Diamond bright light illuminated Voldemort's waxen face. The Dark Lord's livid eyes were fixed upon the agonies of a man trapped in a dazzling flume of circular time. Naked, the man's age was in constant flux; his entire, helpless life was lived in a matter of moments, buffeted by shining gusts of relentless magic, at the end of which he shrunk once more to a tiny, mewling infant and the process began anew. The flailing child's screams were muffled by the towering, crystal bell jar in which he was imprisoned, and the relentless ticking of the many clocks which covered the walls of the room. Voldemort found gazing at the doomed creature rather cathartic. Standing in this room, immortal, and thus immune to the ravages of time, soothed his frayed nerves.
"My Lord?" A tentative voice hovered at his shoulder.
"Have you done as I asked, Senior Unspeakable Turpin?" Voldemort asked without turning, as he continued to gaze at the changing figure within the bell jar. One of his Death Eaters had been caught in the jar many years ago, during their disastrous attempt to seize the prophecy concerning himself and Potter. When Voldemort had freed the others from Azkaban, he had put the wretched wizard out of his misery.
Lisa Turpin glanced at the crystal jar, ran a nervous hand through her dark hair, and then returned her attention to the Dark Lord. "We have had the object thoroughly tested, my Lord, and I believe we have some idea of the enchantments placed upon it." Her voice was slightly squeaky.
The Dark Lord said nothing. The infant gasped out a tortured cry as it sped relentlessly toward adolescence. Voldemort remembered the pain of being reborn. He closed his eyes, recalling his emergence from the scalding heat of the cauldron, his first euphoric steps, and the sensation of silk against raw, new skin.
"The book has been turned into some form of cross-dimensional beacon, similar to a Portkey, which-"
"I am aware." Voldemort's cold, quiet voice was gravid with threat. The feral, crimson eyes opened as the Dark Lord finally turned to regard Unspeakable Turpin, who could not meet them and glanced again at the man in the bell jar - now middle-aged - though from the expression on her face it was clear she wished she had not. "You have said nothing but that which would be obvious to anyone the most basic acquaintance with Choramancy. Look at me when I am speaking to you."
Turpin swallowed. She specialised in two of the most arcane and difficult types of magic, Chronomancy and Choramancy: the manipulation of time and space. "I... well... it's tied to you, my Lord. This old book," she held up the battered diary, "was meant to summon you... elsewhere, but I have no - forgive me - I have no explanation for why it sent another wizard here in your stead..."
Voldemort enjoyed visiting the Department of Mysteries. The Unspeakables were far too used to being paid extremely high wages to argue abstract theories to very little purpose. The Dark Lord, upon gaining control of the Ministry, had immediately ordered them to put their precious theories to the test and engage in more serious, practical experiments. In the past, this highly secretive department had reported directly to the Minister of Magic, who - fortunately for them -
almost never understood a word of their reports. Voldemort had removed the Department of Mysteries from the Minister's purview. It was the only department personally overseen by the Dark Lord.
Her words, obvious as they were, gave him the answer he was seeking. How could he forget? "Long ago I devised a means by which that my Death Eaters might summon me in moments of great need. Whoever enchanted the book in your hand has based part of their ritual on the method I used to create the Dark Mark. It is an ancient magic and it calls only to blood. The answer to your question lies in the ritual I performed to gain this form. The blood of Harry Potter runs in my veins - it was this which resulted in his being pulled across."
Turpin stared up at Voldemort, open-mouthed. He smirked down at her as she marvelled at his brilliance. "But don't you realise what this means, my Lord?" So excited was Unspeakable Turpin that she forgot her fear, bouncing up and down on her heels excitedly. "This... live Harry Potter is proof of Monkstanley's Theory of Multiple Worlds! In our world you defeated Harry Potter, whereas in the other-!"
She collapsed to the floor - convulsing - dropping the diary, and shrieking under the agony of Voldemort's curse. He stood over her, drawing out the spell without mercy, the glittering currents of the bell jar reflected in his cruel, slit-pupilled eyes. In his moment of realisation, he had forgotten that he had decided not to mention the name of wizard who had appeared with his broken Horcrux. Finally, he lifted the curse. "You will not speak of this," he murmured softly.
"I - I - took an an Unbreakable Vow, m-my Lord, please-!" Her vow meant nothing when she was quite free to speak to others within her department.
The Dark Lord tilted his head thoughtfully as he delved into her mind - examining her loyalty - and saw that Lisa Turpin imagined he was considering how valuable she was and what a waste her death would be. The arrogance of a Ravenclaw. Voldemort almost laughed at such misplaced hopes. "Perhaps it is your wish to join your colleague in studying applied Chronomancy?" A pale talon gestured ominously toward the old wizard writhing within bell jar.
Then Voldemort froze.
In one world you defeated Harry Potter, whereas in the other world...
I did kill you, after all. Twenty years ago, if you've forgotten...
Which had to mean - impossible as it was - that Harry Potter had known about his Horcruxes. Voldemort stared down at the once-beloved diary, now a worthless, broken husk, and a terrible fear gripped him. An enraged cry escaped his lips, more akin to the inchoate screams of demented animal than a human wail. It could not be true - it was impossible; no one had ever known... surely the rest were safe...
A strange, crackling buzz filled the air as Voldemort's fear began to interfere with the Chronomantic magic which governed the room. One of the clocks exploded, leaking purple smoke, and several began ticking backwards. Within the bell jar, the trapped wizard was suddenly flitting between random ages and the magic surrounding him flared erratically as Voldemort paced around the circular room.
Only two of his precious treasures had ever been destroyed, both by people ignorant of the true nature of their actions. The diary was thought to have been little but a darkly-enchanted book, bound with memories. And dear Nagini had been killed by the Weasley girl for being Lord Voldemort's familiar and the creature who devoured what remained of Harry Potter. She met her death as a symbol, not a Horcrux.
It still tortured him to think of her coils lifeless against the stone, cut in twain by the same weapon that had felled the Basilisk of Slytherin; his two familiars, his two most devoted, most loyal companions - the only creatures who had ever touched his heart - it had driven him beyond madness. One day, he would kill Ginevra Weasley, but not before he forced her to witness the deaths of all those she cared for.
