18. He's lying
The next thing Harry heard as his name ebbed into the distance and the pulling sensation finally stopped was a familiar harsh voice, one he had heard only that night.
'Well, well, well.'
He spun around. Rookwood's sneer was surrounded by pockmarked skin, and his hair looked just as greasy as in his picture in the Prophet.
Rookwood heaved himself from beside the door opposite where he had been leaning. 'Wasn't so sure you'd turn up. But turn up you have.' His lips curled again. He produced his wand, and Harry took a step back. 'Wand. Now.'
Harry answered automatically, still in a daze. 'I – I don't have it.' He looked to the floor. He had heard it fall… But it was not here.
Rookwood leaned toward him. 'Defenceless, eh?' he sneered, disbelieving, his eyes raking over Harry, who suddenly felt vulnerable, strangely stupid, stood here in his pyjamas and dressing gown, as though this was some nightmarish pyjama party. With Death Eaters.
He felt some odd compulsion to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, his nightmare come true.
Rookwood strode forward then and stuck his wandtip against his throat. With his free hand, he plucked something from Harry's. Instant warmth bit into palm. He caught a glimpse of the black liquid before Rookwood Vanished it. It was the antidote.
Or was it? It had brought him here, as a Portkey… Was it even a real potion?
His heart pounded. He stood helplessly as Rookwood searched roughly through his pockets, wand at his throat. Oh, God. If that potion had been a Portkey, where the hell was he now? He glanced around – and felt what blood was left in his head drain away.
It was the same room from his dreams.
He gazed about him, fascinated by the details now brought to life. The greying wallpaper hung off in damp patches all around, and the old window was boarded over just as he remembered, bare bricks showing through gaps in the wood.
He looked up then, Rookwood's wand hard against his neck – and for the first time saw the source of the light that barely reached across the room. A naked bulb hung from the high ceiling. Electric. He stared into its feeble light. It was as though the sight of it proved this was real, this was not just another dream. And his overriding thought at that moment was how odd, how completely insane, it was for Voldemort to be using Muggle electricity.
Rookwood laughed the horrible thin laugh he knew from the last dream. 'Thought you'd feel at home with that,' he said, jerking his head upward. 'Don't you like it?' His smirk suddenly vanished. 'Remember to say thank you.'
Rookwood's hot breath on his face made him cringe, assaulting him with alcohol and a hint of stale meat. But then Rookwood straightened, and Harry noticed something he could not recall from his many dreams of this place. Some of the smell lingered, and it wasn't just from Rookwood. The room itself was rank. Its mouldy stench was strong, musty, and it reminded him of his old room in the cupboard under the stairs. Only this was a hundred times worse. It crept into his throat and down, seeking to empty his stomach.
Rookwood took a step back. 'Nice of you to come unarmed.' He flicked the collar of his dressing gown. 'But you could have at least got dressed up for us.' His sneer spread across his scarred face slowly, deliberately, making sure that Harry saw just how much he was enjoying himself. He stepped back to the door, treading in the dirt of the bare floorboards, his wand now pointing again at Harry's chest. 'I don't have to use the Body Bind on you, do I?' His lips curled as Harry remained rooted to the spot. 'Didn't think so. Won't be long. Don't go anywhere, now.'
The door banged shut, leaving him stood alone in the bleak, damp room, with the only sounds Rookwood's receding footsteps and his own laboured breathing. He forced himself to snap out of the trance-like fear that had descended and ventured forward to the door.
It was horrible how closely it resembled the dreams. He was stepping out of the light toward the door again, just as he had done before, just one more time in so many. He felt his legs buckle. No! He was not going to give in.
He mastered the last few steps and grabbed the grimy handle. He had not heard Rookwood turn a key. Please let it be open. But he knew it was stupid to expect him not to have used locking magic, and unlike all those times in the dreams, the door stayed shut under his shaking hand.
What the hell was he going to do now?
He circled the small room, searching the walls, trying the boarding at the bricked-over window, even whispering spells at the door, hoping something might work without his wand. Of course everything was warded. There was no way out. They had created the Portkey to bring him to this room – they had made sure it would be the most secure room in the building.
He positioned himself by the wall so that he would be behind the door when someone came. It might give him some kind of advantage over them. It was something, at least.
