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Chapter Fourteen—Break the Chains
"What's that, Harry?"
Harry doesn't look up to speak in response to Tarquinius's voice, but he feels his shoulders tense. That will probably tell Tarquinius lots of things. He keeps his voice as neutral as he can. "A letter from Blaise."
"Zabini? Ah, yes, Theo did tell me that you made friends with him as well." Tarquinius leans back in his chair and smiles. Harry knows he's doing it without even looking at him. He can get attuned to adults very, very fast. "What does Zabini say? Has his mother killed her latest toy yet?"
Harry's head jerks a little, and Tarquinius is grinning at him when he looks up again. "You don't have to look so startled, Harry." Tarquinius shrugs. "Everyone knows that Zabini's mother marries and then slaughters men. She's got away with it far more often than I think she should, but her beauty and magic both charm the judges in those cases."
Harry looks back at his breakfast and says nothing. He first heard something about the reputation of Blaise's mum last year, but he didn't pay much attention to it at the time. So he knew. It just…startled him.
Being startled like that can be dangerous. It's something Snape said to him yesterday when he was showing Harry the best way to clean cloth fluff off a cauldron. Harry knows Snape thinks he's stupid, but he is cautious. He just can't always live by Slytherin rules.
"Oh," Harry says, and goes back to his porridge topped with cream. Tarquinius has promised him a magic lesson this morning, as long as Harry can call him Tarquinius and not Mr. Nott. Harry has been doing pretty well so far.
Theo likes to sleep late, so he isn't around as Harry and Tarquinius make their way back to the room with the Silver Hourglass in it. Tarquinius turns to face Harry, calling his wand into his hand. Harry warily draws his own.
"What if I told you that you owe me two debts," Tarquinius asks suddenly, "one for getting you here and one for freeing you from your family?"
"I would ask why you decided to do the second thing. I didn't ask you to."
Harry thinks he's got a good sense of when Slytherins are amused, now, from the way Tarquinius nods a little. "I could not stand your account of how they treated you."
"But I didn't ask you to do something about it," Harry says. He doesn't want to think about what he told Tarquinius right now, and why the man reacted to it when no one else ever did. "That should mean I don't owe you a debt. You don't owe people debts if they just do something for you without being told to."
Tarquinius spins his wand around so that it's pointing at himself instead of Harry. Harry doesn't trust that, and keeps his eyes on Tarquinius. Tom Riddle wasn't pointing the wand at him at first, either. "What about if someone saves your life? Spur of the moment. You didn't ask them to do it. Are you saying you wouldn't owe them a life-debt?"
"That's different from what you did."
"Tell me how it's different."
Harry takes a step forwards and stares straight into Tarquinius's eyes. He honestly doesn't know where this is coming from, this courage, but he'll ride it as far as it takes him. "You had to think about it. It wasn't sudden. You got that snake out and took it into another room, and I know that the snake is what killed the Dursleys."
Tarquinius studies him for long moments. Harry waits. He doesn't think he's suddenly going to get a spell cast at him, but he also thinks he can handle it if he does.
"You seem to have much less complicated feelings about the deaths of your relatives than I imagined. Or being around their murderer."
Harry lets his breath out slowly. He didn't read the article closely enough to determine if Dudley survived. Probably the reporters don't even know. "I know that you don't really want to hurt me, because it would be bad for you. And if you start getting too demanding about the debts, then I'll leave and go elsewhere."
"Who would take you?"
He seems to have found the right answer, even though it was sort of by accident. Tarquinius's mouth curves, and he snorts. "That is true. Very well, Harry. I won't attempt to press the matter of the debts right now, or ask you what you felt about your Muggles. But I am going to insist that you duel me." He falls back and bows the way Snape and Lockhart did in the dueling club.
Harry bows his head a little. He doesn't think he wants to miss the first spell.
And he doesn't. Tarquinius casts a purple one Harry doesn't know. It comes straight at him like the lightning bolt on his forehead.
Harry leaps aside and casts a Tripping Jinx. Tarquinius clucks his tongue and sidesteps it. "You'll have to use more than basic spells, Harry." This time, he does speak the incantation aloud, but it's still not a spell Harry knows. "Frango!"
This time, it's like a shimmering, hazy wave of hot air that Harry rolls underneath. He thinks about the way they defeated the troll, and he Levitates a book from a shelf on the side wall into the air. Tarquinius stares at him, but has to duck when Harry sends the book zooming at his head. He's laughing. "Very good, Harry! Frango!"
This time, the heat wave is too close to Harry, and it hits him. Harry feels a wrenching pain in his shoulder, and his left arm dangles limply. Luckily he's right-handed. Harry backs up, keeping his eyes on Tarquinius.
