Actions

Work Header

Dark Livestream

Chapter Text

June 10, 2017.

The Dark Lord eyed the blond wizard kneeling before him with mild disdain, detectable despite the hood he had taken to wearing of late. "Lucius," he murmured. "You may rise." His red eyes glittered within the shadows cast by the hood. "Do have a seat, now; what is it that brings you to my office today?"

His tone suggested a mild-mannered professor humoring a student; the genuine concern on Voldemort's part for whatever news his servant had come to bring simply didn't reach his voice. The Malfoy patriarch kept his gaze averted, even as he seated himself in the visitor's chair at the Dark Lord's desk. "My lord, I bear unpleasant news," he said, as if that were not evident from the minute he had entered the room.

Still. If Lucius , he of the tendency to understate things, called it unpleasant... the situation must be quite severe. Voldemort braced himself against the reflexive urge to Cruciate the blond in advance of his report, and gestured for him to continue.

"Negotiations with the Americans have... taken a turn. Grassroots movements have uprooted the bribable officials within MACUSA's government, and seized the assets held in the New York vaults." Lucius' voice did not tremble, but his hands did, where they were clasped in his lap. The man kept a good handle on his fear, certainly; it made this slip all the more wonderful.

That said... perhaps reassurance was in order. "I did expect this eventually, to some extent," the Dark Lord mused aloud. "Really, the giants are less volatile than the Americans. Tell me, Lucius -- how much have we lost?"

In this, his servant did not hesitate to reply. "Sixty percent of the war fund, my lord. We expect three months at least before we can recover it all. In the meantime..." Paler and paler went poor Malfoy's pallor. Voldemort was more entertained by this than he'd been all week.

'Unpleasant news' indeed, though. "I see. Your candor is appreciated, my servant. Allow me to handle the situation from here." Less of a suggestion, more of an order. "You may depart."

Once Lucius had fled his office, Voldemort set down his wand in its delegated place on his desk, the better to restrain his urge to hex things to pieces. It would not do, when he had spent such time constructing this place, to wreck it all now -- no matter the absolute spitting rage just beneath his skin.

Rather, breathing deeply, he let said wand-bereft hand trail down the side of the desk until one questing fingertip caught on the latch of his hidden liquor cabinet; opening the door, and retrieving a bottle of gin, without looking directly at it. This was the only way he had yet found to circumvent the alarm Lucius had placed to 'forewarn' the other servants. (The Dark Lord had permitted it as a gesture of so-called goodwill.) There were glasses in the cabinet as well, but Voldemort saw no point in using one when he would be drinking the entire bottle in one sitting anyway.

Midway through the cultivation of a truly delightful stuporous haze, the better to distract him from this setback, the door to Voldemort's office opened yet again, this time without permission. It was... who was it? He squinted. Oh. Wormtail, bearing Nagini. The Dark Lord didn't really hear the man's filthy groveling, but the sound of his voice was getting on his nerves despite the gin. Nagini was not helping: she coiled about Voldemort's shoulders, whining loudly about her desire to eat the rat.

Right in his bloody ear.

Well. A bit of Cruciatus wouldn't hurt, he supposed.

And promptly cursed Wormtail until he lost control of his bowels -- hilarious for the first few seconds, until the smell reached his nose. Then Voldemort frowned, more displeased than he had been minutes ago. "You disssappoint me, Wormtail," Voldemort slurred, glaring at him. "Get out of here."

The brown streak left on the carpet by Wormtail dragging himself out the door took three house-elves to clean. That was it . The Pettigrew rat had long lost any justification for his continued existence; this 'incident' merely reminded him of the fact. What to do about the fool now?

"LET ME EAT HIM," Nagini shrieked overloud in his ear. (Had he been muttering to himself out loud?) "I'LL EVEN LET YOU WATCH THIS TIME," she promised.

The Dark Lord peered down into the empty bottle of gin, his mind stringing several words together. Money... Wormtail... Nagini.... He swayed to his feet, probably elegantly, and made for the door over the now-clean carpet. Yes, there was the beginning of an idea…

 

Twenty minutes later, a cloud of gin wafted into Severus' study, preceding its source by several paces. Dear Merlin, the Dark Lord was at it again, and Lucius had failed to warn him.

(It had been Severus' idea, the alarm spell -- seeing as Voldemort always went to him first when he was drunk. He should have known it was too neat a solution to be effective.)

He kept his eyes fixed firmly on the Potions journal he'd been reading, hoping the Dark Lord might simply forget he was there at all and move on, as he was occasionally seen to do. The man was worse than Sybill with her sherry, and not only because his portents of doom were genuine.

Alas, such a narrow escape was not meant to be, this time. "Sseveruss," came the call, and the potions master looked up from his book, careful to disguise the weariness he already felt. Voldemort swayed where he stood in the doorway, moving to lean heavily against the wall. Times like this, Severus really wished his Lord would take off the hood he'd begun wearing over the winter; it was scarier not to be able to read his facial expressions. (Perhaps, Severus mused, that was precisely why he'd taken to it.)

"Sseveruss," Voldemort repeated, "jussst the wizard I was... looking forrr."

"My lord?"

"I have..." he yawned, "decided on a ssolution to our funding... sshortfall."

Chapter Text

The Daily Prophet , June 11, 2017.

WORM VERSUS WYRM!
DARK LORD'S LIVE DEATH EATER EXECUTION

The Daily Prophet was astounded to receive an announcement for our
events listings this morning [...] He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has
begun fundraising efforts to support the execution of 'traitorous' Death
Eater Peter Pettigrew, alias Wormtail, to take place on the eighteenth of
June. Live footage of the execution will be streamed over the Wizarding
Wide Web, with additional prizes, events, and contests to take place
in the upcoming weeks.

Wormtail will be fed to infamous serpent companion Nagini, who has,
per the announcement, 'been whining about this for months', if the
total donations cross a threshold of 7777 Galleons. For the complete
announcement, and details on donation tiers, prizes and giveaways,
please see Page C-1. [...]

The newspaper fell out of Sirius' shaking hands and spread out in a mess over the kitchen table of Grimmauld Place. No way, he thought. No bloody way.

"Sirius?" That concerned tone of voice belonged to Harry's friend Hermione, looking up from her plate at the other end of the table. The witch's eyes skimmed the articles strewn about the open space until she spotted it. "What's -- oh. Oh my goodness."

Before she could offer further comment, Harry stumbled into the room, leaning heavily against the doorframe. "Morning," he grunted. (It was afternoon.) "Where's the Sobering Draught? I've got a killer hangover. Sssomeone needs to keep Voldie away from the gin. I -- I mean he -- gets the dumbessst ideas..."

His forward stumble was halted by Hermione practically shoving the newspaper in his face, with a shrill shriek that had him clapping his hands to his ears. "Harry! Look! They're going to kill Pettigrew!"

The paper was promptly (and wandlessly) Banished back to the table in a somewhat neater pile. "Mione. Get. The. Sobering. Draught," Harry ground out, snapping his fingers at her. "You're killing me here. C'mon."

Annoyed, she withdrew the vial from her pocket and slapped it into his open palm. Hermione could have sworn she heard Harry mumble "...thanks, Severus," under his breath before he downed it, grimacing at the taste. After a few minutes, he had recovered enough to flop down at the table and properly read the newspaper.

"They're going to kill Wormtail," Sirius was muttering, his head in his hands. "Harry, Harry, they're going to kill him. He's right there they've gotta do it they're gonna --"

Harry patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. It was about as effective as one would expect, which was to say, not at all. "There, there, Siri. I know you wanted to do it yourself --"

"That's not the point," Sirius shouted, earning a wince from the younger two at the table. "Look at the prizes! I could win his head! " He shook the announcement page so vigorously it crumpled up and had to be flattened out again.

Harry peered curiously down at it; the Dark Mark glittered in full color up from the page, moving about like the one that had been cast in the sky over the World Cup three years before.

DONATION REWARDS, read the title.

"Seven Galleons: On-Stream Voting Rights. 'Kill Wormtail first, or eat him alive?'" Harry read aloud. "Thirty Galleons: 'Worm Versus Wyrm' Commemorative Hat Pins. Seventy-Seven Galleons and More: Receive a recording of the livestream, signed by the Dark Lord himself."

Then his eyes caught on the line that had stirred up Sirius' enthusiasm.

One Lucky Donor of 77-Plus Galleons to Receive a Body Part of Their Choice.

"Oh, sweet," Harry remarked, raising his eyebrows. He flipped the page over to the side with more information. "When did they say this would be..?"

 

Days later found Harry frantically closing extra tabs and reconfiguring his sound settings as the countdown to Dark Livestream reached one minute. Taking inspiration from his Patronus, he'd signed into the stream chat as 'NightmareStag' an hour ahead of time, just in case there was a preview event; nearly a thousand other people had joined since then, and were actively spamming the chat with emoji.

(Voldemort had put custom emoji into the chat options. It was awe-inspiring.)

Thirty seconds. Harry glanced up from the screen at a knock on his door -- it was Hermione, trying the handle. He could hear her frustrated grunt as she found it was locked. "Don't tell me you're going to watch that livestream too, Harry -- it's sick! Pettigrew should be put on trial --"

"IT'S STARTING!" bellowed Sirius from upstairs, feet thudding on the old flooring. Harry grinned, tuning his friend out as he put his headphones back on, switched the noise-cancelling to maximum, and turned up the volume.

A jaunty tune marked the beginning of the stream, playing from every direction into Harry's headphones -- Merlin bless the creator of magical hybrid tech, Harry thought fondly -- and fabric was pulled away from the camera lens to reveal a large, lamplit stone room, empty save for the large black armchair against the far wall, arranged to face the viewer. Around that chair coiled a massive serpent Harry knew from prior visions to be Voldemort's pet snake, Nagini.

"Welcome, dear viewers," came the iconic sibilant voice of Voldemort from off-screen. It sounded, with the surround-sound like the Dark Lord was right behind him. (Just in case, Harry turned around, and was relieved to find no one actually there.) "The past week has been a truly exciting waiting game. Nearly four thousand people have pledged to tonight's worthy contest: Servant, versus Serpent. Worm... versus Wyrm. You see the latter contestant before you. Proud Nagini, my darling, will you show us your fangs?"

Nagini slid off the chair and down to the center of the room, where the lighting best caught the dark green in her scales; she reared up and opened her mouth wide to show off a row of gleaming, obviously-venomous fangs. "I'M HUNGRY," she whined, petulant. Harry laughed.

"Quite fearsome," Voldemort praised. "Well. You have seen the Wyrm, dear viewers. What of the Worm? Wormtail," he called off to the side, "get in here!"

Offscreen, a door opened, and into view stumbled the round, ugly form of one Peter Pettigrew, beady eyes looking fearfully about the room. He had not changed one whit from the last time Harry had seen him, in fourth year; Harry watched the man wring his hands -- one normal, one silver -- and wondered, amused, if Wormtail had been told just what he was here for. "M-my lord," the rat stammered, "how may I s-serve?"

One 'SiriusBlack' (good Godric, trust Sirius to use his real name online, the idiot) was the first to spew vitriol into the chat. TRAITOR, he typed in all-caps, SERVE WITH YOUR END! People flooded the chat moments after, asking if he was the 'real' Sirius Black; Harry ignored them in favor of leaning closer to the screen, enthralled. He wouldn't miss this moment for the world.

Dark laughter from the Dark Lord, now; he stepped into view from the left, a hood over his robes. There was no mistaking the yew wand in that pale hand, of course, as he struck Pettigrew with a wordless Petrificus Totalus and levitated him into the center of the room. Red eyes glowed through the shadows of the hood when Voldemort turned to face the camera, gesturing dramatically.

"Dear viewers," he proclaimed, "I give you the Worm! For those who do not already know, a short biography: Wormtail, previously Peter Pettigrew, is the wizard responsible for the deaths of the Potters, and additionally for the false incarceration of Sirius Black. Why, you may ask, am I revealing this information now? Because," he glared imperiously down at Wormtail's crumpled form, "he has had no further achievement since.

"Wormtail has outlived his usefulness," the Dark Lord murmured. "He will serve the public much better in death. And on the subject of death, it is past time to begin tonight's poll: when would my audience like to see him die? Before he is eaten," the word BEFORE popped up on the left side of the screen in red, "or after?" AFTER appeared on the right side, in blue. "The vote begins... now!"

And he sat down in the armchair, crossing one leg elegantly over the other, to wait.

 

Harry was one of the first to vote 'AFTER' in chat, grinning. In the flood of votes after his, he spotted 'SiriusBlack' voting the same way, as did 'Bellatrix' and 'KingWeasley'. (Oh, so Ron was watching. Harry had wondered.)

Soon, the countdown in the top middle of the screen reached zero; Voldemort had taken his phone out to view the tally; he laughed again, seeing the overwhelming vote in favor of 'AFTER'. "An excellent choice, dear viewers. And now, before Nagini takes her supper: who will be our lucky winner of the night? One body part, of their choice -- just not the head, given the results of our poll." (Harry wondered briefly if Sirius would be disappointed.) With a wave of his hand, a virtual wheel appeared on the right-hand side of the screen, rolling through names in a blur. Harry clenched his fists, muttering under his breath, "me, me, me --"

The wheel slowed its spin, coming to land on...

"YES!"

"My congratulations to you, Nightmare Stag," Voldemort purred, drawing his wand from his sleeve. "What is your body part of choice? Thirty seconds to decide."

NightmareStag is typing...

[NightmareStag: His left arm, please.]

Harry had considered the right arm, but the left was what bore the proof of Wormtail's worst treachery.

"A fine selection," the Dark Lord agreed, lifting the wizard up by the arm. The rest of Wormtail's body had gone quite slack; Harry wondered how Petrificus Totalus could be manipulated to achieve that. More importantly, the tip of the yew wand had been placed at the crook of Wormtail's shoulder, digging into the black sleeve; Voldemort sang out, "Sectumsempra!"

A spray of blood, bright over the floor, and Wormtail screamed. The severed arm remained in Voldemort's hand, dripping red all over the stones, and was placed in a wooden case that was summoned from off-screen. The Dark Lord set it aside, for now, and turned satisfied eyes on the camera. "Our fun begins. Nagini, you are welcome to your dinner now."

"FINALLY," came the excited hiss; the massive serpent uncoiled from the back of the armchair where she had retreated, surrounding a now-unpetrified Wormtail. Voldemort settled back into the chair in the background, the box with Wormtail's arm resting in his lap. He was only half-watching the proceedings now, scrolling through his phone -- probably reading the chat.

Nagini struck once, twice, drawing ever-louder screams from the rat, which soon reduced to gurgles, and then he went still; chat was blowing up with emoji, mostly skulls and snakes and the Dark Mark custom emoji. Upstairs, Harry could hear Sirius clapping and cheering like he was at a Quidditch game. He might have stood out from his family, being a Gryffindor, but in some ways, Harry's godfather was still a Black. Not that Harry could judge, though -- after all, he'd won the grand prize.

He leaned back in the chair, beaming, as Nagini swallowed Wormtail headfirst. It took nearly thirty minutes for her to completely eat him, during which time chat died down a bit; people were congratulating NightmareStag on winning the prize, and peppering the Dark Lord more generally with questions of who the next person would be.

Next? I hadn't even thought about that.

But it seemed Voldemort had. When Nagini, satisfied, began to slither sluggishly offscreen, the Dark Lord set his phone aside and turned his gaze up to the camera again. "As many of you have predicted, there will be more than one of these events over the next few months. For the question of who is next... perhaps I will hold a public vote? The following witches and wizards are on my 'to do' list... you may all decide in what order." He withdrew a tightly wound scroll from his sleeve, the same sleeve that held his wand, Harry noticed, and unrolled it.

"Sybill Trelawney, false prophet. Fenrir Greyback, Britain's most prolific werewolf. Dolores Umbridge, child abuser. Rita Skeeter, liar for hire." Images of each person appeared on-screen as their names were read. "Additional requests, from my top donors, will be considered as well."

Voldemort stood, and gave a theatrical bow to the camera, sweeping his robes back to reveal a black suit underneath. "I tip my nonexistent hat to you, dear viewers, on tonight's success, and bid you all good evening. This is your Lord, signing off for the night." With a gesture of his hand, the room was plunged into darkness, and the camera cut off. The livestream was over.

