A big thank you to higashi and his inspiring words: "The developing relationship between Voldemort and Harry is twisted and cruel and fascinating and darkly tender. A dark world, an impossible situation, a hopeless future, endless power and ambition... and Harry caught in the middle." When I saw the concept I wanted to portray in this story so remarkably perceived I almost couldn't believe it.

It's wonderful to know your effort is being rewarded. ^^

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"Would that be all?" Voldemort passed the document, signed and stamped with the sigil of the Ministry's coat of arms, and Lucius took hold of the sheet of parchment, dutifully placing it in the manila folder with the rest.

"It would seem so." The blond aristocrat skimmed through the papers, nodding in contentment after deducting that all Ministry related documents had been looked into.

Voldemort turned to Yaxley, "What of the meeting with the France ambassador?"

The wizard opened his mouth but before he could utter a single word Barty snickered loudly.

"You should've seen him, Master. One look at Thicknesse and he turned to me, requesting an appointment on his Minister's behalf with the true ruler of Wizarding Britain."

An insistent, rhythmical sound suddenly filled the room, causing Barty to falter and turn towards the source only to grin widely upon finding Yaxley drumming his fingers on the table's surface.

"Sorry, did you want to tell the tale?"

Yaxley glowered at him. "Essentially, yes, that was all there was to it." he told the Dark Lord.

Voldemort hummed quietly under his breath, sitting back in his high backed chair and surveying his Inner Circle. "Very well. Send word to the French Ministry of Magic of my impending visit in a two weeks' time."

Yaxley inclined his head respectfully.

"How is your newly appointed post coming along, Barty?"

The man chuckled, "More enjoyable than my poor, late father had made out a job in the Ministry to be, that's for certain."

Following Dolores Umbridge's absence, Barty had been instructed to pose as her stand-in, under the guise of heavy glamours, of course. Needless to say, he had found his job as Under-Secretary to the Minister quite thrilling; as it was, he spent every waking hour indulging his distaste of Thicknesse, tormenting the man at any chance he had.

"Yes," Walden chimed in a mock sad voice, "Crouch would be so immensely disappointed if he could see you now."

Rabastan snorted, "Please, I doubt he could fall any further in his dear papa's eyes."

The three men locked gazes, lips stretching broadly before they burst into simultaneous laughter, leaning forward in their seats to grasp the edge of the table for support.

Their fellow Death Eaters joined in with more subdued chuckles.

Voldemort snapped his fingers and not an instant later, one of Lucius' house elves was bowing waist deep, not once daring to lift its head and glance at him.

"Bring me a cup of tea." he ordered curtly, waving the creature away dismissively.

He didn't bother looking as it popped away. Why should he anyway? He didn't care remotely enough to tell them apart, let alone learn their silly, IQ-degrading names.

Mere seconds later, his followers were finally starting to come around and he was already sipping his tea, closing his eyes briefly in appreciation. Earl Grey with just one teaspoon of sugar; he disliked overly sweet things. He couldn't think of a better beverage to start the day.

He allowed his Death Eaters a little while more to settle down, observing them all above the rim of his cup.

"Lucius," he said at last, once all noise had ceased, "inform the Outer Circle that an assembly is scheduled for the day after tomorrow. I want every single one of them present."

The blond nodded. "Your decision to attend the meetings with the Outer Circle has already proven fruitful, my Lord." A wry little smile tugged at the corners of the man's lips. "Simply by reporting back to you personally, they have openly expressed their profound willingness to serve under such a charismatic Master."

Voldemort chuckled, swirling the contents of his cup gently. "I find it truly unfathomable how a notion such as forbidding the rest of my Death Eaters from having contact with me would be appealing. For the subjects to possess genuine devotion, the leader must always interact with them in person. It cannot be done through a third party."

How could he have established something as preposterous as that?

Well, in his defense, he hadn't been at his best after his resurrection and perhaps even a while before that.

His mentality had fallen victim to his far too mutilated soul, something which regretfully he had not foreseen.

Too paranoid to recall the superiority in his level of power, he had ordered his Inner Circle to meet with the Outer, which included newly recruited Death Eaters and the ones in his service only for a couple of years that had yet to prove themselves. He couldn't possibly bother with their incompetence while planning a take over, so it had been decided that anything note worthy would be reported to someone of his Inner Circle and if it truly was of importance, only then would his Inner Circle bring it up to him.

