Author's Notes: I went with the fan-theory about Charlus Potter being Harry's grandfather. The arguments seemed decent on both sides, and I would have violated one of the two theories either way, so I figured I'd just pick one and run with it.
I was watching a scene through the Pensieve.
It was nighttime. Candles flickered in a mansion's windows. Nine Purebloods – two firing teams – breathed in icy air beneath their bedazzled "invisibility" cloaks. They waited at the foot of a hill.
A few shivered. Each carried a main de gloire – the severed hand of a hanged man, pickled and turned into a candle – but these didn't provide any heat.
The candle-wicks had been made of twined hair; usually the former owner's. They burned, yes. A yellow, greasy light. But a Hand of Glorycan only shine for the man holding it. And that dimly.
"How far?" someone whispered.
The leader stopped. He withdrew a map from his cloak. Magical maps were one of the easier items to produce, but they still cost us time and money to manufacture. Far too much time. If you were going to attack a location, though, you needed something that could track everybody in the area. Purebloods didn't use radios well.
"Keep walking," he said.
The Potter Estate's main building was stone, and it had a tin roof, but the moonbeams striking its numerous windows made it glitter like crystal. More glass than wall. A shining prize at journey's end.
One could almost feel sorry for the Potters. So close to Nobby Leach, and so far from the Ministry Building….
The estate's Detection Charms were deactivated easily. The family had also set up Anti-Apparation Wards. These would have been trickier to remove, so the Death Eaters didn't. When a mole has blocked its own escape route, you don't dig it out again. You just send in the weasel.
The Death Eaters crept under an archway. As soon as they'd passed the marble hobgoblins leering down at them, they emerged in a central court. Hexagonal towers stood at each of the corners. The path was paved. Terracotta medallions were scattered throughout. A garden wall shielded the Death Eaters from view.
Technically, old Wizarding families could make plants bloom year-round. In practice, they arranged them like their ancestors had: one garden for each season. It was December. The estate's Winter Garden was full of holly, ivy, juniper, and cypress. A grove of yew had been trimmed into the shapes of manticores and hippogriffs.
The garden must have been designed in Henry VIII's days, before Rovezzano and Company had abandoned Wizarding Britain to its usual Gothic monotony. You only saw Classical sculpture on the Continent these days.
…Not that the current owners would have known about all that.
Even I had only picked up bits and pieces when I'd researched Wizarding estates for tactical purposes. Muggles had designed most of the older ones. There's irony for you.
The Owlery first. The family kept five birds: sharp-beaked animals with white plumage. Pretty. They cooed as they slept. Every so often, one would waddle or shuffle its feathers a bit before tucking its head back into its down.
Five wands glowed green. Five birds lit up. Five bodies flopped onto the ground.
The Death Eaters bypassed the gate and its ridiculous iron knocker. The Potters' ancestors might not have had priest-holes, but the building had its share of hidden entrances.
And it opened. Death Eaters stepped through the Potter Mansion's hallways – past the buttery, past the kitchen. Past the bay window with the family's coat of arms. The place must have glowed at midday.
The family would have been asleep by now. Long asleep. Their servants would have gone to bed, too, and the Potters hadn't used House Elves in years. Fortunately, the servants were only Mudbloods, hired in a fit of charity. They wouldn't be missed.
…Well, all but one. The servant who'd given us the mansion's layout and schedules was probably already dreaming about all the gold he'd spend in Monte Carlo. We'd set him up in one of our safehouses.
The mansion had its peculiarities: two secret passages to the servant quarters.
I assume that some lusty lord-of-the-manor had gotten tired of creaking down the steps for his favorite chambermaid back in the old days. In any case, the passage was hidden behind wood paneling connected tongue-and-groove. The door creaked. Slightly. The walls smelled of red mint.
Black robes fluttered down the passageway, each Death Eater's path lit by his own, lonely Hand of Glory. Shadows oozed down the plaster. At the end of the tunnel, green lights flickered. Like on-and-off fireworks. I heard a groan or two. The servants must have been caught in their palettes.
Silence again. It's a lovely sound, silence.
That only left the Floo. When the Death Eaters reached the Great Hall, they found a central hearth. The fire had died. Grayed remains of logs were scattered in the center.
The leader cast a silence ward. It took two Reductos before the fireplace crumbled inward. It was a monstrous, columned mess that had probably been built by Germans fleeing the Wars of Religion on the Continent. (My own ancestors, for all I knew. The Gaunts had always been Pureblooded, but they hadn't been uniformly wealthy. Or English. Or legitimate. All things considered, we were fortunate that Eugene Peverell had fancied immigrant serving girls.)
The second fire team headed up the steps, toward the bedchamber.
