He knew the moment the boy awoke long before he opened his eyes; an entire night of listening to his even breathing enabled him to detect almost instantly a change in the steady rhythm.
The book in his lap closed with a snap, and as though compelled by the sound, pale eyelids fluttered, long, black lashes brushing against a high cheekbone when the boy blinked several times to shake off his sleep induced haze.
Bleary green eyes gravitated towards him and he watched in silence as their natural brightness slowly emerged in the wake of awareness.
"I'm thirsty," he said after a while, and from what Voldemort garnered of the boy's messy thoughts, he amended that sentence into I'm parched.
"And hungry." Harry added morosely, face grimacing in discomfort.
Famished, the teen's mind supplied and Voldemort nodded his agreement.
"Naturally. You have been asleep for the entirety of three days, after all."
Harry blinked back at him incomprehensively, still making no attempts to move from his position. "I feel tired."
"That would be your muscles, having fallen asleep." Voldemort quipped, rising from his seat and sharply gesturing for the boy to do the same. He snapped his fingers swiftly, barking at whichever elf popped up to bring a platter of food while performing a wordless Tempus.
By the time he turned back to Harry, the teen was still struggling to raise himself on his arms.
With a roll of the eyes, Voldemort leaned down, took hold of his upper arm and hauled him unceremoniously to his feet. Harry wobbled, legs trembling under his own weight and considering it wasn't much to begin with, the notion should be alarming at the very least, but the Dark Lord wouldn't allow a mere light headedness to put a damper in his plans.
The teen's knees buckled abruptly, sending him sprawling in a mess of tangled limbs on the Malfoys' pristine floor.
"Uh…" Harry blinked up at him, "I totally didn't mean for that to happen." He cast a fierce scowl towards his traitorous legs. "I just wanted to take a couple of steps."
…Well, perhaps not a mere light headedness, but still…
Voldemort breathed steadily through the nose, forcing his muscles to uncoil.
Crouching beside the boy, he wrapped one arm around Harry's back and snaked the other underneath his knees before rising, depositing him back on the couch.
Harry folded his arms across his chest, cheeks painted with a light flush. "I'm not an invalid." he grumbled, pointedly looking away from the older wizard.
Voldemort chuckled, reclaiming his seat on the armchair and crossing his legs, arms moving to mimic Harry's stance. "Certainly, though a slowest approach might be more prudent for your recovery."
The boy jumped when a silver tray materialized out of thin air in his lap, dislodging nearly all of its contents.
"I'm afraid you will have to consume your meal here. My Inner Circle have grounded themselves inside the meeting chambers, which renders the room inaccessible for the time being."
Harry paused, a forkful of mashed potatoes halfway to his mouth. "Grounded…?" he repeated incredulously, before he shook his head and went back to his food. "I don't want to know what that even means." he said after he had swallowed, poking at a chicken wing with the tips of his fork.
"A shower and a fresh change of clothes after your meal, and your body should be back to function."
Harry looked up from his plate, frowning at the man. "What's wrong with the ones I'm wearing? The Freshening Charm you've placed on them keeps them from getting dirty."
Voldemort leaned back, observing the boy behind a dark fringe of hair. "Let us say they are ill suited for your schedule today."
Harry fidgeted, readjusting the tray on his knees with a small cough. "Right, my schedule. And do I want to hear the contents of that schedule, or…?"
The corner of the Dark wizard's lips curled upwards. "Or." he replied plainly.
"Yeah, I thought so." For some reason, he suddenly found himself with a lack of appetite.
"You should finish that," Voldemort said when Harry made to push the tray away, "You're going to need your strength."
The teen snorted. "Somehow, I don't doubt that. I'm just not hungry, anymore."
"I insist, my treasure."
Harry halted, midway in settling the silver tray beside him on the couch, and glanced at the Dark Lord from the corner of his eyes. The threatening undertone in that single sentence had been hard to miss, despite the near purr it had come out as. He shuddered when he met those eyes; half hidden as they were by those dark strands of hair, they appeared almost black instead of red.
Arms starting to quiver from the strain, he finally returned his cargo back to his lap.