However, he had been mistaken, he could see that now. In the end, every person counted. Any extra wizard or witch could make the difference in numbers.

"Genuine devotion, Master?" Rabastan repeated, eyes comically wide. "Surely you're not looking to replace us?" He placed a hand on the general area his heart was located for good measure.

Voldemort huffed, amused despite himself. "Hush, Rabastan."

Said wizard grinned good naturally while the rest of his companions laughed out loud.

Voldemort's gaze inevitably landed on the single person that seemed to have no desire to partake in the proceedings of today's meeting.

"Bella," he called out and a pair of black eyes instantly jerked up, looking at him for the fraction of a second to signal he had her attention before reverting to staring at her lap.

He couldn't help but arch a single eyebrow at that.

"You have been awfully quiet today." he commented idly, placing his nearly empty cup on the table before him. "Is there something of concern on your mind?"

The witch shook her head vehemently, midnight curls bouncing in every which way from the force.

"Still licking your wounded ego, Bellatrix?" Barty smirked, hefting his elbow on the table to cradle his chin in the palm of his hand.

Bellatrix's head snapped up, mouth twisting into a fierce scowl. "Shut your mouth, mongrel."

"Nope, affirmed pureblood, sorry to disappoint you, sweetie." Barty chanted in a chirpy voice.

Rabastan sniggered when his brother ran a hand down his face, earning the full blunt of his sister-in-law's baleful glare. He held up his hands defensively.

"Seriously," Barty said airily, waving a hand, "how pathetic can you get? Both you and Severus are acting like complete dimwits all the bloody time. I swear, my ears will bleed if I hear you whine about Potter one more time."

"You leave me out of this, Bartemius." sneered Severus, "In case you have failed to notice, I haven't been casting lethal curses at him at every chance I get, contrary to a certain someone." Which was delivered with a non subtle leer in Bellatrix's direction.

"Oh, please!" Barty threw his hands up in the air. "You've been picking on the kid ever since he set foot at Hogwarts, and don't you dare deny it." he added that last bit hastily, pointing a warning finger at the Potions Master. "There are no secrets in this Circle, it'd be useless even if you tried."

Severus' teeth gritted together briefly. "Why should the way I treat Potter be any of your business?"

Barty laughed, high and cold. "If it hadn't been for the Unbreakable Vow that Dumbledore forced on you binding you to never harm Potter, you'd have poisoned him with one of your concoctions already."

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Don't pretend that ending his life hadn't been your agenda in the past."

"That was because it was what our Lord wanted at the time!"

"Of course," Severus said indulgently, "Any other excuses you would like to share?"

"There's been a rift amongst the Circle ever since your fucking fixation with that Mudblood!"

Severus slammed his balled hands on the table. "Don't you dare call her that!"

"You've always been pining for her, and because James Potter got to claim her first, you're projecting your stupid hatred to his son." Barty spat, gesturing towards Bellatrix. "And so is she. The both of you are pathetic; loathing the next best person simply because the right ones are dead."

"Don't assume you know anything about me!" Bellatrix yelled, outraged. "I've driven people to insanity with my Cruciatus before, you little prick, don't presume I can't do it again."

Barty's face darkened. "Did you just threaten me?"

"I certainly do." Severus seethed, "Speak of things you aren't supposed to meddle with and I can promise you will regret it, Bartemius."

Rabastan bristled. "Underhanded ways have always been your specialty, Severus. There was a reason, after all, why you specifically were chosen to serve as a spy."

"Careful there, Rabastan." Lucius cautioned, his lower lip curling disdainfully. "It almost sounded as though you were accusing one of our own of treachery."

"Severus' disposition became quite questionable in the past, if you recall, Lucius." Antonin said, glancing from one man to the other. "He did betray our Lord at one point; he warned Dumbledore of Master's impending attack on the Potters."

"He turned his back on all of us." Walden interjected, tone accusing.

Barty clucked his tongue, "And all because of a Mudblood."

Two things happened at once; Severus' arm dived into the inner pocket of his robe to retrieve his wand just as the china cup combusted on the spot, spraying the nearest occupants with tea and sending tiny pieces of porcelain all the way across the table.

