"Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are."
Harry was fighting the urge to pace. It was a very difficult battle, but he remained firm as he stood in the center of Lucius' library, not pacing. He had opted to come straight here with Lucius rather than keeping Severus company. His patience simply couldn't stand the extra delay. Harry had handed over a detailed ingredients list, as well as the instructions for brewing the potion, and Harry rather doubted that Severus honestly needed any hand-holding from him. It wasn't an easy potion to brew, but for someone of Severus' skill level, it was hardly an overly difficult task. Harry had sent him off to get acquainted with the instructions, saying he would meet up with him shortly in Lucius' small potions lab.
Harry actually felt nervous standing here, in the middle of Lucius' library, waiting impatiently for the man to find the book. Nervous! It was absurd. The most absurd thing about it was that he was idiotic enough to allow himself to hope. Hope was stupid. Hope was pain. He'd learned long ago to never get his hopes up, because things never worked out. —Not on the things that mattered, anyway.
And this book – assuming Lucius even found the damn thing – was no doubt another dead-end. Probably a work of total fiction, or about some other phenomenon entirely. Harry had read countless thousands of rare and obscure books in his many lifetimes, and not once had he found a single valid reference related to his 'problem'.
The only thing that seemed to be helping Harry keep his nerves in order was the small bit of amusement he was gaining out of the fact that Lucius was obviously quite nervous himself. Either nervous that he wouldn't find the book after all, or nervous just to be alone in a room with Harry. Either way, the fact that he was nervous at all, was entertaining to observe. The man was actually rambling. Harry would have laughed at the absurdity of it, in any other situation.
"-it's a family tradition, of course. It's always expected that we study our ancient histories – where magic came from. And my mother was absolutely insistent that study of the ancient texts had to be done in those texts' original languages. Reading someone else' translation of the ancient texts just runs the risk of a biased interpretation, or, possibly even worse, a bad translation where vital details are missed." Lucius was saying in an uncharacteristically fast pace, as he walked up and down a row of book cases, almost frantically scanning the bindings for the book he was searching for.
"I was only thirteen at the time... she had me studying Latin since I was six, and even after I started attending Hogwarts, during the summers she would demand that I read at least two or three different books written in classical Latin and submit essays to her on their content. She presented me with a pile of books from our family library to choose from – each featuring it's own unique... challenges."
"Challenges?" Harry asked with a vague hint of a curiosity.
"Yes. Various states of wear and tear, awful penmanship, and even a few written in sermo vulgi," Lucius said with a disgusted curl of his lip.
Harry blinked at him and Lucius huffed out a frustrated breath. "The vernacular of the less-educated masses. The commoners."
"Ah," Harry said with a nod of his head.
"I will admit that I initially chose Avitus' book because it was so short, and as a thirteen-year old who was getting quite exhausted with reading enormous classical Latin manuscripts, a short book was appealing," Lucius continued on as he returned his full attention to the book cases and started to run his hand along the various tomes found there. He would pull one out a bit every now and then to check it's front, when the binding was too worn, or too thin, to legibly hold the title.
"Avitus' book, as I recall, was fortunately written in sermo urbanus – speech of the good families." Lucius paused and looked back at Harry hesitantly, "forgive me, my Lord, but I must ask... you are able to read classical Latin, correct?"
Harry blinked at the title, not having expected Lucius to refer to him in such a way, but pulled himself back quickly enough to actually process the fact that Lucius had asked him a question as well.
"Yes. I made it a point to learn both Classical Latin and Greek, during my third life. I couldn't risk that I would miss out on some clue in regards to my predicament simply because I couldn't read the books."
"Of course," Lucius quickly said before returning his attention to the book shelves. A moment later a look of triumph, mixed with relief, washed over his face as he pulled a thin book out from between two rather thick tombs and held it up to examine it closer. "Found it!" he declared and quickly strode over to where Harry had been standing since the pair entered the library.
Harry accepted the book with with more eagerness than he wanted to show and ran his hand over the surface gently before opening it, careful of the binding. It wasn't nearly as fragile as a book it's age should be, but preservation charms were a wonderful thing, and no doubt the book had been in the Malfoy's collection for many generations.
"I remember the book being especially difficult to write my essay on," Lucius mused as Harry skimmed over the first few pages. "One of the requirements that my mother set out for me, was that I identify what period of Roman history each of my chosen books was written in, by the shifts in style – the repeatable features of the speech that helped denote what time frame in history it came from. This book was quite a perplexing specimen as it initially appeared to be written during the Republican era in the early 1st century BC, before Julius Caesar's assassination, but there were stylistic indications from the Augustan age, the Silver Age, and even some obvious similarities to writings styles used through the death of Trajan. It was exceedingly frustrating... but what with the claims to repeating time, I wondered if it were an attempt to fool the reader. That the book was actually written after the death of Trajan in the second century, but was made to look like it was written during the Republican era..." he trailed off for a moment before clearing his throat and trying to stand a bit taller and more proper, probably to mask the nerves that were causing him to talk so much.
