Chapter 15

BETA: the wonderful Krysania


Harry straightened his tie after emerging from the fire-place at the grand Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, Snape's instructions clutched in his hand.

The Headmaster had summoned him on an early Saturday morning, and informed him that Voldemort's secretary wishes to see him. Snape told Harry that he will be serving out his detention by working (between his classes, off course) for Voldemort's office during the next two months.

"And if you should fail to execute any of your given tasks— big or small— to perfection," threatened the Headmaster in his usual dour drawl, before shoving Harry into the fire-place. "I would be more than happy to assist by cutting off your hand and mailing it to his Lordship with a note of apology, written in your own blood. So...behave, boy. Understand?"

By Salazar, why does that man hate him so?

Harry sighed. He can't afford to make more enemies. He had spoken to Tom about the curious conversation he overheard between Voldemort and Snape. After which, they both agreed to stop their extra-curricular activity for a while, at least until Tom received some concrete information from his spies.

He didn't tell Tom about the Cruciatus, though. For some reason, Harry didn't think Tom will take that particular revelation well.

The spirit has been oddly protective of him lately. With Harry, Tom has been ...touchy, possessive, and... affectionate even. Their relationship was... weird lately. Intense, more so than normal. Oddly titillating perhaps, although Harry did not dare to move any closer to the dark spirit, no matter how... persuasive Tom can be.

Still, Harry suspected, judging from the silent rage in Tom's eyes, Tom knew exactly what happened with Voldemort.

But, luckily, Tom didn't press the issue. He only made Harry promise to behave. To stay away from trouble. To avoid Voldemort's attention at all cost.

It was good advice. But Harry can't agree to it.

As Sun Tzu so wisely wrote, 'keep your friends close but your enemies closer'. After all, one cannot catch fish without some bait.

And Harry didn't mind being bait. As long it was on his own terms, off course.

Harry stopped in front of the stone monument, impressively tall with its columns spanning to the ceiling, set in the middle of the circular Atrium and gazed up at it.

A gigantic statue of black stone dominated his view. It was rather frightening, this vast sculpture of a witch and wizard sitting on ornately carved thrones, looking down at the Ministry workers toppling out of the fireplaces below them. Engraved in foot-high letters at the base of the statue were the words MAGIC IS MIGHT; MIGHT IS MAGIC. Harry looked more closely and realised that what he had thought were decoratively carved thrones were actually mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked bodies, men, women, and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces, twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed wizards. *

Muggles, in their rightful place. Harry grinned. Subtle.

There were seven golden arches that lead out the Atrium. Five for each of the Departments, one for the executive office and one for the chamber of Wizengamot. The seven departments were kept separate and buried deep in underground London. The only places they converge was in the grand Atrium, right at the foot of this monument, where streams of wizards and witches rushed about like ants crawling in their crowded nest.

Harry surveyed the arches. The five Departments were easy to recognize. High above each corridor, the names of their destinations and the mottos that each pertain were curved into stone wall in large, bold letters.

For the Department of Plenty, the motto "LESS IS MORE; MORE IS LESS."

For the Department of Peace, "WAR IS PEACE; PEACE IS WAR."

For the Department of Truth, "IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH; STRENGTH IS IGNORANCE."

For the Department of Unity, "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; SLAVERY IS FREEDOM."

For the Department of Love, "LOVE IS AUTHORITY; AUTHORITY IS LOVE."

Harry knew these mottos by heart. As did everyone. Because in New Britain, propaganda is education. And, if the unquestioning loyalty and adoration for Voldemort have not been bred into the new generation already, they sure as hell as going to beat it into you.

Harry stared at the corridor facing of him. Above its arched gateway, there hang a ten-foot tall painting of a familiar face. A face made-up of inhuman features, skeletally thin and skin as white as chalk; eyes the colour of blood, and snake-like with black pupils that constrict into a vertical line. Its thin, pale lips curled, as it sneered down upon his subjects, who cowered as they scurried pass the gateway, with their heads down, as if a mere misstep would trigger, down on their feeble heads, the wrath of the King.