He had to do something.
But all he could do was wait.
Breathe. Someone would come for him – his dad – or Snape.
But if that potion had been a Portkey, what if Snape had planted it in his office to lure him here?
He took another breath. His dad, then. Yes, his dad would come help him. His chest swelled with hope, his breaths coming a little easier. Of course his dad would be here. As soon as he found out, he would be here.
But the dawning optimism was already being snuffed out. A dark mist was descending. Hope was drowning in a blackening fog.
The electric light dimmed.
Then he heard his father's voice.
But the despair filling him only seemed to grow stronger.
'Run!' James was shouting. '…Harry…'
Harry tried to claw his way out of the anguish smothering him – because his father was here, just as he knew he would be. He was here for him!
But then came the sound of high-pitched laughter, and another voice took over, one that was more forceful. 'Bow to death, Harry…'
As Voldemort's words drifted away as quickly as they had appeared, and as the dark veil of hopelessness suddenly lifted, Harry knew then that his father was not outside the door. It had simply been his only memory of him, from the day his mother had died for him. It had been a voice from the past, not one from his rescuer. The dangling light had regained its glow, but too late to prevent him recognising the familiar chill brought by a Dementor. Had they put one outside to guard him?
It seemed to have stopped exploring, feeding, but he felt the anguish slide back in as his last hope was snatched away. Anguish this time without his father's voice.
The solitary bulb looked down mockingly as he waited. Whether for a Death Eater or Voldemort himself, he was beyond caring. All he wanted now was for the Dementor outside to leave him alone.
But he did not have long to wait.
It seemed only several minutes had passed when the sound of heavy boots outside made him straighten from where he had begun to slump against the wall. It was more than one set. This was not James come to get him out. But the thing that spoke of danger the most was the growing discomfort in his scar. They were drawing nearer. He readied himself behind the door. He had no idea what he was going to do. Try to overpower the first one, get his wand… But then what?
They came to a halt, and the door was flung open. The tip of a wand came into view. He made a grab for it.
The room flickered, dark, light, and the wand was gone. Something was jabbing into his chest. The Death Eater returned his companion's wand. Both were masked. They urged him back. He was at the wall when the door closed. The two Death Eaters parted.
'Silly boy. What did you really hope to accomplish stealing Avery's wand?'
Harry stared at the hooded face, gaunt and pale. Voldemort's red eyes narrowed almost to slits as he exhaled with a nasally, grisly-sounding sneer.
'Be more careful next time, Avery.'
'Yes, Master.' Avery bowed his head.
The red eyes turned back to Harry. 'So nice of you to join us, Harry Potter. And without your wand this time.' Harry felt his gaze burn into him, studying him. 'Careless,' he scolded softly, like a parent reproaching a child, and Harry felt a shot of fear, recalling the graveyard, Voldemort preying on him then, promising him death, and now here he was completely defenceless.
'I hope you did not find it too difficult to find my Portkey?' said Voldemort. 'I did instruct Severus to keep it safe, ready to hand. He did not make it too difficult for you, did he?' He gave another laugh when Harry did not answer. 'Stubborn. Just like your father.' His eyes flamed. 'Stubborn to the end.'
A burst of anger coursed through Harry. He remembered what Voldemort had said at the graveyard about his father's death; the very reason Harry had got up to fight him in the face of certain death. 'You lied,' he breathed before he could stop himself. 'You lied about my father!'
Voldemort laughed, slit-like nostrils dilating. 'I admit I have kept certain truths from you. Indeed I have. But all that is rectified now, isn't it? No hard feelings?' He laughed again.
Harry felt a wave of revulsion through the agony of his scar. He had kept his father from him all these years, and now he was mocking him with it.
'Master,' grated Rookwood's masked voice. Avery lifted his head. 'I beg to know, how did you bring the boy here, what clever scheme did you use?'
'Ah,' said Voldemort, sounding pleased to have been asked, 'Potter here knows. The boy did most of the work for me. He brought himself here. I merely provided him with the … impetus, the encouragement.' He took a step forward, and Harry's scar burst open in fresh torment. 'Don't you want to tell them, Harry?' he said softly. 'You know how I made the Portkey?'
