You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation…and that is love."
Author's Notes: What do you know: this fic hasn't been abandoned after all!Thanks to all of the wonderful readers who have waited so patiently for this update. I really intend not to keep you waiting long for the next chapter.
This story is basically canon compliant through Order of the Phoenix.
Thanks to my beta, hobtheknife, And special thanks to Jade Tatsu, for technical advice and encouragement!
That's how long it had been since he had left Harry waiting in the parlour while he went to fetch some books, and had come back to find that Harry had gone, suddenly called away by a message delivered by owl.
Two weeks in which he'd grown utterly bored of his confinement in the house to which he'd been bound by Merlin.
He had met with Mrs. Greengrass, the estate's solicitor, to be appraised of the value of his inheritance. His Great-uncle had left him a comfortable sum, one which would have seemed a fortune to the young Tom Riddle, enough to have liberated him from the dismal orphanage in London. He had been visited by a tailor who had taken his measurements and discussed fabric selections for new garments. He had sent for copies of the less controversial of his most-consulted magical reference books.
But he could not send for the one person who could help deliver his freedom, which was, after all, the one thing he wanted most. Merlin had said that would only be won with Harry's help, and Harry apparently had more important concerns.
Without realizing it had happened, the date on the front page of the Daily Prophet had become Voldemort's marker of the passing days. Each morning, after breakfast, he sat down with the day's newspapers, scanning the pages for clues to Merlin's prophecy about a 'great peril'. Although he had collected a neat stack of clippings, and had made several pages of notes, he felt no more enlightened than when he'd first begun. If great changes were at work in the Wizarding world, they were buried under mostly useless information.
Although Harry had yet to return, Voldemort saw his face often enough. The Boy Who Lived was back in the public eye, and with the official announcement of the defeat of the Dark Lord, Harry appeared to be permanently in the Ministry's good graces. And not only that, Voldemort cynically noticed, but Harry seemed to have acquired a new friend as well. Daily front-page photos showed Rufus Scrimgeour standing at Harry's side in solidarity, or hovering discretely in the background while Harry solemnly consoled his bereaved friends. It seemed a bit heavy-handed to someone who was an old hand at manipulating the opinions of the masses, but the evidence of readers' letters and opinions in the magazines indicated that the public was buying it and asking for more. "Robards' Dismissal Opens Opportunity for Potter" the Wizarding Times insinuated, while Witch Weekly gushed, "Could Harry Become Youngest Member of Wizengamot?"
Downstairs, a woman's voice called a cheerful-sounding greeting, to which Mrs. Hatchet made an indistinct reply. The kitchen door banged once. He was getting to know the routines of the house, and guessed the woman was probably a neighbour because she visited nearly every day to spend time in the kitchen talking with the Housekeeper. He hadn't actually seen the woman so far, but then he had yet to see the mysterious Mr. Hatchet, either, though he'd heard a deep, rumbling sort of voice and occasionally glimpsed a large shadow outside the windows.
Returning to the papers, he saw the photo gracing today's Prophet was of yesterday's medal presentation at the Ministry. Several young people wore tremulous smiles and their own newly-bestowed honours while Harry inclined head to receive the Order of Merlin from the Minister. Voldemort spent a moment wryly imaging the Editor of the Daily Prophet crumpling and discarding a crank letter that read:
Awarding the Order of Merlin to Harry Potter is a national disgrace
because Lord Voldemort happens to be alive and well, and living
in a cottage in Oxfordshire!
An Observant Reader
The voices below grew louder, and there was a creak on the stair. The Housekeeper only came upstairs when someone wanted to speak with him and he wondered whether he'd read the situation downstairs incorrectly. Perhaps the solicitor, Laurel Greengrass, had returned with more information about the Eldritch estate? He stood up from the table, crossed the room, and opened the door at her first, tentative tap.
"Yes?" he said, automatically putting on a charming smile.
"Pardon, your Lordship, but one of the local Mages is here. She would like to welcome you to Spellton on behalf of their Council, if it wouldn't greatly interrupt your work." The Housekeeper watched him carefully, trying to gauge his reaction to the request.