A face... so familiar as if it crawled out from nightmares. From Harry's nightmares.

Harry looked at the note in his hand, sighed again and walked to the corridor beneath the gigantic painting, as Voldemort's red-eyes seemingly following his every step.


Harry was received by a young woman with a blonde pony-tail, dressed neatly in a standardized Ministry black robe. He handed her Snape's note, after which she gestured for him to sit down by a row of leather sofas that lined the walls.

Harry nervously glanced around the room, half-expecting Voldemort to pop-up from behind a plant pot, then Crucio him again.

Opulence was suspiciously absent from the room. The outer wing of Voldemort's office was sleek and modern— and simple —with brightly-lit lights bouncing off wooden walls and few monochrome furniture. So plain and boring that Harry could almost imagine all the colourful things Narcissa can spew about its designer.

Then again no one ever complained to the Dark Lord about his decor taste, probably... Even if it was terrible.

"Alright, Mr. Malfoy. Everything seems to be in order here," announced the woman cheerfully. "And yes, I was expecting you today. I have your assignment, right here."

She handed him a heavy parchment scroll. The large Ministry of Magic wax seal centered on its length, blood red against white pages.

"Thank you, Miss—?"

"Miss Talberry," she smiled. "Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Malfoy."

Then, she just stood there, smiling sweetly, and stared at him. Harry blinked and stared back.

"Er...Right...Are you the Dark Lord's secretary?"

"Oh, no. Mr. Malfoy," replied Miss Talberry pleasantly. She was quite pretty, tall and tanned, with a dimple on her left cheek. "I'm no one of that importance. I'm the secretary of his secretary. Don't get to see his lordship all that often, I'm afraid—" she winked at him. "—and you're suppose to open that. Read it. And let me know if you have questions."

"Er...Right," said Harry as he crack open the scroll. Then, without meaning to, he continued. "Is...is he always so scary?"

She stared at him a little longer until Harry turned beet red. Then, she burst out laughing, a very pleasant, normal chime that, strangely, helped calm Harry's nerves. The parchment stretched out in his hand, and Harry began inspecting it carefully.

It seemed that he wouldn't have to face Voldemort after all.

Harry couldn't tell if he was relieved or disappointed.

"Do you speak your mind always? Mr. Malfoy," teased Miss Talberry. "I would imagine that... being from such a prestigious pure-blood family... they would have bred honesty out of you a long-time ago."

"Half-blood, actually," replied Harry without looking up. "I'm adopted. Although if you were implying that I lack the proper social tact required of a Malfoy, Miss Talberry, I'm sure Lucius would agree with you whole-heartily."

"Not that I give a hoot about Lucius' opinion," continued Harry, his eyes moving over the parchment rapidly.

"Hm... So my duty is to be... fact-checking? The assignment consists of cross-referencing the event planning for the Commemoration Dinner with Ministry guideline and regulation... Presumably, the event planning has already been completed, then? And... What?... You want me to go through the law books to make sure every detail has been checked-over?... Tedious work, for sure, but not too difficult. I'm sure I can handle it. But... But does that mean the Ministry plans on sending me the details for the Commemoration Dinner. ALL the details?! I mean... Really? That's rather reckless... Since— a lot of important people are expected to attend, aren't they? Like all department heads, diplomats, and even the king himself. So security... must be the primary concern in such plans. It also must be a pain to deal with... And complicated... And classified."

"Hm... Thus, surely— I mean, not that I expect an explanation, but— Why exactly does his Majesty wish to entrust such sensitive information to me?"

As soon as the words let his mouth, Harry realized something was wrong. He had not intended to say his thoughts out loud. And his brain had never frozen so much in front of a pretty girl. Harry breathed a deep breath. Against his back, the sofa's soft leather felt warm, and tickling.

