12. To Listen is to Learn
Harry was standing in front of a cosy little fireplace, the fire within it was merrily roaring away and the resulting smoke was whisked away by various wards and charms. Harry frowned. Not at the fire, for that was perfectly ordinary. He was frowning because he was in his mindscape, or he seemed to be. He didn't remember relaxing into this state, as he usually had to, nor had he seen his forest.
There were other things too, small changes or inconsistencies that any lesser person would not have noticed: the rugs on the floor looked newer than he usually imagined them, there was a subtle hint of silver about the place too, there was an extra potion on his shelf and a book missing from his glass covered bookcase. All purely decorative, apart from the book, this was his mind after all, but still different.
"Whilst entertaining for me, this book serves no purpose."
Harry froze, he had definitely not missed any invading presence, so how could anybody else be here?
"Impossible," he stated in disbelief, turning around to face a man that had certainly not been casually lounging on Harry's armchair a few moments ago.
"There is evidence to the contrary," Voldemort said nonchalantly, red rimmed eyes flickering up to consider Harry as he snapped the book in his hands shut, "besides, nothing is truly impossible."
Harry pulled himself together underneath the intense stare.
"No doubt you wish to know how I am here, I'll tell you this," Voldemort said as he waved away his book back away to its place on the bookshelf, "If you cannot find out for yourself, I would be rather disinclined to tell you anything of importance."
Harry clenched his jaw in frustration, and also to stop it from hanging open. The Dark Lord was... different to how he had seen him in the graveyard, he still had his high cheekbones, but his nose was straight and strong, his lips were a bit fuller and his skin had a bit more colour to it. The biggest noticeable difference was the fact that Voldemort now had hair. Dark brown, almost black, hair framed the man's face in loose curls that just brushed the tops of the man's ears; he looked about mid-to-late twenties. He looked human.
Harry cast his eyes about him again, "This is not my mind," he said slowly. His eyes flickered back towards his bookshelf and his brows furrowed together, "at least, not entirely."
Voldemort still looked disinclined to answer him, the idea was an interesting one; were they somehow sharing minds? He had created his mindscape with the Chamber of Secrets in mind and he was pretty sure that it had been a certain Tom Marvolo Riddle (an anagram, could anyone really miss that?) that had been responsible for letting the basilisk run amok the first time, so he must have seen this chamber too. That would certainly explain the newer rugs and extra items.
Talking of extra items, "Pettigrew re-grew his hands?"
Harry posed it as a question, imitating Voldemort's own uncaring atmosphere, this earned him a blink, "It was necessary."
It was not as complete an answer that he had been hoping for, but it was more than he thought that he was going to get. Harry grimaced slightly at Voldemort's cruelty, restoring the man's hands only for one of them to be lost again, he then scowled as he realised that he had felt sympathy for the rat.
Then there was a sudden shift in atmosphere, and scenery. The silver accents to the room were becoming bolder, and green was starting to make its way into the otherwise bland space. Harry eyed the Dark Lord with suspicion, which turned into fury as he realised what the man was trying to do. He immediately imposed his own will and presence on this mental space around him. Harry felt a flash of uncertainty as he noticed Voldemort's amused expression and the challenge that burned in his eyes.
Harry was losing, Voldemort had years of experience on his side, the room was becoming unfamiliar as Harry's grip on it slipped. He needed to focus on somewhere the Dark Lord had never been before, somewhere where Harry would have the advantage. He flashed a bright smile as an idea struck him, using Voldemort's momentary confusion to yank them into Dudley's second bedroom.
Strangely enough, the chair that Voldemort was sitting on remained under him and the sight of the grand chair in the Dursley household was sufficiently absurd to negate Harry's anger.
"Impressive, little Evans," Voldemort said with an irritatingly pleased smirk on his face, Harry felt the warm flush of victory leave him as he wondered whether or not Voldemort had held back simply to test him. He didn't like this feeling of uncertainty.
"I think I understand," he said, "we are sharing a dream of sorts, made possible because we share some sort of connection. I know that my curse scar is somehow connected to you, since I have inherited abilities that no Potter should possess, but as this," he gestured between Voldemort and himself, "has never happened before, I would think that it has been strengthened by the blood bond we now share."
Voldemort gave him an appraising half smile, his eyes had yet to leave Harry which gave him cause to fidget, but he stopped himself from doing so, "Correct, more or less."
Inexplicably, Harry felt a rush of pride at those words and he had to fight very hard to stop it from showing on his face, opting to offer up a small scowl in its place. He banished the emotion from his mind and instead focused it on obtaining answers, "Why did you need Pettigrew? I know you had another one faithful to you at the time, the one who retrieved him. We were having so much fun together you see, it was a shame that it was cut short."
"Ahh yes, he was in quite a state wasn't he? I doubt he enjoyed your games," Voldemort smirked, though he didn't mention his thoughts to Sirius' and his duelling skills, for which Harry was thankful, "my other already had an important role to fill, he couldn't possibly have done both jobs himself."