A modicum of calm softened his fear. He was not this other Lord Voldemort who had allowed himself to be killed. Who knew what mistakes his counterpart had made? Perhaps he had abandoned caution and boasted of his greatest secret to one of his servants? Perhaps he had not hidden his connection to the Gaunts? It was absurd to think that another's flaws also applied to him. It was impossible for Voldemort to guess at the number of differences between the world where he had failed and the world where he had won, it -
"Um, my Lord...?"
He turned, ready to kill whoever dared to interrupt his thoughts - but something in Senior Unspeakable Turpin's face stopped him. The Unspeakable was sitting on the floor, one hand holding up the diary."Speak!" he spat furiously, the Killing Curse itching at his fingertips.
"Um - well - er... you see, m-my Lord, this object... er... I thinkitcoulddestroytheworld. Er... potentially."
"What did you say?"
"So - er - so if the main difference between our world and this other world is Your Lordship's victory, pulling you fully into this other dimension could - assuming Monkstanley's Theory of Multiple Worlds is correct - potentially destroy one or both of the dimensions. Or just confuse things a bit. Or a lot. I'm not sure. Er. Either way you should probably do something about it. Um, with respect, my Lord."
The crimson eyes widened in shock as Voldemort took in the full implication of Unspeakable Turpin's words. He snatched up the book, just as magic flared within the bell jar, blindingly bright, and the diary began to glow -
- And he was gone, speeding toward a wall of light that broke across his flesh in a scintillating roar of fractured pain that tore open in all directions - gaping wounds with no skin, no body from which to bleed - eight voices shrieking without sound, drowning out the light until he split open and screamed with them, past their broken cries, to be thrust into -
Voldemort blinked. He was alive - yes - and embodied. Trembling, he wrapped his arms about himself, squeezing as hard as he could. Beads of bruised light flickered across his vision. Taking a deep breath, the Dark Lord forced his shaky legs to stand. Still dizzy with nausea, he leaned against a bookcase to get his bearings, blearily taking in some of the titles and a photograph of a schoolboy with periwinkle blue hair and Hufflepuff robes. His young features, to Voldemort's eye, bore a slight resemblance to the Black family.
He was in a sitting room. Flowery curtains were pushed back from a wide window to allow the late morning light to spill into the room. Pictures of three young children - the next generation of Potters? - filled the walls, smiling and waving at him from their frames. The cosiness of the place was marred, however, by the many cardboard boxes which littered the room, most of them half-filled. A handsomely framed painting of Hogwarts Castle in summer lay atop the nearest one. On the wall beside the box was a matching square of bright, unfaded wallpaper and an empty nail. Voldemort moved to examine the painting. Beneath the calm surface of the lake, the movements of the giant squid were just discernible, sunning itself in the shallows. The Dark Lord would always remain fond of the beloved castle; his first kingdom. He bent closer to see if he could make out the artist's signature.
The sound of a muffled conversation floated through the doorway. Voldemort drew his wand, moving cautiously towards the open door, careful to keep the element of surprise. Potter's kitchen was small and unkempt, counters cluttered with unwashed dishes and any number of cookbooks. How typical of him to live in such filth. Potter himself was hunched over in the midst of it all, facing a crackling hearth.
I could kill him now, he could not resist the thought. But no, if Unspeakable Turpin was correct, then he ought to interfere with this realm as little as possible.
"… a little later than expected," a woman was saying from the fireplace, her face obscured by Potter's crouching form. "Another hour, maybe? I'm not sure."
"Oh." Potter was turned toward the fireplace, but the disappointment in his voice was readily discerned. "I was - hoping Lily and I could go for a walk along Diagon Alley this afternoon. Maybe get some ice cream... stop by Fred and George's..." It was a man's voice - hard to believe that it belonged to the boy he had killed.
"You knew I was taking her to my parents today," the woman interrupted him. "You're free to do whatever you'd like with her the rest of the weekend."
"And you know that I'm working this weekend!"
The woman sighed, "I'm sorry, I - we went over this."
"Ginny, please." A hint of desperation crept into Potter's voice. "I thought - maybe you might join us! We could get some dinner. There's a new Italian place, right near the Ministry - maybe we could see a film at the cinema, Lily's always loved -"
Potter deflated visibly, his shoulders sagging. "But -"
"No! The answer is no, Harry!" A pause, in which Potter said nothing. "We'll be home shortly. You're to be out of the house by five."
There was the telltale whoosh signaling the end of a firecall, and then Potter sank to the kitchen floor, burying his face in his hands.
The Dark Lord cleared his throat. "My apologies for interrupting at what is clearly a less than convenient time, but there are certain things you and I must discuss." Voldemort kept his face expressionless, unwilling to engage with Potter's obvious distress. The man's family problems were not Voldemort's concern.
Potter made a choked noise, and he scrambled to his feet, nearly knocking over several of the dishes piled atop the counter as he did so. "What the - what the hell?-!" He yanked his wand from the back of his trousers before he had even regained his balance. It was odd to see him as a man. Age had brought stray lines of silver to the black hair, adorned the chin with stubble, and deeply etched Potter's familiar expression of stubborn defiance into a tanned, unfamiliar face; the glasses were square and thick-rimmed, the famous scar faded to white.
There were several explanations the Dark Lord might give, none of them appealing. "Suffice it to say that my transition was not wholly voluntary." Voldemort sniffed, "None the less, it shall serve."
"Transition?" Potter repeated, gaping. "What are you talking about? How are you in my house?"
"What were the fates of the Dark wizards whose ritual you interrupted? Based upon the incomplete enchantments on the diary - I assume that you interrupted a ritual - yet I have learned that it is unwise to make assumptions where Harry Potter is concerned."
"So it was a ritual!" The wariness in Potter's expression suddenly gave way to anger. "I tried to tell them that, but we didn't have enough to go off of! They were released just yesterday… insufficient evidence..." Potter scowled up at him again, still gripping his wand. "Why, were they acting under your orders?"
"Did I not say-?" Lord Voldemort gave a weary sigh, very close to losing his temper once more. He would be over a hundred in a week or so. "Potter, are you familiar with Monkstanley's Theory of Multiple Worlds?"
Potter stared. "Er - should I be?"
"To put it simply, the theory dictates that when a choice is made, or an action takes place, another world comes into being where events took place differently. Thus, I am the Lord Voldemort who defeated you, and you are the Harry Potter who..." he grimaced in distaste, "...defeated me."
"So that ritual... was meant to bring our worlds together?" For a moment, Potter looked genuinely frightened. "Well, we don't want you here! We've been getting along perfectly fine without you, thanks - and I imagine things aren't so bad for you in your own world, if that crown is any indication."