He jumped up.

"Ah, I see why he likes you," chuckled Miss Talberry; her smile unswerving and her eyes beautiful in their piercing, steely blue. "His lordship always appreciated intelligence. You noticed the truth charm on the sofa, I presume...? Not a very powerful spell, I'm afraid, easy to resist once you notice it's there. Too bad though— honesty is so much funnier, wouldn't you agree, Mr. Malfoy?"

"Not from my experience," answered Harry cautiously.

It was true; now he knows where to look, Harry felt the light magic lingering on the creamy sofas, a faint presence; weak enough to be inconspicuous but strong enough to be suggestive. Simple. Sometimes the simplest plans are the most brilliant.

"Is that all, ma'am?"

"Yes, all your assignment details are there," she pointed to the scroll in his hand. "The complete sets of Tomes of Wizarding Laws and Ministry Regulations can be found in Hogwarts library, from which you're expected to draw the comparisons. Like you said— it's just clerical work. Shouldn't be too difficult for a bright Slytherin lad... As for the reasons— Why! My dear— I haven't faintest the clue. His lordship works in most mysterious ways... And I'm just a sectary's sectary."

"Although," grinned the young woman, the plastic smile seemed to have imprinted on her face forever. "Mr. Malfoy, a piece of advise— better watch your tongue around his lordship. Stronger men have died for less."

"Good-luck," she called, as she sent him out the door. "Oh, one more things...I'm afraid the plans are rather detailed and lengthy. I'll be sending the rest of the scrolls by owl— All thirty-one of them."


/Past/

A week had passed since the incident at the barn with Tom, Dobby, and the dead woman, yet young Harry couldn't believe how little things had changed.

The Malfoys had returned from their vacation, and looked slightly tanned (which just mean they turn a shade mildly darker than ghastly pale, similar to the colour of old parchment paper). Narcissa had been very angry to find that their "empty-headed harlot" of a governess quit suddenly and left "her poor babies to fend for themselves in this barren hole."

Then, things just sort went back to normal. Lucius disappeared into his role as the workaholic absentee father; Narcissa as the dotting but equally busy mother; Draco...no... Tom as the spoiled but insecure young heir; and Harry as the outsider. It was amazing how great of an actor Tom is— he played the role of a bouncing, naive little boy so well that he fooled even the boy's own mother. Sometimes, as Harry stared at Draco hanging off Narcissa's wrist while begging her for a new broom, he couldn't find a trace of the dark spirit in the blonde boy.

The boy just acted so much like Draco... So much like his brother that it hurts...If it wasn't for the newly-acquired lightening-shaped scar on his forehead, Harry could almost convince himself that night never happened.

Expect it did happen. The oath, the murder, the ambitions that have been planted. Harry knew he could not return to being a helpless little orphan, one that submits to his parents' murderer in exchange of a vacant lie of a life.

No— Not after he had glimpses of real power. Through Tom's power, Harry saw glimmerings of the means toward his impossible goal. Glimmerings... Almost like hope.

So Harry was determined to convince Tom to be on his side. Too bad Tom spent all week avoiding him, until —

Until Harry's opportunity finally came, although... not in the way he hoped.

Harry awoke, lying on his side. His face pressed against the cold marble floor. A blind-fold covered his eyes and his arms tied behind his back. The young boy wiggled his arms. The knots were tight, he couldn't move a muscle.

Harry sighed.

"TOM," shouted Harry into the darkness. "Stop being so overly dramatic. I get it. You're scary. I'm powerless. Oh, spare me the game. For it has been done before—"

Only silence answered.

"TOM," Harry tried again, carefully evening out his tone so it doesn't seem angry... well, too angry. "Since I already know it's you... COULD YOU TAKE THIS BLOODY THING OFF ME?! YOU ARSE—"

The blind-fold was suddenly yanked off him and Harry squinted into the candle-lights.

