A big thank you to all of you readers, old and new, who have left messages of encouragement or favourited my story – it motivates me to continue writing this story. Especially grateful to those of you who have been with this story since it was first posted 2011:)

So, my new year's resolution is, among other things, not to give up on this story. Even though my resolutions never seem to work out (day after day, my gym membership card lies forlorn in a dusty corner), I hope this particular one does;)

Chapter Thirty-Five: Hogwarts Year Five – Ruminations

As Harry led Draco, Theo and Barty towards the Entrance Hall, he constantly checked the Marauder map. When they were but one room away from the Entrance Hall, he noted with relief that the four dots clustered together in the Entrance Hall, which represented their past selves, had disappeared. After removing the Disillusionment Charm from them all, Harry strode towards the doors leading from the school to the Entrance Hall.

Two blond-haired figures stood silhouetted against the flickering, warm orange glow of the candlelight. When they caught sight of Harry, both bowed low and murmured, "My prince." Harry nodded sharply to them in dismissal as he entered the Entrance Hall, knowing that the twins and Theo would then head out to the grounds. He gestured for Barty, who had regained his guise as Crouch Sr., to go on ahead – it would not do for Crouch Sr. to be seen entering together with Harry and Draco.

After a few moments, Harry and Draco, resplendent once more in their dress robes, and carrying potion vials in their hands, entered the Great Hall. Emlen and Francis were nowhere in sight, and had presumably left to mingle as soon as Crouch Sr. had passed through the door. Good. It would not do for anyone to get suspicious of them. And the last part of Harry's plan tonight had come into play, it appeared. No one noticed their entrance; indeed, it appeared that everyone's attention was drawn to a table just off the dance floor, where Korbin Blishwick stood dripping wet. It appeared that a goblet of wine had been flung into his face. The girl raging at him, Harry noted, was one Cerise Lavern, seventh-year Gryffindor from Durmstrang. Not certain how Korbin had manipulated Cerise into losing her composure and acting like a mere Muggle, Harry and Draco smirked with amusement even as they sidled back to the table where they had left Daphne and Padma previously. Trust Korbin to enact a lovers' spat as a distraction. He's the only one who would not be bothered in the slightest from the harm to his reputation that would result from such an incident…Harry mused distractedly, even as he smiled at Daphne.

"We're back, my dear Daphne." Even without using his skill at Legilimency, Harry could see the evident relief in Daphne's eyes even as she turned a sweetly venomous smile on him. Harry was touched by her concern. "And I'm glad, Harrison, that you are back with the requisite potions." Here then, was another name to add onto his list of his true family. Dear, sweetly poisonous Daphne Greengrass….friend, confidante…perhaps a younger sister? Or perhaps something more? Seized by a sudden impulse, he left Draco sitting with the still semi-conscious and incoherent Padma. "May I invite you to dance?" Harry raised Daphne's hand to his lips in a courtly gesture.

The venom in her smile dissolving in the blink of an eye, Daphne's eyes softened even as she replied gracefully, "Of course, Harrison." With a faint smile on his face, Harry led Daphne to the dance floor. Afterwards, he would have to act the concerned date and look after Padma. And even later on, he would have to deal with all the loose ends from his mission to retrieve the prophecy, not least of which was his report to his father. But for the present moment, in the here and now, all Harry wanted to do was to relax and enjoy his one dance with Daphne. And thus, Harry did so for the first half of the dance. They drew admiring stares from the rest of the room; Harry even heard a few whistles of appreciation. It was not like Harry could fault them for it either; golden-haired, doll-like Daphne looked gorgeous in her elegant white gown. And out here on the dance floor, she had allowed her expression to soften. Her radiant, enchanting smile seemed almost magical to Harry, so much so that he felt all the stress and tension of the day drain away.

But that was not to last. So caught up in the moment was Harry, that he was too late to stop it from happening. Ronald Weasley, blood-traitor and clumsy nincompoop that he was, fumbled in the midst of his dance with another Mudblood, Lavender Brown, and ended up flat on the floor. Which would have drawn nothing but a malicious laugh from Harry, but for the fact that one of his flailing legs caught Daphne in the shin; she gave a soft gasp of pain, before quickly shuttering her expression into a disdainful mask.