"You fail to understand. The ritual was not meant to bring the two realms together. But, more importantly, Lord Voldemort must ensure they never succeed. The consequences could shatter both dimensions." He was exaggerating, of course. It was impossible to know what would really happen and, if any world would be destroyed by the spell, it would likely be his own.
Shock flitted across Potter's face as he took this in, and then he seemed to reach a decision. "No - you won't be doing anything but heading straight back to your own world where you belong. I am a trained auror. I will deal with these wizards, and their ritual, and make sure neither of us have to see each other ever again."
"I see." Voldemort leered at him. "You are going to explain all of what I have told you to some Ministry official and he will then give you permission to detain these wizards, based on new evidence from Lord Voldemort? Ministry procedure has changed even more here than it has in my world."
"Who said anything about going to a Ministry official?" Potter snapped. "Besides, I'd rather go through a hundred Ministry officials than work with you."
"Potter, the only other person in my Britain who understands the magic involved is an Unspeakable named Turpin. Even if she also exists here, as an Unspeakable, she will be quite unable to assist you. Do not be foolish. You require an expert in Choramancy. I am the only one readily available to you." He gave a tight, lipless smile. "Alternately, I am perfectly willing to seek out these wizards and kill them myself. It will merely be less efficient, and possibly give them time to destroy the world..." He gave a cold, airy sigh, "...But one must make do with the resources at one's disposal."
Potter scowled. "What are you even proposing, Riddle? That we work together?" He paused, brow furrowing. "My world, my rules. You won't be killing anyone."
Rage saturated his mind at his father's wretched name. He would not lose control. He would not. Voldemort ground his teeth together, biting back his fury. "I thought you made an exception for Dark wizards?" He spat the words out as if they were the foulest things in the universe and - for a second - the tenuous control which held back his temper was seen clearly in his twisted features. His next words came out in a rush, as he did not trust himself not to snap and kill the man in front of him before he finished speaking.
"Potter, I have put aside my not inconsiderable pride to ask for your assistance in defeating a group of wizards who are intent on resurrecting me by means of incredibly rare and volatile magic. Surely the novelty, at the very least, appeals to you?"
"There is nothing appealing about this situation - least of all the novelty of dealing with someone I'd thought myself rid of once and for all two decades ago!" Potter's voice was beginning to rise. "No - I'm sorry, but I think I'll do just fine on my own. I'm certain there's someone in this world who must know something about Choramancy, considering the fact that you haven't killed everyone here already! And I think I'd like to keep it that way."
"Very well," the crimson eyes glared down at Potter and power sizzled through the air between them. Of course, he had no real need of the man's help. It would merely have been useful to have access to a wizard from this world, who already possessed knowledge of those Voldemort would be hunting. That, and Potter would be the perfect person to manipulate into telling him how this other Voldemort had been killed. "I have no intention of standing here only to be insulted. Lord Voldemort shall undertake to seek out these wizards alone. Farewell, Harry Potter." Again, it took every ounce of control he had not to leave Potter lying dead on the floor of his filthy kitchen. But the Dark Lord turned on his heel and strode out into the lounge. 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...
"Wait." Potter's voice ground out from behind him, and Voldemort paused. "I... suppose we would find them more quickly together than we would separately. And it doesn't sound like we have much time to spare."
"Good," Voldemort turned in an elegant sweep of black robes and thick, winter cloak - the effect was marred, however, by a sharp ripping noise as his taloned feet clawed up the carpet. All the anger vanished under a tight veneer of cold politeness. "You have dealt with these wizards before - where do you suggest we start?"
"The house where they were doing the ritual," Potter answered immediately. "It's abandoned, in a Muggle neighborhood… we shouldn't have any trouble getting in. Perhaps you'll find something that we didn't pick up on, since you've got a better idea what we're looking for."
"Excellent," Voldemort glided toward the front door, stopping when he realised Potter was not following him. What was wrong with Potter now?
"Er… you wanted to start straight away?" Potter threw an anxious glance over his shoulder at the fireplace. "I was sort of busy before you, er, popped in, y'know, and I'm afraid I've still got a bit more packing to do before I'm free to do anything else."
Voldemort stared at him incredulously. "My apologies, Potter. I thought you were a wizard."
Potter scowled. "I can do household charms as well as anyone else! But most of this is just - it's very important to me. I'd rather not risk damaging it with - with hastiness." Throwing him a final distrusting glance, Potter stalked back into the sitting room, where the clatter and crashing of objects being shoved into boxes suggested that he was being anything but cautious.
This was the man who had defeated Lord Voldemort? And how could Potter possibly expect any wizard, upon seeing the state of that kitchen, to believe that either Potter or his wife knew their way around household charmwork? "The incantation is Comporto.," Voldemort hissed impatiently, "I often made use of it whilst travelling abroad. I assure you it is quite unlikely to damage-"
Thump - crash - thump - crashsmack - thump!
"...any of your possessions."
There was a brief pause in the commotion, and Potter stuck his rumpled head out of the doorway, glowering. "I know the incantation!" he said, looking rather flushed. "But I'm - I'm just about finished! Just - make yourself some tea or something?" He winced after the words had left his mouth, as though he hadn't meant to say so much. Voldemort stared at him. "Er - right. Just another minute. I'm almost done." His disappearance was followed by the slamming of drawers and cabinets.
Voldemort - whose last experience of waiting around in other people's houses had been many years ago, when he had been working for Mr. Burke - was unsure of what would be the proper response. Eventually, he settled on accepting Potter's invitation. Once the kitchen was tidy, he found a dusty tea service, which looked like it had never been used, hiding behind some ugly, brightly coloured Quidditch mugs. Brewing the pot, all the while listening to Potter race about the house in a whirl of frenzied activity, gave Voldemort some much-needed time to think. He was just sitting down to have his tea - closing his eyes, slitted nostrils dilating as he inhaled the herbal aroma, and the warm porcelain most pleasant against his cold fingers - when Potter burst into the room backwards, panting.
He was guiding several overflowing cardboard boxes through the air behind him with his wand, rambling nervously as he went: "Incredible how much rubbish piles up over the years… would probably be better off just throwing most of it away. All right, just about -" Potter glanced back over his shoulder at Voldemort and nearly tripped over his feet, his boxes swerving dangerously midair, contents rattling, "… ready… you… er, you cleaned my kitchen?"
