So, I know I haven't updated Dreams and Nightmares in a few days, but I'm getting to it. Meanwhile, I had this idea I just had to write. It's an AU, riddled with abuse and it's affects, so if that's something that makes you queasy, this probably isn't the story for you. If that isn't a bother, well, enjoy!

"Hurry up, boy! Get those bags upstairs before our guests arrive!"

The slender young man grabbed as many bags as he possibly could, and began to climb the stairs without a word, delivering each of his cousin's purchases to the large bedroom at the end of the hall. He wasn't a tall boy—rather short for his tender age of sixteen, his malnourished body making him appear more closely to thirteen or fourteen—and he was far from a healthy weight. Carrying the bags up the stairs was taxing and a physical labor his body couldn't ever hope to continue, yet, he forced himself to move. Each step up the stairs was done in pure will power, driven by the lack of desire to be punished for his insolence. If he didn't get everything to Dudley's room before he finished retelling his shopping trip to his mother, then he would certainly be beaten by his uncle. The memory of thick fists on his sharp cheekbones, heavy feet on his ribs, and a sharp, metallic belt on his back was more than enough motive to get his weak body moving.

Successfully getting everything to his cousin's room, the young man waited at the bottom of the stairs, head bowed so his eyes were on the floor, back was straight (as much as he could managed, the fresh wounds making him want to hunch over), and hands folded neatly behind his back. He was well trained, knowing how to behave in the presences of his so-called family.

"It was amazing, Mummy! The candy shop was huge! Pillars made of suckers, lights of licorice! I'd never seen such a place!" Dudley Dursley was not an appealing child at all—he was obese, with a near triple chin and small, beady eyes. He was overly fond of bringing harm to the young man, just for the fun of it.

"I'm sure it was, my sweet! We will make sure to take you back again!" While it was true Vernon Dursley liked to physically beat him for fun and punishment, even when he didn't rightful deserve it, it was Petunia Dursley he feared the most. She was capable of magic, and she could abuse him in the ways Vernon could not—her particular favorite was something he learned to be called the Cruciatus Curse. It brought him such intense pain that he couldn't even remember where he was, couldn't think; he could only recognize it felt like white-hot knives were piercing every inch of his skin, like his head would surely burst from the pain.

"All right, Dudley-kins, head up to your room and get changed now, our guests will be arriving soon! The Malfoy's have come with a job aspect for me, and I must impress them! Surely they will love to meet my brilliant son!" He knew not to laugh, not to snort in amusement—so he locked his glee down deep inside his soul, in the parts he didn't access anymore. He never felt happiness or joy. They were foreign feelings to him. He stiffened as he felt the breeze of Dudley passing him, though knew better to raise his eyes until he was addressed. "Now, listen closely to me, you worthless shit—you will stay locked in your cage, and you will not come out for the rest of the night, do you understand me? You will not make a sound!" He gave a nod, nothing more. Seconds later, he was ordered down into the basement of the luxury home, and forced into a small cupboard like room. It was small, perhaps only ten feet deep, with a pile of rags for a bed and a small, partially broken lamp for lighting. The ceiling was low—he could sit comfortably, without his head touching the dusty stone, but could not stand or kneel. It was there that he crawled into the space, and waited. Petunia came down two minutes later and shut the door and did the thirteen locks outside it, before sliding what he long since learned was a rack of ancient wines in front of his door. The basement was, after all, the Dursley's priceless wine cellar.

He sat in silence for a long time, unmoving as he willed his body to relax. Strained muscles refused to do such a thing, and in fact his limbs began to lock up. No pained noise fell from his lips, however; his voice box was damaged from the night before, where Vernon had strangled him and left a yellow-blue bruise around his throat.

::Pet?:: came a whisper, a cold, slender body beginning to run along his wrist. ::You are back too soon. Tell me, are there guests in the house?:: Even the serpent language couldn't be uttered by his lips. Instead, he forced a weak, muscle-locked arm to move, gently lifting the two foot snake to his neck, where it lovingly curled around the flesh, the cool temperatures of her body soothing the strangulation marks. When he didn't answer, she hissed angrily, knowing what had happened and rubbed even more of herself around the marks. A small, broken smile came to his lips as he forced his body down, laying among the rags to try to sleep. Though he knew it to be pointless—he never slept.

"Get up, freak!" Harry scrambled up, quickly grabbing the serpent from his neck and shoving her under some rags as he sat up, attentive and ready for when the cupboard door was open. Petunia ripped it open seconds later, ordering him out and to stand presentable. He did as told, though she pointed her wand at him anyway. Instantly he flinched and hid his face in his shoulder, though she casted something different than the normal curses she threw at him. He cracked open his eyes seconds later, looking up to where she was grinning cruelly. The grin disappeared as quickly as it came.