Harry tightened his Occlumency shields as his ire rose. "Weasley." Harry all but hissed at the spectacle of the ginger-haired boy, who was being helped to his feet by his dance partner. Her face a heated red, the girl looked torn between concern and chagrin. But Harry's attention was solely on the Gryffindor boy, who, Harry was irritated to see, although looked mortified, made no move to apologise to Daphne.

"Has your shameful upbringing left you so bereft of manners, that you cannot bring yourself to apologise to a lady that you have inconvenienced?" Harry sneered softly, fingering his wand. It would be so satisfying to curse the oaf right here, right now, in front of everyone…But Harry had a will of iron; he clamped down on the urge to satisfy his dark desires. And his will was not severely tested, for Daphne came to his rescue quickly. With an icily beautific smile on her face, she threaded her arm through his, tilted her head haughtily and waved her hand airily, "Oh, but Harrison, we must make allowances for commoners. This boy is a Weasley, he has probably never heard of common courtesy." Laughter resounded amongst the onlookers, who had gathered at the scene like vultures flocking to a carcass.

Ronald Weasley had turned an ugly shade of puce. "Say you're sorry, Ron," Harry could hear Granger, who had appeared on the arms of Alain Fitzroy, try to persuade Weasley, sotto-voice. Unfortunately for her, Weasley did not seem to be paying her any attention. At first, he seemed at a loss for words, then, apparently overcome by the mocking laughter of the onlookers, he burst out, "I'd apologise, were it anyone else, but not to you or this skanky bint hanging off your arms, Riddle!" Gasps of horror rose from the small group of onlookers, among which Harry could see grim-faced Emlen and Francis.

Harry felt his control over his temper fraying as icy cold rage pumped through his veins. Before he could curse Weasley however, McGonagall had seemingly materialized out of nowhere. Her nostrils flaring, she yelled, "Mr. Weasley! There's no call for that kind of language. Twenty points from Gryffindor and a week's worth of detentions! And I expect you to apologise to Ms. Greengrass for your inappropriate language." Harry narrowed his eyes at the Transfiguration professor. It was clear that McGonagall did practice favoritism, even if it was not overt. Yet, Harry was not as foolish as to try to persuade the Head of Gryffindor House to increase the amount of punishment for her student. No, Harry would get his own revenge later. Privately. Yes, he would add it to the tally. After all, he had not punished the Weasley boy as yet for the prank before the First Task…

A cowed Weasley mumbled an insincere 'sorry' to Daphne, who accepted the apology with a grace befitting a Pure-Blood lady. However, Harry's night was ruined. Seething, he stalked off the dance floor with Daphne following in his wake.

No, this was not the time for revenge, Harry told himself firmly. He had to focus on Padma Patil. Later, after he had roused the girl, he would bring her around the Great Hall, to show her off as his date. That would bring the fifth-year Ravenclaws that he had been cultivating into the fold; of that, Harry was certain.

Knocking softly on the door of the room that Draco, Theo and Blaise shared, Harry took a deep breath. He wanted nothing more than to sleep at the moment, as the intense excitement of the day caught up to him. But first, Harry had to check on Draco.

Entering the room when the door swung open, Harry saw that Draco, Theo and Blaise had already changed into their sleep clothes. "Theo, Blaise. I wish to speak to Draco alone." Exchanging knowing glances, Theo and Blaise inclined their heads slightly and left the room. Draco…Draco lounged against the window seat and appeared to be looking out of the enchanted window, into the murky green depths of the Great Lake. Located underground, all the windows in the Slytherin dorms reflected an underwater view of the Great Lake.

Harry sighed and spoke when it appeared that Draco would not speak first. "I have a Dreamless Sleep potion here." He sat the potion on the mahogany bedside drawer and moved to take a seat on one of the small armchairs beside the window. Finally, Draco could not stand the silence any longer and asked pensively, "How did you feel after your first kill?"

Harry was quiet for a few moments, weighing whether or not to tell Draco the truth. He had never seen Draco act so vulnerable before. Then he shrugged. "I was a bit shocked by it. More edgy than anything. Slightly regretful. Although I think…I felt guiltier over the fact that I was not more upset by my first kill than about the actual act of killing itself…" Harry paused and his eyes took on a faraway look. When he continued, it was with a much softer tone. "I quickly realised that for me, as the Dark Prince, heir of the Dark Lord, it came down to these two choices: kill or be killed. And I found that I was quite willing to kill, and even murder in cold blood, if it would help Father in any way."

