Hello once again, lovely readers! Welcome to chapter three of Affection Deception. I'm sure you're all eager to find out what the letter says. :)
Anyways, I have a beta now! She's amazing, and her name is Tonks-is-cool. This ups the quality of the fic quite a bit, in my opinion. :)
Also, I'd like to remind you that, I've changed a few details from canon, and starting at the end of OOP, I changed the plot rather radically.
Well, I'll have a few words at the end, but for now, please read!
Disclaimer: If Harry Potter belonged to me, you would have been reading this fic as a hardcover published piece instead of the Deathly Hallows.
EDIT 9/23/11: I'm sorry, guys. I won't be able to upload chapter 4 this weekend. I will sometime within the next couple of weeks, but a lot of things have just come together in a terrible, terrible way this past couple weeks. Everything is going to be ok, but it's just been a very stressful time in my life. If you need more details, I suppose you can contact me, but just know that I'm sorry. I will, however, be publishing a short Snarry oneshot I wrote a few weeks ago, so maybe that'll tide you over until the next chapter.
I'm a mascot for what you've become
And oh, oh, I love the mayhem more than the love
And oh, baby, when they made me
They broke the mold – Fall Out Boy, Coffee's for Closers
Dear Harry Potter,
You are a thorn in my side. I suppose you must realize this by now. You have escaped me through dumb luck only, but I grow weary of your consistency in doing so. Know that your good fortune will not last you much longer.
That said, how are you faring without your parents or godfather? It must be difficult, I'm sure. I do hope that you don't concern yourself too much about it. I will see that you are reunited with them rather soon.
Are you doing well in your classes at Hogwarts? If so, I assure you your efforts are wasted. You will not live long enough to taste the fruit of your labour. In any case, I doubt you are doing very well at all.
You may pen a response and Mars, the owl that delivered this letter to you, will retrieve it from you tomorrow.
I won't sign this in case it is read by anybody other than the intended audience, but I should hope You Know Who I am.
Harry stared, astounded, at the delicate piece of parchment in his hand, not sure what to think, but fairly certain he was offended. He scanned it over one final time to try to make more sense of it, but with little success.
The letter would seem to have been written by none other than the latest Dark Lord himself. For all the subtlety it possessed, it might as well have been signed, "Lord Fucking Voldemort."
It was also very clearly attempting to infuriate him, and, Harry realized with chagrin, it wasn't doing a half-bad job. An intense, scorching anger had suddenly taken hold of him, and Harry became aware that his hands were shaking. The letter had begun to crinkle where he held it due to the force of his clenching grip. The thought of ripping it into minuscule shreds and casting an Incendio upon the remains was suddenly violently appealing. Harry began to tear at the very edge of the ridiculous thing, but then stopped himself.
Why would Voldemort send him a letter? Moreover, what exactly did he expect back? Harry glanced back at the suddenly frightening sheet pinched between his adolescent fingers. Was it cursed after all in some subtle way? Should he tell Dumbledore about it?
Harry considered it a moment more, and then decided against it. If Voldemort could kill him with nothing more than a jinxed piece of hate mail, wouldn't he have done it before? This couldn't really be from Voldemort. The snake-like man would never waste the effort it took to write a taunting piece of correspondence such as this. This, Harry decided conclusively, was a prank, done by somebody else entirely. But then, who...?
It came to Harry in an instant. How could he not have seen it before? Harry released a short snort of slightly amused aggravation and unceremoniously stuffed the letter under his pillow. He made short work of his clothes, then, clad only in pants, slipped under the cozy blankets of the only bed he had ever slept in that truly felt like home. He left the realm of consciousness within the minute.
Voldemort had never been the sort of person to undertake an action without careful planning beforehand. It was a characteristic that he prided himself on and one that had served him well over the years. Every move he made was meticulously thought through and analyzed for loopholes, uncontrollable variables, and any other possible issue. Voldemort nearly always had a back-up plan, or a scapegoat at the very least. It was essential to ensure success.
All of that, however, got him absolutely nowhere when it came to the issue of one Harry Potter. The boy apparently could nullify even the most ingenious of plots using nothing more than an unflattering amount of luck and hard-headedness. The mere thought of the boy sometimes frustrated Voldemort to the point where the man could often not think straight.