Harry's brain put two and two together, "so it was a Death Eater impersonating Moody, he did seem a bit off."
"He is not a particular fan of children."
"Why did you place him within Hogwarts? He was little to no use to me in completing the tournament."
Voldemort raised an elegant eyebrow, "The tournament you would never have competed in if not for him?"
Oh, so it had been Moody, Harry had had his suspicions, but he could tell that there was something more, he could have just imperiused someone to do the very same thing for him, "and what was he doing for the rest of the year?"
There was a pause this time, "You do not need to know."
Harry bristled in indignation but stopped himself from voicing it, Voldemort was an unknown, he had given little away, other than he was sane, powerful and a genius, he was still very volatile, what did the man hope to gain with this interaction?
"I have been told by one of my inner circle of the tragic tale of the boy-who-lived, so called. You have certainly gone to great lengths to obscure your ability and purpose from the rest of the world," Harry cocked his head to the side at the change in subject, "apart from, it seems, a select few."
Harry remained impassive as he considered the purpose of those words, "You know Luna?"
Voldemort narrowed his eyes, "I know of Luna, her father is quite unhinged, if my memory serves me correctly." Harry made to speak again, but Voldemort cut him off, "I also know of this Cedric boy, the spare, and of the young Malfoy heir."
Harry nearly choked in shock, Draco had told his father? How? He was under oath. Unless the information hadn't come from Lucius, rather from Moody, whoever he really was, or... "Is Snape loyal to you, still?"
"Severus is many things, clever being among the best of them, I believe him to be a true Slytherin, loyal to himself above all else."
"Was it him who told you about Draco?"
"He also spoke that Dumbledore believes that I have returned, and danced around the subject when I asked if it that realisation had come from you."
There was a slight reprimand in the way Voldemort had spoken to him, and Harry felt slightly annoyed with it, "He had worked it out before I confirmed it, unintentionally, for him. He had the upper hand in that particular dance."
Voldemort seemed to accept this, or he didn't really care, either was possible, "I was also told that he believes you to be, hmm, under my thumb?"
Harry inwardly smiled at how Voldemort had hesitated over the muggle phrase, despite Harry knowing that the man knew it perfectly well, "that manoeuvre made it possible for me to take the lead and complete the steps."
"He trusts you?"
"More than he should do."
"He used to suspect you of harbouring Sirius Black."
Harry raised an eyebrow at the turn in conversation, "He doesn't anymore?"
"You are telling me rather a lot," Harry pointed out, more confused than ever that his pre-determined arch nemesis was freely giving away information.
"As I have already stated, you intrigue me little Evans," Voldemort flashed his teeth menacingly at Harry, who didn't know what exactly that entailed for him. He thought he would have preferred it if the man was simply trying to kill him, the interest of a Dark Lord was surely just as dangerous.
"Then you would be asking me questions, instead of answering them."
Voldemort lost his smile, but the amused glint remained in his eye, "From what I have seen, I do not believe that we have to be enemies."
"You killed my parents," Harry countered, before any emotion could make its way onto his face watching if the Dark Lord would show any remorse or uncertainty. Nothing, as suspected.
"And how different would you be now, if I hadn't?" Voldemort stood up suddenly, and before Harry had the chance to say anything, Dudley's bedroom had morphed back into the room in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry's version of it this time. No added extras. Harry looked at the man, bewildered.
"Goodnight, Evans. You are not properly sleeping whilst you are here and I believe the train back to London departs tomorrow morning."
That was thoughtful, Harry noted, duly surprised. " I can –" he stopped as he saw Voldemort's smirking face fade away into nothing, until he was looking at the opposing wall, "- sleep on the train."
Harry remained behind, glaring at the armchair that Voldemort had been occupying moments before as if it would give him the answers to the questions that whirled around his brain. Had he really been suggesting that Harry was better off because he had no parents on this earth to call his own? Did the man expect him to be grateful? It was too much of a headache, he yawned tiredly and was surprised at the action. Maybe Voldemort had been right, he certainly didn't feel rested enough to have been sleeping properly.
But how could they not be enemies? They had been enemies ever since the man had decided to kill his parents and seal his fate as a lone magical orphan among muggles for eleven years. The question of why Voldemort had decided to kill them remained in Harry's mind, he couldn't think of a reasonable explanation to that decision, Lily and James Potter had both been order members, but so had many other people at the time. Harry yawned again and admitted that perhaps he should get some decent sleep before trying to crack this little puzzle. He was about to leave the chamber when a little tome sitting innocently on his bookshelf caught his attention, too intrigued to leave it until the morning, he walked up to it and picked it up.
Harry weighed the book in his hands before eagerly opening it up, inside the cover was one word, printed in a bold, but otherwise understated print: 'Unnecessary,' and underneath it 'Vol. XII'
He flicked to the first page and widened his eyes in surprise as he was met with an overwhelming sense of sadness and regret, the page itself was filled with a single moving picture. Depicted was the strange disjointed dance of a burning acromantula. Harry quickly snapped the book shut to take a few deep breaths before plucking up enough determination to open the book again, this time to a different page.