He picked up the fork and slowly went back to his unfinished meal, doing his best to ignore the unwavering gaze centered on him by focusing on his churning stomach and its protesting rumbles as it was made to accommodate more food than it was comfortable with.
He was chewing his last bite when the Dark Lord abandoned his reclining position and stood abruptly, nearly causing Harry to choke.
Coughing lightly as he smacked a fist against his chest, it didn't take a genius to figure out the man wanted him to follow and with swiftly mounting trepidation Harry did. He briefly wondered which disaster Voldemort would dish out at him next, but it was a fleeting thought considering he was about to find out.
He went down the hallway the Dark wizard had disappeared into, already recognizing the route from the scarce times one of the other Death Eaters had taken him.
As expected, Voldemort was already waiting for him outside a familiar door.
With a resigned sigh, he went inside after the man's curt indication.
Voldemort leaned against the stone wall, fingers tapping incessantly atop his folded arms.
The quick Tempus he performed showed 9:45 and he scowled. They were already running late and if there was one thing he despised most it was his plans being thwarted. Especially when it was due to a green eyed, little menace. Just as he pushed off the wall to go see had kept taking that boy so long, the door to the guest chamber swung open on its own, and Voldemort promptly decided that a couple more minutes wouldn't be too much of a hassle when the damage had already been done.
He took his time studying the teen before him, the clothes he had picked for him suiting him perfectly, accentuating for once the very fact that Harry was well on his way into becoming a very handsome, young man.
Form fitting black slacks covered his lower body, custom made and tailored specifically for Harry's lithe figure. A dark green button up shirt, tight enough to allow the freedom of movement, hugged his slim torso in all the right places. Black dragon hide boots adorned his feet, reaching all the way up to his knees and fingerless gloves of the same color and material had been placed on his hands, leaving the long digits standing out even paler in contrast.
Voldemort's favorite however, was the cloak he had given Harry, modified accordingly; long to the point it concealed his ankles, it was designed to remain unfastened. Made by the darkest black threads in existence, Voldemort had taken it upon himself to add a very specific detail; silver flames started from the bottom of the cloak, climbing upwards to stop at his lower back where they cackled and entwined.
The boy fidgeted under his extended scrutiny, awkwardly picking at the thick material on his hands.
"Spin for me," he said at last, arching an eyebrow when all Harry did was stare blankly back.
"You're kidding, right?" Harry asked dubiously, arm rising to scratch at a distinctly flushed cheek.
"One spin," Voldemort insisted, "Let me admire my masterpiece."
The raven haired teen scoffed at that particular comment, luminous green orbs flashing in contempt. "Would you stop with all the staring if I did?" he grumbled, glaring at him as though daring Voldemort to refuse.
The corners of his mouth quirked upwards. "I suppose you will just have to find out for yourself."
Eyes rolling, Harry took a single step back before twisting sharply on the heels of his feet, the silver flames spinning along with him and encircling his figure as though ready to devour him.
He had barely stopped when Voldemort caught his arm and steered him forward sharply, the teen losing his balance and throwing out his other arm to brace himself against Voldemort's chest. Those defiant eyes snapped to his face, their owner jerking angrily in his hold, only to grimace upon finding it unyielding.
"Have you riddled out their meaning yet, my treasure?"
Harry faltered suddenly and Voldemort caught the fleeting association the teen made in his head between that sentence's wording and Voldemort's original name.
"The flames?" he hissed dangerously, not appreciative in the slightest of the concept, no matter how unintentional it might have been.
Harry must have caught a glimpse of his expression for he cleared his throat, head shaking in answer.
Voldemort hummed quietly. "What is the key in a phoenix's immortality?"
The other frowned, thrown off by the question. He could hear the mental struggle to wring his brain for an answer, while still trying to figure the connection between the two queries.
Harry's gaze suddenly sharpened, eyes narrowing. "I'm not a phoenix, Tom."
Ignoring the intentional use of his name in an attempt to rile him, Voldemort made a quiet, noncommittal sound in his throat. "I beg to differ, darling." he shot back, smirking at the expected glare he received, "You have been reborn from the very ashes of the Light's Chosen One." He said pleasantly, stroking with the fingertips of his unoccupied hand an alabaster cheek. "You belong to the Dark now, my treasure, to me. It is high time the world learnt that, don't you think?"
