Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: Breakpoint :: 01 :: Meld

01 • Meld

Harry sat there, slumped on the floor in a dusty, unused corridor of the school. His mind was in chaos, a jumbled mass of thoughts which struggled to gain precedence over each other and win out in terms of gaining his undivided attention. In just a few seconds his whole life had been turned upside down and revealed as a lie.

It was true he had not given any hint of his turmoil earlier, in Dumbledore’s office. Or rather, he had not done anything more than express what feelings made sense under the circumstances. Sirius was dead, after all, and now he had a supposed prophecy to deal with on top of that. He had his doubts, he really did.

In those few moments while Voldemort had taken possession of him Harry had assimilated a tremendous surge of information, and felt a corresponding transfer from himself. Dumbledore might believe that Harry had driven Voldemort out forcibly, but that was pure fiction, and Harry had not bothered to disabuse him of the notion. They had worked in surprised accord for a short time, just enough, then Voldemort had departed of his own volition, though not without leaving behind a feeling of immense curiosity and a complete lack of any sense of hatred toward Harry himself.

Harry snorted softly and shook his head. He really didn’t know what to do. Was it actually possible that Dumbledore was a fake? Voldemort certainly seemed to believe so. He was also certain that it had not been himself who had killed Harry’s parents. But that didn’t make sense; Harry could clearly remember that night, thanks to the dementors. So how was it that he remembered wrongly, or did he?

And for that matter, how was Dumbledore not Dumbledore? The name that had floated across from Voldemort’s mind meant absolutely nothing to Harry—Davos Saxeten—and he couldn’t even begin to think of where to find more information. He could not ask Hermione; she was either in the infirmary or at St Mungo’s, he wasn’t sure which. The same with Ron, though Harry would never think to ask him about anything concerning research.

So he sat there for some time, simply letting thought after thought whirl through his head, until finally he noticed he was beginning to nod off. He hauled himself up from the floor and staggered off in the direction of Gryffindor tower, not at all surprised when he arrived to find that everyone had long since gone to bed, nor that Neville was not present.

The next morning found him wandering a bit aimlessly, and he ended up in another of those dusty corridors that no one ever seemed to frequent. Harry decided it was a good a place as any to ponder things and slid down the wall, and was only partly roused from his concentration by the sound of footsteps echoing off the stone.

“Potter.”

Harry raised his head to see Draco Malfoy standing there in all his icy perfection. After a moment, he nodded. “Malfoy.”

Draco arched one elegantly groomed brow, then produced a box from his robes. “I’ve been asked to deliver this to you,” he said, then crouched long enough to place the box on the floor, never letting his eyes leave Harry. “And now I’ve done that. Do what you think is best, but you’re a fool if you choose to ignore it.” With that Draco turned smartly and walked away, his posture ramrod straight.

Harry let out a soft sigh and eyed the box curiously. He could only think of a couple of people who could get Malfoy to play errand boy without quibbling or raising a fuss while doing it. He wondered if that meant Lucius Malfoy had evaded capture, given that he found it somewhat difficult to believe that Voldemort would seek out Draco directly for such a task.

He eyed the box again, slowly coming to the realization that his little mind meld with Voldemort had imprinted decades of spell knowledge into his head. On that thought he got out his wand and cast a series of spells on the box, checking for traps of any kind, and found absolutely nothing. Curious. Back went the wand, and then he picked up the box and opened it slightly.

That right there made him wonder anew. Had Draco looked inside? Actually, should he be investigating this where just anyone could find him? Thank Merlin he wasn’t in a place that harbored any portraits. Harry shoved the box into his robes and got to his feet, trying to decide where he could possibly go and be assured of privacy.

The Chamber was out; while Myrtle might not squeal on him, the portraits in that area of the castle were suspect. He was somewhat wary of the Room of Requirement. After all, they had been found out, but perhaps that had simply been a lax attitude toward security on his part as they went along? Or maybe it was simply that Marietta was able to lead anyone to them, having been a part of things.

Harry paced the width of the hallway for several minutes while he turned the problem over in his head, eventually coming to understand that he could do things like check for wards, telltales, listening devices, and a whole host of other indirectly damaging magic. But more importantly, he knew where Tom Riddle had spent a lot of his time plotting.

Voldemort had also known of rather a lot more in the way of secret passages in the castle than the Marauders ever had, and from what Harry could discern, Riddle had never shared that knowledge. Finally having a destination in mind, Harry shuffled off down the corridor.

*

The box contained a multitude of items, each of which Harry checked before even considering touching, though in the end the first thing he picked up was a rolled piece of parchment.

