Warnings: You'll probably have to watch out for those pesky grammar/typo mistakes.
12. Chapter Twelve
Wide blue eyes stared back at him. Harry fed him another stack of pancakes, watching as the boy prodded it with a fork before inhaling it. Ropes of syrup stuck to his chin before the pancake could fully enter his mouth. His hands were trembling as he held the fork and he kept glancing up at Harry between chews, expecting him to pounce across the table at him.
Withholding a sigh, Harry glanced around the restaurant. "Was he your uncle?" Harry inquired softly. He had made sure they were able to sit at a secluded booth in the Muggle diner. Even Muggles could connect clues back to a crime scene.
The boy, August Grey, nodded silently, looking down at his pancakes with sudden disinterest. "My… my mum says he has… bipolar disease?" He licked his lips and glanced slyly up at Harry. "She cries sometimes about it. She doesn't let me stay with him alone. She's always around, except for tonight." He took a shuddering breath. "He always scared me."
Harry sat in silence, feeling the self-contempt churn his stomach further. Bipolar. "Does… has he done this to you before, August?" He couldn't imagine that it hadn't happened before. It had to have happened. The way the boy's horror and terror had flared was reminiscent of past history. The way the uncle had ordered him to bend over was another hint that this had transpired before. The boy had been used to this abuse. The feelings of meek and fragile self-confidence all but exuded from the small child across from Harry.
August pressed the bristles of his fork against the pancake. He was no older than nine, but his expressions indicated he had already lived a lifetime of torment. "Yes," he whispered hoarsely.
Harry looked at the ceiling when he noticed the spring of tears clouding the boy's eyes. Hesitantly, he reached over and patted the child's hand. Only, the boy had removed his hand quickly, looking cornered and frightened. "Hey," Harry scolded, looking back at the boy. He was not qualified for a job like this. "I'm not going to hurt you."
His attempt at comfort was for naught, for August began crying silently, burying his face in his hands.
Sighing, Harry stared out the window, wondering at this horribly numb feeling in his stomach. He had lost complete control tonight… all on a mentally ill man. Looking back on the situation, it had perplexed Harry how the predator had conflicting feelings during the initial attack. But now it all made sense. The 'uncle' had been a whole different man when he led his nephew by the hand. Bipolar wasn't something Harry was necessarily schooled on, but he knew the basics.
Still, Harry's control had been pushed and shattered. All he could think about when he felt August's emotions was the way his mother had been used, how he had been used because of it. They had leered over his mother's form and he had felt every minute of it. This child across from him… he had seen Lily in him. And he had seen his tormentors in the uncle.
It was eerily similar to what Riddle had said before…
No. Riddle wasn't right. Where the hell did the Dark Lord get off prescribing someone their problems? It wasn't as if Riddle was a bloody saint.
But Harry did acknowledge that he needed to learn Occlumency. The feeling of losing control had been… unpleasant. His primitive instincts had taken over his body and his logical side was left looking behind a foggy and sound-proof barrier—completely hopeless to the situation. Harry had lost control before, but never when he had trained so hard to stay on top, to stay in control. Luckily, he had been able to think quickly on his feet tonight. He believed he had successfully hidden any clues that could lead back to him.
It would be devastating if all his hard work had been destroyed over this situation.
Yes, he would need to learn Occlumency. Who he would learn it from was still up in the air. He would be damned if he let Riddle or Snape inside his memories. It would give them all unnecessary leverage against him.
Harry lowered his gaze to his nails, staring at the dried blood he hadn't been able to scrub off just yet. It wasn't that he was sad he had killed that… that monster, just that he'd lost his control so easily. And yet, he also felt no better than the monster he had just killed. A great deal of doubt and confusion weighed heavily on Harry. He couldn't make heads or tails of it all.
"…You need help, Harry."
He inhaled sharply, closing his eyes against Hermione's words. Calmly, he began piecing together his composure and sanity. Erik Slore and Uncle Grey had been two unfortunate mishaps. He'd lost control with Uncle Grey, he accepted that much and he was going to work to remedy that weakness. On the other hand, Erik Slore had been a victim of Harry's boredom, a victim of Harry's unrestrained darkness. He hadn't waited until the Ministry got their hands on Slore before acting.
And yet, both of these mishaps had saved one victim, doubtless that August Grey had been abused before this incident. As long as Harry acknowledged his slip-ups, he could prevent them from happening again. He was not losing control. He was still composed; he was still standing on both feet.
"Stop crying," Harry scolded softly, his eyes flickering over to the sobbing child. Luckily the boy was a silent crier. No further attention from Muggles was needed.
He stared at the trembling boy. August's choice of silently crying was most likely why this sexual abuse had gone on in the first place. Had the boy kept this from his mother? It wasn't unusual for abusers to feel compelled to keep it a secret. But Auror Grey was a notorious enforcer of the law. Surely she must have seen or sensed something?
August peered at Harry between his fingers, acting as if his hands covering his face would make him invisible.
Harry pointed his finger at the boy, telling the child he could still see him. "Your uncle was sick." He laid his hand on the table between him and the boy. "The things he did to you were wrong, you hear me?"
"H-he told me I deserved it. That he loved me and wanted me to love him too."
Pressing his fingers against his eyes, Harry gave a growl. "I don't give a shite what your uncle said. He is an unintelligent and pathetic human being." Acidic green eyes traced August's shocked expression. "He had a darkness that made him sick. He used to love you, but that monster growing inside him made him evil. It made him do those things to you. You see, that wasn't your uncle that hurt you all those times. That was a monster controlling your uncle's body."