Seconds later, a message window popped up in the corner of Harry's screen. [YouKnowWho: Congratulations, NightmareStag. Your prize will be held for you at the following anonymous postbox...]

Oh. Oh! Harry had almost forgotten about that. He maximized the window and read the full message. [Thank you very much,] he wrote back, after copying the information down.

The 777 Galleons he had spent to secure the grand prize had definitely been worth it, even if the extra 7 had been accidental in his haste to donate.

Chapter Text

The next livestream announcement came to Harry not through the Daily Prophet -- though Hermione did mention seeing it there -- but via email, as a subscriber notification. Votes have been tallied, proclaimed proud words at the top of the message. Our next execution will be that of one Fenrir Greyback, Britain's prolific werewolf responsible for hundreds of deaths and many more mutilations.

Voldemort went on to declare that unlike Wormtail, who Nagini had long meant to eat, Greyback was unsuitable for a similarly easy death: instead, the precise method would be voted on during the stream. As a nod to the vast werewolf community (many of whom were Greyback's fault), the minimum voting donation had been lowered to one Sickle; commemorative pins to five Sickles. Lastly, the buy-in to the grand prize raffle -- again, a body part of the winner's choice, this time with no restrictions -- was a single Galleon.

My top three donors will earn the additional pleasure of seeing a curse of their choice cast on Greyback prior to his death.

Harry's eyes lingered on the Dark Lord's signature at the bottom of the page. It had been animated with a flickering glow of green at the edges, brightening and fading like a slow and steady heartbeat.

 

Over the week that followed, Harry frequently caught Sirius and Remus muttering between themselves, heads bent together over one or the other's phone. He was not surprised when they secluded themselves upstairs in their bedroom to watch the stream projected against the wall, over Hermione's subdued complaints; likewise, Harry himself had gone into his room and locked the door to watch with headphones on, as before.

Harry was also not surprised to see 'Snuffles' win a curse-of-choice on the bound werewolf, midway through the stream, and 'Moony' win Greyback's head as a trophy. He'd tried for the grand prize, too, to give to them as a gift -- them winning it directly was just as good.

Not to mention that he was the second top donor, and watching Greyback scream under the Cruciatus was an intensely satisfying revenge executed on Moony's behalf.

The remaining Marauders were a bit bolder about their trophy than Harry had been, too, all things considered. While Harry had set Wormtail's severed arm to lie, pristine, in a glass case on the second-floor trophy room -- where all the portraits could gaze smugly at it in vicarious vengeance -- Sirius had commissioned a Knockturn Alley taxidermist in person, now that his name was cleared, to have it mounted on a plaque.

A plaque now hanging over the fireplace people used to Floo into the house.

Better, Remus charmed it to sing in a low baritone that was apparently the werewolf's real voice (or a close approximation). He'd cheerfully demonstrated this after dinner one day; Harry was in tears by the third rendition of 'Come Ye Merry Hippogriffs' (it was June , Moony, really ) and requested he charm in 'A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love' next, the better to torment Ron with.

Speaking of Ron -- and Hermione. Harry's friends seemed unsettled by the whole situation. Not just the severed head, but they'd only really started showing their discomfort once it took its place over the mantel. "Personal revenge or not," Hermione insisted whenever the topic came up, "you're still donating to Voldemort's war fund."

"Barely anything compared to everyone else," Sirius scoffed.

(Harry didn't quite believe that, but he wasn't about to undermine Sirius' argument.)

 

Harry's own personal revenge didn't really come until the third stream, though, later on in the month. Wormtail had been revenge on his parents' behalf; Greyback on Moony's behalf; but when Harry sat on the edge of his seat, watching at rapt attention as Voldemort brought out one Dolores Umbridge for the viewers... that was revenge on his own behalf.

The witch was currently Stunned, it appeared, and garbed in the same awful pink cardigan and robes that Harry remembered sneeringly from his fifth year.

"Good evening, dear viewers," Voldemort smiled, seating himself in his chair. (Fans of the Dark Livestream were calling it ' The Chair' by now.) Beneath the shadow of his hood, red eyes glowed. Harry had gotten good at telling the man's facial expressions from just the shape of his eyes and tone of his voice. The Dark Lord used Umbridge as a footrest for his shiny black Oxfords; there was a snake pattern cut into the bottom of the shoe like a maker's mark, Harry saw. "Before I begin tonight's entertainment, I would like to remind you all that voting for the remaining candidates on my to-do list will continue to be tallied on a weekly basis --"

"HARRY," Hermione shouted from outside the room, "Are you seriously watching that livestream again?"

Moving one side of his headphones off of his ear, Harry spoke up. "It's Umbridge ," he pointed out. "You know, the one who made me cut my bloody hand open all year? Who treated all of us like unruly kindergartners? Who made everyone's lives a living hell all year? It's personal."

"-- Earlier this week, I requested suggestions from you all for just how Miss Umbridge ought to die. My top ten responses are now up for vote --"

"Harry," Hermione griped, unlocking the door to frown at him directly with her hands on her hips, "I didn't complain when you and Sirius wanted to watch Voldemort kill Pettigrew because it was personal. I didn't complain with Greyback either for the same reason, even though that mounted head is disgusting --"

"-- Votes will be tallied momentarily --"

"But the rest of these people should be tried by the justice system! Not tortured and killed for your entertainment! Encouraging this is just sick , Harry, it's really sick."

Harry was about to complain that these people absolutely deserved to be tortured and killed, but closed his mouth before he could actually say it. "All right," he sighed, conceding, "I'll close it --"

"Congratulations, Martyr!"

Harry looked back at the screen.

"Oh my god Hermione I've won the grand prize give me a minute --"

"HARRY!"

On-stream, Voldemort had risen from the chair to loom over Umbridge, toying with his wand in a loose grip. He swung it around from one end, silver sparks leaping from the tip, as he mused, "Well, well, Martyr... your punishment of choice is as popular with my dear viewers as it was with me. Given the inclusion of a Blood Quill as evidence for Miss Umbridge's crimes, I had secured one for the punishment; imagine my surprise when I searched her and found the original Blood Quill in her pockets, instead of the Aurors' evidence room, where it ought to have been.

"To think," he sneered, "a Ministry worker abusing their position to possess a banned artifact. Somehow, I confess myself unsurprised. "

A flick of his wand at the toadlike witch Reenervated her, and Umbridge sputtered on the stone floor, flailing about -- still underneath Voldemort's shoes. When she managed to roll over on her side and see just who was in the room with her, she screamed, cringing back toward the camera.

The Dark Lord let her out from under his shoes, rising gracefully to his feet in marked contrast to Umbridge's scrabbling against the stones. "Silencio," he intoned, before the witch would speak. "Petrificus Totalus. Per the request of a few visually-impaired viewers, I will henceforth be certain to incant my spells out loud for the audience -- for such spells as are cast with words -- and explain what I am doing -- for those that are not. Likewise, multi-language captions are now available both with official recordings of these streams, and live using the options button in the bottom right corner of the screen. Your support, dear viewers, means very much to me."

He fixed his gaze upon the witch, again. "Dolores Umbridge," Voldemort spoke softly, but clearly, "you have been brought to my attention for systematic use of a maiming artifact upon children. There is no excuse for such behavior. To your feet -- Locomotor Mortis." The obviously enraged but still terrified witch was lifted into a standing position. Moving closer, Voldemort rapped her scoldingly on the nose with the end of his wand. "By popular request, you have been given a chance to redeem yourself in death. Imperio; sit down at the desk." A writing desk, complete with cushioned stool and large parchment scroll, floated into the center of the room from off-screen.

It was remarkably difficult to tell that a person was under Imperius, Harry thought, if you were only looking at them. He'd forgotten how insidious a curse it could be. Umbridge took a seat, staring blankly at the Dark Lord for further orders. It was at this point that he raised a hand and summoned a distinctive black quill from off-screen, one which Harry immediately recognized with a malicious grin.

"Dear viewers, this is the aforementioned Blood Quill, an enchanted object once used in the signing of interspecies contracts -- where names hold less meaning than blood. They are created through a fascinating ritual that requires an initial blood sacrifice, hence why the British Ministry does not approve of them; but I digress.

"In its original form, a Blood Quill draws the 'ink' for its message from the back of the writer's hand, very shallowly, and additional magic heals the wound in the next moment, making it effectively painless. Miss Umbridge modified the healing factor in her abuse of the item, and so this Blood Quill can be considered cursed rather than enchanted.

"During her misbegotten tenure at Hogwarts, more than a hundred students of all Houses were assigned 'lines' with this quill at some point -- that we know of -- until, and I quote, 'the message sinks in'." He sounded honestly disgusted; Harry wondered if Voldemort truly felt that way, or if it was being feigned. Tom Riddle, after all, had once been a very good actor.

"I have made further modifications to the Blood Quill, in anticipation of my favorite punishment suggestion," the Dark Lord continued, sounding exceptionally pleased with himself. "Per the request, the quill will write across Miss Umbridge's skin, word by word, until her assigned lines cover the majority of her body. She will not bleed to death until she is done." A sly glance at the camera. "Again, my congratulations to you, Martyr, on a most excellent choice in torture method. What would you like the lines to be?"

Harry was highly tempted, for just a moment, to request I must not tell lies . But it would be a dead giveaway to his friends, if they ever found out, even more than his username. (He suspected Remus and Sirius had already figured it out, knowing him as they did.) Ultimately, though, he inputted,

[I told you so.]

Voldemort let out a small laugh -- a genuine laugh, not the high-pitched cackle Harry had heard on the battlefield. (His real laugh was, dare he think it, somewhat charming.) He looked down at Umbridge, intoning, "Finite Incantatem. Silencio. Petrificus Medius. Miss Umbridge, you have been assigned your lines as follows: 'I told you so.' I believe it would be unsporting of me to maintain the Imperius now when a less encompassing compulsion will function equally well -- and simultaneously allow you to comprehend the consequences of your actions with a clear mind. With this in mind, Compellere . Write your lines, in proper neat handwriting, into the parchment. A second roll is in the desk drawer if the first runs out of space. Begin."

The witch's eyes were wild with horror as her hand brought quill to parchment without her conscious control. "Compellere only compels the body, dear viewers," Voldemort observed. "It was popularized as a prank spell, many years ago. The compulsion is only as strong as the caster's will, of course, so it is a simple matter to break the compulsion if one truly does not want to do whatever they are compelled to do... in normal cases, that is."

The first words of Umbridge's lines cut into her forehead; she worked her mouth open to speak, glancing between Voldemort, the desk, and the camera as though she might find mercy there, somewhere. Harry snorted at the very concept of Voldemort providing mercy, and opened the stream's chat window. The other viewers must have been waiting for him to finish typing, so quiet did the chat grow.

Hermione glanced up from her book at the kitchen table, hearing laughter from Harry's room. She didn't like what all of this was doing to her friend. He'd never been so callous before. Was revenge so important to him?

"Look, Remus," Sirius chuckled at the other end of the table, angling his phone to show his partner. "Harry's really going off on her in the chat bar."

[Martyr] I told you and you didn't listen, Umbridge.
[Martyr] I told you the Dark Lord was risen and you didn't believe.
[Martyr] I told you so!
[Martyr]
I told you so!

"...'and this is what happens,' he says," Voldemort read aloud on-stream, lounging in his chair like a king on a throne. (Which, technically, it was.) "'And now you know. I told you so.'"

Under his breath, the Dark Lord murmured in Parseltongue, impressed, "Such a refined sense of justice you have, Martyr. I hope you are enjoying your prize."

 

Umbridge bled out near the thirty-minute mark, by which point her pink robes had stained red from the seeping cuts beneath the fabric. (She looked better in red, really. What kind of person even wore pink?) A bloody handprint smudged the remainder of the parchment like a signature; the palms of her hands and soles of her feet had not been spared by the Blood Quill's curse. Absently, Voldemort cast an ink-drying spell on the parchment and rolled it up into a neat scroll, tying it with a neat silver ribbon.

"It seems our evening has come to an end, dear viewers," he announced. "Please keep an eye on the announcements for information about our next round of entertainment. I will also be announcing my second project, to take place alongside this one, in the coming week. As always, I thank you for your time, attention, and generosity. This is your Lord, signing off for the night."

Good night, Harry typed into the chat box. More than a hundred similar messages followed.

He closed his laptop, switching to his phone, and navigated to the streaming site, just in case -- yes . A direct message.

[YouKnowWho] Good evening, Martyr.
[YouKnowWho] Would you like this scroll?
[YouKnowWho] I confess I have no idea what to do with it, otherwise.

[Martyr has changed their username to TreacleTart.]

[TreacleTart] Yes, please.
[TreacleTart] Thank you for the offer.
[TreacleTart] And thank you for choosing my suggestion.
[TreacleTart] It was fun to watch.

[YouKnowWho] You are welcome, Martyr.
[YouKnowWho] My apologies -- TreacleTart.
[YouKnowWho] The scroll will be sent to the same postbox as your last prize.
[YouKnowWho] Enjoy.

Harry stared at the screen for a while, composing his reply. He settled on a simple Thank you, then added, Good night.

The absurdity of it all -- of exchanging polite messages with Voldemort himself -- didn't really hit Harry until he'd received a 'Good night' in return, and set his phone aside to go to bed.

Then, he giggled, muffling his outburst in his pillow.

Hermione would have a field day, if she knew.

Chapter Text

Hermione didn't even comment on the framed scroll that hung on Harry's wall by the following evening. (He'd had Kreacher retrieve a suitable frame from the attic.) She simply noted its existence with a weary expression; that done, she proceeded to ignore it entirely.

Harry was glad for the silence. He'd be lying if he said he didn't like his trophy.

The announcement of the promised second project came three days after Umbridge's execution, in the form of a short video. Seated before the fireplace of a different room, against a background of wall-to-wall shelves of books and scrolls, Voldemort informed them of the inception of his video channel, a separate but connected venture to the livestreams: educational videos on the Dark Arts.

"There's no knowledge as fun as forbidden knowledge," he sang. (He had a lovely singing voice.) "And frankly, I've always wanted to be a teacher."

Public outcry over the announcement meant yet another front-page Prophet article, the following morning; Hermione ranted in the kitchen about publicity and penned a sternly-worded letter to the editor that did not make the next day's edition. Meanwhile, Harry, and several thousand others, subscribed to Professor Riddle's channel hours before the first video was posted.

Ironically, Harry realized, nobody would ever know that Riddle was Voldemort's actual name, when he'd been in the public eye as Voldemort for so long. 'Professor Riddle' was what sounded like the alias.

The video was actually quite interesting, when it came out -- more of a general lesson on magic than the instructional video on Dark magic that Harry had expected.

"What are the Dark Arts anyway, you may be asking," mused Voldemort on-screen. "As a legal term, the category originates from a legislation boom just after the Statute of Secrecy -- and has grown to cover a vast number of types of magic, which vary greatly in difficulty, purpose, and fame (or infamy), in the intervening centuries. In fact, the majority of the so-called Dark spells banned in Britain are permitted in Germany; many spells made illegal in France are innocuous in Sweden; and so on. Fundamentally, these dark spells are still accessible to the public -- and so, I will not cover them unless by special request of my dear viewers."

Harry raised his eyebrows at the screen, surprised.

"Rather, this series will focus on the minority of Dark spells, the true Dark Arts, which are ‘dark’ not only in terms of their legal status, but also in that they are hidden . Centuries of censorship, initiated by governing forces across the world, have relegated powerful works of magic to mentions of mentions,  marginalia in crumbling tomes -- magically protected tablets carved of clay, and half-eroded runestone messages lost to time. Were I less of a wizard than I am, the rediscovery of much of what I know might have never happened; indeed, all records of these spells may have been eradicated off the face of the earth entirely.”