It was, perhaps, no surprise then that Voldemort's written correspondence with the brat had been on an uncharacteristic whim. After all, what was the point of thinking it through when it would have no effect on the infuriating child? No other course of action would achieve any better of results, the man reflected with no small amount of exasperation at the notion. He drummed his spindly fingers, their nails hooked into yellowed claws, onto the desk of blackish wood before him. Voldemort would never admit it aloud, but he had no idea what tree the desk was made from. He merely enjoyed the colour. He noted absentmindedly with some irritation that his nails were sharp enough to leave tiny nicks in the spots they collided with the unfortunate piece of furniture. Perhaps he ought to rethink their grooming, he considered.
That was hardly the issue that dominated his mind the most at that moment, however. No, that spot firmly belonged to one Harry James (Was James his middle name? Voldemort realized that he wasn't entirely certain...) Potter. It had, in fact, belonged to him merely a few hours after the moment Voldemort had consumed the immune system-strengthening elixir a day and an evening prior. The Dark Lord had found that he was suddenly and quite unwelcome contemplating the boy rather often. This was no surprise at first, as he often spent bits of spare time plotting methods to possibly dispose of the adolescent, but he soon realized that even when he focused on other matters, the boy would suddenly spring to the forefront of his mind for seemingly no reason at all. It was quite inconvenient, and often the aspects of the boy that Voldemort found himself pondering were not even those that might be taken advantage of in battle. He might be listening to Yaxley or Malfoy report about some matter at the Ministry, or reading a book on the intricacies of some Dark Art he felt he ought to brush up on, when without warning, he would find himself contemplating the exact shade of green that the boy's eyes were, or the way his jet-black hair fell onto his forehead, or the way his voice resonated throughout a room when the boy willed it to...
Needless to say, these details entwined in the character of the Boy-Who-Lived were of little use to Voldemort, and he felt that thinking about them was no more than a waste of time on his part. Unfortunately, this did not change the fact that the Dark Lord was unable to stop thinking about them. As the night went on, Voldemort had found himself growing more and more frustrated with this issue, until he had finally decided to write a letter to the boy in an attempt to rid himself of the fixation.
The letter itself was rather pointless, Voldemort admitted to himself. He had simply had no idea what to write, and so settled on what he knew to be somewhat immature taunts aimed at what he assumed must be sore spots for the brat. Despite the letter's tone, however, Voldemort could not find it in himself to resist asking for a reply. Why this was, he had no idea. He simply had the strong urge to attempt some sort of correspondence with the boy. For this reason, he had subtly asked a few questions about Harry's life (intermixed with insults, of course) and given him a way of response. He had also made sure that his identity would be rather obvious to the boy, as Voldemort frankly doubted his intelligence. This of course had the obvious downside of making it easy for potential interceptors to determine his identity themselves, but Voldemort was not terribly concerned about that. Mars was an extremely reliable owl, and sometimes the Dark Lord couldn't help but wonder just what the loyal bird had to do sometimes to get the job done. For absolute security, though, he had keyed the letter to Harry's magical signature. Any other person who so happened to glance at it would see nothing but a blank bit of parchment.
Mars himself was retrieving Harry's response, and that was what was setting Voldemort on edge the most. How would the boy respond? Would he even respond? Would he be angry? Well, he would almost certainly be angry. How angry, then? Would he attempt to insult Voldemort in retaliation? Would he tell Dumbledore? This last thought sent a wash of disappointment through the Dark Lord. He did not want his communications with the boy to be cut short so very soon, as would no doubt happen if the scheming old annoyance got wind of it...
Voldemort stood abruptly and started to pace the length of his darkened office. His nerves tingled through him, and he was overcome with restlessness. There was no determining what would happen until he got the boy's response. There was no reason to waste valuable time, thought, and energy on anxiousness over such a foolish matter. The boy was not worth any of it. But not one of these thoughts could calm the slightly elevated thud of Voldemort's heart against his ribs.
Harry arrived in the Great Hall for breakfast well rested and as ready to face a day of school as he had ever felt. Going to bed earlier than normal had done him a world of good, he decided. Today would be the best day he had had yet this school year, he thought with a smile.
