The Dark Emperor

***

Voldemort heard footsteps in the passage outside his cell. The lock on his door rattled as a key was inserted and turned, and the door scraped open to admit Wormtail, his former servant.

"The Emperor wishes to speak with you, your Lordship," said the small man, his metal hand playing nervously with the large iron key. The fact that there even was a key to the door was completely symbolic, and almost made Voldemort want to laugh. There was a lot more than metal keeping him imprisoned there.

"Very well," he replied, "but don't keep calling me 'your Lordship'. I'm afraid those days are far behind us."

The two men walked down the dark stone passages toward the center of the underground fortress, the smaller one's hand never straying far from the pocket that held his wand. Never in his wildest imagination had he dreamed that someday he would have power over Lord Voldemort himself. Even the fact that he now did could not change the fact that the tall, gaunt man with the pale face and slits for eyes was terrifying.

They came out of a passage into a circular chamber at the heart of the fortress, lit by a faint red light emanating from some invisible source. The man facing the mirror on the opposite wall turned to face them as they entered.

***

What a pitiful sight: Lord Voldemort, the terror of the wizarding world, being led as a prisoner by Wormtail, the Dark Side's biggest coward. The Emperor cast them a cold stare. *I could have killed Voldemort long ago,* he thought to himself. *Perhaps I should have, but he has vital experience that I can use. He has come closer to death than I ever mean to, and has first-hand knowledge of things I never dreamed of. It would be a pity to let him go to waste. Yes, he has his uses, but he will never even come near a wand again. He tried to kill me too many times for me to trust him that far. I remember back then, when I was young and foolish and thought I was achieving something by fighting evil. I had a name then too, though now like Voldemort's no one dares use it: Harry Potter.*

***

The young man's cold green eyes the newcomers to the room for what seemed like an eternity. Then he spoke, his voice steely to match his gaze. "Ron Weaseley," he stated simply, and smiled inwardly at the blank look on Voldemort's face. "He is the key to our next move. Why? Because of two very important things. Firstly, he was my best friend when we were at Hogwarts together. Secondly, his sister Ginny still goes there. You, or rather Tom Riddle, used her once before, so you will be able to assist me in using her again. Ron I can take care of myself. Through them we can move against Hogwarts, the last stronghold in England. Come look in this mirror. It shows Hogwarts as it is right now. Almost the entire Ministry of Magic is holed up there for fear of us, and the place is like a rabbit warren. It is the perfect setting for our next attack: Operation Fox to chase out the rabbits."

He smiled inwardly again, this time at the name of his attack. He owed his knowledge of the military terminology to his cousin Dudley, but no one would ever know that. When Harry had begun to realize the truth about good and evil, Dudley was the first one to go. Since then he had stopped counting the victims, and *Avada Kedavra* now came as easily to his lips as *Wingardium Leviosa*. After a long silence, he turned to face Wormtail, who was still standing by the doorway. "That will be all, thank you. You may return Voldemort to his cell. I will summon you again when you are needed," he said briskly.

The pair departed, and the Dark Emperor sank into a chair. *I almost pity Wormtail at times,* he thought. *I suppose that's why I haven't locked him up like Voldemort. Though maybe it's because he was a friend of my parents, even as the fools that they were… Voldemort killed them. I could forgive him for trying to kill me, after all I was an inconvenience to his plans, but never for that.* He reached across the table and pulled a map of Hogwarts toward him. Then he picked up a quill and began sketching a plan in blood-red ink.