"I should've gagged you instead," murmured Tom. His red-eyes glowed vividly in the darkness.

"Hello, brother dear," greeted Tom, causally as if they were chatting by the dinner table. The blonde-boy stood in the middle of a dark room that Harry did not recognize, with scattering of books and candles floating around him. "Lovely to see your spirit so lively. Annoyingly so, as always—"

"Why can't you just talk to me like a normal person," grumbled Harry. He tried to stand up, but his feet were numb and he tripped.

Tom caught the boy before he hit the ground. He pulled the boy back against his chest, holding him tight. Their shadows wavered in the warm candle-light, body against body, two elongated shades that merged into one.

The spirit's touch was cold, like the embrace of a dead person. Harry shivered inadvertently.

"Scared?" Tom smirked.

"Not at all," Harry tried to shake the other off, but Draco's thin arms were surprisingly strong. "Why should I? You can't hurt me. The oath—"

"Ah, the oath," whispered Tom, as his lips brushed against Harry's ear. The spirit's breath was also cold, chilling in its lifelessness. Harry felt his knees go weak, so Tom held him tighter.

"The Vassalage Oath... A curious piece of old magic. I must admit that I was surprise when you first demanded the oath. Old Magic. Imagine that. Off course, only a silly little boy in his desperation would dare to dabble in something which he does not understand."

"What! I—"

"Shhh," soothed Tom. The spirit raised one finger and put it very close to Harry's cheek.

"It's rude to interrupt, Harry, love. Listen... It's true you surprised me that day. I must congratulate you on that... Not many grown men managed to faze me so. You see, brother dear— I miscalculated. Old Magic. Love... HA! I'm afraid I overlooked an important matter... Your mother died in the attempt to save you— and unwittingly provided you with a protection I admit I had not foreseen... I could not touch you." *

Tom laughed, a humourless sound that echoed in the room. Harry felt his magic flare in anger, but he forced it down.

No, not yet. He still needs Tom. He must do as the spirit says if he wants Tom's help. Submit himself. Because...now... only his goal matters.

"Silly mistake... And it almost cost my life," continued Tom. "Such pain... Pain beyond pain. Aaah, I always knew love was a most terrible thing. But... thanks to you, my friend, thanks to your blood, I survived. Now, as I held your blood within my— brothers bonded by blood... oh, the irony — so now the lingering protection your mother once gave you also reside in my veins too... Now... I can touch you— "

Harry felt the cold tip of the slender finger stroke his forehead. The lighting-shaped scar burned and Harry thought his head would burst with the pain. He screamed. Tom laughed softly in his ear, then took the finger away and turned Harry around to face him. *

For a moment, all Harry could focus on was the glowing scarlet eyes, as he could see his own face reflected in them, pale and feeble, childish.

"Oh look, you're bleeding," Tom pointed to Harry's forehead. "So sorry—" before Harry could blink, Tom leaned in and licked the blood from his cheek. "There— all better," the blonde grinned, blood stained his lips.

"Where are we?" asked Tom. "Right, the oath. Clever trick, at the time. But... you made one critical mistake, Harry."

"You see... You should've insisted on formulating the terms of the oath yourself. Words are always up to interpretations, boy, and thus, so are oath... So while it is true that I swore to protect you... I never state to what extend... Thus, say if you had an accident — even a fatal accident — during my physical absence, I'm sure the terms of the oath remain satisfied... Regardless if you lived or died. See... With promises, there are always loopholes. That's why the Vassalage Oath has fallen out of favour... For it was highly— and I mean highly— unreliable. Well, that, and due to the death of honour—"

Harry stared at Tom as the spirit spoke. His small body trembled with rage and dread, but Harry tried to keep his face neutral. He mustn't give Tom the satisfaction of seeing him so shaken. Harry berated himself for feeling hurt, for feeling betrayed, because he should've expected this. After all, the spirit himself warned Harry against trusting others. And yet, somewhere deep in his subconscious, Harry still held out a thread of hope for Tom Riddle, the boy who lived in a diary, the boy who was the friend that he so desperately needs.