Harry Potter,

I will get straight to the point, as I have no doubt your repeated dealings with a certain old man has seriously shredded your patience when it comes to word games.

I, Lord Voldemort, born Tom Marvolo Riddle, have a proposition for you, prompted by the information exchange we experienced last night. I offer you neutrality. Should you accept, I will provide the means for you to opt out of this war, a war you should never have been a part of but for the old man’s manipulations.

I will provide whatever is necessary in terms of your education should you decide to leave Hogwarts and never return, though I will say I have my doubts as to that, as I have every reason to suspect at this moment that you have the sum of all my magical experience in your head, and hardly need much more than someone to guide you through a few things.

I consider this an opportunity for each of us. I may turn my focus back to the actual matter at hand, that being the false Dumbledore, and you may walk away from a fight not yours.

This offer will stand in good faith for so long as you do not act against me. The moment that happens I will assume you have willingly and with full knowledge decided to declare allegiance to the old man, and will regard you as an enemy once more.

Inside the box there are several items you may deem to be of interest. The ouroboros is a portkey leading to the Chamber of Secrets. Should you choose to investigate, you will find information I have left behind regarding the outside entrance, and the complete layout of Salazar’s private retreat. The activation word is “basilisk”. It will bring you back to the activation point using the word “return”.

The eagle feather quill is a portkey which will take you to Malfoy Manor, where Lucius will be pleased to provide you with a suite of rooms should you opt to go there. I realize that you dislike and distrust the man, but he will obey my orders and remain silent about your presence, and is the only one I have trusted with this information. He can also, if you request, make discreet inquiries about your true standing. By that I refer to finances and any properties you might own due to your parents, that the old man may have seen fit to not mention. The activation word is “family”.

The remaining items are fairly straightforward in nature and accordingly labeled. One potion will result in your magical signature being masked. You may or may not be aware that the wizarding world relies on the adult population to keep their progeny in line. There are no automatic telltales on wands, for instance. Any area saturated with magic prevents the ministry detectors from being able to separate out exactly who has performed magic.

However, in areas where that is not the case, such as the home of a muggle-born, the ministry makes the assumption that the magical child in question is responsible and sends out warnings accordingly. The potion masks you from the detectors even in areas of that nature, much like they are unable to detect deliberate wandless magic. A very fine distinction, I must say.

Another will correct the problems with your eyesight. It is, however, also considered an illegal potion due to the fact that dark magic is necessary to create it. The final potion will determine if anything has been done to your wand and remove tampering. Any other suspicions of meddling would need to be dealt with in person.

You do not need to respond. You do not need to use anything I have provided for you. But again, so long as you do not act against me I will consider you a neutral noncombatant. If you do wish to speak to me directly I am sure with our most recent experience that you can figure out how to reach me as I inadvertently reached you in the past.

Lord Voldemort

Harry exhaled heavily and dropped the letter onto his lap. What if it was all true? What if everything he had seen in Voldemort’s mind was the truth? If that were so then Dumbledore was responsible for the death of his parents. If so, did that mean the prophecy was also fake? Had he been carefully herded into those actions which led to the death of his godfather?

He was amazed, thinking further, that Dumbledore had somehow arrived at exactly the right moment to save him. And what about those occlumency lessons? If Riddle was not responsible for many of his visions, who was? Harry looked into the box and noticed a parchment not mentioned in Voldemort’s letter, so he grabbed it and unrolled it, skimming the contents.

It appeared to be notes jotted down regarding Grindelwald and his second in command, Davos Saxeten. Albus Dumbledore had actually fought Grindelwald, the dark lord of the time, and defeated him, but had lost his own life in the process. Saxeten, seeing that his own future was in great jeopardy, had absconded with not only his master’s wand but Dumbledore’s as well, plus everything he could get his hands on of Grindelwald’s possessions.

Voldemort’s notes indicated that Saxeten was a metamorphmagus and used that to great effect in his takeover of Dumbledore’s life. He had then quickly noticed an emerging power among the students, Tom Riddle, and had taken steps to suppress the boy. Obviously, all that had resulted was a serious grudge that escalated into complete hatred and a desire to do bodily harm, if not outright kill.

The notes also touched on Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, and speculated that the man had been mentally tortured in some way so that he could not reveal the deception he would have eventually noticed, and so that Saxeten could gain firsthand knowledge of Albus’s early years.

Harry must have sat there for several hours before awareness of the outside world impinged on him again; his stomach was rumbling. He sighed and packed the parchments back into the box, and that went into his robes. Shortly thereafter Harry was sitting in the kitchens having a meal with only bustling house-elves for company.

