Grazhir :: Harry Potter :: One Winged Angel :: 06 :: Decisions

06 • Decisions

It occurred to Tom that Harry had given him a very important piece of information. Granted, Bellatrix had failed him at the Ministry, and that was reason enough for a madman to have her killed. But Harry had mentioned her knowledge of his heritage, and that too was reason enough for her death. Though, not until after he had forced the truth out of her on the subject of whether or not she had told others. And, not knowing who else might have been present, she could tell him that as well.

It was true that he had had no choice in his parents. It wasn’t as though he himself could be blamed for the fact that his father had been a muggle, though he would not put it past some of his followers to take that information and use it as an excuse to attempt an uprising. Better that they die, those already not in Azkaban, and have done with it. Expedient, to be sure, but also wise. He did not fancy the idea of single-handedly cutting down a horde of rebellious followers banded together for a common purpose against him.

On the other hand, he had agreed to turn Bella over to the Ministry. He would have to bring it up that evening.

Harry’s insistence on no blame made sense in a peculiar way. He was right—sorry was meaningless in itself, and blame hardly needed to be assigned when both of them knew well where it belonged on most matters. He sighed. Things had been so much simpler as a dark lord. One certainly didn’t have to concern oneself with pesky things like empathy, sadness, morality, and the purer forms of desire.

He didn’t expect to hear from Narcissa. The threat alone should be enough to cause the child to back down, especially if it was his ambition to join Voldemort when he gained adult status. However, that presented a new set of problems. Draco was only sixteen, if that, with two years left to his schooling. Tom had no doubt that there were others his age, or possibly even younger, who wished to join.

Could he drag things out for two years, continuing to present the idea that Voldemort was powerful and always looking toward the building of his empire? By then, how many more would seek Voldemort’s direction and leadership? Should Voldemort make the radical move of recruiting early? Those children could become a different kind of spy network, seeking out and identifying those in other houses who truly wished to join. They would, of course, need to report to Severus.

And, as much as he disliked on principle the idea of running most of his plans past Harry, he realized that he must in order to continue to show his sincerity and trust, not to mention his willingness to not keep him in the dark. Any other policy would turn Harry from him easily. He could not help but think a second time that it had been much easier as a dark lord.

It was, perhaps, unfortunate that he could not drag Severus into the visions. He rubbed his forehead, then removed the silver ring from his right hand and set about sending Severus an invitation.

*

Severus swept into his study masked and cloaked, pausing long enough to divest those before taking a seat. “You wished to see me?”

“I trust you were not occupied with anything critical, as I expect you would not have arrived so quickly,” Tom said.

Severus shook his head. “I was reading.”

Tom nodded and smiled faintly. “I’ve been thinking. Given that I am unwilling to involve Dumbledore in any of this directly, it occurs to me that two years is a long time. I’ve been considering the radical idea of recruiting those still at Hogwarts. However, there are good and bad points to that particular concept. It is true that they could be a secondary layer of spies within the school, reporting to you, but it might also give the impression that Voldemort is gaining enough in strength as to be bold enough to do so. On the other hand, waiting until they come of age means that none of this is resolved any time soon, and requires me to come up with an increasing number of plans with which to dispose of troublesome followers. And it might mean that those same children, if not recruited, may seek to rise up in Voldemort’s place when he is gone.”

Severus gave him a thoughtful look, then spoke slowly. “Recruiting those so young may also give the impression that the Dark Lord is somewhat . . . desperate.” He paused, then continued, “On the other hand, it could mean that those students might find themselves expelled, if someone were to mention a rumor they conveniently overheard. That would remove them from Potter’s daily life, and I am not sure if they would find places at either Beauxbatons or Durmstrang.”

“Yes, of course. I’ve always wanted to set up a private college,” Tom said dryly. “That does bring up a point. Severus, what is it exactly that you do for Dumbledore?”

“Spy, though not in the same manner as before. That would be impossible, naturally. Some Death Eaters tend to be quite careless in what they say, though those are generally lesser ranked. Of course, as they are not aware that I am listening. . . . I also gather information from those who are ambivalent, or through a chain of people as passed down from someone actually in the Dark Lord’s ranks.”

“About what I expected, then. A rumor should be no particular issue, should I choose to go that route. Granted, I would prefer to simply have this over and done with, but Harry does have a good point. It would be prudent to sweep up the remainder of those decided first.”

