it. It was so blissfully calm in the library that he couldn't bring himself to ruin it.

With nothing but the sound of the crackling flames and Ron's light snores, they might have been back in the Gryffindor common room, the last ones up as they sat in their favorite, squishy chairs by the fire.


It wasn't difficult to get away before midnight.

Narcissa came to check on them before it got too late, informing Ron that his mother had written a letter back to him, as well as sent a parcel with some of his clothes and other things. It had certainly woken Ron up, who had snatched the letter in a state of mild panic of what her response might be. At least it wasn't a howler.

In fact, the letter was very short. It only said that she was so happy, and that she and the rest of the Weasley family couldn't wait to see them all the following Saturday.

Harry wondered what she was really thinking.

Regardless, it had been simple enough to leave with Narcissa after that. Harry bid his friends good night, and Narcissa accompanied Harry to his room. She informed him that he had clean pajamas laying out for him as well as more robes in the wardrobe, but that she would be taking him shopping on Monday to buy him all new things.

The thought of going shopping with Narcissa Malfoy was both frightening and exciting. Knowing he would have to deal with people in public was anxiety-inducing—if the way the wedding planners had reacted to him was anything to go by, he would be stared at more than ever before—but the ability to finally leave Malfoy Manor to go somewhere other than the Ministry was too tempting to possibly pass up.

It was with this somewhat cheery thought in mind that Harry was dropped off at his room. The bedroom which was far from his friend's, with its deep green wallpaper, freshly made bed, and numerous mirrors…

It was only eleven.

Harry spotted the pajamas laying out—emerald-colored, silky, and nicer than any pajamas he'd ever owned—and wondered if they were Draco's too. Probably. He also wondered whether he should put them on or not before Voldemort showed up, to…

To what, exactly? Harry wasn't sure what the Dark Lord would do when he arrived… other then bask in the connection between their souls, of course.

Realizing that he'd been wearing his current clothes for almost two days straight, Harry decided that he should change. This only led him to realizing that he should maybe shower again too, and suddenly Harry found himself getting very anxious indeed about the fact that Lord Voldemort would be arriving in his bedroom in less than an hour.

Harry knew he shouldn't care if he was clean and presentable for Voldemort. It didn't matter. It wasn't important.

He showered anyway.

Harry was glad he did; letting the warm water and sandalwood-scented suds wash over him made him feel much calmer. He told himself that this had been his rationale all along as he stepped out of the marble basin, dried off, and went into the bedroom. He quickly dressed in his borrowed night clothes that were, admittedly, very comfortable. The color reminded him of the dress robes that Mrs. Weasley had once bought him.

To bring out your green eyes, she had said.

It was a shame that this was no longer the case.

Forcing himself not to dwell on such sad thoughts, Harry checked the time. It was now only ten minutes until midnight. Somehow, Harry had a feeling that Voldemort was the sort of person who would arrive precisely when he said he would.

He sat on the edge of his bed and waited. He closed his eyes. Harry took a deep breath, attempting to empty his mind, to think of nothing…

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

Think of nothing, think of no one…

Harry waited…

Breathe…

The clock struck twelve, and he appeared with the softness of a whisper.

Harry felt the Dark Lord's magic dance across his eyelids, simultaneously more and less apparent to him with his eyes closed. He could not see the flecks of gold glittering within the shroud of Voldemort's darkness, but he could feel them. Pinpricks of light that pulsed with a restrained but steady want. Voldemort's magic saturated the air. Harry inhaled slowly through his mouth and he thought, this must be what midnight tastes like.

Not wanting to make it obvious that Harry knew Voldemort was present, Harry continued to breathe deeply, feigning practicing Occlumency. Voldemort didn't make a sound when he moved, but Harry could feel him, sensing his magic which glistened as he moved. He was behind him, then to his side, then in front of him…

Directly in front of him… But still he did not speak, and still Harry did not open his eyes… He waited…

Then there was a flicker of warmth, and Harry could pretend that he was ignorant no longer. Harry allowed it, letting the light and warmth bloom between them.

Harry opened his eyes just as Voldemort moved closer, making the bed dip to one side as he sat next to Harry, so close their legs were touching. Harry's heart skipped several beats when Voldemort, smiling, placed one hand around Harry's neck and murmured, "Good boy."

Harry didn't even have the presence of mind to be embarrassed nor flustered. At those words, the buoyant light increased dramatically. Harry's eyes fluttered shut and he fell against the Dark Lord's chest, who let out a low and satisfied sound when Harry's head nestled in the crook of his shoulder, the light escalating beautifully.

He's using you, the very small and dark voice somewhere in the recesses of Harry's mind said. He's using you.

I know, Harry thought as Voldemort's fingers trailed through his still-wet hair, blissfully light and warm. The connection between them was thrumming so strongly it was all Harry could do to not sigh. I know…

But he had said he would let him. Perhaps, over time, he could show him… Harry could, maybe, somehow, make Voldemort see that this, having a whole soul, was something he should have… That he should feel remorse… Even if it's painful, even if it's horrible…

But why would he ever bother, when he can just use you?

That sinister thought was chased from his mind as Voldemort reached for Harry's hand with the one which was not carding through his damp locks. He interlaced his long fingers with Harry's, moving so gently and cautiously for someone so lethal. Harry blearily opened his eyes to watch as Voldemort lifted his arm up, lightly pressing his mouth to Harry's wrist and breathing in, slowly…

Harry was just wondering if Voldemort could feel his pulse against his lips when the light escalated further, so pleasant that Harry's eyes closed again… He sighed…

He thought he heard Voldemort speak, but he couldn't make out the words… Harry's chest moved slightly with the slow rhythm of the Dark Lord's breathing, a steady motion… It almost felt like being rocked back and forth…

The world of pleasant light and warmth behind his eyelids was flooding with color…

Red… and yellow, and brown…

Harry was surrounded by them, bits of warm, autumn hues. They were leaves, shimming in their transparency as the afternoon sun shone through them from above, merry and bright. A breeze blew past and the leaves fell, whirling around Harry like a miniature tornado of gold and crimson, ochre and scarlet. Interwoven with the whispers of the wind, Harry heard laughter like a child's, innocent and full of delight. It sounded like music.

Everything was lightness and sweetness and warmth.

Chapter Text

Harry still had autumn in his mind when he woke. He expected to see a clear blue sky when he opened his eyes, to be greeted by ochre leaves and a child’s laughter carrying on the breeze.

When he was met instead with his own reflection—the mirror, that damn mirror above his bed—Harry was startled into reality. He glowered up at the Harry Potter in the mirror, with his scarlet eyes and…

And under the covers, tucked in sweetly like a child that had been put to bed...

Harry couldn’t remember that happening. The last thing Harry recalled was allowing the Dark Lord to tap into that connection as deeply as he wanted, to the point where he, Harry, could hardly register what was happening around him, and…

Had he passed out like that? Sitting up, leaning on Voldemort’s chest? He must have, because he had no solid recollection of anything after that—only half-constructed memories there were probably his own dreams, not anything Voldemort was ‘gifting’ him with.

Harry sat up, and he was alarmed at just how heavy his body was. His head felt like it was made of lead, a weight on his shoulders that made him want nothing more than to lay back down, sinking into the silken sheets to go back to sleep. Perhaps he was just exhausted, and it was still very late…? Harry looked at the grandfather clock, and his heart was filled with trepidation.

Two. Two o’ clock. And without even leaving his windowless room, Harry knew that it was not two in the morning, just a few hours past midnight.