For some reason, though, that seems to be the wrong move. Tarquinius blinks and lowers his wand. "What are you—"
Tarquinius's wand leaps out of his hand and into Harry's. Harry eyes him for a second, but Tarquinius doesn't charge him and try to recover his weapon. He only leans against the wall, shaking with silent laughter. Harry nods and tosses the wand back to him.
This time, there's another expression that tells him he's done something wrong. Tarquinius stares at his left arm. "You're not going to ask me to fix that?"
"I thought you'd probably do it because you didn't want me to be a worthless investment."
There's a whisper of another silent spell—Harry has got to learn how he does that—and then the pain is gone and his shoulder is whole again. Tarquinius shakes his head. "I think of you as more than a simple investment. Or did me killing your worthless Muggles not convince you of that?"
Harry pulls in his breath and holds it, waiting until his chest feels painful. Sometimes he used to do that when he lay in the cupboard under the stairs. Then he releases it and says, "I don't want to discuss the debt right now."
"Very well." Tarquinius's face is smooth and unreadable. "Now, I think you won that duel because of luck and surprise. I didn't expect you to be such a good fighter. But you won't always be able to rely on that." He aims his wand. "Ready?"
"Will you teach me how to do silent magic sometime?"
"If Severus does not. Now. Frango!"
Blaise feels a small pulse of happiness in the center of his chest when the owl wings down and lands next to him. It's Harry's white owl. He supposes Harry feels comfortable enough to send her now that he's living with a wizard. He feeds her a bit of his sausage and examines the letter, ignoring Bernard's curious stare from the other side of the breakfast table.
Thank you for sending me your letter. I want you to know that I'm doing well enough in Theo's care. And his dad's. Mr. Nott has offered to tutor me. I'm going to accept. I'm sick and tired of learning nothing during the summers.
I'm glad that you're well, too. What do you do during the summers? Study? Or do you just visit the beach and eat delicious food? You're so lucky that you live in Italy. I've never been out of Britain. I'd love to go.
I don't think there's a lot I can tell you. I know that Mr. Nott wouldn't like me to discuss some of it. But I can tell you that Professor Snape is going to tutor me, too. And I know I'd like you to visit if you can. Can you ask your mother about that?
Make sure to feed Hedwig well and pet her. She can be temperamental about taking messages back otherwise.
Blaise puts the letter thoughtfully aside. Harry didn't pick up on all the subtle hints that Blaise sent with his own letter, but he chose to respond to enough of them. To tell Blaise that he'll learn more—and not just magic, because that isn't the way he's talking. To tell him that he can tell Harry some more about what he does during the summers, and visit.
"Writing to your Light friend?"
"I don't know if he's so Light as all that," Blaise murmurs in response to Bernard, and picks at his food. "He got Sorted into Slytherin after being in Gryffindor. And the rumors say the he killed a basilisk."
"He didn't really. No twelve-year-old can kill a basilisk."
Blaise doesn't glare at Bernard, because there's no point. He can only shrug and mutter, "Well, that was what the rumors in the school said."
"You know how useless rumors are."
"Right." Blaise nods, and tucks the letter casually into his pocket before Bernard can ask to see it.
Harry has a natural talent for cleaning. Or perhaps not so natural, Severus thinks, standing back and staring as he watches the boy scrub a cauldron. He shudders to think of the possible sources of that talent.
"Did your aunt make you do chores around the house?"
Harry tenses up for a moment, and then he nods. "But I don't want to talk about it, please." He bends even more elbow and shoulder strength into cleaning the cauldron.
Slowly, Severus nods back. "Very well. Then perhaps I should tell you what Dumbledore is doing and thinking at the moment?"
Harry looks up and blinks at Severus. His green eyes still aren't clouded with shock or fear, even though he's lived with Tarquinius for nearly a week now. "I didn't think you would tell me that."
"Why? You must have known that I chose your side the minute Dumbledore tried to send you back to the Muggles. The minute I told you that I knew your mother."
"No. I just know that you were unhappy and you told me that."
Severus sighs in a way he doesn't often allow himself. It will take incredible strength to work through Harry's defenses, especially because at least half of them are instinctive, oblivious blindness. Harry doesn't see things that could hurt him in a particular way. "Well. I have abandoned the old man. But he doesn't know it. The closer I remain to him, the more damage I can inflict on him."
"You want to damage him?"
"I told you that I am loyal to you now."
"But that isn't the same thing as wanting to damage him."
That is either another example of obliviousness or profound intelligence, and frankly, at the moment, Severus doesn't have the mental strength to work out which one it is. "Well, I do. He continues to insist that we have to find your cousin and make him the cornerstone of new blood protections."
Harry's shoulder blades fly up like wings. Still too thin, and although Severus is sure that Tarquinius's house-elves are feeding him well—starving his assets is not a sin anyone can accuse Tarquinius of—they haven't made much of a dent against years of mistreatment. "I can't let them find Dudley."