“And have you discussed this with Potter yet?” Snape couldn’t quite keep a sneer from revealing itself.

“I’ll do that tonight. I’d like to know how he’d feel if Peter was caught in an attempt to capture him. How is the response time of the Order, anyway?”

“It has never come up insofar as Potter is concerned. Not at that house, that is.”

Tom snorted and gestured. “Yes, and those protections are so very sound. Though, I expect Peter would set off the wards by using Alohomora on the front door. It would be best to know who was on duty that night so that he didn’t get very far. People might consider that Voldemort didn’t much care for his welfare considering that Black is already dead and can no longer be exonerated by Peter’s capture to any lasting effect. A slap in the face, if you will.”

“Such an attack would have the effect of Potter being removed almost immediately.”

Tom glanced up at the ceiling, then said, “You may call me Tom, Severus. As it is, I am somewhat amused that we’re talking about me in the third person. Would you be willing to act as contact?”

“Yes. Despite the fact that it must be obvious to a number of people that I am no longer actively in the Dark Lord’s service, the children appear to believe I am very much at his side. I can only speculate that some believe I am working at an even deeper level than before. Ostensibly outcast, but in reality very much a mole or sleeper.”

“Splendid. Do you have anything offhand that would suit as a potion to befuddle dear Peter?”

Severus nodded. “I can provide something that will slow down his reaction time unobtrusively. Also those of whoever goes with him. It is even tasteless, so there would be no suspicion.”

“All right. I’ll see what Harry thinks, then.”

Severus sneered openly.

“I know you don’t like him, Severus, but that is more or less irrelevant, is it not? The most I expect you to have to do is provide refuge occasionally. Though, if you took the time to look more closely, you would realize he is very much a Slytherin in nature, a chameleon.”

“That boy is the most Gryffindorish Gryffindor I have ever had the misfortune to meet.”

Tom chuckled. “I’m not asking you to like him. I am asking for your continued cooperation. Though, naturally, I would prefer you not humiliate him in public. Given that he is not taking Potions, I expect that won’t be difficult for you.”

“You don’t feel that you’re excessively indulging him? Letting him walk all over you?”

“Right now I’m not willing to do anything to undermine his very shaky trust in me, Severus. That is not to say I won’t disagree with him or let him be anything more than an equal. There are a lot of things neither of us have experienced, so we can learn together. More than that, I cannot say, as it would be a betrayal.”

Severus shook his head slowly. “I won’t pretend to fully understand.”

“I won’t keep you any longer, then. Once I have a better idea on direction, we’ll finalize some details.”

“I will let you know if anything interesting turns up insofar as Dumbledore or the Order.”

*

Harry spent the day in near solitude, speaking only with Dobby when he came to deliver meals. He otherwise occupied his time in study or in completing his holiday work. He was feeling rather determined, having admitted certain weaknesses to Tom, to do better in his classes. When he actually laid down for sleep, he was feeling fairly good about his progress for the day.

The room was much the same as before, with two squashy chairs that did not quite face each other. Harry took a seat as soon as he registered his surroundings and leaned back, giving Tom an only slightly guarded look. “Things went well today.”

“They left you alone, you mean.”

“Yeah. But I’ll be glad to know you’ll be reinforcing the suggestions tomorrow. I can’t help being nervous now. I mean, aside from a few oddities in the past, which don’t exactly count, I’ve never been repeatedly beaten. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that helpless. I don’t like that I feel this way, but I do.”

“I take it that you don’t think Dumbledore would necessarily take you seriously if you were to tell him what happened?”

“Well, aside from the fact that he’d want to know why Uncle Vernon just . . . stopped, not really. I tend to think he’d believe I was overreacting, exaggerating.” He shrugged. “Maybe I’m being unkind, I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not sure who to trust now.”

Tom nodded, but didn’t comment on that directly. “There are a few things I wanted to discuss this evening. Most importantly, Peter and Bella, though.”

“All right. Your plans?”

“It had occurred to me that I had agreed to turn Bella over to the Ministry. However, several things make me want to do something a little different. Specifically, Severus pointed out that she did, in fact, fail Voldemort at the Ministry that night. And you pointed out that she knows I’m a half-blood. Some of my people have become rather too bold of late, and I have to wonder if part of that may be because they’re aware of that fact. Perhaps not, but. . . .”