Annoyance, accompanied with a picture of a half drunken cup of hot chocolate, Harry huffed and flicked forwards a few more pages. Satisfaction and triumph, accompanied with a picture of Albus too-many-middle-names Dumbledore. Harry kept this page open, enjoying the warm feeling in his chest until it faded away to nothing a few moments later. Confused, Harry looked back down at the page and found it to be blank, he turned to the next page and the page before, but they were filled with other sensations and Dumbledore's page remained irritatingly blank.
Curious, Harry turned to the next page, uncertainty coiled deep in his stomach as he remembered the conversation with Rasp following his victory over the Headmaster, he didn't enjoy the sensation, but he refused to close the book as he waited to see if it would die down. It did, and the picture of his familiar faded from the page, leaving it blank as well.
Harry looked back at the bookshelf, eleven identical tomes, lined up on a single shelf, twelve if he counted the one in his hand. 'Unnecessary,' Harry frowned, were these all the unwanted emotions that he had shoved away at every point in his life? His face fell as he remembered Voldemort with this final volume in his hand, he quickly found a page that dealt with Voldemort, in fact he found several, fear, awe, desperation, uncertainty and a little bit of respect. Harry let his head fall into his hand as he imagined Voldemort turning these pages. 'Entertaining' was the word he had used, bastard. He placed the book back on its shelf and resolved to empty them all as soon as possible, for now though he merely summoned a lock and reinforced it with heavy occlumency shields. Confident that no one would now be able to access it, even if they had somehow managed to get into his mind, namely Voldemort, he left his mindscape and cleared his head to fall back to sleep.
x ~ x ~ x
Harry had awoken that morning feeling more tired than he had the night before. He tried not to let this and the conversation he had had with Voldemort the night before affect this mood and though Rasp hadn't said anything to him, he knew that his mask was slipping.
Luna and Cedric had walked with him to the carriages that were to take them to the train platform, Luna was still obviously unhappy with Cedric, at least it was obvious to Harry. The girl kept engaging the russet haired youth in baffling and meaningless conversation, she was verbally running rings around him, Harry felt less than inclined to join in as Cedric was his usual charming self and refused to be phased by Luna's increasingly eccentric behaviour. They shared the odd look with each other as Luna went on, it seems that Cedric and Cho had broken up, if the glares that he was receiving from Cho were anything to go by. The girl was prone to fall into bouts of tears whenever she spotted Harry and Cedric holding hands, an increasingly familiar gesture.
"Look, there's one free over there," Cedric said softly, ignoring Luna's speech about European Nargles and their enmity with the right heads of runespoors and pointing to an unclaimed carriage.
Harry smiled back at Cedric, he had built up a certain amount of fondness for the hufflepuff and was continuously surprised at how little he got annoyed at the other boy, the two of them very nearly polar opposites after all. Cedric gently brushed his lips against Harry's knuckles before leading him towards the carriage.
"Thestrals really are beautiful creatures," Luna spoke up, "they are so very misunderstood," she added, morosely.
Cedric looked slightly confused at the topic, but Harry spoke before he had the chance to categorise it as another of Luna's made up creatures, "they pull the carriages. They look like winged horses I suppose, though their skin is more like leather."
"Okay," Cedric said with a raised eyebrow, looking pointedly between the front of the carriage and Harry.
"You can only see them if you have witnessed death," Harry explained softly, that was another thing he had been doing lately, slowly introducing Cedric to the fact that he actually knew a lot more than his grades suggested. The act would have to end next year anyway, though Harry had been happy with having poor grades in the years that had already passed, he knew that life would be that much easier for him if he accomplished Os in all of next year's OWLs. Now that he had Dumbledore fooled, he knew he could just pin the explanation for his rapid development squarely on Voldemort's shoulders.
Dumbledore had taken it upon himself to organise one final meeting between them just after breakfast this morning, with Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall in attendance, to discuss how Harry would have to be prepared for whatever Voldemort had 'planned for him' and for the battle that would surely ensue between the two of them that only one could survive. Those words were said with such finality that Harry knew there was another factor in play, even if they wouldn't discuss it around him. They had given him a stack of books filled with slightly advanced light defensive curses and told him to study each and every spell, memorising the incantations and wand movements. He would be able to practice them on return to Hogwarts. Other things were obviously discussed, but Harry had been dismissed by that point and he really didn't care to hear them.
Those books had carelessly been thrown in his trunk and he hated the idea that he would have to waste at least some of his time to memorise the spells for the teachers, even if he never would use them, he would bet away the promise of killing Pettigrew that he knew more powerful versions of each and every ward, charm, jinx and curse in those books.