Voldemort considered the matter carefully as well. With his ability to use magic incapacitated it was essential for him to stay in the Hatchet's good graces as long as possible. If spending a few moments being gracious to a neighbour would please Mrs. Hatchet, the intrusion was a small price to pay for the continuance of her magical protection. Furthermore, he felt confident that, even with his powers constrained, his ability to hold the upper hand in any given encounter was better than that of most people. And, aside from all that, the tedium had grown so tiresome that he was, frankly, curious. The Mages, he'd been taught at school, had been absorbed into the mainstream of British Wizarding society long before the time of the founding of Hogwarts. Had they truly managed to keep their odd blend of superstition and magic alive all these years, or was this Council a new movement of some sort?
"Of course," he agreed, with a polite nod. "I won't keep her waiting for very long."
Mrs. Hatchet favoured him with one of her horrible smiles, bobbed a curtsy and hurried downstairs. He checked his reflection in the glass of a framed botanical print and followed a few moments later.
The Housekeeper nodded toward the parlour and trailed behind him. "Your Lordship, may I present Mrs. Betony Hollis of the Council of Mages."
He'd expected an old woman, someone sombre and, perhaps, self-important. He supposed she would be wearing a hooded robe and ostentatiously carry a staff of power.
His visitor came as a bit of a surprise.
She was a middle-aged woman with a friendly, open smile and brown curly hair. She was wearing sandals, a skirt made of patches in a multitude of colours, and a plain blue t-shirt. The informality of her garments made him suspect that this meeting had been a spur of the moment arrangement prompted by the Housekeeper. When she bowed to him with good-humoured awkwardness, he saw in her brown eyes a genuine warmth to which he was quite unaccustomed. "Welcome to Spellton, your Lordship. Your Uncle was a great friend to our Order, and we hope to cultivate an equally cordial friendship with you."
She extended her hand in the Muggle fashion and, bemused, he wrapped his long fingers around hers. He was more than a bit surprised by the sense of magic emanating from her touch.
She gazed down at his hand with interest, and reluctantly drew her own away when he released his grasp.
"Oh! Here, I have a gift for you!" She reached in a pocket of her voluminous skirt, pulled out a rectangular object and pressed it into his hand. "I'm an artist. I design and paint tarot decks. This one is called the Seeds of Wisdom. Are you at all familiar with the Tarot?"
"I studied it a long time ago," he admitted. He fanned the cards, face down. The colourful backs depicted a table spread with books, pots and packets of seeds. A window looked out over a tilled patch of earth.
She startled him by reaching out a hand to cover the cards. "If you like – I know this is terribly sudden and we don't know each other - but I could do a reading for you. That is, it seems fortuitous to do it right now, if you have the time. But, naturally, if you'd rather, I could come back another time..."
Voldemort was cautious by nature. There were sound reasons why he might not want a stranger to know his history, his problems, his plans. Moreover, there were numerous reasons why he might not want this particular stranger to know those things about him. But there was only one good reason to accept her offer: he was powerless. He could not manipulate magic to see the future for himself, and there was no one else to whom he could turn for advice of the sort he needed. "That would be generous, indeed," he acceded, squaring the deck.
Betony smiled and looked around. "We need a table," she began.
Mrs. Hatchet stepped in and swept a lace doily and vase from a small round table in the corner of the room. She lifted the piece of furniture easily with just one hand, and set it down between two brocade upholstered wing chairs. "There you go," she said breezily.
"Thank you dear," Betony called as the Housekeeper left the room, tactfully closing the door behind her.
Voldemort gestured for Betony to choose one of the chairs and he sat down across from her.
"This will just be a simple reading," she told him, unfolding a silk cloth that she'd pulled from another pocket and arranging it on the table between them. "You haven't had time to explore these cards yet, and I don't wish to intrude upon your privacy. You should know that I am an ethical practitioner and I never share what the cards say with anyone else. Not even," she added, raising her eyebrows mischievously, "with my dear friend Allie Hatchet. So, go ahead, shuffle the deck. While you do that, focus on an area in your life for which you'd like guidance."
He centred himself and began to mix the cards in his hands. With a clear mind, he began to concentrate on his most urgent concern: his imprisonment. How long would he be confined to Spellton Yews? When would Harry return? How long would it take for the event Merlin had predicted to occur? After a minute or so, he squared the deck and looked inquiringly at Betony.
The Mage indicated that he should place the deck in the centre of the silk square and watched him with her head tilted to one side. "You attended Hogwarts, I presume?" she asked.