Voldemort did not answer at once, sipping his tea. After a moment of shocked silence, he realised that Potter was waiting for an explanation. "I am aware that performing magic in another wizard's home is considered rude," he said slowly, "but your kettle was filthy, and I cannot imagine how you can think whist hemmed in by all that clutter..."
Potter stared at him for a few seconds longer and then continued on his way across the kitchen. "Um… I suppose we don't do a lot of thinking while brewing the coffee." He tossed a handful of Floo powder in the hearth. The boxes were sent soaring through the roaring green fire. A beaten snitch rolled off the top of the last box, bouncing across the floor; Potter picked this up and pocketed it.
"Potter, upon reflection, I believe it would be wise to lay down some ground rules for our joint enterprise. One, we shall not curse each other. Two, you will refer to me as Voldemort or my Lord and nothing else and, in return, I shall endeavour to refrain from ending the lives of the various human cockroaches who inhabit this place - on the understanding that the latter are things which may cause both of us to break rule one. Agreed?"
Potter considered this, frowning. "You're not to kill anyone, for any reason. If you're feeling particularly homicidal, go on back to your own world and do whatever you like there. But Lord Voldemort's been dead for twenty years here, and he won't be killing anyone else." He paused, a grim expression on his face, and then held out his hand. "So long as you can swear to that, I agree."
Voldemort tilted his head thoughtfully. It was not his intention to disrupt this place, merely to safeguard his own kingdom. And when they found the wizards responsible, well, his use for Potter would be at an end - at which point, all agreements were void. He took another sip of tea, before setting the cup down on the table beside him. "Very well," he murmured, standing and taking Potter's hand in his. It took a few moments for Voldemort to discern how best to grasp the smaller hand in his overly large, curling talons. It seemed almost as warm as the teacup he had been holding, and slightly sticky against his cool skin. The Dark Lord expected Potter to wince in discomfort - his scar burning - but the auror betrayed no hint of pain at his touch.
Potter withdrew his hand only to grab Voldemort firmly by the arm instead. "Perhaps we ought to do Side-Along Apparition. It's probably not a good idea to be fooling around with spatial magic while you're in a separate world."
Voldemort was about to demur, when he realised that Potter was probably right. He was
still carrying the enchanted diary. It was always possible that he was being led into a trap, but the Dark Lord had faith in his ability to fight his way out of any ambush the likes of Potter might dream up. Besides, if this Potter was anything like the one he had killed, he would probably judge such a plan to be highly dishonorable. Voldemort nodded and, as the auror brought his wand down, it occurred to him that he had never travelled by Side-Along Apparition before. Yet, how different could it be? Potter's arm twisted away from him as Voldemort tried to snatch a hold of it with his other hand as -
-The world compressed until there was nothing left but them; screaming, snatching at him with their wounded, fleshless fingers - and he cried out, but his mouth was stretched thin across a vast blackness, iron bands tightening around his body, until he could no longer -
He let go of Potter and stumbled forward, almost falling over in the freezing, dirty snow - gasping down air that chilled his insides, shivering convulsively. "I have decided," he hissed, drawing his cloak tighter against the cold, "to declare Side-Along Apparition illegal. I had no idea there was a more uncomfortable method of travel than Floo Powder. Clearly, I was mistaken."
"Don't be dramatic," said Potter, who had the audacity to smirk. "Small discomfort next to our dimensions shattering, I'm sure. Besides, there's nowhere to Floo around here. We're in a Muggle neighborhood."
Indeed, Potter had brought them to a filthy alleyway, reeking of trash and urine. The street had an air of darkness about it, even in the broad daylight. The shouting voices of a man and woman arguing carried down the narrow street; squabbling Muggle children scampered like rodents past the mouth of the alley, wearing clothes that did not fit them. It reminded him of his childhood; the mantra that all the children at the orphanage were subjected to: You should be grateful! At least you have somewhere to live - at least you ain't out on the street like so many children. The gravest threat Mrs Cole had to make, for that was what it was - a threat. One of the reasons he had begun to steal things from the others, to practise for what he assumed would soon be his fate, if the old bat did not manage to get him locked up in an asylum first. I hate London.
"Right then… a Disillusionment Charm, perhaps?" Potter's voice, carefully polite, cut through his reminiscences. "Wouldn't want to, er, frighten the Muggles."
"Muggles such as these would be more likely to throw stones at something they cannot comprehend than fear it," Voldemort said quietly. "Still, as you say, it would be unwise to attract attention-" And, in a second, he had cast upon himself a Disillusionment Charm that hid the Dark Lord from even his own eyes. Potter followed suit.
They crossed the street, invisible, and were nearly bowled over by three squealing young boys in the process. There was a slight shimmer in the air where Potter walked, and it was this that led Voldemort through an open gate up to a dilapidated house. None of the Muggles in the street noticed as the door swung open slowly and then closed once more, with seemingly no one there to pass through it.
A ripple of colour and Potter appeared in the dark, dusty hallway. "Nasty, uncomfortable things," he said, rubbing his arms. "Right, so here we are. Charming, isn't it?"
It was, in fact, even filthier than Potter's own house. The wallpaper was grimy and peeling, and the naked floorboards were caked in dirt. Voldemort did not reply, appearing beside the auror and immediately walking down the hall into a large, empty room. Its windows were boarded up and the Dark Lord immediately sensed the potent magic which still lingered in the disgusting place.
"Here," he muttered to himself, bending down to trail a single claw along the dirt smudged by the feet of the troop of aurors who had disturbed the ritual. "And, yes..." he moved across the bare room, following the eldritch traces with the tip of the Elder Wand. "Enchanting my old diary was only the first step in their ritual; they required it as a locus, it-" Voldemort stared fixedly into the empty darkness, his crimson eyes narrowing. "Hmm... how clever."
"What?" said Potter, sounding alarmed. "Slow down - a locus? What are you talking about?"
"Be quiet, Potter, and let me think." Voldemort lowered himself to the floor, kneeling in the middle of the room and spreading his arms wide, as if feeling the air. "There were nine of them… this is a sacrificial circle… if these fools were not set on destroying my kingdom in the process, I would say they were almost worthy of becoming my servants. Of course, they would use dimensional magic to conceal… and – yes – how kind of them." Voldemort pressed his palms flat against the boards and, for a moment, a large square was visible in the floor, shining brightly as though illuminated from below.