Harry nodded absently, not entirely paying attention, but not entirely ignoring the man either. The papyrus pages were soft under his fingers and deeply yellowed, and some of the writing was faded, but none of it looked entirely illegible.
One large block of writing filled each page with a tight but fairly consistent script being used. It wasn't the near-perfect uniformity one often found in transcribed books of the time, plus there were no flourished majiscules at the heading of each paragraph like many professional scribes were prone to use, so Harry figured it was likely that this was the original copy, written by Avitus himself. If Lucius' assumptions about when it was written were true, then it was truly a very old book, to be in such good condition.
After standing there reading over the first page and reminding himself that he really needed to brush up on his Latin, Harry closed the book and took a slow breath.
"Thank you Lucius. May I keep this with me? I promise to treat it with the utmost care, but I want time to read through it properly."
"Yes, of course. Keep it for as long as you like, my Lord."
Harry made to turn and leave, but was caught off guard again just enough to pause and blink at the proper looking blond standing at attention before him.
"You don't have to do that. I'm not even sure how Ma – the Dark Lord, would feel about it, to be honest. Calling me, 'my Lord', I mean."
"It is an appropriate sign of respect that I would grant only those who have deserve it," Lucius said with a slight incline of his head.
Harry coughed out a small bark of incredulous laughter before stifling it. "Sorry, Lucius... It just... well, I certainly wouldn't have thought you felt like I had earned your respect, given how often I've intentionally antagonized you over the last year or so."
"I will admit that it was trying at times," Lucius spoke slowly, "however things are different now, and I see what I did not see before. Not only circumstances, but having experienced your... raw power, first-hand..."
"Ah... well... like I said, I don't know exactly how the Dark Lord would feel about you calling me 'My Lord' around him –"
"The Dark Lord himself, described you as his 'partner' during the meeting, did he not?"
Harry blinked and paused before slowly responding. "Y-es..."
"Then you are equals, by his own words. The Dark Lord clearly desires you be held in high esteem and respect by his followers, or he would not have allowed you to attend the meeting with your power, unmasked. He wanted us to acknowledge you for the power you possess. Plus, I feel the title is warranted. Should the Dark Lord say otherwise, I shall cease it immediately. My loyalty is, first and foremost, to him."
"Well, okay then."
"Is there anything else you need?"
Harry shook his head slowly, looking off to the side as he searched through his thoughts to try and find anything he might have missed. "No, I think I can manage from here. Severus is probably still waiting for me in your potions lab. I still need to pay him a visit before I retire to my room to examine the book."
"I wish you luck."
And with that, the two left the library and parted ways.
Harry entered the Malfoy's personal potions lab to find Severus reading over the instructions that Harry had given him, and sorting through the ingredients that had also been laid out. He glanced up at Harry as he entered and stared at him for a moment longer than usual before seeming to dismiss his entrance and return to his work.
"Everything you need should be there," Harry spoke as he walked over to the large center work bench.
"I can see that. Your instructions, however, are somewhat lacking in the finer details," Severus drawled.
"Yeah, sorry about that, but I wasn't really sure how to explain some bits of it, in writing. It's kind of a quirky brew."
Severus looked up at him and cocked a single brow. "Quirky?" he echoed with a distasteful sneer.
"Yeah, it's the Morlemp grass more than anything else. It helps speed up the brewing time, considerably, but it also makes the potion really high-maintenance."
"Morlemp is a demanding ingredient to work with, but hardly something I'm unfamiliar with or incapable of managing," Severus replied in a tone that suggested he took some offense at Harry's insinuation.
Harry chuckled. "Trust me, I'm not doubting your competence in this, in the least. In fact, I know you'd have a much higher chance of getting it right, the first time, than I would, and I've actually brewed the damn thing before. The fact is that we don't have the time to spare to risk the potion getting screwed up. You – you, I honestly trust at being able to do something like this without any screw-ups. I'd probably blow at least one batch before getting it right, and there's just no time for that."
Severus seemed appeased by that, if his expression was anything to go by.
"Now, what always screws me up - " Harry began as he leaned over the bench and pulled the sheet of instructions he'd written up, closer. The two spent the next ten minutes going over the steps and detailing the various 'quirks', as Harry put it, to the brewing process.