Harry scrambled out of bed, angry and groggy and panicked, so panicked, though he was not fully sure as to why that was the case. His sluggish mind had yet to catch up to his emotions, which were viscerally distressed. He staggered towards the door, but after a few steps he felt lightheaded, and his breathing was labored. Harry paused and leaned against the chair in front of the vanity to catch his breath. When he looked up at his reflection, his panic escalated.

He looked even worse than he felt.

Now that he could examine himself more closely, he saw just how tired he looked. There were bags under his eyes like he had not slept for days; a disquieting fact, considering that he had, in fact, just slept for over twelve hours. And he had slept deeply at that. He hadn’t had nightmares, he hadn’t woken with his heart pounding or a scream on his lips, broken out in a cold sweat…

So why did he look so… horrible?

Because he was draining you, said that same voice which warned Harry constantly; the one which reminded him that Voldemort was using him time and time again. When you let him tap into that bond between you, he takes as much as you’ll allow… which is everything. Your magic, your energy, your soul.

Voldemort will always take everything.

And Harry knew—knew in the way he felt tired to his very core, an exhaustion so deep that he could feel it in his bones—that this was true. And Harry had just let him do it, like some subservient, well-behaved pet.

Good boy.

Harry’s realization quickly turned to rage. “He’s… He’s a god damn succubus,” he declared angrily.

He watched as his livid, red eyes widened in the mirror, despite how fixed his glower was. “It is taxing, being your vanity,” his reflection responded with a sigh.

Harry swore, turned away, and stormed out of the room. 

This was not right. He was not right.

Even as he marched down the hall, bolstering as much anger as he could in hopes that it would fuel him, ignoring the portraits of Malfoy ancestors who straightened their postures as he passed, glaring down at him, Harry felt wrong. Weak.

Voldemort wasn’t just touching upon the connection which bound them, benignly basking in that light that was some conglomeration of Harry’s magic and his soul–a pure soul, a whole soul–he was draining him of it. Voldemort was a greedy, pervasive monster, and he was sucking in as much of that light as he could–never mind what it did to Harry, leaving him feeble and magically exhausted afterwards. In fact, that was probably a very fortuitous and happy side-effect in Voldemort’s eyes. The more avaricious he was, the weaker it left Harry, and that just made it that much easier to control his typically reckless, Gryffindor horcrux, didn’t it?

No more, Harry thought. No fucking more. To hell with trying to be acquiescent. He’s not going to hurt Ron or Hermione, not anymore. He swore as much. Let him try and threaten me with their safety; let him go back on his word. We’ll see how long that threat holds up when I threaten to hold out on him forever.

Despite the fury broiling in his chest, Harry felt like he was moving through a fog. He wasn’t sure where he was going exactly, as he stomped through the halls of Malfoy Manor unattended. He stopped to take notice of where he was. It was a corridor that was unfamiliar to him. 

“Mr. Potter,” a voice drawled. Harry looked up to see an old, blonde man in a very nice set of dress robes addressing him from within a golden frame. “What are you doing, running amok in my manor by yourself?”

“Fuck you,” Harry spat, unthinking. He ignored the scandalized sound the man made and turned around, starting to walk back the way he had come, hoping to find some landmark in this labyrinth-like manor that was familiar. Bloody hell, how big was this place? 

He only made it about five paces before a sharp crack resounded in front of him. Binny the house-elf had appeared, and he looked extremely concerned. “Mr. Potter!” he squeaked. “You is awake!”

“Where are Hermione and Ron?” Harry asked, skipping all pleasantries. “I want to see them. Take me to them.”

The elf’s ears flattened to his head as he stood. “I-I is sorry, Mr. Potter, I cannot be doing that,” Binny murmured. “Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger is gone.”

“Where are they? Why? When will they be back?”

“Th-the Ministry, sir,” Binny answered. The elf’s huge eyes fell to the floor, away from Harry’s glare. “Master summoned them there, sir. They is t-to be gone all day, Binny was told.”

Harry’s jaw fell open. “All day,” he repeated blankly. Binny nodded. “They’re gone all day.” Harry swallowed hard; his throat felt raw. “And let me take a wild guess–Draco has conveniently vanished too. And his father.”

Binny nodded again. So, Harry had been left in Malfoy Manor. Alone. To be babysat by a terrified house-elf. Unless one counted the company of Narcissa Malfoy, of course, who was probably busy torturing some poor wedding planners somewhere on the premises. 

His freedom, his friends, his energy–his sanity. Voldemort was taking everything from him. 

Harry thought of the simple but damning instructions he’d been given. To behave himself, and to be back in his room by midnight every night. 

‘I will not wait.’ 

Oh, I’ll be there, Harry thought furiously. I’ll be there just as I’m supposed to be, my Lord. And I’ll even behave myself… right up until the clock strikes midnight, and you show that new, pretty face of yours that you owe me and my magic for.

Another sudden rush of light-headedness swooped through him, and Harry almost fell on the spot, his legs going weak. Binny raised one arm, and a wave of magic caught him, holding him in place. For a second, Harry sensed it again—the slightest flickering of what had to be house-elf magic. 

Harry forced himself to focus, to remain conscious as he righted himself. He leaned against the wall, breathing hard. “Is you all right, sir?” Binny asked. 

Harry didn’t answer. He merely stood there, willing the world to stop turning and his head to stop swimming. He closed his eyes and took in several deep, steadying breaths, trying to regain his lucidity. 

It didn’t work. He could tell he was about to pass out; the sensation had become all too familiar to him as of late. “Fuck Voldemort,” he snarled, wishing more than ever that the Taboo was still in effect for him, that Voldemort would know his precious name had just been slandered. Binny squealed, and the portrait behind him let out a sharp cry. It was the last thing Harry heard before the spinning world started to blur.

The portraits began to melt on the walls; frames turning into liquid gold as they oozed along the wallpaper towards the floor. The blonde man let out a blood-curdling cry, and his eyes became gaping holes before he too was melting; paint in every color mottling as it swirled like water flushing down a drain, flowing onto the ground…

Harry looked around as he realized the true horror of his situation—it was not only the paintings which had begin to bleed and fall apart, but the entire manor. The walls were deteriorating on all sides; the wall sconces were becoming liquid glass, oozing from their settings and dripping in thick blobs onto the carpet—and that too was turning to mush beneath Harry’s feet… Harry cried out for help, but there was no one there to hear him; Binny was gone, the man in the frame was gone, everyone was gone

When Harry tried to run, he began to sink. The carpet had become something thick and gelatinous; Harry was sinking into it like quicksand when he moved, and the more he struggled to free himself, the more it sucked him in… The walls began to collapse on top of him; he was going to drown in this manor, to be buried alive beneath its wallpaper and gilded frames and brilliant, crystal lights…

Harry shot up, heart pounding and shaking like a leaf.

…His room.

He was back in his room. Harry wanted to scream when he looked back up at his reflection, the damn mirror over his bed that he had just left behind. He ran a shaky hand through his hair; he tried to steady his breathing. His heart seemed unwilling to slow.

Harry hurried out of bed, and this time, at least, he did not feel sluggish nor heavy. He checked the clock.

“No,” Harry said in absolute denial. “No, it can’t be…”

But it was.

Eleven.

Voldemort was going to be here in one hour. He had lost an entire day. And this was after only one evening of Voldemort being a greedy, covetous monster showing up in his room, one night of Harry just letting him take what he wanted. Harry swore loudly and started to pace. Was this the fate that he was damned to live forever? Doomed to exist in an endless, horrific loop?

Wake up, feel awful, pass out. Voldemort. Sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Harry felt like he was going mad.

