It was said in a very calm voice, but Harry knew better. His uncle was glaring at him through the open doorway, the mixture of fear and resignation coming through that bullfrog voice of his. Harry returned the stare, a forced smile on his face.
“Hullo to you as well, uncle,” he replied stonily. “May I come in?” Harry’s tone indicated that it was not a request, also with the hint that he would not accept a denial. Unlce Vernon grumbled, but allowed Harry entry. “I won’t be long, I just need to talk to Petunia,” he said as he walked past.
“That’s Aunt Petunia, boy,” Vernon grumbled behind him as he closed the door. Harry smirked as the fact that both of them knew that Vernon held no more menace over him than any other muggle came to front with the apparent lack of hostility. Even so, he apologized.
“So sorry,” Harry added. “Where is she?”
“Upstairs,” Vernon grumbled.
“Thanks,” Harry gave a muted reply as he bounded up the stairs, leaving his duffle bag and broomstick in the cupboard below the staircase. Taking the stairs two at a time, he knocked softly on the master bedroom door. “Auntie? Are you there?”
There was a moment’s silence then came a soft reply. “Harry, is that you?”
“Yes. May I come in?”
The door opened, and a pasty faced Petunia cracked open the door. “It is you,” she said, sighing in relief. “Something happened, didn’t it? Something to do with...with…your school…”
Harry nodded, turning to face her. In his eyes, she looked so small and frail now, even though she barely changed in all those years spent under her roof. “I’ve some tragic news, the headmaster is dead.”
“Professor Dumbledore? No, that can’t be- Lily always harped on him being the “greatest wiz- wizard of all time”, and I always knew he was even more eccentric than the rest of you lot, I mean, for magical people, well you know,” she finished lamely.
Harry did not reassure her with a smile. He simply nodded. “Yes, well, sometimes, even the greatest can be misled. I’m here to warn you about this place. I no longer call this my home, as you can see, and Dumbledore would not be able to protect this place now that he’s gone. I think, in all fairness, I should tell you that here is not safe, and that you guys should look for another place to live.”
“There was a traitor in our midst. He knows this location. I have no doubt that Voldemort would target you, and your family, so take this as probably your best chance of getting out of here alive,” Harry said with as much composure as he could. Aunt Petunia gasped as if he had insulted her.
“You’ve said some nasty lies-” Harry raised his hand, indicating her to stop right there.
“I’m not kidding, this is serious.”
Petunia put her hand to her mouth, easing herself unto the dressing table chair. Harry continued on. “I’m going to collect all the stuff that might have belonged to me, and properly discard what can be used against us. I’ll only be an hour, two at the most. Now, here is what I need you to do while I’m still here. Find all of the correspondence you have from my mother, cards, mail, notes, anything that might link you to her, and give them to me. Books, quills, the works. That is very important. Can you do that?”
She nodded reluctantly, her eyes turning downwards.
“After that, you better get going. Okay?”
Petunia could only nod as she felt the blood drain from her face. She took a few minutes to compose herself before she returned a question to her nephew. Things were deadly serious, and she was scared.
“What are you going to do now, well, afterwards?”
“Something I should have done a long time ago.” He paused at the doorway, looking at the doorjamb as he took a deep breath. “I’m going to pay my respects to those who died before me, the ones that have been laid to rest. I need to do this, I need to close it off, get it off my chest. You understand what I mean, right?”
“Do as you must. I gather that this is important to you.” Harry nodded, and tried to give her a reassuring smile. It didn’t work as well as he’d like, so he dropped the feigned attempt and left the room. Harry went up to his room next, standing in the threshold of his tiny refuge. With a grand wave of his wand, anything that was affected by magic was illuminated by a warm red glow then it was gone in a ripple of light. Everything except the window pane and the stool at the study desk had at one time or another been tainted by his magic. With a sigh, he began to magically disassemble the larger objects (wardrobe, bed, desk) into smaller pieces. The lamps, shoe rack, dustbin, everything got torn apart into smaller pieces. When he was finished, it looked like a hurricane had passed through his room. Saying a final goodbye to his things, he began vanishing the bits and pieces using his wand. When he was done, the room was bare.