All heads swiveled towards the head of the table, cringing at the blazing fire that appeared to have lit up behind crimson eyes, making the fury that was swirling in their depths all the more palpable.

Their Lord's voice was calm, eerily and dangerously so, when he spoke, "As of this moment, I am establishing a reversion. From this day forth, the Inner Circle will be operating based on its fundamental principles."

Choked gasps rose from the entire table, all Death Eaters staring at him as though he were crazed.

Which he wasn't, not anymore. And it was about time he mended some things that had gone ignored while he had been blinded by his quest for power.

"That in itself," he went on, looking at each and every one of them, "means for every mistake committed, every wrongdoing and miscalculation, it will not matter by whom as you will be punished accordingly as a whole." A pause. "Perhaps that will teach you to behave as a single unit."

He sighed when he was met by silence.

"Did Abraxas ever tell you of the pledge the original Inner Circle had taken?" he asked the blond seated to his right.

Lucius brow creased together.

A pledge? Yes, his father had mentioned something like that, but Lucius had been a mere child at the time, barely ten years of age. He remembered clearly the confusion he had felt at the incomprehensible words his father was speaking.

What was it he had said?

Something about a soulless mind…perhaps?

Lucius shook his head. That made no sense whatsoever.

No, it was more like-

"Lucius," his father said softly, holding his small hand gently between his fingers.

He looked up, blinking questioningly, and the man smiled down at him before returning his gaze to their path ahead.

"I want you to meet someone; someone important."

"Is that where we're going, father? Is that person a friend of yours?"

His father shook his head, platinum hair shining golden as they passed by a window and the sun illuminated their figures.

"He could never be a friend simply because he's so much more than. He is my brother, my father, my guardian, my charge, my everything."

Lucius frowned, tugging at the bigger hand. "I don't understand."

His father laughed, and the sound instantly calmed Lucius.

"How about this? We are the mind, Lucius, and the soul, but he's the heart. A soul is useless without the heart, and a heart is meaningless without the soul. He needs us as much as we need him. We exist for him, to serve and protect, and he exists because of us, to bring our hopes and dreams into existence."

Lucius huffed, "Was that supposed to clear things up?"

His father chuckled softly, tightening his hold briefly. "One day, Lucius, you'll have to aid him as well, in his journey to create a future we can all be proud of."

"But how can I help him if I don't understand what he is?"

His father paused, and Lucius along with him.

The man crouched down so he was at Lucius' level, grey eyes warm as they gazed at him. "He's the heart, Lucius, and we're the soul. After all, what is a Lord without followers, and what are followers without someone to follow?"

"Alright," Lucius sighed, defeated.

His father smiled fondly, leaning forward to place a kiss on the crown of his head. "One day, my son, you'll come to understand. That man shall bring change to this corrupted world. I can only hope I'll be there to see it."

Lucius blinked, but his father simply ruffled his hair and rose to his feet.

Through the unfamiliar Manor they went, through halls and corridors that Lucius had never seen before, until they finally came to a halt behind huge, double doors.

Lucius felt intimidated by their size, jumping back once they opened unexpectedly.

They spread wide open, as though in welcome.

His father tugged gently at his hand and together they moved inside.

A grand sized room awaited them, and Lucius noted faintly it matched the size of their ballroom back at home. Perusing the interior, his eyes caught movement somewhere ahead.

A man was walking towards them, the black robe he was wearing above his clothes seemingly moving along an invisible wind and Lucius was so distracted by it he never noticed his father letting go of his hand. Only when his arm fell by his side, did he snap out of his stupor to see his father's form walking to meet the man half-way.

Then, his father fell down on one knee, and Lucius felt indignant.

They were Malfoys, and Malfoys bowed to no one.

He had half a mind to remind his father that, when the man reached down with one long arm and lifted his father up. He couldn't hear the brief words that were exchanged, but the man leaned forward and in a fashion similar to what his father did for him only a little while ago, laid a gentle kiss on his father's forehead.

"Lucius," his father called, stretching out a hand towards him, and Lucius took it in a daze, eyes glued to the dark orbs gazing down at him.

They were a deep green, and yet, tiny specks of red were mixed inside. It was curious, but he still thought it was the most beautiful combination he had seen.