They found a chessboard resting on a side-table by the bed. An alabaster king and rook opposed a king and three pawns carved in sandstone. The pieces were abstract. Just spheres piled on top of each other, like vertical necklaces.
Cards lay on the floor. A silver jewelry-casket glinted beside them.
"Hello, Death Eater."
A Curse hit the man on the far left. The Death Eater was tall, and his body overturned a dresser when he crashed into it. Robes spilled out of the broken shelves. He didn't get up. Well, that was Crabbe gone.
The leader didn't hesitate. Good.
"Stunners," he said.
Two more spells shot from behind the bed's velvet hangings. Finally, our attacker tripped his way over the linen sheets, firing Curses all the way.
He was a stocky sort, with long brown hair. Gold-rimmed glasses attested to the family's hereditary myopia. Too much inbreeding, no doubt – like the Malfoys' near-albinism, or the Mulciber Jaw.
Unlike the Death Eaters, he apparently wasn't in the mood for minimalist spells.
Forbidden. Well, technically. Can't say I blamed him. And the rules have always been different for Purebloods, anyway.
It hit a second Death Eater in the chest. Goyle this time. Must've been Goyle – he'd Polyjuiced himself into a larger body to avoid the inevitable awkwardness that size changes create. He failed to consider that bigger bodies are bigger targets. Anyway, the spell killed him.
Somebody fired a Curse. Missed. The chair exploded. An embroidered cushion became a cloud of fabric and fiber.
Bolts of light collided with wands. Sparks flew. Spells splashed against invisible shields.
The leader dropped. He'd been hit by the same will-o-wisp glow that I'd always considered the most beautiful shade of green in the world. His mask dented when he hit the ground.
Another hour would need to pass before the Polyjuice Potion could dissipate enough to reveal the real corpse. It would be young, with fine, aristocratic features. Blond. Long-haired. Pale.
I cursed under my breath. I'd already known what had happened at the Potter Estate, but seeing Lucius die firsthand was a different thing. It would complicate my plans enormously.
But Charlus Potter had overcommitted.
Yaxley slashed over Potter's guard with an Impedimenta (which missed) and a Petrificus Totalus (which didn't). Potter went rigid. He thumped on the floor like a block of wood.
Two Death Eaters remained standing. The second firing group was waiting downstairs. Dorea Potter was still about somewhere, and they needed to –
A bang sounded from downstairs. And another.
Yaxley and the other Death Eater traded looks. They raced downstairs just in time to see a ruined Great Hall.
Floorboards were splintered. Crumbly bits of masonry were raining down from the walls and ceiling. A tapestry had fallen, and spells must have punched through it as it fell, since fragments depicting herbs, unicorns, and knotwork were strewn everywhere. A pewter candelabrum had been chopped in half.
Dorea Black was Petrified, but alive. Another Death Eater was dead.
Four total, then. Lucius among them. Barely worth it, and Lucius should have learned not to lead from the front. I'd warned him.
I'd warned him.
I clenched a fist. Wizards and their heroics. Always the young, clever ones, too. What's the use of all that talent if you just intend to die in a mask? And for comrades? So-called? The Wizarding world is full of fools willing to die for you. Let them.
I'd also taught his fiancée since her first year, for what it was worth. Lazy as anything, but Narcissa had been one of the few Slytherins I'd encountered who could cast a Patronus. A koala, of all things. I wondered if she would still be able to cast it after I broke the news.
Diminuendo'ed brooms emerged from mokeskin pouches. Four men – and one woman – sped off into the night, carrying the two Potters. They took separate routes, prearranged.
I opened my eyes. The gray mist of Pensieve-memories retreated. Puddles and moist stone replaced them.
I was in the Chamber of Secrets.
In training Death Eaters, the Pensieve ranks a close second to the wand.
A close second. I'd watched almost every attack that my followers had carried out since the beginning of the war – from multiple viewpoints. Just as they'd learned how to fight, I'd learned how they operated in combat…and what they needed to improve.
It had been two days since the armed filibuster in the Wizengamot. Half of the legislators were still recovering from Jinxes. The session would resume in six days. I still had no answer to Leach.
The Chamber easily could have stretched the length of a Quidditch field, though I could only see the closest pillars in the torchlight. The ceiling towered like a cathedral's. In keeping with Salazar's fetish for the color, the flames glowed green, although the light dimmed to nothing before it reached the lowest buttresses.
A serpent motif was stamped everywhere: two snakes, facing each other. Eternity.
Slytherin's stone face glowered from across a pool – like a sort of bearded Mount Rushmore, or an art deco take on Old Man Winter. The statue's beard was wound into thick coils that looked like snakes, a la Medusa. Its mouth was open. A bit of squinting would have revealed fifty feet of dark-green scales and yellow eyes.