“So what do you want to do about her?” Harry already had a good idea, but he wanted to actually hear it.

“I’d like to kill her outright, for both those reasons. And find out before I do how many others are aware of that information so I can deal with them as well. The last thing I need right now is for a subset of the Death Eaters to attempt to overthrow me and take over the reins. And, with her dead, others will no doubt find it amusing to fight each other for the right to take her place.”

Harry let his eyes drift away to the right. It was true that while Bellatrix had been involved in the death of Sirius, she had not technically killed him. Had Sirius not been standing in front of the veil at the time, he might yet be alive. It was simply good luck on her part. He also supposed that Tom meant, by his words on the vacuum of power, that others would potentially pick each other off in the attempts to ascend to her former place. That particular kind of reasoning was foreign to him personally, though he could see how it might apply.

“All right. I don’t object, if that’s what you wish to do. I will point out that while most of the people with her when I mentioned that particular detail are already in Azkaban, she might have told others.”

Tom arched a brow, then nodded. “Then we’ll move on to Peter. I realize that his capture will not bring back your godfather, but in this case I suppose a nice long stay in Azkaban would be preferable to a quick death.”

Harry interrupted. “Speaking of which, what about the dementors? And do we even know that Azkaban can contain an animagus? Sirius escaped that way, so why not Peter.”

Tom frowned slightly. “No, we don’t. I could release the dementors back to Azkaban, but that does not mean the Ministry will believe they are sincere in their wish to return to their previous duties. It is entirely likely they will believe it is some kind of plot. I shall have to think further on them. If Lucius were not already incarcerated, I could have forced him to drop a subtle word in Fudge’s ear on the subject of animagi, but that is no longer possible.”

“What did you have in mind, anyway?”

“I was going to ask you if you’d mind Peter being captured in an attempt to secure you, actually. With the right inhibitors, Peter wouldn’t get very far.”

“Inhibitors?”

“I have little doubt that he would do something abysmally foolish such as trip the wards almost as soon as he got there. However, there is also the matter of waiting until the right sort of Order member was on watch duty, as well as making sure that Peter and his companions had taken a little something unwittingly before they headed out. Your objection is valid, though.”

“How did you get the dementors to abandon Azkaban?”

“I offered them what they want. In Azkaban they were prevented from feeding freely. Now they feed as they please, so long as they do not touch my forces.”

“And how is that different from—well, actually, I don’t know all that much about dementors. I can’t imagine they were always the guardians of Azkaban. They must have roamed freely at one point, right? If they’re supposed to infest dark, filthy places, I can understand Azkaban, but surely that can’t be it.”

Tom tilted his head to the side and back. “Then you already realize that they’d be free to feed on anyone, wizard or muggle.”

“Of course. If they’re already out there, releasing the ones you have won’t necessarily make much difference. On the other hand, nothing says Fudge wouldn’t take them back at face value. He’d possibly say something silly like they deserted you. Unless, of course, you know how to actually destroy them. Without emotions to feed off, can they starve?”

“Advocating genocide, are we?” Tom asked with a slight smirk.

Harry shrugged. “I could as easily say send them all to Siberia. How does it go—not in my back yard?”

“I will consider it and get back to you. It may simply be that when Voldemort is no more, they would be accepted back easily. Peter, however. . . .”

Harry sighed. “Maybe I should have let Sirius kill him. But then, if I had, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking.” He noted peripherally that Tom brightened a touch at that, though Tom’s next words had him wondering if he had interpreted the reason correctly.

“Which is more important to you, Harry? That your godfather’s name is cleared and Peter is in Azkaban, or that Peter dies in turn for his actions.”

Harry furrowed his brow, remaining silent for at least a minute. “That depends. Do I want justice, or do I want retribution? Death is payment enough. Is it being sadistic to want him to suffer for a while first? If you can’t guarantee that he can’t escape by transforming, then I suppose I would have to be realistic and expedient and say kill him. I don’t especially like thinking about it, though. Maybe I’d prefer Azkaban because that’s punishment without dirtying one’s hands. But that could be, as I said, considered sadistic.” He shrugged a shoulder and looked at Tom directly. “I don’t like hurting people, and either choice results in someone’s pain. Same as with Bella.”