Cedric looked towards him sympathetically, probably thinking that Harry's mind had wandered off to his parents at the mention of death. To Luna's chagrin, Cedric didn't spare her a single look as he climbed into the carriage, Harry couldn't help the smirk that made its way onto his face when nobody else was looking. Luna's eyes narrowed and she pouted slightly in response.
"Harry?" asked Cedric, offering his hand out to Harry to help him onto the coach. Harry smiled and took the hand with a grateful look on his face, he was slightly relieved when he also helped Luna clamber up the steps. She just had herself settled across from Harry and Cedric when the blonde head of one Draco Malfoy also appeared over the side of the carriage. Nonchalantly, he sat himself down quite comfortably next to Luna, recognising that the carriage was full, the pair of thestrals set off towards the platform.
Cedric spoke with wide eyes at the sudden member, "Wha-"
Draco fixed him with a haughty and slightly cold glare, "the other carriages were all full."
This time it was Harry's turn to widen his eyes, before they narrowed slightly in suspicion, the Slytherins would always leave room for their prince. What was Draco playing at? The platinum blonde ignored him, opting to continue glaring at Cedric. The hufflepuff started to fidget uncomfortably in his seat and Harry bumped his knee against him, giving the boy a small reassuring smile when it distracted him enough to look at Harry.
Luna looked fairly unconcerned at first glance, but it was obvious to Harry that she was not entirely comfortable with the Malfoy heir's proximity to her either. When it was just the three of them, the two bickered incessantly usually devolving into meaningless insults to do with blood purity and general snobbery, and Luna gave back as good as she got. The most amusing part for Harry was they actually worked extremely well together, Luna was thriving under Draco's duelling instruction and could easily win against most people in the school. In return, Luna was helping Draco research ever darker spells and potions in their free time, some of which Harry hadn't even heard of before. Harry had thought more than once that Luna was almost as good as Hermione seemed to be in regards to researching, she was also a natural with many darker spells and often helped Draco along, Harry would sometimes pay attention when he heard an unknown spell being tried and cast. It took him a few attempts at most to master a spell, a benefit of self teaching for years and years.
But Luna was obviously a bit unsure about how to handle herself around a fourth person. She settled for dreamily watching the scenery pass by.
"You will have to come and visit during the summer, I've got tickets to go and see the Montrose Magpies in July, you'll love it!" Cedric said happily, doing his best to ignore Draco.
Harry smiled, but replaced it with a frown after a while, "I would love to Cedric, but Dumbledore's saying that I can't leave my uncle's house for the summer, until I have to go to Diagon Alley. I'm really sorry," Harry said quietly, he hoped he could turn the hufflepuff against the old man at some point, why not start now?
Cedric's face fell slightly at his words, but he was soon back to his usual happy self, striking up a conversation with Harry about the Magpies and even trying to include Luna and Draco. The boy's ability to bounce back truly was incredible. Luna, surprisingly, responded, even admitting her allegiance to the Magpies, Draco haughtily refused to join in, not that Harry had expected otherwise. The boy was a Malfoy after all, he had a reputation to uphold, though he had now taken to glaring at Harry, demanding that they talk in private as soon as possible. Harry ignored him and joined in with Cedric and Luna's conversation.
It wasn't very long until they arrived at the platform, and all Harry could do was smile and shrug apologetically when Draco dragged him off to find an empty compartment on the train without the other two. He saw Cedric scowling at Draco and Harry had to admit that he quite liked the expression on the sixth year.
Draco pushed him into an empty compartment and closed the door rather forcefully after him. They stared angrily at each other for a moment before Draco started casting silencing and privacy charms around the compartment. Harry did stop scowling to raise an eyebrow at the level of the charms Draco was using, he could only think of one thing important enough to require such cautiousness.
"Stop it," Draco spat as soon as he had finished.
Harry drew his brows together, "Stop what?"
Draco's expression hardened, then softened as he saw the confusion evident in Harry's expression, "You," he started, before getting more furious than he had been to start with, "Whatever you're doing with Cedric."
Harry took a moment to sit down by the window and use the opposite bench as a footrest contemplating a non-violent reaction to Draco. His mood was dampened a bit now that he knew they were not going to discuss Dumbledore once again.
"It has to stop."
Harry considered Draco's frame in his peripheral vision, anger and confusion slowly draining out of him, leaving a tired weariness it their place, "On what grounds?"
Draco bristled at Harry's bored tone, they had had this conversation before. Draco and Luna had both been trying to convince Harry to break it off with Cedric, it was probably the one thing out of the acquisition of knowledge that they both agreed on.
"He thinks you're an idiot," Harry let his head loll back to rest against the seat and groaned softly, this was a very well rehearsed script.
"And that's offensive because that's exactly the image I haven't been portraying for years?" Maybe the sarcasm had been uncalled for, but Morgana, he was tired of this conversation!
"He treats you like an idiot and he doesn't know the real you."
Harry closed his eyes, "He does not treat me like an idiot. He has been nothing but sweet to me and you, despite your obvious hostility."