A pop echoed in his room, and Binny was there. Because, of course, he had to be babysat by the elf. How could he have forgotten so quickly? “Mr. Potter,” Binny said nervously, bowing low. “Is y-you—”

“Get out,” Harry seethed. His voice was far more venomous than he ever knew it could be.

Binny’s eyes widened fearfully. “But… But I is—”

“Now.”

It didn’t seem to matter that Harry was not his master. Binny didn’t hesitate after that cold, direct order. The elf vanished on the spot.

Harry knew that was unfair of him—it was not the house-elf who had done this to him; in fact, the poor thing was doing everything he could to make Harry comfortable—but Harry didn’t much care right then. He hated everyone and everything associated with this manor.

But most of all, he hated Voldemort.

Harry’s ire was so strong that even his curiosity of what Hermione and Ron had been doing all day was chased away. He would see them tomorrow. He would demand it.

Right now, tonight, his focus was all for Voldemort.

Harry decided to shower, but not even the sensation of warm water and scented soap could calm him. He was just an incensed when he stepped out of the tub, and as he wiped the condensation from the mirror to catch his own, red eyes glaring back at him, his anger spiked even further.

Fuck Voldemort.

Harry dressed, turned the chair in front of the vanity so that it was facing away from the mirror, and sat.

He waited.

Harry crossed his arms and glowered, watching the clock and counting down the seconds until Voldemort would show up. Could he feel his emotions right now? Furious and impatient, waiting for midnight to arrive? Harry didn’t know, nor was he sure if this would be a good thing or not. Did he want Voldemort to show up aware, prepared for an angry Harry Potter? Or did he want him to be caught off guard when Harry immediately denied him the connection he so craved?

Just as the clock struck midnight, Voldemort’s aura saturated the air. In the Dark Lord’s typical fashion, he had appeared behind Harry—being elusive and mysterious and it was just too bad for him that Harry knew he was there, and he was not nearly as enigmatic as he thought.

Not that Harry was going to let him know how aware he was. Harry was determined to keep his ability to sense magic as secret, so he waited, his heart pounding and his arms folded, staring at the wall. Voldemort would try and call forth that light any second, and Harry would not allow it; he would turn in his seat and smile maliciously and—

“A gift.”

Those words were enough to startle the rage from Harry for a moment. That statement was always preceded by something horrific or beautiful or, more often than not, some combination of the two. Harry turned around in his chair, and his jaw nearly hit the floor when he did.

There was Lord Voldemort, in all his black, gold, lustrous glory, and in his hands…

“My cloak,” Harry breathed, jumping to his feet. He took one hasty step forward, reaching for it, but then paused. The last time Voldemort had allowed Harry his cloak, it was only a temporary arrangement because they were going to Azkaban, where Harry was to remain unseen. Harry looked at Voldemort apprehensively. There was no mistaking the gesture—Voldemort was holding the cloak out to Harry, his arms extended. An offering. “Why?” Harry asked.

Voldemort’s face was impassive. “Because I am a merciful Lord… and I always reward good behavior.” A pause. His face remained neutral, but his magic flickered luminously. “Do you not want it back?” he said when Harry did not move nor speak.

Harry was filled with conflict. Yes, he did want it back. He wanted It back very, very badly. His fingers were twitching with the urge to reach out and snatch it at once.

Think, said that rational voice in the back of his mind. He just said that he rewards good behavior… This is a manipulation, practically a bribe; a way to get you to do what he wants without fighting him…

Did that mean that he had felt Harry’s emotions earlier, then? Had Voldemort sensed Harry’s fury when he’d said his name before passing out in the hallway?

‘Do you know how your heart haunts me…?’

Or was this just a coincidence? Had he planned on returning Harry’s cloak to him tonight anyway, as a preemptive incentive for Harry to continue to be submissive?

Harry’s mind was racing with the possibilities, and as he stood there, clearly suspicious and torn, Voldemort’s magic began to dance with what Harry thought might be amusement. “If you do not want it, then I shall continue to—”

Harry made up his mind. He didn’t bother saying anything, just rushed forward and grabbed the cloak. The fabric slipped from Voldemort’s yielding hands, and as Harry held it tightly to his chest, his magic glimmered with something like triumph.

Harry turned away from him. He didn’t care what Voldemort thought he might be accomplishing by giving him his cloak back—it wasn’t like he had just made any kind of bargain—but he couldn’t pass up this offer. This was his Cloak of Invisibility; an heirloom passed down from his father, and his father’s father…

And a hallow.

“You’re pleased,” Voldemort said quietly, surely watching the way that Harry was cradling the cloak like the precious item that it was. Harry turned to face him, glaring. If Voldemort was expecting a thank you, he was not going to get one.

“Why are you giving this back to me?” he asked instead. “So you can threaten to take it away later, maybe?”

Harry scoffed. He hadn’t considered that as a reason until he’d said it out loud, but as he did, he realized that might be true.

Bizarrely, Voldemort looked offended. “You think I grant rewards merely to be used as future threats? Boons I can later retract if and when I feel the need?”

“Sounds like something you would do.”

“You continue to be woefully ignorant.”

“Okay.”

Harry was in no mood for Voldemort’s mind games, for the way he twisted words and made him regret whatever he had last said. He chose instead to say as little as possible. He was waiting for the moment when Voldemort would try and call that light forth. For the moment he could say No.

Voldemort still refused to do so. He took a few steps towards Harry, almost lazy in his movements, ignoring Harry’s obviously enraged demeanor. “I will not take it away from you,” he said, his eyes flickering to the cloak. “In fact, I would like you to keep it on you at all times.”

Harry raised one brow at that, but still he said nothing.

“You think I am concerned that you will try and use it against me,” Voldemort said, giving voice to Harry’s unasked question. He smiled. “As if you could ever hide from me,” he finished, his voice lowering an octave.

Harry remembered viscerally how the Dark Lord had somehow been able to see him through the cloak that fateful day; how he had made eye contact with him before they entered Azkaban. Harry had a dark theory that it had to do with his eyes, his new, horrific red eyes…

But still he did not ask. Though his blood was boiling ever hotter, Harry did not say anything, just waited.

Why wasn’t he trying to call forth that light yet?

“Nor do I expect that you will use it to hide from anyone within the manor,” Voldemort went on conversationally. He was moving closer, but Harry didn’t back away from him. “Because you are so well-behaved lately. So responsible.” Voldemort’s eyes were gleaming, his smile cruel and condescending. “Because you’re such a good boy.”

It took all of Harry’s willpower to not snap at that statement. Voldemort’s eyes brightened, like he was just waiting for Harry to lose control, expecting it, possibly even wanting it. Harry wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

“I want a wand,” he said in as even a voice as he could manage.

Voldemort’s eyes widened marginally in surprise. “…A wand,” he repeated.

“Yes,” Harry said. “I want a wand. I’m a free man, aren’t I? And I’m supposed to go out with Narcissa tomorrow anyway. I want to get a wand.” He paused, fixing Voldemort with a venomous look. “It’s not really asking much, considering that my wand was broken because of you… Vanished because of you.”

Voldemort was silent for a long time, looking neither offended nor bothered by Harry’s bitter—and accurate—accusations. He tilted his head to one side, staring at Harry like he was honestly, shockingly, considering this request.

After an excruciatingly long minute of staring, he spoke. “I shall make you a deal, Harry,” he said, taking a step nearer to him. Harry didn’t move, didn’t let his advance intimidate him and cause him to step back. “I will grant you the use of a wand… but you must do something for me first.”

“Gee, I wonder what that might be,” Harry said, but his voice sounded a bit raspier than he wanted it to. As usual, Voldemort was getting far too close.

