Hi. Yes, this is real life. I promise. This is a real chapter for you. Seriously.

What's up?! Long time no see. Life's been rough lately, guys. I'm sorry. I'm babysitting my nieces 5 days a week, going to college, and helping my father with his new store. It's just been rough to find any time to write.

I created that page and I've just done nothing with it so far - and why should I? I've put out no chapters since then. (Well, except for my other story. You should totally read Door to Number Twelve, by the way.)

Going forward, I'll start using that as a tip jar. If you want to help support me, that'd be awesome and I'll find a way to reward those who help me in return. I'll commission one-shot stories for you or something. But I'm going to start using that page and any tips would be most welcome.

But let's get back to this story! Last time we met, Harry had just gotten in hot water with Voldemort and Theo had killed his father. What happens now?

You'll have to read the chapter for that, silly. Enjoy.

Chapter 18: Hard Lessons

Harry felt his breath leave him as Theo clutched him tighter. Theo had…had killed his father? When? How? And most importantly…why?

But Theo had come to Harry first, apparently, and Harry felt a surge of protectiveness rise inside him.

"It's okay," Harry murmured softly, patting Theo's back. "Breathe. We'll take care of this. It'll all be okay."

In all honesty, Harry had no idea if it would be okay. Theo killed his father. But Harry would do everything he could to keep his friend safe.

"I'm scared, Harry," Theo's voice was muffled by Harry's dressing gown. "I didn't…I didn't have a choice. I didn't want to –"

Harry shushed him, gently rubbing Theo's neck. "I know. I know you wouldn't do it if you didn't have to. Now why don't you tell me – "

"Harry, we – oh. Hello, Theo."

Theo looked up with wide eyes as Remus entered the den, blinking.

"Theo came over to say Happy Christmas, didn't you, Theo?" Harry quickly interjected, shaking Theo by the shoulder. Theo nodded wordlessly. "A-and he also wanted to invite me to breakfast at his place. That's okay with you, right Remus?"

Remus frowned, looking between the two. "Dressed like that? That's a question you really ought to ask Padfoot, Harry. He's the one who – "

"Theo's father doesn't mind," Harry quickly said before shrugging slightly. His nerves were slowly coming back to him. "But Sirius is having so much fun outside. I don't want to be the one to call him back inside, do you? I won't be gone long. Please, Remus?"

There was a bit of a pause before Remus smiled slightly and beckoned them with his coffee mug. "Go on. I'll tell Sirius where you went. Be back by lunch."

"Okay!" Harry chirped. "Go on, Theo. You first."

Theo sent him a quick horrified look and Harry gave his best encouraging smile to placate his friend. Theo's hand trembled as he grasped some Floo Powder, but nonetheless stepped into the emerald fire.

"House of Nott!"

Harry grimaced at the formality of Theo's Floo address, but Theo was gone in a flash and Harry sighed in relief; dealing with Remus would be much easier on his own.

"Is everything okay with Theo?" Remus spoke up, setting his mug down on a nearby side table. "He seemed a bit tense."

'But it won't be easy if he keeps asking questions like that,' Harry grimaced, thinking fast. "Yeah, he did. I-I think he's a bit lonely this morning. His dad's not been around much this holiday."

Remus pursed his lips, shaking his head. "That's…unfortunate. You'd think parents would be a bit more involved in their kids' lives. If I were able to have children, I – "

Harry quirked his head; he could not let that one go without saying something. "Able?" Harry interrupted him with a raised hand. "Of course you're able, aren't you? Unless there's something I don't know about …?"

Remus scrunched his face in embarrassment. "I mean I'm able, to the best of my knowledge, but with me being what I am, having children is just not an – "

"Sod that," Harry rolled his eyes. "You think way too much of your 'condition,' Remus. No one around you cares one bit about it. Being a werewolf does absolutely nothing to define you. It's one bloody night a month. Not even a half a day. Now keep up that type of thinking and I'll be forced to write Royce and bring him to have a talk with you."

"Shut it, Harry," Remus' face was flushed, but Harry's words seemed to break through to him. "Go have fun with your friend; now's certainly not the time for a conversation like this."