It took no time at all to banish the meagre protections preventing him from flipping open the trapdoor and –
There was a dark-haired teenager lying bound and gagged under the floorboards, staring up at them with desperate grey eyes. "Yes," he hissed, "too cowardly to return for their sacrifice." The boy looked as though he had not eaten in days. They wished for me to enter this child's body. How strange that they should have gone to so much effort to find a boy with a face Voldemort despised.
Potter swore loudly and fell to his knees. Voldemort watched silently as Potter gathered the boy in his arms and lifted him from his cramped prison, making short work of the crude bindings cutting into the child's arms and legs. The boy began to weep hoarsely when the gag was pulled from his mouth, burying his face in Potter's thighs; Potter's hand rubbed slow circles across the child's back.
When Potter looked up at him again, something angry and strange had darkened his eyes. "Perhaps I might look the other way if you were keen to spend some time alone with these bastards before we turn them in."
What did you have in mind, Harry Potter? How would you prefer these wizards mutilated? You, who are too weak to act upon your own anger, what tortures would you ask of Lord Voldemort? But he said nothing, crouching beside Potter, his eyes on the mewling boy. He did not feel sorry for the child, exactly, but something in the not-quite-Tom-Riddle face made the Dark Lord uncomfortable.
"We shall not harm you," he declared loftily, causing the boy to startle; behind the tired face, chaotic thoughts whirled. He gently touched the child's gaunt cheek with the back of a pale hand, careful not to make any sudden movements, and said the words he would most want to hear, were he in the boy's place: "We are here to punish the wizards who did this to you," his cold voice soft, silken with reassurance.
Voldemort's benevolence, however, was lost on the child. He jerked away from the Dark Lord's touch, trembling even more than he had been before, as his grey eyes grew huge with recognition. "Y-y-you're… y-you're…" He gaped up at Potter, raising a shaking finger in Voldemort's direction. "It's HIM! It's - it's Y-Y-You-Know-"
Potter hushed the boy, grasping his shoulders and turning him away from Voldemort. "Hey. He's right, we're not going to hurt you. We're here to help."
"But - but they s-said they were bringing him b-b-back," the boy whispered hoarsely. "And he's - and th-that's -"
"We're here to help you," Potter repeated calmly. "I'm a senior auror from the Ministry of Magic. And I wouldn't have found you without his help. No one's going to hurt you."
The child's eyes settled suddenly on Potter's forehead, and his face lit up with surprise. "You're Harry Potter!"
Potter grinned broadly. "That's me!"
Voldemort rolled his eyes.
Potter seemed not to notice. "Now, we're going to get you home, but we're going to need some help from you first, all right?"
The boy looked back and forth between them, cheeks still shining with tears. "What… what k-kind of help?"
"Only a few questions. Your name, to start."
The boy took a large, hitching breath. "I'm Michael. Michael B-Birch."
"All right, Michael. Just a few questions, and then we'll get you home." Potter looked up at the Dark Lord expectantly.
Voldemort could not imagine why he had been surprised by the boy's reaction. Perhaps it was because he still did not quite view this place as reality - which it most certainly was, however far removed from his own - so surreal was the experience. "Can you remember anything about those who took you?" And, as he asked, Voldemort stared into the child's mind, prying it open as delicately as possible, siding easily into the surface thoughts that raced across young Michael Birch's head. Shadowy figures, with masks in homage to his Death Eaters, dominated the boy's recollection. "You'll see," one of them whispered, black robes stained with nicotine, "you'll have the greatest honour of all of us…"
The memory shattered as the child looked away - turning fearfully towards Potter - unable to meet Voldemort's eyes for any length of time. The Dark Lord stood. Potter was the one qualified to deal with distraught children - presumably that was part of auror training - but Voldemort had always detested adolescents, even when he was one. The boy would survive. He no longer had the patience to deal with such petty matters. "Attend to this matter, Potter," he gestured imperiously towards Birch, "I shall investigate the house further."
He swept from the room without a backward glance. Voldemort searched the hovel thoroughly, but - for all his skill - he could find no more than traces of simple magic and the spells of Potter's aurors who had investigated this place before him. The Dark Lord kept looking, however, convinced he had missed some vital sign which would reveal where those wizards who had managed to escape the aurors had fled. They became prey in his manic, boiling thoughts - creatures to be hunted, caught, devoured...
Breathe...he halted, trying to calm himself, breathe...
It reminded him of his father's neglected house, where he and Wormtail had stayed during that first summer of his return. At the time, he had taken pleasure in Tom Riddle decaying underground, while his once-proud inheritance fell to ruin. This dirty, Muggle house merely angered him, as did the child he had found under the floorboards. The peeling wallpaper, the filthy floor, the mad, masked wizards who, with cultish devotion, had sought magic so rare that no one had thought to forbid it; all whispered: in this place, I am dead. Dead like his father and all the wretched creatures he had killed. His body would not rot, he knew. It would lie as pale and smooth as it had been in life...
Voldemort caught sight of a white hand at his side and curled it into a fist - harder and harder - until his palm was sticky with blood. He felt such distance from the world he ruled, once more alone in a mess of decay, and suddenly he could not tear Potter's memory from his mind. Lord Voldemort - himself - crumpling to the floor of the Great Hall, feeble and shrunken, as the sun rose amongst fervent cheers. The vision struck the Dark Lord with a near physical force. As it had been when he had lost his powers; fleeing, formless through a night of joyous revelry and fireworks. And he could not, would not, bear it -
Yet the image remained, like a Boggart he could not dispel, and Voldemort shrieked as it maddened him, turning about the room, searching for their cheering faces to kill -
Blank, grimy walls stared back at him - dead, dead, dead, dead - they whispered, reaching out toward him with their dirty, peeling fingers. "Silence!" he cried, and a spear of green light burst - brilliant and searing - from the Elder Wand. Voldemort shrieked again, helpless against the laughter and cheers - I am Lord Voldemort, I - you will be silent, filth! You, you - "YOU WILL BE SILENT!"
And, mercifully, they obeyed. Snow drifted downwards, mingling with dust and plaster. Silence. The grey sky was visible through the wounded ceiling. Voldemort's chest rose and fell rapidly as he tried to catch his breath, unnaturally loud in his throat, and divide truth from phantom.
