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Chapter One Hundred And Twenty-Seven—A Trip to the Chamber of Secrets
Elena stepped slowly back from the potion. It had turned into a scrim of silver on the bottom of the cauldron, bubbling now and then, violently enough that she still had to hope it wouldn't literally blow up in her face. But then the bubbles calmed, and what she had was a shining liquid, so bright that it looked like metal from a distance.
Her previous trials hadn't worked. This time, though, she knew they would.
She deposited the silver potion into a flask that she set on the table beside her, and looked it thoughtfully.
All I need is a test subject. And Harry's permission to use them as a test subject, of course.
"Er, your mother really wants all of us to come for the holidays?"
"Well, not Weasley and Granger for the whole time. But she thought you would probably want to see them on Christmas Day."
"I didn't mean Ron and Hermione." Harry stepped forwards to wrap his arms around Draco as Draco opened his mouth, scowling. "I really meant Dash. I don't know how he's supposed to fit into your family's house or avoid terrorizing your family's peacocks and house-elves."
"Oh, no, she meant everyone. I don't think she believes me when I say how big Dash is now, you know. She hasn't seen him in months."
"All right," Harry said slowly. He knew Severus would agree to come with him. And Ron and Hermione's families would let them visit for Christmas Day, at least. "Is she going to invite Sirius?"
Draco hesitated for long enough at that that Harry pulled back to look at him. "I don't know," Draco finally admitted in a low voice. "She's still angry at him for not having fully revealed what he was looking for in the Black library. And she knows that Severus isn't going to want to see him."
"I'd like to see him."
"Then consider it done," Draco said, his voice warming. "Even if you have to see him in a separate room so Severus doesn't get angry."
"Thank you." Harry turned his head a little as he watched Elena Zabini approaching them. "Hello, madam. Do you have something you need to talk to me about?"
"Yes." Probably because it was just him, Draco, and Ultio in the corridor, Elena revealed the flask that she was carrying. Harry caught his breath at the sight of the silver potion shifting around in it. He didn't have to great at Potions to know it was unusual. "The loyalty potion is ready, but I would be unwilling to use it unless I have a test subject beforehand. Preferably several."
Harry hesitated for a second. Then he turned to Draco. "What do you think about Bellatrix?"
Draco's jaw dropped. Elena said in the restrained, polite tone she always used, "I thought Mrs. Lestrange was still under basilisk Petrification?"
"There's been a slight mishap with that." Harry didn't stop holding Draco's eyes. "And we don't need her to stay loyal for a long time in the way that we need allies to do. This would be a good short-term trial for the potion."
"Why?" Draco hissed, stepping towards Harry and lowering his voice. "Is this a punishment for my—my recklessness or something?"
"This is a good means of testing the potion. If she was still completely Petrified, we couldn't break it. But I want to see how much you can make her obey—and relax the blood magic so that we can test the potion."
Draco frowned, but this time it was more considering. "So you want me to let go the hold of the blood magic and then reinstate it?"
"Yes. We have to know how much we can actually trust her around other people. And if the blood magic is all or nothing, we wouldn't be able to send her to spy on Voldemort anyway."
Elena's face was alive, her eyes resting on Draco's face, then his, with obvious interest. Draco glanced at her, then back at Harry, and seemed to accept someone else knowing that he'd woken Bellatrix from her Petrification. "Yes. Fine. Let me go down to the Chamber and wake her up, then I'll bring her up here."
"We'll all go down to the Chamber. Just in case."
"I could control her long enough to walk her up a few stairs and down a few corners," Draco hissed under his breath, even though he was already turning to lead Harry and Elena towards the Chamber's entrance.
"There are other reasons for this," Harry muttered, and held Draco's eyes long enough for him to figure it out. Draco blinked, and then nodded. This was a test of loyalty for Elena as much as it was for her potion.
And if news did make its way to the Death Eaters about the state Bellatrix was in…then Harry would know exactly who to blame.
Elena tilted back her head to admire the graceful snakes carved into the stone and the shining green gems that made their eyes on the doors of the Chamber. It was somewhat amazing to think that she had been walking the corridors all these months while this treasure waited below.
"You never come down here normally?" she asked Harry, who was walking beside her.
"No. Bad memories."
"Ah." Elena had heard that he had killed another basilisk in the Chamber itself. How that basilisk was related to his bondmate now, if it was, and what said bondmate felt about Harry's destruction of one of his kind, were things that she accepted had to remain mysteries.