"And other places after that." He found her presumption irritating and added, with a hint of malice, "And where have you studied?"
She appeared not to have noticed the intended challenge. "London. Cornwall. A tiny village outside Edinburgh. And I received instruction in divination here in the Witchwood, from a gentleman of the Fair Folk."
He stared at her, unimpressed. There was no point in revealing how little he knew of the Mages' training.
She peered at him more closely. "Your aura is difficult to read. Has it always been that way, or is it something you're doing intentionally?"
Now, that was interesting. He hesitated. "It's something that's been done to me."
She nodded once and did not pursue the subject. "Please draw eleven cards from the deck."
He selected the cards randomly from the pack. Betony positioned each card face down on the silk cloth as he gave them to her.
"The inspiration for this particular deck grew from my interest in gardening. I will describe each card and relate the meaning commonly assigned to it. Your task will be to decide how each card pertains to your personal circumstances."
He was becoming impatient, but maintained a cool exterior.
She turned over the first card. "This represents you." He saw a bearded man at the desk depicted on the back of the cards. "The King of Scythes is consulting an almanac to determine the proper time for planting. He is an analytical person. Does that description seem accurate?"
"Well, that's a good start. We'll go on. This next card describes your present situation." She turned it over; a man with a bandaged head leaned against a staff. Other staves were stacked against a plank wall behind him. "Nine of Staves: someone who has survived a battle or is being tested."
He lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug.
Betony pursed her lips as she studied the next card. "I'm still rather pleased with the way this one turned out." A gardener was squatting down to peer at two rabbits, who were looking out between the wires of a cage. "Does your birthday chance to fall at the end of December?"
Voldemort remembered to breathe; seers, after all, were supposed to see things. "Yes."
"This card happens to be closely associated with your birth sign. It represents the cause of your current situation. Now, there is a bit of controversy about the way it should be interpreted. Some feel the reading should centre on the plight of the rabbits, which have been trapped because of their uncontrolled appetites. But others suggest that the focus should instead be on the gardener, who foolishly assumes that capturing these animals means that his vegetables are safe. Either way, the card depicts the consequences of foolish or unacceptable behaviour. Karma, if you like."
He couldn't help but notice that she didn't look at him for a reaction, but instead reached for another card. The mark of a professional, he reasoned.
"This one indicates your abilities and experience." A farmer holding a torch aloft stood between two gate posts, gazing out over vast cultivated fields. "The Two of Staves is a card of vision and power. But it is also a warning, for, as you can see, the land owner is playing with fire."
The Dark Lord waited, impassive.
The next card she turned over was illustrated with a burning silo. "This card represents the recent past. The Tower depicts an abrupt disaster or an unwelcome transition." She looked up at him. "Does this still seem to make sense?"
"Somewhat," he allowed. Although being given a different perspective could often be useful, it was always unsettling for a stranger to have access to his secrets like this. Even the Hatchets weren't aware that a personal calamity had brought him here, or that he was a virtual prisoner at Spellton Yews. Fortunately, they were almost half-way through the reading.
He sat very still when she revealed the next card for, in spite of the homely guise, he immediately recognised the figure standing with upraised staff and a glowing, double-curved figure hovering above his head as the Prince. "The Magician," Betony pronounced. "This card describes the forces influencing your destiny. It was actually rather a difficult card for me to illustrate for this particular deck. The Magician exemplifies self-mastery and mastery of the world. Incorporating all his symbolism in the image of a master gardener was quite a challenge."
Kassapraxities again, he thought. I've spent my entire adult life trying to fulfil his decree and yet here I sit, exiled from my kind, while others claim to hear his voice...
She reached for the next card. "This one represents events in your near future." The card she turned over showed a woman regarding seedlings sprouting in a triangular garden patch demarcated by a bit of twine strung between upright staves at each corner. "The Three of Wands indicates a risky endeavour, but one with a potential for great success."
He frowned. That could, he supposed, refer equally to the efforts of Lucius and the others with the European Wizengamot, or to the 'great peril' of Merlin's prophecy.
"The next card reveals how you see yourself." Two people wrapped in heavy winter coats and scarves trudged through snow, heads bent against the wind. Behind them, light glowed through a window of old-fashioned bull's-eye glass. "The Five of Coins can either signify being in exile, or seeking sanctuary."