Harry stared at Draco intently when the latter remained silent. "I guess it boils down to this, Draco. Are you willing to kill for our Lord and for our cause?" That finally drew a deeply ingrained response from Draco. Harry could already see the instinctive 'yes' on the tip of his tongue, but Draco held it back at the last moment. He then looked contemplative for a few moments, but eventually, his eyes flashed with steely determination, his spine straightened and his chin tilted upwards. Draco met Harrison's eyes and said evenly, "You know that I am willing to do so, Harrison. And you're right. Anything for our cause and our Lord. Forgive me, I was merely confused by my emotions."

"There is nothing to forgive, my friend. It was an understandable reaction." Harry gave Draco a soft smile. He knew that he had nothing further to worry about. Draco had not broken; the subsequent kills would be easier for him. Soon, his chosen second-in-command would stand by his side in the upcoming war.

Voldemort laced his long, spidery fingers together and leaned back in his leather armchair, basking in the warmth of the conjured fire in the fireplace. Having just listened to the prophecy, his mind was literally awhirl with thoughts. While it was not the first time he had heard the first two lines of the prophecy, it was the first time he had heard the full prophecy. And for him, it had been a long wait to hear the full prophecy. Fourteen years…Voldemort mused as he idly stroked a sleeping Nagini, who was curled up on his lap.

Voldemort had been very pleased with his heir's success at retrieving the prophecy earlier. So much so that when Barty had reported that both the Order and the Ministry had found out about the infiltration, he had dismissed Barty without so much as a Crucio. But now, when he had heard the full contents of the prophecy…

and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… Voldemort knew that he had marked Harry as his equal doubly; both on the night he had given Harry his lightning bolt scar and the night when he had given Harry the modified Dark Mark. But what could the power be referring to? Voldemort had seen to Harry's education personally. Even those subjects which he had not taught, he had ordered his Death Eaters to do so. And there was nothing his Death Eaters knew that he did not. Was Harry keeping something from him? It was not impossible…

and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...that was the line that bothered Voldemort the most. It implied either Harry's death or his own…His own death was, of course, never an option. Should I then kill Harry so that I might live? But there is still the matter of the Horcrux…Voldemort would not admit, even to himself, how much the thought of Harry's death hurt him. With time and research, Voldemort was certain that he could find a way to remove his Horcrux from Harry. But to kill Harry? That…that was something that Voldemort was reluctant to do. He's a competent and powerful wizard. A useful heir. Loyal to me and my goals. He ignored the small niggling thought at the back of his mind that hinted slyly towards the more sentimental reasons behind his reluctance to kill his heir.

So. The murder of his heir was a last resort. That left…finding a way to ensure that the prophecy was negated. The centaurs had once spoke of a prophecy being 'no more'. Was this that prophecy? Setting aside the ramifications of approaching the centaurs to be mused over later, Voldemort then pondered over the issue of what to tell his heir. Or was his heir already aware of the contents of the prophecy? Voldemort narrowed his eyes at that. He had not given his heir permission to listen to the contents, but then, Harry had never been the most obedient son. Especially now that he was a teenager. Voldemort realised that what he told his heir would very much depend on what Harry already knew.

His thoughts shifted to other issues quickly. If the Order and the Ministry knew that it was the Dark Prince who was behind the infiltration into the Ministry, Voldemort needed to plan for their reactions. Wandlessly summoning a piece of parchment from the overflowing pile on a table to his right, Voldemort glanced through the report again; it was a report on one Rufus Scrimegeour and had been prepared by Lucius. There was actually nothing concrete that the Order could do about their knowledge of the identity of the thief, save to redouble their efforts to search for the whereabouts of the Boy-Who-Lived Harry Potter, in hope that the boy would prove to be his downfall. Perhaps Dumbledore would throw his full support behind Scrimgeour? But while Scrimgeour had always taken a tougher and more hard-lined stance against Voldemort and the Death Eaters, as compared to his predecessor, Voldemort knew that Scrimgeour did not trust Dumbledore in the slightest. Their alliance was an uneasy one, fraught with deep-seated mistrust and suspicion of each other's motives. Voldemort thought it was highly improbable that Scrimgeour would accept any such offer of support from Dumbledore. While the Order wished for the public to recognise the threat that Voldemort and his Death Eaters presented and would serve up the bare and unadorned, highly unpalatable, truth in order to instill vigilance in the magical community, Scrimegeour preferred to create the appearance of safety and security for the public. It was an attitude that was quite advantageous for the Dark Lord. For so long as people believed that they were safe, they were but mindless sheep to be herded in whichever direction the Dark Lord so wished.