“The decision is yours, Harry, even if your decision is to leave it up to me. If you don’t wish to say just yet, it can wait. I simply want you to be aware that I am trying to work toward a resolution as far as he goes.”

Harry pulled up one leg and rested his foot on the chair, wrapping his arms around his knee and dropping his chin. “A fire would be nice next time,” he said absently.

“I can arrange that.”

“You said the property would go to Andromeda without a will?”

“Yes,” Tom affirmed.

“Has anyone else had their property confiscated?”

“Not that I’m aware of, but with Fudge in office, one cannot be certain it could not happen.”

“Do you think people go to heaven when they die, or hell?”

Tom blinked. “I’m not sure what to think.”

Harry lifted his head for a moment and said, “I was just thinking, if they do, then what would my parents think if—maybe in this case, expediency is wiser. Nothing fancy, no torture, just death. They died because of him, he dies for them.”

“If that’s what you’d prefer.”

He shrugged slightly, dropping his chin again, and said, “Yes.”

“There is another thing I wanted to bring up.”

“What is it?”

“We discussed earlier recruitment. As it stands, you know that I do not recruit below a certain age. However, that presents its own set of complications. If I wait, that will definitely extend things for at least two years, which certainly means that we have two more years for people to decide to choose Voldemort. If I did not recruit them before this ends, they may seek to create a new dark lord from their number.”

“Go on.”

“If recruited now, they could act as spies just as the portraits, and report to Severus in that case. He has agreed to act as contact if that should happen. He has also agreed to overhear certain things which may result in all students being checked for the Dark Mark and possible expulsions.”

“On a personal level, I’m more worried about Draco. Though, he’s never been all that effective. All he normally seems to come up with are trite, repetitive insults. But, he might be an issue this year.” He lifted his head again and gazed at Tom curiously. “Voldemort recruiting early—is that a show of strength and confidence, or desperation and fear?”

“Either. If strength, then more will make up their minds more quickly. If fear, then more will have second thoughts about submitting to that domination.”

“You’d still—well, maybe not. I guess if you said at the end of the year things were over, which is the usual time for Voldemort to come after me—” Harry shook his head. “I don’t know if it matters. People would either think that Voldemort was a pussycat in the end to be taken down by little old me, or scared out their wits that I managed it. If the former, someone else might rise. But, that wouldn’t necessarily be our problem, right? There can’t be a bloody prophecy connected to every dark lord,” he said with some exasperation tingeing his tone.

Tom grinned. “Well, Harry, I’d say no matter how that plays out, you deserve a nice long holiday out of the country once this is over.”

“That would be nice,” he said a bit wistfully. “Shouldn’t we wait on that until the portraits have a chance to report something?”

“Another valid point. Here is something else to consider, for your benefit alone.” Tom had what looked to be a sincere expression of concern, faint as it was. “Assume this is over at the end of the school year. You would have a year left at Hogwarts in which to see how the wizarding world treated you. Perhaps that would make it easier for you to decide whether or not you wished to disappear, fake your death, or if you preferred to remain. Regardless of which, I would have to assume a new identity.”

Harry gave him a faint smile. “Point for you.”

“Are we keeping score?” Tom asked with an amused look.

Harry smirked. “I don’t know. I’d say something silly like whoever loses each week has to cook, but I rather think Dobby would kick us out of whatever kitchen.”

Tom brightened again slightly, leading Harry to think it had been because he was referring to them together, not because he was advocating death. Still, how much of it was deliberate, and how much was unconscious reaction? He wondered if Tom would consent to letting him use veritaserum on him. Then he wondered how he would get his hands on any and know it was verified as genuine by an independent source. After giving Tom a speculative look he said, “I wonder. We’re supposed to save each other? All that’s happened so far is you saved me.”

Tom tilted his head. “I assume that will become clear in time.”

“I don’t count the graveyard in any sense. After all, you originally lost your body because of me, indirectly, and regained it because of me, indirectly. I was involved both times, at any rate. They cancel each other out.”

“An interesting way to look at it, but all right.”

“Am I going to be forced to watch through your eyes when you deal with Bella and Peter?” Much as Harry would like to take those experiences as proof of fidelity, he knew they could, in truth, be as deceptive as the dreams of the Ministry and the fake vision he had been sent of Sirius.