Voldemort took on a grave posture and tone, his face still hidden beneath the shadows cast by his hood, as he leaned forward, steepling his fingers. “Rare knowledge, incredibly rare, becomes incredibly tempting, dear viewers. It is not wise to try and erase knowledge. At best, it will be reinvented, perhaps improved upon from the original -- the origin of the modern Killing Curse. At worst..." he trailed off, dramatically, before continuing. "At worst, fragments of lost knowledge will be put to use by the determined, the ambitious, the risk-seeking, the curious -- and used incorrectly. Mistakes in the Dark Arts are the most dangerous sort: they take ten times as much effort to repair.

"An example, I believe, is necessary to let this message sink in." Voldemort stood up from his chair, walking closer to the camera. "Every magical being in Britain knows my face, and yet I have worn this hood for my public appearances for more than six months. Those who have wondered why... are about to have their answer."

Harry leaned forward in his seat. Dumbledore had been puzzling over that for a while. On-screen, Voldemort sighed, raising a hand to toy with the edge of his hood.

"Even Lord Voldemort was once a young man, you know. Or, perhaps, you do not; no matter. But I did attend Hogwarts; and while I was there, I sought after those traces of true Dark Arts which could still be found in the library, at the time. Most likely, they are now destroyed, more's the pity. I made intense study of a branch of magic that could be found only in bits and pieces -- scavenged from scraps of literature discusisng Dark Arts in general; mentioned, only mentioned, in the Darkest of books hidden from students' eyes. Even still, I could not learn all that I wished to on the subject."

Horcruxes, Harry realized, wide-eyed. He was talking about Horcruxes.

"The recreation of that lost magic was my finest achievement from my Hogwarts years -- and yet it was fundamentally incorrect . Unstable. Dangerous, dear viewers. Worse: I could not have known my error for decades! Could not have fixed it for even longer!" The Dark Lord gestured dramatically, frustrated, pacing the room within the camera's viewing range.

"That is...not until now." Voldemort stopped pacing, turning back to look at the camera. "Not until now, as a master of thousands of magics hidden from the world, did I grasp the magnitude of my error -- did I even notice what was wrong. "

Again, he toyed with the fabric of the hood, hooking the fingers of one hand underneath it so they seemed to sink into a layer of black shadow. Harry was on the edge of his seat.

"My error showed, dear viewers, in my exponential descent into madness and disfigurement over a short period -- bringing about the face and demeanor for which I remain so infamous. Someday, I will say exactly what it was, and how I fixed it; but first."

He pulled the hood back.

Harry gasped.

(Downstairs, Sirius and Remus, also watching, swore loudly enough to be heard from throughout the house.)

Harry had seen Voldemort rise from the cauldron with his snakelike features and mad eyes. Had met the Dark Lord on the field of battle several times since them, and seen the same. The first time Voldemort had been spotted on the battlefield with a hood hiding his face, Dumbledore had guessed he had disfigured himself even worse somehow; perhaps, he had speculated, the body created by the ritual was wearing out, decaying.

Harry had therefore expected to see something horrifying, rotting, like a Dementor underneath its cloak. Instead, there was this .

Tom Riddle's face gazed at the camera, expression set in a slight pout that Harry hated for how endearing it was. Merlin, he didn't look more than thirty.

Voldemort had remained silent for a moment, to let the impact sink in. It was just enough time for Harry to reorient himself along his world's shifted axis; then he was speaking again, with that perfect mouth, and Harry struggled to remain undistracted by the sheer contrast.

"Shocking, isn't it? But I would have always looked like this, had I not erred; or had I corrected my error in time. Only now, dear viewers, can Lord Voldemort claim to have truly overcome death; after all, the Dark side of magic is a pathway to many abilities considered to be impossible."

He actually winked , the sly bastard. Harry really, really wished he could convince Hermione to watch this video, if only to see her explode in confusion from the contradiction of the Dark Lord Voldemort and Muggle film references.

The reveal completed, Voldemort removed the hood and its attached cloak entirely, leaving him in a set of black robes cut and styled like a three-piece suit, minus the jacket. The silver chain of his pocket watch glinted in the light as he seated himself in his chair again, reclining against the tufted leather seat, and summoned a goblet of wine into his hand. He took a long drink.

"I leave you to wonder, dear viewers, just how many things are truly impossible with magic at hand. As we explore that question in detail, I expect the list will grow ever shorter. Good night."

 

Harry was left staring at the black screen, after the video ended, for an unknown length of time. His reflection in the dark glass wore a perplexed expression, his head in his hands.

He and Dumbledore had gone Horcrux hunting over the past few months, to no avail; neither of them had considered the possibility that the reason they were finding nothing was because there was nothing to find .

He set his laptop aside, changed out of his pyjamas, and made the Floo trip to Dumbledore's office less than an hour later. When he stumbled out of the flames, it was to find the Headmaster at his desk, staring just as blankly at the screen before him as Harry had, earlier.

"Professor," Harry greeted, quiet and solemn. "I guess you've seen the video, too."

A wizened hand waved Harry over to the desk, to one of the plumped-up visitors' armchairs. He squirreled away several individually-wrapped lemon drops from the dish on the desk into his pocket, waiting patiently for the old wizard to collect his thoughts.

Eventually, Dumbledore spoke. He sounded shaken by what he had seen. "Harry, my boy," he started, then stopped; his eyes remained on the blank screen for several more minutes before he raised them again. "It appears our hunt will need to be postponed, for a time."

"Do you think he's... reabsorbing them all, sir?"

An immediate, subtle shake of the head. "No, my boy. I have my ways of knowing whether such a thing has happened, and it has not. But even had Tom reabsorbed his Horcruxes, the effects would not be what we have seen. That said..." He trailed off again. "He may still have removed them from their hiding places, which would explain our lack of success in places I had previously been certain of. In particular, the false locket we found in the cave."

Harry shuddered, remembering the Cave Incident all too well.

Dumbledore shifted in his seat, drawing up to his full sitting height, and fixed Harry with his piercing blue gaze. "More concerning, though, is this: if Tom has truly recovered his sanity -- hinted at, I believe, by the reduction in military action by his followers these past few months -- then we must consider whether these latest projects might not be a change in direction. Whether he is attempting, as I once feared he might, to seduce young people to his side by appealing to humanity's baser desires. Am I correct in assuming you have seen the livestreams, Harry?"

"You are, sir. Sirius and Remus won Greyback's head recently; it's on the mantel." Harry had gotten rather good at giving indirect answers to questions, at lying by omission; he rarely had the chance to practice on the Headmaster, though, so this was something of a treat. The bit about his godfathers' trophy? Just an extra distraction.

And Dumbledore was certainly distracted. He'd gone a bit green, frowning. "Then you have seen how bloodsport appeals to the wizarding population at large," the Headmaster murmured. "Now, the introduction of forbidden knowledge to the public eye, claiming it is for their own benefit -- an appeal to the intellectuals, the academics, who would have disregarded his lesser promises.

"Voldemort has put himself forward as an entertainer, a celebrity, of late; but we must not forget he is still a Dark Lord, Harry, else we fall prey to his manipulations as well."

Harry blinked. "Of course, sir."

"Good, good. I will owl you for our next meeting, Harry; there are a great many things that need attending, with this shift in Voldemort's strategy. I thank you for coming by, dear boy, and providing a direction to this old man's train of thought."

Which meant, Harry suspected, that Dumbledore would be visiting Grimmauld in the morning. He bade the Headmaster farewell and returned to his house through the Floo, dropping the lemon drops in a dish on the kitchen table on the way back to his room.

 

Sirius went down to the kitchen for a cuppa, late in the evening, and spotted the lemon drops on the table. He groaned, dragging his hand down his face; Harry must have gone to see Dumbledore today. By unspoken agreement, lemon drops only appeared on the table if the Headmaster was likely to visit soon.

"Reeeeemusssss," he whined loudly as his friend emerged from the hallway, slinging an arm around the werewolf's shoulders, "we're gonna have to move the singing heaaad. Lame ."

"Inquisition in the morning," Remus snorted, smiling at him. "Thank Merlin Albus never visits at night."

Harry poked his head into the kitchen, phone in hand. "No point moving it, I already threw you under the bus earlier."

"HARRY! HOW COULD YOU?" Sirius collapsed to the ground, wandlessly conjuring up the waterworks. He might have overdone it, though, as water poured from the corners of his eyes like from a faucet. Ending the spell, he stood up, brushing himself off. "Really, though," Sirius complained more properly, "why are we the targets for Dumbles' disapproval?" He attempted a stern expression, but lasted all of thirty seconds before his face gave up and went back to grinning.

His godson, for his part, pulled off the 'whistling inconspicuously' gag expertly. "No reason," he said, looking up at the ceiling in feigned innocence.

Remus quirked an eyebrow. His 'stern' look was much better than Sirius'. Under scrutiny, Harry relented. "I might have mentioned it in passing when I went to see Dumbles about Voldie's latest project. He looked a bit lost, you know? Needed something to complain about."

"Conveniently taking the heat off of you for having two trophies to our one," Sirius observed, shrewd.

Harry shrugged, already walking off. "It's for the greater good," he called over his shoulder.

...Sirius might be a bit concerned about Harry now.

Chapter Text

True to form, Dumbledore did emerge from the Floo about nine in the morning to stare disapprovingly at the taxidermied werewolf head and “express his concerns” to Sirius and Remus, the latter of whom had charmed in an entire album of Celestina Warbeck only minutes ahead of his arrival. The two wizards seemed appropriately chastised by the Headmaster’s visible disappointment in their life choices -- and it would have all gone just fine, really, if Sirius hadn’t decided to be spiteful. Why couldn’t he have just taken one for the team? But no, he just had to snap, “I don’t see why you’re complaining to us when Harry’s the one with Wormtail’s arm in the trophy room!”

Ron and Hermione were passing by the sitting room at just the right time to hear this, of course, and so his friend had chimed in, the snitch, “He also has Umbridge’s lines framed on his bedroom wall.”

As the Headmaster's blue gaze panned to Harry where he sat in an armchair in the corner with a mug of cocoa, Harry felt an intense, creeping dread encroaching on his senses that had nothing to do with his connection to Voldemort -- it was all his own. Internally panicking, he did the one thing he could think of for a sure escape -- he seized his phone from the end table and scanned the screen, eyebrows raising in feigned alarm.

He stood suddenly from the chair, leaving his empty cup behind, and fled the room with his eyes glued to the screen, not once looking back.

That was when his phone (on silent) got a new notification, the same time Sirius' buzzed loudly from the sitting room Surprise stream in 5 minutes, read the subject line.

Harry had never run so fast up the stairs in his life.

 

Igor Karkaroff, it seemed, was a wizard against whom a lot of Eastern Europe held a grudge. This really showed in the number of usernames in chat using Cyrillic alphabets. With the names listed on Voldemort's to-do so far, Harry had largely forgotten his following had such an international reach, but now, he remembered. It showed in the way the Dark Lord began today's stream with a greeting in -- Harry thought -- Russian; he turned on English captions, just in case.

"This afternoon is just full of surprises, isn't it?" asked Voldemort over Karkaroff's muffled -- with a gag, not a spell -- screams. "Dear Igor was not expected to fall into my grasp until Sunday, the wily old thing." He spoke almost fondly, but Harry recognized the cruelly gleeful gleam in his eyes.

"That said, he's far too much of a flight risk to hold for long -- whichever day he was captured, I decided, would be 'the' day. I will take especial relish in using Igor's death to demonstrate some of the true dark magic I will be discussing in my video series, of which a new video will be airing soon after this is finished. I think my dear viewers will find both the demonstration and the video most informative."

Rising from his chair, the Dark Lord crouched low over Karkaroff's rope-bound, struggling body and took hold of his left arm, using a knee in his back to pin him. Harry noticed Voldemort was wearing pristine white gloves, just before the muscles in his shoulders visibly tensed and -- with a scream from Karkaroff so loud the gag was pointless, and a sick squelch and snap -- he tore the wizard's arm from its socket, strings of flesh and a growing pool of blood spreading from the wound.

Karkaroff's screams reduced quickly to sobs, and the chat was moving faster than ever. What few English-language messages Harry could see were baying for blood; a new custom emoji, "bloodspatter", was seeing a lot of use.

Voldemort chuckled, standing up with the torn limb in one hand. His gloves were still white. "While I would like to say this is merely the expected punishment for leaving my ranks," he held up the arm to the camera, and rivulets of blood ran down to soak into the palm of the glove, "in this instance, not so.

"Igor has made many mistakes by accident, out of incompetence -- his mismanagement of Durmstrang high on that list -- but no, more than anything, this is recompense paid for his most lasting crime: participation, without my permission, I cannot emphasize that enough, in the design and placement of those wards that encircled the Magical Soviet Union. Those viewers unfamiliar with modern history have yet to recognize the scope of that crime, but I spent several months of my travels attempting to escape after those wards went up, trapping me inside. Igor's assistants are already long dead by my hand for their error, yes; but I will not soon forget what my freedom cost me."

The glare in Voldemort's eyes shifted into glee. "And neither, Karkaroff, will you. Evanesco." Karkaroff's robes vanished, exposing his back. "Excorio."

Harry watched, entranced, as the skin on Karkaroff's back tore along one line and began, slowly, to peel back, in thin strips so as to reduce blood loss and extend his torment.

"Karkaroff thought that bearing my Mark meant protection from the consequences of all his actions, sanctioned or not. He thought of me as a Tsar and himself as part of my court; but we overthrew the tsars, back then, and he sees -- don't you, Igor? -- that unsanctioned atrocities will lose my favor." The Dark Lord reached out and tore the last strip of like a plaster, and Karkaroff screamed again, shaking on the floor.

Muffled by the link as they were, the Dark Lord's current emotions still reached Harry: he basked, as Voldemort did, in his wrath, his joy, his schadenfreude . Now, there was a moment of respite for Karkaroff as a spell was cast in Russian: "For the moment, he will stop feeling this pain," Voldemort explained. "His senses are all diminished; it is akin to the cool wash of the Imperius, but without the compulsion, and thus, no room for resistance. Separating aspects of spells from one another is a highly complex endeavor which I am very glad I studied while the technique's inventors were still alive to teach me."

Indeed, Karkaroff had gone slack on the floor, and a few spells and potions later, was bleeding only sluggishly, sickly complexion restored with replenished blood. "There is no claim against Igor Karkaroff which surpasses that of the hundreds of thousands of magicals killed and maimed by his wards. As such, my dear viewers will have their next raffle on Sunday's livestream as planned.

"Instead," Voldemort spoke, in barely more than a whisper, "it is time for the forbidden magic I spoke of earlier. While many of the dark arts in my repertoire can be practiced without special preparation, this art is one exclusive to the magical with a mastery in soul magic." He flipped Karkaroff onto his back, and Harry could see terror shining through the slack features of the man's face as surely as he felt anticipation bubbling in his own chest.

One red-stained glove raised up, summoning a scalpel from off-screen. Voldemort made an incision about four inches long, and without further ado, plunged his hand in -- Harry heard ribs cracking -- to pull, with a grunt of effort, Karkaroff's still-beating heart from his body.

"I have more planned for Karkaroff than making Inferi today," the Dark Lord informed them, "but were I so inclined, I would need only speak the Inferius incantation with my wand upon his heart." A giddy feeling had Harry biting down a laugh. Voldemort was probably grinning behind the concealment of the hood. "This will, in my opinion, be more impressive regardless.

"You see, dear viewers... a skilled necromancer can make any body part the conduit of the soul: I favor the vital organs, for purely aesthetical reasons, but could just as easily tear the soul from parts as small as skin or teeth; better, strip a man's soul from his body with no conduit at all."

Disbelief among the chat-goers, now. Voldemort must have the chat box visible to him somehow; he laughed softly, rising from Karkaroff's still-living body with the bloody heart in hand. "If you doubt me so strongly, I will have to demonstrate on Sunday," he mused. "But I digress. Momentarily, I will 'de-soul' Karkaroff; and I will draw out the process, for study. As the soul begins to separate, the spells in effect on Karkaroff will begin to weaken, and he will come into full awareness just as the connection breaks.

"Unlike the Dementor's Kiss, however," said Voldemort, "when I am finished, Igor will be dead. Within minutes, his body will decay into dust and ash -- the essential saltes from whence his specter might again be summoned, if one has read appropriate passages of the Necronomicon..."