"But it's Christmas," Harry protested. "If you're going to let being a werewolf get you down on bloody Christmas, then it's the perfect time to have this conversation. Go find Sirius and have some fun yourself, okay?"

Remus frowned for a moment, but seemed to take Harry's words to heart. "Sure, Harry. If he ever decides to come inside, that is."

Harry beamed, scooping up some Floo Powder and tossing it into the grate.

"And just think," Harry snickered, turning his head back to Remus. "If Sirius wants to stay outside, I'm sure Tonks wouldn't mind being called on to…have some fun."

"Why you - !"

"House of Nott!"

Harry's laugh was lost in the Floo Network as colors swirled and his stomach did a somersault. His body was twisting and the hem of his dressing gown scuffed the Floo's walling. His heels suddenly found solid ground and Harry staggered forth, grasping the edge of the dining room table in front of him.

What a doozy of a ride. He huffed slightly, raising his head to find Theo –

"Oh my…god."

The Nott dining room was dark and still. There was spell damage all around the room and the spicy, biting odor of alcohol wafted through the air. One of the portraits on the wall was singed and a large chunk of the dining room table was missing.

But none of that was what had caught Harry's attention, however. No…it was the blood.

Blood was splattered on a side wall, on two chairs, on the table…and there was a large pool of it under the table, seeping ever closer to the fireplace. Harry took a wordless step to the side to avoid it. Nott Sr. was face down on the floor, but the shiny glint of metal caught Harry's attention. He furrowed his brow until he could tell what the object was.

"…A sword? I-is that your ring, Theo?"

It had to be, Harry thought. Theo had bought that ring that could morph into a sword at the start of the year from Borgin and Burkes. Theo was standing off to the cleanest corner of the room, burying his face into it to avoid looking at the scene. Theo nodded feebly.

"What…happened, exactly?"

"…My father called me into the room this morning. I knew right away something was wrong. He was wearing his Death Eater stuff but he was a mess. H-he was drunk - mad! He shouted at me, said something about a raid the Dark Lord was doing and how he had been punished. He…he hit me – "

"- No…" Harry gasped, disbelieving. It shocked him to think that a father would ever do that to their son. His orphanage had been different – those people were vile. But this man was a wizard! A successful man with a son who mattered, who was Harry's friend –

"He hit me," Theo repeated, clearing his throat when it wavered. "And then he pulled his wand on me. H-he…he tried to hit me with the Cruciatus and some other spell I didn't know. He said he'd kill me! I-I panicked! I didn't mean to do this!"

Harry breathed out shakily, running a hurried hand through his hair. "You used your sword to protect yourself, Theo. You did absolutely nothing wrong. Don't think one more thought on it, okay?"

Theo pursed his lips and wrapped his arms around himself. The pleading expression on his face tore Harry up inside.

Harry turned from Theo to get a look at the situation. Getting rid of the body would not necessarily be difficult, but it would do nothing to solve the issue of Cantankerous Nott being dead. The man must have had someone who would miss him, right? Harry could not recall if Nott was a member of any political groups or anything, but it was almost a sure thing that he was. Besides, Nott did work, as far as Harry could assume. Nott would have business partners, clients…something.

He was also a Death Eater – Harry shut his eyes as the inevitable solution washed over him and unrest settled in his stomach. He simply did not have the power to solve all of Theo's problems. He did not have the means to cover up Nott's death…but Voldemort did.

Harry approached Theo, careful to avoid the blood splatter on the ground, and wrapped an arm around Theo's tensed shoulders. He gently massaged his friend's neck.

"I'm going to take you to Voldemort again, okay?" Harry whispered. "I could clean all of this up, but I wouldn't be able to protect you like Voldemort can."

Theo remained silent and had his eyes shut. Harry sighed, straightening himself in preparation of Apparating. Harry had hoped he would not have to talk to Voldemort for a while after…last night. That plan was clearly out the window.

This would be horrible.