“Immolatio.” Casting the magical erasing charm on everything within the physical boundary of the walls was no easy feat, but after the fourth try, the Sensory charm indicated that the room was indeed barren, apparently never even touched by a trace of magic. He went through each area of the house, but the only other places where his magic had touched were the kitchen cabinets, the chimney, and the cupboard under the stairs. By the time he was finished un-charming the house, Petunia had a small box waiting for him at the front door.
It was a clear indication that family goodbyes were not necessary. He took the hint. Grabbing his broomstick and duffel bag along with the box, he opened the door and left. He did not feel any pangs or other emotional tugs on his heart. Inside he knew it was time to put this place behind him, time to forget the horrible memories. More serious matters were at hand.
First stop, Godric’s Hollow.
It took him the majority of the day to reach the place by train. Moving about without using magic was his best chance to avoid being detected by the ministry, even though that piece of magic at his house was necessary, dodgy individuals interested in using any sort of magical signature from his house to track him would definitely be disappointed. He was thorough. He was sure of it. He got away from his Auror escort shortly after disembarking from the Hogwarts express four days ago. He had at least that amount of a head start to anyone tracking him, and if things went to plan, he needed this as good practice.
After all, if he could avoid those who were supposed to be guarding him, it should help even the odds if he needed to escape any of Voldemort’s death eaters tailing him. Ron and Hermione knew about his intentions to visit Godric’s hollow, but he sincerely doubted the Order would interrogate them. He told them he needed to do this alone, and he’ll be at the Burrow for the wedding. They reluctantly accepted his decision, but it was his decision to make, no one else’s. They respected that, and he respected them even more for it. Some times, these things were meant to do alone.
This was one of those times.
He stood over the graves of his parents, watching the blank tombstones with a solemn expression. A deep feeling of pity swelled up in him. Harry found that strange. He thought he would have felt loss, or guilt, or sorrow, but he felt none of those. What he felt was pity, the somehow selfish sensation of not wanting to be like them, of not wanting to be thrown into their lot.
He did not want to die; he did not want to be buried in some godforsaken place with no one to tend to their graves. He knelt down in between the slight mounds of overgrown grass and weeds, resting back on his haunches. Pointing his wand, he wordlessly revealed the inscriptions on his parents’ tombstones.
Here lies James Potter, husband to Lily, father to Harry.
Hmph. Harry felt the hurt rise once again, but he did not give in. He needed to be strong; he needed to really think about what he has to do. He couldn’t feel sorry for them. Not now.
Here Lies Lily Evans Potter, wife to James, mother to Harry.
This time he could not help but feel it burn his chest, like a vice grip clamping down on his heart. He held back the tears, even though he wanted to let them fall. He felt proud that he could show that amount of restraint. Digging into his bag, he took out Sirius’ mirror and dug a small hole in the middle of them. Covering it with the soft earth, he patted it compact and dusted off his hands.
“About time someone gave you a proper farewell, Sirius. I want you to know that you were loved, and I will miss you. I am glad for the short time we had, but that time has passed and I will not let your death be in vain. Mom, Dad, you gave me the tools I need. Sirius, you showed me that impossible is nothing. You showed me that when you’re a wizard, you can do fantastic things. I shouldn’t limit myself as I had before; after all, you broke out of Azkaban, didn’t you? No one’s ever done that before. One of a kind. I survived the killing curse, huh? Kind of puts us in the same boat, don’t you think?”
Harry smiled as he got back to his feet.
“Yeah, impossible is nothing. I am a wizard, a being that controls magic. I am a wizard, I can do things that are fantastic as well. I am the chosen one, I can and will do this.”
His pep talk rang through his head as foolish, but in his heart, he needed to hear himself say the words. With a final wave of his wand, the inscriptions on the tombstones disappeared once more and he trod back down the slope, the gentle breeze of the balmy summer afternoon tugging at his hair. Making his way through the desolate town, he walked through the quiet neighborhood with his hands in his pockets, his eyes focusing steadily forward. He had a few weeks to make some progress on the marauder’s map before he joined the others. He’ll start on his wand work tonight, and focus on the Charms in the morning, when his mind was fresh.