The lights in the room darkened, so that only the faint red glow of Voldemort's eyes could be seen. "Coincidentally," observed the Dark Lord brightly, as if in afterthought, "the formula for putting-down things raised from saltes is equally effective against Inferi and other undead, with one's will behind the words."

Then he fell silent, intent on the heart, and a faint shimmering glow began to emanate from the organ -- a whitish fog not unlike the Patronus. A similar glow came to outline Karkaroff on the ground; as it brightened, the man began to tremble and thrash, muttering, "no, no, no --"

Yes, yes, yes, thought Harry with a spike of glee.

There came an audible, echoing snap like a branch underfoot just as clarity returned to Karkaroff's eyes -- visible, then, in the luminescence of his soul in the air. He screamed, a final time, like an animal in a predator's jaws: Harry had heard a rabbit make that sound, once, he thought.

And finally, the mist dissipated where it had gathered, and the scream cut off into silence just as the room was again plunged into darkness.

It was over.

 

Harry lay on his bed, in the dark, for quite a while after the stream had ended. Dumbledore's words came back to him, and he thought he might understand better what the Headmaster had meant, now. Bloodsport. It had been bloodsport.

Was he being drawn in by that bloodsport, too?

Harry's contemplation of his actions didn't last much longer, though, as he was interrupted by the grandfather clock in the hall ringing for noon -- and his phone buzzing with the announcement of the newest Professor Riddle video.

"How Dark is YOUR Magic? Three Simple Tests" netted ten thousand views in under an hour, which was actually kind of impressive considering the global magical population. It didn't lie, either: three simple, clear tests for the everyday wizard to tell how immersed they are, magically, in the Dark Arts (both the regular and 'true' kind). "Everyone is a little dark," Voldemort disclaimed in the beginning of the video. "Some might consider it misleading to even call it 'dark', but I will spare you the debate for now.

"Magic presents itself in the environment, and proximity to Dark objects, wards, and spellwork affects the results of these tests. Law enforcement officers, consequently, can be some of the most-immersed non-practitioners, moreso even than some of the criminals they catch. That said, the darkest a person can get from mere proximity is 'dark grey' at best. A practitioner will have much higher readings, as will those of Dark bloodlines -- vampires, werewolves, wendigo, and so on..."

The rest of the household were gathered in the kitchen, having met there sometime after Dumbledore left and stayed there for want of anything better to do. Harry came down for lunch, pulling up the video on his phone over a plate of excellent stew. "You guys want to see how dark we are?" he grinned, skipping to the ritual that used a bowl of milk and a salt circle.

Ron shrugged. "Sure," he said, and went first. He scored the lowest, a moderate grey.

"That's the house, then," Sirius nodded.

Hermione couldn't resist a test, no matter who was giving it -- she was surprised to score slightly higher than Ron. "But it's still exposure-level," she reasoned out, reassuring herself out loud. "Spending so much time in the library, there's lots of dark books in there..."

"You also sleep closest to the attic," Sirius pointed out. "We never did finish clearing out the cursed objects in storage."

Remus went next, scoring about as dark as one would expect given his creature status. Sirius managed to be a shade darker, earning him speculative looks from Harry's friends, but Harry could understand -- he'd been raised Dark, naturally he'd show it. And he looked neither surprised nor embarrassed of his results.

In the video, Voldemort had demonstrated each test in turn, so the viewers could see how results worked. The milk he tested went from white to inky black almost immediately, which was to be expected from a Dark Lord. It wasn't quite expected from Harry, though; even Sirius raised his eyebrows at just how Dark his godson seemed to be.

"Then again, he did use my blood for his resurrection ritual," Harry mused aloud, "and I've been hit by all three Unforgivables at least once, and I've got my scar..." That got understanding nods from everyone except Hermione -- who was still peering at the bowl, inquisitive, and poking it with her finger to see the color lighten to grey. When she withdrew her finger, it darkened again.

No one suggested they try the second test, which was more specific to one's talent for Dark Arts than their immersion in them. It was, Harry learned, for the best: because when he tried it later, in his room, his results were...

Well. Damning, if Dumbledore were to see them.

He re-watched the video, peering closely at the setup for the ritual, and heard Voldemort muttering under his breath in Parseltongue, "I'd be impressed if anyone's talent were even close to mine."

Harry locked his door, and pulled up the livestream site on his phone.

 

[TreacleTart has changed their username to Curious.]

[Curious] Good evening.

The sun had begun to set, by the time he'd finished the last ritual. How should I be addressing Voldemort, anyway, Harry wondered. 'Professor Riddle'? 'Lord Voldemort'?

[Curious] I'm really liking the video series so far.

A reply came less than a minute later.

[YouKnowWho] I am glad to hear that.

[Curious] I have a question about the second test, though.

[YouKnowWho] Ah, you performed it, then?
[YouKnowWho] By all means, please ask.

[Curious] Is there any way for it to give a false positive on Dark talent?
[Curious] I didn't think I would score as highly as I did.
[Curious] Did I do something wrong?

[YouKnowWho] Had you made a mistake, the ritual would score you lower, rather than higher.
[YouKnowWho] Would you mind sending a photo of the result you received?

Harry took a photo of the large scattering of salt crystals across the chalk circle he'd drawn on the floor. Several of them were still burning.

Voldemort didn't reply for several minutes. When he did, it was just one word.

[YouKnowWho] Marvelous.

Blushing unexpectedly at the praise, Harry bid the Dark Lord a hurried good night and closed the window before anything else was said.

 

When he reopened it the next morning, it was to several messages in a row, evidently sent without the expectation of being read right away.

[YouKnowWho] My apologies, Curious. I did not mean to scare you off.
[YouKnowWho] I do not believe you received a false positive, no.
[YouKnowWho] Sometimes our talents surprise us upon their discovery.
[YouKnowWho] Whether or not you find yourself to be an ambitious person,
[YouKnowWho] I would highly encourage you to foster your newfound talent,
[YouKnowWho] as it is an especially rare gift in such magnitude.
[YouKnowWho] Please consider the idea, Curious.
[YouKnowWho] As it happens, my second lesson, to be posted Thursday,
[YouKnowWho] is specifically on recognizing and honing one's Dark talent.

Harry found himself rereading the messages several times over the course of the day, attempting to put together a reply. He didn't consider himself particularly ambitious, no, even if the Sorting Hat had thought so, and yet.

He'd seen firsthand how Ron and Hermione -- the most open-minded of Gryffindors he knew -- still recoiled from things he didn't think twice about. How they sometimes couldn't fathom his ideas. A small portion of him had always felt out-of-place in the Lions' House.

And was it really a surprise to be talented in Dark arts When the memory of Tom Riddle had said they were so much alike, even then? When he'd actually cast the Cruciatus on Bellatrix in his fifth year, even if it hadn't been a very strong one?

...When the first thing he'd felt seeing Malfoy bleeding beneath his wand, last year, hadn't been horror or guilt, but a visceral thrill?

He ended up with his head in his hands, elbows resting on the long table in the upstairs dining room -- one of the few rooms in the house that truly went unused. (Sirius had bad memories in there, and anyway, the kitchen table had the better chairs.) "Kreacher," he called quietly, "will you make me a hot cocoa with brandy?"

The mad house-elf cocked its head at Harry from the tableside, wringing its knobby hands together. "Kreacher may , if young master Potter-Black really wantses." Harry was still getting used to being Sirius' adopted son and heir after the scare at the Ministry, but better treatment from the house-elf was a much-welcomed perk.

"I've... got a complicated question on my mind," Harry admitted. "A bit of liquid courage would be nice."

"Courage, he says, when young master bears already the red and gold. Kreacher could says to finds courage from within, but maybe he be's generous..." With a pop, the elf was gone, and a minute or so later, a small mug of cocoa appeared in front of Harry, with a generous helping of whipped cream on top. Harry sipped it, recognizing the hint of brandy added to the drink, and kept thinking for a while.

Kreacher hadn't given him enough alcohol to actually get him drunk; that wasn't the point. But by the time he'd polished off half the mug, and a few biscuits the elf had placed on a plate while he wasn't looking, Harry was feeling... better. He would have thanked Kreacher, if that were the thing to do, but polite distance was getting him much further than Hermione's over-courtesy or Sirius' cursing. (Ron and Remus just avoided the elf entirely when they could.)

Fortified, Harry let a private smile cross his face, one only Kreacher would see. Then, he opened the chat window again, and began -- finally -- to type.

 

[Curious] I've given some thought to everything from yesterday.

Voldemort's reply came almost immediately.

[YouKnowWho] That is excellent news. These kinds of decisions are significant,
[YouKnowWho] whether or not they are difficult.
[YouKnowWho] I would not wish to push you in one direction or another,
[YouKnowWho] but I was once in a similar boat.
[YouKnowWho] If you have questions, by all means, you are welcome to ask.

Harry wasn't sure how to put it.

[Curious] I think it comes down to a question of 'why me?'.
[Curious] I wouldn't have minded being untalented.
[Curious] I'd have still followed your posts anyway.

Voldemort took some time composing his reply. Harry saw the 'typing' notification appear and disappear a lot.

[YouKnowWho]  Sometimes, Curious, there is no reason for things to be as they are.
[YouKnowWho] Your hesitation is natural; perhaps inconvenient, depending on your honest desires.
[YouKnowWho] Ironically, over the past few hours, quite a few people have come forward with their scores.
[YouKnowWho] You may be amused to know that for all their eagerness,
[YouKnowWho] no one demonstrated nearly as much talent.

[Curious] I am a little amused.
[Curious] I guess it's just another way I stand out.

[YouKnowWho] Do you often find yourself at the center of attention, Curious?

[Curious] I do.

[YouKnowWho] It grates a bit, doesn't it?

[Curious] ...How did you know?

[YouKnowWho] Despite being one of my most active viewers, and most frequent contributors,
[YouKnowWho] you almost never write in stream chat.
[YouKnowWho] You change your name between streams, as well;
[YouKnowWho] a reasonable precaution against being recognized.
[YouKnowWho] Most, though, don't bother.
[YouKnowWho] They gather to socialize before my streams begin;
[YouKnowWho] they have formed cliques, forums, group chats, fan clubs.
[YouKnowWho] And while I have plenty of silent viewers --
[YouKnowWho] you alone have proven to be interesting, among them.
[YouKnowWho] And now, this. You shy away from the idea of being talented.

[Curious] When I can, I like to blend in.
[Curious] I like being... normal. Or as normal as this can be.

Why was he admitting this?

[YouKnowWho] That very desire to be normal proves you ever more interesting.
[YouKnowWho] Perhaps, you surround yourself with friendly faces,
[YouKnowWho] the sort of loved ones who do not know all of you.
[YouKnowWho] It doesn't ever cross over from 'acting normal' to 'feeling normal', though, does it?

[Curious] It doesn't.

Harry didn't know why the confession stung him as much as it did.

[YouKnowWho] You've never been quite like the others, have you, Curious?

Harry flinched. He took a long drink of the brandy-laced cocoa.

[Curious] Why do you ask?

[YouKnowWho] I suppose I was just… curious.
[YouKnowWho] That you never denied either of my observation is telling;
[YouKnowWho] the acting, in particular, must come naturally by now.
[YouKnowWho] Even if you prefer to remain beneath notice.

[Curious] What's the point in lying, when I've come this far?
[Curious] Rate I'm going, I may as well be an entertainer of some kind.

Hell if Harry wasn't already a celebrity, really.

[YouKnowWho] Do you want to try?

Harry blinked at the screen.

[Curious] Pardon?

[YouKnowWho] Being an entertainer. Would you like to try it?
[YouKnowWho] You could keep your identity concealed, if you wanted to.

His heart leapt into his throat. What exactly was Voldemort suggesting?

[YouKnowWho] One or both of my projects would benefit from an assistant.
[YouKnowWho] Even I need not know your name.

[Curious] Wait. You mean you'd be teaching me Dark Arts?

[YouKnowWho] That could be part of your contract, yes.
[YouKnowWho] I can send over a tentative document, if you like.

[Curious] I get the impression you've been working on it this entire time.

[YouKnowWho] I admit I have been considering it.
[YouKnowWho] I won't push the subject if it doesn't interest you, of course.
[YouKnowWho] But you are by far the most interesting among those who have contacted me.
[YouKnowWho] And certainly the most talented.

[Curious] ...I appreciate the flattery, but surely someone is better.
[Curious] If you want to send the contract, I'll read it.

[YouKnowWho] {File attached. "Assistant_Contract_0.1.pdf"}

There was a small voice in the back of Harry's mind, screaming in horror at the very idea he was seriously considering this -- it sounded a bit like Dumbledore, if Dumbledore screamed. But a larger part of Harry was, true to his username, genuinely curious. Voldemort had given no sign that he knew who Harry was; instead, he was tempting Harry, offering this to him, flattering him…

He bit his lip, considering, his thumb hovering over the thumbnail on his phone.

Voldemort was laying out one of the few things Harry would never admit to himself that he wanted: a chance to come into his own fame, to be recognized for all that he was. To be seen .

He opened the file, and read the contract.

 

The document itself was written in plain speech, rather than the legalese Harry had almost expected. Essentially, he was being hired to assist with six months' worth of videos for the Professor Riddle channel, approximately one every two weeks, in exchange for an hourly rate during recording. If he participated in livestreams, he wouldn't be eligible for the prizes, but he would receive a percentage of donations in the week leading up to the stream. Independent of the compensation above, Harry would receive tutoring on the topics of his choice, 'regardless of their legality'.

As in, Dark Arts.

And he would remain anonymous for as much of that time as he wanted to be. The Dark Lord agrees not to pursue Assistant's identity in any manner, nor accept information given from parties other than Assistant regarding said identity. It went on to say that Harry could, at any time he pleased, cease to be anonymous.

The contract may be modified through mutual agreement. Changes take place as soon as they are agreed to.

The signature space at the bottom needed only an 'X', if he were to sign.

[YouKnowWho] We would have to physically sign a copy of the document
[YouKnowWho] for it to be magically binding, of course.
[YouKnowWho] I would be using the anonymous postbox for that.

[Curious] How will I maintain my anonymity? A disguise?

[YouKnowWho] I will gladly offer you an obscuring hood.
[YouKnowWho] I have found them incredibly effective enchanted objects,
[YouKnowWho] and highly resistant to any sort of magic.

[Curious] Okay.

Harry found his hands shaking a bit in... excitement? Nerves? Merlin, was he really doing this?

[Curious] I think I'd like to try.

[YouKnowWho] Nothing to change on the contract?

[Curious] It looks fine to me.
[Curious] The same postbox as the prizes?

[YouKnowWho] Yes. I will include the obscuring hood with the contract.
[YouKnowWho] Expect it by midmorning.
[YouKnowWho] Please review the document again when you receive it.

[Curious] All right.
[Curious] Should I... call you something specific? If I'm to be your assistant?

[YouKnowWho] 'Professor' would be acceptable.

Harry quirked an eyebrow, not that Voldemort could see it.

[Curious] Not 'my Lord' or 'Master'?

[YouKnowWho] Certainly not.
[YouKnowWho] You are an employee, not a servant. 'Professor' or 'Sir' would be fine.
[YouKnowWho] If it is agreeable to you, I would refer to you as Assistant, in turn.

[Curious has changed their username to Assistant.]

[YouKnowWho] I will leave you to review the contract in the morning, then.
[YouKnowWho] Good night, Assistant.

[Assistant] Good night, Professor.

Good night, Voldemort, thought Harry, dazed. He closed his phone, downed the last mouthful of his cocoa, and got up to go to bed.

Good Godric, this was going to be so weird. Wasn't it? Him as Voldemort's Assistant.

And yet Harry found he didn't mind the oddity. He was... actually rather looking forward to it all.

Maybe it was the way his stomach fluttered when he imagined Voldemort's voice. Good night, Assistant.

He buried himself in the bedding, closed his eyes, and dreamed a pleasant dream.

Chapter Text

Harry tumbled down the stairs and dashed past the kitchen, pulling on his coat. "Hi Siri hi Moony hi Ron hi Mione I'm-going-to-Diagon-see-you-later-byeee --"

The four of them looked up from their breakfast almost in unison. By the time Ron stood up from his chair, Harry had already left, closing the front door behind him with a 'click'.

