A/N: I've got 99 plot ideas and this wasn't one - but it's here anyways.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. All characters belong to JK Rowling. No money is being made.
Warnings: Infrequent updates. Like, hey-whatup-it's-been-a-year updates. Also this starts of okay-ish but will actually be really dark.
Basically my try at political powerplay. You get all these nice stories in which Harry is social grace personified and somehow always ends up being dark. So I wanted to do one where he isn't dark, but still has that cunning streak.
Except that's a lie, I didn't want to do anything it just was here somehow.
A philosophical debate with consequences
Sometimes Lucius surprised himself.
He wasn't known for it, but occasionally he had sudden bouts of recklessness that drove him to seek adventures. They had a certain boyishness to them and made him feel alive, albeit they also tended to land him in some unusual situations.
"Charming," Severus sneered beside him.
They stood at the border of the city, in the lower quarters where only poor folk lived. Both of them looked completely out of place with their tailored coats and gloves made of the finest material.
"Well it should suit our purposes, I think," he answered his long-time friend.
"When you invited me over for an evening of philosophical discussions I admittedly expected something less…dirty."
"You have to get your nose out of the books, Severus. This particular question can only be answered by observation."
"I disagree. A hypothetical scenario in a well-schooled mind yields all the answers one needs."
"And yet we arrived at nothing conclusive."
"The debate is an old one, I sincerely doubt we will find any new evidence here."
Lucius was inclined to agree with him, but he hadn't just ruined his favourite boots in the mud of the lowborn quarters for nothing. He watched the pathetic excuses for human beings scurry around them in the dusk, the most courageous ones stealing a glimpse at them before lowering their eyes.
One could really only assume they had been born without a spine or even a semblance of self-respect.
"They are all streaming in the same direction," Severus observed.
"In that case we'll follow them."
Severus shot him a look that conveyed the full extent of his displeasure without words. The man had perfected that technique since childhood.
"It could be exciting," Lucius said with fake enthusiasm. "Maybe they found a loaf of bread?"
It wasn't bread.
What they found instead, at the very edge of the city, was a well-illuminated site with dozens, maybe hundreds, of people crowding it. To his surprise he could also spot some richer merchants and even a few nobles amongst them.
The trailers forming a circle around the place, the big cages behind them, the music, laughter and especially the large tent in the middle of it all left nothing to the imagination. It was a circus.
It really couldn't get any more adventurous than this.
"Step right up! Amuse yourself! Tickets are cheap! The wonders are endless! Thank you Sir! Milady! Show starts in fifteen minutes! The experience of a lifetime!"
The performers shouted amongst the crowd, some of them standing on chairs or mingling with the people, selling tickets, trying to attract as many customers as possible.
He could even hear a faint roar from somewhere around them, some kind of exotic beast getting ready for his part. And was that a small monkey darting between the many legs?
Lucius couldn't quite decide if he should feel absolutely repulsed or fascinated by the spectacle in front of him.
"Lucius," his friend warned him exasperated. Severus had apparently made up his mind in regards of the place.
Seeing the bookworm trying not to squirm in the unfamiliar environment was enough for Lucius to see the evening as a success.
"I thought you were a studious mind Severus. A place of endless wonders sounds perfect for you!" he taunted.
"Careful with your jests milord, out of the two of you I give him the higher chance to leave the tent without gaping like a dying fish," an unfamiliar voice spoke.
It was a clear tenor, pleasant to the ear, and currently soaked in amusement. It also took Lucius a while to identify the source, as it came from above them.
On the roof of the trailer to their left sat a young man. One foot dangled from the edge while the other leg was bent so that his elbow could rest on it, holding his chin.
He was peering down at them, at the people who stood so much higher in society than him, with a confident smile, almost sly.
Usually such a thing from lowborn scum would have infuriated Lucius, disgusted even. But there was no disrespect in the young man's eyes and neither was his confidence exaggerated. It was simply part of him, a man completely aware of his place but unbothered by it.
When the youth noticed that he had their attention, he stood up, his movements almost feline in his grace as he balanced himself on the edge in the flickering light of the torches.
Lucius expected him to dangle from the ledge and climb down, but he simply jumped, doing a casual somersault in the air before landing silently in front of them.
Pitch black hair, messy but well-tended, startling green eyes and high cheekbones. He was young and maybe a head shorter than the two lords. But not even the ill-fitting - but at least clean - clothes could hide his lean, muscular stature. Beautiful.
"Good evening," the youth greeted amused, when neither of them spoke after his impressive entrance.
Despite his obvious amusement at their dumbfounded stares, his voice was still nothing but respectful and Lucius realized the young man knew exactly what he was doing, how to play.