Harry hissed out the password for the Chamber, and the snake-covered doors slid aside. Elena raised her eyebrows at the desolate, dank cavern revealed beyond them. "Salazar Slytherin's genius for decoration did not extend here?"
"I don't think that he thought anyone coming here would care about that."
Elena nodded and followed, letting her gaze linger on corners of the chamber without trying to memorize everything. This was, in the end, the best way to create a Pensieve memory she could study in detail at her leisure. The sound of dripping water was constant, as was the press of cold against her skin.
The block of stone with Bellatrix Lestrange lying motionless on top of it was probably a later addition to the Chamber, she decided, with her lip twitching a little.
"All right," Harry said, and drew his wand. He gave another hiss, a long and complicated one that Elena expected to open some secret passage or raise the floor. Instead, the wall seemed to boil, and his basilisk slid out to join him.
Elena controlled her shudder, although by the dart of the snake's tongue and the glance he gave her under his lowered eyelids, he could smell her fear. It was easy to forget how large this serpent was until you saw him at close quarters. The gleam of the green scales, as hard as armor from here, was bad enough, but then Dash yawned and she saw how long his fangs were. The venom that glittered on their tips was as bright as the emeralds on the door.
"Dash is going to be here in case something goes wrong with your control over the blood magic," Harry said to Malfoy, who scowled at him.
That one needs to learn more self-control, Elena thought idly as she clutched her flask. It was impressive, however, to watch the way that Malfoy simply concentrated on his aunt and she sat bolt upright. Her eyes were already open, but grew less glazed as Malfoy told her to stand. She might have passed for a competent witch in full control of her mind if her movements were a little less jerky.
And that is what we need her to be, or the plan of sending her to spy on the Dark Lord's soldiers is useless.
"You're ready?" Malfoy glanced at Elena, and while he looked away from her, Lestrange shuddered a little more.
"Yes." Elena stepped forwards. "Convince her to open her mouth and swallow this potion."
Malfoy put his hands on his hips with the force of his concentration, and for a moment, Elena felt an invisible wind all but shoving at her. She rolled her eyes a little. That focus was probably supposed to be on Lestrange.
For the first time, she mourned what had happened to her son for a reason other than it causing him pain. If Harry was inclined to men, Blaise would have been a better choice for him.
Lestrange's eyes widened, and her mouth opened. Elena emptied a precise five drops of the precious silver potion down her throat. She could easily replicate it now that she had made it, but it took forever to render to its essence.
Lestrange swallowed. Then she blinked and blinked and stared at the wall. Malfoy hissed between his teeth. Elena waited.
"Should I ask her a question?" Harry wondered.
"That would be a way to start." Elena had expected a more violent response. Then again, she was looking at a woman whose reactions were being strictly controlled.
Harry nodded. "What is your name?"
"Bellatrix Lestrange." The woman answered in a voice that halted and hitched on the first word, then flowed smoothly on the second.
"Who is your true loyalty to?"
"The Dark Lord."
Malfoy sighed. "Is this only a more complicated Veritaserum, then? Why use a new potion when we have an old one that works?"
Elena smiled slightly at him, not at all surprised at his attempt to discredit her in front of Harry, and turned to Lestrange. "What would you say if I asked you to change your loyalty?"
"I would say that it would never change."
"Yes, and you have that Dark Mark on your arm that's probably supposed to keep you faithful," Elena murmured. This was an interesting challenge for the first test of the potion. She could have tested it on Snape, but his loyalty to Harry was already absolute. She reached out and concentrated on the potion that had flowed down Lestrange's throat.
The sticky silvery strands the woman had swallowed turned and strained towards her. Elena caught her breath in delight. Yes, she was sure that she had come up with something new. No other potion or poison she had brewed had this intimate connection with her mind once it had entered the body of another.
This one would.
Elena spun her thoughts, rather than her wand or her hand. If all went well, she would be using this potion in contexts where such a movement would be suspicious. Lestrange staggered a step forwards and lifted a shaking hand.
"What are you doing?" Malfoy hissed. "It's hurting her, somehow."
"And you care?"
"She's my aunt and my weapon."
Elena smiled a little. "I promise that I won't kill her. This potion would be no use to us if it was poison." She made the effort to keep her voice light and happy, all the while she gazed at Lestrange and worked the muscles of her thoughts. She would have to be able to maintain ordinary conversation in the parties this would be used in, too.