Voldemort withdrew both hands, releasing the boy and beginning the small trek back to the drawing room, chuckling softly when Harry remained rooted to the spot. Poor thing. His mind was reeling with the veiled implications behind those words.
"Hey!" Harry called out suddenly, running up to him and blocking his path, fingers wrapping around his forearm.
That would be the first time the boy had reached out at him of his own volition, Voldemort noted absently.
"What's that schedule you were talking about earlier?"
Voldemort felt like clapping in approval. It looked like his little menace had figured it out.
"I'm going to gift you with a rather rare opportunity." he said in the end, watching as Harry reared back in surprise at being given a clear answer. "In a little while, you will have the chance to spare an immeasurable amount of innocent people from meeting a premature end."
Harry's brows knitted together, eyes guarded. "And I'm going to do that, how?"
"By making them see reason, of course. Currently, the population of Wizarding Britain is buried in deep grief over your death, Dumbledore's as well. Imagine however, how many will reconsider their beliefs if their hero were to remerge, very much alive and bearing the title of Dark Prince."
Harry retrieved his hand abruptly, only now remembering he was still holding onto Voldemort. "That doesn't make any sense. I'm not-" Green eyes widened, looking down at his attire. "That's what the clothes are for. You want me to convince them I've joined you?"
Voldemort shrugged, sidestepping the boy and restarting on his path. "Your decision."
"Oh, really?" Harry mocked, quickly falling in step with him. "And what's gonna happen to all those people you mentioned if I decide not to?"
Voldemort pretended to think for a moment. "I suppose they die in the long run."
"They're innocent!" Harry shouted, eyes ablaze. "You said so yourself!"
"Innocent, yes. Indispensable, no."
"How can you talk like that about human lives?" The young wizard actually sounded disturbed, as though unable to comprehend the very notion. Too bad that Voldemort himself didn't have such qualms.
"The Wizarding world is in need of a change, Harry. The restrictions so foolishly placed by the Ministry have limited our access to magic by prohibiting certain brands of it. Magic is magic. And magic is power."
Voldemort blinked, catching the sudden thought that invaded the boy's mind.
"Ah, yes." he remarked, nodding contently. "I taught you that during your first year."
"Stay out of my head," the other snapped, but Voldemort ignored him.
"There is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it. Can you translate that based on what I just told you?"
Harry ran a hand through his hair, mussing the inky strands further. "There's no Light or Dark, only magic and those too weak to seek it."
Voldemort tipped his head, bestowing a genuine smile at him. "Precisely. I don't care much about this generation; their minds have already been poisoned by the nonsense the Ministry's been spouting for years. However, I do have hope for the generation that shall follow, and I will ensure that no one denies them their very right."
Harry sighed, "You're going about it the wrong way." He risked a glance at Voldemort's profile before looking down at the tiled floor. "Killing innocent people simply because they're already set on their beliefs is just wrong."
"Then you know what could solve that, don't you?"
The boy didn't look up, but Voldemort didn't need him to. His thoughts were making it clear enough.
"Where…" he hesitated for a moment, before picking up where he left off, mind made. "Where will I be performing?"
Voldemort chuckled, finding his choice of words quite interesting. "Which is the one place all wizards and witches in Britain frequent?"
Only then did emerald pools snap up, staring at him in plain disbelief before the boy swore under his breath which earned him an amused look in return. He rarely found other people's reactions even remotely as interesting as this one child's.
Voldemort paused upon reaching their destination, eyeing the largely open doors of the meeting chambers disinterestedly.
Harry tensed next to him almost imperceptibly and he turned, aware of what had probably caught the youth's attention.
It came as no surprise when he was met with the assembled Inner Circle.
"I take it they un-grounded themselves?" the boy murmured, face scrunching up when they all fell down to their knees in one smooth, synchronized motion.
"Yes, it would appear so." Voldemort replied, arms crossing over his chest.
"Uh, are they supposed to do that for so long?" Harry questioned once it was made clear none of them had any intention of standing back up.