"Now listen to me, I am only saying this once. I was offered a high ranking position at the Minitry—working as a relations officer between Muggles and Magical Folk. The Lord would like to meet with me himself, over dinner, to make sure I am fit for the duty. You, unfortunately, must come. They want to question my family, since they are all muggles. If you dare say anything that will cost me the job, I will end your worthless life, do you understand me? You will give nothing but compliments and high remarks!" Her wand was pointed dangerously at his throat, and he could do nothing more but pathetically nod.

"Good. Crucio!"

Two days passed, before the family was climbing into the magical carriage—except for Harry, who had to ride on the outer seats with the luggage. He didn't mind so much, for the young man had never seen the sun or the outside world. His emerald eyes were instantly blinded by the brightness, though the black eventually faded away and he was hit for standing stupidly in the middle of the pathway. After he had loaded the carriage (which nearly caused his weak body to collapse), Petunia approached him, and cast what she called a glamour. It changed his appearance completely. What was messy, untamable hair became presentable, combed neatly to perfection; his malnourished and devastatingly thin body filled out; all the cuts, bruises, welts and old injuries faded, becoming invisible. The raven haired teen almost wished such imagery was true—he knew he was grotesque to look at, as his aunt and uncle always informed him. Disgustingly thin, covered with the dirt and grime from cleaning the luxury home, and marred head to toe with gruesome wounds and scars. Of course, Petunia could never have anyone see him like that. So she told him his role—he was a mute, suffering from social anxiety so strong the mere sight of people would upset him a great deal.

The ride to the palace took the entire day, and Harry absolutely could not wait until they headed home. His seat with the luggage had shown him all the beauty of the outside world—green grass, blue sky, gorgeous and bright sun. It was amazing to feel warmth on his deadly cold skin, to feel the wind caress him. Part way through the ride, he felt the familiar sensation of his companion curling up the back of his clothes (which were actually new, though still baggy because of his disturbingly thin frame), the serpent curling around his neck though knowing fully well that she wasn't to be seen.

When they arrived to the Lord's palace, the young man couldn't help but to marvel at it. The structure was grandly built, absolutely beautiful in design—it was breathtaking, because Harry had never seen anything like it.

"Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley! Wonderful to see you again," a man spoke, drawing Harry's eyes as he looked to the side of the carriage. A tall man with a broad chest helped Petunia down, giving her a bright smile. His eyes were a crisp gray, slightly wrinkled around the edges while he possessed very white-blonde hair, the column cascading down his back in a straight motion. He was dressed in black, carrying a cane, and Harry was getting the impression he was a very regal person to begin with. Was this the Lord? He'd never seen the man before, though heard the things his aunt and uncle had said before about him—not many good things, though there were a few compliments here and there.

"Mr. Malfoy! The palace, it's beautiful! Never could I imagined something so grand!" the woman exclaimed, eyeing the place greedily. Harry stepped down from the carriage, though made no move to approach, wanting to go unnoticed as long as possible. He felt a nervous feeling clawing at his chest, palms sweating in anxiety; he had never met anyone who wasn't his aunt or uncle before. He was suddenly thankful he could not speak, because he wouldn't know what to say.

Unfortunately, the man was far more observant than he predicted. "Ah, and may this be the nephew you spoke of?" the man asked. Harry, not sure what else to do, bowed his head and clasped his hands in front of him.

"Oh, him? Yes, that is my nephew. It's best if you don't give him much attention," she spoke, the last bit in a bit of a murmur. Harry didn't look up from his bowed position.

"Very well, poor child. Come, we have waited to begin dinner for your arrival."

"Could someone show my nephew to our quarters? I'm afraid the carriage ride has made him a bit ill," Petunia explained. Harry felt disappointment grow in his chest. A small sliver of hope had manifested; maybe, just maybe, he'd get to eat. He couldn't honestly remember the last time he'd eaten or drank something.

That was when Harry Potter was introduced to house elves. They were funny looking creatures, small and seemingly very eager to please. Harry liked them immediately, especially as the kind one named Dobby led him through the palace halls. He was quiet, having been told Harry couldn't speak, though occasionally asked the boy if he wanted anything, which Harry indicated with a shake of his head. It was always a no—he wouldn't risk getting something his aunt or uncle didn't say he could have. He didn't want to be tortured or beaten.

"Here you are, sirs!" the little elf cheered, gesturing to the grand doors. Harry nodded in thanks, before the elf disappeared right before his eyes. Surprised, he stood dumbfounded for several minutes. Nothing had ever just vanished like that before! Petunia never used such magic, and he never met an elf. Opening the doors, Harry looked around the grand room, seeing there were two magnificently large beds with soft, satin covers and very plump pillows—but that wasn't what got him excited. There was carpet! He'd never be permitted to sleep on a bed, didn't even bother to fantasize about it. His cage had only stone floor, the rags hardly a buffer—but this floor was carpeted!