Unsurprisingly, Severus did not think that any of these issues were of any serious concern and the discussion closed with the man stating his strong confidence in success.
"Great. Well, then I'll leave it to you. I thought you'd probably want to haul all of this home, or where ever, since the brewing will take so much focus over the next week, but if you're still at Hogwarts and you need to brew it here, Lucius already said that you could have a room here in the manor."
"That won't be necessary. My lab at Spinner's End is better equipped, and I'm already staying there for the summer."
"Okay, great. You can use any of the Malfoy's elves to help you get all of this back there, then."
"I'll do that."
"Good. So are you all set?"
"I believe so," Severus said with a sharp nod.
"Okay, then I'll be heading out. If you find that you need some clarification, feel free to floo. I should be here the rest of the day, and I'll probably be at Marvolo's manor tomorrow – er, the Dark Lord's Manor – you know." Harry waved his hand in the air dismissively.
Severus eyed him curiously for a moment before he gave a curt nod and Harry turned to leave the lab.
"Oh – Harry?" Severus called out, causing Harry to pause and turn back to look at the man.
"The book – did Lucius find it?"
Harry paused and his hand moved instinctively to the breast of his frock coat vest where he had the book stowed in an inner pocket with an expansion charm. He lowered his hand and gave the man a nod of his head instead. "Yes, he found it."
"Does it... does it look promising?" Severus asked hesitantly, looking entirely uncomfortable to be inquiring.
Harry smiled softly at the man and Severus scowled and looked away. "I don't know," Harry replied in a quiet tone. "I'll have to spend some time actually reading it. Plus my Latin is rusty as hell. I mean, I made it a point to learn the language pretty damn well at one point, but it's been a very long time since I actually made use of that knowledge, and unlike the Dark Lord, I don't actually have an eidetic memory."
Severus hummed thoughtfully and seemed to pin Harry with eyes that were even more suspicious than usual. It was odd enough that Harry arched a single brow at him for a moment before asking "What?"
"Hmm... do you mind, Harry, if I ask you a question?"
"Uh – sure, go for it."
"I recall... several years ago now, when you were first explaining to me, the circumstances of your past and repeating lives, you said something along the lines of 'that's why people think I'm a prodigy' Insinuating that the only reason anyone thought that your skills and powers were remarkable, was entirely because you had the knowledge and experience of an adult, while appearing to be a child. You even said that there was nothing exceptional about you at all, power wise..." Severus drawled, trailing off and arching a single accusatory brow, for the unvoiced question.
Harry grinned, ducked his head and chuckled. "Ah, yeah. I may have said something like that. Actually, I believe that what I said was that I was no more powerful than any adult wizard would be, with as many years as I've lived. And in that regard... I really wasn't lying."
Severus made an amused sort of scoffing sound. "Oh really?" he drawled.
"Well, as you know, the older a wizard gets, the more powerful he grows. Magical growth is a very slow process – the only time when core growth is accelerated is during youth – usually tapering off sharply by the time a wizard reaches his twenties. After that it's a very steady, but also very gradual, incline. It never tapers off. There is no point where a wizard gets too old and their core stops growing. Or at least – it never has with me. And my magical core comes with me —When I start over again, I mean. I'm not starting over with the core of newborn wizard – I'm born with my core in the exact state that it was when I last died. The only exception being that one time with the dementor, but I really have no idea why."
Severus' lips parted in a subdued indication of his apparent shock at this revelation.
"Does it grow more quickly during your physical youth, or has it been consistent since your first life?" He asked.
"When I'm young, it grows at the speed that a core grows when a wizard is young," Harry answered with a small dip of his chin.
"Great Merlin... no wonder you're so powerful."
Harry shrugged and twisted his face up a bit. "I think that, if anything, it's an indication of how pathetically weak I was originally," he remarked dryly. "I mean, look at Marvolo – the Dark Lord – you know what I mean. He's absurdly powerful, and this is his only life. He started out more powerful than any normal child, but then his growth during his youth was incredibly accelerated. It was his own determination, magical experimentation, and constant exercise of his magic, that helped it grow so much in his early years. And I would wager that it set an accelerated pace for his later years as well. His growth tapered off like anyone's would, but not as sharply as is normal. It's incredibly rare for a wizard to get as powerful as he has, specifically because of this drop-off in growth. But every generation or so, you get a special case. Someone truly unique. Dumbledore is an example, but I think that the Dark Lord is probably the most impressive example one could imagine." Harry trailed off before chuckling and shaking his head.