Voldemort made a pondering sound in his throat, walking past him and over to his followers. They showed no outer signs at his approach, merely uttering a chorused 'My Lord'.
"I believe I informed you of my intentions, did I not?" Of course, it wasn't really a question and they knew it.
"Master," Lucius began, "we request that you reconsider."
"Please, my Lord." Bellatrix tried, tone beseeching, "Take us with you."
"Yes," Barty intoned adamantly. "We can't possibly entrust those fools with the matter of your safety, Master. Not today, and not ever."
Murmurs of agreement echoed all around the semi circle they had formed.
"Strange," Voldemort mused aloud and all noise instantly ceased, "but I doubt I have ever witnessed such a mutual understanding between the two of you, Bella, Barty. It makes me wonder what could have possibly brought on such a drastic change."
"My Lord," Rabastan started, "it's true we have our disputes." Rodolphus picked up, "But if there's one thing we all agree on…"
"It is your safety, my Lord." Antonin said.
"We live to serve you, Master." Yaxley added, voice dripping with conviction.
"We implore you." Narcissa chimed in, "Today is crucial, and if things were to get out of hand it is vital to have a healer with you. Allow us to accompany you, my Lord."
Admittedly, he found it peculiar how she said 'us' rather than 'me'. It was almost as though…
Should he even dare hope?
"My Lord," Walden and Severus muttered, the title itself a plea.
"Lucius, Rodolphus, Narcissa, Bellatrix." Voldemort announced suddenly, "Those of you who heard your name are permitted to come along." He turned around, walking back to a surprisingly quiet Harry. "The rest of you are to await our return."
There was a hesitant tugging at the sleeve of his cloak when he walked past, halting him from taking another step. Harry wasn't looking at him once he turned though, but rather at a spot behind them.
"Did you not hear what I just said?" he seethed upon finding his followers still kneeling.
All of them stiffened at his tone, yet none made a move to follow his order.
"My Lord," Lucius ventured tentatively, "it's our solemn duty to watch over you, but we do it together. You said you favor none, so please, don't make exceptions. Let us all go with you."
Now this, was quite a surprise.
Had this happened before, they'd have jumped at the opportunity to best one another. And here he had thought the time for his Inner Circle to surprise him had long since passed.
"Rise," he commanded sharply, and after the initial hesitation, they did.
"Lucius-Yaxley, Rabastan-Severus, Walden-Antonin, Bellatrix-Barty, Rodolphus-Narcissa." he listed off, earning identical odd looks from them all. "You will be working in pairs today. Your job is to ensure your assigned partner is protected at all times and at all cost. Just this once, your duty will be first to your partner and second to me, understand?"
Several of them started saying something but he shushed them with a swipe of his hand. "Is that clear?" he repeated, putting emphasis on each word.
They gave low nods.
Voldemort returned the gesture briefly before whirling on his heel and striding back towards Harry only to frown at the searching look the other was giving him. "Yes?"
The boy suddenly blinked, as though reaching a certain epiphany. "You're proud of them." he declared, albeit quietly, and it was the only reason why Voldemort didn't have him writhing on the floor right there and then.
"But you are." Harry persisted, a grin slowly spreading across his face.
Voldemort felt his eye twitch.
With a scoff, he proceeded to outright ignore the little menace and flicked his wrist, grasping gently the Elder Wand once it was released from the holster he had placed it in and waved it once, wordlessly performing the Summoning Charm. An object came soaring from the cellar and now it was his turn to smile when it knocked right into Harry, wiping that silly grin right off his face and replacing it with a grimace.
The teen, however, tightened his grip the moment he recognized what it was exactly that he was holding.
"Hedwig!" he exclaimed and was answered by an equally enthusiastic hoot.
He put the cage down, fussing over the bird and checking her through the bars for any injuries. "Did you feed her while I was unconscious?" he asked sharply, only to be distracted a moment later by the clucking of the bird's beak. He cooed an apology and started petting her feathers anew, leaving Voldemort to scowl at his antics.
"She's useless to me dead." He snapped his thumb and forefinger, the door of the iron cage bursting open without warning, missing knocking into the boy's knees merely because Harry had the common sense to jump away in time.