Hermione spoke first in the ensuing silence. "Should we... go after him?"

Ron paused in putting another forkful of eggs into his mouth to say, "Probably, but can we just pretend we already did?"

Sirius raised his glass of pumpkin juice. "I'll drink to that!" He toasted with Remus and Ron and, reluctantly, Hermione. "How much trouble can he possibly get into without us to help, anyway?"

 

It was Harry's third visit to the anonymous post office in Knockturn Alley, hidden behind a hole in the wall of another building. He leaned up against the wall, murmuring the box number and several digits that formed a password, and an archway materialized beside him for just long enough to slip through.

(How, one might wonder, was Harry Potter getting into Magical London without being noticed?)

(A hat.)

Inside, the place was as empty as always -- Harry supposed it might be an illusion of some kind. Along one wall were hundreds of post boxes, numbered in no particular order; they didn't move, fortunately, so after Harry had spent more than an hour looking for his, the first time, it was easy to find again. He held his wand to the little metal door, murmuring the box password under his breath, and it opened with a soft click. Inside the magically-expanded interior lay a neatly rolled scroll of parchment tied with black string, and beside it, a small box that fairly gleamed with magic. The scroll found its place in the mokeskin pouch around his neck, for now; the box, though, Harry opened right away, knowing to be the obscuring hood Voldemort had mentioned in their messages.

The black fabric of the hood poured out into his hands like silk or satin, cool to the touch and tingling with magical potential. It reminded Harry greatly of the first time he'd held the Invisibility Cloak -- perhaps disguising enchantments on cloth were all like that? He used a mirror hanging nearby to tug the hood on over his head, finding with satisfaction that once it was on, it didn't show any signs of coming off, no matter how rapidly he shook his head around to test it. Just as it did with Voldemort, the hood shrouded Harry's face in complete darkness, obscuring his features so completely there could easily not be any; his eyes didn't glow, but that was probably a Dark Lord thing. For his part, Harry could see perfectly fine, as though the hood weren't there at all -- and more interestingly, while he could feel the hood on his head, when he reached to touch the fabric, his hand went through it entirely.

"Wicked," he breathed, threading his fingers through his hair. "I wonder how it does that."

Taking it off was no hardship; he made to replace the hood in the box, and found a slip of parchment inside: a note, in Voldemort's handwriting.

Good morning, Assistant, it read.

This is one of a set of identical obscuring hoods in my possession. It can be replaced as needed; send it back immediately if it seems not to be working.

The hood will only deactivate if pulled off by the same person who activated it. This means that you may choose to take it off at any time, but no magical or physical force may do so for you. This includes the Imperius Curse.

I have not tested yet, but I suspect Fiendfyre will still burn away the hood.

Regards - Y.K.W.

Harry wondered if 'You-Know-Who' had become Voldemort's go-to nickname because he liked it, or because it was the shortest title they'd dared to give him in the press.

Stowing the box in the mokeskin pouch with the scroll, Harry turned onto the cobbles of Diagon Alley and made a few stops before returning to the house.

"I'm back," he called, once he was safely past Walburga's portrait in the hall. The other four occupants of the house did not present themselves, however. "...Everyone?"

No reply. Puzzled, Harry wandered through to the kitchen, finding the breakfast table cleared of detritus. He left the bag of Diagon souvenirs there, retreating upstairs to read the contract in the privacy of 'his' dining room. "Kreacher," he murmured once seated at the head of the table, "is anyone else home?"

The elf popped in with a plate of savory snacks. (Just what Harry had been craving.) "No, young master," he answered. "Kreacher saw the household Flooing out at eleven o'clock, but did not hear where they were going."

"Huh." Harry did the math, picking at the assortment of snacks on the plate. They'd only just left when he'd returned, then, which meant he probably had a while to himself in the house. "I see. Do we have a blood quill somewhere?"

It was wonderful, he thought, to have a house-elf without moral scruples. Dobby would have been scandalized by the question. Much as Harry loved Dobby, Kreacher's unfazed affirmative response was a blessing. "In the attic, young master. Is Kreacher to be bringing it?"

"Yes." With that, Kreacher popped away, leaving Harry to spread out the contract on the dark wood of the table. It matched the digital format, he read, save for one thing: Voldemort's signature, already gleaming at the bottom of the parchment. Harry traced a finger over it, feeling a faint tingle as though the ink moved beneath his touch.

The elf returned a few minutes later with a narrow silver box. Harry flipped it open, recognizing the menacing arch of the black feather within -- it was a different shape than Umbridge's, a bit nicer-looking as would be expected from House Black -- and lifted the Blood Quill from the grey velvet it lay upon, examining it. The silver nib seemed to be where the enchantments were, given how it caught the light.

Harry rested the side of his hand on the contract, quill raised up over the parchment. He looked at it for a long moment. If this were a film, he thought, the musical score would be getting more ominous, wouldn't it?

He'd expected pain, given his prior experience with blood quills, but no. When he finally put silver nib to parchment, signing with a looping 'x', he felt nothing at all. Do I have to send this back? he wondered, just before a glowing light enveloped the scroll and it disappeared from in front of him.

In the hallway, the clock chimed noon.

Harry blinked, set the quill down, and took out his phone.

[Assistant] Good afternoon, Professor. I've just signed the contract.

[YouKnowWho] Excellent. I have received the original. A copy will be sent to the postbox tonight.
[YouKnowWho] Welcome aboard, Assistant.
[YouKnowWho] If you are available, shall we meet in person?

Well, if the rest of the household were still out somewhere... "Kreacher, return the blood quill to storage. I'm going out again."

[Assistant] I'm available, yes. Where will we meet?

[YouKnowWho] My office.
[YouKnowWho] Await a parcel addressed to 'Lord Voldemort's Assistant' by messenger raven in about an hour.
[YouKnowWho] It is a two-way Portkey; while holding it, the password is 'Office'.

[Assistant] Should I bring anything?

[YouKnowWho] Your wand, if you like.
[YouKnowWho] I do have a library of spare wands on hand if you would prefer more anonymity.
[YouKnowWho] It is your choice.
[YouKnowWho] I gather the hood is functioning as expected?

[Assistant] It is, yes.

[YouKnowWho] Then, that as well.
[YouKnowWho] Beyond the hood and a wand, bring as much or as little as you like.
[YouKnowWho] We will not be recording anything today, after all.

[Assistant] See you soon, Professor.

Harry passed the hour showering and getting dressed in one of his better sets of robes. He made a valiant attempt at combing his hair, trying not to think about how this felt like getting ready for a date, before he put the hood on again, sheathing his wand in a plain black forearm holster Sirius had gotten him as an adoption present. Any excuse to spoil me, really, Harry thought fondly. His godfather gave Remus 'full moon presents'.

(Though, knowing their relationship, it was probably something of an exchange --)

Harry coughed, casting about for something to distract him from the tail end of that thought, and went over to the mirror to examine his reflection instead. In this all-black getup, he looked rather Voldemortish himself. "I wonder why my eyes don't glow?"

There came a tapping at the window, louder than owls usually tapped. Harry saw a very large raven on the windowsill, with a parcel tied to its ankle. The bird cawed twice, loudly, while Harry untied it, and flew away immediately in a burst of feathers the moment it was free.

Harry opened the box.

[Assistant] Is this an earring?

[YouKnowWho] Yes. It becomes invisible once worn.

[Assistant] My ear isn't pierced.

[YouKnowWho] No matter. I will attach it for you later, then.
[YouKnowWho] For the moment, when you are ready, simply hold it in your hand.

[Assistant] All right. I'll be there soon.

Harry took a last glance in the mirror before he left his room, patting his pockets; he had his Invisibility Cloak in the mokeskin pouch, just in case, his wand in its holster, and his hood up. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a leaf of parchment and a Muggle biro from the desk in one corner of the room and scrawled out a short note. "Kreacher, give this note to whoever gets back first. I'm going out again."

That settled, he returned to the dining room, pinched the Portkey between his finger and thumb, and intoned, "Office."

A brief swirl of color, and he was whisked up and away.

 

One hour earlier.

"Severus." The dour Potions Master did not flinch, this time, but it was a near thing. The Dark Lord had taken a liking to sneaking up on him, the past few months, having caught him off-guard just once. (Severus had dropped his stirring rod. Voldemort had laughed. Sane, the man might be, Severus conceded, but not mature -- he remained as impulsive as ever.)

"My lord," he murmured, inclining his head in the direction of the doorframe. "How may I serve?"

Amusement glittered in the Dark Lord's red eyes. It was... still disconcerting, seeing his new face. (Or was it his old face? Severus vaguely recalled similar features, albeit distorted, at the height of the first war.) Bellatrix had nearly fainted when she saw Him in person the first time, and even now could be incited to gush about Voldemort's supposed beauty with little effort. Severus wondered if he was alone in remembering the Dark Lord's propensity for causing pain -- as some of the lower ranks seemed to have forgotten. Pretty or not, he is still evil.

"I have just hired an assistant," said Voldemort, interrupting Severus' musings. "He will arrive in the foyer within an hour. Remain hidden there, and observe him for me."

Of all the things the Dark Lord might have said, this was something Severus had not expected. "Yes, my lord," he responded simply, still a bit dazed by the whole idea. Voldemort hiring an assistant. Really.

The Dark Lord disappeared back upstairs, leaving him to his own devices; Severus used the time provided to stow away his potions ingredients and set the brew he'd been attempting aside until later, before making his way up from the potions labs in the lower levels to the main floor of Dark Headquarters.

The building still managed to confuse Severus on occasion, despite him having spent a great deal of time there recently -- rather like Hogwarts could be, when he thought about it -- but the first floor at least was easy to navigate. He passed Bella and her husbands in one of the parlors, torturing a silenced Muggle (the Dark Lord had had words with them about noise in the building earlier in the week), and Barty and Avery reviewing maps in the war room, puzzling over their latest strategic orders. The Inner Circle had been idle as of late, compared to what had historically been expected of the war front, and it showed even more now, with all the Death Eaters largely in one place.

The most militarily active portions of the Inner Circle were the most restless, as evidenced by the Lestrange trio's activities, but the entire organization had seen an unprecedented mingling of ranks of late -- even Lucius and Narcissa were socializing with their intelligence branch underlings today. Said branch of middle-ranking Death Eaters was currently being presided over by the couple at a dining table not far from the entrance hall that the Dark Lord called a foyer.

Disillusioning himself, and adding several more concealment spells besides, Severus took up a guarding position at the tall archway that separated the entrance hall from the rest of the floor, and waited. Almost precisely at the referenced hour, the wards hummed, and a black-clad figure appeared out of the shadows of one alcove, the same as any ward-permitted Death Eater did.

This must be the 'assistant'.

Severus quickly catalogued the major points of the visitor's appearance. Most likely male, from the gait and the garb, the assistant was of average height, carried himself with no particular confidence or anxiety, and wore one of the charmed hoods that the Dark Lord had commissioned over the winter, so that shadow completely obscured his face.

He was also muttering to himself.

"...faster than I thought it'd be." The assistant spoke under his breath, head turning every which way. Severus found he did not recognize the voice -- the hoods obscured sound, ever so slightly -- but it was clear that this was a younger wizard, perhaps Draco's age. He drew a phone from his pocket; Severus attempted to guess the pattern-based password from a distance, but couldn't quite manage.

The assistant typed quickly into the phone and returned it to his pocket; then he simply stood there, waiting, staring at the closed-door archway from whence the Dark Lord would soon emerge, Severus knew.

For a five-minute span, the man -- boy? -- waited, and Severus felt a thread of unease at the way he did not fidget, merely stood, still as a statue save for the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. Vampire, Severus' instincts supplied. He is too still to be human.

And yet.

The assistant was not nearly as graceful as a vampire, demonstrating a human clumsiness that could not be feigned. When the Dark Lord opened the doors to the entrance hall, he looked up sharply, as if startled, and took an uncertain step forward.

"Professor," said the boy brightly -- yes, he definitely sounded young, on second observation, under the distortion of the hood. A Hogwarts seventh-year or recent graduate, Severus surmised.

And the Dark Lord, to Severus' surprise, was suddenly standing very close to the assistant, in a sweep of black robes. There was... fondness in his eyes. Familiarity. Appreciation. "Assistant," he smiled. Smiled -- Severus shuddered. The Dark Lord does not smile like this. "Welcome. It is a pleasure to meet in person at last."

"Likewise, sir. I'm... still a bit nervous, but no more than I thought I would be." Assistant -- not 'the assistant', Severus corrected himself -- inclined his head in a polite nod, not the bow that the Potions Master might have expected. Then again, this was not one of the Dark Lord's servants, but an employee. "I have the earring in my pocket for now."

"Very good," the Dark Lord nodded. "Come, walk with me; I will show you the relevant parts of the building." He turned, sweeping off at a stride through the doors, not waiting for Assistant to follow.

Severus had expected hesitation, at this juncture -- some brief insecurity, perhaps, because to be nervous in the Dark Lord's presence was only human, after all. And yet, the boy was promptly at His heels, and when Voldemort actually slowed his pace to account for him, they walked side by side.

He followed them at a distance, perplexed. There had been no talk of this Assistant before today, but it was clear the Dark Lord had been courting him in some fashion for much longer. 'In person', He'd said. One could conclude that the Dark Lord had found Assistant online.

With his presence so concealed from everyone except the Dark Lord (who could sense all Death Eaters' presences in the building through their Marks), Severus allowed himself to frown.

What was it, he wondered, that felt so familiar about Assistant when he looked at him?

 

"...stairs lead to the guest quarters on the second floor," Voldemort pointed out a staircase. "You are welcome to use a guest room as needed; though I will set aside quarters for you on an upper level later. Down ahead are the kitchens..."

Assistant nodded along, taking in the contents of the hallway as they walked. He was clearly paying close attention, even if Voldemort could not see his face. Refreshing, the Dark Lord thought, to have him here: the boy fit so well into the space at Voldemort's side. Neat. Natural. An extension of him, of his will, in an entirely different fashion as his servants were.

There had been hints of this easy familiarity in their online interactions, he supposed; Assistant had caught his eye from the beginning. To be both the top donor and grand prize winner of the very first livestream could be left as a wonderful coincidence; but the execution of Umbridge was, in Voldemort's opinion, especially inspired. So he had grown fond of Assistant, long before the revelation of the boy's Dark potential -- to the point that the latter was more of a cherry-on-top, than the base requirement for an assistant that it would have been, had he publicly announced a search for one.

Voldemort had always enjoyed teaching; had taken individual Death Eaters under his wing, at times, to foster their talents; and now he had, at his side, this most willing of students. Talented, yet modest. Polite. Attentive. He could get used to this. Indeed, he /had/ gotten used to it -- and they'd only been in each other's presence half an hour.

He wondered if he was too obviously enjoying himself, not that his servants could see his face.

"My wing of the first floor lies beyond this set of doors," he was saying, opening them as he approached with a lazy gesture of his hand. The double doors opened onto Voldemort's study, home to a large personal library and several desks and tables upon which various projects were spread out. It would take hours to explain any one of them to Assistant, but the Dark Lord found he would gladly do so, given the chance. The boy remained within reach, looking around the room, and he wondered yet again what expression might be on his face. Wonder, perhaps? Curiosity, as in his most recent nickname?

(Was Assistant the type to learn by reading, or doing? Would he participate in livestreams? Did he know how to use the Killing Curse, or would Voldemort get to teach him--?)

They continued, a moment later, into the second study: a quieter, darker room lit by a fireplace and a few wall sconces. This was the Dark Lord's preferred space when he wished to be alone to think, and it showed in the arrangement of the furniture -- unlike his desk outside, this one had no visitors' chairs, and the hearthside armchairs in the main study were replaced here by a singular black fainting couch with its back to the door, facing the flames.

"I will adjust the Portkey on your earring to bring you directly here from now on," Voldemort found himself saying -- inwardly surprised at his own words, given that he hadn't given any consideration to such a change until he set foot in the room. He cocked his head, gazing at the skull graven into the mantel. "In fact, I suppose I ought to do that now."