Scrimegeour…In fact, Voldemort strongly suspected that had there not been two resultant deaths, the man would find some way of covering up the infiltration into the Ministry. What with the way that the Ministry had been publicizing their arrests of alleged Death Eaters, none of whom were actually followers that Voldemort had Marked, the Dark Lord believed that the Ministry's goal of hiding their incompetence took precedence over actually informing the public of the contents of the prophecy. However, with the death of the two security personnel, it would be much harder to cover up the break-in.

Hence, the Minister might go in the other direction instead. Publicize the break-in. Then, to show that the Ministry was doing something, perhaps implement a series of emergency measures? Even…declare a state of emergency? But to do that, he would have to convince the House of Lords to pass the motion…Voldemort smirked with cruel satisfaction. The House of Lords was his. Lucius had long since seen to that. But should he then reject the motion? No, Voldemort did not have to be so hasty – after all, a state of emergency would grant the Minister of Magic extraordinary authority. And Scrimegeour…would not always be the Minister of Magic…

The next morning, Harry folded the letter that he had received from his father and set it aside. The Dark Lord had informed Harry that he would be Marking new followers on New Year's Day and he had ordered Harry to confirm how many of his schoolmates would be on the list of followers to be Marked.

Not any of the Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws for certain. Some of the Slytherin seven-years. The twins, Aleron and Silas, for sure. And maybe…Harry paused, then nodded to himself decisively. Yes, the fifth-years as well. Draco and Theo will be eager to be Marked. As for the others…

Shifting a sleeping Nuit off his lap, Harry turned to the other two boys in his room, both of whom were patiently waiting for him to finish his letter. "Draco, Theo. The Dark Lord will be taking new Death Eaters into his service on New Year's Day. Will you take the Dark Mark?"

Draco and Theo exchanged glances of disbelief. "We are not of age; yet the Dark Lord is willing to let us serve?" Draco asked slightly breathlessly as Theo tilted his head questioningly.

Harry inclined his head in acknowledgement. "He is pleased by the roles that you have played in infiltrating the Ministry. Our lord acknowledges that you will be a useful addition to our cause. Are you ready to take the Mark?"

Draco nodded firmly and unhesitatingly. "Of course. It'd be my honour to serve." Since Harrison's talk with Draco last night, Draco had come to the realization that he had been too maudlin. He was a Malfoy – born with Malfoy blood in his veins, raised as the heir that would one day inherit it all. Family came first to him, with power a close second. His family had always served the Dark Lord faithfully. And to him, Harrison was family. In the grand scheme of things, what was one human life? Or for that matter, many human lives? So thinking, Draco had gotten over his first human kill without any further problems; now, he leapt at the chance to serve the Dark Lord as a Marked Death Eater.

Theo was more reserved, but even he did not hesitate long. "Yes Harrison, I am ready for the Dark Mark." Having not had a large part to play in the mission to infiltrate the Ministry, he was eager to prove himself. And Harrison's shark-like grin, together with Draco's pat on his shoulder, was all Theo needed to know that he had made the correct decision.

Harry had approached neither Daphne nor Pansy, or any of the girls; because he knew that the loyalties of Pure-blood women usually lay with their husbands above all else. They could be sympathizers to the cause, like his Aunt Narcissa, but very few of them would agree to be Marked. Someone like his Aunt Bella, fiercely independent and fanatically loyal to the Dark Lord, was a rarity indeed. Sometimes when in a whimsical mood, Harry wondered if Aunt Bella's first loyalty was to his father or to Uncle Rody…he privately thought that Rodolphus Lestrange might lose if it ever were to come to that.