“Prove to me that you are worthy of such a reward,” he went on, ignoring Harry’s sarcasm. “Continue to be obedient for the next week, and I shall allow you to carry a wand.”

“I want to get one tomorrow,” Harry said.

“No.”

“Yes,” Harry hissed, “or I won’t…”

Harry faltered in his threat. Voldemort’s magic had suddenly blackened to a dark and sickening state; his benign expression had turned cold. “Or you won’t what?” Voldemort asked in a soft voice.

Harry inhaled a sharp breath. No, he would not allow himself to be frightened into submission, either. He would not. “Or I won’t… I won’t…”

But how hard it was, to put it into words! Neither of them had done so yet. The warmth and light and pleasant feeling that ignited between them was something that had remained unspoken. It was just this… this bizarre but beautiful thing, this connection that they were both fascinated by and, Harry was sure, ashamed of. Because it was so intimate, so pleasant, so unwanted that it was absurdly awkward to admit out loud.

But Harry was not nearly so enthralled by it as Voldemort was. The Dark Lord was the one who was an addict, who had everything to lose—and so Harry swallowed back his embarrassment and said, “Or I will cut you off from the wholeness of my soul forever.”

The threat did not settle well with Voldemort.

Harry knew it wouldn’t, but he was nowhere near prepared for the ferocity that stirred in his magic. It was black and horrifying and Harry could feel it wrapping around him like a heavy, oppressive sheet; he was suddenly immobilized by it—literally, he realized with dread; Voldemort’s magic had seeped around him and was clinging to his arms and legs, and he could not move his limbs when he tried, he was frozen from the neck down—

Some small part of him registered that this must be what all wandless magic was like—magical auras reaching out and causing objects to move or shatter or whatever else—but Harry could hardly focus on that now. In great contrast to his magic, Voldemort’s face was still flat, betraying little emotion. Only his eyes smoldered. “Are you insinuating that I need you, Harry?” he whispered. “Do you think that I am reliant on you and your precious soul—which, need I remind you, is mine?

Harry was so baffled that this was even a question that his terror vanished. “That’s exactly what I’m insinuating,” he said bluntly. “You’re an addict.”

Voldemort grabbed his face, his nails digging into his jaw. Harry winced. “And what good would come from denying me?” he asked, his voice becoming softer still. Harry’s skin broke out into goosebumps.

“I wouldn’t be reduced to something that can barely walk, for one,” Harry said, forcing himself to sound unafraid of the iciness emanating from Voldemort. “I was hardly able to do anything today. I passed out as soon as I tried to walk somewhere, I didn’t eat, I—”

That statement struck an abrupt chord with Voldemort. He released Harry’s jaw, his wandless spell stopped keeping his body immobilized, and both his face and magic lit up in concern. “You did not eat?” he asked.

Harry was extremely caught off guard, the sudden switch from fury to worry enough to make his head spin. It was almost laughable. “Er, no, I didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t do much at all except—”

But Voldemort had already turned away, and his magic was swelling with anger again… only, for once, this anger did not seem to be directed at Harry.

Harry figured out why that was the case about two seconds later. “It wasn’t Draco’s fault!” Harry said at once. “I didn’t even see him, and—and it wasn’t Binny’s fault either! He brought me back here when I passed out, but I demanded that he leave me alone when I woke up—”

“Binny?” Voldemort snapped, looking confused and angrier still.

“Th-the house-elf,” Harry said. Understanding washed over the Dark Lord’s face, but he continued to look furious. “But you can’t be angry at them—this is your doing. You’re the once who did this to me. You’re—you’re greediness is draining me. Hurting me.”

Harry wished he had come up with this argument earlier. Voldemort kept his body composed, but his magic showed how worried this revelation made him. He had clearly not considered that Harry being weak meant Harry being unable to perform the basic functions of every day life… as well as a very unhappy Harry, which they both knew could result in tragic consequences.

Voldemort’s mind was reeling, Harry could tell. “So… you should probably practice a bit more… restraint, then,” he said inelegantly. Harry’s cheeks burned when the words left his mouth. He cursed himself for blushing, but kept his chin raised and his face set.

Voldemort stared at him with that same, calculating look. His magic whirled back and forth, back forth…

“Restraint,” he echoed, so quiet Harry barely heard it.

Harry nodded. His face, annoyingly, burned hotter. He doubted Voldemort had ever once practiced restraint in his life—he took what he wanted and that was it. There was no in-between for Lord Voldemort.

But he was going to need to learn if he didn’t want his last horcrux to waste away.

“…I will do this,” Voldemort said. His gaze was focused not on Harry when he spoke, but towards the wall. His magic was writhing chaotically; Harry imagined this must be highly uncomfortable for him. Probably even more so than it was for Harry. “But you will not deny me. And in exchange, should you be well-behaved and healthy, I shall allow you the use of a wand in a week’s time.”

“Tomorrow,” Harry countered.

“No.”

Voldemort’s rage exploded again, and this time, Harry was once more its sole target. He was shocked at just how forcefully it struck him. Harry felt like something hard hit him from behind—Voldemort’s magic, a flash of black and gold—forcing his legs to bend, and Harry landed on his knees with a crushing pain, dropping his cloak when he fell. Before he could do more than flinch, Voldemort was standing over him, grabbing him by the hair and yanking his head back. Harry’s heart leapt into his throat at the fury in his face.

“You overstep yourself, Harry,” Voldemort fumed. He tightened his hold on his hair, making Harry’s eyes water. “You think that because I have been merciful that you suddenly have power. You do not. You are still mine; you are nothing but my property. No.”

He snarled the last word when Harry had opened his mouth to argue, and pain shot across his scar—quick and sharp, like the cracking of a whip. “Do not defy me. Do not dare to raise your voice against me on this matter. You have been and always will belong to me, and for this, you should be grateful. You have been guaranteed the safety of your friends and anyone you may care for, and for this you should be grateful. You have had your cloak returned to you, I have just informed you that you shall soon have a wand, that I shall exercise some restraint on your behalf—” another lick of pain burned across Harry’s forehead, perhaps unintentionally—"and still you have the audacity to demand more… and you say it is I who is greedy.”

He let out a short and bitter laugh. Harry wanted to point out that he was only asking for that which had belonged to him before Voldemort came into his life, not something more, but he couldn’t speak. Voldemort was pulling too hard on his hair, the pain so sharp it was all he could do to repress a whimper.

Voldemort watched the way Harry’s eyes watered for a moment before continuing. “…This is where you belong,” he said, his furious magic quieting a bit. “Before me, prostrating yourself on your knees, thanking me for my endless mercy.”

He finally released his hair. Harry fell forward—he had not realized how much of his weight Voldemort was supporting—and, mortifyingly enough, found himself on his arms and knees before the Dark Lord, and when had his body started shaking? Why must he always be so quick to tremble?

Voldemort snapped his fingers. Harry looked up at the sound, which was followed quickly by a pop. Binny the house-elf was there, and upon arriving in the presence of Lord Voldemort, he fell into such a subservient bow that his ears touched the floor. He was shaking much worse than Harry.

“Bring food,” Voldemort demanded coldly. “Harry needs to eat.”

“Y-yes, master,” Binny squeaked, then disappeared.

Voldemort turned to face Harry again. With a twitch of his wrist, Harry’s bent back was lifted again, Voldemort’s magic holding him and forcing his jaw to raise so that he was looking at the Dark Lord. “I will return to you tomorrow evening,” Voldemort said, his voice now low and soft like velvet—no longer sharp nor furious. “Consider all which I have said carefully before you think to threaten me again—to delude yourself for a moment that you hold any power. For all of one week, show me that you are capable of total subservience, and in exchange…” he paused, like the next words bordered on painful, and he despised saying them, “In exchange, I shall show restraint… as well as consider your request for a wand.”