"Me, though?" he continued, "How many lives did it take me to get this powerful? It's pathetic really. My growth in my original youth was stunted, and I barely exercised it at all when in school, except in dire situations. And that set a trend for a below average growth after my youthful 'growth-spurt' ended, and that rate has remained consistent, even in subsequent years. So yeah – I've had hundreds of years of magical growth, and it's definitely pushed me far beyond what any average adult wizard would have, but put into perspective, it's kind of embarrassing. Imagine how powerful the Dark Lord would be if he'd lived as long as I have? It's almost terrifying to imagine..." Harry ended in a soft tone.
"But astounding to imagine, too," Severus whispered, somewhat awed.
"Yes," Harry said with a one-sided smirk. "It would be truly astonishing. But I'd never wish it on anyone. On him or the rest of the world."
Draco Malfoy pushed the door open that led from the manor's south wing, into his families extensive library and poked his head inside, looking around for any sign of Harry. It was after midnight at this point, but he hadn't been able to sleep.
He'd hardly seen much of Harry that day. He'd known there was some sort of Death Eater gathering earlier, and had hoped that he might convince Harry to fill him in on some details afterwards, but hadn't seen him much since then. Harry had joined the family for dinner, but had seemed incredibly distracted through the whole meal, and had run off rather quickly afterwards.
Draco had crawled out of his bed not too long ago and had decided to check on Harry, only to find that he wasn't in his room. His first thought had been that Harry had run off to the Dark Lord's manor again, and that thought left him rather queasy. He'd summoned a house elf to see if it knew when Harry had left, only to be told that Harry was still in the manor. The family library, to be specific.
And so he'd made the trek down here to try and figure out what his friend was up to.
He made his way inside, having to slip through several rows of bookshelves before he finally spotted Harry. The library had two main entrances and Draco had basically come in the back way. The other entrance was closer to the main entrance hall, and it was at this end that a decently sized circular table was situated. Seeing Harry at the table caused a small wave of relief to wash over him. The elf had said Harry was there, but it wasn't until he saw for himself that Harry really was there, that he truly believed it.
He was still having trouble wrapping his head around the idea that Harry was… with the Dark Lord… Just thinking about it made his brain fizz and come to a halt. He could still see the image of the pair of them kissing in the hall the day before, if he closed his eyes. It made something in his chest grow tight and hot and generally unpleasant. He was self-aware enough that part of his pain was jealousy, knowing that someone else was getting to hold and kiss Harry when Draco himself still rather wished that he could be the one doing it. But another part of him really had come to terms with the knowledge that that really wasn't possible. Just the same, the idea of the Dark Lord… Draco just couldn't fathom it. He couldn't fathom the Dark Lord being romantically involved with anyone. The man was so cold, standoffish, and terrifying. He heaved a sigh, trying to push the image from his mind and focusing instead on Harry.
The library was dim all except for the single table that Harry was currently sitting at, which had a reading lamp sitting on it not far from Harry. As Draco approached he slowly realized that Harry was asleep. He had a very old looking book laid out flat in front of him, while a notebook lay beneath his folded arm and head with writing written across it that Draco recognized as Harry's own handwriting. Scattered around him on the table, Draco identified several texts on learning or translating Latin, and two different latin dictionaries. Draco paused, watching Harry's back slowly rise and fall with his deep restful breaths, debating what he should do next.
He didn't feel he should leave Harry there like this. He'd wake up with a horrible crick in his neck and an awful back ache in the morning. Despite this, he felt hard pressed to convince himself to wake the other boy up.
Of course he wasn't actually a boy at all. He was a man - a very old man - trapped inside a deceptively youthful body.
His mind flashed back to the night he and Harry had sat out on the Astronomy tower and Harry had revealed the real truth to Draco for the first time. He remembered Harry saying that he'd need someone who was at least middle-aged before he'd feel comfortable having a relationship with them.
Draco wondered how old the Dark Lord really was. He looked like he was perhaps, thirty? But then again, Draco knew for a fact he was much older than that. His father had once mentioned that the Dark Lord and Draco's grandfather Abraxas Malfoy had known each other in school, so that would make him something like seventy, wouldn't it? He supposed that did make the Dark Lord the closest thing to Harry's age that he could get, and still have someone who looked youthful and attractive.
But looks and mental maturity weren't everything. A relationship was about an emotional connection as well. How could anyone successfully form an emotional connection with someone like…
Draco closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head and once again trying to force the uninvited thoughts from his mind. Merlin forbid he actually think something like that with the Dark Lord around. Draco was more than aware from his father's warnings that the Dark Lord held no reservations against scanning the minds of his followers for any signs of deception, whenever he pleased to do so.