Harry gritted his teeth but pushed the door open and beckoned Theo into the room. Voldemort was alone inside his throne room, leaning over a table lined with tables and large tomes. Books were even splayed at the foot of his throne, opened and seemingly discarded from whatever Voldemort was working on. The Dark Lord looked up and Harry could have sworn the room got colder.

"…Ah," Voldemort called out softly. His voice echoed somewhere in the darkness. "The coward returns, I see."

Theo gave him a puzzled glance and Harry felt heat creep up his neck. He hated himself for it – he had done nothing wrong.

"I was fairly certain you'd come after me," Harry admitted. "It – "

"I have no time for cowards."

Harry winced, but refused to be cowed; this was not about him.

"Cantankerous Nott attempted to hurt Theo last night," Harry said quietly. "Came at him with a wand and was drunk as well. Theo killed him in defense."

A flicker of something crossed Voldemort's red eyes as he stood up and examined Theo. It was gone, though, once he looked back to Harry.

"I see," Voldemort said airily. "And what favor is it that you're asking of Lord Voldemort?"

Harry paused, looking at Voldemort oddly. "I am capable of wiping Theo's home clear of evidence, but I cannot do anything that would explain the disappearance of his father. Theo needs your help – help that you promised him, I might add, should the situation arise."

While the previous emotion was harder to read, the twinge of anger was clearly visible as it crossed Voldemort's face. It seemed he did not appreciate being reminded of that fact, but Harry did not exactly appreciate Voldemort's attitude, either. It was childish.

The coldness that Voldemort had been treating him with was gone as Voldemort moved around the table to stand directly in front of him.

"If I required someone to repeat my words back to me, I would hire one, Potter," Voldemort whispered dangerously.

"Then don't ask such silly questions," Harry snapped back defensively at the Dark Lord. Theo snatched at the sleeve of Harry's dressing gown, pleading to him with wide eyes. Harry shut his own and took a deep breath.

"Look," Harry said measuredly, trying his hardest to calm down. "I apologize, okay? I'm just here for Theo and to ask you to help him."

Voldemort stared wordlessly at Harry for a moment before focusing on Theo. "What did you use to kill your father?"

"I-I thrust a sword into his neck, my Lord."

"And is the rest of him still intact?"

"Yes, my Lord."

Voldemort nodded in satisfaction, waving an arm distractedly to vanish his research table before running the same hand over his left forearm. Harry had seen that gesture enough to know what Voldemort was doing; he was summoning a specific Death Eater.

For a moment, Harry had a sick feeling of dread that Voldemort was summoning Bellatrix Lestrange. But as Voldemort took his place upon his throne, Barty Crouch entered the room.

"Yes, my Lord? How may I be able to serve you?"

Voldemort turned to face his Death Eater with a measured expression. "You may serve me by going to the Nott household, Barty. You will find the dead body of Cantankerous Nott. I want you to harvest his corpse for anything that could be used in a Polyjuice Potion, and then I want you to clean that house of all evidence of foul play. Burn the body. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my Lord," Crouch looked startled, glancing first to Harry and then to Theo. "Unless there is anything else you require - ?"

Voldemort smiled humorlessly. "Actually, wait here for a moment, Barty." The Dark Lord's red eyes turned to Harry, reminding him of fire.

"If you want me to help your friend, Harry, you will go to my office. Now."

Harry frowned, tilting his head. "That is not part of your promise to Theo. This isn't about me – you and I can talk later. Right now, I want to help –"

"You go to my office, or I turn Theodore Nott into the Aurors for murder myself."

Harry's breath left him and time seemed to stop for a moment. His shock morphed into suffocating fury at the sight of Voldemort's satisfied sneer.

"Fine," Harry growled stepping up to Voldemort to look him in the eye. "Anything for Theo."

Voldemort smiled smugly, nodding to Crouch without looking at him. "Thank you for your patience, Barty. You may go. As should you…Harry. My office. Run along."

"Yes, my Lord," Crouch hastened away, scurrying from the tense scene as fast as his feet could shuffle. Harry pursed his lips, but gave Theo a brief hug.

"I mean it – anything for you, Theo," Harry murmured into his ear. "We'll take care of you." Harry let him go, smiling as best he could before sending Voldemort his most righteous glare. And then he stormed out of the throne room with a loud slam of the door.