Unfortunately, he was stripped of this misconception with little delay. He was happily chewing a mouthful of bacon when the morning owls began to soar in to deliver the mail. Harry wasn't expecting anything, so he paid the normally nocturnal birds little mind until one landed directly in front of his plate. He looked up. He stiffened.
The vicious owl from the day before was sitting there, cocking its head inquisitively. It was carrying nothing but the tawny feathers that coated its body, but it still held out its loosely closed foot at Harry. Harry stared at it for a moment before it dawned on him.
"Voldemort" expected a reply.
Harry had, in all honesty, completely forgotten about it. It was of little consequence, however. He had no plan of writing a response.
"I haven't got anything for you," he informed the bird flatly. "You might as well just go back to him now." The owl-Mars, was it?-fluffed itself up indignantly, and hooted at him.
"Hey, isn't that the owl from yesterday? The one that tried to kill you?" Ron observed, his voice curious.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione inquired, "That owl? What did it do? I've never seen it before."
"Oh, right, we forgot to tell you," Ron began. Hermione assumed an affronted expression, presumably at not having been told something. She parted her lips, probably about to berate the boys for forgetting, but Ron hurriedly cut her off before she could speak.
"Er, yeah, so this owl is totally bonkers. While you were in the loo it was tapping on the window, so Harry and me let it in. It pretty much tackled Harry a couple times, but then it gave him this letter it had, and flew off. Harry was about to open it, but then you came back. I guess I forgot about it." He turned back to Harry, and blinked a couple times, seemingly slightly sheepish about his forgetfulness. "Anyway, what'd it say, Harry?" Both the Weasley boy and Hermione were all ears, rapt with attention.
Harry took a short breath, intending to tell his friends all about the idiotic letter, but stopped. Their eyes were pryingly curious. The letter was little more than a distasteful prank. There was no reason why he shouldn't simply tell his friends about it and laugh it off with them. Yet, something in him didn't really want to tell them about this.
"Er, well, it didn't say much, really. I think it's just a joke or something," Harry explained cautiously.
"Are you sure of that, Harry? It doesn't seem right for an owl to deliver something at such an odd time. Let me see it," Hermione ordered, extending her finely built hand palm-up toward Harry, presumably intending to receive the letter itself.
"Oh, I don't have it with me. I threw it away when I was done with it." Harry felt a pang of guilt. He knew very well that the letter was perfectly unharmed. At least he had not been lying when he said he didn't have it with him.
"Oh." Hermione pulled her arm back to her side, looking a bit put out.
"Well, can you at least tell us the gist of it?" Ron asked for the both of them after taking a moment to swallow whatever food had been in his mouth. "Like, what did it say, I mean? And who sent it?" Ron's pale blue eyes constantly flicked between Harry and the owl, as if afraid the creature would lunge for Harry's throat any second. The bird in question seemed to still be fluffed up in annoyance, and was sending Harry a rather peeved look.
"Erm." What could he say? Harry had no idea. He didn't want to lie to them, after all, they were his best friends, but his gut instinct told him not to tell them the truth about the letter. Perhaps he could get away with skirting the middle ground.
"Well, it was pretty rude. It made fun of me cause my parents are dead, and it said I'm probably bad at school. It wasn't even signed." The last part was a stretch, but in the strictest sense it was true.
Both Hermione and Ron looked quite offended on his behalf.
"Harry, that's horrid! What kind of a person would send something like that? Well, one without the courage to even sign such a thing, I suppose," Hermione burst out, her hair growing frizzier as her virtuous fury rose. "You really ought to write that person back and tell them exactly what you think of them." She had leaned over the table as she spoke, but at this she sat upright again and nodded once, seconding her own verdict.
"Well, I say you ought to just send them a letter with a good hex on it and see if they want to write you after that," Ron added, pale hand gripping Harry's shoulder in support of his friend. Harry shook his head.
"No, I don't think I'll write back at all. I don't really want to have them write back..." Harry explained, casting a glance at the disgruntled owl he supposed would not be thrilled with his decision.
"That's probably a good idea, Harry. You're above all that," Hermione agreed, despite her previous opinion. "It would only make things worse," she added.