Walking back into the inn, the elderly man at the check in desk gave him a yellow toothed grin and a nod. Harry smiled painfully back before making his way to the first floor and his room. That last duel with Snape taught him a lot, many of his weaknesses and even more faults that he did not know about himself. The plain and simple truth was that he was not ready. Not even close.
He needed to get certain things done. And no better place to start than from the beginning. Taking off his shoes, shirt and socks, he pointed his wand at the chest of drawers. Pursing his lips, he wordlessly incanted the first spell to his tedious journey of training.
The chest of drawers rose a few feet of the floor. Harry focused on it, his eyes narrowing as he took in all the details he could of the worn and beaten piece of furniture. Slowly assuming a prone position, he never broke eye contact as he began to do pushups.
The chest of drawers trembled as he exerted his muscles. It was tough at first, but slowly and surely his body attuned itself to magic and his own physical strength.
The chest of drawers stabilized, his mind now focusing on the magic and not on the physical activity. Now he could imagine the chest in his mind, and no longer needed to keep the eye contact.
Now was the hard part. Reaching the apex of his eighteenth pushup he let go of his wand, completely keeping focus on the heavy object. The moment he let it go, it fell with a heavy thud. Harry groaned. Well, he didn’t expect for it to work on the first try. Taking a deep breath, he took a moment’s rest and started all over again.
In the morning over breakfast he poured over the worn piece of parchment laid out on the desk in front of him. Sometimes he couldn’t believe how stupid he really was to not realize this exceptional piece of magic that Fred and George had given him in his third year. The Marauder’s Map. Harry had to admit it, Remus, Sirius, Peter and his dad were freaking geniuses. Well he wasn’t sure if ‘geniuses’ was a real word, but that would be the word to describe them.
Pouring over the charms and transfiguration texts linked to mapping, plotting, itemizing and identification, he tried to deduce how in the world boys younger than or equal to his age figured out how to create this. It finally dawned on him how mediocre he was when it came to subjects other than Defence against the Dark Arts. Now that he has seen a bit of Voldemort’s time at Hogwarts, he realized that his opponent was highly intelligent, far more intelligent than he is presently at the same stage. And he didn’t need rocket science to know that brains count more than brawn, and Voldemort had more than his share of magical muscle, plus a few Horcuxes to back him up, for you know, just in case the odd teenager got lucky in a duel.
Harry Potter took his time eating, only managing to unlock one of the secret charms associated with the Marauder’s map. If he was going to survive this year, he needed to start doing things on his own, and the ideas that he had tumbling over and over in his mind needed to be more than just ideas; he needed them to become a reality. So far he found out the secret to the Listening charm enchanted into it, and with probably by tomorrow, he should be able confirm the password feature to be just a simple equation between the Loksmythe jinx and the Alohomora charm.
As the days passed, he began breezing through the earlier texts, practicing his non-verbal ability on every spell that he could encounter. A few of them really were not possible, but with a bit of modification on the wand work, he could get most of the others to work without actually saying them.
He found a routine to keep him busy over the first couple weeks at the inn. Map in the morning, running before breakfast, revision of non-verbal first to third year magic during breakfast ( he could eat and practice at the same time), levitation pushups before lunch (mixed in with random ideas he’d put to parchment in between set breaks) and then seventh year studies and Defence Against the Dark Arts afterwards till dark.
Then, when it was dark, he’d go over his schemes, assemble his ideas, and try to formulate hypothesis for him to sleep on before more push-ups before bed. This way, he actually slept well, his mind and body having a good workout every day as he continued with his objective to figure out the map before he went to the Burrow. He wrote Ron and Hermione twice in the past ten days, just to reassure them that he was fine and just needed some space before what was going to be a very hectic wedding.
Plus, this way, he had no time to think about Ginny, and that’s how he wanted it to be.
A few days before the wedding, Harry finally made a breakthrough in his spell work. The Chest of drawers had remained levitated for a whole pushup before it crashed once again. He grinned, completing the Levitation set using his wand before doing some sit-ups and then showering before he went in. No sense in forcing it. It would come in time. He had to learn patience, and self restraint. In the morning, he would be refreshed and ready to tackle the map again. It was progressing nicely, and he was fairly optimistic that when he went to the Burrow and began on his next research object, he should be able to tie things in nicely on that piece of his agenda before the summer ended.