In the end, Harry approached his Durmstrang followers next. As expected, the Withers twins had eagerly leapt at the chance to be Marked, to bind themselves firmly to Harry and the Dark Lord, in their bid to escape from their family ties. Emlen, Francis and Korbin, while shocked that this offer had been made now, only required a few moments to make up their minds. As Korbin put it dryly, "Our lives have been intertwined with yours since the day you offered to share a dormitory room with us. Who am I to fight your overpowering charisma and the Fates?"

Alexei however, was another matter. Unlike the others, Harry chose to summon him through the wristband to a deserted classroom for a one-on-one meeting. Alexei…required a gentler touch.

"Alexei, how fares your Necromantic studies?" Harry questioned softly when Alexei entered the classroom silently.

Alexei replied dully, "My academic progress in that subject has been limited at Hogwarts. However, emotionally, I feel ready to move on." He felt a dull pang in his heart as he said that aloud. Was he finally going to admit what his family had done to him to another living, breathing person?

When Harrison looked at him carefully, Alexei felt another pang, this time of guilt. This was the leader he had sworn to serve, happily, willingly, and with the utmost gratitude. Yet, here he was, keeping the truth to himself. Lowering his head, Alexei whispered, "My family has found out about my intentions to pursue Necromancy. They were furious; my father has decided to disown me. The announcement should be coming out in the papers soon."

Raising his eyes to meet Harrison's, Alexei was touched to see the suppressed rage in his leader's eyes. Quick as lightning however, Harrison shuttered his expression. "And how do you feel about it, Alexei?" This, this was one of the reasons why Alexei respected Harrison. While others would profess to be concerned on his behalf and wallow in justified anger, Harrison cared enough to ask about Alexei's feelings.

"Furious, at first. Then sorrowful, and maybe slightly disappointed. But now, I merely feel tired. And relieved to be free." Free of all family ties, expectations and obligations. That was one of the reasons why Alexei's father had been infuriated – Necromancers, who were expected to cut all bonds and give up all their human emotions, were practically useless to the familial House. Of course, it did not help that the Krums both feared and avoided the Dark Arts after Alexei's paternal grandfather had been killed by the reigning Dark Lord of that age, Gellert Grindelwald.

It appeared to Alexei that Harrison seemed to be slightly conflicted as his leader took in the information that Alexei had revealed. However, all Harrison said was, "I understand, Alexei. I once said that I would not dissuade you from becoming a Necromancer if that were your wish. If you have already decided, I will support your choice, my friend." Harrison's face was now carefully blank, but Alexei thought that he could detect the hurt beneath the bland mask.

It caused a stirring of guilt to develop in the slightly rippling pool that was Alexei's emotions. Trying to change the subject, Alexei asked, "May I know why you have summoned me, my prince?"

Harrison hesitated briefly, then shrugged in reply. "It is of little matter, Alexei. I simply wished to tell you that the Dark Lord will be Marking our friends come New Year's Day. Come, let us proceed to breakfast."

With his keen mind and sharp intelligence, Alexei discerned the truth that Harrison had kept hidden. He came to ask if I would want to take the Dark Mark. My prince…It hit Alexei then, of how much Harrison had done for him. Harrison was the reason Alexei had companions, even friends. He was the reason Alexei had stepped out from his brother's shadow. And most importantly, he was the only one in the world who had encouraged Alexei to pursue Necromancy. But now, Alexei's own choice would lead him away from this most important person in his life…without even repaying a fraction of what Harrison had done for him.

Guilt overwhelmed Alexei at that very thought. No, Alexei could not do that. He had once sworn to serve Harrison Maximus Riddle and he had never once regretted that decision to date. Even if it meant that he might face difficulties in his path to become a full-fledged Necromancer, Alexei would continue to serve his prince. "My prince, I would like to take the Dark Mark, if you'd allow me the honour." Lowering himself on one knee to underscore his sincerity, Alexei gazed up at his leader. When he saw Harrison's pleased smile, and felt his leader's encouraging grip on his shoulder, Alexei knew in his heart that he had made the right choice.