Harry didn’t like how the wording had gone from ‘grant’ to ‘consider’, but he didn’t feel like pointing this out would do him any favors.

Voldemort didn’t wait for him to muster up a response, anyway. “Rest well,” he said, then disappeared in a flash of black and glinting gold. Harry collapsed once he was gone, the Dark Lord's magic no longer present to keep him upright.

Chapter Text

Harry waited for morning with great excitement.

Of course he was furious with how his interaction with Voldemort had gone, and sure, he was tempted to leave his room and storm through the halls, to wake Ron and Hermione and find out what they had been doing the past day—but he knew that would be stupid, and he quickly became preoccupied by the fact that he would be leaving the manor soon. Tomorrow was Monday. Narcissa would be taking him to Diagon Alley so that he could get new robes and whatever else he might need.

So, Harry waited (after eating enough food to feed a family of four—he hadn’t realized just how ravenous he was until Binny reappeared with a spread, and Harry ate so much it would have put Dudley’s appetite to shame), laying on his side on his bed, hardly sleeping at all in his restless anticipation.

Narcissa came for him a little after nine, and by the time she knocked on his door, Harry was already up and dressed, his Invisibility Cloak stowed safely in his pocket. She smiled when she caught him trying to flatten his hair on their way to the foyer.

“I thought it never lied flat?” she said, smirking.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t fight the good fight,” said Harry, raking his fingers across his scalp again. He could tell by the way Narcissa’s magic flickered and her lips twitched that his efforts had done no good at all.   

They did not run into anyone else as they made their way through the manor, and it was only when Harry asked if Ron and Hermione would be able to come that he was reminded of what else Monday morning meant. Ron’s penance to the Ministry had begun, so he was already there, working his first day under Umbridge with Fred and George. Hermione, Narcissa said, had been summoned, as had her son and Lucius… though where they were and what they were doing, she did not know. Harry’s stomach twisted in anxiety for his friends, and he could not decide for which one he felt greater pity.

Moments later, however, and even those distressing thought were driven from Harry’s mind. He and Narcissa were soon in the foyer, tossing floo powder into the fireplace, and shouting the words “Diagon Alley!” into the flames.

It felt even more surreal than the first time Harry had gone there… for now, Harry could sense magic.

It was in the people and it was in the air; Harry could sense mild fluctuations of it coming from shops and streets corners and a particularly strong aura coming from a manhole of all things, which Harry guessed must be concealing something. 

Freedom, freedom! Harry’s psyche screamed as he basked in the sensation of magic and the warm, summer breeze dancing across his face. Well, not really freedom, just the illusion of freedom, the much smarter voice of his subconscious chimed in. But a riveting experience all the same.

Harry was disappointed when Narcissa said they had no need to go to Gringotts. Anything Harry wanted was being paid for… though she did not elaborate from where, precisely, the gold was coming.

Everywhere they went people stared. Which wasn’t a behavior that Harry was unaccustomed to, but it still unnerved him. These were not curious, excited whispers which he barely made out from behind raised hands; the eyes of passers-by were not wide with wonder to see the Boy Who Lived. No, these gazes, which were stricken upon meeting the face of the recently released Harry Potter, were anxious. Their magic spiked brightly when they would make eye contact with him, and then their focus would fall to the ground and they would shuffle away as quickly as possible. Harry and Narcissa were given a wide berth.

They’re afraid of me, Harry realized, baffled as one man actually squealed when he saw him, then turned right around and ran in the opposite direction. They’re terrified.

Well of course they are, said that perceptive voice. When they look at you, they see the eyes of the Dark Lord staring back at them.

Harry hung his head and tried not to make eye contact with anyone, wishing that he could take out his cloak and hide from the world.

When they entered Madame Malkin’s, the poor witch about had a heart attack upon seen Harry Potter and Narcissa Malfoy in her shop. Harry could hardly blame her reaction—the last time the two of them were here, they’d argued and hurled dangerous, offensive words at one other. Frightening words.

“Maybe we should go to the other shop,” Harry mumbled when the shop owner dropped everything she was doing, nearly knocking one of her other customers from their stool.

Narcissa opened her mouth to reply, but before she could say anything, Madam Malkin came rushing over. “Oh, Mrs. Malfoy! And Mr. P-Potter!” she exclaimed. Her magic was a deep amber, like honey. It danced around her in a panic as she spoke. “What an honor! I’ll assist you right away, yes. Whatever can I do for you?”

She looked absolutely petrified.

Still, she was doing her best to act courteous, so they did not leave. Harry was taken to a changing room where a measuring tape began whirling around him, taking his measurements, and through the door he could make out Narcissa’s voice as she listed off the kinds of robes he would need. Maybe he would have found that annoying any other day—did he not even get a choice in what he would be wearing?—but just then, he found it a relief. He didn’t really care about his clothing, and he trusted Narcissa Malfoy’s fashion choices enough. He knew that he would not be forced to wear anything with frills, at least. Harry almost chuckled as he recalled Ron before the Yule Ball, lamenting his dress robes in the mirror, the cuffs fringed from where he’d tried to burn off the lace.

Harry was fitted for more robes than he could ever hope to wear, mostly in black. Some were long and flowing and gave him an air of mystery that was absolutely false; some were tighter and form-fitting and made him realize that he really had become too thin; and some were fancier garments that Harry was certain he would be wearing to special events, like Ron and Hermione’s wedding. The dress robes he tried on were made of deep, velvety green, and Harry thought sorrowfully how once, that color would have matched his eyes. Now they made his scarlet irises look even redder, and when he clasped the silver buckle around his throat, he couldn’t help but think he looked far too much like someone else.

But not my hair, he thought as he watched Narcissa in the mirror, fussing over the quality of the fabric and snapping at poor Madam Malkin. That screams defiant.

After they were finally done, told that his robes would be finished and delivered sometime tomorrow (which Harry thought an insane turnaround, considering just how many garments he’d ordered), they went to a few other shops. Harry bought a new watch to replace the one he’d lost when he’d been kidnapped, presumably taken from his wrist to be replaced by iron shackles. And while nothing could be a substitute for nostalgia of a gift given to him by Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, the finest watch money could buy (which he did not ask for, but which Narcissa insisted upon) sort of came close.

After they stopped for lunch at a little restaurant (where they were given the best table and waited on by a waitress whose magic was so nervous Harry was surprised she did not drop everything when she hovered her tray), Narcissa took him to an Ice Cream Parlour—which was mostly incredible as it had been her suggestion, not his.

“My sweet tooth knows no bounds,” she said as she pulled him along, her navy magic cheerful and light. “Have you ever tried the chocolate and raspberry?”

“I tried every flavor and then some one summer,” Harry said, sighing reminiscently as he recalled the day he blew his aunt up like a balloon and sent her sailing away, then walked out on the Dursleys. “I stayed in Diagon Alley for a few weeks, and when I would do my homework there, Mr. Fortescue would give me free ice cream every half hour.”

Harry's throat suddenly constricted. For he only just then remembered, Mr. Fortescue was no longer running this shop. He had gone mysteriously missing one day, early on the war... 

Narcissa  didn't catch his sudden discomfort, though, and she stared at him like he’d just said the most magical of enchantments. “Free ice cream? Every half hour?” she repeated. Harry nodded. “You must teach me your manipulative ways.”