As he fell asleep, he realized the solitude was helping him concentrate. Ron and Hermione were good mates to bounce ideas off of, but sometimes the constant bickering really annoyed him. He’d be glad to see them again, of course, but right now, this is what he needed, this is where he was supposed to be. Putting a bit of his training into practice, he ousted the oil lamp at his bedside table with a snap of his fingers and the silent command of Evanesco.
In a few days time, he’d be on the road to the Burrow. He felt trepidation set in. He’d be seeing her again. Interlacing his fingers behind his head, he levitated his glasses from his face and set them on the side, wondering what in the world he was going to tell her when he arrived.
The damp chill of the underground tunnel felt comforting as the robed figure ventured deeper into the labyrinth of the old subway station. The expensive traveling cloak barely moved as he ducked in through maintenance passageways on the eastern tunnel wall. Picking up the pace he kept his eyes directly forward, his strides making squishy noises in murky grime underfoot. Another fifty meters and he would have to face a difficult challenge. Already his mind was cleared and his senses alert, but none should underestimate the Dark Lord, even he, who has been tricking Dumbledore all this time.
Severus Snape tapped the dead end of the tunnel with his wand, his features carefully composed in the respect/wariness expression the Dark Lord has come to expect from his most valuable servant. The dark mark tinged at the magical signature of coming close to its creator, giving Snape the additional warning that he must now put on a very good act, or all will be lost.
“I am here, m’lord, as you requested.”
The Dark Lord Voldemort stood at the far end of what appeared to be a huge messing hall, excepting the fact that it served more fitting for reptiles than humans. There was a feeling of mossy underbrush and damp shade to recline in, very fitting for a snake to lay in wait for its prey. Twenty Death eaters stood in assembly facing their master, their pointed hoods angled forward as if their heads were bowed in prayer. Voldemort turned his head towards the latecomer.
“He announces himself. You are very brash, Severus. I always knew you to be daring, but this sort of bravado does not suit you, Severusss…” Voldemort stepped down into the centre aisle of the assembly, the death eaters parting to allow him to move freely.
“M’lord, I meant no disrespect.”
“None taken, Severus, none taken. Your brothers and sisters were getting restless. Your absence these past few weeks did not go unnnoticed. Your tardiness will go excused, however, only because it is you, and I hold you in even higher esteem now than ever before,” Voldemort whispered. The complimentary words contradicted his tone, he sounded exactly as when he announces a target to be executed. It was not lost on his followers who turned around slowly to face Snape, the air heavy with unsaid murmurings. “I believe a salute from your peers is warranted, is it not, Severusss..?”
Snape’s jaw tightened, a ‘salute’ could mean anything from glory and riches bestowed upon him or on the other end of the scale the killing curse to the chest. He removed his hood, looking at the masked figures in one long swoop.
“To Snape,” one said grimly.
“Snape,” another added. “Snape,” said another deep voice. Each and every the dark lord’s followers announced his name in succession, their arms crossed in an ‘x’ over their chest, their wand held in their right hand directly upwards. After each incantation of his name, they made a short bow, barely a nod in his direction. After the gravelly chant was done, Snape finished the ceremony by doing the same, except instead of saying his own name; he dipped his head in acceptance.
“My brethren,” he announced, his head still pointing downwards as Lord Voldemort ambled his way towards him. When he was almost an arms length way, Voldemort stopped, removing his own hood from his head.
“You may rise,” he said coolly, his voice somehow more human than before. Snape looked up into the eyes of his master and did well to hide his reaction to the face in front of him.
Instead of the half disfigured face resembling a combination of a man and a snake, his face was remarkably handsome and aristocratic, everything excepting his eyes which were a dull shade of red. The eyes were taking longer to heal, Snape presumed. It was over a year since he had made contact with the Dark Lord face to face, and Snape knew it was intimidating his followers that he was able to restore his face and persona even from the shadows of the undead. Disconcerting to say the least; this mastery of dark magic so intricate that in only two years he could be reverted from a barely recognizable human infant into this being in front of them now.