Harry mentally smirked in satisfaction at Alexei's willingness to take the Dark Mark. Even if the teenager became a full Necromancer later on, the Dark Mark would ensure that Alexei was tightly bound to the Dark Lord. For it was a Mark that would never fade, could never be broken, even unto death. My dear Alexei, as talented as you are, I cannot grant you the freedom that you yearn for. But you will not regret your decision today.

Harry and Alexei had then proceeded to the Great Hall, where they parted to partake of their breakfast. When Harry and the other Slytherins were halfway through their breakfast, they were treated to the sight of Ronald Weasley loudly proclaiming his love for his sister, Ginevra Weasley, in the Great Hall. "Ginny, Ginny, sweet sister of mine. O, elixir of my eye, shining light in the sky, how I love you so," Weasley breathed dreamily. So passionate was his love that he tried to snog his sister senseless, only to be repelled by a hastily shrieked Bat-Bogey Hex.

Apparently, Amortentia greatly improved Weasley's ability to rhyme. Harry's lips curled in malicious satisfaction as the entire Great Hall burst into uproarious laughter. While the younger years who were not invited to the Yule Ball had already left for home, there were enough students from all three schools who had remained at Hogwarts to satisfy Harry's need to see Weasley utterly humiliated. Weasley, Weasley, Weasley. This is merely the down-payment that I demand from you. For your prank on me and your insult to Daphne, I will require further repatriation….

As the professors moved to resolve the situation, Draco raised an eyebrow at Harry, who only smirked in response. Ah, but Draco does know me well…

Harry's thoughts were interrupted by a flock of owls which flew into the Great Hall to deliver the mail. After paying the handsome barn owl that had landed in front of him, Harry unfolded the Daily Prophet and glanced at the headlines. Dark Heir breaks into the Ministry! As the Dark Lord had expected, Scrimgeour had revealed the infiltration of the Ministry. However, the news article made no mention of the purpose of Harry's break-in, nor did it mention the prophecy. The Daily Prophet made it sound like a random senseless attack that left two men dead. Harry scoffed mentally, snidely amused that people were actually willing to believe that. The Prophet chose to be secretive about the attack, because Uncle Lucius' influence in the Prophet was palpable and the Dark Lord was trying to withhold information from the public, but the fact that the public willingly swallowed that drivel...Harry shook his head in amusement. Well, it would not last. The Ministry was now probably deciding on what lies it should feed to the public, and when it did, the Prophet would have to report the official lines, as the Dark Lord's control over the Prophet could not be too overt.

Reaching the end of the article, he noted that Scrimgeour was gathering support for his attempt to pass a motion for a state of emergency. Harry all but shook his head in amazement. His father's political acumen had always been just one more facet of his genius that Harry admired and strove to achieve. Finishing the article, Harry folded the paper and glanced at the students' reactions.

It's amazing, really, the extent to which people will choose to remain ignorant…Perhaps less than a quarter of the students subscribed to the Daily Prophet, Harry noted, and most of those were Slytherins. His friends and followers, of course, knew better than to comment on such a sensitive topic in public, so they were mostly silent, even if the gleaming eyes of the more excitable students betrayed their glee. The rest of the students…while Harry heard a few gasps of horror around the Hall, those were soon drowned out by the inane chatter of the other students. Gossip, fashion, teenage angst – those were infinitely preferable topics to the students of Hogwarts.

Soon, breakfast was over and Harry was surrounded by his flock of friends and followers, even those from other Houses. Amongst the crowd of almost forty students, he saw Padma, who was standing with her Ravenclaw year-mates, give him a shy smile. All wanted to personally say goodbye to him; they would all be boarding the Hogwarts Express to enjoy the few days left of the Christmas holidays at home in an hour's time. Smiling charismatically, Harry exchanged a few words with each and every one of them, letting them know that they had his attention. He ignored the startled looks he must be getting from the staff and other students, knowing that at this point of time, it was advantageous for him to cement in their minds the image of him as a popular, charismatic student leader.

When the furor had somewhat died down, Harry cleared his throat. "My friends," Harry began smoothly, "I would like to express my gratitude to all of you for the support that you have shown to me. I hope you have all enjoyed yourselves last night, and I hope to see you at the Malfoys' New Year's Day Ball." Harry finished with a charming smile; Draco had extended invitations to all of Harry's friends and followers to attend the annual Malfoy party, which was to be held on New Year's Day this year.