Or, in this case, both. He wondered whether this session would provide any information of actual value to him.
Betony flashed a reassuring smile. "We're nearly done." She turned over a card illustrated with children playing among tubs filled with vigorous plants that were heavy with colourful blooms and ripe vegetables. In the background, a woman with a rake over her shoulder was walking into a barn. "This card represents how others see you. The Six of Cups signifies nostalgia for a time that seems less complicated."
And that, he thought, applied equally well to his followers and, apparently, to those who had known his Great-Grand-Uncle.
He sat up a bit straighter when she turned over the next card. It depicted a child watering plants with a sprinkling can. He had unruly, dark hair, and eyes of an extraordinary green. "This card suggests your hopes and fears. The Star symbolizes hope, fulfilment, and immortality or, rather, fame. But it can also foretell disappointment and obscurity."
The child's appearance reminded him of Harry. Why did it always seem that Voldemort's future depended on him?
She turned over the last card. "And finally, this signifies the likely outcome to your present situation." The illustration was of a man walking through a field beneath a full harvest moon. He was threading this way between baskets piled high with the bounty of the harvest, and he leaned on a staff as if he had a great distance to travel. "Eight of cups. This is someone who has finished one project and embarked upon another. I believe this is a good omen."
He felt a surge of something like hope as he studied the card. He would finally be permitted to depart from this place!"What is the time-frame for all this to come to pass?" he asked, his voice betraying little emotion.
"Usually, three to six months."
Betony watched as his eyes moved across the fabric, tracing his destiny from card to card. "You seem disappointed," she ventured. "You didn't learn as much as you'd hoped,"
"Oh, I'm not dissatisfied," he assured her. "I'm an impatient man, and I'd hoped for a swift resolution to this business."
"Significant change doesn't happen overnight."
He looked at her sharply, but her distant gaze and relaxed posture indicated that she hadn't meant the observation as a challenge
"I believe," she continued, "that you're meant to use this time to gather your strength for the task that lies ahead."
He considered her advice, and nodded. "You have a gift," he admitted grudgingly.
"It can be a fearful business, in many ways," she answered, meeting his eyes at last. "That's why I concentrate on designing the cards more than reading them. Unless you would like to pursue another inquiry, you may gather up the cards."
He swept the cards from the silk cloth and added them to the rest of the deck, while she folded the silk fabric and returned it to her pocket.
"If it wouldn't be inconvenient, there are other members of my Council who would like to call on you. One of them, Dr. Scarsebrook, is quite elderly and actually remembers your Uncle. He mentioned that Mr. Eldritch was very kind to him when he was a child."
Voldemort wasn't especially looking forward to the visit, but the Tarot reading had reminded him of things he hadn't thought about in a while. He supposed he had inherited a few responsibilities along with the sanctuary afforded him by Spellton Yews. It seemed that he owed a debt of gratitude to his Great-grand-uncle, and, perhaps, extending this small courtesy to the Mages would help restore a balance. And, as long as he was an exile, caged like those rabbits on the card, any sort of allies he might acquire would be welcome. "Of course. Have them make arrangements with Mrs. Hatchet."
Betony extended her hand once more. "Thank you, your Lordship. It has truly been a pleasure."
He grasped her hand. "Thank you, Mrs. Hollis." As an afterthought he added, "I haven't often encountered someone as nice as you are."
She leaned a little closer to him, a twinkle in her eye, and whispered, "I'm not as vulnerable as you think."
He couldn't help admiring her pluck "I am certain of that," he replied, bowing low over her hand as Miss Hepzibah had taught him to do all those years ago.
There was a discrete tap on the door.
"Yes?" he called.
"Pardon, your Lordship," Mrs. Hatchet said without apparent contrition. "Betony, the mister is wondering when you want the wood delivered for the bonfire."
"Thanks. Tell Garnak I'll be right out." She turned back to Voldemort. "As you are doubtless aware, the festival of Samhain is tonight." She pronounced it 'sow'en' and it took him a moment to recall that the word was an earlier name for Halloween. "We're having a gathering to mark the celebration. It's a simple affair, but you would be most welcome to join us."
He paused for a heartbeat. The fact was, he didn't know whether the terms of his imprisonment permitted him to leave the cottage. He had dared so much as to open a window or to step outside during the past week for fear of the consequences. "Perhaps I will stop by later," he lied smoothly.