Draco glanced back at Harry debating between summoning an elf to get a pillow and blanket, or just trying to wake his friend up. He looked exhausted. Draco bit his lower lip thoughtfully, but before he had the chance to make up his mind, the sound of footsteps from beyond the main hall caught his notice.
Some deeply engrained instinct from years of sneaking around the manor late at night when he wasn't supposed to be out of bed, drove him to quickly dart back to an alcove along the wall and crouch down in a darkly shadowed area where he wouldn't likely be seen, but he could still see Harry.
The second he'd done this, he rolled his own eyes at himself, and was about to stand back up and just face whoever it was that was coming when the door to the library opened and Draco found himself frozen, motionless instead.
Standing there, peering around the door, was the Dark Lord. He glanced around for a moment before his eyes fell upon Harry, sleeping at the main study table. He seemed to heave a sigh and shake his head minutely before pressing forward and striding over to where Harry had fallen asleep.
The Dark Lord slowed and seemed to examine the books scattered across the table, reaching out and picking up the old book that had lay just beyond Harry's head. He observed it for a moment before closing it and slipping it inside his own robes. He then reached out, running his fingers over the table's contents and shuffling about a few of the other books before pulling the notebook out from under Harry's face, not seeming to care if this action jostled Harry any.
He looked over the notebook, seemed to snort and roll his eyes.
"Stubborn bloody idiot. Can't bring yourself to ask for help, can you?" he muttered under his breath before setting the notebook back down and reaching out to touch Harry's shoulder. A contented sounding sigh seemed to slip from between Harry's partially parted lips at the touch.
The Dark Lord leaned over somewhat and gently shook the younger-looking wizard. "Harry, wake up.
"Mmm?" Harry seemed to hum in question.
"It's after midnight and this is no place to be sleeping. Plus, you've got ink smeared all across your cheek now."
"Whuh?" Harry muttered inarticulately as he finally pushed himself up somewhat and blinked owlishly into the darkness before turning his head and looking up at the Dark Lord, standing there beside him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, tiredly, as he reached his arms up and stretched them back, twisting his neck to the side and causing it to make a popping sound. The Dark Lord grimaced at that.
"Lucius mentioned earlier that you'd spent your whole day in here and I was curious as to whether or not you'd found anything of interest. Instead, I found you sleeping here, drooling on your notebook," the Dark Lord said dryly.
Harry let out a small chuckle and shrugged. "Not sure if I've found anything interesting yet. It's going a bit slower than I'd hoped."
"Because you can't read Latin," the Dark Lord stated in exasperation. He reached forward and picked up one of the Latin dictionaries, holding it out in front of Harry, and giving him an unimpressed glare.. "This is idiotic, Harry. It will take you ages to get through it, working like this. If you intend to translate the whole bloody book into English, then just let me translate the damn thing for you."
"I don't want to bother you with this," Harry said, shaking his head.
"You do realize you're being an idiot, right?"
"You've got far more important things on your plate right now than my —"
"Shut up, Harry, before my opinion of your intelligence is affected. Now get up and lets get you into your bed."
Harry chuckled and sighed, standing somewhat dizzily, reaching out and steadying himself on the Dark Lord's shoulder. "I'd much rather get into your bed."
A light laugh could be heard from the Dark Lord. "That can be arranged. But are you awake enough to apparate to my manor yourself, or will you endure me taking you by side-along?"
Harry yawned. "I think I can tolerate the trip with you for once."
The Dark Lord began to guide Harry out of the library but stopped and seemed to pause in thought for a moment before a quiet huff could be heard from beneath his breath.
"Draco, do make yourself useful and gather up Harry's things and take them to his room. Inform your father he's staying with me," the Dark Lord called out as he resumed leading Harry forward.
Draco felt his whole body jolt with horror at having apparently been discovered.
"Oh! We'll be back tomorrow to nullify Marvolo's contact," Harry called out over his shoulder.
"We will not!" the Dark Lord snapped.
"I got the new contract from my solicitor by post today," Harry was saying along with another yawn as the two finally reached the doors and the Dark Lord pulled them open.
The taller and considerably more intimidating of the two wizards seemed to let out a frustrated huff. "Fine," he bit out in annoyance. "Tomorrow afternoon," he said more loudly, clearly intending this to go to Draco as well.
"Y-y-yes my L-lord," Draco called out, shakily, standing to his full height just long enough to bow, not that either of the other wizards saw it as they were through the doors and gone a moment later.
Draco stood there dumbly for several moments longer before he groaned and reached up to smack himself in the face with his palm. He sighed, pulled himself together, and walked over to the table to gather up Harry's things, wondering what the book was that Harry was apparently translating.