The new shop owner, a young, rail-thin man, did give them free ice cream when they entered the shop, but it had nothing to do with Harry being a pitiable, scrawny kid working on his homework, nor any cunning manipulations. The shop owner, just like everyone else they’d encountered, looked upon Harry and Narcissa with fear-filled eyes, and when he said it was on the house, bowed them out of his shop like he was relieved that they were leaving.

Narcissa didn’t seem bothered by the man's behavior, nor anyone else’s. Harry wasn’t sure if her cool demeanor was one she was putting on for his benefit, in hopes that she would not make Harry feel even more uncomfortable, or if people typically acted afraid of Narcissa Malfoy when she was out, and this entire day was not that unordinary for her. Her magic gave away nothing. She licked the raspberry flavored ice cream from her spoon with no concern, then gave Harry a sharp look when he failed to touch his.

“A free treat is a free treat,” she said, pointing her spoon at him. “Never mind the details, Harry. Doing so could drive you mad.”


As much as Harry wished they could keep away from Malfoy manor all afternoon—his eyes kept straying towards where he knew Ollivander’s to be, and he wondered how hard it would be to persuade Narcissa into taking him there, Voldemort’s will be damned—it could not be so. When it neared three, Narcissa informed Harry that they had to return. She was meeting with wedding planners, she said, and there was much work to be done.

Harry was relieved to find that he was not expected to be a part of this work. The moment they arrived back at Malfoy manor, Narcissa summoned Binny, instructing the elf to tend to Harry and do whatever he might ask for to make his afternoon comfortable.

“Within reason,” she’d added, with warning look towards Harry. She then returned her attention to Binny. “Have my husband and son returned yet? Has… Has Hermione?”

Harry could see how strange she felt, calling Hermione by her first name, but he respected her for the fact that she did. “No, Mistress,” said Binny. “Not yet. Binny has not been seeing them.”

“What about Ron?” Harry asked.

“Oh, dear, I doubt he’ll be back before five, if then,” Narcissa said. “I know Dolores well enough to know that she will keep them as long as she is allowed, without a doubt.”

But Harry almost laughed at her words, because even though Narcissa’s expression remained neutral, her magic had become a bit sharper on at the word ‘Dolores’, and Harry could tell—Narcissa Malfoy did not like Umbridge, either.

Harry nodded and took his leave then, saying he fancied a shower after running around Diagon Alley all day, and was very glad that he had. He was halfway up the stairs when he heard a slew of people arriving in the foyer, and a quick glance over his shoulder told him it was, indeed, the wedding planners. Harry ran from their voices and spirited magic like they were a swarm of doxies. Already he could sense Narcissa’s aura darkening—irritated—and they had not even gotten through their ‘hello’s’.

Deciding that he had nothing better to do until at least five (and who knew what the Dark Lord had Hermione doing?), Harry decided to while away the next hour or so by doing something unthinkable—relaxing.

Once he made it to his room and closed the door, Harry stripped off his clothes, thankful that soon he would no longer need to borrow Draco’s robes. He went into the bathroom and filled the tub with warm, inviting water. It was like a miniature version of the prefect’s bathroom. Multiple taps emitted different colored suds, and within a minute the huge basin was full of steaming, sandal-wood scented water. Harry slipped beneath the surface and sighed.

Life isn’t so terrible, he thought to himself, leaning back and letting the water ease his aching body.

…Well, all right, it’s pretty terrible. But there’s no point dwelling on that continuously.

For a long, blissful time, Harry thought about nothing. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing; on the slow, steady rhythm of his heart. He wondered if this was how one was supposed to feel, before practicing Occlumency.

Empty your mind… Think of nothing…

Breathe in…

Empty your mind…

Breath out…

Harry managed to continue this meditation until he felt oddly at peace with himself. When he opened his eyes again, he felt a serenity that he had experienced few times in his young life. In fact, as he thought on that, he realized that there had only been one time he’d felt so bizarrely calm, despite life being chaotic and awful.

After Dobby died.  

It was after their escape from Malfoy manor, when Dobby the house-elf had rescued them from mortal peril. When Harry had held his lifeless, limp form in his arms, when he had dug his grave himself, committed to burying his friend—he had been somber, devasted… but calm. Voldemort’s storm of emotions hadn’t been able to touch him. Harry had been in control of his mind, his body, and his heart, and he had been able to think clearly.

Harry raised his palms through the water, cupping a large bubble and lifting it to his face. He saw his own reflection on the surface: pale, distorted features and bright, red eyes.

How should he proceed with Voldemort?

Harry let out a long breath, sending the bubble floating up and away from the tub. Their last interaction had gone… badly. Just as he thought he’d been making progress, that he finally had some power, Voldemort reminded him forcefully that he did not.

…But didn’t he?

Harry slipped further into the water and pondered this. Yes, of course he did. Voldemort craved the feeling of his soul, the reprieve of not feeling broken… and he couldn’t have that if Harry wasn’t willing. But how was Harry supposed to use this as leverage? Threatening had done no good at all; it had only made Voldemort much, much uglier to deal with.

Well, obviously that was going to happen, Harry thought, once more annoyed at himself for his own actions. Why had he threatened the Dark Lord? Voldemort was a megalomaniac; power was all that mattered to him. So why had Harry even considered trying to intimidate him? That was never going to work.

Because I’d just realized how much of my energy he was draining, turning me into a pathetic, weak thing, Harry reminded himself. I was angry. Very angry. I had every right to be, and that bastard knew it, and...

And that had to be why he brought the cloak, he concluded. There’s no way that it was a coincidence that he gave it to me then, that he had didn’t pick up on my anger. There are no coincidences with Voldemort.

Harry held his breath and dunked his head under the water, rubbing at his scalp with the suds. He came back up for air a moment later, wiping the water from his face. That wasn’t a bribe, then, Voldemort giving him his cloak… It was more of a… peace offering. Probably the closest thing to a remorseful action that the Dark Lord had ever made—even if he had covered the gesture in sly, condescending words. The fact of the matter was that Voldemort had been overly greedy (and was fully aware of it), he had felt Harry’s anger, and the whole ordeal made him feel strongly enough to do something about it to try and make things… better.

Which was technically a good thing, Harry now realized, and rather than encourage that sort of behavior from a psychotic Dark Lord, he had gone and made it worse. Harry had taken the cloak without a word, then demanded a wand as well.

Was he being stupid?

Harry didn’t think his actions were unjustified, not in the least—but he took a deep breath and, begrudgingly, tried to see this from the Dark Lord’s point of view.

He thinks he is in the right on all matters. He believes that he is doing the wizarding world a favor by being in control. He really does not think that he is evil nor wrong.

Harry felt it important to solidify these facts in his mind first. Only then did he move forward with his speculation. 

Voldemort had been on a clear path to victory during the first war… until the Prophecy. Until me. Then he killed my parents—deaths he thinks were justified—failed to kill me, and wound up bodiless for over a decade. He finally gets one back, fails to kill me several more times, and then, when he finally has me, learns that I am one of his horcruxes… who he then finds out has been destroying all the others. Leaving him to either keep me alive or accept mortality…

And maybe he really would have kept me in that cell forever had he never touched upon that brilliant, alluring light.

Harry ran his fingers through his hair, wringing some of the water from it. Unfortunately, the Dark Lord had touched upon that connection, and now that he knew it existed he could not pretend that he did not. Voldemort could not go back to that existence of cold, eternal brokenness. Harry suspected that the Dark Lord was secretly cursing himself for this every day; for this addiction that he had unwittingly thrown himself into and was now unable to resist.