Mars seemed to be picking up on the gist of what Harry was saying, and was becoming restless, shifting from leg to twiggy leg. He hooted in frustration. Harry decided it was time to send him back wherever he had come from.
"Erm, Mars," the bird's head abruptly swiveled until he was looking Harry directly in the eyes, "I really haven't got anything for you. You should leave." He waved his hand to shoo the feathered creature away.
This was the last straw for Mars. The owl seemed to clearly understand what Harry was trying to communicate, but he was not happy with it in the slightest. With a painful screech, he half flew, half leaped toward Harry and landed on his chest, talons gripping the front of his robes and scraping the skin beneath in the process. Harry was propelled backward off of his seat, landing painfully on his back. Mars shrieked again in triumph, right in Harry's face, and flapped his wings. Harry desperately began to attempt to yank the bird off, but it was futile. The owl simply bit his hand so hard that a trickle of blood began to drip from the spot its beak had clenched.
The entire Great Hall was watching the exchange, Harry realized. Some, the Slytherins in particular, were roaring with laughter. Others were trying in vain to politely hide amused smirks behind their hands. A few looked vaguely concerned. The teachers looked as though they weren't sure whether or not to intervene. Some of the Gryffindors, Ron and Hermione included, had begun to stand, presumably to help. Harry flushed with embarrassment, and doubled his effort to remove the infuriating avian.
Mars continued his screaming, his beady dark eyes livid. Harry realized that the bird would not let go without a response. He reached into his robes and procured a scrap of parchment and a Muggle pen he sometimes carried for convenience. He quickly scrawled a few words on the dirty, crinkled thing and offered it to the bird as one might offer a virgin sacrifice to an angry god. Mars stilled. He cocked his head. Harry held his breath. Mars gingerly pinched the slip of parchment in his razor-sharp beak, gave Harry one final disapproving look, and with a great flap of his wings, launched himself into the air. Harry exhaled in relief.
"Merlin! Are you alright, Harry?" Ron asked in concern, offering a hand to help Harry stand. Harry grabbed it, and his gangly friend pulled him up until he was completely upright.
"Mostly..." Harry replied dazedly, "But I really am starting to hate that owl."
Ron chuckled in sympathy, and Hermione bustled over, having had to walk all the way around the table to get to them.
"Oh, Harry! Your hand!" she exclaimed, immediately taking hold of the bleeding body part and examining it. "You ought to go to the hospital wing," she decided for Harry, grabbing a clean napkin from the side of Neville's plate and using it to attempt to stem the flow of blood.
"No, it's not that bad, 'Mione, really," Harry protested half-heartedly. He surveyed the room once more. Many students still were watching him with amusement, the Slytherins especially. He glanced up at the staff table and realized that Dumbledore had begun to approach him, his timeworn features fixed into an expression of concern. Suddenly, the hospital wing didn't sound like a too bad of an idea.
"Er, actually, you know what? I think you're right, Hermione. Let's go." Hermione beamed at him and jubilantly nodded her approval. With that, the trio left the enormous Hall, heedless of the ancient wizard attempting to approach them yet again.
Voldemort's pacing had only grown more erratic as the hour had gone on. Mars was late. Mars was never late. Mars was the best owl he had- that was why he kept him secret from almost everybody he knew. There was no good reason that an owl of such high quality as Mars would be anything less than perfectly punctual.
Had something happened to the bird? Had something happened to Harry? The later wouldn't be unfortunate in the slightest, Voldemort firmly reminded himself, but the former prospect, at least, was slightly concerning. Good owls weren't easy to find, after all.
The Dark Lord had just reached the southernmost side of his study for the seventy-sixth time when he heard a light tap upon his windowpane. Hurriedly, he waved his hand at the source of the noise and the window swung open without hesitation.
The owl before him, though normally regal and proud, showed unmistakable signs of having had a rather disastrous morning. His feathers were ruffled, his stance was wary, and his eyes were tired. Held in his beak was a yellowed scrap of wrinkled parchment. Voldemort examined the bird a moment, then stretched out his arm, clothed in drooping black cloth, to Mars. The bird hopped onto the limb, extended his scrawny neck, and gently released the slip so that it drifted directly into his master's palm. That accomplished, the owl gave an almost apologetic-sounding hoot, flew over to his stand in the corner, and tucked his round face under his elegant wing to sleep.