"Sweet?" Draco asked incredulously, Harry didn't need to see the blonde's face to know what expression he was wearing, "Do you really think he'll stay that way once he knows what a bastard you really are?"
Harry was up in a flash, slamming Draco into the door with the tip of his wand pressing firmly into his neck, "I don't need to worry about that, do I?"
"What the hell makes him so special?!" Draco hissed back vehemently, hiding his surprise and discomfort well. Harry pressed his wand into Draco's neck just a little harder, "It's not my secret to give now, is it? Has he clouded your mind that much, to make you forget that little oath?"
Harry nearly growled as he realised the truth in Draco's words, he released Draco and sat heavily back on his seat. Draco straightened his robes and sat opposite him, looking at him intently.
"He- I plan to ease him in," Harry said lamely, Draco didn't respond, his silence demanded a better answer, "he is from a light family, but he hasn't been completely corrupted by Dumbledore or the light yet. I believed he can be turned, as long as he comes to his own conclusions about it."
"Yet?" Draco said with a snort, "he actually is the epitome of light that you are pretending to be. Do you not think that that is the reason he was drawn to you, because he sees you as a kindred spirit?"
"People have switched allegiances before, look at Snape, at Karkaroff even Sirius bloody Black did it. A Black!" Harry had almost mentioned Pettigrew. He was losing control, but Draco somehow knew exactly how to rile him up, pushing all the correct buttons with pinpoint accuracy.
"And any conclusions he will come to will not be wholly his. I admit that he has some semblance of a functioning brain, so even he will be able to see your influence with enough time, what then?" Draco ignored Harry's defence, brushing it aside like an annoying fly. He must have picked that up from Luna.
"He will be useful for the cause," Harry growled.
Draco did growl this time, "What cause, to off Dumbledore? If he does switch sides with that little thought, then I must conclude that my earlier assumption of him having anything at all between those slightly oversized ears of his was completely incorrect!"
Harry made to speak, but Draco beat him to it, cutting him off and drowning him out, "But this whole line of conversation is pointless. It's not about Dumbledore, light or dark and his magical abilities, this is about you, and right now you are acting like blind, selfish little Gryffindor. Stop being an idiot and pull yourself together; the holidays have started, it's a perfect excuse, if you truly need one, for breaking up with the soft hearted golden boy. So take it, for magic's sake!"
Harry's eyes flashed something dangerous, "You seem to be getting a little big for your boots there, Malfoy. I acknowledged you as the better dueller, and I am helping you to get rid of your father's greatest enemy in return for training. But that is it, and we are in no way friends, so don't presume to stick your overly large nose into my business again."
"You are so infuriating," Draco said quietly with an unidentifiable expression on his face. He ran his hands through his hair in apparent frustration before adopting the customary blank mask.
"Get out Malfoy," said Harry harshly.
Draco hesitated as if he was struggling with something, but eventually stood up, "Potter," he nodded tersely before leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.
As soon as the door had clicked shut, Harry put up the strongest wards and privacy charms he knew before sending blasting curses at the seat Draco had been occupying.
~Calm yourself, hatchling.~
Harry stopped firing spells and was thankful to have remembered to erect a strong shield charm over the seats. The damage was therefore minimal; the fabric was scorched but easily fixed. Harry was breathing hard, his free hand was clenching and unclenching itself into a fist in an attempt to stop it from punching something.
~You are angry because he was correct and rational when you were not so? Humans are so difficult to understand,~ the small snake had found a way to Harry's shoulder again.
~I do not believe him to be wholly correct.~
~Of course not,~ Rasp hissed with a hint of derision.
~Cedric can be turned, I know it,~ Harry shot back, heatedly.
~You are chasing after something you cannot have, what would you say if I started hunting beetles?~
~Cedric is not a beetle.~
Rasp dived back under Harry's robes, ~And neither are you a snake, petulant hatchling. I know you comprehend my point.~
Harry did understand, but it was the one thing he wanted for himself. Cedric was so completely different to anybody he had bothered to get to know before, he was kind for no reason, he wasn't obsessed with what anybody else thought about him, there were no masks or lies or hidden motives. Harry felt that he could truly relax around the other boy, there was an easy camaraderie between them that Draco, Luna or even Rasp couldn't even match. He almost reminded Harry of Chiana, her utter devotion to him, her selfless behaviour and honesty. The mere thought of the silver-white serpent bought him to the brink of tears.
He was on an emotional low, he was surprised when he realised that he did actually think of Draco as a friend and that the same went for Luna. He was unaware of when he had started to care for them, but the fact that they were obviously unhappy with him sat uneasily in the pit of his stomach. They had even started calling each other by their last names again, perhaps Draco had been upset too and that was the reason he hadn't left in a righteous anger.
Harry rested his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers together, pinching the bridge of his nose with his two index fingers and he closed his eyes again, feeling a headache blossoming. He wished he wasn't on the train so he could retreat to his mindscape to ponder the issues that today had bought up. He was far too tired for this, he concluded, and he hadn't even had time to properly analyse his quasi dream encounter with Voldemort the night before, and how it had happened.