He could appreciate that much social grace, even if it came in lowborn people.
When the silence continued the youth only smiled brighter, swiftly procuring two slips of papers from his sleeve. "Tickets?"
He leaned closer to Severus, a bit too close to be entirely appropriate and - oh my, was that a faint blush on the pale man's face? The young man was even better than he thought.
Lucius regained his bearings and turned to his friend. "Why not give it a go? It will hardly cost us much."
He knew his statement was insulting, implying the cheap worth of the entertainment provided.
But the young man only smiled softly and gave a flourished bow in his direction.
Men could get drunk from that much elegant compliance.
And the youth knew exactly what effect it had. Feigning submission, yet everyone could see he was only playing the game. It was so masterfully done that it didn't matter if it was fake or not. The fantasy of it was intoxicating enough.
"A tiny little extra and you get the first row milords," the youth said, still in a slight bow.
"And get trampled by your wild beasts? I think not," Severus sneered.
The young man righted himself fluidly, his posture relaxed.
"All our animals are exceptionally well trained sir, there is no need to be afraid." He glanced up at him, eyes sparkling with mirth, obviously goading the man intentionally.
Severus' lips were pressed firmly together, but if he didn't want his honour insulted he had no other option than to actually pay.
Lucius wanted to laugh out loud. To think a circus member had outmanoeuvred a noble lord with only a few sentences. Brilliant.
Severus saw his expression and gave him another dark look, while he wordlessly handed over the money for the tickets he never wanted.
He was rewarded with a coy smile and another smooth bow. "Thank you very much milords, I wish you the best of evenings."
"Will we see you in an act, or are you just here to…attract…customers?"
The implication was not lost on the youth, judging by the sly smile. "I am an acrobat sir. I hope my act proves entertaining to you."
Lucius let his eyes wander down the length of his body openly, revelling in the fact that the young man let it happen without even batting an eyelash, patiently waiting for his attention to return to his face.
"I'm sure it will," Lucius murmured, meaning every word of it.
And thus the two lords found themselves in the first row of a circus, amongst so many people far beneath their standing.
Neither of them took their eyes off the lithe figure that soared through the air above them during the performance.
While Harry left a lasting impression on the two highborns, they left only a fleeting one on him.
Nobles like them came and went. The circus was at the border between the somewhat poorer quarter of the city and the slums that stretched out around it.
The nobles only ever came down here in search of a little thrill to quench their boredom. Sometimes they were driven by nothing else than friendly dares.
It was the same in every city. They had stayed longer than ever in this one, because it also had a rather wealthy middleclass who was less afraid to come down here and even seemed to genuinely enjoy the show. So far customers all but streamed into their tent. As long as they made enough money to get by they would stay.
The circus had been his family for five years now, since he was fourteen. The years before that…had not been pretty for him.
As far as he was concerned his life began with the circus and everything before that was better left in the dark corners of his mind, shut out behind walls.
The circus represented something forbidden and fascinating to the nobles, who were used to their grand mansions and could never sleep in old trailers amongst cages of animals. But to Harry it was home, no matter where their location.
He considered everyone here his friend.
There was Hermione, their magician, clever at inventing new illusions and brilliant at performing them.
Bill, Charlie and Ron were animal trainers, unbelievably patient when it came to their animals, often quite less so when it came to humans.
The twins of course, every respectable circus needed twins. Clowns in and out of the arena if Harry ever saw one.
Ginny was still rather young to be performing solo, but she often assisted with Hermione's magic tricks and was starting to become a magnificent tightrope walker.
Luna was so good at fortune telling that sometimes Harry started to believe in it as well.
Then there was Neville, too shy to actually perform anything, but he cooked, cleaned and built things around their circus.
The circus also often housed several independent groups who stayed in their show for a season or so before moving on. All together they were one big family.
Everything was coordinated by the Weasley's parents, which mostly meant their mother.
And then there was Harry of course. Tightrope, trapeze, trampoline, bars, silk rope - you name it. His agility and fearlessness sometimes even put his fellow performers in awe.
Acrobats had probably the most dangerous act, but Harry had never felt anything but safe above the ground. The higher up he was the happier. He had to admit that he liked the trapeze the best. He felt like flying whenever he was performing.
Also, blondie hadn't been wrong to call him the customers' attractor.
The twins were brilliant at luring the lower and middle class citizens to their world, but if they wanted to charm some nobles - and get them to pay five times the amount a ticket usually costed - they needed Harry.
He was good at playing their game. As long as he could keep his disdain off his face.