Distracted, he jumped when there was a knock at the door, staring at it wildly as though it were on fire. What was he to do? Petunia nor Vernon had given him instructions on what to do at the palace, so was he to act like he was when they were at home? Swallowing, he approached the door slowly, before turning the nob and pulling it open. He stared at the regal man he'd seen earlier—Malfoy, he thought Petunia said. The man gave him a warm smile, though he seemed a bit off—cautious, perhaps. Like he didn't want to disturb Harry.

"Hello, Harry. I don't believe I introduced myself—I am Lucius Malfoy, one of the Lord's advisors. If you are feeling well enough, he was hoping to meet with you." Harry just stared at him, odd emotions circling through him. Why did the Lord want to meet with him? Without his realizing, he'd lifted a hand to point to himself, so very obviously confused. The man gave a small, musical laugh.

"Yes, you. He wants to discuss your aunt." Remembering that he was there to make her look good, he nodded, slowly stepping out of the room and shutting it behind him. The man smiled warmly again, before asking the boy to follow him. Harry did so, absently petting his serpent friend through his new clothes though made sure the action was not seen by anyone. He didn't want any harm to come to her, and he wasn't sure how anyone would react if they saw. Lucius led him through the halls, moving at a much quicker pace than Harry could actually keep up with—though he tried, and it put a tremendous strain on his weak legs. By the time they reached the private study he'd been led to, the boy was concerned his limbs were going to lock up again. Lucius knocked twice on the door, before a low voice told him to enter.

Inside the room, Harry let his eyes flicker around in wonderment. The walls were a warm red color, a solid wood for the floor shined effortlessly from polish. Dark curtains hung elegantly over the windows, while two plush chairs sat before a softly crackling fire. Bookshelves lined the walls, and—he gulped suddenly, seeing a ginormous snake coiled off in the corner. Instantly he was nervous, though saw she was sleeping; what if she tried to hurt his only friend?

"My Lord, this is Harry, Petunia Dursley's nephew. He is mute, and suffers from a bit of social anxiety." Harry's eyes flickered over to the man Lucius spoke to. He had been standing at one of the windows, but looked back to see the young man for himself. The Lord was tall, with a slender build, light muscles evident through the robes he wore. He had deep blue eyes and dark hair, a far more elegant look to him, though Harry quickly decided this was the most attractive man he'd ever seen in his life. Though the only people he really could choose from were the Lord, Lucius, Dobby and his family. It wasn't exactly tough competition, not to say Lucius wasn't attractive. The man was in his own way.

"Thank you, Lucius. Please, Harry, have a seat," the Lord spoke, gesturing to the left chair while he himself took the right. Lucius left the room with a small smile, and the boy slowly approached the chair, looking at it in bewilderment. He was supposed to sit there? Or did the man mean the floor? Surely he meant the floor. However, when green eyes flickered to blue, the man gave him a reassuring smile.

"Go ahead, take a seat in the chair," he said, as though he could read the boy's mind. "I promise to make this as quick as possible, and you may return to your room." Still hesitant, Harry sat down on the chair, body stiff as he refused to lean back in it, instead perching on the edge. What if this was a test, to see if he was obedient, like he was supposed to be? What if the Lord became furious Harry would ever dare to sit on the furniture? What if—

"Now, Harry, I understand you're unable to speak, has it always been like that?"

Startled, his head immediately bowed as his hands folded in his lap. He wouldn't look at the Lord, surely the man did not want him to look, just like Petunia and Vernon hated when he looked at them. Knowing what was required of him, Harry nodded, expressively lying to the man. He knew he needed to make Petunia look good, and he needed to keep to his story. He was mute, and had a social anxiety problem. The man hummed.

"Is your aunt a kind woman?" He nodded. "What about your uncle, cousin?" Another nod. It felt infinitely wrong to lie to the man, but even if his existence was pitiful, a mistake, disgusting, he didn't want Petunia to kill him.

"It's rude not to look at someone when they're speaking to you," the Lord diminished softly. The boy gulped, raising his head slightly and forcing his eyes up. He didn't want to be rude and make Petunia look bad. Though he didn't look the Lord in the eyes, instead choosing to focus on something else—like the man's lips. He noticed how they, ever so slightly, curved into a frown.

::Master, I smell another…:: the large serpent called from her corner, waking from her slumber. Harry jumped, head craning in the direction immediately. ::Come, little snakey…:: The boy wanted to cry out when his companion left his robes, easily getting down his robe and slithered across the floor to where the giant snake was. As his eyes widened in absolutely horror, his albino friend lifted her slender form from the ground and rubbed herself against the large snake in greeting.