His father was saying something, but Lucius was too far gone to hear.

"Are you my heart too?" he blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, somehow toying with the notion that perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to cut out his heart and replace it with this person.

The man smiled; it was miniscule and barely there, but Lucius felt elated.

"Not yet, little one." he said, bending down to look him in the eyes and Lucius was once again captivated.

There was something remarkable about this person, as if he were out of this world.

"You have yet to find the brothers and sisters with whom you will become one entity." He cupped Lucius' cheek in a gentle grip. "Find them, bond with them so that you become impenetrable, and perhaps I will become your heart and you all shall be my soul."

He bent forward, and Lucius' eyes shut of their own volition when warm lips met his forehead, shivering at the tingles that went down his spine.

He smiled widely when the man drew back.

Mirroring his father, he brought his arm diagonal to his torso, bending down on one knee and lowering his head. "Yes, my Lord."

His father's fingers carded through his hair, but all Lucius could see when he looked up was the glint in those brilliant eyes, making them appear almost proud.

He would accomplish the task that was given to him, just to catch a glimpse of that spark one more time.

Lucius reared back in his seat, staring ahead unseeingly.

He had forgotten all about that memory, too far back in his childhood for him to bother looking.

He ran a hand through his hair, starting when his arm was grasped in a gentle hold. His wife's beautiful sapphire eyes peered at him worriedly, and out of pure reflex did he smile back reassuringly.

The moment he turned, red eyes were already looking at him.

Speechless, all he could offer was a weak, "My Lord."

His Master studied his features for a moment, before diverting his attention to the rest. "The soul has been assembled, Lucius, but it is fractured. And I have no need for any more fractured souls."

Lucius nodded, swallowing thickly. He was deeply ashamed that their Lord had managed to come back to them, the most stable he had seen him with the exception of their first ever meeting, only to find them so alienated from one another…

They truly were, weren't they?

Barty was right. Ever since that point back in time when Severus committed treachery against them all, they had started to fall apart.

After his resurrection, and once their Lord had managed to assemble them all once again, the Azkaban imprisoned ones included, he had confronted Severus during one of their assemblies. There was a lot of screaming as their Lord tore through Severus' mind, unmindful about the raw force of his Legilimency in his search for trustworthy answers, after which Severus lay writhing on the floor, muscles twitching and blood trickling down his nose.

Several days later, they had been summoned again, only for their Lord to announce Severus pardoned.

Some felt cheated, others outraged, but they would never question their Master's reasoning; like they didn't when Lucius was forgiven for his mishap with the diary that had been entrusted to him, or Barty for failing the task of handing Potter to their Lord at the end of the third task of the Triwizard tournament. Well, he failed to hand the boy to him and make sure it remained that way. The Portkey should have been Charmed to never become usable after its initiative activation, but it wasn't, because Barty was still human in the end and the stress over the importance of the task had taken its toll in the worst way possible; he had made a mistake.

And that was the very same explanation their Lord had given them.

Being his Inner Circle, they were privy to second chances simply because he trusted them enough to not fail him again. There would never be a third, he had made certain to accentuate that.

After that meeting, it had been established that their minds would never be closed off to him, their Occlumency shields never to be risen while in his presence ever again.

Be that as it may, Severus' betrayal had been the first and compared to the little things made by the others it had cut the deepest.

They hadn't been the same ever since.

"Are you aware of what the Inner Circle stands for?" Voldemort spoke suddenly, addressing them all.

When he failed to acquire a response, he continued. "Its one and only difference from the Outer is that it represents a rank; you acquired a place inside it not because some of you descend down from people who made up the original Inner Circle, but due to your individual skills and the loyalty you have displayed."

He gazed at them impassively, "The very Circle is a rank; within it, however, you are all equals. I favor none more so than the other."

He lifted a hand to rub at his aching temples for a brief moment before he pushed away from the table, rising smoothly to his feet. "For months we had been planning, calculating and evaluating every detail worth of consideration. What I need in Diagon tomorrow is for the people to witness a combined work the likes of which has not been preceded, not grown adults quarreling like children."