The Dark Lord smiled.
“Severus, does my appearance disturb you?” he asked softly, his lips twitching in a scowl.
“No, m’lord,” he said, staring at him directly in his face.
“I will need your assistance, my faithful servant. You, you who have destroyed Dumbledore when others could not, are to be commended. Your actions prove your worth.”
“I am here at your command, m’lord, the old ways will not die.”
“Well said, yes, it is true, the old ways will not die.” Voldemort turned to his followers, who were avidly following the conversation. “What say you, Nott? Macnair ?”
“I am at your command, the old ways will continue as it was in the beginning,” the burly executioner grunted with exuberance.
“Aye, to the dark arts,” Nott added.
“Very good, very good,” Volemort hissed. “Our ways are noble ways, selective ways, only those worthy are taken into our sect. Purity of lineage, strength in the dark arts, these are our roots. Our heritage takes us before the age of swords, before the age of numbers. Take rejoices in our magical blood, our birthright!”
Voldemort raised his hands as in offering, and then spun around in a vicious turn.
“And as an ode to our olden ways, we adhere to the laws or our ancestors. We do not pardon traitors! Treachery would be punishable by death!” he shouted, looking directly at Severus Snape. Snape did not flinch; instead he began to shroud his thoughts in occlumens. The shout was just a ruse, just a trick to change the mood of the gathering while Voldemort penetrated the unknowing victim’s thoughts and memories. Voldemort glared at him for a moment, and then smiled a charming smile. Snape returned the smile; evidently he was successful in his subterfuge.
“Lucius, dear old Lucius, has renounced my name in Azkaban. Such a pity. My spies inform it is under madness and the Ministry curses controlling him, but I know different. He believes his son to be dead, to be punished for not completing his task, where as you, Severus; have succeeded admirably. He plots to infiltrate my ranks once again and strike me down for the murder of sweet, dear Draco.”
Snape twitched at the mention of that name. He recovered himself quickly. “He should be punished, m’lord, he should be killed on the spot and left to rot in his cell!”
“Killed on the spot,” Voldemort murmured, “Yes indeed. There is obvious logic in your words, Severus, excepting for a, shall we say, significant detail.” The Death Eaters stiffened as Voldemort’s handsome face broke out into a grand smile.
“It appears that our good friend Lucius Malfoy has escaped from Azkaban!” he announced, levity in his words.
“Escaped?” Narcissa Malfoy breathed, her composure faltering during this sacred gathering. Hoods turned towards her, then focused immediately back towards the Dark Lord, lest he punish them for insolence.
“Yes, fair Narcissa, he escaped. I believe Black’s success has inspired him. He has traded places with a guard poisoned with polomonia.”
“Polyjuice?” She gasped, almost hopeful. Could Lucius be-?
“Do I hear favour in your tone, Narcissa?” Voldemort asked dangerously.
“No.. no my lord- I never meant-” Even as the apology escaped her lips, she knew it was too late. Voldemort pointed his wand at her, ready to curse her to death when Snape’s wand suddenly shot out from underneath the folds of his cloak. Before Snape had a chance to block the Dark Lord’s attempt, a figure dispatched from the wall and blasted his wand arm off with a well aimed Reducto curse. Snape screamed at the severed stump of his arm, his features twisting horribly in anguish. Narcissa screamed.
“Thank you, Rodulphus,” Voldemort chuckled in that high voice of his. “Narcissa, could you kindly tell your husband that he could never even come close to deceiving me, far less , dare I say it, kill me?’
Narcissa’s eyes widened as the truth literally unraveled right before his eyes. The pain of losing his right arm was causing Snape’s face to contort more than humanly possible, causing his hair to change colour…his shoulders to narrow….
Voldemort watched calmly as Snape doubled over, his jet black hair lightening to brown, then to auburn, then to sandy blonde, then to even much lighter…
“Lucius, I am in a good mood as of late, and I need skilled wizards to finish my ambitions. I tested you, tested your mettle inside of that place, and have found you worthy.” He waved his wand and a replacement limb began to manifest from his forearm down. Lucius stared unbelievably at this rapid turn of events. “Barely within a few days after Dumbledore’s death, and consequentially your son’s alleged murder, I might add, you made your escape. Your resources and information gathering ability is almost uncanny."