"Absolutely juvenile," Voldemort muttered, staring at the door in mild contempt.

Theo was shivering. He was alone. He had killed his father, and now stood in the room with the Lord who had been his father's master.

"I do apologize for my bluff, Theodore," Voldemort spoke softly to him. "I lied when I said that I would turn you in to the Ministry – I would never do that. However…your friend is very predictable, you see. And I find myself needing to be firm with him much more often, these days."

Theo nodded vigorously, looking to the ground. "You did what you thought best, my Lord. I could never fault you for that."

"Liar," Voldemort chuckled, rubbing the boy's shoulder. "Of course you could, had I actually decided to turn you in. But as I said, I would never do that. Lord Voldemort always keeps his promises, especially to those who are loyal to him. Have you eaten this morning?"

"…No, my Lord."

"Then I shall arrange for a meal," Voldemort said simply. "Come. I shall lead you to a room where you can eat your fill and rest comfortably. And after I meet with Harry Potter, you and I shall speak and sort everything out. Feel no fear, Theodore."

"T-Thank you, my Lord. I really mean it."

Voldemort looked down at the boy, trembling in place but with open, honest eyes directed at him. He wrapped an encouraging arm around Theo's shoulders.

"You are most welcome."

Harry shut the door to Voldemort's office quietly, turning around and leaning on the door. He was doing his best to keep his anger under control, despite Voldemort's behavior before. It was humiliating to be treated that way in front of Theo. But Harry had swallowed his pride and let it happen; Theo needed him, and Harry was willing to suffer for his friend.

But now? Now Voldemort would get the talk that he clearly wanted. And while Harry would do his best to keep his anger in check, they would most certainly clear the air.

Harry sighed and started to move from the door to settle on the comfortable leather couch opposite of Voldemort's desk – but then he noticed the research table from Voldemort's throne room. Curious, he ambled over to the table to peer at the books.

"What the hell?" Harry muttered under his breath. There were no letters or words inside the pages of the books. Instead, blurry squiggles covered the pages, completely indecipherable. Harry racked his brain for a counter to whatever charm Voldemort had laid upon these books, but he could not think of anything. He huffed as annoyance tickled his already provoked temper; it was unlike Voldemort to be so secretive about something as simple as books.

The door opened then and Harry started, turning to face Voldemort. The Dark Lord paid him no mind though, settling in at his desk and drawing his quill from the inkwell. Harry blinked at the lack of fanfare.

"So…" Harry trailed off, confused. "Here we are, then."

But Voldemort did not even acknowledge him. Harry squinted and cocked his head, quickly becoming agitated.

Well then. If Voldemort wanted to play it like that…

"You have an amazing couch, I must say," Harry drawled, leaping over the back of it to sit down. "Quite comfortable. I may just have to prop up my feet and –"

"Do it and you will no longer have said feet."

Harry smirked, feeling victorious; Voldemort hated when Harry put his feet on his couch.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" Harry laughed softly, sobering a moment later. "Look…I know what you were trying to do. You're trying to teach me a lesson –"

"Am I? And what lesson would that be?" Voldemort continued writing, bent over whatever it was that he was working on.

"That I can't just do things on my own – "

"That is not even close – "

"But," Harry pressed on, talking over the Dark Lord. "Here's the thing, Voldemort. Firstly, I was in the right last night! You know it, I know it – Bellatrix was wrong."

Voldemort scoffed and stood suddenly; Harry was back on his feet in an instant. The Dark Lord growled deep in his chest.

"And what gives you the authority to make that call?" Voldemort whispered, glaring down at him.

Harry snorted incredulously. "Simply knowing how you want to change the world and how you feel about others disobeying you – "

"Like you explicitly did yesterday evening?" Voldemort spat at him. "You want to talk about lessons, Potter? Well here's a lesson you are going to learn before you leave this office or you will pay dearly: I hold the power, Potter! It is my right to order my Death Eaters. It is my right to punish them or to reward them. Not yours!"