By the time Harry finished his tirade, the boy had dropped his hands from his face and stared at him. "I don't believe in monsters."
What an annoying little imp. Harry grimaced. He had tried explaining it in terms a child would understand. "Monsters are real, boy." He leaned closer to the child, a dark grin on his face. "They just don't walk around like those big hairy creatures you know from fables."
The two stared at one another before August dropped his eyes meekly. His history of sexual abuse would make him look down first until he found a way to unbury his obscured self-confidence. "Then you're a hero. For killing monsters, you're a hero."
Was he? Harry liked to think he was saving other potential victims out there. He liked to think that he was doing the Wizarding World a favor by destroying men like Slore and women like Zabini. Only, there was a small part of him that mourned the fact that the world couldn't be as black and white as children viewed it. Auror Shacklebolt, Auror Grey, and others wanted Harry convicted if they caught him, while some members of the public worshipped him.
Harry reached over, this time wrapping his hand around the boy's syrup-stained hand. He withheld a grimace but offered a smile instead. He slowly began feeding the boy emotions of confidence, security, and purity. It was hard digging these emotions up, but he succeeded, he needed to for the child's sake. "I think you are the hero."
Blue eyes melted and he gave a wide smile. "Do you really think so?"
"I know so." Already, Harry could sense a distinct change in the boy. It really was remarkable how humans acted differently if they experienced the right emotions. How brilliant this boy shined when he was feeling a respectful level of confidence.
Harry's Empathy influence wouldn't last forever, but he was sure that the boy would be able to dig it up again now that he'd experienced it. Even if Harry wiped the child's memories of him, the brain wouldn't forget emotions so easily. Perhaps he would intentionally bump into August Grey from time to time in order to feed him some sprinkles of confidence. The boy may be an unnecessary burden, but a child… no, a human never deserved humiliation and abuse like this.
August bowed his head. "I want to go back to my mum."
That sentiment is quite mutual, kid. "And you will." Harry leaned back against the squeaky booth and tapped his fingers against the table. Uncle Grey's crime scene would be immediately declared a copycat of Custos, he made sure of that. He also had a shaky alibi, even taking into account that people would have seen him hurry toward the downstairs arena. Overall, Harry was confident in all steps, save for one; the boy's memories.
He wanted to go to Riddle. It was the most rational thing to do. Riddle was a brilliant Legilimens. He would know exactly what to do and he would do it quickly. But then Harry began to think honestly with himself. He knew going to Riddle would only prove disastrous. Harry did not crawl for help. He did not rely on someone, especially Riddle. Someone like Riddle would clearly want compensation. And Harry had a sinking suspicion he knew what Riddle would ask Harry to do in return. Sexual favors would most definitely not come from Harry.
No, he needed something else, something that would be just as effective and…
A slow smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth. Oh yes… that could work very well.
"I'm ready to talk!" Cormac reached out to Kingsley, clutching at his sleeve. "I have an alibi the night of Erik Slore's murder."
Kingsley, already hassled with other pressing matters, sighed heavily and forced himself to sit down. "Yes, your lawyer informed me of such." He motioned toward the stern-looking man sitting next to Cormac McLaggen. "Can you tell me why you've changed your mind? If I recall correctly, you didn't have a solid alibi before."
Cormac raked a hand through his blond curls. The past few days of heavy surveillance had been hard on the boy. McLaggen had been allowed bail, but he had been watched by a few Aurors and restricted to a lack of privacy. The Prophet hadn't gotten hold of the Auror's detainment of McLaggen, the Aurors had just reported that there was a lead on the case involving Custos. Kingsley had fought tooth and nail to keep everything covered, just in case this turned out to be a false lead.
In all actuality, Cormac McLaggen never struck Kingsley as Custos. The boy was too…
"Mr. Mullen told me there was an upcoming trial," McLaggen said slowly, motioning toward his lawyer. He seemed to pout, taking his sweet time in responding, clearly ignorant of Kingsley's heavy schedule. "A trial that will present me as Custos. He also said that you had enough evidence that could incarcerate me." McLaggen paused and Kingsley leaned forward. "I can't have my reputation ruined like that, even if I am innocent."
Kingsley rubbed the bridge of his nose, wishing the boy would get to his alibi. "Yes, yes, I understand Mr. McLaggen. Your alibi?" Really, he had to be with his Aurors. There was currently an uproar in the Department and Auror Grey needed to be comforted and reassured.
Locking his fingers together over the table, Cormac frowned heavily at Kingsley. "I want to make sure this stays between us."
"I cannot guarantee that I won't share it with my other Aurors, Mr. McLaggen. They are also on the Custos case. They will need to know the details. But you have my word that I will keep it as confidential as possible." Kingsley watched as McLaggen and Mullen exchanged a terse nod. He did his best to stop his bouncing and impatient foot.
Suddenly, McLaggen's cheeks turned pink. "I was with Draco Malfoy that Friday night at eight o'clock."
Kingsley raised his eyebrows. "With Draco Malfoy? At his manor?"
If possible, McLaggen turned even redder. "No," he coughed in his fist. "We were in an inn… in Knockturn Alley."
Kingsley blinked, coughing politely into his hand, similar to McLaggen's earlier gesture. "Well," he began professionally. "You will have to fill out a quick section of paperwork before leaving the Ministry, Mr. McLaggen. After which, the Aurors will escort you home and you will hear back from us shortly."
