The wizarding world was in an uproar. Over the past six months things had been quiet- little Death Eater activity, no signs of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. It made everyone uneasy. Why wasn't You-Know-Who attacking? What was he waiting for? Was he really back?
The disappearance of Harry Potter merely confirmed many suspicions of him joining the Dark Lord. After all, there were no signs of struggle, and the muggles he had been staying with had been left behind. It was only natural to think that Harry had become the junior Dark Lord.
Hermione and Ron, in between the stress of classes, worried about what happened to their friend. Ron's family had forbade him to write to the boy, stating after some time that he could be deranged or not even know he was going mad. Not that it was happening, but that it could happen. Both teens thought the Weasley's mental, but as Hermione was staying with them for the summer, and Ron was their son, neither argued. It didn't sit well with them, though.
Once they found out he had disappeared, they at first thought he was going to contact them, let them know he was going after You-Know-Who. When he didn't after a few weeks, they started to worry that something had happened.
Now they sat in the common room, alone, early morning, neither talking. The fire had long since died to smoldering embers, taking with it the lights. The school had been incredibly subdued, especially considering most of Slytherin and quite a few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. Surprisingly there were even a few Gryffindors missing, though neither Hermione nor Ron knew them very well.
Hermione lay her head on Ron's shoulder. She looked exhausted. Her eyes were dark, her skin was becoming gaunt and drawn. Ron knew he looked no better. The war was wearing on them, and this waiting was almost worse than the fighting and death.
A sound behind them had them both spinning in their seats, their reflexes drawing their wands at the same time, curses at the tips of their tongues. Hermione was the first to move, her wand slipping from her fingers, a gurgled sound in the back of her throat.
The sight of Harry made Ron feel much the same way.
"Harry James Potter, where have you been!?" Hermione threw her arms around her friend, Ron coming up quickly to join them in a group hug.
Hermione pulled back and really looked at her friend. His eyes were guarded, his features schooled to a pleasant nothing, and he looked harder than he used to. Like there was a loss of innocence. Hermione backed up from Harry, quieting down, as Ron slapped him on the back.
Harry cleared his throat. "You guys look like hell," he said awkwardly.
"So do you." Ron took up the thread of conversation while Hermione observed. Something was...off, but she couldn't place it. "Seriously, though, where have you been? We've been going mad all summer. My mum wouldn't let us send you letters, and then we heard that Dumbledore said you couldn't go to school, and then there were the riots... The world is falling apart without you."
The boy who lived sighed heavily, taking a seat. He watched his friends jump, watching the gears in their heads turn as they realized they weren't in the common room, exactly. "You guys can have a seat. I don't know how much time you'll let me explain, but...I'd like to try."
It finally hit Hermione. The cut of his robes, the pendant glowing at his neck, the way he held himself... "The rumors are true," she whispered, shocked. "Aren't they?"
Ron looked between them. "What do you mean, Hermione, the rumors are true. This is Harry. He's a bit wacked sometimes, sure, but this is Harry."
Hermione kept her gaze on her friend. Old friend? Was he still a friend? Ron finally picked up on the atmosphere and looked back at Harry. "Harry man, come on, what's going on? I mean, you're just biding your time before the big fight between You-Know-Who, right?"
Harry kept his posture straight, hands folded in his lap, and met their gaze squarely. "Some of the rumors are true, yeah." He kept rolling, trying to keep himself from rambling, not giving them a chance to speak yet. "You don't understand, though. I'm not- well, serving him. I'm considered an equal. And he lets me do what I want, and has been curbing himself to be able to teach me. And it's not that bad- some of what he says makes sense, though I don't agree with all of it, and he's at least more honest than just about everyone else in my life and I know I'm rambling but you have to understand, there's more to this than just the rumors that I've joined Voldemort and am following him blindly, you know?"
Ron snapped his jaw shut, Hermione quickly following suit. "Harry, bloke, are you even listening to what you're saying? This is You-Know-Who we're talking about! You know, the man who killed your parents, made your life a living hell, killed Cedric Diggory, directly responsible for the death of Sirius?"
Harry clamped a lid on his temper. "It's not like that, Ron. He didn't kill Sirius." The Boy-Who-Lived swallowed a lump in his throat but couldn't keep some bitterness from creeping into his voice. "No, that belonged to Bellatrix Lestrange, who I have been assured to be able to do whatever I please with once her usefulness has ended." He loosened one of his hands, which had become a fist without him realizing it.
"Are you listening to yourself, mate!? You've gone mental! This is, I can't believe you're saying this. Has You-Know-Who warped your mind?" Ron's face was turning purple, veins popping on his forehead.
Harry took a deep breath and counted to ten, then repeated the motion before he felt calm enough to break the redhead's tirade. "Get out," he ground through his teeth.
Ron narrowed his eyes. "Why, so you can go crying back to your new Master? 'Oh, my dead Dark Lord, my ickle friends yelled at me for being a complete tosser! Oh, please give me a cute little boy to completely ruin and fuck into-"
Harry stood, his anger giving him power, throwing his hand out. This was his realm, and he would not be spoken to or insulted like that. "Out!" he shouted, pushing all his force into throwing Ron awake in the Gryffindor common room.