He wished for Nagini, for her scales snug against his skin, her comforting weight in his mind, and her steadfast faith in her great and noble master. The Dark Lord hissed, a serpent's keening, wrapping his arms about himself, and knew that she - long dead - could not hear him crying for her in the tongue they had shared. She would not want to see Lord Voldemort thus reduced. Who is this hatchling who has taken the place of my master? The rebuke would have been justified. Voldemort held his breath, trying to bury the sickening fear of mortality coiling in his stomach, and turned in disgust from the sight of his delirium.
Harry Potter stood in the doorway, staring at him.
"Well, er - I… took the boy back home... just got back here when I heard you, er…" Potter trailed off, looking very uncomfortable. "What's happened to the roof?"
And there they were, those green eyes that had twice watched him lose everything; had seen him break and seen him fall - see him die - and how unbearably fitting that they should see him now - the eyes of a nothing! For what was Potter but a creation of chance? Unworthy in every way of the gifts fortune had visited on such a mediocre wizard. You are the dead one! The words stuck in his throat and he glared at Potter, unable to find an answer that would not turn into a scream of fury.
Potter squinted up at the grey sky through the gaping hole in the ceiling, "Well, I - thought it was a little stuffy in here as well,"
What was Potter talking about? Snow brushed against Voldemort's flat face and he laughed at such absurdity. It was a laugh as cold and blank as that same sky, fear poisoning whatever mirth it may have had; a sick, wheezing convulsion that left his teeth clenched in a humourless rictus. He could not meet Potter's gaze.
"Hey." The floorboards creaked with Potter's footsteps, and then the man was directly in front of him. The green eyes had softened with something he could not discern. "Would you like to, er, maybe come back to my flat? I've got tea. And… chocolate. Chocolate always makes me feel better when... um…" Potter shifted on his feet. "I've also got the Ministry files of the wizards involved in the ritual. We could - look over them together. If you'd like."
Voldemort's eyes widened in surprise. He could not think of an adequate way to respond. Chocolate. What a strange man Potter had grown up to be. Tom had adored chocolate as a child, scarce as sugar had been. A rare treat. And, of course, what Potter suggested was sensible. They would find no more evidence here. "Very well," the Dark Lord answered, as haughtily as he could while his mind was still spinning. He tried to say something constructive: "Did you obliviate the boy?"
"Of course I did." Potter looked slightly offended for a moment. "Not sure what you've been teaching your aurors, but here you've got to be at least halfway competent to get the job. C'mon - we'll have to Apparate again, if you think you're up for it."
He found himself too exhausted to rise to the auror's insolence. Voldemort put his hand on Potter's shoulder, perhaps squeezing slightly harder than he ought, and braced himself for the -
- agony that tore through his mind as he was compacted to the merest spec, forced inward until he thought he would break as Potter's magic dragged him onward, through the tunnel, into a light that burned the voices, and he was all of them crying out for it to end -
He hissed in pain, trying to blink away the light that pinned the gaping voices, shaking his head in an effort to clear them from his mind - too many voices, too much need - he did not like to think what would happen should he attempt to Apparate in this world without Potter as an anchor. The pieces of my soul, my treasures most important and precious... He reached out a hand, unseeing, trying to reach them, gather them close. But Voldemort's claws slid through air and he hissed again, the spitting of a snake in terrible pain.
The voice came as though from a great distance, and then unexpected warmth - firm, solid fingers - gripped his arms through his cloak. "Hey - are you - are you all right?" The words stumbled over each other with Potter's panic. "It's okay - it's over. We're here now."
"I can feel them... they... my... mine... my..." The words dissolved into another hiss of pain and Voldemort tried to stand, to pull away, but the world was trembling and he could not stand, could not stop the screams, could not -
"Hey." The fingers tightened around his shoulders, squeezing. "There's no one here. Just you and me - no one else. It's all right." But it was not true, there were others, there were -
"I can feel them, they - YOU - you and that... and Dumbledore, you..." He curled up on himself, sinking to the floor, seeing himself die, crimson eyes open, and then threw the crying voices and the agony at Potter as hard as he could, wielding his pain like a weapon.
But Potter did not recoil as the memories hit him. The grip on his arms constricted until it was almost painful, and, breathlessly, Potter cried, "You're not dead! You're alive! And where you come from, I'm sure your Horcruxes are, too - most of them, anyway - but none of that is going to matter if we can't figure out how to stop these people before they destroy the world! Both of our worlds!"
Voldemort ground his teeth, leaking venom that dribbled from the corners of his lipless mouth, ran down his chin, and burned the fabric of his black cloak. Most of them?-! But... but Potter was right. He had to control this. He must. The Dark Lord sat very still - his eyes closed - lashing his thoughts tight, disciplining them as cruelly as he did the minds of others. I will not be weak. I must not be weak. Finally, he opened his eyes: clear, cold, crimson that glittered with sheer force of will - and realised his arms were still held tight in Potter's grip.
"That will do," he said softly, shamed by his weakness, "I am... recovered."
Potter released him at once. He had the grace to look embarrassed. "Er... that was… does that... happen often?" Potter's eyes widened immediately in horror. "Right, sorry, I - never mind. I'll just be, um, getting those files. Right. Why don't you just - sit here for a bit?"
Harry Potter's small flat had very little in the way of furniture. A heap of boxes were piled up by the fireplace. It was a far cry from the comfort of the sunny home in which Voldemort had found him. The Dark Lord slowly got off the floor and sat on one of the rather Muggle stools that were arranged along a bench that marked the boundary between the kitchen and the sitting room. Unsurprisingly, he was far too tall for the high seat. "I do not understand," he said eventually, elbows on the counter, when Potter came back into the room carrying several thick Ministry folders. "Why do you live in this...?" He refrained from completing the sentence, gesturing at the bare kitchen with a dismissive claw.
"Says the man currently residing in a tropical cave." Potter sat himself on the stool beside the Dark Lord, slapping the folders down on the counter.
"It is not a cave," Voldemort replied, with as much dignity as was left to him, taking one of the folders from the bench. "I did not intend to be rude. It is merely that I expected something more fitting... are they truly so ungrateful to their saviour?"
Potter snorted. "Where exactly are saviours expected to live, anyhow? I prefer doing things my own way. And I - well, I like it here. I do. It's - a temporary thing. For my work. And it's a nice flat... just big enough for one person." There was a note of false cheerfulness in his voice and he looked away too quickly, staring down at the open file before him.
Voldemort considered asking the obvious questions, about his wife, and about the girl Potter had named after his Muggle-born mother, but decided against it. What would be the point? "There were a great many wizards and witches vying for my attention - my favour - after I won the war. It was extremely tiresome. I prefer the solitude of my chosen home and my pets, where I am myself and not what others perceive me to be. I find your choice to be commendable."