Cormac stood up abruptly. "I just gave you my alibi, surely the surveillance can—"
"You're a prominent attorney, Mr. McLaggen," Kingsley interrupted, standing as well. "I'm sure you know that a suspect is not free from surveillance until his alibi is confirmed. After which, we'll do the necessary release papers and you will receive your privacy back." He nodded to the two blondes. "Gentlemen, thank you for coming in. I'm glad you were able to see the seriousness of this situation, Cormac. Despite what you may think, I do not want an innocent man going to Azkaban." Before they could form a proper response, Kingsley was already out the door, nodding to the Auror at the door. Auror Inkles would do the necessary paperwork while Kingsley visited other pressing matters.
As he swept down the corridor, he could hear his Aurors arguing over each other, clearly not understanding Kingsley when he requested them to act like rational adults. Minister Riddle was also currently present, most likely thinking the whole Department was incapable.
"It's not Custos!"
Auror Grey threw her hands up in the air, desperation coursing through her. "He took my son! He was the one who killed my brother—"
"Custos is not a kidnapper, Grey."
Kingsley swept into the main office area, frowning deeply. Against the wall, Riddle was writing something furiously, paying no heed to the arguing adults around him. Kingsley had been surprised to find out the Minister had been at the Junior Quidditch Camp, working at the food court. He had been one of the first ones to find the body of Rolli Grey. Unfortunately, he hadn't been quick enough to catch the culprit. Auror Grey had been on the scene just seconds later and she exclaimed that her son had gone missing.
It was a mess. Nothing had been left at the crime scene, not even the victim's wand. Kingsley had comforted Auror Grey, but the woman seemed far more devastated over her missing child rather than her dead brother. In fact, she seemed rather unhelpful when it came to the motive behind Rolli Grey's death.
"Harry Potter will be our prime suspect, of course," Kingsley announced his presence firmly. Sirius Black opened his mouth widely, his eyes flashing. Kingsley held up a hand, noticing he had finally caught Riddle's attention.
"I informed you that Mr. Potter left the closing proceedings in my hands, Auror Shacklebolt," Riddle educated smoothly. "He said he had a prior engagement. His presence was not expected tonight at closing."
Kingsley nodded, feeling a migraine in the back of his head. "I believe you, Minister Riddle, but until Mr. Potter shows up and explains his situation, we have to consider him responsible. There are witnesses who claim to have seen him entering the entrance to the basement arena just shortly before Rolli's body was found." He turned away from Riddle's impassive expression and motioned toward the floating board. "Until then, we need to deem this a Custos crime or a copycat—,"
"Copycat," one seasoned Auror interrupted firmly. "Just look at the sloppy kill. The stab wounds are sparse, not particular. Custos is very precise and clean."
Kingsley shook his head, stopping the man from continuing before he turned to a silent Grey. "Are you certain you wish to stay here? You are not allowed to be actively in this case, but you may observe until the field Aurors track down your son."
Auror Grey stared blankly at the photographs of her dead brother, worry etched deeply in her face. As she turned to look at Kingsley, her blonde ponytail slid across her shoulder. "I want to be in the field, looking for my son." She looked away from his coming rebuttal. "But I know I am unable to do so. So I choose to stay here. Please, don't censor your words on my account," she said bitterly.
Auror Anderson smirked at Grey, his eyes narrowing. "You're holding out on us, Grey." His words silenced the chatter around the Department. "You think it's Custos despite the glaring facts that it's a copycat. One of Custos' MO is hunting criminals. You know each and every one of his victims has been a criminal. So… if you believe Custos was the one to do this, then what exactly has your brother done to warrant our serial killer's attention?"
If the silence was heavy before, it was even heavier now. Kingsley watched Grey, noticing she had tensed at the inquiry. The question was extremely warranted, and something that had crossed Kingsley's mind when he had first inspected the body of Rolli Grey.
"I— I didn't think of it that way, Auror Anderson," Grey responded listlessly. "I only looked at the method—"
"The method? You mean the uneven stab wounds? The sloppy work at covering his trails?" Anderson thrust a thumb at one of the photographs. "Your brother even had a smile painted on his lips with his own blood. The media knows Custos leaves behind a smile at his crime scenes, but they are not knowledgeable of what kind of smile. This copycat actually thought Custos paints the smile on his victims." The silver-haired Auror shrugged mockingly, looking at Grey imploringly. "To me, if you simply looked at the method, you would know instantly that this isn't Custos. Remind me again why you thought it was our serial killer?"
"Who, exactly, is the one being interrogated here?" Grey snapped viciously.
"What was your brother doing all the way downstairs with your son?" Anderson pressed, raising his voice.
"Auror Anderson," Kingsley started firmly, but was quickly cut off by Auror Grey's sudden exhalation.
All eyes turned toward the blonde witch, watching as she pressed her knuckles to her forehead in attempt to compose herself. No tears had fallen, but that didn't stop the vulnerability from crossing her face. "Rolli was never supposed to pick August up tonight." Auror Grey removed her hand, looking at the board. "He suffered from severe bipolar. I- I had suspected that he had… that he had hurt August before, but it was never confirmed."
"You believe Rolli was guilty of—"
"Rape," Auror Grey cut in, her jaw clenched. "I tried so hard to keep him away from August. I had thought Rolli was doing better, that he was taking medication. Every time I asked August about it, about the possible abuse he experienced, he would say that nothing ever happened." She swallowed thickly, blinking quickly to vanish away the small tears. "I… I need it to be Custos who killed Rolli. He may be a serial killer, but I know he has his own sets of morals. He would never kill an innocent child."