The owl didn't linger for even a split second; she hopped through the small opening and once her wings were no longer restricted, flapped onto her owner's shoulder.
Round golden eyes intentionally sought Voldemort's gaze, black talons digging pointedly into a clothed shoulder.
"Rip that cloak, bird, and you will find yourself with no feathers left."
"The cloak?!" Harry cried out in furious indignation. "I'm not a plaything for you two. You!" he shifted his glare from wizard to animal. "Off with you, now!" and he promptly pushed an incredulous Hedwig off his shoulder, following her through hooded eyes as she perched herself on the marble mantelpiece.
"Yeah, yeah." Harry grumbled when she puffed out her chest, rubbing his stinging shoulder. "Sulk all you want, see if I care."
"Did she pierce the skin?" Severus moved to grasp the boy's arm, and Voldemort had just made to halt the Potions Master's advance when Harry stepped back on his own, twisting his body to the side in order to shield his shoulder from view.
"It's fine. I'll probably add another bruise to my arsenal, but no big deal, right?"
Severus' expression darkened. "Your impeccable manners are a wonder to behold, as always."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Harry said with mock uncertainty, hand moving over his heart in a dramatic imitation of regret. "I should thank you, yes? For everything you've done for me?"
"As a matter of fact, you should." Severus rebuked, "If it weren't for me, Potter, you would have bled to death after that foolish stunt you pulled with your skull. Not to mention, you would have suffered a torturously slow death due to infection if I hadn't seen to your shoulder blade."
Harry scowled. "Please, as if he'd ever allow me the luxury of death; not when I'm his one link to immortality. He needs me to maintain ownership over the cloak, and consequently, Death."
Green orbs suddenly jerked to Voldemort's face, the teen walking closer with steady strides. "But that's not all…" Harry went on, "He also needs me in order to stroke his enormous ego, to flaunt me around for everyone to see." The young wizard stopped mere inches away from him and Voldemort had to use every ounce of control he owned to not curl a possessive arm around that slim waist when Harry leaned up.
"Aren't I the greatest trophy you ever attained, Tom? Aren't I your treasure?"
Those dark tinted lips were so close now, the boy's hot breath fanning across his own mouth as he spoke.
How naïve that child was. His mind was so ridiculously innocent that not once did his thoughts stray towards more inappropriate paths even as he almost glued their bodies together, only thinking of taunting him and so frustratingly oblivious to the tantalizing effect their proximity invoked in Voldemort's body.
He was a combination of the most opposing forces in existence; love and hatred, darkness and light, life and death.
Not that he expected any less of the being that had unknowingly housed a piece of Lord Voldemort for fifteen years and remained untainted by the black nature of such a soul; a being that contained inside his body the deadly poison of the King of Serpents and the healing tears of the purest creature, second only to a unicorn.
Moreover, it was the one person that had achieved to slip right through his fingers on more occasions than he cared to recount.
How could he not then? How could he not find such a person irresistible? Especially now that he had finally gotten a hold of him and seen so many more sides to the Boy-Who-Lived than the persona Dumbledore wanted to orchestrate.
"I wonder, are you prepared for what those words entail?"
The first traces of wariness flickered across Harry's face.
Voldemort's lips twitched and before Harry's instinct was given the opportunity to guess at the danger that loomed in the air, he grasped the boy's shoulders and forced his body around, one hand securing over a protruding hipbone while the other encircled two thin wrists and held them together away from his body.
"Tell me, my Circle, doesn't he look marvelous in these clothes?"
"Tom!" Harry shouted, thrashing against him, but Voldemort merely tightened his grip around the youth's wrists.
"Answer me," he commanded shortly and his Death Eaters shared uneasy looks between themselves, all of them presenting him with reluctant nods.
Voldemort, however, wasn't appeased. "Answer me verbally. Lucius?"
The blond aristocrat cleared his throat, self-conscious for being put in the spotlight for perhaps the first time in his life. "They do suit him, my Lord."
"Oi, what are you-!?"
"What do you think Barty, Rabastan? Tempting enough to ravish?"
Thoughts a jumbled mess from the humiliation, Harry's struggles gained ferocity while in the meantime, the two wizards he had addressed swiveled their heads from side to side.