"Bellatrix was wrong – "

"And it's not your fucking place to make that decision!" Voldemort roared. Something in the office shattered, startling Harry as he tripped over the corner of the couch. "It is mine! I punished her accordingly for her actions, Potter, as I would have without you stepping in!"

"Look, I – "

"You challenged my position! You dishonored my authority! You made a mockery of my power, just as you did minutes ago by acting like a fool in front of Theodore Nott and Barty Crouch! You were wrong, Potter!"

Voldemort's voice was making Harry's ears ring. Harry had one hand in his dressing gown, clutching his wand. The stark silence that settled in the room was nearly as intimidating as Voldemort's screams.

"…It seems that I have treated you incorrectly, Harry," Voldemort murmured, suddenly quiet as he turned away from Harry. "It was my belief that you could actually act as an adult, considering our relationship. I've given you everything that you have – power, allies, a proper place in our world…even your godfather. I gave him his innocence. And apparently that's not enough for Harry Potter."

Harry pursed his lips as humiliation trickled into his stomach. He said nothing as Voldemort finally turned around.

"Perhaps it's time to stop treating you as Harry Potter, the boy who allowed me to restore my body," Voldemort intoned quietly. "Perhaps it's time to treat you as your behavior would dictate."

"That's not fair –"

"SILENCE!" Voldemort roared, invading Harry's personal space before he could even process what happened. "YOU WILL NOT SPEAK UNLESS I INSTRUCT YOU TO, POTTER!"

Harry turned his face from Voldemort's panted breaths. He gripped his wand tightly – this was getting out of control very quickly. Any moment things could combust –

Sharp nails scraped his scalp and Harry's head was wrenched to look into red eyes. Harry cried in protest, reaching out to shove Voldemort away - and suddenly the world spun as a sharp blow shook his head and momentarily blinded his vision.

"You bastard!" Harry spat, rubbing his temple and jaw. Evil eyes smoldered at him.

"Kneel before me, Potter," Voldemort growled. "Just like all the others. Kneel before your Lord."

Harry stood straight and looked straight into those unforgiving eyes. Anger and frustration pumped throughout his body. "You know I'll never do that."

"Then I'll make you. Imperio!"

The pain in his head faded into a clouded feeling of contentment. Harry's breaths came easier, fuller than they had all morning. The tension between his shoulders relaxed and his eyes rolled back for a moment before they opened on their own volition.

'Bow down on both knees.'

His body moved before his mind could even register – it was only at the last moment that Harry caught himself. 'I'd never do that. Why should I now?'

'Bow down. Bow before your Lord.'

'I don't think I will, thanks.'


"FUCK YOU!" Harry screamed, charging forwards. Voldemort's eyes widened as Harry crashed into him, sending them both sprawling into the door of the office. Harry clenched a fist, driving it into Voldemort's stomach once, twice, a third time –

Pure magic blasted him across to the other side of the office, slamming into a bookshelf. Harry slumped down to the ground, laughing despite the pain.

"Who else could do what I just did, Voldemort?" Harry grinned without humor. "You want to treat me like a Death Eater? I ask you: Who else?"

Voldemort rubbed his stomach slightly, standing tall. But the anger was gone and an odd look took its place. "You know, I came into this room intending to humble you. I was going to do to you what I would do to any other Death Eater who embarrassed me the way that you have. But for every frustrating moment you cause me, Potter, you go and do something like that."

Harry chuckled, even as his back seared in pain. "I'm just a fuck-up from a Muggle orphanage who is pretty good at this magic thing, right? Who the fuck thought I'd be good at taking directions?"

Voldemort grimaced with distaste. "It's not nearly as vulgar as that, Potter. I do not ask my Death Eaters to blindly follow me. I ask them to commit – just like you committed yourself to my cause a year ago."

"I am committed, but when you don't take care of a situation – "

"You have to trust me, Potter!" Voldemort stressed, growling at the end of his sentence as frustration leaked through. "You have to trust that I will take care of the situation!"

An open hand appeared in Harry's sight. He stared at it for a moment before taking it as Voldemort pulled him to his feet. That very same hand landed on his shoulder a moment later.