"Well… er... thank you." A small smile crept across Potter's face, as though he was not quite able to hold it back. "But wasn't that what you wanted all along? Everyone to kiss your robes and fawn over your brilliance and such?"
"I seek power. It had always pleased me, therefore, when others recognise Lord Voldemort to be their rightful ruler - but I am of a solitary disposition and dislike excesses of familiarity. It offers little amusement to a sorcerer such as I." He treated Potter to his own sly almost-smile, a conspiratorial glint in his livid, serpentine gaze. "In truth, I made them kiss the hem of my robes simply to watch those haughty purebloods squirm. After I returned... well, it served as a reminder of the loyalties they had forsaken in my long absence..."
"Perhaps they wouldn't have forsaken them if there hadn't been so much robe-kissing required?"
Voldemort's smile grew sharp and cruel, but he said nothing as he opened one of the folders and began to peruse the photographs and biographies within. He pointed to one of the scowling faces. "This one... Wilkes... his uncle was in my service..." The Dark Lord turned to another photograph, "How strange..."
"Aubrey," Potter said at once, glancing at the picture with a sour expression. Aubrey stared back at them, eyes glittering madly; every few moments, he would smile to himself, as though indulging in some private joke. "He's been nothing but trouble ever since I joined the department. Starting riots, distributing all sorts of nasty, inflammatory literature... do you know him?"
"I killed him several months ago, for fomenting treason." Voldemort's voice was full of cold surprise as his eyes narrowed with displeasure. "His multiple insolences left me in little doubt of his loyalties. Yet here he is amongst those attempting to resurrect Lord Voldemort. I confess myself astonished."
Potter smirked at him. "What, did he refuse to kiss your robes?" He pulled the file in front of him, pointing to one of several cramped notes scrawled in the margins. "He was last arrested over the summer for allegedly plotting an attack on a Muggle hospital. I had - sources - that were feeding me information from his gatherings. So I led a raid on his house and found he'd somehow got his hands on the blueprints of the hospital itself. Along with his record - as you can see, the thing goes on for more than three pages - I thought it would have been enough. It should have been enough. But the Wizengamot claimed there wasn't enough evidence to convict."
"Could it be they have become complacent in my absence?" Voldemort teased.
"They were complacent even when you were around," Potter said bitterly. "They've always preferred to shut their eyes to anything that can't be fixed with some paperwork and a signature. In any case," he gave Voldemort a suspicious frown, "you'd better not be planning on doing anything about it."
"I would not dream of it, Auror Potter. Do you know I had a look at my file when I overthrew the Ministry? They were forced to enchant it with an Undetectable Extension Charm. No, no, I prefer to kill swiftly, cleanly. Not drown my enemies in paperwork."
Potter suddenly looked like he was having a hard time keeping himself from smiling. "I've been through your file a few times myself, my Lord. One count of public nudity, three counts of indecent behavior in a public place… you were apparently a very busy young man."
Blood rose in Voldemort's gaunt, pale features - the high cheekbones darkening to mauve as though his near-translucent skin were bruised. "That was an ancient ritual to celebrate the end of winter. I was officiating. I assure you I did not get involved in any of the mess which followed. I was asked to participate because I was the only wizard Abraxas knew who could cast the wandless magics necessary to act as the druid. And I was not naked! I recall a particularly fine ram's skeleton."
"Well, it didn't hide very much, according to the report," said Potter, sniggering. "Believe me - I took an entire course on Ministry penal law - they can't simply arrest you for wearing a promiscuous outfit. Er. Skeleton."
The bruising spread from his cheekbones, across his flattened profile and flaring, ophidian nostrils, until Voldemort was literally blue in the face. "It was not promiscuous - you - I did research - consulted the ancient texts! It was the proper garb for the wizard leading the rite!"
"I think calling it garb might be a bit generous," Potter said, in between bouts of laughter. "I never thought Ministry paperwork would leave anything to be desired - but, Merlin, they certainly left a lot out of that report. The officials on the scene must have been distracted by your - skeleton, I'm sure…"
"ENOUGH!" The word burst from Voldemort in a spike of rage that shorted out the lights in Potter's Muggle flat and left the both of them sitting in darkness. He looked at Potter in the dark, a grown auror suddenly stilled, shocked and wide-eyed as the child he had once been, and a small gasp of mirth escaped the Dark Lord's lips, high and breathless, because it was amusing, and he was sitting here with Harry Potter talking about a ridiculous episode from his youth and that was amusing too.
He put a clawed hand to his mouth, surprised by his own laughter. Looking back on it, he was sure that Abraxas Malfoy had only asked him to participle in the hopes that he would involve himself in the lechery that would have followed, had not all of them been arrested (apart from Olive Hornby, who had been spared on account of her being related to the Minister). "I was almost certainly the only one taking it seriously," he confessed as the lights flickered back on, still chuckling. "I believe everyone else had intentions as promiscuous as you surmise."
"A group of teenagers, gallivanting naked in a moonlit field, performing blood magic. I'm sure it was a purely educational endeavour for everyone involved." The auror smiled at him - and it was not a mocking smile, but an invitation to share in a friendly joke - before he pushed himself from his stool. "But I'm sorry, you're right - I'm being cruel. Let me get you that tea I promised, and you can continue having a look at those papers."
"Without milk, if you would," Voldemort replied, opening another folder and beginning to glance through the files therein. He looked up at Potter, who was busy with the kettle. "I believe there was chocolate mentioned as well." We used to be given it as a treat every Sunday after church. Just one piece each. How curious that I should remember that, of all things.
Potter shot him that strange smile again, as though he himself were surprised to find it on his face. "Well, I've got plenty of chocolate here, and, well... I'm the only one here to eat it. So you can have as much as you'd like." He produced several bars of candy from the box. "Here - it really does make you feel better. Try it."
The wrapper was difficult. It seemed unnecessary to use his magic and his clawed fingers were in no way suited to opening the synthetic, Muggle material the thing was wrapped in. The price he paid for the his last Horcrux: the glittering, beautiful sword of silver and rubies that had taken so much from him. A curved talon slit open the packaging as it might cut open a stomach and the chocolate fell out onto the bench. Voldemort snapped off two squares. It was a little sweet for his taste, but the texture was smooth and pleasant. "Why are you offering me such hospitality? You only agreed to help me for fear of the damage I would wreak in this place where I no longer exist." He endeavoured to conceal the bitterness from his voice.