He must have dozed off, for he startled himself awake. Rasp was on the opposite chair regarding him, ~Good, it is about time you awakened.~
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, looking out the window for any indication of the time, finding none, he cast a tempus spell. He felt a stab of relief when he saw that he'd only slept for around forty five minutes.
~Where are Cedric and Luna?~ he asked wearily.
~Looking for you, I believe you have them worried.~
Harry stood up and spelled away the wrinkles in his robes. He held out his arm to Rasp so the little snake could slither up it and around his upper arm before taking down his various wards. He straightened his robes and walked out the compartment. He didn't have to walk far to notice Luna's shock of white-blonde hair.
"Harry!" the girl chirped with a small smile.
"Are you alright?" Cedric interrupted before Harry had the chance to reply.
"Yes, I'm fine, it –" Harry's next words were muffled as Cedric pulled him into a crushing hug.
"What did that Malfoy brat want?" Harry was a little surprised at the venom in Cedric's voice; that was the second time the hufflepuff had gotten angry on his behalf.
"I saved us a compartment," Luna said, a tell-tale glint in her eye was all Harry needed to know that she was unhappy at being left out, again.
Harry nodded subtly at Luna, telling her to lead the way whilst he gently coaxed Cedric after her. He tried to think of a plausible excuse for Draco to be dragging him off.
"Apparently McGonagall's putting us together next year for Transfiguration. He's making sure that I won't show him up," Harry said in response to Cedric's question.
"Here we go! I'll tell the Cyprian pixies to leave now," Luna said, looking directly at Harry.
Harry blinked back, Cyprian pixies didn't exist, Luna was talking about Harry's lies, "Aren't they creatures of the night? Isn't it best not to bring them out into the day?"
"They are stubborn," Luna smiled dreamily, both of them were ignoring the bemused and slightly confused look on Cedric's face, "but they will reveal themselves with the right amount of coaxing."
Harry hummed in response; he was not about to push Cedric away. The three of them sat down in the compartment, Harry by the window, Luna opposite and Cedric beside.
"Cyprian pixies?" Cedric asked, amusement evident. The boy was sweet, never seeming to get tired of Luna and Harry's – faked – oddities.
"Tricky little things! They're so two faced, so one you think you've befriended may well turn on you and bite you in the –"
"They're invisible most of the time, you would never even know they were there," Harry cut in.
Cedric didn't know how to reply to that and his mouth opened and closed a couple of times before he thought of something else to say, "So, what will the two of you be doing with yourselves over the summer?"
"Well," Luna said rather loudly, for her, "daddy and I are going hunting for Shatterclaw Mulpins, then we're…"
Harry smiled, relieved as he tuned out Luna's voice, glad that the Draco issue had been dropped for now at least. He felt Cedric's searching fingers curl around his own hand and rest there. He would be spending another summer at his uncle's house, the ill proportioned family knew full well to leave him alone by now, and he knew full well that he did not need magic to make people's lives a misery.
Only if he was provoked though. Harry was no bird to be caged.
x ~ x ~ x
Harry had a headache. He wasn't used to having headaches that he couldn't immediately cure with a potion, or at least relieve with a spell. He didn't like it. He had already raided the Dursley's medicine cabinet, gulping down a few aspirin tablets with a glass of lukewarm water.
"- nephew's home for the summer, nasty piece of work. Blame his parents for it, we send him to St Brutus' for the academic year. Every summer he comes back to us just as bad!"
Ah, so Vernon was back, doubtlessly with a couple of those company associates that he liked to try and gain favour with by 'entertaining' them for the evening.
"The poor thing! Surely he can't be that horrendous," a middle aged woman's voice drifted up the stairs.
"Now dear, Mr. Dursley here is a very reliable person. If he says that this boy is a hooligan, I believe him," a man, around the same age as the woman if Harry were to guess.
"Please, call me Vernon."
"It's not entirely his fault," Petunia had entered the conversation, she didn't treat Harry as badly as either her husband or her son, Harry neither knew or cared why, "my sister ran off with an idiot, they didn't know how to raise a child."
There was an uncomfortable silence and Vernon coughed slightly and moved the conversation along. Harry smiled, he no longer cared about the lies that his family spun about him or his parents, in fact, he found it rather amusing; their version of Harry's life. It also had the added bonus of everybody in the neighbourhood leaving him well alone.
He made his way back to Dudley's second bedroom, making sure to stomp all the way there and slam the door behind him. He did have to maintain his images as a 'nasty piece of work' after all.
He sat down and read his half written response to Cedric's letter.
Thank you so much for your gift! I'm sure this will help me tremendously in next year's transfiguration classes (I'm sure even Malfoy won't be able to find fault with me!)
I am glad to hear that you are well and have finished the book that I sent to you. Its contents struck a deep chord within me that I cannot help but want to act upon. Your opinions on it lighten my heart as much as the news of your good health.