Really, for priding themselves to be the most sophisticated people they were just too easy. A smile here, a bow there, a compliment or a soft touch whenever appropriate and they became drooling idiots.
They were also very safe. If he'd charm lowborns in the same way they might expect him to take things further. The disdainful notion that all wandering folks sold their bodies for a little extra was sadly a very persistent one.
A circus was exciting to have in town, but the performers weren't citizens. No matter how poor the people of the town, the circus was seen as something even lower. The law did nothing to protect them. So they had to watch out for each other.
But nobles would never stoop so low as to admit that they lusted after a circus artist. So Harry could charm and flirt all he wanted to lure them into their tent, they would never lay a hand on him.
Harry stretched languidly, his muscles pleasantly sore from today's show.
He had done an extra act in tonight's show, because of the two lords.
Nobles they got quite frequently, but you could see from a distance that those two were different. And there was no point in denying that they had only bought the ticket to see him.
Customers began to tickle out of the tent.
Children gushed excitedly about what they had seen. Parents laughed and bought food from the stands. The few highborns exchanged pleasantries.
The circus performers mingled as well, receiving compliments, doing a few extra tricks, maybe pocket some money here and there from the drunks.
Their circus had rather strong morals for their social standing, but a bit of thieving from the super rich wouldn't hurt anyone. They never noticed the loss and if they did it was such an insignificant amount that they convinced themselves they must have misplaced their purse and went on with their lives.
The two lords were amongst the last ones to come out. Seeing them in the middle of the crowd, Harry noticed that even their poised walk was enough to distinguish them from the rest.
Their eyes found his and they came straight towards him, standing just a bit outside of the lingering crowd.
Harry smiled wildly and instantly dropped into a low bow.
He honestly didn't mind the bowing and the tedious honorifics. It was fake, an act, a game. He was good at it and he enjoyed predicting their reactions precisely.
It was an art in itself, a very subtle manipulation of those around him, to get exactly what he wanted. His skills in the air were only rivalled by his skill of reading people.
He had observed the two lords for several minutes, listening in to their conversation before he had made himself known.
Blondie here liked to come across as closed-off, but he appreciated some things openly and he went practically starry-eyed at Harry's compliant attitude. He had exquisite tastes in all things and he enjoyed the verbal dancing at the highborns' court.
His dark haired, pale companion was another matter entirely. He had little patience with the play-pretend and didn't react at all to skilful conversations. But Harry could tell there was a dry wit there, ready to lash out if the man would let it. He didn't share blondie's joy for socializing, but rather analysed situations around him clinically.
He was a hard nut to crack in Harry's little acting game, but the man had a strong weakness for physical intimacy. It made him in equal amounts uncomfortable as it fascinated him, shattering his barriers efficiently.
"Milords," Harry greeted pleasantly. "Still alive I see."
"As are you. A bit hard to believe after what we saw," blondie was careful to keep his voice level, but the admiration still seeped through.
"It is my livelihood sir, though your compliment still honours me greatly."
He bowed again. He was lying it on thick, but blondie seemed to appreciate it.
As someone of such high standing he must be well used to the fakeness of these things and saw through Harry's act easily.
That didn't stop him from enjoying his skilful execution. And to fool his companion Harry would have needed to step up his acting greatly, which would have meant so much effort for no gain at all as the man didn't value pleasantries.
So Harry didn't even bother to make it look real. Though he did go to great lengths to make it seem completely natural and flawlessly graceful.
"There is still much to see milords, maybe you would like to know your fortunes? Or take a closer look at our animals? Though you didn't seem too fond of them before."
He directed his last words to the dark-haired lord, a playful smile firmly on his lips. The man's onyx eyes glinted darkly at the soft jab, but whatever clever comeback he had in his mind was once again firmly held back.
A shame really, the man might have proven to be a challenge.
"We have only eyes for you, I'm afraid."
My, but blondie certainly wasn't holding back.
"My skills are shown off best in the air sir, though I could certainly also entertain on any…flat surfaces as well."
He meant floor gymnastics of course, but the innuendo was bound to fry blondie's brain with the image.
The lord's eyes, hooded in pleasure before, widened comically. Really now, the man was too easy.
His companion's glare wasn't directed at Harry for once, but at blondie. Maybe he shared Harry's sentiment.
Harry considered giving him more attention, but as blondie clearly was the more active participant in their little dance he discarded the idea. He had gotten his money out of them, no use in enticing a man that didn't want or needed to be here.
Blondie managed to regain his composure - or maybe he'd gotten off, it was hard to tell with nobles - and took another step towards him, definitely intruding in his personal space now.