"I will see you soon in any case," she said and, leaving him with the warmth of her smile, turned to walk toward the kitchen in a rustle of brilliant patchwork.
Later that night, when the cottage was empty and dark, he sat silently in the dining room, watching through the windows as the shadows of late afternoon dissolved into a moonless night. Mrs. Hatchet had left after clearing away his dinner plates and, for the first time since arriving at Spellton Yews, he was alone.
He was grateful for the luxury of solitude, and rose to pour himself a glass of the mead that the Housekeeper had left out for him. Sipping it, he stood before the glass doors that opened from the dining room to the garden, and looked out into the darkness. He imagined the Hatchets standing companionably with Betony Hollis, relaxed among the Mages clustered near a blazing bonfire, toasting the advent of the Celtic New Year.
On a whim, he touched the ornate door handle. Pressing down, heard the mechanism click, and felt the glass-paned door move outward as it was released. Fresh air brushed his face, and the chirping of late-season insects met his ears.
And he froze in sudden doubt. The terms Merlin had decreed were obtuse. Was he permitted to step outside the walls of his Great-uncle's home, or were the grounds forbidden to him? What might happen if he stepped outside?
Confronted with the choice of possible fatality and certain sanctuary, his choice was clear. Grasping the handle, he pulled the door closed. He exhaled a breath of relief when the latch caught, and stepped away from the enticement of freedom.
He had just finished the mead in his glass and turned to refill it at the sideboard, when he heard a soft noise from the front of the house.
He waited, listening. A few seconds passed, and he heard the sound again.
The cottage was securely warded against magical intrusion, and Mrs. Hatchet seemed a careful sort of person, one who would lock doors and close windows against the cool night air. There was little in the house of value to attract a thief…
It dawned on him that probably the single most significant thing Spellton Yews contained was… himself.
Reflexively, he reached for his wand and silently cursed, not for the first time, when he remembered it had been taken from him. Fine. There were plenty of mundane ways to defend himself, and objects in the house that could be used as weapons against either an opportunistic intruder or an adversary with something more specific in mind.
He quietly opened the door to the kitchen and, with his eyes already adjusted to the darkness, looked around for the first time. A door set between the cupboards turned out to be a utility closet, and he selected a broom with a stout handle. From a block on one of the countertops, he drew a short, slender knife. The blade proved reassuringly sharp when he drew his finger across the edge, and he set it carefully in the left pocket of his coat. Thus armed, he glided back to the dining room and stood, listening.
His ears strained to hear anything out of the ordinary, but it was impossible for him to be certain that anything was amiss. Grimacing each time a misplaced step caused a floorboard to creak beneath his weight, he moved through the hallway, broomstick held ready in a guard position.
A soft glow reflected on the polished floor as he approached the parlour and he frowned. Surely Mrs. Hatchet hadn't left a fire in the hearth?
And then, an unmistakable sound halted his progression: something irregular and wheezing, like the laboured breathing of an ill or elderly person.
His skin prickled in anxiety, and for the tiniest moment he understood one of humanity's most primal fears: was Spellton Yews haunted?
And then his training took over, and he shook his head dismissively. After all, if Cornelius Eldritch was a ghost, Voldemort welcomed the opportunity to speak with him.
He dropped the broom to a more casual position, turned the corner, and looked through the doorway.
The fireplace emitted a faint, unnatural light that cast into shadow the being standing before it. White, wispy hair covered the head, and it leaned heavily on a cane. As if sensing the presence of another in the room, the stooped figure turned toward the door, and the glow from the fireplace illuminated its features.
Voldemort recoiled at the sight of his own face. It was wizened with age, the eyes dim with the passage of years. The body was hunched and feeble, but it lurched towards him, wheezing with effort.
"Fool!" he heard it rasp. "Fool! You will grow old and die in this place!"
The creature reached out with a wizened hand to clutch at his throat.
He stumbled backward, and tripped over the broom. There was no time to catch himself, and he fell, striking his head on the iron umbrella stand. There was an instant of blazing white light, and then darkness engulfed him.
With each beat of his pulse, blood poured from the gash in his scalp, darkening the colours of the flowers on the antique rug.
The boggart loomed over the unconscious Dark Lord, tittering mindlessly, and bent to feed upon his fear.
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