He was seriously considering checking out the Chamber, though he couldn’t quite decide how much it would benefit him. An outside entrance was attractive, more so given that it was very unlikely that Dumbledore knew of it. Harry got the feeling Voldemort would not have mentioned it otherwise. Still, unless he planned on hiding down there, he wasn’t sure of the value.

Malfoy, however—now that was a scary thought. Harry was not particularly worried about his health. He could, after all, spend a bit of time bringing himself up to speed on some of the more interesting spells Voldemort knew before considering that avenue, which meant he could walk into the situation as a dangerous opponent. What was scary was the idea of a Lucius Malfoy who would be gracious.

And, if he made that step, it was more or less saying he was walking away forever from Dumbledore’s control, his current life, his current everything. He would not be able to show his face in public; Dumbledore, seeing that his pawn had wised up and moved on, would do everything in his power to make sure Harry was as feared as Voldemort.

The fact that he was even considering any of this told Harry that he was inclined to believe that Tom Riddle was not his enemy, and that he might be able to actually trust the man to do exactly as he had outlined in his offer. Harry pushed his empty plate away and stood, nodding absently at the house-elf who appeared to clean up, and trudged up to his dorm room. Once there he sat on his bed and closed the curtains, waiting until everyone had settled in for the night.

Only then did he emerge and quietly sift through his belongings, pulling out those things he could not bear to lose. They were placed into a transfigured bag he slung over his shoulder. A few moments later he was stealthily on his way back to Riddle’s secret room, and on his arrival he pulled out the Chamber portkey and activated it.

*

He was exhausted by the time he dropped by the kitchen the next morning, but it had been a fruitful time in some respects. Anything of value he owned was sharing a kind of not-space, a void of sorts, that outwardly resembled the homework planner Hermione had bought him. Innocuous, but effective, and small enough to place into a pocket.

Harry also knew exactly how to access the Chamber from outside the wards of Hogwarts, and given that Voldemort’s knowledge enabled him to apparate without further training, it was a nice thing to know about should he need a safe place to stay for a time. Safe from whom, though, he wasn’t sure. He was feeling exceptionally paranoid at the moment and had no idea who he should actually be trusting.

He had almost talked himself into using the portkey to Malfoy Manor when the thought of his friends stopped him. What would happen to them? If Voldemort was to be believed, nothing. They were only his enemies if they insisted on further involving themselves in the fight between Saxeten and Riddle. But how could they not be a part of things when they did not know the things Harry did?

If Dumbledore really was Saxeten, just how many people in the Order were as much the fool as he had been? On the other hand, how many people had been drawn into what amounted to a personal grudge match simply based on the role he had been assigned? Was it his responsibility to save everyone, or was it his responsibility to save himself?

Another thought followed on the heels of that one. If he stayed, could he even trust himself not to show his newfound knowledge? If he stayed, would he be maneuvered into confronting Voldemort again and cement his unwanted position? If not, just how quickly would the headmaster realize that something had gone very wrong, and how rapidly would Harry find himself subject to . . . conditioning?

There was also the matter of when, should he opt to seek temporary sanctuary with the Malfoys, he should disappear. Still at school, on the train, or at the Dursleys. . . .

No, the train was a bad idea. His friends might be recovered well enough by then to take it, and all hell could break loose when they realized he had never come back from, say, the loo. It might also place suspicion on Draco, which could lead to him being forced to reveal the box he had delivered. Well, technically, they could attempt that at any time after he went mi—

Harry blinked. Apparently, he had decided.

*

“I’d like some advice,” he said, cautiously eyeing his companion in dreams.

Voldemort eyed him back steadily. “Regarding?”

“Assuming I were to accept this offer and go to the Malfoys, I cannot decide when would be the best time to do so.” He explained his thoughts about the train, and even Draco, then sat back and waited.

Several minutes later Voldemort spoke. “I will arrange to have the boy’s memories removed, those which concern the box. If questioned, even under veritaserum, he would not be able to implicate himself.”

Harry nodded. “Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not like him, but neither do I see that as a reason to place him in danger because of me.”

“The distinction is valid,” Voldemort replied. “As to when, I would wait until after the train ride. I will need time to address your concern.”

“I understand.”

“Will that be all at present?” Voldemort inquired. “No advice regarding your friends?”

Harry shook his head. “Given your earlier statements, I assume that they won’t be targets so long as they remain uninvolved. After all, your real target is Saxeten. If I’m not there, it’s very likely they won’t be getting into the types of adventures we ended up having in the past.”