Harry gritted his teeth, concentrating on his breathing. He would not play along, he would not let him know how much pain he felt.
'How quickly you forget.' Voldemort came closer. 'We share blood, you and I.' He reached out. Harry jerked his face from the cold touch. But his scar was on fire, he could not bear this agony much longer… He squeezed his jaw tighter, carving his fingernails into his palms… He would not give him the satisfaction.
'I used your – our blood – to weave the necessary magic into the bottle encasing the potion. The potion itself was merely an antidote, one I – sometimes – have use for. On contact, the magic responds, explores the new heat, infuses with it, insinuates itself in, toward its source. It is moulded to your blood. Your, and only your, touch would activate the Portkey.' His mouth curled at his own cunning. 'But it is not the only use of your blood I found, is it, Harry? Blood ties. They are strong, aren't they? I find myself relying on them more and more. Yes. In spite of everything, your sentimentality remains dependable to the end.' His lipless mouth curled still further, and Harry tried hard not to show his growing revulsion. 'Severus was most willing to aid me in my little scheme. Although it was necessary to keep certain details from him.'
Snape. He should have known Snape must have been involved in this somehow. He had planted the Portkey where he would find it! And to think he had actually begun to trust him!
Voldemort gave a horrid bark of laughter. 'I see your anger. Yes. Did you, perhaps, believe your father would somehow have survived?'
Harry felt as though the breath had been knocked out of him. No – he was lying – his dad was not dead. He was just saying it to try to upset him, to see him defeated.
But Voldemort laughed again. 'I had no use for your father. Preserving my spy at Hogwarts was my primary concern.'
His face twisted with satisfaction, but Harry did not see it. What was he saying? James was pretending to be Voldemort's spy within the Order, not Hogwarts. But Harry did not dare say anything.
'Ah,' he heard Voldemort say over the sound of blood rushing through his ears, 'but it was your misplaced faith in your father's memory that I relied upon to bring you to me. Did Severus play his role so well?' He gave a broad, low smile that pulled his pale skin taut, and Harry thought he would be sick as he stared at the mask-like face only a foot from his own while his scar burned angrily and his heart thumped at his teeming thoughts about his father.
His dad was not dead. Voldemort was lying. He had to be. But Snape… what did Snape have to do with this? Surely Snape had not been lying that James was alive? Why would he have? He had no reason to. It made no sense.
But what Voldemort was saying made no sense. He had seen a vision of Snape being poisoned… That was why he was here. What did his father's memory have to do with Snape? In the midst of pounding confusion, he decided to persuade some more out of Voldemort. He was not going to die believing his dad was dead after all if he was really out there. 'My father's not dead,' he breathed. 'You're lying.'
Voldemort laughed. 'I'm afraid Severus played his role only too well.' The two Death Eaters joined their master in his mocking laughter. 'No, Harry, there really is nothing left of your father. I made sure there would not be before I cast my spell. If it is any consolation, your father did indeed stand up bravely against me as I took his soul and disposed of his empty body.'
The breath shuddered from Harry's throat. What? What was Voldemort saying? Bands of steel were tightening around his chest. 'What did – what did you do with him?'
Red eyes narrowed to the tiniest of slits as Harry struggled to breathe. 'Perhaps, out of necessity in playing the doting father, Severus chose to keep the gory details from you? Well, then, of course, I shall be only too happy to fill in the gaps for you now.' He paused to enjoy Harry's distress. 'I could not allow him to get away with taking the life of my spy at Hogwarts. It seemed only proper that he pay his due. Severus was too valuable to me – I needed someone to tell me what the old man was up to. It so happened I had been researching old Dark Magic around the soul, and I knew just the spell. Quickly, I cast it, before Severus's body and mind were too far gone. Your father, of course, had sent Severus's soul the way of all mortal souls moments before with his curse. But I soon filled the vacancy – aptly – with the soul of his murderer. And my faithful servant regained his rightful place at my side, with no ill effects.'
Lips curled. 'Perhaps he will come by here before I am done with you. I'm sure I can allow him that. Lord Voldemort always rewards his helpers, and Severus has certainly earned his reward today.'
Harry stared at the snake-like face twisting into a terrible smile.
He's lying. Voldemort's lying.