Before anyone could offer comfort, a young voice beat them to it. "Mama!"
A blond-haired child raced inside the Department and toward Auror Grey. He collapsed in her arms, hugging her with just as much vigor as she was him. Kingsley watched as Auror Grey began crying in relief, squeezing her child to herself, possessive and unrelenting to the concerned hands reaching in her direction. Kingsley smiled, just a relieved to find the child alive. He turned toward the door to the Department, spotting Harry Potter and Auror Turner.
"Mr. Potter," Kingsley greeted, surprised.
The boy, young man, nodded sharply and began to enter further into the Department, ignorant to the sharp attention from the Aurors and the Minister. "Auror Shacklebolt, I thought you might want to speak to me." Shocking green eyes glanced at Auror Grey from behind thick glasses.
Potter's usual limp was subtle, but noticeable to Kingsley's eyes as he came to a stop in front of him. "I—well, of course, Mr. Potter, you thought right." Before Kingsley could usher the group of them to another room, a sharp tapping hit the floor in measured, light taps. The Head Auror pivoted, frowning deeply at the newcomer. It was a man with long tawny hair braided down his back. He was dressed smartly in a suit vest and dark slacks. Sunglasses veiled the newcomers' eyes and a silver cane was in his hand, tapping the ground eagerly in front of him.
"I dearly hope I'm not late," the man exclaimed dramatically, using his cane to lead him across the Department.
Kingsley watched, fascinated, as the cane all but pulled its owner forward like that of a dog. The cane came to a stop near Potter, tapping excitingly before it danced up the boy's leg and up his crotch. Potter came a strangled yelp, his cheeks flushing hotly as he danced away from the man's cane.
"Mr. Potter," the stranger greeted. "I'm not late, am I?"
"You're just on time," Potter replied tightly, scratching the back of his neck in embarrassment. He then turned to Kingsley, grimacing. "I—perhaps we could discuss this more privately?" He looked pointedly at the whole Department of Aurors who were leaning in, curious. "I, er, I heard about the murder and came as quickly as I could," he said in his awkward but professional manner.
Kingsley blinked, shaking himself out of his stupor. "Yes, you're quite right, Mr. Potter." He looked over the boy's messy hair and nodded at the Minister. "Minister, Grey, Turner, why don't you three accompany Potter and myself? And…" he trailed off, looking pointedly at the stranger.
"William Stratton," Potter supplied quietly. "I owled him and asked him to come in. He should be able to supply you with my alibi."
Assessing the blind wizard once more, Kingsley found himself nodding, too taken aback by this stranger's cheerful and odd disposition to properly form a response. Instead, he led the group away from the main hall and toward an interrogation room. This was certainly turning out to be a lot more unusual by the second. He had expected Potter to remain away from the Ministry, too afraid to approach it in fear of being questioned. But then again, this was James Potter's son, a courageous Gryffindor.
Unlocking the door to the larger interrogation room, Kingsley ushered the crowd inside. He made eye contact with Minister Riddle, sharing the man's expression of raised eyebrows and silent speculation. He then nodded to Auror Turner, gesturing for the man to stay standing near the door.
"I hope this won't take too long, Auror Shacklebolt," Auror Grey started, keeping a firm hold on her son's hand. Her opposite hand stroked the boy's hair. "I would like to get August home as soon as possible."
He understood her pressing desire to take her son home and comfort him, but her son was also part of determining this case. Nonetheless, Kingsley nodded diplomatically. "We will try to make this as quick as possible, Auror Grey, Mr. Potter." He sat down across from Potter and the unusual Stratton. Grey settled down next to him with August on her lap, expecting every last inch of him. And with one look over Kingsley's shoulder, he eyed the Minister who folded against the wall behind him.
It was quite the crowd.
"Let's start with the basics, shall we?" Riddle murmured, easily taking Kingsley's words from his mouth. "I already explained to Auror Shacklebolt that Mr. Potter had a prior engagement this evening. He left early from the Quidditch camp and asked if I could look after the closing proceedings."
"That's right," Potter picked up, not missing a beat. "I had an appointment with William Stratton… my therapist." He said this lowly, as if not inclined to share with so many people.
All eyes turned to Stratton as the therapist smiled broadly, patting the table with his fingertips. "That is right," was all he said in return.
Kingsley pressed a curled hand to his mouth, staring at the young therapist. He hadn't known Harry Potter was receiving therapy; then again, it wasn't usually general knowledge to know who was receiving that kind of help. "If you don't mind me asking, Mr. Potter," Kingsley started slowly. "When did you start going to a psychologist?"
Potter opened his mouth to respond, but it was Minister Riddle's sly voice that broke the silence. "I think that is highly inappropriate, Auror Shacklebolt. One does not simply dig his nose between a patient and his therapist. Would you also like to know what they discuss during their meetings as well?"
Kingsley spluttered, straightening from his position. "I—well, it's a fair question," he cleared his throat, offering the Minister a pinched look.
Potter gave a bashful grin, shifting slightly from the tension in the room. He played with his hair again, messing it up even further. Very much like his father. "No, no, it's alright Minister Riddle." He looked at a silent, but grinning William Stratton. "Err, I started therapy a few months after my parents' death. Sirius and Hermione Granger thought it was a good idea." He shrugged. "I don't really go often anymore, but I still go from time to time." His eyes jumped from person to person. "Tonight happened to be one of those nights."