He held out a hand and Assistant was already placing the bit of charmed metal in his palm, a faint tremble to his fingers that betrayed the boy's nerves. (For all he'd said he was nervous, Assistant had shown charmingly little of it so far.)

"Have a seat on the settee, there," the Dark Lord suggested while he drew his wand to attend to the Portkey. "No time like the present to fit this to your ear."

 

Assistant was nervous. Which was to say, Harry was nervous. Just a little -- just enough to be noticeable -- as he murmured, "Yes, sir," in acknowledgement, and walked around to sit where he'd been directed to.

The fainting couch was almost too comfortable, he found, barely resisting lying down on it; rather, he waited with his hands clasped in his lap, straight-backed, all too aware of the Dark Lord's presence somewhere behind him.

Because it was a comfortable presence, not a tense one, and that had caught Harry off-guard from the minute he met Voldemort in person. He'd surprised himself already by how easy it was to step into the role of Assistant. Speaking with the Dark Lord over chat, interacting with him outside of their past confrontations, had left Harry... familiar with the man, at ease around him, despite what he thought he ought to feel.

Because that's what Harry Potter ought to feel, part of him pointed out. And Assistant... wasn't Harry Potter.

You've never been quite like the others, have you, Assistant?

Voldemort's easy acceptance of him had probably helped, too. They'd just seamlessly moved from their conversation online to speaking in person, and Voldemort hadn't seemed bothered by any of Assistant's questions during the tour so far.

It occurred to Harry then that putting the earring on meant the Dark Lord would be touching his face. The side of it, at least, while he applied the piercing.

He had time to anticipate it while Voldemort adjusted the Portkey on the earring to direct Assistant here instead of the foyer (which was, to be fair, nearly a ten-minute walk; how large exactly was this building supposed to be?). Harry worried his lip under the hood, tensing up.

"That's that fixed," Voldemort said after a while, and promptly rounded the settee to sit beside Assistant. "Bring the earring underneath the hood; I can set it in place through the fabric, but the attachment spell only takes if the metal touches skin." Harry accepted the earring from the Dark Lord, reaching under the hood to hold it up to the soft bit of his earlobe. Fingers slipped around his, taking hold of the earring again, and he let his hand drop, holding very still.

"It's quite all right to be nervous," Voldemort murmured while he felt for the right part of Harry's ear; he had raised his other hand to Harry's chin, tilting his head to the side, so he could take his earlobe between index and middle fingers, with the other two curled -- which meant his knuckles brushed against Harry's jugular, perfectly aware of his racing pulse. Clasped in his lap, his own hands trembled at the contact. Voldemort didn't say anything else after that; or at least, Harry didn't think he did. All he could hear, after a time, was the sound of his heartbeat, the brush of skin against skin, and their asynchronous breathing, of which the Dark Lord's was the slower and steadier.

Attempting to match his breathing, Harry exhaled; when his lungs were empty, he felt a slight pinch on his ear, and gasped a little. "Oh," he said faintly. That didn't hurt at all.

Then the hands on his face were pulling away, and Harry found himself almost bereft, almost leaned into the retreating touch -- before he controlled himself.

"Now that that is finished," Voldemort said pleasantly, as if it had not been nearly so intense an experience for him as for Harry, "I shall show you the remaining rooms of use to us, and introduce you to a few of the servants." He rose from the settee, and Harry was especially glad for the hood right now, because it saved him the embarrassment of being caught dazed, mouth slack, and blinking back into awareness.

"...Yes, sir," he agreed after a beat, getting up from the chair to follow him.

 

Not long after Harry's Portkey activated, the other four occupants of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place regrouped in the foyer of the house. "Do you think Harry's back yet?" wondered Hermione.

Kreacher popped in at the moment she'd finished that question to inform them, "Master Potter-Black is returned some time ago, yes," in a haughty tone, his hateful little eyes surveying them with obvious disdain. "Master is going out again already. He left this note with Kreacher, yes, for whomever is returning first --"

Remus stepped forward to take the note, offering the elf a polite nod before scanning the paper. "'Will be back later. Souvenirs in the kitchen,'" he read aloud.

"He didn't say where he was going?" Sirius asked the elf, glaring down at it.

Kreacher made a show of thinking it over. "No, young master Sirius, Master Potter-Black did not."

Under his breath, Ron muttered to Hermione, "Weird that Sirius is the 'young' master when Harry is the younger one."

"He must like Harry better," Hermione surmised, as if they hadn't already all figured that out for themselves -- and wondered how it happened.

Weird.

 

Conversation among Lucius and Narcissa's gathering of lesser Death Eaters in the dining room was cut off abruptly by the appearance of their Lord in the doorway, a cloaked and hooded figure at his side. The lot of them stiffened in their seats, turning to face the Dark Lord and make the appropriate gestures of respect; a dismissive hand-wave had them relaxing back into their chairs, no less attentive to whatever orders they were about to receive.

He turned His gaze upon each of them in turn, red eyes cool. Then: "Lucius. Narcissa. My loyal servants." (The others weren't of high enough rank to justify a first-name basis.)

Narcissa barely kept her expression schooled to 'blankly pleasant' as her Lord turned to the figure at His side and smiled. The Dark Lord did not smile. Odder still, He looped an arm around the figure's shoulders before returning His attention to the room at large.

"This is Assistant. I have just hired him for my ongoing projects; you will therefore be seeing him here quite often." And His voice was even warmer when He spoke to Assistant -- Narcissa repressed a shudder at the anomalous fondness in His tone. "Lucius and Narcissa are among my preferred servants, Assistant. Go to them for any general requests or concerns; they are more than capable of fulfilling what is needed."

"Yes, Sir," said Assistant promptly. His head had been turned up to look the Dark Lord in the eyes as He spoke; now that faceless shadow turned to the table and offered a polite nod. "Hello. Nice to meet you all."

Dear Merlin, Narcissa thought. He sounded like he could be Draco's age. Was he one of her son's classmates?

The pair of them were already turning as one and departing the room, headed down the hall to where Narcissa just knew her sister and brothers-in-law were most likely still torturing that Muggle. No one at the table had been so bold as to resume speaking yet, frozen as they all were in varying degrees of shock. Were it not for the obviously different voice, Narcissa could almost imagine that Assistant was a copy of her Lord, the way they stood together like that.

He had taken favored servants before, yes, for a short time, but...

A careful glance exchanged with her husband bore the unspoken question: what in Merlin's name was that?

Lucius' clueless near-shrug was not a good sign. If even he had not known about it...

 

Severus wiped the cold sweat off of his brow, glad to be invisible. If this was how he was to spend the rest of the afternoon... he would have given himself grey hairs trying to keep his reactions off his face, otherwise.

It tested every ounce of his Occlumency to observe, as he had been ordered, the interactions of his Lord and His Assistant thus far, by value of the sheer energy they exuded as a pair. The indescribable intensity which had pervaded the moment Severus would henceforth term 'The Earring Scene' -- that inexplicably intimate tableau before the fire, a brief moment of symmetry with the skull engraving watching them from the mantel -- and the way Assistant had seemed to pursue the Dark Lord's hands as they left his skin -- had sent a shiver down his spine that did not dissipate, but coiled icy in his stomach, making his bones ache.

Only now, when they approached the Lestranges in the side parlor, did Severus recognize the similarities between the Dark magic permeating the room -- remnants of the Cruciatus, most likely -- and the boy's general aura, even muffled as it was by the obscuring hood to hide his signature. Severus watched very closely now, hoping for the slightest posture or motion that might indicate who Assistant could be, that he might report it at the Order meeting tonight.

"These are Bella, Rudy, and Rabs -- Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Rabastan Lestrange," the Dark Lord was saying, gesturing to each in turn. And there -- a brief tension in Assistant's shoulders, an abortive twitch of his hand as though going for his wand. The boy is wary of the Lestranges.

A pity that that information didn't serve to narrow down the list any.

"This is Assistant," their Lord continued, once again resting a hand on the boy's shoulder. Proprietary, Severus thought. A wave of possible implications of that possessiveness occurred to him in the next second, nauseating him so that he barely heard the rest of what the Dark Lord was saying.

"...now in my employ for my ongoing projects." Sternly, as was necessary for the half-mad triad, "Assistant is not Marked. He will be working under me personally. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my Lord," the three chorused.

Assistant remained silent at the Dark Lord's side. With the hood, it was unclear whether he was even looking at them. (Only the Dark Lord had luminescent eyes, after all.) Bella approached them, of course, a moment later -- she loomed over Assistant with a toothy grin that didn't seem to intimidate the boy in the least, from his posture. "Hello there," she cooed, reaching as if to pat Assistant on the head. "Aren't you the cutest thing?"

"...Hello, Bella," said Assistant in a tone of blank politeness, as of meeting a stranger. Severus did not miss the way his hand twitched again, as it had a moment before. (Sadly, 'disliking Bellatrix' was also a trait common to the sane members of the wizarding population.) "Nice to meet you."

Further interaction was cut off by the Dark Lord lifting the hand He kept on Assistant's shoulder (Severus could have sworn His thumb had been rubbing circles into it a moment before) in an imperious wave of His arm. "Enough, Bella," he dismissed. "Come along, Assistant. I have yet to show you the work rooms downstairs; they will occupy the majority of our time."

"Yes, Sir," said Assistant immediately, with a hint of relief.

Severus caught Bella eyeing the two wizards consideringly as they left the room together.

 

The subterranean workrooms in which Voldemort spent the most time as of late were both changed and unchanged by Assistant's new presence within them. Voldemort found, again and again in the time they had so far spent together, that the younger wizard fit terribly neatly into the spaces he himself inhabited. It pleased him to find the boy so compatible so soon.

He would have to inquire of Severus, later, the precise moment Assistant slotted into the space at his side that he presently occupied; was it as soon as they met, in the foyer? It remained an awfully heady feeling -- this knowledge that this was the first time they had ever met.

"You may already recognize this room," Voldemort commented, remaining in the doorway as Assistant strode forward into the circular space that formed the scenery for all his livestreams. He turned his head this way and that to take in the layout, walking a circuit around it.

"This is interesting," the boy remarked. "I had no idea the space was this large." With tentative steps, Assistant approached the armchair, standing in front of it and slightly to the side and turning to look at the empty tripod where the camera would stand, were they recording. He did not presume to sit in the chair, however; and the Dark Lord was almost moved by the display of subtle, even unconscious, deference.

"By all means," he found himself saying, "feel free to sit."

Only at his leave did Assistant do so; Voldemort would not know this, standing where he did at the moment, but the position the boy took was identical to the Dark Lord's during his streams, crossing his legs elegantly in the chair.

After a minute, though, Assistant stood and returned to his side. Good, the unspoken murmur rose in his mind. Voldemort would have to wonder at the source of that thought later; for now, he moved on to the next room, one of several ritual rooms they would be using for Assistant's future lessons and for some of the educational videos to be recorded in the coming weeks.

 

Severus had lagged behind a bit during the descent into the underground portions of the Dark Headquarters, enough that he nearly missed the signal to reveal himself when it came.

"...several potions labs reserved for one of my servants, Severus," the Dark Lord was saying to Assistant as he gestured at a closed door marked with the universal hazard symbol.

It was his cue to appear from further down the hall; the Potions Master dropped his concealment spells and made his way toward his Lord and the Assistant, carefully modulating his reaction to the boy's presence as he bowed.

"Allow me to introduce you to Assistant, my new employee," his Lord spoke softly. His hand, Severus noted, had slipped from Assistant's shoulder down to his upper arm, fingertips smoothing over the fabric of the boy's sleeve.

Assistant had carefully concealed a flinch of surprise at the sight of him, Severus saw, and -- leaned into the Dark Lord's side, just a little. "Hello, Severus," said Assistant in the same blank way he'd addressed the Lestranges earlier.

Severus despaired at the fact that the reaction, yet again, was of no help in discerning the boy's identity.

The Dark Lord pulled Assistant in closer to his side with his arm slung around the boy's shoulders. Severus dutifully kept a blank face at the way Assistant was letting him do it, was quite possibly /enjoying/ the contact, by his body language. He was sure that, under the obscuring hood, Assistant's expression would be relaxed, happy, content -- all things no one should rightfully feel in the Dark Lord's presence.

"Severus maintains the supply of medical and otherwise useful potions available to us," his Lord was saying. "As with Lucius and Narcissa, you may rely upon him for solutions to any problems that arise."

"Who should I look for first, Professor?" asked Assistant.

The Dark Lord seemed thoughtful. "Whoever is likely to be closer, on a general basis. Severus spends most of his summer brewing, so he will be down here. Lucius and Narcissa have been assigned to keep order upstairs for the time being.

"Now," he swept around in a whorl of black robes, "the last room on this floor of any real use today is the main ritual circle. I would like to repeat the ritual you conducted earlier in the week..." This time, a small gesture indicated to Severus to stay behind. He returned upstairs to his Lord's office in anticipation of giving his report.

Chapter Text

Harry let his gaze be drawn up to the apex of the ritual room's high, domed ceiling, along stone ribs cast in eerie shadow by the dim ambient light that emanated from the floor. He had immediately noticed that the air was warmer in here than in the other rooms, for some reason. A faint mist rose from the very middle of the room, disappearing just before it reached the ceiling. Were he not already used to the atmosphere of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, Harry thought he might have been intimidated by the vast room before him, with its still, dry air and the doubled echoes of their steps on the stone floor.

"As is the case with most ritual rooms in Britain," the Dark Lord said, "this space predates the rest of Headquarters by nearly a thousand years. It is contemporary with the Chamber of Secrets beneath Hogwarts." Stepping forward, he gestured to the floor, where Harry now noticed a deep groove cut into the stone: an outline of a circle. "The designers enchanted this stonework to change shape in accordance with all manner of styles, shapes, circles and stars. Restoring the room to its full glory has taken my researchers the better part of three years."

The longer Harry stared at the stones that made up the floor, the more he began to discern patterns cut within the outer circle -- a complicated tangle of lines he could barely see, so close together was each individual 'brick'. "I've never seen anything like this," he said quietly, admiring.

Voldemort seemed to preen slightly at the compliment -- as was his due, Harry thought, when he had something this incredible in his possession. When the Dark Lord swept further into the room, stopping just before the edge of the circle, Harry could just make out the pleased expression on his face. "I mentioned earlier that we would be repeating the rituals from my recent video, in this space. In a few minutes, Augustus and Corban, two of my Unspeakables, will arrive to facilitate both tests in an expanded format. While we wait for them, would you like to help place the first layer of salt?"

Hoping he didn't seem too eager, Harry agreed. He was promptly taught a salt-conjuring spell akin to Aguamenti, and began to walk the circle, pouring salt into the groove as evenly as possible. The Dark Lord watched him work, retreating to the doorway; what little Harry could see of his gaze was assessing, and then, quite pleased, as if he had measured up to expectations. Harry finished the circle just as the doors opened to admit two figures with pale half-masks covering their eyes, robes heavily embellished and glittering in distinct patterns. Voldemort waited until Harry was back at his side to address them.

"Corban. Augustus. This is Assistant, my new employee. We will be testing him this afternoon."

Neither wizard spoke; they bowed their heads in sync. "For esoteric reasons, they are mute outside of ritual circumstances," the Dark Lord explained to Harry in an aside. "You may find it productive to read sign language, to best communicate with them."

"They aren't blind, sir?" Harry thought to ask.

"On the contrary," said Voldemort, his voice airy with mysticism, "their masks allow them to see beyond the scope of the naked eye." A considering expression crossed his face. "In fact, remind me after this to have one made for you."

"Yes, sir."

 

Beneath his mask, Rookwood suspected his eyes had gone very wide. So this was the source of the magical disturbance throughout the basement: an unmarked wizard of substantial power. The concealing hood Assistant wore disguised his exact magical signature -- as any good disguising artifact ought to -- but the subtle churning of the air around the boy, visible to Rookwood through his mask, was clear indication of his latent ability. The Dark Lord must have recruited -- ahem, employed -- Assistant for precisely this reason.

He knelt beside the salt circle for a moment; the conjured salt tasted of the same power, when he brought a grain to his tongue. A look exchanged with Yaxley told Rookwood the other Unspeakable had come to the same conclusion.