Snores echoed from inside. Occasional snatches of Parseltongue accompanied them.
The Basilisk's habit of talking in his sleep could reach intolerable levels:
…And that's if you were lucky, and he was asleep. He talked even more when he was awake.
After half a century of eating the lake's wildlife, Snacca had come to fancy himself something of a gourmand. How Nagini tolerated his endless monologues about the proper texture of salmon, I'm sure I'll never know.
Not that you'd expect much better from a snake named "snake". Whatever else he'd been, Salazar Slytherin had not been a very considerate foster-parent.
Speaking of foster-children...
"Anything?" Nagini said.
"You're asking whether I have a plan to stop Nobby's new laws?" I said. "Or are you referring to the firing group's performance?"
"In that case: 'maybe' and 'exemplary', respectively," I said. "Aside from overzealous leadership."
"What do you mean, 'maybe'?" Nagini said. "Do you have a plan, or—"
"Well, I do have a plan…"
"He has a plan, but he thinks it's a stupid one," a voice said. "And I agree."
A familiar voice.
An obnoxious voice.
My father's specter brushed aside errant strands of black hair with his glove. He grinned. The Chamber was too dark to show his impertinently white teeth clearly.
Nagini's head leaned back. Her coils shifted. She tightened herself around my chair's legs.
"The plan's not stupid," I said. "In fact, it could greatly simplify matters."
My father snorted. He tilted his head toward Nagini, smile still in place. Broader, if anything. My chair creaked as Nagini's coils tightened further.
"Your master here wants to kill Leach," he said.
"How do you—" I said.
My father tsk'ed. He rested his (spectral) hands on my shoulders. I would have shaken them off, but, well, 'spectral'.
"Tommy," he said. "You don't handle frustration well."
I threw up my hands. A slight chill ran up my arms as they passed through my father's, but his presence didn't move an inch.
"It's a sensible option at this point," I said. "If we kill Leach now, the Reformists can't scrounge up a credible candidate in time for the election. We'd also stop his proposed bills, since we'd intimidate—"
"Nagini," my father said. "What do you think?"
My mouth was still open, an unfinished sentence waiting there. Nagini had gone still. Even her torso had stopped undulating.
"Well?" my father said.
Nagini didn't reply for several seconds. She'd locked her eyes on my father's. Or he'd locked hers.
It may have sounded like disjointed hissing to my father, but he smiled at Nagini nonetheless. Nagini had picked up enough human gestures that I suspected my father could read her. He was good at that sort of thing. And he was also good with animals. Always had been.
"My dear girl," my father said. "It's time you stopped staring at me as if I'm Tommy's evil twin. Nothing like it. Just one of his victims. So…what do you think?"
"I…well, you see," she said. "I'm Tom's—ah…Your sssssson—Lord Vold-"
My father leaned over my armchair, resting his chin on his hands.
"And bear in mind that I didn't ask you whether you'd follow him," he said. "I asked whether you think killing Nobby Leach is a good idea. So?"
Nagini opened her mouth twice. She closed it each time, and then looked away without a hiss.
"Maybe I want to kill him," I muttered.
And of course, I'd muttered too loudly.
My father sighed. Might have shaken his head, too, but I'd already resolved to keep staring ahead.
"You and your hooligan politics," he said. "To hear you, someone would think you'd been raised in the London slums. Hardly a Riddle trait."
My father punctuated the statement with a sniff.
"Leaving aside its factual accuracy for a moment, the hypocrisy of that statement astounds me."
"…Says the patricide. Don't play the self-made orphan with me, Tommy."
"I—agh. Conceded. Get to the point, though."
And you know, I could actually hear the leer creeping into my father's voice.
"I told you this back in '62, didn't I?" he said. "Work with the respectable, normal–"
"...normal people rather than your pet long-haired medieval freaks—"
"Yes," he said. "Them. And this despite the fact that you're a halfbreed by their lights – if they weren't so desperate for a leader. But no. You had to get violent in '68. Taught 'em how to riot and march like bloody Chartists. As if you were some sort of Bolshie-"
"Now you are sounding like a Muggle," I said.
"Nonsense," he said. "Look here, boy. I don't much like you. We both know that."
"But you're interesting. And I'm dead. I don't care whether your Black-Death-and-Inquisition crowd ends up winning. But I can't abide a son of mine acting like a fool."
My fingers punched through the armchair, exposing bits of white fuzz. My fingernails had been hardening and lengthening of late. Another of the Horcrux's many side effects. I'd only made two thus far, though – the diary and Nagini. Still safe. Barely.
I squeezed a fair bit of contempt into my voice. It wasn't hard.
"So…what?" I said. "You think I should back up the Mudbloods?"
"Back the Centrists, you little idiot!"