As Remus Lupin lay recovering on the bed, he allowed his mind to wander. He knew his presence at the Ministry last night had caused much trouble for the alliance between the Order and the Ministry, as Scrimgeour was suspicious of the presence of two members of the Order in the Department of Mysteries. Sirius had informed him of the threats to arrest both Remus himself and Arthur Weasley, but thankfully, Albus had managed to placate the Minister.

Now Remus lay on a bed in the guest room at Grimmauld Place, reflecting on the events of the previous night. Or specifically, thinking about one particular person…the Dark Heir…why had the person reminded him so much of Lily, kind, sweet Lily Evans, who had passed on so many years ago? His mind shied away from where his thoughts were leading. No, it can't be…but there was only one wizard of the right age and gender who could remind him of Lily Evans; she had been Muggle-born after all.

Silence reigned in the study of the Dark Lord as Harry shifted his weight slightly. He had just arrived at the Manor a half hour prior, and had immediately come to give his father his report on the Ministry infiltration. While the Dark Lord had censured him for not ensuring the secrecy of the mission, he had been rather lenient when it came to punishment; merely a round of the Cruciatus Curse had been dealt out, and Harry had managed to regain his feet without much difficulty afterwards. The Dark Lord had told Harry that he placed most of the blame on the shoddy information that their spy in the Order, one Severus Snape, had been providing, and not on Harry.

Harry was rather grateful for his father's fairness when it came to dealing with him. Were it anyone else commanding the mission, Harry had no doubt that the person would bear the brunt of the Dark Lord's wrath, regardless of the veracity of the information that the person had acted on.

However, now they had moved on to the subject of the prophecy – if it could be called that, considering that both of them had yet to say a single word on the matter. At length, Harry could not stand the silence any longer. It was a phenomenon that only occurred when Harry was in the presence of the Dark Lord, as he was otherwise unusually patient and could outwait most people conversing with him.

"Father…about the prophecy…" Harry drifted off into silence once more, not knowing what to say. Do you intend to kill me? or I promise that I won't kill you! simply did not seem like something one said to the Dark Lord, especially since said Dark Lord was possibly already contemplating murder.

"And what do you know about the prophecy, Harry?" the Dark Lord raised one hairless eyebrow as he leaned back in his armchair and regarded Harry with studied curiousity. Harry was almost certain that the Dark Lord knew that he had listened to the full prophecy without permission. While not looking forward to being punished for his disobedience, Harry was not about to lie to his father on an important matter like this. "I listened to the prophecy; I know the full contents," Harry admitted guiltily, even as he searched the Dark's Lord face, in an attempt to discern his father's thoughts.

The Dark Lord narrowed his eyes in response to that. "Did I need to make it an explicit order that you were not to listen to the prophecy orb before handing it to me?" Harry mentally rolled his eyes. It was a rhetorical question, Harry knew. Merlin forbid he actually answered 'yes'.

"No, my lord," Harry replied aloud, trying to keep his tone neutral even as though he very much wished to give in to sullenness. He was not very successful, for the Dark Lord pierced Harry with a penetrating stare. "Teenage hormones," the Dark Lord muttered under his breath darkly, at a volume that Harry could hear clearly. "We will discuss this matter at a later date."

"Yes, my lord." Harry said stiffly. What was wrong with him, he did not know, but Harry knew that the Dark Lord was right to continue the conversation later; Harry was finding it difficult to hold back his emotions. Occlumency had not helped, Harry realised, because he had not even noticed that his emotions were in a mess.

"Regarding the prophecy – do nothing and tell no one about it. I will personally…look into the matter. That is all that you need to know right now. Is that understood, Harry?" Harry bowed slightly, not trusting himself to speak. His concerns over the prophecy had not been addressed, however, the Dark Lord had said that he would look into the matter personally. It had to be enough for Harry.

Before Harry turned to leave, he hesitated. Should he ask his father about the ring on Dumbledore's finger? But no, right now, all Harry wanted was to leave the Dark Lord's presence. Dumbledore could wait.