"Don't worry, Harry, Nagini has no intention of harming your familiar," the Lord spoke, though Harry didn't take his eyes from the two. ::What is your name, little one?::

::Talia,:: the white serpent answered. Harry's head finally turned back to the man, eyes wide now with bewilderment—the Lord could speak to serpents too!

"I'm sure that's startling to see, Harry. Though I am a wizard—some of us have the ability to speak with serpents, though it is rare." The boy merely blinked. He could speak with snakes—did that mean he was a wizard too? No, no, that couldn't be true. He was surely no more than a muggle, like the man believed.

::Is this boy your master, Talia?:: the Lord spoke. Harry, sensing the man no longer wished to speak to him, sat absolutely still, staring at the hands in his lap while trying not to slouch.

::He tells me he is not. He thinks he is not worthy of being my master.:: It was true—the serpent tried to convince Harry he was her master, but he firmly rejected the idea. He could never be a master when he himself was no more than rubbish.

::He… he speaks to you?::

::Yes. Before he was made mute, he too could speak the language of the serpents.:: There was silence, before Harry could practically feel dark eyes turn on him, burning into his scalp. A fearful shiver ran through his body, and he refused to return his eyesight to the man.

"You have lied to me, Harry. I do not take kindly to lies," he hissed, voice angry. Unable to control himself, knowing punishment was imminent, the boy began to shake, entire body trying to collapse in on itself and make him invisible. He barely noticed how Talia crawled into his lap. "Look at me, boy." He recognized the tone—the one full of promise, of malice. If he did not obey, he would be beaten, whipped, broken. But fear crawled beneath his skin, knowing the Lord could hurt him so much more than Petunia or Vernon ever could.

"I said look at me!"

Several things happened at once. The Lord grabbed him by the chin, forcing his head up which only served to make him flinch violently, afraid of being touched. Then, in defense of him, Talia launched herself upward and coiled around the Lord's wrist, sinking her fangs into the man's wrist. Before he pulled away, the large serpent, Nagini, struck to attack the small serpent attacking her Master. Harry, however, panicked—he wouldn't see his friend hurt, ever—and quickly threw his arm out to block her. Nagini's jaw clamped around his upper arm, fangs piercing right through the thin flesh before crushing the brittle bone with a powerful snap of her jaw.

::Nagini! Let go of him this instant!:: The Lord demanded, not bothered by the creature around his wrist as his eyes widened at the blood gushing from the boy. Harry felt lightheaded, eyes looking to his white companion as Nagini released his arm. It fell limply to his side, the pain surging through his body unrecognizable as his thoughts fogged over—he did have the sense to reach for his friend, and she immediately stopped trying to rip a major vein of the man's wrist, coiling onto Harry's hand where he brought her to hide against his chest. It was pitiful, how he tried to curl away from the Lord, trying to hide the little serpent more than he was trying to protect himself. The Lord watched him before gaining enough sense to summon a house elf.

"Dobby, fetch Lucius and Severus immediately, tell Severus to bring his medical supplies." The house elf disappeared as quickly as he came. Harry remained curled in the chair, resting his forehead against the arm as his head became too heavy for his neck to support. The pain from his arm was beginning to edge at his mind, his eyes glazing over before he shut them entirely.

::No, pet, open your eyes:: Talia insisted, rubbing her head against his jawbone. Harry barely heard her words before unconsciousness claimed him.

He had the distinct feeling of something sliding against his body, but it was cooler in temperature so the young man couldn't find himself caring too much, though he was rather curious of who or what it was. His eyes, however, didn't seem to want to open; it felt as though a thick glue was holding them plastered together, or maybe they were just too heavy to pry apart. Harry felt tired, his entire body feeling heavy while a dull ache spread from the tip of his toes to the top of his head, seeming to pulse in his right arm. As he lay, unable to move and unable to open his eyes, his mind drudged up the memories of what happened before he had fallen unconscious—he angered the Lord, and then was bitten by the large familiar. It was fitting; he was always punished when he upset or angered Petunia and Vernon, so the bite was wholly deserved, he believed.

His breathing was shallow enough that he could hear soft footsteps enter wherever he was. Since he couldn't open his eyes, he feigned still sleeping despite knowing if he wasn't awake—because he speculated he was back in his cage—he would be beaten. It was likely he'd be punished anyway, for ruining Petunia's chance to get the job with the Lord. Dread settled into his chest—she had threatened to kill him, didn't she?

"Still asleep?" came a voice. He recognized it as the Lord's. So he wasn't back with his aunt and uncle yet; it was only a matter of time.

"Yes, though that is not why I called you, my Lord. The boy is wearing several glamours…" Harry felt his chest tighten considerably. It was really only for their benefit that he wore it—he was hideous, grotesque; no one deserved to see him.