Voldemort paused, studying his death eater's haggard face.
"Your son lives. Rise, my faithful servant, and once again proclaim your oath, this time, out of your own tongue.”
“..Alive…?” Lucius gasped, the pain still coursing through him.
The Dark Lord tilted back his head, eyeing down the length of his nose, the unsaid words obvious in his murderous expression. You dare question me?
Lucius Malfoy straightened, his heart beating fast in his chest as the news ran through him. He was alive!
“I am at your service m’lord, my faith has never been stronger. I am pure of blood and bound in spirit. Your powers have strengthened me, m’lord. I have never renounced the olden ways!” Lucius bellowed, his admiration for his lord’s cunning inspiring his words.
“Yes, Lucius, you may rise. Blood is powerful, but your loyalty is what makes you strong.” He stalked away, and the astonished Death eaters stared as Lucius Malfoy returned to his true self, haggard and underfed yet even more menacing than ever.
“Your wish is my command,” Lucius breathed, tensing his new arm.
“I am pleased, Lucius, pleased. My first task for you is to find out who has bound our favourite potions master so that my mark no longer summons him at my side. Strong magic, ‘tis strong dark magic indeed.” He touched his chin thoughtfully. “Unbreakable in its nature, I will need to mark him again. Powerful olden magic, bound in treason and hate. It is not Dumbledore’s way of doing things.” Voldemort stormed off, his robes billowing as he strode amongst his death eaters, eyeing them behind the masks. “Lucius, find out who has done this to him, it is not befitting such a knowledgeable wizard be left renegade. I want him back!” Voldemort hissed as he paced between the ranks.
“Oh, and bring them to me with enough life so that I can… question them.” Voldemort looked at him one last time. “Your attempted defiance tonight shows you have spirit left in you. The next time I will not be so lenient. Do not fail me, Lucius.”
“At once, my lord,” Lucius Malfoy made a deep bow and backed out the entrance.
With one last sweeping glare, he caught the eye of a specific Death Eater. “The rest of you, leave,” he said imperiously. The others exited in the same fashion, never turning their back on the master. When all had left except the sole remaining hooded figure, Voldemort beckoned him over.
“Are you sure he knows where they are?”
“Yes, yet I do not know if he knows the value they possess.”
“You know what to do,” Voldemort turned, walking towards the inner potions chamber.
“I will follow him my lord, his mind is unstable. Chasing after the impossible should cause him fatigue and he may revisit them in passing.”
“Very good, very good. What about the boy?”
“Nothing so far, Mundungus will inform me if he seeks refuge in the Order.”
“You disappoint me. After killing Albus did your mind addle you so much that you could not keep a hold on him?”
The Death Eater removed his mask, and Severus Snape stared into the Dark Lord's eyes. “He had no reason not to trust me. I did not think he would have run away.”
“He might know where they are, I suspect, even more than his father. Lucius, I admit, is no longer the man he once was. Once he finds them, you must destroy that family, do you understand me?”
“Very well Severus, I leave it up to you.”
And with that, Voldemort took up his potion vial and vanished, leaving Snape to his own thoughts. All these games, all these tricks. He ran a long, smooth finger around the lip of the potion cauldron, watching the liquid spin for itself in tiny little whirlpools. The Draught of Bane was still at a simmer, the pouring flask halfway full with the remainder of Voldemort’s restorative mixture. Sending him to follow Lucius who was in turn looking for him seemed a farfetched idea at first, but granted, only he technically knew where the Horcruxes were, even though he had no clue what those objects represented. His previous notion of using torture or even veritaserum would worsen their chances of retrieving the information from his mind than just simply allowing him to find it on his own. Snape sighed.
The cost of eternal life was steep. But he would do what he must.
~ ~ ~
Author’s note – Welcome one and all to my very first Canon fic! (Believe it or not) Thanks for reading and look out for the next chapter hopefully before Submissions close on the 21st Dec 06. During this downtime I would begin answering a backlog of non-responded reviews. If you have comments or queries, look no further than the box below!
The Dark Lord Nedved
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