I am ashamed to admit it, but you are correct, I do find myself to be unsettled when I am in close proximity to Dumbledore. There's just something about him that makes my skin crawl, I don't understand it. I know it sounds strange, especially when you consider that he has been inviting me up for tea quite regularly over the course of my Hogwarts career. Actually, no, it's ever since my accident back in first year. Maybe he knows something about it? Or about what happened to me afterwards?
I do hope that Black has forgotten about me by now. It's been half a year since he escaped and it's nearly the end of the holidays, surely if he wanted to come after me, he would already have tried to do so? I don't like to think about it.
I am… surprised to hear that you have started sending letters to Luna. I remember that it was quite difficult to get her to open up to me, but she is a stout friend and I would not wish for another. I am happy to hear of it.
He had yet to finish it. The book Cedric had given him was next to useless in the face of Harry's already advanced knowledge, but Cedric didn't know that. The fact that his friend… boyfriend?... had sent Harry a book at all was a clear indication that his plan to convert him was going accordingly. Cedric didn't think of him as an idiot anymore. By the end of the school year, no one would.
His plans would be rushed along due to Voldemort's reappearance. Whilst his guise had once allowed him the freedom he needed to research spells in the shadows, he needed now to put his plans into motion. For this he would gradually 'regain' his mental capacity to the point it had been before the 'incident' in his first year, and then some. Near the end of the school year he would construct an 'accident' in which his magical ability would be returned to him whilst simultaneously framing Dumbledore for his loss of it in the first place. He was still working on the specifics, but he was glad that he had at last figured out a plan that would see himself liberated from his disguise and show Dumbledore for the puppet master that he believed himself to be. Too bad that Harry had been busy cutting and swapping his strings.
Cedric was slowly coming round to the idea of a more neutral wizarding world. Harry's first step had been to reduce the Hufflepuff's faith in Dumbledore. The boy's latest response had shown that this step had been completed, the next would be to point out a few of the many flaws in the ministry. This would be a bit trickier as Cedric's father, Amos, worked for the department that essentially subdued magical creatures.
Harry tossed the letter aside, deciding that it could wait, Hedwig was off with Draco's latest letter and wouldn't be back until tomorrow anyway. He had a feeling that the Dursley's wouldn't want him at dinner, so he had a few hours before Petunia cooked him dinner, when the guests had disappeared, of course.
He removed a nameless small leather bound book from his shelf. There used to be a copy of it in the restricted section, but it had been 'removed' by an adolescent Sirius Black. The man had sent it along to him the first day of the holidays. He doubted the man had ever actually read it, he had sent along a note with it: 'I thought that this might be something you would enjoy, I hope you fare better than I.'
Harry still didn't understand how to open it.
He had tried every wandless revealing or opening spell he could think of, which was quite a few, but the little tome had infuriatingly refused to open. Sirius hadn't told him what it was about and Harry didn't want to lower himself to asking about it even if he thought he did know. Rasp was sleeping under the covers of his bed, enjoying the darkness of the covers and the warmth of Harry's heating charm.
"Open," he pleaded quietly, "Please open," the book sat there innocently, as Harry knew it would.
~Why do you keep talking to it, it has no way of speaking back?~
Harry glared at the snake, he had been of little use to him over the summer. Not that Harry felt particularly trusting of him.
~Be quiet if you won't be helpful,~ Harry hissed back.
Rasp blinked at him, ~You are still concerned with Riddle?~
Harry had to bite his tongue to stop himself from snorting, turning the book over in his hands, ~I am concerned with you, not Voldemort. My knowledge of him is the same as ever.~ That wasn't particularly true, that last bit, he was still confused about this more stable Dark Lord that he had encountered.
~What you know about me is the same as it has always been.~
~You knew the Dark Lord!~
~Once upon a time, I have nothing to do with him now.~
Harry gritted his teeth, an annoyed sigh leaving him as a hiss. He didn't believe the snake, didn't want to. Both of them knew it.
~I have been with you since you first discovered magic! I would not stay with you unless I absolutely wanted to.~
Harry shoved away the unwelcome twist in his gut when he remembered Rasp hissing in the Dark Lord's ears back at the graveyard, he turned his grief of the betrayal into anger and was about to blast his room into oblivion when he realised where he way. Taking the emotion and cramming it into a single page of one of his latest book in his mental hideaway. His face calmed and he withdrew the magic that had begun to swirl menacingly around the room.
~What did you say to him?~
Rasp looked away, Harry was caught unawares by Rasp's sudden uncertainty, ~Enough for him to let you live.~
~A foolish move on his part, he will die by my hand. But my question remains unanswered,~ Rasp was looked decidedly uncomfortable, for a snake, ~You are ashamed,~ said Harry quietly, not quite believing it himself.
Rasp snapped his head around to look at him, fangs drawn in a menacing challenge and his whole body tense, ready to attack, ~Yes,~ he said forcefully, ~Yes, I am ashamed.~
The snake slid off the bed and through a small hole in the wall that Harry had made for him years before. Harry slumped back onto his chair, dumbfounded.