Harry stared pensively out of the window of the library into the drifting snow, ignoring the papers that he had haphazardly thrown on the nearest table. The Truth behind the Break-in at the Ministry! The headlines screamed, before delving into all sort of wild theories about what the Dark Lord could possibly do with the top-secret information that his infiltrators had stolen from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. It appeared that the Ministry had finally lifted the gag order on the purpose of Harry's break-in. Idly, Harry wondered what Dumbledore and his precious Order made of it before he realised that he did not particularly care at the moment.

He had been rather moody lately, Harry realised. Was it due to the lack of companionship? Or was the prophecy weighing that heavily on his mind? Or was it, as the Dark Lord said, due to teenage hormones?

Scowling, Harry glared at a sleeping Nuit. He wished to confide in his familiar, but unfortunately, the winter months always caused severe drowsiness in his snake; Nuit was awake for barely a few hours each day. While his friends had all come to the Manor at some point in the past few days for an audience with the Dark Lord before taking the Dark Mark, it was not like Harry could voice his concerns to any of his friends; that would be an unacceptable display of weakness.

His thoughts were interrupted when his Aunt Bella came bounding into the room, full of exuberance. "Ahhh, but how is my ickle bitty Harrison?" Bellatrix giggled madly as she flounced down onto a seat opposite Harrison. "Come, come, give Aunt Bella a hug!" She held out her arms expectantly.

Harry did roll his eyes at that, but he obliging went over to hug his Aunt Bella. It was, now that he thought about it, his first hug in months. She was, Harry realised with some surprise, the only person whom Harry hugged on a regular basis.

"Now, ickle Harrison, tell Aunt Bella what is troubling you!" Bellatrix commanded with a mad cackle. Harry had moved back to his seat after the hug, and now he leaned backward with a raised eyebrow. "What makes you think that something is troubling me, Aunt Bella?"

Bellatrix gave an inelegant snort at that. She eyed Harry with disdain, as if asking him how he could even ask that question of her. Harry smiled wryly at that. Relenting, Harry decided to reveal to Bellatrix a portion of what had been troubling him. "My emotions have been rather turbulent of late; it's all I can do to keep it under wraps using Occlumency."

The black-haired woman eyed him with a maniacal grin on her face. "Let it all out on the Muggles, Harrison my dear, and you'll find the world a better place. But whatever you do, keep it under coooontrol in the Dark Lord's presence." She winked at him. "You wouldn't want a spanking now, would you, ickle Harrison?"

Harry snorted ruefully at those words after Bellatrix had flounced off. A spanking…now that was an understatement. The subsequent discussion that he had had with his father had been…painful…to say the least. At that time, it had been all Harry could do to keep his anger under control. Looking back on it now, Harry could privately admit to himself that he had deserved the punishment, but it had not stopped him from reacting with rage at that point in time. Perhaps it was teenage hormones. Aunt Bella was right. He should find an outlet for his frustrations…while Muggles were off-limits at Hogwarts, there was always Ronald Weasley…

Stepping out of the fireplace, Harry found Draco waiting for him with a smirk. "Father and Mother are both busy with preparations for tonight's Ball. Welcome, Harrison." Draco drawled lazily. They knew each other well enough to dispense with Pure-Blood etiquette. Behind Draco, Aleron and Silas stood silently, waiting for their cues.

Harry returned the smirk. "Draco." Then he regarded Aleron and Silas with regal nods. "Aleron, Silas." Both boys, no, men now, bowed slightly. Then it appeared that Aleron gave in to his urge for a more demonstrative welcome. He stepped forward crisply before lowering himself to one knee, as his dark blue eyes lit up with fervent joy. "My prince, I am delighted to be in your presence once more. It has been too long."

Shaking his head in mirth, Harry gestured for Aleron to rise. "It has been three months Aleron, I'd hardly call that a long separation. Your loyalty however, is noted."

Aleron rose smoothly even as he said, "Your presence has been sorely missed, my prince. And not merely by us." Harry hummed thoughtfully at that. "Well then, let's have your reports in a more comfortable place." With that, he gestured for Draco to lead the way.

Again, next update date will be posted on my profile once I am confident enough about posting a new chapter on that date. That's all for now, hope everyone has a great year ahead, cheers!