But, in the end, hope, not death, is what will destroy the strongest wills.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Never again, Harry thought to himself, never again shall I open my heart to anyone. Never.

"Why?" asked Harry quietly.

"Why?" repeated Tom.

"Why do you want to kill me, Tom?" snapped Harry. Harry felt his magic crackling around him and his fear receded. He looked up, right into the ruthless redness of the other's eyes. He held Tom's gaze defiantly."I've offered my service to you. And I meant it. I'll do whatever you ask... Whatever. What more do you want, Tom?"

"Tempting," said Tom after a moment of silence. He leaned into Harry, his eyes capturing the other's face hungrily. Tom licked the blood from his lips. "Oh...Oh, very tempting. Such beautiful eyes. Such fire... Would be a shame to see it die, I'd imagine. But... No... You see... Harry, potential is like fire. It's always dangerous... even in the form of a thin, poor, little orphan."

Tom pressed his cold lips to Harry's ear, and whispered, tenderly.

"Sorry, love— I'm afraid that I just... I just can't spare an enemy who had beaten me... However fluky the victory—"

With that, Tom pushed Harry to the floor. Harry tried to kick and fight, but, with a snap of his finger, Tom summoned a large viper, which wrapped its cold body around Harry and over-powered the boy easily. The snake was huge, with spiky green scales and hunger yellow eyes. Its muscular body tightened around Harry like an iron cage, pinning the boy to the floor.

Tom began walking toward the door. He hissed, "Aritimussss, my pet. Take care of the boy for me. Once I leave the room, usssse your venom to kill him. But... Ah...Do it quick."

"Yes, masssster," the snake bobbed its head at Tom and slithered around Harry. Its scaly body coiled tight against Harry's rib cage. The pain snapped Harry out of his stupor.

"You fucking COWARD," screamed Harry at Tom. He writhed on the floor, desperately trying to get loose from the viper. In his anger, Harry didn't even realize his words turned into hisses that swept through the room like wind. "At leasssst have the fucking courtesy to DO your own dirt deeds yourself, you filthy LIAR!"

The viper rose up and blinked stupidly at Harry. "Massssster?" it hissed.

Suddenly, Tom halted. He turned around, eyes focused on the boy thrashing on the floor.

"What did you saysssss?"


Author's ramblings:

* Adapted from Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows and Goblet of Fire. The government stuff is from 1984. Thanks Jo and George.

Parseltongue

Sorry for the hiatus. I had school and work and life... but then again don't we all?... So it's just more excuses... and I'm sure no one's interested in my grumblings, so I'll end it here.

Special thanks to my reviewers— Relent1ess, Cynical0range, Arbitrary Doom, Guest, sheetamoon, phoebe turner, Ain soph auir, Lahel, EMERALD69, Cupcak3, thebellowingpixie, Senior Tomarry, Guest, Restricted, Colette Hyuga, Shadoween, AzraelLilith, FemmeFerret, xDarklightx

And, as always, a huge shout-out to my BETA, Krysania !


Not-a-blooper

Tom: Fuck, why are you so hard to kill?

Harry: (:P) Indeed, I bet Canon!Voldemort wanted to ask the same thing.

Tom: Yes, but why?

Harry: Because I'm the main character, that's why. You see, there's a reason that these books are not titled "Tom Riddle and the Massacre of Muggles".

Tom: ... Fuck you.

Harry: (:o) Now, that's not very nice. Anyways, why do you always tie me up?... Are you into BDSM or something?

Tom: ...

Harry: (;D) Hey, I don't judge. Live and let live, I always say.

Tom: Oh? So...you want to know about my personal life?

Harry: (nod)

Tom: (smirk) There's only one way to find out— Come here. I'll show you.

Harry: (O_o)

Tom: (evil smirk)

Harry: ... (run-away)