"Who'd have thought?" he said quietly, "The old snake can feel something other than anger and self-assurance."
'Indeed, even our mentors are not always correct. They are not always right, faultless and infallible.'
Harry didn't even have the energy to feel shocked or angered by the Dark Lord's presence within his mind.
'What's this? No demands to 'get out' or, my favourite, 'what are you doing here?' Not even an attempt at defence? Perhaps I have overestimated you.' Voldemort's voice was mocking. Harry felt the old flare of anger reignite, 'Ah, that's better.'
Harry didn't know how the man had entered his mind yet again, he was certain that it wasn't legilimancy, he was far too good an occlumens to not feel a thing, besides, there were limitations, Harry and the Dark Lord were many miles apart, legilimancy couldn't work over those kinds of distances. Voldemort couldn't gain access to his most secret thoughts now anyway, Harry had made sure of that after their dream encounter.
'An interesting read you have there,' Voldemort said, Harry got the feeling that he didn't much like being ignored. He looked again to the book in his hand, irritation warred with curiosity.
"I doubt you have come here just to lecture me," Harry prompted, setting the book back down. What did Voldemort have to gain from these encounters?
'I am merely curious.'
There was a long pause, and Harry had given up on an answer when it drifted fleetingly into his mind: 'The words of an old friend.'
Harry abandoned reality and stormed into his own mind, set on demanding answers from the man, but found it devoid of any presence but his own. There was an addition, however.
Harry picked up the heavy piece of parchment from the small table in front of the fireplace, not recognising the elegant script as his own.
He reminds me of you,
Harry flipped the paper over, finding two more words on the other side.
That was it. Is that what Rasp had whispered to Voldemort that had granted Harry his life? Harry felt the bile rise in his throat at the thought of being considered merely on par with the Dark Lord, but he felt unsure on the meaning of the last two words. Better how? Better at killing and torturing, magic, strategizing or better as a person? He resolved to wring the truth out of the little snake as soon as he returned from his sulking.
Harry didn't feel like doing anything productive anymore, so he went to the cabinet and picked out 'Unnecessary, Vol. VII,' and started flicking through, spending the minimal amount of time on each page until it was blank.
It took him about an hour to finish the book, he still felt some residual anger, left over from the last page as he kept telling himself. He opened his eyes to the dreary reality of Privet Drive, immediately noting the raucous laughter from below; Vernon must be regaling his guests with one of his golfing jokes, not that the man had ever picked up a club.
Harry wished he was skilled enough with wandless magic to cast the complicated soundproofing charm on his room. Alas, for some reason, his magic refused to obey him in all but the simplest of wandless spells. He tried anyway, sighing bitterly when nothing happened.
'Because you don't want it enough.'
Harry blinked, surprised, "Back so soon?"
'Your self-pity makes me irritable.'
Harry snorted and let out a short bark of laughter, slamming his hands to his mouth as soon as he had done so. It was strange, the old anger he had felt towards the dark lord was waning.
"What makes you so curious?"
A pause, 'You are fishing, boy,' came the dark reply, but Voldemort must have sensed Harry's confusion as he did relent with an answer, 'Your mind, there are layers of it that even you are unaware of. I do enjoy watching a capable student realise new power.'
Harry bit his lip to stop his retort, Voldemort was giving him free information, again, and he wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. "Layers? I would think I know my own mind better than a stranger, and if you truly meant that, then you would be teaching at Hogwarts rather than trying to rule the world."
There was a vague amusement from the older man, 'I am not that generous, Evans. You will not get anything more of interest out of me.'
Damn. Harry hadn't thought his intent that obvious, but he was dealing with a dark lord, 'Besides, I would not want for you to lose your curiosity in me.' Smug bastard, Harry thought to himself when suddenly his mind was completely free of Voldemort. He tried calling out mentally, to no effect.
~Damn, smug conceited slytherin!~ he cursed loudly in parseltongue, ~he read me like an open book!~
There was a small surge in magic in the room, causing Harry to freeze and bring his wand to his hand, just in case. His eyes followed the small outburst to the little leather book he had thrown to the table earlier. The leather cover was no longer bare, but covered in small gold lettering, he couldn't help but stare in surprise when the nonsensical squiggles morphed into plain English.
"A parseltongue book," he said, face twisted into a wry grin. For all his wit and knowledge, he was still a fool.
"The Magical Purge, by SPS," Harry said with a small frown, and flipped open the first page. He judged by the sounds coming from downstairs that he had at least another hour and a half before Vernon's guests left.
A/N Hmm... a mysterious book. I'm not particularly happy with it, I'm feeling pretty unmotivated at the moment, I'm moving to uni within the next few days so I've kinda been a bit too excited about that recently. Well, as always, reviews are appreciated. Harry's true self will be starting to make an appearance to the rest of the world from now on.