Once the redhead was gone, Harry tried to calm his fuming, taking deep and calming breaths to gain control again. Losing his temper like that wasn't good, especially since any magic cast during that time was given too much power and overdone. Good for life-or-death situations, bad when you still needed to power a ritual where your body was.
Opening his eyes, he noticed Hermione still standing there. He leashed in his anger, looking at her, meeting her gaze.
On the spotlight, the muggle-born witch shifted. She worried her lip for a moment before opening her mouth to speak. Hesitated, then finally said, "What changed your mind, Harry? When we talked to you at the end of last year, you hated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. What happened?"
Harry spun around, talking without looking at his friend - old friend - to keep himself in check. "Do you know what it was like for me over the summer? At the Dursleys?" He didn't wait for her answer. "I was lucky to have anything beyond bread and some sort of condiment twice a day for food. I was shoved outside no matter how warm it was. I was ignored and had no one to talk to." His throat closed on him. He cleared it and continued. "Voldemort- I didn't believe him at first. But he gave me his word he wouldn't hurt me. And when I sarcastically told him to send food as a sign of good will...he did. It wasn't cursed or poisoned. He sent me three meals a day from July until I got out of there. He talked with me, helped me learn new spells. Not dark ones, necessarily, but light spells, transfiguration, healing potions, things that you wouldn't realize he knew and would share knowledge about."
The teen turned around to face Hermione, absently taking in her stunned face and pale features. "He gave me gifts on my birthday. He explained his thoughts, his history, shared ideas with me to keep me occupied and entertained. And then I let him explain to me what he wanted- and it made sense. It was something we all wanted; but where Dumbledore and Fudge would pretend and show different sides and hide secrets, Voldemort was honest. He didn't expect me to agree with him wholeheartedly, and actually encouraged me to disagree and speak my mind. When has Dumbledore done that? The Headmaster sent me back to a home of neglect and abuse, without batting an eye, and didn't even check up on me. Voldemort did. Wouldn't you give him a chance, at least to get to know him, if not let him talk to you and share his own beliefs?" Harry let his hands fall to his side, his eyes pleading with his friend.
Hermione looked down, continuing to worry her lip. In a twisted way, it made sense. She took a breath and finally met his eyes again. "Look, I'm not saying I'm going to believe you...but I'm your friend. I at least owe it to you to hear you out." She frowned and a chair appeared behind her. "A dream realm?" At Harry's nod she made a note to read up on them in the restricted section, perhaps butter up Madame Pince somehow. "So, I won't guarantee that I'll like what you say or that I'll necessarily stay friends with you after a while, but go ahead. Try to explain it to me."
Harry sat down heavily. "Thank you Hermione. It means a lot, and if we part ways...I'll be sad, but you'll always be my friend."
And he began to explain.
Blinking blearily, Harry waited for his eyes to adjust in the candlelight. His back was killing him. The nasty part about some rituals was that the intricacies of the drawings. The one he currently lay on was carved into the cement of the Riddle Manor, the edges rough and un-sanded. The floor was cold and harsh. It played havoc with a back that was now used to sleeping on a plush mattress made of Fwooper feathers and acromantula silk. Once his orientation was back, he slowly sat up, and winced as he heard a tell-tale roar that shook the mansion.
Harry stood, groaning slightly as his vertebrae slipped back into place. The roar came again, accompanied by a tinkling, sing-song roar this time. Rolling his eyes, Harry began to walk, lifting a piece of the floor to break the circle. He jogged up the staircase from the basement, taking the steps two or three at a time. He nearly collided with Voldemort this way, though managed to skid to a stop before knocking the older man down.
The Dark Lord raised an eyebrow but otherwise didn't comment. "How did it go?" he asked instead, moving to walk alongside his protege.
The Boy-Who-Lived sighed again. "I don't know. Hermione may give me a chance, but Ron...I threw him out."
"I see." They approached the main floor of the mansion, the splendor of Riddle Manor spread out before them. The deep wooden grains, worn with traffic, blended with the bronze and blues that made up most of the color scheme. All of the furniture was from previous generations, most of them dating back to Victorian England or before. Both wizards found the house soothing in times of stress, though the constant miniature earthquakes certainly weren't helping. "I have some things to discuss with you when you are done seeing to your children."
"Alright." A particularly loud, ear-shattering roar accompanied a rumble that nearly pitched Harry off of his feet. He quickened his pace- his kids were hungry.
A/N: Happy Samhain all. I'm trying to get the next chapter out as soon as I can. Please find your thanks below:
Reviewers: So many ideas and suggestions! Thank you for answering my questions- I'll put them to thought. If this is your first time reading and you would like to answer, they are found in the previous chapter. A special shout-out to Emeralden Rapley for your long, informative review. And if I develop too fast for your believability, Emeralden, let me know.
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All readers: Thank you thank you thank you. I don't know how much I can say this until my gratitude is properly conveyed.
Next chapter, Harry's children show up. I think you all know who they are...any idea on breeds? Anyone? Any ideas for names (if I receive them in time)?