So now, here they were, caught in the strangest and most complicated push and pull between hatred and desire, and Harry’s mind was reeling on how to prevent things from spiraling out of control. Because one thing was for certain—he could not handle this mercurial dynamic forever. The whiplash of Voldemort’s emotions would push him beyond his limits, and that could not possibly mean anything good for anyone.

As much as Harry hated to accept it, he needed—for the time being—to be… good. In the Dark Lord’s eyes, at least. Just keep his mouth shut and let Voldemort bask in the relief his soul provided. But not too much. Some middle ground where Voldemort could… get his fix, so to speak, but which wouldn’t leave Harry a mess afterwards.

He wondered how well that would work out.

Harry shook his head, trying not to think about how tonight would go. Voldemort hadn’t touched upon their connection at all last night—trying to prove some stupid point, like he didn’t crave it as much as Harry knew he did—and that could make this evening difficult. …Or would it matter? Would one day without any reprieve be so terrible for Voldemort? And if it was terrible for him… What was a Dark Lord in withdrawal like?

Horrible. Probably.

Well, I suppose I shall find out at midnight, Harry thought, feeling oddly unafraid about it. He took a deep breath and made a resolute vow. It didn’t matter what Voldemort was like. It didn’t matter how he acted, what he said, what he did. Harry was not going to say anything, just make sure that Voldemort held up his end of the bargain and showed some restraint. And then he, Harry, in one week’s time… would have a wand.

Harry got out of the tub and dried off, then changed into fresh clothes. He had just shoved his cloak back in his pocket and was putting on his new watch—it was a quarter past five; he’d had no idea he’d lazed around in the tub that long—when he heard it.

A scream.

High, loud, and even though Harry knew it was from far away in the manor, he felt like it had struck him in the heart. He instantly ran from his room, sprinting as fast as his legs would allow. He imagined terrible things as he rushed past moving portraits and crystal sconces, their lights a blur as he went—he pictured Hermione on the ground, writhing under a Cruciatus Curse, Ron being bound and gagged and forced to watch—

The screaming started again, and this time, it was not as loud, nor was it so guttural. In fact, as Harry followed the voice along the familiar path back to the foyer, he realized that they were words. Someone was shouting at someone else, and they were very, very angry.

Harry moved faster.

By the time he turned the corner, looking down the grand staircase into the foyer, the shouting had stopped. Harry was dumbfounded at what he saw.

The first one he looked at—for it would be impossible to notice anyone else first—was Narcissa, who had her back to him and was facing what Harry might have thought were frightened, lowly servants, but then quickly realized were the wedding planners. Her magic was tall and dark, and they all cowered before her, their own auras shriveled with fear. A few of them were holding flower arrangements, shielding their faces with them.

The second thing Harry noticed was that Ron and Hermione were both there, looking as frightened as the planners. By the looks of it, Ron had just gotten back—he was standing in front of the fireplace like he might have just stepped out of it, and he was surveying the scene before him with great trepidation, as though he was seriously considering going back to the Ministry with Umbridge.

Hermione and Draco, however, were closer to Narcissa. Hermione was edging away from her, but Draco was standing by her side, holding a pile of flowers that might have been pretty at some point, but were now utterly destroyed. Only Ron noticed Harry right away, as the others either had their back to him or were too focused on Narcissa to see anything else. From atop the stairs, Ron gave Harry a sharp look, like he was trying to say, ‘Save yourself!’

It was a tempting option. Harry probably could have slowly stepped away and disappeared down the hall again, and no one but Ron would have been any wiser.

But Harry had never been very good at abandoning his friends. He started to make his way down the stairs as Narcissa yelled, “Well? Is anyone going to answer me?”

Her magic stirred viciously, and she snatched one of the bouquets from the nearest wedding planner. The witch backed away afterwards like Narcissa had just stolen her wand, leaving her defenseless, and was now about to hex her. “Tell me!” Narcissa screeched. Everyone cringed at the high pitch of her voice. “What is it? What is the dominating color of this arrangement?”

She shook the bouquet violently in front of her. The woman stared at it, wide-eyed, and then finally, said, “P-pink, Madam Malfoy.”

Narcissa was not happy with this answer. “And what is pink?” she hissed, her voice lower but no less intimidating. “Tell me, you with your enviable degree from the best aesthetic enchantment specialty school in Britain. What. Is. Pink?

The witch’s lips parted, but she didn’t say anything. She looked at a loss.

A peal of laughter drew everyone’s attention to the other side of the room. Harry’s jaw dropped; hadn’t even noticed Bellatrix there, lounging in one of the chairs and watching this interaction with great interest. Her magic was deep and undulating, and her eyes gleamed with mischief. “Pink,” she said, leaning forward as she answered for the witch as though she were telling them a great secret, “is a tint… of red.”

“And I said. No. RED!”

Narcissa thrust the bouquet onto the ground, where the wedding planners scattered away from it like she’d just unleashed a poisonous snake on them all. Bellatrix cackled in delight, and Draco rushed forward and picked the broken bouquet, adding it to his pile of floral casualties.

“Mother,” Draco began, “Perhaps—”

Narcissa did not hear him. “Such simple instructions!” she shouted. “How is it I am met with such incompetence! The best London has to offer, indeed! Oh, where is Lucius?”

“I told you mother,” Draco said quickly, his magic whirling in alarm, “he said he was going to select linens for—”

“Linens! I already chose those, and I picked them up yesterday!”

“But—but some of them were coming undone at the seams, and so he went to return them! Completely unacceptable quality for what they’d cost, practically threadbare; father was very angry…”

Narcissa scrutinized him for a moment. Draco gave her a convincing look—Harry was impressed at his acting skills—and then she seemed to accept this response. “Threadbare linens, conflicting opinions on the best musicians, pink floral arrangements—must I do everything myself? Am I damned to be surrounded by ineptitude at every turn for the rest of my life? Oh, Harry, I didn’t see you there. Did you have a good rest?”

Harry gawked at her. Narcissa had begun to pace in her ranting, and had therefore spotted him, now at the bottom on the stairs. Upon making eye contact with him, she had switched from petulant to sweet, her magic going from black to pleasantly blue so quickly that Harry thought she might be more mercurial than Voldemort. “Y-yes,” he stuttered. He glanced at Hermione, whose face broke out into a relieved grin.

Narcissa caught their exchange, and smiling, said, “I think I can handle this on my own for the evening. Draco, why don’t you accompany our guests outside to the rose garden? It’s a lovely afternoon—far too nice to squander inside, suffering through the ineptitude of this group.”

Draco did not hesitate at an opportunity to escape. “Of course, mother,” he said. He dropped the flowers on the ground in a heap and shouted, “Binny!”, causing the house-elf to appear with a pop. “Throw out this inadequate trash.”

Narcissa nodded and gave her son an approving look for his criticism, and Harry thought he was beginning to understand just how the Malfoy family dynamic worked. “Come along, guests,” Draco said brightly, motioning for them to follow him. Harry, Ron, and Hermione shared a look, then were quick to do so. Harry was bursting at the seams to ask Hermione and Ron dozens of questions, but he didn’t want to start talking until they were out of earshot of all the wedding planners and—Harry’s stomach churned—Bellatrix Lestrange.

Fortunately, he did not have to wait long. They had only just left the hall when they come upon a glass door which led outside. Narcissa was right—it was a lovely day. The sky was blue and cloudless, the sun was shining and warm. There was even the sound of birdsong to greet them, light and blessedly cheery.