Together, they murmured the requisite command words to create a square indent within the circle and fill it with a shallow layer of milk siphoned from the storage rooms nearby. Their Lord and his Assistant approached as one, crossing the circle in step.

"At this scale," the Dark Lord explained to Assistant, "there is opportunity for comparison to a better extent than in the version I demonstrated."

"Ah, I compared with a few of my friends," Assistant supplied. Sheepish, he added, "I was the darkest of them."

Small wonder, thought Rookwood, given the weight of your aura. If normal auras, as the mask allowed him to perceive them, took the shape of dim, watercolor outlines around one's body, both Assistant and the Dark Lord were painted with broad strokes of ink.

"Stand at the far corner," said the Dark Lord to Assistant, "and when I tell you, dip your finger in the milk.”

 

It was only the privacy clause of Assistant's contract that restrained Lord Voldemort from inquiring, upon seeing the results of the first test, how exactly the boy had become immersed enough in the Dark Arts to nearly match him. The diagonal line that divided their results showed barely three shades' difference between them -- he had expected to be the Darker of the two of them, of course, but by a much larger margin.

"Intriguing," he murmured, stepping back from the circle. "Augustus, Corban, the next arrangement."

While the Unspeakables reset the circle, drawing a new border in chalk and pouring a large pile of salt in the center, the Dark Lord pondered his decision to leave Severus upstairs. But then, the man was never much for ritual work; if Voldemort wanted an appreciative audience, he thought, better to summon Lucius instead.

So, on a whim, he did. It would take his blond servant about ten minutes to reach this room, he estimated. In the meantime, Voldemort watched Assistant watch the Unspeakables: he could not see where the boy's gaze lay, of course, but from his posture, it was clear that Assistant paid careful attention to every element of the ritual's construction. The honest interest was perhaps the Dark Lord's favorite thing -- Voldemort had so rarely taken novices as apprentices or students, in the past. (The last of them had been Severus, in fact.) There was nothing so refreshing, he thought, as the appreciative gaze of the neophyte.

"Come here, Assistant," he spoke quietly, holding an arm out. The boy tucked himself neatly against Voldemort's side without further prompting -- he rested his arm around Assistant's shoulders. "What do you think might be the advantage of using this much space and material for the second test?"

"...Detail, sir?"

"Precisely." The Unspeakables were stepping back, now, their work done. "The more space provided, the more salt available, the finer the shape we see will be."

Behind him, a breeze told Voldemort of the door opening; the sound of footsteps told him Lucius had arrived even before the murmured 'my Lord' that Voldemort expected. He looked down at Assistant, or rather, the top of Assistant's hood.

"Shall we begin?"

 

Lucius repressed the shudder that crawled over his skin as he entered the grand ritual room, as he did every time; intellectually, he knew the temperature shift and stillness of the air were indicators of the potency of the spot, of precise, effortful positioning over intersecting lay lines at the right time -- this ritual space was, after all, the Dark Lord's pride and joy, in its restored state -- but it still frightened him, in the nebulous way that ancient and terrible things did in legends, every time the door closed behind him.

"My Lord," he murmured, stopping to express his respects. The Dark Lord was not looking at him, was standing with His arm around Assistant again -- so closely that their cloaks seemed to blend into one figure, in the near-darkness of the room -- but He surely knew Lucius was there.

Then, to Assistant: shall we begin? And while the boy stepped into the ritual circle, Lucius moved to stand an appropriate distance from his Lord and serve his summoned purpose as audience. Only now, from the new vantage point, did he notice just what he was here to see.

...So this is why I am here, he thought. The Dark Lord is showing off.

Lucius was intimately familiar with the ritual about to take place -- it had been practiced by his family for generations. Though it was not their creation, they had recorded it and its derivatives in the Malfoy library as a precaution. For as many generations as Lucius could remember, his family members had meditated to expand their magical circulation, the better to conduct magic through their bodies, from as young an age as possible. The practice, while technically illegal in Britain after the eighteenth century, had long enhanced latent abilities in wandless magic and maximized family members' contributions to rituals. And this ritual in particular was designed to illustrate the progress one had made in self-improvement.

The Dark Lord had mentioned something to Lucius about one of his viewers sending in impressive results, after the uploading of that video guide. There was no doubt in Lucius' mind that those results had come from Assistant, given the expectant look on his Lord's face now.

In the center of the circle, the boy in question stood, posture relaxed. "Should I start now, Professor?" Assistant asked.

With a gesture of the Dark Lord's hand, he did -- sitting down atop the veritable mound of conjured salt, and splaying his arms out to his sides.

Lucius spotted the two Unspeakables observing from the far end of the room, just before the salt began to flow across the space like water, arranging itself into hundreds of patterns before settling, layer by layer, over the face of the stone floor. Incredible amounts of latent power. Of the three parts of the test, this one tended to change the least over a wizard's life, barring outside interference. Assistant, whoever he was, must have been born to powerful parents.

The low hiss of moving salt went silent, soon. Lucius hastily closed his mouth, embarrassed to be gaping at the sight.

And then it began to burn.

The Malfoy patriarch sucked in a gasp. The fire engulfed nearly every line of salt on the floor. Merlin, he thought weakly, who is this? How did our Lord find him? The wash of green flames over the crystals dyed them black; several major lines remained burning even as the rest eventually extinguished.

Assistant was one of the most magically conductive individuals Lucius had ever met -- possibly the most. Magical 'veins', as one might term them, able to handle this much strain...

Then the fire changed color, from green to red, and Lucius' shudder must have been visible -- he caught the Dark Lord looking at him, expression mildly amused at his expense. Sweet Salazar, the flames were doubling over in dozens of places. Red light flickered at the edges of the chalk circle, illuminating the Unspeakables just enough for Lucius to see they were also shocked, faces slack in wonder. Clearly the Dark Lord had not told them his expectations, either.

"Such talent," murmured his Lord with relish. "What do you think, Lucius?"

"My Lord, I have never seen his like."

The satisfied gleam in the Dark Lord's eyes unnerved Lucius nearly as much as the gleaming black lines on the floor. "Assistant," He called, "I will levitate you out of the center so as not to disturb the salts."

"Yes, sir," the boy called back, standing carefully. Drawing His wand, the Dark Lord levitated Assistant up and over the circle as announced; the two reunited in the next moment, once more standing closer to each other than Lucius had ever seen anyone dare.

 

A mere thought from Lord Voldemort illuminated the room in warm yellow light, much brighter than before, that they might all observe the patterns left behind on the stones. He walked a slow circuit around the edges of the ritual space, committing every sharp angle, every broad and narrow curve, every concentric circle to memory. He had anticipated this, from Assistant's initial results, yes -- but it was one thing to see a photo, and quite another to see in person.

How is it, the Dark Lord wondered gleefully, that I am so fortunate as to have found this gem among stones? He had already known his boy was powerful, yes -- anyone with half a sense could feel that -- but magical talent was harder to gauge from first impressions, and talent in the Dark Arts, even more so. Assistant's results, viewed in person, were utterly implausible in the most magnificent fashion.

Magical talent: as measured by the dispersion of green flames over the salt circle. It typically took years of effort to open one's magical conduits to the extent Voldemort had just seen -- Assistant could not be older than twenty, he believed, so it was far more likely that just as Voldemort himself had been, the boy was merely a great fount of magical talent.

Dark Arts, however... as measured by the dispersion of red flames. A non-practitioner would have no red flames at all. Someone exposed to the Darkest of magics a few times -- at least in the Dark Lord's observations -- might have a flicker or two, down the core lines.

Assistant had clearly practiced at least one Dark spell all on his own, from the way his flames had run.

The Dark Lord wondered what it was.

 

Rookwood continued his vigil from the far end of the room, in part because he had not been ordered to do anything, in part because he was stunned.

Not Stunned , of course, that would be silly. (He was protected against that by the enchantments in his robes --)

The burned salts on the floor were glowing, to his altered vision, as the Dark Lord and his Assistant circled the ritual space a second time. Rookwood could not quite hear what his Lord was saying to the boy, but it was obviously praise, given how Assistant's aura brightened and flickered happily.

"Augustus, Corban, Lucius," his Lord spoke up, "it occurs to me there is one more ritual I would like to try tonight." He leaned down to say something in Assistant's ear, and the boy nodded and stepped back, coming to stand near Rookwood.

The Dark Lord raised his hands, and the salts and chalk vanished; His chanting grew louder, and there came a low grating of stone against stone as the floor shifted to accommodate a change in shape. Rookwood watched the enchantments glow, brighter and brighter under His command, and then fade; what was left behind was a seven-pointed star, cut into the circle, with smaller circles centered at each point and a small raised area in the star's very center.

"Wait here, Assistant," the Dark Lord said. "I will retrieve the materials I have in mind."

In a flash of green light to Rookwood's eyes -- a black enveloping mist to the naked eye -- He departed the room.

 

Harry stood perfectly still, as he had earlier, while he waited for Voldemort to return with the materials he had spoken of. The other three wizards in the room did not address him, for which he was thankful; he was too keyed up, anticipating whatever was next.

When he'd done the two rituals at home, they had tickled a little against his skin, sure; but here, working on this scale, the sensation had been almost electrifying. Exciting.

Voldemort had praised his talent. Harry wondered how much of it was his own, and how much was an aftereffect of the night he'd gotten his scar, affecting him. He found himself hoping it was all him.

Shimmering back into existence by the door to the room, the Dark Lord returned with an armful of large, glowing crystals. "To me, Assistant," he murmured, "but be careful to remain on the outside."

Harry approached as instructed, following a pace behind as Voldemort set down one crystal in each sub-circle; the asynchronous glowing, he saw, began to shift, until they all brightened and faded in time like steadily-beating hearts. "These crystals are charged with my power," the Dark Lord explained. "They are typically used in rituals as substitutes for additional participants, when a ritual requires multiple people to contribute their strength. In British traditional magical practices, observances such as Samhain, Yule and Beltane are examples of rituals that 'need' multiple people -- but charged crystals allow one to celebrate alone, and reap all the benefits for themselves.

"Naturally, the drawback is that they take a long time to charge: each of these, Assistant, is the product of a year's effort, and I have a second set that represents five years. My ten-year set is still a ways off, unfortunately, but there is time... always time..."

He stood back, examining the geometric pattern within the space. With the final crystal where it belonged, the brighter lights that had been conjured disappeared, leaving the room in the semidarkness it had been before. "Excellent," Voldemort muttered to himself. To Assistant, he said, "I will take my place in the center when the crystals are brightening. Join me there when they are dimming. Then, I will explain what is to be done."

 

This was a ritual Lucius had no idea about. Hundreds of rituals used the seven-pointed star; at least half of them could use crystals; and Lucius could not think of a single one that would be relevant at the moment. What was the Dark Lord going to --

Oh.

Oh.

Lucius barely kept back his gasp. His Lord was directing Assistant to sit in the center of the circle on the raised dais; He laid the palm of one hand on the boy's back, between his shoulder blades. He bent to murmur something in Assistant's ear; then, straightening, he incanted a Word, and the floor began to glow.

 

A hum only he could hear filled Voldemort's ears, now; the faint chiming of each of his crystals reached him, too, as he sent thin tendrils of his power out to each point, using Assistant as a conduit.

When he had explained this to Assistant a moment ago, the Dark Lord had insisted that Assistant inform him if he sensed anything. He had expected, given past results with other conduits, the boy to inform him quickly -- perhaps immediately -- that he was in pain: for most wizards, no matter their individual talents or conductivity for their own magic, were incompatible with Voldemort's own. In the interest of acclimating Assistant to the sensation, then (for he was presently testing just how much energy he could safely push through the boy's body) the Dark Lord had started small.

No comment.

Gradually, in fits and stars in case Assistant was simply not noticing the escalation, he poured more magic through, charging the crystals, replenishing their stores of power -- nothing.

It was curious, but not unheard of. And Voldemort had high expectations for his Assistant which he was pleased to see the boy was meeting.

He changed directions, pulling magic from the crystals instead.

...Nothing.

Really?

The hum of his power grew ever louder in his ears; Voldemort knew without seeing that the conduit lines graven in the floor were glowing, with some color reflective of his aura -- perhaps green, today, he felt rather green -- and could sense his servants' astonished vigil on the periphery, all three of them well aware of the situation by now.

Assistant was still relaxed under his palm. He was not holding back a scream; was not unconscious either. Was he truly this compatible? Had Voldemort finally found an ideal apprentice, after years of only approximate alignment?

Does he... "Do you feel anything, Assistant?"

"No, sir," the boy murmured. "Have we started yet?"

Voldemort gave a soft laugh. "Open your eyes."

And he began to churn magic in both directions simultaneously, listening to the static crackle of power over the conduit lines. This was unprecedented. It was almost unbelievable. It was just as he had hoped such a discovery would someday be.

"Wow," Assistant breathed, impressed. He chuckled. "Hahaha... it kind of... tickles? Hmm --" The boy leaned back against Voldemort's palm. "Feels nice..."

 

Lucius shivered at the pressure of magic in the air. Who was this person? The Dark Lord's eyes remained closed, as the smirk He wore shifted into a true grin -- one of the rarest expressions on His face to date. He tilted His head slightly back, like a cat getting its chin scratched. And Assistant looked blissful at the center of it all: Assistant, who should be feeling the most strain, who should (going by previous experiments) be screaming in agony -- Assistant was basking in it.

Eventually, almost reluctantly, He wound down the ritual, pulling his hand away and stepping back. "This is very good," the Dark Lord proclaimed, as if the observers could not already tell by His expression. "Thank you for indulging this whim of mine, Assistant. Here, face me a moment; I will leave some of my magic for you to enjoy."

Assistant rose, and turned, and Lucius saw him twitch in surprise as the Dark Lord slid His hand underneath the boy's hood to rest against his cheek. He took a step closer, as if drawn in, and Lucius' Lord did as well, leaning in almost as if he were about to...

A brief stirring in the air was all that Lucius could observe of the magic passed between them; the Dark Lord stepped back, breaking contact again, and smiled down indulgently at His Assistant, who let out a delighted gasp.

"Oh! That feels wonderful, Professor. Thank you!"

"Do what you will with it," the Dark Lord offered generously. "This concludes the business I wished to attend to today, as well." A summoning spell brought the crystals into His arms, and the Dark Lord and Assistant exited the now-inactive circle side by side, standing as close as they had before. An absent gesture dismissed Lucius and the Unspeakables; but Lucius found himself frozen in place regardless, by sheer disbelief, until long after they had left.

 

"...I will contact you with a specific date and time for our next meeting, when we will record your introduction for our viewers. Until then, you may do as you like." Harry grinned underneath the hood, nodding along with the Professor's words. "You may use your Portkey anywhere outside the ritual rooms, where all such tools are purposely inactivated, to depart from Headquarters; it should return you to whichever place you departed from. If not, inform me at once."

"Yes, sir," Harry promised. He still felt all... tingly... from the last ritual. It really was nice. He didn't have a particular word to describe it beyond that, really; kind of... warm? But not actually?

They ascended the stairs, returning to the Dark Lord's office. "Of course, you are also welcome to any door in the building which allows you through," Voldemort continued. "My servants' and allies' quarters on the upper floors may open, but I would leave them to their privacy unless I sent you to find them, hm?" The way the man's eyes crinkled in amusement made him unfairly attractive, Harry thought.

"Of course, Professor," he agreed. "I won't bother them."

Voldemort laughed. "Ah, Assistant, I am sure some of them are bothered already by your very presence. Your effort is admirable, but unnecessary."

He slung his arm around Harry's shoulder, leaning in to murmur against the hood over his ear. "They all know not to touch what is mine."

Chapter Text

Tempting as it was to make use of his open access to Dark Headquarters, Harry ultimately made his return to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place shortly after Voldemort dismissed Assistant for the day. He’d anticipated arriving in the foyer, where other Portkeys were routed by the house’s wards; instead, he found himself back in the same spot in the dining room as he’d left from.

Well. That resolved his worry about being caught in the entryway.