Potter was silent for a long moment, as though he did not have an answer. "Because there are two worlds depending on it," he said at last. "Look, I didn't spend my childhood fighting you so that the world could be destroyed regardless. And if we're going to be working together… we - might as well be civil with each other." A pause, and something in Potter's voice shifted. "You're the first person to visit me here, you know. I've been living here for three weeks, and I haven't had anyone else. And it's - probably bad luck or something to be throwing curses at your first house-guest."
"You once told me you pitied me because I am incapable of forming those bonds which you and Dumbledore imagined to be the most precious things in the world. And yet, here I find you quite removed from such things..." He looked across at Potter, taking in the twenty years of life written across the man's face, and broke off another piece of chocolate.
Potter recoiled as though Voldemort had backhanded him across the face. He drew his arms around himself - green eyes wide with shock - and then they shuttered. Potter had indeed mastered occlumency in his absence. "It was not my decision," he said coldly, "and it's none of your business."
"That is true." Voldemort conceded calmly, finishing the chocolate bar. "But then, is it not unfair that my life always seems to be your business? You know my most precious secret, and what do I know of you? Even now, I think you still - with not a little arrogance, I might add - see this as your responsibility alone." The Dark Lord licked his fingers. "Perhaps that is it - it would certainly explain your devotion to your work... have I ruined you for anyone else?"
"I - you - my work's got nothing to do with you!" Potter stammered, furious color rushing to his cheeks. "You were always my responsibility, even when I was too young to even know who the hell you were! And don't talk to me about fair, because that was never my decision, either."
"You forget, Potter, I always know. Our youth. That is when we learn what the world is and our place within it. I could never stand the faith they had in you – such sickening faith in a child – but, you are right, you had to bear it. You grew up with that weight on your shoulders and now you cannot bear its absence." Voldemort hissed, leaning forward. "Some part of you, Harry Potter, is relieved by what I told you earlier today, not because you relish the thought of defeating this new evil, but because that weight is as necessary to you as breath. Look at me, and tell me what I say is not true."
Potter looked at him, but there was no hint of concession in those blazing green eyes. "You think you can simply… come into my house - my world - and tell me all the things I'm doing wrong with my life? You - know - nothing." Potter stood perfectly still; his voice was soft with barely contained anger. "Get out."
Voldemort stood, a supremely dignified sweep of black robes, every inch the majestic ruler he was. And, strangely, he was not angry, but curious as to why the auror had yet to realise what must surely be obvious to all those around him. "You mistake me, Potter. I am not one of your friends to make such judgements. I never claimed any of it was wrong. Morality was never - ah - my strong suit. You made that assessment yourself. I am simply telling you what I see. You have been kind to me today and, though you may claim otherwise, I am not a wizard who forgets such things. Thank you. If that is your final word, then I will take my leave."
Something strange flashed across Potter's face, but the man turned away before Voldemort could identify it. "Goodbye," he said quietly to his empty grey wall. And this was so strange, the defeat in Potter's face, that Voldemort would not have it. His Potter had never shown such pathetic behaviour, even as he had cut the boy down. The child had been defiant to the last.
The Dark Lord reached out and touched the man's shoulder, not out of concern, but out of some indefinable urge to return this man to his former self. "We have seen each other's true faces," Voldemort whispered. "It is no small thing. How I hated you. You and your mother, who sent me into exile. I will never regain what I was before that Halloween night. It is gone with the serpents and the endless forest. And, after you were dead… neither you, nor Dumbledore, could hear my exultation..." The clawed fingers slid from shoulder to back, talons careful not to rip Potter's cloak. What was this sentiment?
"It's - why she left me," said Potter at last. He did not look up as he spoke; but he also did not pull away. "The war's been over for nineteen years. But - she doesn't understand. The danger is still out there. It's still real. It never went away." Potter finally met his gaze then, and there was a desperation in his eyes, in the tense slope of his shoulders. "I'm going to prove it to her. She'll understand - they all will."
"They will not," Lord Voldemort tightened his grip on the line of taut shoulder. "Because none of them understands what you and I understand. How easy it is to kill. That the world is born of such strife and that war is the constant state of the universe. After Grindelwald's defeat there were those who said it could never happen again - how I laughed at them. I daresay that - here - there are those who say the same of me, and they would be equally wrong - as even my Death Eaters were wrong. There were Dark Lords before me and there will be Dark Lords to follow. Would you really wish such truths upon those who cannot yet speak my name without fear?"
"No... you don't understand - there aren't going to be any more Dark Lords. Not as long as there's someone left to fight them." Potter's eyes flashed. "But we need to keep fighting! We can't just - wait around until the next one shows up on our doorstep. No matter how difficult it is for them to hear - they've got to wake up, all of them, before it's too late."
The livid eyes stared at Potter for a very long time, the long talons still holding the auror's shoulder tight. Potter was, essentially, in agreement with his words – but even he could not quite swallow Voldemort's meaning. "You cannot make people what they are not, Harry." The Dark Lord said softly, consciously using Potter's given name. "Well," Voldemort's lipless mouth curled into a cruel smirk, "not without magic, in any case. Think on what you admitted earlier. The vast majority of witches and wizards preferred to shut their eyes even when in fear of a Dark Lord as great and powerful as I. How can you ever hope to achieve your ends whilst they see nothing to fear, sitting back and reflecting how safe they are with famous Auror Potter to protect them? The same was said of Dumbledore, once, and how many heeded the Headmaster's warnings? Your very existence is an excuse for others to do nothing."
For a moment, it almost seemed as though Voldemort had gotten through to him. A brief expression of pain crossed Potter's face - and then the man yanked away. "I'm not having this conversation with you. I appreciate your - concern, or whatever it is you're trying to do, but I'm - I'm doing fine."
Concern? Lord Voldemort felt no concern for Potter. Such a thing was laughable. Perhaps Voldemort simply wished for the satisfaction of having broken Potter from beyond the grave and to hear the man admit to it. Certainly, he was attempting to sway the auror with his charm. There was power in the unexpected, in a show of kindness from one whom many considered to be an implacable force devoid of such niceties. Voldemort had known this for a long time.
He opened his mouth to speak, only for the words to be snatched away - snapped back to into white pain - and Harry Potter and his small, Muggle kitchen were gone, as though they had never existed.