The moment the door closed behind them, Draco fixed Harry with a look. “Thank fucking God you came downstairs when you did, Potter,” he said. “We might have been strung along all evening, otherwise…”

Harry ignored him, his attention all for Hermione and Ron. But before he could say anything, Hermione was throwing herself at him, crushing him in a hug. “Oh, it’s so good to see you,” she said, her voice muffled as she spoke into his chest. She pulled away and gave him a concerned look. “How are you? Narcissa said you were feeling ill, that you were resting…”

Her voice trailed off, and Harry didn’t need to be able to perceive her magic to know she was suspicious. “Er—yeah,” he said, deciding that was not so far from the truth. “But I’m feeling fine now—what about you, and Ron—you were at the Ministry all day, with—”

“How about we don’t have this conversation right in front of the fucking door, hm?” Draco said softly, his smile scathing and his magic even more so. “I know tact isn’t your specialty, but honestly…”

He ushered them forward, taking them along a path that led deeper into the garden. Harry was startled when an albino peacock strutted out of a bush, but not nearly as much as Ron, who made a strangled noise of surprise when she saw it. The bird squawked in response and ran off across the lawn.

“Try and adjust, Weasley,” Draco drawled. “You are celebrating your marriage here in less than a week, after all.”

“Not with those damn birds running amok,” Ron muttered. “Those things are awful—You’d have no idea, Harry, how mean a peacock can be. One was pecking at my robes when Malfoy’s mum was showing us around the other day, and when I shooed it off it screeched and tried to bite me, like I’d just insulted its precious pure-white, peacock blood purity.”

“It probably just smelled the stench on you,” Draco spat. “Don’t you have an entire farm or something ridiculous at your house, Weasley? Pigs and all that?”

Ron stopped walking. So did Draco, and they faced one another, expressions stony. “We have chickens,” Ron seethed. “And I haven’t been home in months, so you can shove your little retorts right up your—”

“Ron,” Harry interjected. They’d been together for less than a minute, and already they were at each other’s throats. “Don’t. He’s not worth the effort.” Which was really Harry’s way of saying, ‘He has a wand and we don’t’, but that didn’t seem a wise thing to point out. “Just… just take us to this stupid rose garden, Malfoy, so we can talk.”

“Actually, we’re almost there,” answered Hermione, to Harry’s surprise. “It’s just around the corner here.”

Harry, Ron, and Draco followed her around a tall hedge, and the garden they came upon was so resplendent that, for a moment, Harry thought he’d walked into a fairy tale. Roses, roses everywhere, in every size, shape, and color imaginable. White marble columns surrounded an intricate, tall gazebo, around which was a wide pathway. “Whoa,” Harry said, the aroma of roses assaulting his senses. “Whoa, this is…”

“A bit much? Yeah, I thought so too,” Ron grumbled.

“It’s called sophistication,” Draco said, walking beneath the canopy of the gazebo. “But don’t worry too much about it, Weasley. The peacocks and the gazebo will be removed for your wedding day. That will be a few less refined obstacles distracting you, at least.” He took a seat on one of the benches, then promptly reclined across the whole thing, as though to prevent Harry, Ron, or Hermione from sitting next to him.

“You’re getting married out here?” Harry asked, speaking before Ron could snarl something vicious at Malfoy. He sat at one of the benches across from Draco, who was now examining his fingernails, looking determined to appear haughty and bored.

“Er, no, not technically,” Ron said, hesitating before taking a seat next to Harry.

“The actual ceremony is happening inside… It will just be me, Ron, Mrs. Weasley, and… and you, if you’re still okay with—”

“Course I am,” said Harry, cutting Hermione off. She sank into a seated position at his other side and gave him a quick hug. “So out here is just…?”

“The reception, yes.”

Harry looked through the openings of the lattice-like structure of the gazebo. The lawn was mostly empty—save for lush, green grass—but he could see some trees where the hedges did not obstruct his view beyond that, like sparse woods before the iron gates in the distance. Beyond that was real wilderness, and Harry’s heart ached with longing at the sight of it.

But he forced that feeling aside, knowing he had more pressing things he should be asking about. “You were at the Ministry today,” he said, looking at Ron.

“Yes, oh my goodness, yes,” Hermione said, and Harry realized that she had not yet gotten to speak with Ron since he’d gotten back either. “What happened? What did she make you do?”

Draco continued to stare at his nails, but his visibly tensed. Harry wondered why he was bothering to act like he wasn’t curious. “Ugh,” Ron started with a groan, looking back and forth between the two of them. Hermione clasped his hand in hers. “It was horrible; it was worse than I ever would have imagined. I had to follow Umbridge around all day as her personal assistant. Honestly, I don’t think I have the wherewithal to relive it all right now. And Fred and George, they were just making everything worse—”

“Worse?” Hermione asked sharply. “Worse how?”

“Well, Umbridge would give them a simple task, like ‘organize all these trial files in alphabetical order’, and they would—but you know Fred and George… They organized them all by the fourth letter of the person’s middle name who was being tried or something stupid like that, and Umbridge threw a fit—”

Draco failed to stifle a short laugh. Harry almost cracked a smile as well. “And then they were told to clean the floor in her office, to polish it so well it would shine—all without magic, of course, as they aren’t allowed wands either—and they did, but they put some strange waxy substance in the top—no idea where they got it, by the way, but George said it was something muggle—and so the floor was very slippery, and Umbridge fell on her ass first thing when she stepped inside—”

This time Harry laughed too, as did Draco, but Hermione’s hand flew to her mouth, looking terrified. “It’s not funny,” said Ron gravely, and Harry’s smile fell. “Well, all right, it is a little funny—”

“No, it’s not,” Hermione said. “What are they thinking? Do they want to end up getting thrown in Azkaban after all?”

“They don’t seem too worried about that,” Ron muttered. “It would make him look bad, wouldn’t it? To grant mercy to pureblood rebels just to take it back a few days later… As they haven’t technically done anything wrong. You should have heard them when Umbridge was screaming at them. ‘Sorry, ma’am, you didn’t give us clear instructions’; ‘Our apologies, dear Dolores, you said to make the floor so shiny that you could see your reflection in it, and so we have…’” Ron shook his head and sighed. Draco laughed again.

“What will happen to them, then?” Harry asked. He was no longer amused; he knew that Umbridge would not tolerate such behavior long.

“Well… I don’t think it would be very hard for her to get permission to use a certain Unforgiveable as a punishment,” Ron said darkly.

“I’d imagine not,” said Draco in a much more casual tone. He sat up, no longer pretending to be disinterested in their conversation. “She’ll probably have the paperwork signed to be torturing them tomorrow.”

“She’s not the High Inquisitor anymore,” Hermione said scathingly. “She can’t just make decisions on a whim like that.”

“No, but the Dark Lord can. Do you think he’d have any problem allowing Umbridge to cast a Cruciatus on the former hosts of Potterwatch?”

To this, no one responded. Hermione fidgeted where she sat, and she and Ron’s magic writhed with discomfort.

“Welcome to the glorious new regime,” Draco said blandly.

Harry glared at him. “You were at a Death Eater meeting today,” he said. Then he looked to Hermione, saying, “And so were you, weren’t you?”

Hermione’s magic stirred stressfully, and Ron’s brightened in alarm. “You were?” Ron said. Hermione nodded weakly.

“Yes, it was a real party,” Draco drawled. Harry and Ron ignored him. “What happened?” Harry asked.

“Well, first he just sort of… he kind of talked for a long time—”

“Typical,” Draco interjected. Hermione shot him an annoyed look before continuing, saying, “And he told us that there is going to be a public address this Friday. An assembly in the atrium of the Ministry.”

Harry’s brows rose in surprise, but Ron made a sound of recognition. “Yeah, I heard some people talking about that today,” he said. “It’s going to be front page news in the Prophet tomorrow. Mandatory attendance for all m