Voldemort arched one brow, then nodded. “Logical enough.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment, then said, “Thank you for your help.”

Voldemort inclined his head, then disappeared.

*

Harry did not pack his trunk all that carefully. Everything he did care about was in his fake planner, and that was securely tucked into a pocket. His trunk contained mundane things like school books and his cousin’s hand-me-downs. In other words, all of it could be easily replaced. Hedwig had been told to fly free for the day, then find him that evening.

His friends were on the train with him, but fairly quiet, and he wasn’t sure why. Questioning their mood was not foremost on his mind, though, and he eventually excused himself to go use the facilities with a quiet murmur. They didn’t even seem to notice. He decided to wait. In some respects it would be better, should he disappear, for it to happen from his wretched excuse of a home.

They arrived at Kings Cross and his uncle was threatened by members of the Order, which didn’t sit too well with the man. Perhaps that was hinted at by the alarming shade of purple his uncle was turning. The ride home was silent, and Harry was allowed to haul his trunk in without much fuss, but the moment the front door was closed Harry was backhanded into the wall with great force.

“How dare you tell tales to those freakish friends of yours, boy,” Vernon hissed. “I’ll give you something to whine about, freak.”

When Harry swam up from unconsciousness he found himself in bed, in a great deal of pain. He could be mistaken, but he was fairly certain his arm should not bend in quite that fashion. With a loud sigh Harry hauled himself off the bed and stumbled over to his desk, wondering why his uncle had even let him stay in the room. Shouldn’t he be in the cupboard under the stairs at this point?

It took him a long time to write out a letter to Dumbledore. He was willing to give the man one final chance and see what would come of it. Hedwig, once she had rested (and Harry had thought to open the window), was happy enough to fly off with it, and arrived back two days later with a reply.

Dear Harry,

I must say I am somewhat disappointed. Please try to get on better with your relatives, as they are as much your safety as you are theirs. I am sure that whatever disagreement you have had can be remedied if you simply try.

Harry more or less stopped reading at that point, intense feelings of disgust permeating his being. He left the letter on the desk and hunted out his planner, then pulled the quill from it before tucking it into his pocket. “Hedwig, you’ll need to come find me.” She hooted and a moment later he said, “Family.”

He landed in what appeared to be a sitting room, opulently furnished, and was quite alone. Harry spent several minutes investigating the room before he spotted a piece of parchment, and read it.

Mr Potter,

When you are ready, ring the bell on the mantle. I will be informed.

Lucius Malfoy

Harry sighed. The note was horribly succinct. He supposed he could not expect anyone among Voldemort’s forces to suddenly stop hating him, just like he himself found it difficult to do the same. The sad thing was that they all might know the truth, while he had been steeped in lies his entire life. Maybe they hated him for being a fool, and for following Dumbledore.

Maybe he could start with Lucius himself. Harry rang the bell and waited.

After ten minutes he took a seat by the window and gazed out at the grounds. After twenty minutes he was beginning to feel anger at whatever was keeping Lucius from responding, and his arm was throbbing uncomfortably, not to mention other parts of his body.

Another ten minutes passed before one of the doors opened and Lucius Malfoy stepped inside, quietly closing it behind him. Icy grey eyes looked at him appraisingly. “Lord Potter.”

Harry opened his mouth to respond, then snapped it shut as he finished processing what had just been said. “I’m sorry?” was all he could think to say as he sent a plainly quizzical look at Malfoy.

A faint look of irritation crossed the man’s face. “Your proper title is Lord Potter,” he explained stiffly. “Is this suite suitable?”

“I don’t understand, and I don’t know. I’ve only looked at this room, but I’m sure it will be more than fine.”

Lucius sneered. “Splendid. A house-elf, Phobos, has been assigned to you. Call him at need. I will leave you to get settled in, then.”

Harry grimaced; this was going to be so much harder than he wanted it to be. “Wait, please. Do you have anything in the manor for pain relief, sir?”

Lucius arched a brow, the sneer fading. “Yes. What exactly is it you require?”

“I think my arm is broken, and I don’t feel all that well. I’m not sure what else might be wrong aside from some cuts and bruises.”

Both brows went up in understated surprise. “I see. Might I inquire as to how you came to be in this state?”

Harry thought it was ever so slightly rude to be asking that when he could be dying from internal bleeding for all the man knew. “My uncle did not take kindly to being asked to better his treatment of me. He expressed his displeasure in a physical manner.”

“If his treatment of you was poor, why did you return?”