Ah. Show of dominance. How boring.
But Harry complied and dropped his head just so, peeking up at the taller man from underneath his jet-black fringe. Lesson number one: Never break eye contact, they lost interest otherwise.
"We were hoping you might do us a favour," blondie murmured sinuously.
From the corner of his eyes Harry caught the other lord rolling his eyes at blondie's use of 'we', clearly not sharing the other's enthusiasm.
His smile broadened. "For you? Anything sir."
He fully expected the amused excitement that entered blondie's eyes. He had admittedly not expected him to pull out a plain, but expensive looking envelope.
Harry blinked at it, for the first time tonight caught a bit off guard.
"An invitation," blondie explained. "For tomorrow's gala at Riddle manor."
Riddle manor. By the gods, just how high on the social ladder were the two lords if they had spare invitations to Riddle's parties?
"Ah, I-… You wish me to perform something sir?"
Harry absolutely hated himself for stuttering at the beginning. It wouldn't matter, as it underlined his submissive posture beautifully, but it grated on his nerves because it hadn't been planned.
"Well a little show would certainly prove entertaining," blondie answered. "But no, nothing scheduled at least. Just as a guest."
Harry allowed his eyebrows to rise in scepticism. "I'm not exactly used to such…gatherings…sir."
"And that's precisely why you're perfect," blondie smiled insinuatingly. "See, Severus and I have a little philosophical debate going on."
Severus. Harry stored the information away for later, though it wouldn't do him much good without knowing their last names.
"Oh?" he made interested.
"Yes, nature versus nurture. Are manners, behaviour, intelligence and grace inherent, or could they in fact be learned under the right circumstances? For example, as a circus acrobat such as yourself."
A lowborn scum was probably what he wanted to say, but he most likely expected Harry to be honoured that he even considered him to have a chance to be anywhere on the same level as the nobles.
Harry now also had an answer why two lords of such high standing would be here in the first place.
"And what is your stance on the debate sir?" he looked up at blondie openly and unabashed, a gesture reserved between people from the same social circles.
Blondie's head tilted in contemplation, a pleased smile tugging at his lips. "I might find myself rethinking my initial position."
"And what exactly do you expect me to prove by going to this gala?"
Blondie chuckled. "Well now, that would depend entirely on the outcome of the evening, don't you think?"
A challenge. It would actually please Harry immensely to mess around with the sheer arrogance of the aristocrats.
But going so far away from the circus on his own could be dangerous. A noble would never do anything to him in such a public place, but who knew what went on behind the closed doors of their mansions?
He was still convinced their own arrogance would prevent them from laying so much as a finger on him, especially surrounded by their own kind, but it was still a certain risk.
"We have shows every evening though," Harry argued. "And if we were to cancel my parts in the performance then-…"
"There would be financial compensation of course," blondie interrupted. "We would never want to hinder a hardworking man in his job. However, we are sadly entirely ignorant of how much you make on an evening, but rest assured we're willing to compensate for your loss."
A clear offer, an invitation to name a price far beyond what Harry or the whole circus usually gained for their shows.
And the circus was always low on money, barely scrapping by.
If he stayed alert and careful during the gala then this could only be a win-win situation. And Harry was nothing but confident in his abilities to dance around highborns.
He took the envelope from blondie's hands.
"It will be my honour to see you there, lord..?" he trailed off, waiting for the man to give him his name.
Blondie's pleasure was palpable. "Malfoy."
Harry almost dropped the envelope.
Apparently he wasn't fast enough to conceal all aspects of his shock, because the lord's smile turned into a smirk.
"Please, call me Lucius."
He gave him a last onceover before turning around, heading away from the circus, deliberately not waiting for Harry's name.
His companion was a bit slower in his retreat, appraising Harry calculatively. Harry remained silent, wondering if the man would give his name without further probing, or if he would simply dismiss him.
"Snape," he said finally, curtly.
He didn't bother offering him his first name as he stalked after Lucius, robes billowing behind him. Maybe he didn't want Harry using his first name or he had noticed that Harry had already picked it up.
Harry stared down at the fine envelope in his hands and felt a jolt of apprehension and excitement rush through him.
He had no interest in the highborn court but some names were known everywhere, an integral part of the most general knowledge. Snape was one of them.
And you literally couldn't get much higher than Malfoy.
Except perhaps the royal family.
And Tom Marvolo Riddle, who had come out of nowhere and was whispered to have more power than the king himself.
This could be interesting.
A/N: I mean...it could be interesting? Potentially?
So this one actually has a high chance to get a second chapter relatively fast (With Voldemort in it, duh :)). After that I'm not promising anything.