The dark lord stared, perplexed, at the pathetic parchment in his hand. What could the boy have possibly replied that would be so short? Voldemort gingerly unfolded the delicate scrap, intending to figure out exactly that.
Piss off, Malfoy.
Voldemort read it again, just to be sure. The message was the same. It was legible, too, though something of a messy scrawl, and none of the letters could be interpreted as anything different.
But then, why would Harry choose to say that, of all things?
Surely, Voldemort decided, he did not think he was addressing a Malfoy. After all, the letter had made his identity perfectly obvious. Was the boy truly that stupid, though? Voldemort could not be absolutely certain that he wasn't. If that were the case, though, why would Potter assume the letter was sent by a Malfoy? Which Malfoy, for that matter? Voldemort quickly cast a few enchantments, just to be sure that the letter was not concealing a magically-hidden message. It wasn't.
Was it a mere grammatical error, then? Did Potter not know that he shouldn't include the comma unless directly writing to a Malfoy? Was he, in fact, attempting to instruct Voldemort to annoy some Malfoy or another?
But, no. If anything, the boy struck Voldemort as the sort to forget a comma, not add an unnecessary one. But, then...
Realization hit Voldemort like an offended Hippogriff.
Potter thought the whole thing was some sort of immature schoolboy prank.
Did not Lucius brag constantly about how his bratty little heir had despised the boy-who-lived from the very beginning? Did not he claim that Draco was Harry's far-superior rival in everything the boy did? Voldemort knew as well as any wizard knew what that translated to. It translated to "they hex, prank, and insult each other in the halls and are far too passionate about Quidditch". Oh, yes, the pattern was a timeless one, and Voldemort had seen it himself when he walked the ancient halls of Hogwarts and still answered to the name Tom. He had never engaged in such a pointless endeavour, of course, as he had deemed himself above it from the beginning, but he had always been observant, and the relationship of petty rivalry was one that had emerged time and time again.
Tom Riddle never had rivals. Tom Riddle only had victims and those who would become them.
However, this was not the case with Harry. Clearly, the boy believed that Draco Malfoy had forged a letter from Voldemort himself as part of some kind of juvenile trickery. Voldemort had to admit to himself that, by most people's estimations, that would be a far more likely scenario than the truth. He toyed with the idea of letting Harry continue to believe it for a while. However, he decided against it. It would only lead to more trouble and confusion. Best not to challenge the boy's already-strained brain. No, he had to make his identity absolutely clear.
And so it was that Voldemort sat back at his darkly-stained desk, pulled out a flawless, ebony quill with matching ink, and began to write his second letter to Harry Potter.
The trip to the hospital wing had been short (Madam Pomfrey had merely cleaned the puncture and fixed it with a single "Episkey") but had been just long enough to take up the rest of breakfast time. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had Defense Against the Dark Arts with the Slytherins, and so it was with dread-filled step after dread-filled step that they made their way to the appropriate classroom. Normally, Harry would have been eager to go to his favourite class, even when taking the presence of the rivaling house into consideration, but it had been very disappointing thus far. When the students had entered the classroom the first day of school, they had been quite astounded to find Dumbledore there waiting for them. Harry had hoped for a very happy moment that it meant that for some reason, Dumbledore himself would be teaching the class, but as soon as the class had arrived entirely, the headmaster assured them that no such thing was true. He had hired a teacher for the position, he promised, but the teacher was having difficulties arranging certain matters, and would instead begin lectures within the next few weeks. Until then, Dumbledore had cheerily informed them, they were to spend class reading their textbook and taking notes on what they read. They were seventh years, after all, and they could almost certainly be trusted to take care of themselves until their new professor arrived.
This was not the case.
As it turned out, leaving Slytherins and Gryffindors in a classroom unsupervised with practically nothing to do was a terrible, terrible idea. Their textbooks went completely ignored (except by Hermione, but even she gave up on that rather quickly) and each house would convene in a different corner of the classroom and socialize with those of their own kind. Then the fighting would begin. It was nothing serious at first- a few jeers here, a few jinxes there- simply normal behaviour for Slytherins and Gryffindors, really. While the Hogwarts staff almost certainly knew it was happening, they paid it little mind. One particular day, though, it became much more serious. Hexes and jinxes of all colours had soared across the room constantly, usually missing their intended targets, but hitting them often enough. At the end of the period, almost all occupants of the room had to visit the hospital wing to get their highly varied (and mostly comical) problems remedied.