Stratton made a sound of agreement as he dug through his cloak, taking out a small black book. He set it on the table, his veiled eyes looking up at the ceiling. His fingers danced across the journal, flipping the pages until he reached his target. "Ah, here we go." He slid the book in the direction of Kingsley, revealing a daily planner full of brail notes. "See, right here." As he moved his fingertips across the brail at today's date, a smooth, female voice spoke up.
"Harry James Potter, seven o'clock."
Kingsley sat back. "I will have to check your credentials, Dr. Stratton. But otherwise, Mr. Potter's alibi is solid." He paused, staring at the young man across from him. "However, there is one thing that doesn't add up."
Potter's eyebrows hitched upward and he leaned forward in anticipation. "Anything, Auror Shacklebolt, I will be glad to answer."
The pure honesty across the boy's face and the eagerness to help out surprised Kingsley. There weren't many people nowadays who liked to take time out of their busy schedules to answer questions in a patient manner. "There are a few witnesses who saw you walking quickly toward the basement of the pitch. This happened to be the…" he paused, looking toward the small child in Auror Grey's arms. "It was the crime scene where we found the victim. Whatever were you doing down there at that time?"
Guilt clouded Potter's face and he looked down. "I— I feel awful for being so close." Here, he looked at Auror Grey. "I should have seen them, but I didn't. I was so focused on getting to my appointment on time…"
"But what were you doing down there, Mr. Potter?" Riddle inquired sharply, his tone deep and suspicious.
Potter offered Riddle an exasperated look. Clearly the boy still wasn't on good terms with the Minister. "I'm getting there, alright? I had to go back for my tea."
"Your tea?" Riddle repeated, dubious, unimpressed.
"I can answer that!" Stratton exclaimed proudly, holding up a finger to halt anymore questions and explanations. His long braid curled around his shoulder and tapped across his chest as he leaned into Potter. "The poor boy needs some spice in his life. Earl Grey this, Earl Grey that." The therapist made a revolted expression. "It's all the boy drinks. I can even smell it on the boy. I've been trying to get him to expand his horizons. His assignment was to pick out a new tea and bring it with him tonight." Suddenly, the tall and lithe male leaned across the table, pressing his finger against Kingsley's nose. "Auror Shacklebolt, tea if very good for the soul. It emits a therapeutic aroma and it settles your chi. Perhaps you should try it some time." He then turned a finger on Riddle's general direction. "Unfortunately, you are past helping, Minister Riddle. You are simply a lost cause."
Potter snorted at that, wicked amusement dancing across his face. Though, he immediately sobered when he looked at August Grey curled up on his mother's lap. "After my appointment, I heard about what happened at the camp. I immediately went over at the pitch and offered my services. I felt immensely responsible. Even if I did hand over the responsibilities to Riddle before my appointment, I still thought it was on my shoulders. These children are my responsibility."
Kingsley looked toward the imposing figure of Auror Turner for conformation.
The dark-skinned Auror gave a deep nod, easily lifting Kingsley's suspicions. Turner was a very trust-worthy Auror and a hard-working individual "He's telling the truth, sir. I saw him Apparate in myself. I told him you were looking for him, but he insisted he help search the pitch for Auror Grey's son before he arrived here."
"I do know the Quidditch pitch the best," Potter expanded. "I understood you would need my alibi, so I owled Dr. Stratton and asked him to meet me here. Auror Turner read over my letter before I sent it."
"Yes, sir," Turner confirmed again. "He's clean."
"And my son?" Grey pressed, looking between Turner and Potter. "What happened?"
"We found him, ma'am," Auror Turner reassured. "I was assigned to look for him at the pitch, in case he wasn't kidnapped and was just hiding." He looked at Potter. "Mr. Potter and I searched together and it took a good half-an-hour to find him huddled in the top tier of the bleachers. He was frightened, but unharmed."
Auror Grey breathed a sigh of relief, pressing a kiss to her son's forehead. "Thank you, Mr. Potter and Auror Turner for bringing back my son."
It was all well in good. Potter had an alibi, the child was not harmed, and Auror Grey received a peace of mind. However, there were still questions regarding the case. For instance, what did the child see, if anything? Kingsley looked over his shoulder at Riddle, noticing the man was watching William Stratton with hooded eyes. "Minister," Kingsley called to attention. "Perhaps you can look into the child's mind…"
"With all due respect, Auror Shacklebolt, my son has gone through a traumatic experience tonight," Auror Grey snapped in interruption. Her claws came out at the mention of her cub's wellbeing.
Kingsley pressed his fingers against his temples. "I could have the Unspeakables search your son's memories, but I thought it would be subtler to use Minister Riddle and his Legilimency abilities. August won't feel a thing and he won't have to relive the experience. We need to know if he has seen anything, if his mind was tampered with." He raised an eyebrow, knowing Auror Grey wouldn't refuse. She was just as much driven to find their serial killer as he was.
Grey looked at Minister Riddle, holding her child possessively. For a moment, it looked as if she would refuse. "Alright," she agreed softly. "Just—just tonight's events, Minister, please."
The Minister stepped away from the back wall with slow and measured steps. "You have my word," the man promised lowly. He approached mother and son, his eyes focused on the silent child. He reached out, tapping the boy lightly under the chin. "Look at me, child."