“Sir,” Harry said with a slight sigh, “I will, in the interests of this truce, be happy to explain, but right at the moment I really would like some relief. It’s already been at least two days, possibly three.”

“Phobos.”

A house-elf popped in bowed.

“Retrieve my kit. You will assist me.”

“Yes, master,” said the elf, then popped out.

Lucius stepped forward and removed his robes, laying them over the back of a chair. “You will need to trust me, Potter.”

He closed his eyes briefly and nodded. It was either be tortured and possibly die at the hand of his uncle, or perhaps the dark, or things could turn out to be just peachy. He started slightly when Phobos popped back in, making him aware of just how exhausting constant pain must be to have him react so.

Lucius produced his wand and Harry managed not to flinch. He thought he saw, for just a split second, a look of respect from the older man. Harry ended up half naked after a multitude of scans were cast and Lucius determined exactly what needed to be done. His shirt was removed magically to prevent further damage—to him, that is.

In one moment of pain-dazed confusion Harry said, “You’re a healer?”

Lucius gave him a mildly chilly look before saying, “Yes. Bruit it about and I will not be pleased.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“If you have not used the potions my lord gifted you, I would suggest you do, though not until morning at the earliest.”

Harry nodded, then cast his mind about for something to speak on to distract him from Lucius’s hands on his chest. The man seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time treating his minor injuries. “Oh, yes. I went back . . . to think, really. Not that I had much chance as my uncle was very angry. I could have left then, but I wanted to give the headmaster one last chance.”

Lucius sneered, but did not verbally comment, just kept on working.

“He sent back a reply to my letter expressing his disappointment, and implied both that I must have provoked a confrontation, and that I was probably exaggerating. I really didn’t read much past the first paragraph. At that point I was in no mood to play any more games, so I left. I learned what I wanted to learn.”

Lucius nodded absently, then shook his head. “Any other injuries?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think so,” he said, then started to stand up. That did not go well, as almost instantly he was hit with an overpowering sense of dizziness.

*

Lucius eyed the young man presently on the floor at his feet with some measure of suspicion. A tentative prod of the body with one expensively shod foot produced no appreciable response, so he cast another diagnostic scan, then nodded. It was not some bizarre sort of ruse; Potter really had passed out. Perhaps he should have caught him before he hit the floor?

Well, no matter. Lucius waved his wand and levitated Potter, then turned to the house-elf and said, “Follow.” A very short time later the young man was resting comfortably in the bedroom. “Phobos, I must go consult with the Dark Lord. You will stay here and watch over Potter until he is awake and can give his own orders.”

“Yes, master.”

Lucius whirled and stalked out of the room, out of the sitting room, and into a corridor of his manor which had not been used in centuries (to his knowledge). At that, no one could enter or even find Potter’s suite unless keyed into a set of wards his lord had put in place. Not quite a fidelius, but. . . .

He strode off briskly, though his footsteps made no sound, and eventually entered his study. A quick dip of his hand into the bowl on the mantle, a toss, and a softly spoken destination later, Lucius was striding through the halls of his lord’s headquarters, and once he gained the comfort of a very specific antechamber he took a seat and waited.

Several minutes later a door swung open in silent invitation, so Lucius rose and walked through. “My lord.”

Voldemort nodded at one of the chairs, so Lucius took a seat. “Yes?”

“My lord, Potter has arrived, and in rather bad shape.” He went on to relate the entire encounter.

His lord arched an eyebrow knowingly, making Lucius want to squirm in his seat. It wasn’t as though he had willingly shared his perverted little fantasies with his master, and he had no doubt they were one reason why he had been chosen for this task and not some other Death Eater. What he could not figure out was if it was a reward or punishment.

“Very well. You will offer our guest a revealing ritual, Lucius. It may be that he has some talents not yet come to light which could be useful to him, and he will be sixteen shortly.” Voldemort paused to smirk slightly. “You might consider warning him that his birthday may be more than just a tick of the clock for him.”

“Of course, my lord. I would not doubt that your foe has kept him in the dark about a great many things.”

Voldemort smirked again faintly. “You might find it rewarding in more ways than one if you were to encourage our guest, gently, to remain on his present path.”

“Not to join you, my lord?” he asked boldly, wondering if Voldemort was hinting at what he thought he was.

“That would be his decision. Surely he has his own axes to grind, but it is up to him if he would like to do something about them.”

“I shall be guided by you in this, as always, my lord.”

Voldemort graced him with a coldly amused smile. “If that is all, you may go.”