Lestrange finished staggering and closed her eyes for a moment, as if she was falling asleep or thinking deeply. Then she opened them and stared straight at Elena. Elena spun her thoughts harder, thinking all the while of loyalty, of faithfulness, of her purpose in making this potion, of why she herself was loyal to Harry, of the great basilisk looming behind her.
There was an intense, trembling moment when a silver mist that Elena thought only she saw lifted from Lestrange's skin and swirled in the air in front of them. Then Lestrange trembled slowly to one knee and bowed her head.
She was bowing her head in Harry's direction. Harry looked sick for a second. Then he caught his breath and said, "All right. Why are you serving me now?"
"Because it makes the most sense. Because you are powerful. Because that is what my blood was telling me."
The woman said it all in a docile voice that Elena knew was unlike her, but was like the potion. She threw back her head and laughed, ignoring the way that Harry stared at her and the basilisk reared. There was no one here who would truly harm her.
Although Malfoy, from the stab of his eyes, was trying.
Dash? I asked her to invent something to test loyalty. Has she invented something that can force people to be loyal instead?
Dash seemed to be listening and smelling at the same time, his tongue flickering. Then he said, I believe so. But I am not sure. The potion—I can smell it on Lestrange's breath, but it's unlike anything I've smelled before. I could only guess at what it does. Ask her.
Harry nodded a little and faced Elena again. "All right. You can make her do this. But I don't want to force people to follow me or even stop fighting against me." Elena's face took on a look of scorn, and Draco twitched. Harry didn't care. If they were alike in being Slytherins or Dark wizards or whatever, it didn't matter. This was a line he didn't want to cross. "What does the potion actually do?"
"It manipulates the loyalty of the person whose body it's in. That and their concept of loyalty. It can make them answer truthfully about who they follow, or it can change their minds, or it can reveal their true intentions and loyalties as a fog floating around them. It depends on the intention of the brewer."
"Yes. I manipulated the potion in her after she drank it. And that's one thing that makes it different from Veritaserum, among other things," Elena added, glaring in Draco's direction for a moment.
Harry nodded. "The brewer, and not the inventor."
Elena opened her mouth, and then closed it abruptly again. She glared at him as if he had told her that he didn't feel sorry for Blaise. "You—you can't think that I'm going to—"
"Teach the secret of how to brew the potion to other people, of course. Severus first of all. He has the skill for it."
"He didn't have the skill to invent something like this."
"I'm still asking you to share. Because if you strive to keep it to yourself and something happens to you, then there's that knowledge of the weapon gone. And more, Elena," Harry said, and he deepened his voice and let his hand rest on his wand, "I might start to wonder about your own loyalty, if you think the only way to stay with me is to make yourself indispensable."
Elena stared at him. Dash sent a burst of pride down the bond, and Draco looked as if he might burst out laughing. Luckily, he managed to temper it and simply look calm and interested.
"You wouldn't give it away to our enemies."
"Who said anything about doing that? I don't think there's any Potions expert who's more faithful to me than Severus. And why would he teach it to anyone who didn't follow me? Or you, for that matter."
Elena hesitated again. Then she said, "It's natural to feel protective of something you created."
"Yes," Harry agreed. "Lots of people feel that, like the ones who invent new spells." It was something Headmistress McGonagall had told them in the Defense club last week. "But they have to eventually release their new creations, or have them sit uselessly on shelves for the rest of their lives. Is that what you want to happen to your potions recipe?"
"I was picturing using it for you."
"Of course. And now other people can do the same thing. You'll have company, and the assurance that your work will survive."
Elena glared at him, but she was intelligent enough to realize that she shouldn't challenge him. Or maybe that she shouldn't challenge Dash. "I suppose that will have to do." She paused, appeared to be thinking of something, and added, "My Lord."
Harry recoiled. Elena gave him a faint smile and a mock curtsey, holding the sides of her robes in her hands as she swept it at him. "You should get used to the title. Thank you for your most gracious permission to work for you and the opportunity to invent this potion, my Lord."
She's taking the piss, isn't she, Dash?
She largely is, but I think she's right when she says that you should get used to the title.
Harry rolled his eyes and said, "Thank you, Elena. Draco, can you order Bellatrix to lie down and not move no matter what happens, unless you command her to?"
"Of course," Draco said, and sped through the orders. It still made Harry sick to watch someone obey mindlessly like that, but he had felt the same way when Bellatrix was under Elena's potion. He was never going to be happy with watching someone be manipulated by others.
You should get used to that, too.
No. People can call me Lord, and I can't stop them, but I refuse to be one like Voldemort. And anyway, it's just a title, it's not something that can actually compel me to change my behavior around other people.