"Certainly not cast himself? I was under the assumption he was a muggle. No matter." A moment of silence went by before something dropped to the ground and shattered. There was an angry hiss beside him, the cool thing that had slid up against his body tensing as a thin tongue rubbed against his cheek. He wanted desperately to open his eyes, to see what was going on, what had suddenly made them so angry, but his body refused to cooperate. He couldn't move, couldn't twitch, and he certainly couldn't open his eyes.

"I… I am going to need more supplies."

::Talia, explain this boy's condition!:: came an angry hiss, one Harry recognized as the Lord's. Did the glamour wear off? Could they see all the hideous scars, cuts, welts and bruises? Surely his white familiar—wherever she was coiled—would explain he was just a terrible servant.

::That witch and her muggle husband torture him, for no reason!:: the snake hissed, revealing she was coiled in his hair. Panic crashed hard into his chest as he felt like he couldn't breathe—how could she lie like that? He was punished, that was all the marks were; deserved for his own incompetence and slow activity. Trying desperately to open his eyes, to speak, anything, Harry found himself trapped with his panicked and fearful emotions. Surely Petunia would kill him now for what Talia told the Lord! Did the snake not understand what she was dooming him to? Didn't she love him?

No. No one loved him.

::Tell me, little one, did the witch ever use magic to hurt him?:: The hiss sounded strained, like it was holding something back.

::Yes. She would often use the torture curse.::

"Lucius!" There was a long silence, though even Harry, unable to move or see, could feel the thick tension. The Lord sounded angry—was he furious with him? There was no one else for him to be mad at, so it had to be Harry. Something he'd heard a long time ago came back to him; the Lord was the strongest Wizard, which was why he ruled over all other Wizards and Witches. His punishment was likely to be worse than Petunia's, but Harry couldn't help but know he deserved it.

Footsteps carried quickly into the room. "Yes, my lord?"

"Keep the Dursley's busy, but tell them their nephew has been taken to a different part of the case—a mental ward, if you will—to keep the rest of the inhabitants safe. Inform them they need not worry over him during their stay."

"I doubt they'd care if we locked him in the dungeons," the other man sneered. Harry wanted to curl in on himself; he'd never been in a dungeon before, but surely it couldn't be worse than his cage, right? The footsteps carried away just as quickly as they had come, and Harry found himself wishing he could open his eyes.

"Run a diagnosis, Severus, I want it before I meet with the Dursley's in two hours."

"Of course, my lord." Another set of footsteps began to head away from Harry's position, though they paused. ::Nagini?::

::I want to stay here, master.:: Was it the large serpent familiar curled in bed with him?

::Allow no one but Severus to tend to him.::

::Yes, master.:: The footsteps left the room that time, leaving Harry alone with the two familiars and the man he assumed to be Severus. A few seconds passed before a hand snaked behind his head, gently lifting him forward before a vial was set against his lips. Forced to drink it, the man released him only when it was empty. Was he fed some sort of poison? Were they going to kill him? As his consciousness began to wavier, a numb feeling crawling beneath his skin, Harry sent a small prayer that it would be a merciful death.

For once in a long time, Harry Potter dreamt. His unconscious was riddled with images of his parents, and he could have sworn they were real; he could smell his mother, feel how soft her hair was, see the mischievous gleam in his father's eyes, hear his laugh. They were there with him, wrapping their arms around him, kissing his forehead, telling him they loved him. It was the best dream he'd ever had—ruined when it faded to blackness and he slowly came to consciousness. His body was still heavy, but the ache was missing, and he soon discovered he could open his eyes.

Slowly, he cracked them open, momentarily blinded by the bright lights of the room he was in until his pupils adjusted. Nagini was curled along the left side of him, her head resting on his chest, while he could feel Talia coiled in his hair. While a sense of stiff soreness occupied his body, along with the need to move his muscles, he realized a certain warmth also comforted him—he was naked, down to nothing but a pair of boxers, but a pure white blanket was pulled up over his chest. The room was devoid of furniture, aside from a chair on the left. Was he in the dungeons? Surely they wouldn't have left the Lord's familiar down there with him?

Hesitantly, he lifted his hand and gently pet Nagini's head before freezing—the cuts and bruises that usually marred his arm were gone! He lifted his other hand, one that had a burn along the palm, and saw the injuries were gone too. The scars still remained, but there were no more bruises and fresh cuts. The larger serpent, stirred by the boy's movement, lifted her head lazily. Using his weak, skinny arms, Harry forced himself to sit up, balancing Talia on his head so she didn't fall. Sitting now, he pushed the blanket away, inspecting his chest. No cuts, no bruises, no welts! Scars still littered his pale skin, but he had been healed of everything else! Was it that man, Severus, who did it for him?

::You look better, pet:: Talia hissed, dropping to his shoulder to coil around his neck, where Nagini rubbed her head against his arm.

::Still too skinny:: the larger serpent spoke. The young man paused for a second, wondering if all his bruises had been healed, had his throat been too? He parted his lips to speak, but was only met with a raspy sound. Disappointment flooded him. No, his voice wasn't back yet.