He spun on his heels, the thin black robe licking at his sides as he walked over to the doors. Like well mannered servants, they opened eagerly for him but he paused on the threshold, glancing at his Death Eaters above his shoulder, not bothering to face them fully. "In the morning, I shall take the Outer Circle and head to Diagon Alley. None of you is allowed to accompany me."

The heavy, mahogany doors closed soundlessly behind him.

Seconds trickled by which eventually turned to minutes.

"He just forbade us from going, didn't he?" Walden said, tone dejected, looking at his fellow companions through lidded eyes.

"Absolutely not!" Bellatrix shrieked, slamming her splayed out hands on the table and producing a sound that reverberated around them for a while. "Those imbeciles can barely cast straight, let alone protect our Lord!"

"Now, now," Antonin chided, waving a finger disapprovingly, "You know they aren't half bad and their progress is constantly improving. You shouldn't be so hard on them, Bella."

"Besides," Rodolphus interjected, eyeing them meaningfully, "he doesn't need protection. We know it, he knows it."

"Not the point!" Barty growled, "It's our job to protect him, whether he wants to or not."

"Well," Rabastan made an airy pattern with his hand, "amongst other things."

Silence fell over them once more.

"Shit, did he sound as disappointed to you as he did to me?"

Barty snorted when he received glares from every direction, letting his head thump back against the chair. "Yeah, thought so."

Lucius sighed deeply, combing a hand through his hair. "I need you all to see something."

He shook his head to fend off the inquiring looks he was given and snapped his fingers in a swift motion. He turned to the elf that appeared, ordering it in curt tones to fetch him his pensieve from his office. Despite the fact it was located on the other side of the Manor, the silver basin materialized before him not a second later.

He brought his wand to his temple, concentrating on the sole memory he wished to retrieve. Once he pulled it away, a grayish-blue thread was hanging from the tip, floating gently along with the motion.

Tapping the transparent surface of the pensieve with his wand, Lucius watched as the thread glided inside the liquid. The moment it breached the surface, it burst into inky smoke that spread slowly, covering every inch within proximity.

Lucius flicked his wand and the pensieve floated to the middle of the table.

At his signal, the others crowded around the basin, exchanging quick glances before they reached out, letting their fingers glide along the now completely black substance and the next instant their minds were sucked right into its depths.

Now all Lucius could do was wait and see if there was any hope of repairing themselves.

*)&(*

Voldemort yelled, a cry made of the entirety of all the welled up emotions inside him that were itching to be released.

And, oh. Release them he did.

He growled furiously when the eighth mannequin in only six minutes burst into dust, painting the translucent surface of the privacy wards he had brought up, wards which he had implanted with the strongest muffling charms he knew of; it wouldn't do to wake the slumbering teen not too far away, would it?

He conjured another dummy, slicing it into thin wooden stripes that fluttered to the floor like feathers and out of sheer spite only, he set them on fire, watching them turning into ash.

Quicker than he'd have liked, they lost his interest and he waved his wand in swift succession.

Two more dummies manifested only to simultaneously explode in a cloud of dark sparks.

He huffed out a long, wispy breath of air, sweeping dark locks away from his face.

What a far cry they were from his prime Circle…to the point it bordered on incomprehensible. The people behind those doors, though wounded together by loose strings, could never hope to reach the level of devotion that had been coursing through his first Death Eaters; at least not the way they were now.

Our heart.

That was how they used to call him, and he would scoff each time he heard it simply because it could easily make it into the list of the top ten most ridiculous things he had heard during his teenage life.

He never bothered to correct them, however.

The superciliously proud expressions on their faces whenever they'd say it, and the astoundingly reverent tone in their voices, had had him rendered speechless.

He knew they meant every word of it and when they knelt before him in their common room, uttering those two words unabashedly in the presence of all their housemates, he had begun to realize the true extent of their loyalties. They had all been fifteen at the time, and there he already was, with the heirs of the most influential and powerful families of Wizarding Britain proclaiming their allegiance.

He wouldn't quite call them family, but in some strange, twisted sort of way, they had slowly wormed their way into his heart.

Making it to the top of the Slytherin Hierarchy while only in his second year, having Salazar Slytherin's fearsome creature at his disposal and with a Horcrux already created by the time he graduated, he was confident his power was unparalleled.

…How remarkably foolish he had been.