*

Harry woke up feeling much better, though somewhat disoriented. Movement caught his eye and he looked over to see a blurry something sitting on what might have been a child-sized chair.

“Master is awake,” said a squeaky voice.

Harry cleared his throat and said, “Phobos?”

“Yes, master. Can Phobos be getting something for master?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess. I’m a little hungry.”

The blurry elf leapt to its feet. “Phobos will fetch lunch for master!” it exclaimed, then popped out.

“Lunch?” Harry questioned the empty room, then reached out in an automatic gesture for his glasses. Thankfully, they were conveniently placed and he was able to make sense of his surroundings again within seconds. And that reminded him of what Lucius had said about those potions.

He looked around, not really taking in the décor, more interested in figuring out where his pseudo-planner had got to. That was interrupted by the arrival of Phobos with a tray, which was quickly swung into place over his lap.

“Master is needing anything else?”

“Where are my things from yesterday?”

Phobos said, “Master’s clothing was sent to be cleaned, but his items are in this drawer,” then tapped the bedside table.

“All right. Thank you. I will call you once I’m done eating.” As soon as Phobos bowed and popped out, Harry pulled open the drawer and retrieved the planner. He wanted to know before he ate anything if the potions should be taken on a full or empty stomach. It turned out to be full was fine, so he ate, though of course the one for his wand was a moot point.

He called Phobos back to take away the tray, but asked him to return for when he took the potions. While he was willing to accept at that point that he ought to be okay, Harry wanted the elf on hand should it be necessary for Lucius to be called in with speed. The first potion went down smoothly, though it tasted horrible. The most he felt as a result was an odd muffling sensation which lasted for several minutes.

Heartened by that, he retrieved his wand and placed it into a shallow container the elf provided and poured in its potion, then knocked back the one intended to correct his eyesight. That one hurt, though it took a few moments before his eyes abruptly felt like someone was trying to shove red-hot pokers through them. His glasses went flying across the room after he yanked them off, but he prevented himself from rubbing his eyes at the last second, worried that it might cause problems.

When the pain finally ceased he could see perfectly, and certainly well enough to notice that the liquid his wand was soaking in was giving off a sickly glow which disturbed him. After a worry-filled minute he slipped out of bed and stepped into the sitting room so he could ring the bell, then went back and asked Phobos about clothing.

Harry managed to get dressed before Lucius arrived and called out, “Enter,” when a knock sounded at the door frame to the bedroom. “Thank you for coming,” he said, then, “I’m sorry I was unable to thank you for your help yesterday.”

Lucius waved a hand in mild negation.

Harry nodded at his wand. “Is that normal, do you know?”

Lucius eyed the phenomena, then displayed something akin to mild surprise. “No. Those colours indicate that someone has tampered heavily with your wand. The potion will take care of it.” He then turned those icy grey eyes on Harry and gave him an appraising look. “My lord has requested that you be offered a revealing ritual.”

“What does that mean, sir?”

Lucius’s jaw tightened momentarily. “Given that you are Lord Potter, and I am Lord Malfoy, I believe you can dispense with that particular form of address without causing social injury. Now, a revealing ritual is often performed in magical families prior to the sixteenth birthday in order to reveal any particular talents the wizard or witch may gain control of. It also serves as a way to judge the severity of the upcoming change.”

Harry got a sinking feeling in his stomach and gave Lucius a wary look. “Should I take that to mean I might be in a lot of pain come my birthday?”

“That is possible.”

Harry suddenly remembered his manners and flushed. “I’m sorry. Please sit down if you like.” Once Lucius had done so he said, “I really don’t understand about being a lord. I thought peerage was only a muggle thing.”

“We have our own. You, as the head of the Potter family, are Lord Potter, and despite being underage, you could claim that right. Given that you are about to turn sixteen you would not be forced to take on an adult advisor. Also, you may be able to claim the title of Lord Black.”

“But I’m not a Black,” Harry protested. “Sirius was only my godfather.”

Lucius shook his head slowly. “Unlike in the muggle world, magical godparents do not simply sign paperwork and have done with it. There is a bonding ritual involved. The moment your parents died Sirius Black became, for all intents and purposes, your father. If he chose to name you his heir, you would inherit his title.”

“Why do I get the feeling Dumbledore would hide this sort of thing from me?”

Lucius’s answer was a dry chuckle.

“What about a family like the Weasleys?” Harry asked, genuinely curious.

Lucius barely held back a sneer. “Yes, they qualify.”

Harry thought about that for a moment, then said, “But they don’t hold with many pure-blood customs, so that would be why I’ve never heard of it?”