That was how they had ended up being supervised by none other than Argus Filch every class. Under his reign, Defence Against the Dark Arts was equivalent to an unearned detention each day the seventh-years had it. Harry found himself despising his once-favorite class.
However, when the trio reluctantly entered the foreboding classroom that day, it was surprisingly devoid of the cruel caretaker. Bewildered, they found themselves seats near the middle of the classroom in a group of three. The other Gryffindors in the room seemed to be similarly disconcerted and kept glancing around, as if expecting to find Filch lurking unpleasantly in some corner, just waiting for a student to do something remotely against the rules. The Slytherins, however, seemed at ease. Harry barely had a moment to wonder why exactly that was before the door swung open.
Dumbledore's wrinkled visage seemed as joyful as ever for the most part, but Harry felt that something about the man seemed a bit more on-edge than usual. Harry found it quite worrying.
"Good morning, everyone!" Dumbledore greeted, sweeping the room with his gaze as if to try and greet each student individually through the action. "How are you doing on this lovely day?"
The Slytherins remained silent. Harry thought he heard a few Gryffindors mumble "good". Dumbledore beamed.
"Wonderful! Now, as some of you may already be aware," he looked specifically at the Slytherins, "and some of you may have deduced through the lamentable lack of our dear Mr. Filch,"
"If I ever lament a lack of Filch, just kill me," Ron muttered. Harry snorted under his breath. Hermione gave Ron a half-hearted scolding look.
"our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor has finally arrived," Dumbledore finished.
The rise in the level of interest of the students was almost tangible. Harry suddenly found himself rapt with attention. Who could the new professor be? Harry had been eager to learn the identity of his new teacher ever since school had started, if not before. Whoever it was, they couldn't be any worse than Umbridge, Harry reckoned.
"He will be joining you shortly, so I would recommend being on your best behaviour," Dumbledore continued, "but I'm afraid I must attend to other matters. Have a lovely first lesson." He smiled at them once again, waved his gnarled hand, and left.
The class burst into a cacophony of chatter the moment the door closed.
"Who do you think it is?" Hermione inquired of the two boys.
"Dunno," Ron responded, perplexed, "but I hope it's someone wicked." He grinned. Hermione rolled her eyes. Harry smiled fondly at the both of them before being struck by the sudden realization that he might not have actually taken his D.A.D.A. book with him that morning. He bent under his cramped desk where he had stashed his bag and began to rummage through it in search of the text.
He heard the door swing open.
The room was instantly silent.
"Bloody hell," Ron murmured.
Harry looked up.
Standing there in the doorway, looking as revoltingly regal as ever, was none other than Lucius Malfoy.
Gotta love Lucius. 3 I'm almost tempted to scrap the plot and make this a four-person pairing including him.
Of course, I won't. Three people is more than enough, especially when they're Voldy, Snape, and Harry.
By the way, if you look up the song which I've included the lyrics for each chapter, you may find it rather fitting. I hope.
Well, a lot of you seemed to like the summary last time, so here's another!
So vodermort wuz all lyke "lulz hairy imma troll u lol cuz ur pairentz r ded :D" and harry wuz all :( but then he wuz all "lol thatz not the legit voldy so whatevs." But then the next morning harree's sidekikz were all "WTF is that letter harry?" and then Marz wuz all "OMFG HARRRY RESPONSE PLZ" and harreeee wuz all "no k thnx" and mars wuz all "NNOOOO! ATTAAACCKKK!""""" And harry wuz all "K FINE! gosh." and voldy wuz all "WUTTHEF is this, I iz not nawt a malfoy. SRSLY. look it up." And then harry and hermy and ronny were all "WUUUUT?LUCIOUS MALFOY?" the end.
Um, yeah, I don't think I'll include one of those in every chapter, lol. But I will have more in the future. :)
In any case, I adore you all. Please review, and I'll definitely respond. 3
Reviews keep me going when I'm out of caffeine.