Kingsley eyed the proceedings intently before glancing at Potter and Stratton. The two were looking on, intrigued and ordinary. There was nothing that would indicate that they were nervous about what Riddle would find inside the boy's mind. Turning back to Riddle, Kingsley noticed the man had a frown on his face before he released August Grey's chin.
"Nothing," Riddle confirmed, looking at Potter briefly before turning his attention on Kingsley. "The boy was assaulted momentarily by his uncle but ran from the showers as soon as someone knocked on the door. He was hiding where Mr. Potter and Auror Turner claimed he was." He pressed his lips together. "I'm afraid we will be unable to obtain any information from Auror Grey's son."
For a fleeting moment, Kingsley considered asking the Unspeakables for a second opinion, but soon dismissed it. Auror Grey wouldn't concede to that and Minister Riddle would find insult.
He had a lot of work to go over tonight. And he hadn't even had dinner yet... And to think, he would need to contact the Malfoys. His headache grew in intensity just thinking about it.
"You may go, Mr. Potter, Mr. Stratton. Thank you for your assistance tonight."
Potter stood up with Stratton, a grim smile on his face. "My pleasure." He nodded to Auror Grey and Kingsley before making his way toward the door. Before Auror Turner could open the door to release them, a young voice interrupted their departure.
Kingsley watched in surprise as August Grey unwound himself from his mother's arms and ran toward Potter. It had been the first time since the child spoke tonight and the first indication he had noticed Potter's presence. Next to him, Auror Grey stood up, watching the proceedings in keen interest, worry still etched across her face for her son.
The boy hesitated when he came to a stop in front of Harry. Because his back was turned to the adults, Kingsley couldn't discern what the child was expressing. But the small shoulders were hunched uncertainly and the thin arms were hesitantly swinging from his sides. "T-thank you," the child whispered quietly.
Potter blinked down at the child before a smile crossed his lips. He crouched down, level with the child and held out his arms. August leaned into him, hugging him just as strongly as he had his mother. Potter chuckled, leaning away and ruffling the boy's hair. "You're welcome." At his touch, the young boy seemed to inflate, gaining some courage back. "I hope to see you on the Quidditch pitch again. You're a prodigy in the making."
And without further ado, Potter stood up and escaped the room with his therapist at his back.
Kingsley frowned deeply. For being sexual abused, August seemed to have been comfortable in Potter's presence. It was unusual, or so the thought. Was it a good sign? Or a bad sign? Was he reading too far into it? He liked to think he had a small sliver of intuition. And right now, his intuition was telling him that this scene wasn't exactly as it seemed to be.
"He's suspicious of you, you know. One may be able to misguide Shacklebolt, but he is also a smart man."
"I know," Harry replied curtly, cutting into his chicken. He had no idea why he had accepted Riddle's dinner invitation. Probably because he knew this wasn't going to be just dinner, but also the night he received his first assignment.
It had been almost a week since the Quidditch incident and Riddle had kept his respectful distance since then. Of course, the Minister had also declined working at the food court again, explaining he had other pressing matters to attend. Harry hadn't pushed; in fact, he had welcomed a whole week without the Dark Lord breathing down his neck. It also gave him time to work out alternative plans and schemes. He needed to be prepared if Riddle turned on him and he needed to be prepared if the Ministry were to catch on to his identity.
"You know?" Riddle repeated in humor.
Harry chewed his chicken, looking across the table at the Dark Lord. "You must realize that I have considered the possibility that I would get caught." Harry looked back down at his plate, not entirely in the mood to converse with Riddle. He was weighed heavily by the Weasleys, by Hermione, by the Grey's, and by his consistent itch to hunt. The Junior Quidditch Camp was finally over and Harry had yet to unwind from the stress and the constant going.
He was due to go to a Christmas gathering at the Weasley's tomorrow. The gathering cut into his isolation, his privacy. He needed time to re-energize.
Across from the table, Riddle made an interested noise in his throat. "I see you're in a good mood." He surveyed Harry closely. "Has the weight of your mask exhausted you? My, my, I can hardly see your true persona underneath all that leftover Harry Potter grime."
Harry knew what the man was hinting at. He offered the Dark Lord a chilling stare. "Yes, I am able to keep up with you tonight, if that's what you're insinuating." Mentally, he sighed, realizing that he needed to recover his wits about him. And quickly. He recognized that he needed to be sharp and ready with Riddle. After all, it was Harry who had accepted this invitation tonight. "It's been so long since I was able to relax."
As soon as the words left his mouth, he froze. Fool. You're a fool, Harry.
"Relax?" Of course Riddle would catch the slip and jump on it with gleeful vigor. "I don't know if I should be flattered or insulted that you can relax in my presence." The Dark Lord smiled thinly, sipping his wine and watching Harry attentively.
"You should be insulted, really," Harry replied, recovering only slightly.
Riddle didn't seem to accept that as a recovery. He only continued to stare, tapping his fingers against the steam of his wine glass in contemplation. "I would be devastated if you were to be corrupted back into the old Harry Potter." He placed his wine glass back on the table and leaned forward in his chair. "I believe those redheads are negatively influencing you, the tomboy wench especially. Perhaps you should spend some more time with me."
Harry continued to pick at the vegetables on his plate, playing ignorant. "In all actuality, I think you are the negative influence, Riddle." He looked up at Riddle, unable to stop the slow smirk beginning to tug at the edge of his mouth. "Clearly you don't give yourself enough credit."