He might have lived through a Muggle war, but never a magical one. Gellert Grindelwald's reign of terror had been restricted to Germany and just when it was reaching its peak, Dumbledore had put an end to it. Thus, when the First Wizarding War broke out, he had been too arrogant and it cost him dearly.

Theodosius had been the first to fall, brought down by the combined power of members of the Order.

Maximus had pushed Abraxas out of the way of an Auror's lethal Curse and taken the full brunt of its effects; his own bones had impaled him from the inside out.

Orion and Evan had followed, their bodies found amongst fifty or so corpses of Aurors and Order members. They might not have made it out alive, but they had taken their friends' murderers down with them.

By the time he realized his elite were gone, only Abraxas had been left by his side and that was mostly because he had been fighting close enough for the most part and Voldemort was able to monitor his movements, interjecting whenever a Curse or Hex sneaked too close to home.

He located the remains of the other four only after the battle was over; they had died without him having been aware.

That had been back in 1970, the first official battle between the two conflicting forces.

He vowed to never make the same mistakes again after that, and he had kept true to his word. Abraxas, the only one remaining of his Inner Circle, had never been allowed out of his sight. Not that the Malfoy aristocrat had objected to this single rule; the loss of the other four had struck them both deeply, but to Abraxas it had felt as though losing a part of himself. They had shared everything; been a close knitted group since their childhood, when their families first made them mingle.

When Tom Riddle came along, they simply agreed to share the devotion they held for one another, after evaluating whether or not he deserved it, naturally.

Together with Abraxas, he had employed all manner of Dark creatures into his army; Giants, Werewolves and Inferi alike. His reign remained strong all the way to 1981, until the night history restarted anew by a single infant.

A year before that, Abraxas was killed.

He had been leading a raid when they were ambushed by Aurors and members of the Order of the Phoenix.

Voldemort was attending a meeting at the time with the alpha of the Werewolf pack when the enchantment he had cast on the blond was triggered. Abraxas had already died of blood loss before he even arrived, and yet they kept mutilating his body, tearing him from limb to limb for being the Dark Lord's second in command.

He had slaughtered everyone at the site in the slowest, most brutal way he was capable of but it still hadn't been enough.

His grip strengthened around the Elder Wand, knuckles turning stark white.

A moan, unbidden and unexpected, had his nerves unwinding in near surprise, wand arm lowering.

He pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger, heaving a sigh. Sometimes he kept neglecting that his emotions weren't private…

He brought down the wards, slipping his wand back inside his robe as he made his way over to the large couch, staring down at the person occupying it. Harry's forehead was wrinkled, lips pursed and fingers incessantly clenching and unclenching. He contemplated the boy for a while, watching his unconscious struggle to ward off the pain in his scar before Voldemort finally readjusted his Occlumency shields.

Immediately, the teen's skin smoothed out, limbs falling still once more.

He stepped around the couch, claiming the nearest armchair and let his legs cross over at the ankles.

Crimson eyes took in the peaceful expression on the boy's features, long fingers reaching out to brush away the black strands which had been dislodged with Harry's restless squirming and fallen over his forehead, obscuring the jagged mark – his mark – from view.

The slumbering youth didn't even stir.

Two whole days had passed, the third one almost entirely gone as well. During that time, Harry hadn't twitched a single muscle, his body having shut down to replenish the lost energy. The boy's venture, along with the Horcrux's uninhibited use of its host's magical reserves, had exceeded the limits a first time should be restricted to and put too much of a strain on his core. Hence why the long recuperation.

His reaction to Voldemort's anger was a promising sign.

He did have plans for the child, and little time to spare.

Everything needed to be in perfect order for tomorrow's little outing, and if things went as schemed, he'd rid himself of a couple of pestering nuisances.

He settled more comfortably in his seat, hands stretching out to rest on the armrests, fingers flexing momentarily before settling down. He shook his head in good humor. The last time he had been this restless was the night they were to take over Hogwarts. He had walked away from his former home with more than one price, then. After all, he always made the best of a situation, exploiting it to its fullest.

Smoldering orbs snapped to the unsuspecting figure next to him, the corner of his lips curling into a dark, half smile.

And he very well intended to do the same once the sun announced a new day.

END OF CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Well, our little Harry is certainly in for a shock, and perhaps a little more turmoil?

Hell yeah!

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