“Quite likely, yes.”

“Are there any disadvantages to claiming my rights?”

Lucius raised one brow as the corner of his mouth lifted. “If you consider being an adult a disadvantage. . . .”

Harry shook his head before replying, “No, not like that. I want to know if there are some archaic pure-blood laws I’d have to adhere to which I might not like. The last thing I want to hear is that I’d have to marry some girl from a socially acceptable family of bluest blood and all that rot.”

Lucius gave him a look that could almost be classified as curious. “Fear not. In any case, when you turned seventeen you would inherit automatically. It isn’t as though you can avoid it easily.”

“Okay. A new subject, if that’s all right with you. What is your opinion of Severus Snape?”

Lucius did sneer, and nastily at that, which surprised Harry quite a bit. “Severus Snape is a sadistic man who likes nothing better than torturing others, whether by speech, spell, or potion. He also has his eye on my son, and Draco is too young and foolish at this point to understand that his admiration for the man could bring him a great deal of pain and humiliation.”

Harry blinked several times, not quite able to believe he was hearing this from a Death Eater. He definitely didn’t think he wanted to know why Snape would be interested in Draco. “Er, okay. Just what side is he on, then? I can understand, I guess, why the man despises me, but. . . .”

“An interesting question, and one better brought up with my lord, not me.”

He supposed he could see the sense in that, though he was not sure if he wanted a face-to-face meeting or not. “I know you are an intelligent man,” he said, hoping he did not sound in any way obsequious, “not to mention a very cunning one, so I’m wondering, if you’d care to tell me, what you would advise for the next month or so of my life?”

Lucius unleashed a wintry smile on him. “Accept the offer of a revealing ritual, and visit Gringotts to make your claims.”

“If I make the claims,” he mused nearly under his breath, “Dumbledore couldn’t control me any longer, but I don’t think it would be quite so easy to shake him off my back.” He locked his gaze on his companion’s and said, “And just how difficult is it to fake someone’s death and claim a new identity?”

Lucius smile became broader. “I could get to like you, Mr Potter. Not nearly as brainless as others would have one believe.” When Harry scowled, he smirked and said, “It would not be an issue of great difficulty, though neither would it be pleasant. However, I would advise you wait on such an option until after you have claimed. If you intend to leave a smoking corpse on the steps of the ministry, or something else equally delightful, you would do well to ensure that whatever you have remains yours regardless of the face you choose. And at that, you may find that you have talents which could assist you, so it would also be wise to perform the ritual first.”

Harry rubbed his forehead. Then he cradled his face in one hand. “How long does it take?”

*

Harry looked at the disgustingly short list of abilities, then cursed himself silently for being such an ass as to even for one moment have bought into the image of the Boy Who Lived. Yes, of course, as if such a falsified label should entitle him to a cornucopia of talents. He might have smacked himself if Lucius had not been sitting there patiently.

“Well, I’m in luck,” he finally said. “As fate wills it, I am a metamorphmagus. On the other hand, someone has been a very naughty boy.” Harry handed the parchment over to Lucius with a sigh.

A minute went by before the man spoke. “My lord will need to know this. I cannot help you myself. I can, however, provide you with instructional texts on these abilities,” Lucius said before giving the list back over.

“I would be grateful. Will you set up a meeting?”

Lucius nodded. “If you would care to accompany me, we can go now. The fireplace in your sitting room is hooked up to the floo network, though only three people are able to make use of it.”

Harry folded the sheet and shoved it into his pocket, then checked to make sure his wand was secure. “Very well.”

They had barely stepped into the antechamber Lucius had mentioned when a door swung open invitingly. Lucius gestured for him to go first, and Harry hesitated for a moment, strongly considering returning that gesture. Then he shrugged slightly and entered, getting clear of the door before stopping and eyeing the Dark Lord openly.

“Welcome. Have a seat,” the man said. Once Harry chose one he asked, “What brings you here?”

Harry started to pull out the parchment, then noticed that Lucius was still standing and flicked his gaze to Voldemort questioningly. “It seems I have a slight problem that Lucius is not able to handle.” As he pulled the parchment out he continued, “Perhaps you might, and perhaps you could share your thoughts on why this is a problem at all. I also have some questions for you, if you feel comfortable in answering them.” Then he handed it over, absently noticing that he felt no pain whatsoever being so close to his once enemy.

“I see,” Voldemort said after a minute. “Yes, I can help you with this, but I will warn you it will not be painless.”

“Why?” he asked as he took back the parchment and tucked it away.