And just like that, after a few traded verbal barbs, Riddle was able to reach into the numbing abyss and pull Harry back through. His mind seemed to sharpen and his instincts were fine-tuned. Despite his slip in claiming that Riddle was relaxing, Harry knew there was some truth to it. It was just fun to be around Riddle. He could be himself, he didn't have to pretend. Not that he liked the bastard…
As if reading Harry's mind, Riddle sat back, satisfied. "I do have to comment on this past week's victim," the Dark Lord began, picking up on his original conversation.
"I would be surprised if you didn't have anything to say about it," Harry quipped, stabbing a piece of broccoli. "Tell me you were impressed," he coaxed, grinning coyly. He was pushing it with the arrogance, he knew, especially when the murder happened because of his lack of self-control. They both knew Harry had slipped.
Crimson eyes lightened in amusement and Riddle chuckled lowly. "You're fortunate you can think on your feet and act masterfully." He cocked his head to the side, still keeping his unwavering gaze on Harry. "I am curious about your therapist."
"William Stratton," Harry supplied, grinning at Riddle's subtle demand at an explanation. "He really is my therapist." He stared at the wine glass. When he had needed William to act as his alibi, it had been surprisingly easy to get the man to agree. The man had all but gushed at seeing Harry again and hadn't asked too many questions. The man knew, he had to have known Harry was Custos. And yet, Stratton was providing him with an alibi. "His services that day at the Ministry only cost me marginally."
"Oh?" Riddle inquired darkly. "And how exactly are you repaying him?"
Harry's eyes flickered up at the Dark Lord. "Unlike you, Riddle, Stratton doesn't mind bottoming." He couldn't resist. It was an extremely immature response, but Harry needed to see the way those red eyes flared in sudden rage. Harry chuckled merrily, tipping his head back. "I'm only joking," he said, taming the Dark Lord's icy stare. "Originally, I had stopped our therapy appointments. In return for acting as my alibi, he asked me to resume our sessions once every two weeks."
Riddle hardly looked pleased at Harry's jest. "He seems desperate for your attention. Are you sure you can trust him?"
Smiling bitterly, Harry set his fork and knife down. "I can't trust anyone, Riddle." He picked up the glass of wine and swirled it around. "You didn't ask me about August Grey's altered memories."
"That's because I was the one who taught Severus Snape. I could recognize his presence in the boy's mind." The Dark Lord pushed his plate away and a House-elf immediately appeared to pick it up. "I'm surprised you went to him for assistance."
"Assistance? Hardly. I went to him for repayment." Harry followed the Dark Lord's lead and pushed his plate away. He watched as another House-elf popped in and vanished with his plate. "He owes me far more than he can possibly repay in his lifetime." His fingers clenched underneath the table as he thought of Snape. He hadn't liked going to Snape, but it had needed to be done. The man hardly batted an eyelash as he took August Grey and manipulated the boy's memories.
Nothing had been said between the two besides clipped instructions and subtle insults.
He looked up at the Dark Lord, noticing the man was smiling pleasantly. "What?" Harry demanded suspiciously, his body on edge.
"This has been enjoyable. Who knew you were capable of well-mannered and engaging conversation, hm?"
Riddle liked to do this. He liked to compliment. He liked to be polite and helpful. But there were times, like now, when Harry was aware of something darker beneath the façade. There was something incredibly sinister about Riddle. Harry had only seen glimpses of it, but he had never been fooled enough to believe that was the extent of Riddle's darkness. There was a lot more depth there, Harry had only scratched the surface.
There was a reason Riddle was so powerful and influential. Pure and polite politicians did not get to the top. And Dark Lords did not come to power based on how well they could compliment others. Harry was never fooled, he was never manipulated, and luckily, he believed Riddle knew that as well. The Dark Lord was aware that Harry had his own darkness and he knew he couldn't fool Harry completely with his genuine act of kindness. It was probably why they enjoyed each other's company so well.
Despite their veiled darkness, they both could see through to the other.
"I think I prefer seeing your fangs," Harry drawled. And he really was torn. He didn't mind conversing with Riddle, but he also enjoyed fighting with him as well. He supposed if he was 'working for' the Dark Lord, then verbal banter would have to suffice.
Riddle had his eyes half-lidded as he admired Harry. "You have never seen my fangs fully, child. I would scare you away," the Dark Lord murmured. He then smirked. "Though perhaps not. Perhaps I would only excite you. We are much alike after all."
Harry scoffed. He already knew the Dark Lord was corrupt and tainted. It was half the reason he could never join the man willingly. His mother had despised Riddle as well, though she had never interacted with him as much as Harry had. It was her intuition that made her leery of Riddle. Lily was never one for power and politicians that wielded it. And Harry was never one for men and women who killed others as if lives were meaningless.
"You don't agree," Riddle observed. "Someday you will. Someday you will realize that you aren't a saint or a hero. You are simply a skilled and clever killer."
Green eyes flashed coldly.
"Of course, that doesn't mean you don't have morals," the Dark Lord continued silkily. "Even a killer has morals and I am impressed with your strong ethics. One must abide to their own set of morals in order to keep themselves falling prey to cold bloodlust." He held up a long, pale finger. "You see, there is a difference between an intelligent killer and a lustful killer. An intelligent killer identifies their target and goes about their mission successfully. A lustful killer is very dissimilar in that they simply let their emotions control them."
Riddle then pointed at his chest. "They let that darkness take full control of their actions. You see, Harry, one can learn to live and accept the darkness within them. They only have to learn to control it. Lustful killers cannot face the fact that they have a darkness residing inside them. They try to muffle it, suffocate it, and in turn, it takes control over them." He folded his hands together then, motioning toward Harry. "You are tittering dangerously between an intelligent and a lustful killer."