"Don't lie to me," he hissed when they opened their mouths to do just that.
Both pairs of eyes turned downcast, shoulders slumping in apprehension. "Yes, my Lord." they chorused weakly, hesitant to voice their very thoughts despite the dire consequences they'd be facing if they didn't.
Harry tensed in his arms, motions ceasing, and Voldemort had to suppress a throaty growl at the heat that pooled at the base of the teen's neck once he lifted his gaze and saw the way the Death Eaters were looking at him. Instead, he bent his head, lips tracing that soft column of flesh and reveling in the gasp he elicited.
"Knock it off!"
Furious hooting rung throughout the room an instant before black talons aimed for his face, forcing Voldemort to take a step back. Lips tilting down into a snarl, he threw out his arm, his magic more than eager to crush that pest's neck. Oh, how he'd love to make that meddling animal squeal.
"Don't. You. Dare." a voice bit out, and momentarily stunned at the dark undertone, Voldemort shifted his gaze from the hovering owl to the side where Harry stood, arm held out in a stance precisely like his, with his palm splayed out and facing him.
He could sense the teen's magic struggling to gather together, craving to answer its master's call.
"Commendable as your tries may have been, you aren't qualified to take on a Dark Lord yet."
Harry didn't answer.
Lush lips pursed together for a moment before the teen directed his attention to his pet, calling the bird to him by mutely patting his uninjured shoulder with his other hand. Golden orbs seemed to glue in on the movement, white wings flapping swiftly to shorten the distance and once she was close enough, the feathery appendages folded against her body and she dove all the way down, gracefully landing on the exact spot Harry had indicated.
Resisting the tempting urge to scoff when the owl rubbed her head affectionately against Harry's cheek, Voldemort made his way over.
That bird's mood swings could quite possibly outrival his own legendary ones.
Vivid green eyes focused on his figure the very second he took his first step, the satisfaction he felt at having the boy's senses so immaculately attuned to his every motion creating a perfectly drumming rhythm within his pulse, steady and strong. The boy wasn't aware of it, but he was always studying Voldemort with just as much intent as he himself did.
Those attentive orbs observed his approach, Harry's arm still not having lowered, magic bustling in anticipation.
He halted in front of him, Harry's outstretched palm mere inches from his robed chest and simply stared at the boy, mostly curious about his next course of action.
Harry stared boldly back, a feat no other soul had ever accomplished with the sole exception of his original Inner Circle. A torrent of emotions was swirling through the boy, varying from suspicion, to nervousness, to anger for his previous actions and stemming directly from that there was uncertainty and a myriad other sensations associated with the feeling.
Voldemort tilted his head slightly to the side, accessing his core and letting a portion of his magic slip out and coil around that clothed limb.
Harry's fingers twitched unconsciously at the touch and for a moment the teen just looked strangely at them upon finding nothing out of the ordinary. It didn't take long though for his eyes to widen in realization, sensing the invisible tendrils of magic weaving around his digits.
Never before having experienced anything similar, the teen turned his hand this way and that, transfixed when the warm sensation didn't dispel with the movement.
Then, the owl ruffled her feathers, effectively startling Harry out of his reverie.
Only barely restraining himself from Cursing the spiteful bird, Voldemort called back his magic and Harry didn't waste any time to shove his hand into the pocket of his pants.
"Order me again, my treasssure, and I promise you will live to regret it." he said sweetly, the smile on his face as cold and deadly as ice, and relished the spine-raking shudders that assaulted the boy.
"Come, my friends." he said, facing his assembled followers. "Time is of the essence, and we have wasted enough as it is."
His Death Eaters bowed deeply, answering with a collective, "Yes, my Lord."
He grasped Harry's arm with more force than necessary, and before the other could protest, he accessed the Manor's wards and once they recognized his keyed-in presence, he Apparated them both outside, aware his Inner Circle would be popping out after him.
Now, to summon the Outer Circle and all the required pieces would be assembled.
It was playtime.
A/N: I've got to admit I always enjoy writing Harry's perspective more, but I have to reveal Voldemort's view from time to time, so there you have it!
Next chapter is going to be Harry's pov.