“Repression is one thing, my young . . . friend. Removing what limits you, however, will cause pain, not to mention the adjustments you will need to go through afterward. Imagine, if you will, how it feels when your foot falls asleep, and then begins to wake.”

Harry raised his brows and said, “Oh. Is that a valid analogy?”

“In the manner I assume you mean, yes. I imagine it will not be a pleasant experience. However . . . your questions?”

“Severus Snape,” Harry stated.

“What of him?” Voldemort’s face remained annoyingly blank.

“I’d like to know just what he is, and what side he stands on. For my own satisfaction, that is.”

That brought on a cold smile. “I have seen your mind, and can respond in several ways. First, evidence suggests he plays both sides for varying reasons. He serves me so that he might act on his impulses with near impunity. I can say now, without doubt, that he serves Dumbledore for nearly similar reasons. Second, you might be interested to know that he came to me one night, back from a mission I sent him on, nearly hysterical with glee. You see, that was the night he overheard the beginning of a particular prophecy. . . .”

Harry’s mood took an abrupt drop into hellish anger. “But it was not you who killed my parents.”

“Correct. You, my young friend, were another emerging power, much like I was. I was set up. However, I merely stunned your parents on my way to kill you. How you survived that confrontation I still do not understand, but somehow you did.”

Harry could see it happening that way. “And yet I have two memories of that night. Yours, and mine. In one you are innocent of their deaths, but in mine you are clearly their killer. Admittedly, there is a lot I don’t know firsthand, so perhaps you can clear up this mystery.”

Voldemort turned to Lucius and said, “Bring me a pensieve.” Lucius disappeared through a door and Voldemort turned back to Harry. “I have my suspicions, but we shall see if I am correct.”

Harry nodded and turned his head away to watch the fire until the blond returned, which he did within a few minutes.

“My lord,” Lucius said quietly, extending the device, then stepping back out of the way once it was taken.

“We will examine at least two memories. One which you know beyond question has not been tampered with, and your memory of that night. Are you aware of the process for extracting a copy of a memory?”

A good fifteen minutes later they had viewed six memories in total. The only one which showed signs of tampering was the night of his parents’ death. He had even managed to extract other memories of that time period, and could clearly see the difference. He retrieved them with a slight sigh, not at all surprised by the results. But then, perhaps he was just feeling far too cynical and jaded.

“Given this,” Voldemort said, “I further suspect that the prophecy sphere we went after was a fake he created based on the events of that night. It would also explain why he has repressed your power. It must have given him fits when you survived.”

Harry sighed again and nodded. “I think I agree. He told me what the prophecy said that night, later on in his office. I’m beginning to wonder if he didn’t do better than he realized when he hired Trelawney, though. Either that or she’s been under imperius for years—perhaps a willing accomplice, I don’t know. If so, then I have to wonder a great deal about Pettigrew.”

Voldemort’s expression invited elaboration, so Harry did, explaining about the prophecy he had been given, plus what Dumbledore had shared. He finished by saying, “It sounds to me like he hasn’t a clue why I survived either.”

Voldemort’s laughter was like the rustling of dry leaves in the wind. “Any other questions before we move on?”

“Yes, but this applies to you both. If I were able to take on the mantle of Lord Black, I could possibly pass myself off as either Sirius’s unknown son, or some other very close relative? I would need a name, though, and trust me when I say I have no idea what would suit.”

“That will not be a problem,” Voldemort said smoothly. “Shall we proceed?”

Several hours later Harry was being fed several potions to help with the pain and disorientation he was experiencing. He felt so out of control and off kilter that he slumped in his chair, covering his face with one hand, and said, “I’m so confused. Here I am, knowing what I know due to a complete accident of circumstance. Almost everything I’ve known has been a lie, and I’m surprised I can even talk coherently with so many thoughts cluttering my head and fighting for my attention. I’m only fifteen, for Merlin’s sake! And I’m sitting here, practically blubbering in front of the Dark Lord and one of his most trusted. If it weren’t for the fact that you might take me seriously, I’d say shoot me now and put me out of my misery.”

He missed the knowing look Voldemort shot at Lucius and the subsequent nod, starting violently when a hand came to rest on his shoulder and Lucius said, “Though you are not my lord’s ally, I will, with his continuing permission, assist you in adjusting to your new and changing circumstances. And for what it is worth, I believe you have been handling yourself with admirable intelligence and cunning, and your present condition is but a result of the pain and stress. It will pass.” The man’s tone was uncoloured but for a hint of approval.

“Perhaps if you rested you would feel more like yourself again,” Voldemort suggested.