He'd actually raised his voice. Echoes that only I could hear bounced through the Chamber of Secrets. It took me a moment to process it, and by then, he was already well on his way.
"Dumbledore does it, and he's a Dark Ages menagerie-dweller like the rest of 'em," he said. "Nobby Leach did it in '62. We watched him, remember? A so-called 'Mudblood' did it! But you? The half-Riddle, half-Gaunt heir of Slyth-a-whatsit, with Pureblood connections and a 'Muggle' pedigree? Pride of your wizard school? Professor at twenty? No. You backed the people who would've supported you anyway. The lunatic fringe."
"They needed shoring up," I said.
"They needed a dose of reality."
I rolled my eyes.
"And watch them jump ship? No, thank you."
He actually laughed at me. Dared to-
"You think they could bring out some other candidate?" he said. "Who? That greasy pig Malfoy? Cygnus Black? Pah. He'd run away from a cow. The Purebloods would've gone along with you and liked it."
"Not to mention that if the Muggles get their way—"
"The Muggles will get their way, boy," he said. "Sooner. Later. Eventually. Don't convince yourself otherwise."
"Not if I have anything to say about it."
He chuckled softly.
"That's what my father always said," he said. "Your grandfather. You'd have liked him, actually – former MP, spoke six languages, killed lots of Boers back in the Mafeking days. Country squire, you know. Strongest hands I've ever felt. Got 'em from holding reins on horses. He bent an iron poker once. Though I admit he couldn't talk to snakes."
"And this is relevant—?"
"The old fool supported Mosley before the War," he said. "Threw lots of money at the British Union of Fascists. Ah-You know who I'm talking about? Good. That makes it easier. It didn't help us a whit, either, since London's Great Unwashed thrashed 'em at Cable Street. Just like the Muggles will thrash you – unless you compromise."
"Or kick them out of Wizarding Britain for good."
"Ha!" he said. "Hahaha! Good luck, boy. Oh, your 'Muggles' are playing fair now, with half the Ministry under their control anyway. What d'you think happens if you win?"
"They'll serve us or die."
"More like they'll use your own tactics against you," he said. "I'm sure you'll have a splendidlittle time hunting down the Muggle equivalent of your Halloween club."
"I look forward to it."
"Then it's a good thing you'll live forever, Tommy," he said. "Since that's exactly how long it'll take you to stamp 'em all out."
Not if I kill every Mudblood in Britain, I thought.
I dismissed my father's specter.
He disintegrated into mist, riding boots and jodhpurs first. Nagini was still staring at the ground. I smiled at her, and she looked up briefly.
My father, as an attentive reader might have noticed, liked to talk. This had its uses. Sometimes. I needed silence now, though. Time to think.
"Nagini," I said. "Come."
A pause. Hesitation again. Always after a conversation with Tom Senior. I snapped my fingers, and she slithered to my side.
Nobby Leach would die, and then my life would become easier.
The Minister of Magic would be giving a speech tomorrow evening at one of those uninhabited islands in the Orkneys. He'd babble about unity in the Wizarding world, or some such nonsense. Nobby would be there. So would his supporters.
Moody was handling security on the ground, and I'd "worked" with him on it – in the sense that Crouch and the Minister had forced Moody to cooperate with me. Moody had been thorough, though. The Auror Corps would come out in force – some Polyjuiced, and others in uniform.
"Hm," I said.
I stroked Nagini's head. Most serpents lack mammals' hunger for contact and warmth, beyond the need to regulate body-temperature. Nagini, for whatever reason, was an exception.
She made a soft sound, somewhat like a sibilant purr.
The Aurors would be carrying maps that tracked everybody on the island, marking them with their true names. Polyjuice potion wouldn't work.
The Aurors' Sneakoscopes and Secrecy Sensors wouldn't operate very well, given politicians' penchant for lying and hating each other, but their Foe Glasses would. Or at least Nobby's would.
Worse, the Aurors had warded the island with Anti-Apparation Charms. The only means of transportation would be brooms – which the Aurors could see coming a long way off – and two chimneys in abandoned cottages still connected to the Floo network. I doubted I could set up any Portkeys with Moody breathing over everyone's shoulders. They'd be checking for the Imperius Curse, too.
"Nagini," I said. "How would you like a trip to the Continent, mmh?"
"It ssssounds nice enough, but why?"
"I'm going to pay some leftist friends a visit."
The meeting would begin tomorrow, three hours after my last Defence class. The little monsters had an astonishing capacity for wasting my time, but I'd have enough of a buffer. I could arrive with a few minutes to spare.
I had a Time Turner, after all. Going back in time twenty-four hours might not have helped much in duels - paradoxes prevented that sort of thing – but it worked wonders for alibis. Or rapid preparation.
It promised to be an interesting outing.