"At the moment, no one knows where to find young Mr. Dursley," says Severus, and rolls his eyes for effect. It's wasted, as Harry is staring into the cauldron, but Severus manages not to sigh again and continue. "He might have vanished before the attack took place. He certainly wasn't there when it happened, and he wasn't wounded. Perhaps Muggle authorities took him away, but I don't know what they would have wanted with him before the attack happened."
Harry's arm jerks a little. "I think I might know where he is."
"Why would I tell you? Then you might change your mind and tell Dumbledore about it."
Severus catches back his temper and leashes it. "I can defend myself," he says quietly instead. "I can read minds. Your friend Mr. Nott may have told you that." Harry nods, no longer looking into his eyes. "So can the Headmaster, that is true. But I can also defend myself against him. There is an art called Occlumency that is the opposite of Legilimency, the art of protecting one's own thoughts instead of reading another's. Be assured that Dumbledore will learn nothing about Mr. Dursley's whereabouts from me."
"But why do you want to learn it?"
"Because the knowledge may be useful later."
Severus does not grind his teeth. He has become aware of the value of small gestures around Harry. He will pay far more attention than Severus ever knew to those gestures, and make part of his decision of who to trust based on them.
"All right. Then you should know that the cauldron is clean enough. I want to see you brew your best attempt at a Calming Draught in it."
He has put just the right amount of sourness and doubt in his voice, he thinks. Harry's head comes up, and his eyes blaze. "I can brew them just fine when Malfoy isn't here to throw things in my cauldron!"
"Then prove it."
Harry is already moving for the ingredients arranged on a shelf next to them.
"I acknowledge that you may have done a good deed. But I want to know why you did it."
This isn't the first time his father has asked Draco that, only the most direct. And this time, Draco has decided on the answer he will give.
The answer he will keep to himself is different.
Quietly glad that his father never learned Legilimency, Draco still lowers his eyes and gives a low, whining sigh. "I told you about Blaise and Theo becoming friends with Potter. Didn't I?" he adds, pausing as if he can't remember, which is one of the biggest lies he's ever told.
"I can't let them have an advantage I don't!" Draco bursts out, and then wilts when his father glares at him. They're in the study with all the mirrors, which means Draco gets a view of himself in more than one surface, twisting his fingers. "Sorry. But, I mean—if Potter is really going to be part of Slytherin and he's going to stay, then I have to make peace with him somehow. Letting Professor Snape know about him and where he went and what his friends said was the best thing I could think of."
"You think Potter will be your friend because of that?"
Of course not. But it will mean a second glance, and one glance is all Draco needs.
"I—I didn't think of that. Maybe not, Father. I'm sorry."
"I can see that you are." Father's voice gentles, as always. He touches Draco's forehead. "But you must think before you act, Draco, or you will not survive when the inevitable happens."
When our Lord returns. Father doesn't say that, but the implication is there in the silence.
Draco nods. He watches Father leave, his head still lowered, watching his pale robes flickering through the mirrors.
What if I don't want our Lord to return?
"This is ridiculous."
Hermione starts and looks up. Ron has slammed the latest letter from Harry on the kitchen table. His face is so red that she's really afraid for his life for an instant, and all she can think of is how hard she had to fight with her parents to let her visit the Burrow. If Ron dies in an apoplectic fit now, it will all be for nothing.
Then Hermione tells herself not to be stupid, and asks, "What's ridiculous?"
"He writes to us, but he's not telling us anything!" Ron waves his hand over the table. "He just talks about his summer and chatters about living with a Death Eater as if it's all normal. It's driving me mental!"
"Ron, we can't force Harry to talk about it if—"
"No, but we can bloody well write to him and ask to visit. If his high and mighty Death Eater guardian is so forthright and honest, he'll let us visit, won't he?"
Hermione swallows. She wants to say that there are things going on here that they aren't aware of. For one thing, she really thought Professor Snape would grab Harry by now—Harry's mentioning that he gets to visit—and take him away. But the more she thinks about that, the more she wonders if Hogwarts professors have any homes away from the school. Or at least if Professor Snape does. Could he take Harry anywhere that Dumbledore wouldn't know about?
And it's horrible, to distrust Professor Dumbledore like that. But she doesn't see that she has any choice.
"All right, Ron. Let's write to him."
Ron beams at her, and then goes off to fetch his ink and parchment. Hermione sits back and casts a little narrow-eyed glance at the door into the kitchen. She has privacy spells up on them that will warn her when someone is coming.
Right now, Ron's parents are outside, working on Muggle things and laundry, and his brother Percy is at some friend's house, and Ginny is asleep the way she has been almost constantly since Harry rescued her, and the twins are doing God knows what. But someone could come in at any moment.
And Hermione doesn't want anyone else to know that they're writing to Harry.
It makes her stomach squirm, distrusting adults like this. But for Harry's sake…
Again, she doesn't see that she has a choice.