Thoughts swarmed, few of them making any sense. Uppermost was that he needed to keep his nerve. His father would never have let Voldemort's lies get to him. And that was what Voldemort was trying to do. He was trying to paint such a vicious picture of his father's death, trying to make him believe that his life for the past fifteen years had been a lie. None of this was true.
But in straining to control the thoughts, one by one, images, fragments of words, broke through, blinding his focus, stopping his breath.
Snape in the library, snatching back the book on souls…
Lupin's visits to the castle…
Snape handing him the potion for his headaches…
Draco's mocking tone in the corridor…
Prongs racing through the moonlight…
No. He's lying! 'You're a LIAR!'
'Enough of this,' said Voldemort, and he idly raised his wand arm. 'Crucio.'
Pain, like a thousand knives, coursed through him. When he thought it would never stop, he found himself on the floor, each breath coming heavily and hard. Quickly he stood, using the wall at his back only briefly to keep his balance.
'Now,' said Voldemort, once Harry was facing him again, 'time to get what I brought you here for.'
He pointed his wand, and Harry readied himself for more. If he was going to die, he would die like his father, fighting to the end.
The light seemed to flicker, then a stream of images was rushing through his head. Ron was holding up the Invisibility Cloak … Hagrid's window was misted over from his breath … In the corridor Luna was talking about exams … Dumbledore was telling him of Sirius's death … students gathered in the common room were whispering rumours of an attack at Hogsmeade … then suddenly he was back in Dumbledore's office and he was telling him of Sirius's death once more.
Voldemort was going to make him relive this moment over and over again.
But then Dumbledore was showing him the Pensieve … the image of Trelawney was forming over it … she was muttering in the odd, detached voice… '…born to those who…'
No! At once he knew what Voldemort was looking for, and he concentrated all his energies on the Occlumency he had been practising all year. Her voice was fading, Voldemort's face becoming clearer – '…and either must…' – until the fury channelled down the wand at Harry's head burst through the vision.
He let out a loud noise of frustration, and the Death Eaters on each side cowered back.
Again, Harry found himself on the floor, with the sound of screaming in his ears. Again, as soon as the agony had stopped, he picked himself up and faced Voldemort.
But this time Harry was ready. No sooner had Trelawney begun her recital, he had forced Voldemort from his mind.
Enraged, Voldemort cast another Cruciatus Curse, and afterwards Harry retook his position for a third time. But the Legilimency spell did not come. Voldemort was studying him calmly.
'I see someone has been teaching you how to conceal your thoughts. The old man, perhaps? A pity. But no amount of Occlumency is a match for Lord Voldemort's powers.' The thin scarlet eyes glittered. 'We shall see how resistant you are after a few hours' contemplation of your predicament. Take all the time you need. You shall soon understand that it does not pay to defy me. Your parents attempted the same and were quickly destroyed. Do not follow in their footsteps, Harry.' He lingered a moment, his gaze resting on Harry almost fondly. Then he reached out, and Harry's scar split open in agony.
'I always knew you would find your way back to me,' Voldemort said softly, and with a show of reluctance he turned. At the door, he glanced up. The electric light shone weakly on his disgust. 'Channelled here especially for you – from an unsuspecting household nearby, I believe. Do forgive us if our spells occasionally interfere with the crude Muggle science.' And with that, he swept out, the masked Death Eaters close behind.
Harry was alone again in the small room.
A spider scuttled up the opposite wall. It reached a tear in the greying wallpaper and fell a little way. Harry watched it catch itself on its thread and dangle, legs searching for a foothold. He would not die here, alone in this cramped, dismal place that reminded him of his old room under the stairs.
But worse than that was the memory of Voldemort's terrible words.
No! He closed his eyes and shut it out. None of it was true! Voldemort was just trying to make him vulnerable, distract him, trick him into opening up his mind so he could get to the prophecy.
He moved to the wall with the bricked-up window. Taking a deep breath, he lowered himself to sit cross-legged beneath it. The peeling door opposite stared back.
Voldemort was not going to get to him that easily. If he wanted the prophecy, he was going to have to work damned hard for it.
Focusing on each breath, he descended inwards, and worked on clearing his mind of every single thought exactly as he had done so many times before over the last several months.