Footsteps approaching startled him, and Harry ducked his head, body shrinking to try and seem smaller, nonthreatening. Nagini shifted on the bed, circling herself around his waist comfortably.

"Good, you are awake," a man, Severus, spoke. "I will have a house elf bring food." Harry shook his head, not daring to lift his head too look at the man. "You must eat, child." Petunia and Vernon hadn't said he could, and he wouldn't risk them marring his skin so soon after the kind wizard had healed him. There was an annoyed sigh, before footsteps carried the man out of the room. Harry didn't dare move or budge an inch. Would he be punished for refusing food?

When he was about to relax, another set of footsteps came into the room, quieter that the first. Tense, Harry kept his eyes trained on his hands which were folded neatly in front of him. When the steps stopped in front of the bed he was laying in, the teen didn't move or blink, every muscle tight in his body. The man moved again, coming into Harry's peripheral vision before taking a seat on the edge of the bed, beside him; Harry didn't dare breathe.

A hand reached forward, and without meaning to, he flinched violently, thinking the man meant to strike him. Whoever was reaching for his paused, but then gently took his chin and made the teen look up. Accidentally, Harry met the Lord's blue eyes—but was suddenly caught in a trance, unable to turn away. He could feel a presence in his mind, attention waning to his thoughts and leaving him to stare blankly at the man.

Memory after memory was pulled forward, starting with the very earliest he could remember—the day a man named Albus Dumbledore gave him to Petunia and Vernon Dursley, two days after his parents' death. The following memories were scattered, one of when he was three and being taught to cook, and frustrated with his lack of progress, Vernon pushed his hands into the stove top, burning them. The next memory was of his fifteenth birthday, where Petunia used the crucio spell on him three separate times. Memory after memory of physical, emotional and magical abuse were dragged forward, Harry powerless to do anything but watch and feel the pain as if it were all happening again.

When the trance seemed to end, Harry realized he was crying, his lungs constricted impossibly tight as he wheezed, greedy for the oxygen he just couldn't get enough of.

"Shuu," the Lord whispered, before wrapping his arms around the teenager and pulling him against his robed chest. Harry couldn't stop the violent shaking that took over his body, hyperventilating as his eyes refused to close, refused to stop producing tears—he didn't want to close them, didn't want to see the horrors of his past all flooding his mind like that again. Beneath the panic and the fear, a strange awkward warmth grew, like a little ball of light in the darkness; this was the first time he could ever remember someone holding him. No one had ever wrapped their arms around him before—or at least, not like this. His instincts screamed, told him it was a trap or he would be beaten for daring to touch the Lord, but his mind and heart didn't care. He would gladly take whatever punishment given to him if the man didn't let go of him.

There was a popping noise, one Harry recognized as a house elf after seeing them more than once, and the Lord was pulling away from him. Immediately, the teenager curled back and let his head bow—the moment was over, and he deserved his punishment. However, the Lord didn't hit him or hurt him with magic, instead he set a small tray on the boy's lap, one with a half glass of water and a small bowl of thin soup.

"Harry," the man started. "You may eat, no one will punish you for doing so." Harry didn't believe him, and made no movement to take the spoon or the water. It felt like a trap, a test; if he took it, he'd be punished, despite being told he wouldn't be. "What if I told you the Dursley's will never hurt you again?" No, no, no. He couldn't let the hope grow, couldn't dare let himself believe such a thing. It would never be true; he'd been told, promised, he'd be their worthless servant until he finally died. "Please look at me." His tone was soft, patient. Harry shuddered, before very slowly lifting his head. He didn't look right at the man, instead letting his eyes settle on the Lord's chest, where he'd just been held a few minutes ago. The older gave a smile.

"Harry, what the Dursley's have done to you is wrong—you are not a servant, and even if you were, the sort of abuse they inflicted on you is very, very illegal. What they did was wrong," he reiterated, gently taking the teen's chin again—met with another violent flinch—to lift his eyesight up. However, when their eyes met, the trance didn't catch him again, and painful memories weren't brought back up.

Confusion filled his mind. It was… wrong? That couldn't be right—it was punishment, because he couldn't do what Petunia or Vernon ordered him to. They provided him with a place to live, and on rare occasions, food, in return, he was to do the chores they laid out for him. The beatings and magical curses were because of his incompetence, deserved, really—

"No, Harry," the wizard spoke, anger boiling in his eyes as his grip on the teen's chin tightened ever so slightly. "You have never done anything to deserve so much hate and suffering. What they did had no excuse, no reason." The teenager's eyes widened as his breathing hitched; how did the man know what he was thinking? The clear rage in the Lord's eyes seemed to dim as a small smile came to his face.