"Silence," the Dark Lord hissed. "I am not finished." He leaned back against his high-backed chair. "You lost complete control when it came to Auror Grey's brother. You are extremely lucky that you were able to dig yourself out of that hole. But it won't be so easy next time. And it will happen again if you continue to pretend that you are a hero and telling yourself that you are not a killer."
"I know I'm a killer," Harry argued darkly.
Red eyes sparkled maliciously. "No you don't. You don't even think you're comparable to Zabini, Slore, Grey—"
"I'm not comparable to them." Harry breathed in deeply, trying to control his anger. "I lost control over Grey, yes. I understand I need Occlumency to shield their emotions."
"No," the Dark Lord argued. "You also killed because you were brought back to your days in torture with your mother and father. You were a lustful killer that night at the Quidditch pitch. You let your emotions rule your actions. Not only do you need to learn Occlumency, but you need to find your parents' murderers and end your mental torment. You need to start accepting that darkness inside of you and act on it, control it. Right now, it's beginning to control you."
"And how would you go about controlling it?" Harry asked spitefully, reluctantly remembering how itchy he was to hunt this past week.
Riddle actually chuckled at that. "Do what I do, love. Sate it, acknowledge it. For you, the only way to sate your darkness is to kill."
"I believe that's what I'm doing now…" You bloody bastard.
"For all the wrong reasons," Riddle replied patiently. "You are killing in revenge. Those are your emotions running your actions. You are killing your imaginary tormentors. In your subconscious, these tainted victims of yours are the same tainted men and the women who killed your mother and father. Why don't you acknowledge it for what it is? It's simply you picking a target that fits your specified tastes and slaughtering it." White teeth flashed into a smile. "You are no hero. If you like to think of yourself as one, then by all means, continue to do so. But you must also acknowledge that you are a killer and you're doing it because you enjoy doing it, you need to do it."
"I acknowledge your ability to read people," Harry admitted. "You're insanely good at it. But I think you read me poorly. I know I kill, I know I enjoy the hunt. But I also know I do save others—"
"You're saving yourself; you're saving your parents. You were helpless to do anything the first time around, so now you're compensating by trying to save these helpless victims."
"Does it really matter if I think that?"
Riddle seemed frustrated as he slid his chair marginally away from the table and crossed his legs. "I'm trying to get you to stop seeing your parents and your past tormentors."
"You're trying to turn me into a cold, apathetic assassin who kills upon command. Your command."
The smile the Dark Lord gave was entirely ominous. "I think it is impossible to turn you into an apathetic killer. Empaths are incapable of being apathetic. Tell me, Harry, why do you make your victims die with smiles on their faces, as if they experienced pleasure past the pain they obviously felt? Why do you allow them to see your face and identity before you kill them? I think… I think you feel a twisted sense of remorse for your victims. I never want to take that away from you, it shows that you are still human."
Perhaps it was a sign of remorse. Maybe it was a twisted sense of justice for his victims. Harry had never been granted with his tormentor's identities. In his days in hell, he kept wishing he could see the faces of his tormentors before he died. It had been the only thing he had wished fervently for. Harry's victims always felt pain, but in the ending strike, they were able to feel a semblance of pleasure and happiness. Was that really remorse?
"Remorse would be an emotion. According to you, an intelligent killer doesn't experience emotions," Harry remarked dryly, looking up at the enduring and calm Dark Lord.
"It all comes down to the fact that intelligent killers don't make their kills extremely personal. They are free to feel the adrenaline, the satisfaction, the excitement, the remorse, but he should never feel as if he's doing it to save the memory of his lost mother and father." Riddle tapped his fingers lightly on his crossed knees, smiling pleasantly. "Of course, there will be kills that are personal. But an intelligent killer must distance himself from his target and not let his emotions rule his actions."
"It all sounds reasonable," Harry coincided darkly. Riddle's words were pressing down on him, forcing him to wonder if his methods truly were objectionable. But then he remembered himself and his current position. He was sitting across from a masterful manipulator. "But I already distance myself from my kills, besides the obvious ones where I lost control because of my lack of Occlumency." Harry leaned back against his chair, smug. "I don't need adjusting, Riddle. I am not another one of your pet projects. I agreed to work with you because you threatened the lives of my friends. And in return, I just simply need your assistance to hunt down my parents' murderers."
Crimson eyes never gave anything away to Harry's declaration. Instead, Riddle concurred with a slight inclination of his head. "And you will receive my assistance. In fact, I have invited someone to my manor this evening that should provide us with some answers." Riddle waved a hand, opening the door to the dining hall. "Before we can meet with him, I have an assignment for you that I'd like to discuss with a few others…"
Just as he said it, a group of familiar-looking wizards entered the room. Much to Harry's immediate pleasure, Lucius Malfoy is in the lead.
Smiling darkly, his conversation with Riddle easily pushed to the side, Harry braced both hands on his armrests, eager for what was to come.
I had to cut this chapter short. Next chapter should deal with Lucius/Severus/Harry/Riddle interaction… I may bring Barty Crouch Junior in as well. I haven't decided (or written it) yet. You'll also get Harry's first 'assignment', answers/clues to Lily, and you'll hear further about McLaggen and Draco (Harry does like to taunt Lucius, after all).
Also, I wanted to give a huge thank you to those of you who reviewed last chapter.