"Harry, I know you better than anyone else ever will," Voldemort started lowly. "You hosted my soul for months. I came to know you during that time, but I've also suffered a similar childhood. I know how difficult it is to trust others. I really do. When others have caused you to suffer, when others have controlled your life…trust is a foreign thing. It's not something you do if you value your own safety.

Voldemort shook him. "Trust is a release of control. I understand how hard it is to release control to someone else, Harry, but this is my revolution. These are my Death Eaters. Not yours. Do you have any idea how embarrassing your fit was last night? I am a man who's led this cause for decades now…but apparently that's not good enough for one thirteen year-old boy."

Harry gritted his teeth. "It was never about any of that –"

"It was about you taking control of a situation when you should have deferred to me."

"She wronged me!"

"AND I AM THE MASTER OF BOTH OF YOU!" Voldemort roared. "When one of my followers wrong you, Potter, it is up to me to handle the issue! How can we work together to inspire change in our world if we cannot even sort out our own issues?"

"I'm sorry, okay?!" Harry shouted hotly. "Is that what you want? You want me to take the blame?"

"No! I want you to let me fight your battles for you!" Voldemort clawed at his dressing gown, insistently shaking it. "I need you to trust me, Harry. If this is ever going to work, you have to trust me to handle these issues. Come talk to me afterwards if you must. Air your grievances. But for this to work, I have to act on your behalf."

"…It's not easy," Harry muttered lowly. "I've never – "

"You've never had to do that before. I understand. But you committed yourself to my cause, Harry. Trust me. Allow me to prove that I am worthy of that commitment."

Harry slumped against the wall. His emotions had burned out. All he felt now was a weary consternation. "…I let my temper get to me last night. I am sorry."

Voldemort cocked his head, but laid his hand on Harry's shoulder once again. "Have you learned your lesson? Can we grow from this? If so, we'll forget it ever happened."

Harry nodded mutely. He did not regret his decision to make Bellatrix pay last night…but he was glad that Voldemort had met him halfway on the issue. He did not dismiss the fact that Bellatrix was wrong, at least. Voldemort wanted the chance to prove that he was capable of handling Harry's problems for him from time to time – and honestly, that was much better than any adult that had controlled Harry's life in the past.

"What are you researching?" Harry asked suddenly, nodding to the charmed table. "It's not like you to protect your research so much."

"None of your fucking business," Voldemort smirked. There was a teasing lilt to his voice, making Harry smile. "Will you trust me on this one, Harry? I'll let you know if the research leads anywhere; this is a chance to show that you are capable of trusting me."

Harry shut his eyes and grimaced, shaking his head. "I hate that. I hate having to trust someone like that…fine. It's not easy, you know."

"I did not trust a soul until I was in my twenties," Voldemort admitted. "And even then, I only trusted that those subservient to me would do their jobs properly. It's part of our past. I'm not asking you to change, Harry. I'm merely asking you to grow and mature. You will be my most powerful ally…someday. But your temper and penchant for acting without thinking is holding you back from reaching your full potential."

"How long did it take you to learn those things?" Harry asked curiously. Voldemort snorted slightly.

"Years," He said. "It is time for you to go, Harry. I will be in touch soon. I will take care of Theodore and instruct him to write you as well. It is in my intention to have Theodore join my Death Eaters someday. I would like you to help foster that relationship."

That was something he could handle. Harry nodded. "Sounds simple enough. I'll talk to him about killing –"

"No," Voldemort replied forcefully. "Allow me. I am better suited to have that conversation to give Theodore context."

"Right," Harry ducked his head. His limbs were sore and stiff from hitting damn near every wall in Voldemort's office. Besides, he wanted to get back to Sirius and Remus. "Tell Theo I said goodbye, okay?"

Voldemort smiled slightly, nodding his head. "Go on, Potter. Go enjoy your Christmas. Great things are on the horizon, but I think they can wait one more day."

Finding time to write this story is difficult. The chapters are longer and it takes several hours of planning and then several more hours of writing. I'll do my best to manage that process better.

Until next time...which will be sooner than the last time. I promise.