"I am capable of a magic called Legilimency. It allows me to look through the layers of one's mind—it let me see the memories of what the Dursley's have done to you, Harry, and trust me when I say it was wrong." Trust? He didn't know how to do that. The smile curled into a small frown, and immediately Harry knew he'd done something wrong, pulling away and dropping his head, waiting for the punishment the Lord thought applicable. It never came. "It will take some time to rehabilitate you, I see. I want you to listen to me very closely, Harry—I will never hurt you. I will never strike you, nor will I lift my wand to cause you harm. Do you believe me?"

Barely managing to scrape together the courage to lift his head, green eyes met blue, and for a minute, Harry believed the Lord would not hurt him. The thoughts were immediately poisoned with doubt not seconds later. He'd never met anyone his entire life—only knew Petunia, Vernon, and Dursley. He just met the men Lucius, Severus, and now, the Lord. He didn't know them, and worse, they didn't know him; they didn't know the mistakes he was prone to make or how he couldn't move very quickly. He did his best to follow every order given to him, often moving on shear will power when his body ached and his muscles threatened to lock up, but it wasn't enough. He wasn't a very good servant, and his punishments were well deserved. How could the man promise he wouldn't give Harry what he deserved? It didn't make sense, so he chose not to believe it. Not because he thought the man was a liar, but rather because he thought the Lord was uninformed on how terrible of a servant he was.

The Lord gave a soft sigh, smiling. "You will see, Harry, that I will never hurt you." He stood up, gesturing to the tray that still sat untouched in the boy's lap. "Please, eat though, as my guest. I am certain Petunia or Vernon would not object if I asked it of you." Harry's mind reeled; no, no, he wouldn't want to upset Petunia by refusing the Lord. Carefully, he lifted a shaky hand to lift the spoon, looking at the soup.

"Oh, Severus wished for me to explain to you the condition of your magical core. It'll be a few days, but your magical core, after sustaining your life for so many years, will replenish." Harry's green eyes stared blankly at the Lord, unsure what he was talking about. What was a magical core? The man looked a little surprised. "Your magical core is your potential for magic, your—" He stopped speaking when Harry shook his head. He wasn't magical. He was a muggle.

"You think you're a muggle…?" he whispered, surprise lining every feature of his face. "She never told you you're a wizard…" Surprise quickly contorted to a dangerous rage, blue eyes flashing red before the Lord was turning on his heels and leaving the room.

Harry stared after him for a long minute, before beginning to eat his soup, as asked. Did the Lord say he was a …a wizard? Could he do magic, like his aunt could? He always feared it, because it never brought him anything but harm—but surely there had to be other uses for something so powerful. But could he really use it too?

No, that was stupid. He'd have known if he could use magic.

The young man found himself able to drink all of the water, but unable to consume any more than a few bites of the soup—he was full after his sixth or seventh spoonful. A house elf came by sometime later and took the tray, before leaving him alone with Nagini and Talia. The larger serpent stayed curled around his waist and draped over the bed, while he was holding his own familiar against his chest, running his fingers over her white scales. So much had happened, his thoughts were in a quick paced haze, but the one that kept reoccurring was the wonder of whether Petunia would kill him or not. Surely he ruined her chance to get the job if the Lord thought his punishment was abuse and wrong. Not to mention, they had given him food and a bed to sleep in.

A thought dawned on him. He was in a bed. Immediately he began to scramble, horrified that Petunia would suddenly show up; he wasn't allowed on the furniture, ever. Nagini uncoiled from his waist, and Harry was off the bed in seconds—only to discover how weak his legs were, and how they were unable to support his weight. Both collapsed under him, and he fell to the floor, the tile sending a painful sensation through his knees and palm, his other hand still holding Talia protectively against his chest. But he wasn't on the furniture anymore, and that was the important thing. Evening his breathing, he crossed his legs and curled into himself, trying to find warmth after losing what the bed had provided. He was sickly thin, a forced anorexic condition where most of his bones protruded from his skin, and he produced next to no body heat on his own.

Some time passed, though Harry wasn't sure how long it had been when the Lord returned to the room, looking startled that the boy wasn't in the bed until blue eyes flickered to where he was huddled on the floor. For the longest minute, he seemed dumbfounded, though Harry looked to the floor shortly after, afraid to look at the man in fear of punishment for staring.

"Harry… why aren't you in the bed?" he asked, though Harry hoped he wasn't expecting an answer. The Lord approached with a careful stride, and with every step closer, Harry tried to curl further and further within himself, keeping Talia tight against his chest to protect her—if he were to be whipped, he didn't want the serpent to accidentally get hit. "Come, child, please get back on the bed." Warm hands carefully helped him to his feet, while the Lord supported his weight and helped him back into the bed. Confusion plagued the teenager—the wizard seemed to want him to break every rule he'd lived by for the past fifteen years, and worse yet, Harry found himself complying to anything and everything the Lord wanted whenever he touched him. A small disappointment panged the back of his head when the man pulled his hands away, though Harry pretended it didn't exist.