“Not sure. I expect to feel some satisfaction in dealing with them.” Tom paused and gave him an intense look. “You might consider that a test of how well you’ve been absorbing Occlumency. If you can block Peter’s death, fine. If not, I may need to take care of Bella in a more subtle manner.”

“Mm. Definitely incentive.”

“Harry, do you feel like explaining what you meant about your friends, and how your image affects them?”

Though the question was casual, Harry got the distinct impression that Tom was genuinely curious. “Imagine that I was just any other person. We might not be as close, for one thing. Then again, I might not have lied so much to Hermione or dodged her questions. Ron might not keeping getting envious of me. Hermione might not press to hear everything I’m thinking. I do believe they try not to let it interfere, but I don’t think our friendship would be at all the same as it is now. So much is tied up in who I am, that some things are skewed all out of proportion. We’ve lied, flaunted authority, exploited people based on their natures, committed illegal acts. . . .”

Harry dropped his foot to the floor and leaned back into the embrace of his chair. “Because of who I am, Ron has a hard time believing me when I say certain things. Ron and Hermione wouldn’t have been at odds for an entire year. On the other hand, they try so very hard most of the time to be supportive, and to help me even when it goes against their own better judgment or exposes their fears. Yes, we fight sometimes, but they’re loyal. This year, I don’t know. In theory, there won’t be any mystery, no bad guy lurking around the corner. Not unless we manufacture a plan for that. So how will things change between us? I just wonder sometimes if so much of it is tied up with Voldemort that we might drift apart without him around. Not”—he shot a dark look at Tom—“that I’m saying I’d like to keep him.”

Tom chuckled.

“I just don’t always feel like I can be honest with them. They shouldn’t have to bear all my burdens, but even beyond that, I’m not sure if they could appreciate or understand what you might call the Slytherin aspects of me. The fact that I’m in Gryffindor. . . .”

Tom arched a brow. “Illegal activities?”

Harry shrugged. “Theft, improper use of a time turner, aiding and abetting the escape of a convicted criminal, blackmail, extortion maybe, illegal entry, destruction of Ministry property, an unforgivable . . . and probably half a dozen other things I can’t think of offhand.”

Tom grinned outright. “You are quite a trio, aren’t you.”

“Flattery may not get you anywhere, Tom,” Harry said dryly.

“Am I being a bad influence?” Tom asked teasingly.

Harry snorted. “Is the Dark Mark only for summoning?”

Tom blinked at the change in subject, then said, “No. Death Eaters can use theirs to let me know they wish to report. I can also use it to induce pain, though that’s a rarely used aspect. Of course, as a summoning device, it provides Death Eaters with a way to apparate to any location, regardless of visualization. That is how Severus could come to me the night I took you even though he had never been to that estate.”

Harry nodded absently.

“Why?”

Harry shook his head. “Just something in the back of my head. I have plenty of time to think lately since they aren’t forcing a list of chores on me every day. Can it be modified to do more?”

“All of them?”

“Yes.”

“I’d have to think about it. What did you have in mind?”

Harry flicked his eyes to the side, then gazed at Tom thoughtfully. “I’m not sure yet. To use an example, though, you say it can induce pain. Is that only the single person? Or can it be induced in all bearers, or a selective group?”

Tom furrowed his brow. “You have a strange mind, Harry. It does function that way for summoning.”

“Okay. If you were to make a change, would you have to alter each and every Dark Mark, or could you simply change the structure of the spell itself used to place one and have it affect all of them? Or, devise a method whereby . . . uh, someone walks through a spelled doorway and it reconfigures the mark if it hasn’t been already?”

Tom frowned in concentration, letting his eyes drop to the floor. Several minutes later he raised his head and said, “You have a very strange mind, Harry. I think so, though.”

“All right. Do you have to come into direct contact with them to reinforce your will? My family, I mean.”

Tom shook his head. “Just nearby. Near enough.”

“When do you plan on dealing with Peter?”

“Tomorrow evening at the earliest.”

“Then I will attempt to block you during that time period. Either it will work and you can ‘visit’ me the next night, or I’ll be watching, and I expect you’ll be aware of it.”

“Does that mean you’re ready for normal sleep now?”

“If you would be so kind, yes.”

Tom nodded, smiled, then said, “As you wish.”

A moment later, everything went black.