Dash only hummed down the bond, which was infuriating, but Harry ignored him in favor of smiling at Draco and leaning up to kiss him. Elena only watched without moving. Harry turned around with a little sigh and addressed her.
"If you'll accompany me upstairs with the rest of that potion, I'd like you to come to Malfoy Manor with us."
Lucius stared at the silver potion shimmering in front of him. It made sense when Zabini had explained how she'd created it, but he still thought it would be stupid of him to drink it.
Perhaps that doubt showed in his face, because Harry impatiently shook his head. "Of course we aren't going to have you drink it. What we're going to have you do is spread the rumor that we have something that can make people loyal to Voldemort."
"I'm already spreading the rumor that we can remove the Dark Mark!"
"And not that many people took you up on it, right? Well, there will still be some people who won't on this, either, but I bet there will also be some Death Eaters contacting you to find out your true loyalties. And if you can get the potion into them and find out who's actually faithful to him and who's only serving out of compulsion, then we'll have a much better chance of knowing who'll respond to the offer to remove the Dark Mark."
Lucius blinked rapidly. Then he said, "And you think others will also approach us?"
"Yes. People who might be neutral right now but intrigued by the thought of joining Voldemort or making other people join him. People who believe that this potion is something special and want to see what it is. People who think you're loyal to Voldemort and attempting to catch you out. Maybe even a few new allies."
"You're placing a great deal of trust in me after my earlier mistakes."
"No. I'm placing a lot of trust in the potion that Elena brewed, and in Elena and Severus being able to duplicate it."
Lucius winced, but concealed it. It wasn't as though Harry had used the Cruciatus Curse on him. "Very well. You realize it could be some time before anyone begins to respond to the rumors, or before their response gets beyond cautious correspondence?"
"I know that."
Lucius glanced between Harry, Zabini, and his son, weighing and assessing. Dash had not come with them, but from what Lucius had heard, that was because he would hardly fit through the fireplace now.
"Why are you—" He cleared his throat. He didn't want to speak the truth, not with Zabini in the room, but he also thought it was hardly likely for Harry to try and humiliate him. "Why are you willing to give me this chance? Is it only because I'm Draco's father?"
"It's because I think you can do good work." Harry rolled his eyes and looked at Elena for some reason. "And you're not likely to start calling me Lord and bowing down before me, unlike some people. You've had enough of that with Voldemort."
"I would be willing to bow down and call you Lord if it was politically expedient."
"But it's not right now, and you should see the disgust in your face when you even talk about it," Harry said, and grinned. "No, do what you can with this, Lucius. Keep a bit of the potion and use it when necessary. Meanwhile, I'll have Elena and Severus make more."
Zabini frowned at that, but if she was the one to make the potion, Lucius could understand why. She wouldn't want to give up that kind of power and influence in Harry's court.
Court? Would it come to that, when the man was so adamant about rejecting the title of Lord, and some of the people who served him would be, as well?
It might, Lucius decided as he studied the young man again. And not just because Zabini wanted to annoy him. It might very well come down to the fact that Harry would wind up taking a Lord's place, whether he wanted to or not.
And in the meantime, Lucius would follow along and obey. And be grateful for this second chance.
"The potion is complicated, but not impossible to replicate."
"Good. I don't think I want Elena to be the only one who can brew it."
"Do you distrust her?"
Severus turned away from his cauldron and the small flask with a few drops of the potion that sat in front of him, and saw Harry frowning into the fire. Harry took longer than Severus would have liked to shake his head.
"Not really," Harry said, looking up. "I simply don't think that anything should be left completely in one person's hands, except yours or Draco's. And even Draco needs to get a little more sense in his head about using blood magic to break a basilisk Petrification."
"He will, when you tell him that he needs to."
"But he should have known on his own. Not because I told him."
Severus eyed him calmly this time. "Is this all about resisting your own power again?"
"No. It's about acknowledging that the stubborn idiot has the ability to hurt himself and I won't always know in time, and he should have a better sense of self-preservation than that!"
Severus relaxed. Draco had offered him an interesting perspective of the events down in the Chamber, one that did more than complement Harry's; it revealed things that Harry had kept from him or didn't realize were important. Or, perhaps, hadn't noticed.
He is a young Lord. Not because of the basilisk, not because he has powerful allies. For other reasons.
And that, along with Harry's increasing mastery of Dark Arts and wandless magic, moved them a step closer to the day when Harry could stand up to anyone who threatened him, and preserve his safety indefinitely.