"Here, would you drink this for me?" the Lord asked, sitting on the side of the bed. He handed Harry a small vial, one the teenager just looked at for a long minute before shakily raising a hand to take it. He pulled the cork off, and put it to his lips, slowly drinking the purple liquid. "Severus has spent all morning making it—it should return your ability to speak." When he swallowed the last drop, a strange tingling sensation came to his throat, his hand rubbing at the flesh as his eyes flickered to the Lord before looking away almost immediately after.

"Well?" the man asked, waiting.

"Hello?" Harry rasped, before a small smile broke across his lips—he could speak again! A grin came to the Lord's face, obviously pleased.

"Wonderful! Now, Harry, how are you feeling?"

The boy hesitated. He'd never really been spoken to much before. "F-Fine, sir."

"No need to call me by formal titles—Tom will be fine." Instantly uncomfortable, Harry knew he would just refrain from using any title or name at all. He was never permitted to call Vernon or Petunia anything aside from 'sir' and 'ma'am', and it wasn't a habit he could break so easily, or comfortably, for that matter. "Just fine, Harry? No pain or aches?" The teenager shook his head; just because he could speak did not mean he was permitted to, a very harsh lesson he'd learned the hard way.

"We need to speak about something, child. You are a wizard, you can do magic—I know you find it impossible to believe, but it's true." Harry stared at his hands, unmoving, as he just listened. "However, because of your… condition, your magical core has slowly been depleting itself to keep you alive. The only reason you've survived this long is because your magic has made it so. Without it, I doubt you would have completed your childhood." A shiver ran down Harry's spine. "Your core has replenished some already—I can feel your potential, Harry. It's only a minor setback that you don't know how to use it, but I will teach you." Harry, despite the ingrained sense not to, looked up to the man's face with genuine surprise. Tom smiled.

"Don't look so surprised, Harry. I am a good teacher," he teased. His smile faltered a little. "I will be honest, Petunia and Vernon Dursley will be facing criminal charges for what they've done to you—you will not be returned to their care, Harry, ever. I will be taking you into mine, instead."

Harry just stared, his mind trying to figure out exactly what Tom had just said. The Lord, however, continued. "Petunia will likely face time in Azkaban for using the Cruciatus Curse on you so freely, as well as abuse, whereas Vernon will be sentenced to the muggle prison for child abuse. Dudley will be given required counseling, and sent to another relative." Harry just stared, not caring that he would be punished for it, while trying to understand. He wouldn't be going back to the Dursleys?

"What will my job be here, sir?" he asked, voice raspy from its neglected use.

"Tom, child," he reminded softly. "You won't have a job here, Harry. You are not a servant—you'll be treated just as I am." The teenager swallowed, his breathing becoming shallow as a slight panic began to swell—this wasn't right, he was a servant, he was meant to cook, clean, carry bags or whatever else they could think of. He didn't deserve such care, it wasn't his place.

"Harry, Harry," the man hushed, taking both of the teen's hands in his. "Can you trust me, child?" Harry just stared, before slowly parting his lips.

"I-I don't know how," he said softly, tensing in anticipation of being struck for his incompetence. Tom pursed his lips, trying to think of a different word, before he smiled.

"Harry, can I be your friend, like Talia is?" Green eyes flickered nervously to where the white snake was watching, before he looked back to the man.

"I-If you want," he whispered, not sure how to answer so he'd appease the man.

"What do you want, Harry?" the Lord asked, ever patient. Harry looked to the snake again, who seemed to nod to him, though he was certain he may have imagined it. He didn't know what he wanted—he'd never wanted anything simply because he was never permitted to want. When he was a child, he wanted toys like Dudley had—and Petunia crucio'd him for asking. He never wanted or wished for anything again.

"Look at me," Tom beckoned softly, still keeping Harry's hands within his own. Green eyes hesitantly met blue. "I am the only human in this room aside from you—I will be the only one to hear what you want, and I promise I will not strike you or turn magic against you for speaking your thoughts, Harry. You are safe to tell me what you want." His instincts scream no, it was a trap, a trick, a test; his mind and heart screamed yes, desperately craving human contact and attention even with the threat of punishment looming dangerously near.

"I-I want you to… to be my friend," he said in a tiny voice. The happy grin that split across Tom's face made the ball of light return to Harry's chest—a warmth that he had never really felt before. His tortured mind recognized it as happiness, and his heart sang with the foreign emotion.

"I promise you, my friend, that I will take care of you, and never again will anyone harm you physically or magically."

I would adore reviews on this-especially with the answer to this question: do you want to see a sequel? Overall thoughts and comments are definitely appreciated as well!