He flopped down in the seat at one end of the long table, flipping the hood down, and grinned to himself at the warm, fuzzy feeling that the extra magic was giving him. For a while, Harry remained there, too comfortable to move beyond stowing the hood in his mokeskin pouch.

Eventually, though, the clock Sirius had hung on the wall chimed for midafternoon. Merlin, was it really only three o’clock? It felt like he’d been there for far longer. Harry rose, stretching, from the chair, to make his way downstairs. On the way, he paused by a mirror in the hall to look at his new earring -- before he remembered it was invisible. Sure, he could take it out to look at it --

And then Sir would have to put it back, came the thought.

Harry felt his cheeks heat at the memory of that shockingly gentle, clinical touch on his cheek. It was a good thing no one was in the hallway to see him right now.

“There you are, Harry,” Hermione exclaimed from behind him. Harry jumped about a foot in the air, turning around to face her. “Would’ve been nice of you to warn us you’d be out all morning,” she scolded fondly. “We liked the souvenirs, though.”

Souvenirs? What -- oh, right, he’d been in Diagon in the morning. Bloody hell, that really feels like a whole day ago. “Glad you liked them,” Harry rushed to agree. “Sorry I wasn’t clearer in the note,” he went on, smiling sheepishly. “It was pretty urgent. What did you guys do while I was gone?”

Hermione told the story of her and Ron’s trip to the local flea market. Harry followed her downstairs and into the kitchen, taking the seat that appeared for him at the table. Kreacher immediately popped tea and biscuits into place on the otherwise empty table; Harry’s four housemates (the others were already in the kitchen) stared, expressions almost identical, at the gesture, and at Harry stuffing a biscuit into his mouth without comment.

“Does he always do that?” Sirius muttered under his breath.

“You aren’t going to thank him, Harry?” Hermione asked sharply, eyeing him.

Harry shook his head, washing down the biscuit with tea. Each sip was warming him considerably; he could almost go for a glass of pumpkin juice. “He knows I’m enjoying myself.”

A minute or so later of awkward silence -- Harry’s cheeks pinked under their collective gaze -- a larger platter of biscuits and a tea set appeared on the table for the rest of the household. Sirius rolled his eyes, reaching for a teacup, only to find an ant in it. Harry resisted the urge to giggle at the house-elf’s antics (and his godfather’s high-pitched shriek as he flung the ant away from him).

While they reached out to fill their cups and plates, Harry set his teacup down and fanned himself with his hand a bit, satisfied by the prompt appearance of a glass of ice-cold pumpkin juice as Kreacher took notice. He downed half the glass in one go, tapping the fingers of his other hand restlessly on the table; then leaned back, rolling a sugar cube between his fingers till it smoothed out.

...Why was everyone staring at him? Harry followed the stares to his currently-active hand and discovered he was not playing with a sugar cube at all, but a bunch of little colorful lights which, when he raised surprised eyebrows, winked out of existence.

“James used to do that,” Sirius observed, gnawing on a stale biscuit. (Harry sunk his teeth into a perfectly chewy one.) “Never took you for the type to do idle magic, Prongslet. Guess you’re taking after your dad in little ways after all.”

Crinkling in Remus’ eyes betrayed the smile he’d been hiding behind his (dusty) teacup. “So,” the werewolf wondered, “what had you in such a rush this morning?”

Harry didn’t consider himself a good liar, and generally sought not to test his abilities in that direction. Fortunately, though, he was more than adept at twisting the truth. (Thanks, Dumbledore.) “I had to get something from Diagon,” he began, “and then I was called to a meeting. I’m under a binding agreement -- best not to talk about it.”

They all took this to mean, naturally, that (1) he was on errands for the Order, (2) he’d met with Dumbledore, and (3) he’d been given a mission with details on a need-to-know basis. It wasn’t the first such mission Harry had participated in, but Ron and Hermione were rarely called upon for field work compared to him -- they were impressed. “Nice,” Ron nodded. “Welcome back, then, mate -- hope you’re not too busy with it.”

Ah, trust.

Harry hated giving it, but he loved getting it.

 

Common courtesy demanded that Harry stay and listen to a long description of how everyone else’s day had gone; but he found himself getting more fidgety the longer he sat, despite Kreacher’s best efforts at slipping more and more brandy into his tea. He was… kind of itchy, like something was crawling on him. Had the ant on Sirius’ teacup survived and come back for revenge? Harry brushed off the back of his left hand, twitching his nose like he might sneeze, and took a longer drink of his brandy-with-tea-flavor. He was really feeling quite warm, and it wasn’t the alcohol --

Oh.

Oh.

When the discussion shifted topics to something the other four had been doing while Harry was out, he excused himself upstairs to change out of the clothes he’d been wearing at Headquarters (heh. Headquarters. He wished he could share the irony with someone.) Kracher prepared him a cool bath without having to be asked -- but even with ice added, sinking into the tub wasn’t doing much to help. The energy gathering under his skin was practically humming in his ears, a low melody at a high tempo; he could feel it at his fingertips, ready and waiting for… something.

The more Harry focused on it, the more that sensation of tension -- completely disconnected from Harry’s body, which was very, very relaxed -- seemed to spread, blooming hot under his skin, crawling up his arms and legs, winding around his torso, sinking deep into his bones. It was a bit like being high up on a broomstick before a dive; the anticipation of a descent, not falling, but something else. And it wouldn’t. Go. Away.

Harry wouldn’t outright complain about it all; it was really very pleasant, simply… distracting. And nothing he was doing was taking the edge off; just for the hell of it, he conjured more of the miniature lights he’d done by accident earlier, letting them spin and twirl in mesmerizing patterns overhead while he persisted in his attempt to soak in the tub (whose water had gone from pleasantly-cool to lukewarm, and was still rising).

Perhaps I should have asked about it, Harry considered, but dismissed the idea. Voldemort had said Assistant could do anything he wanted with the magic, right?

Though, actually, he’d said ‘do what you will’ , not ‘do anything’ . And if Assistant had been given something other than the neutral, pure energy he’d assumed it to be, then, Harry’s solutions to his predicament had just narrowed down a bit, hadn’t they?

He gave up on the bath. Steam rose off his skin as he climbed out, wicking away the water faster than towelling off would have. Harry ran a hand through his hair, finding it equally dry, and returned to his room in a bathrobe. When appropriate privacy spells were in place, he sat down heavily on his bed and snapped his fingers to call for Kreacher.

“Bring me some rats. Or spiders.”

The bed squeaked a little with every anxious motion of his leg as he bounced it, drumming the fingers of his left hand on his thigh. Goosebumps had risen on his arms and the back of his neck as he waited. Eventually, Harry realized the panting sound he was hearing was coming from him.

“Fuck,” he muttered, reaching for his phone. Where was Kreacher? “Come on, come on…”

[Assistant] Professor, about the magic you gave me.
[Assistant] Am I supposed to be feeling warm?
[Assistant] Is there anything you recommend, Sir?

His phone buzzed with a reply in the same instant Kreacher set down a jar full of spiders in the middle of the room with a loud ‘thud’ of heavy glass on wood. Harry bit his lip, looking between the jar and the phone. With an outstretched palm, he Stunned the spiders inside the jar and levitated one out, enlarging it, while the other hand checked his messages.

[YouKnowWho] I had wondered if you would recognize the sensation.
[YouKnowWho] Yes, the heat is to be expected;
[YouKnowWho] You will eventually develop a tolerance, so to speak,
[YouKnowWho] with repeated exposure that I intend to give you.
[YouKnowWho] If you are familiar with any power-intensive spells,
[YouKnowWho] they will draw upon my gift and ease your fever.

Harry swallowed, hearing his throat click. He looked down at the still-Stunned spider, and reached for his wand.

His phone buzzed once more.

[YouKnowWho] I would be interested to know what spells you chose.

Harry was struck with the sudden desire to put the hood back on, and… record himself, while he did this. He set his wand back down on the bed and hastily tugged on something black, retrieving the hood from his mokeskin pouch. Its cool fabric slid soothingly against his skin when he pulled it on, and he confirmed it was disguising him in a small mirror.

He propped up his phone on a table and opened the camera, setting it to record.

 

The seventh floor of the palace known as Dark Headquarters had been left bare by design, excepting a set of rooms behind especially reinforced walls and their own ward scheme within the larger ward array. Within those rooms, reclined on a bed sized for four people, was the Dark Lord, and He was projecting the video feed from His phone against the draped pulled closed around the bed, directing the sound exclusively into His ears.

Assistant had just sent this recording to Him. He has no idea, thought Voldemort, how much it reveals about himself, does he? Such familiarity with, and disposition toward, dark magic -- Assistant’s talent, the Dark Lord already knew, had seen firsthand, but his proficiency --

“Oh, Merlin,” the boy was muttering under his breath, “so bloody warm…”

He jabbed his wand in the direction of a large spider on the ground, in a dimly lit room that was quite possibly a bedroom. (Perhaps not Assistant’s own bedroom, given the lack of decorations on the walls, but one never knew.) “Reenervate,” Assistant spat, and then, “Crucio.”

Marvelous, Voldemort thought, smiling. He already knows my favorite curse. And he was good at it, too -- some Death Eaters would have white-knuckled grips on their wands while casting, bodies tense as if to keep control of the magic, but not Assistant. No, the boy had his wand in a loose hold, full body relaxed, and was leaning back against a bedpost with a soft sigh.

The spider did not last long before it died.

Assistant raised his free hand to his face, still obscured beneath the hood. “It’s not nearly enough,” he complained, voice gone breathy. Another spider was levitated out of a jar on one side of the room; the boy gave a thoughtful hum, then retrieved a second, enlarging both to a more visible size. He cast the Cruciatus on one, and the Imperius on the other, in an unhesitating fashion that led Voldemort to wonder just how much experience Assistant had with the Unforgivables specifically.

Would he use all three, tonight? Would he go all the way?

Another sigh escaped Assistant’s unseen lips as he sagged back against the bed; his knees were bending, slowly lowering him toward the floor. The recording was in very fine detail: Voldemort could see the way Assistant’s thighs tensed under the black fabric of his trousers. “What is,” the boy muttered, directing the Imperiused spider toward the still-Cruciated one. “Maybe…”

The latter spider died under the Cruciatus just as quickly as the one earlier had; this time, Assistant directed the remaining spider to tear it to pieces, distributing hairy limbs across the floor. Blue blood pooled around each piece, splattering across the old, polished wood. Then he turned his wand upon the living spider once more.

A quick, neat snap of the wrist. “Sectumsempra.”

Blue blood splashed out in an arc over the floorboards, and Assistant crumpled to his knees, breathing heavily. “Yes,” he panted, “that’s it--”

The Dark Lord paused the recording, leaning forward to examine the corpse. Assistant had severed its body cleanly in half without even scratching the floor beneath it -- a move indicative of experience , Voldemort knew.

He also knew that the amount of dark magic He had poured into Assistant was barely depleted, as of yet. From the clenched fist Assistant had made in his bedsheets with the hand not holding his wand, it seemed the boy had realized this as well.

“Accio jar of spiders,” Assistant groaned, pulling himself up on shaking legs to pour the spiders out in a neat line across the floor, enlarging each in turn until they were more than large enough to aim at.

He turned his wand upon the first, wobbling where he stood.

“...Avada Kedavra,” he whispered.

Green light. The spider toppled over from the force of the spell, in a fashion reminiscent of Voldemort’s own fumbling first attempts, years ago. So, Assistant was still new to the Killing Curse…

“Fuck,” the boy swore, swaying where he stood. “That’s--”

His surprise at the expletive was nothing compared to when Assistant promptly cast the curse again , the next flash of green accompanied by a strangled noise as his legs gave out from under him. “Sir,” Assistant moaned -- moaned -- “I--”

What I would give to see the expressions on his face just then, thought the Dark Lord with growing interest. It was obvious from his reactions so far that the boy had never cast the Killing Curse on a human before -- which meant that at some point in his lessons, or perhaps during a livestream, Assistant would have his ‘first time’, and He would be there to see it.

The boy’s arm trembled as he raised his wand again, aiming at the next spider. “Avada Kedavra -- ahh--” he crumpled onto the floor, lying on his side, debasing himself under the influence of what Voldemort knew was an intense wave of pleasure. Pleasure that would only build , because Assistant was not waiting long enough between castings for it to cool down. 

Such indulgence, He thought, wishing that killing lesser creatures could still give Him the same high as Assistant was getting. It would take nearly a hundred, Voldemort estimated, in immediate succession, as He had long grown accustomed to the deaths of men.

For a long moment after the third curse, Assistant remained curled up in a ball on the floor, shaking. Voldemort watched, fascinated, as he uncoiled enough to mutter the incantation three more times, one after the other, to kill the remaining spiders -- stifling the remainder of his vocalizations behind his fist.

He was a natural . If only the Dark Lord could have seen this live -- He would have praised Assistant aloud. For now, He settled for typing a reply.

 

[YouKnowWho] Very good, Assistant.

Harry stared down at the message, biting his lip. He was suffused with a different sort of heat now, reading the praise. All he could think to say was--

[Assistant] Thank you, Sir.

[YouKnowWho] I have quite enjoyed the show.

He… he had? Harry had only watched the first couple of seconds of the recording before sending it.

[YouKnowWho] Has your magical surplus been reduced to manageable levels?

[Assistant] I believe so, Sir. Thank you again for the advice.

[YouKnowWho] Good night, Assistant.

Harry shivered pleasurably; it was the aftermath of the spells, he told himself.

[Assistant] Good night, Professor.

“Good night, Voldemort,” he whispered, undressing and crawling into bed. Kreacher had already appeared and Vanished the mess without being called; only a faint coppery smell remained in the air as evidence of what he’d done.

Harry turned off the lights in his room, drew the curtains around his bed, and lay down to go to sleep, but curiosity nagged at him. His memory of the past few minutes was a bit of a blur.

So he plugged in his headphones and watched the video.

 

Minutes later, Harry was covering his face in his hands, peering through his fingers at the screen. Under his palms, his cheeks flamed bright red with embarrassment.

I can’t believe I sent him that! He’d sounded like-- like--

Like he’d liked it.

Like he’d been about to come in his pants from it.

And Voldemort had praised him. Very good, read the message. I have quite enjoyed the show.

“Fuck,” Harry gasped, shifting under the sheets. He slung an arm over his face, turning off his phone screen.

Very good, Assistant. Harry imagined those words murmured in his ear, and reached down to take himself in hand. With the latent burn of the extra magic, still there beneath the surface, it felt good. Too good.

Very good, Harry , whispered Sir’s voice in his ear, and Harry’s vision went white as he came with a muffled cry.

An imagined hand stroked his cheek, gentle as the real one had been. Now do it again.

Chapter Text

In hindsight, there must have been something going on with the wards at Dark Headquarters -- Harry felt like he’d spent much more time there than the evidence indicated. It had thrown his entire day off. When he rose from his post-orgasmic nap (and Harry put that memory firmly aside for now), it was barely seven p.m.; there wouldn’t even be dinner for another half-hour.

He fumbled for his phone on the nightstand, stretching out luxuriously over the bed. He hadn’t gotten a lot of messages; Ron had texted him in the past hour or so, but that was it. Where’d you go, mate? at 6:12, and a minute later, whoops, herm just said you’re sleeping.

Wiping at his bleary eyes, Harry refreshed his news feed a few times -- #DarkLivestream was trending again -- and clicked through a few posts, before he got another text, this one from Hermione. Meeting tonight, it read. You joining us?

Oh, right, it was a Friday, wasn’t it? The Order would be in Number Twelve’s kitchen, Mrs. Weasley would be taking over the kitchen from a chagrined Kreacher, and Snape would probably be there with more intel-

Intel. Harry froze, realizing, in the middle of reaching for the skin-tight leather pants he’d nicked from Sirius’ closet earlier. (They were enchanted to shrink once they’d been zipped up. Harry couldn’t imagine squeezing into the things otherwise -- but they were, he found, surprisingly comfortable.)

Snape would be reporting on Assistant -- Harry was sure of it.

Reporting on him.

Harry hadn’t gone to Dark Headquarters with a plan , precisely. It hadn’t even occurred to him to properly cover his tracks -- had he worn anything distinctive? What if he'd given away his identity without realizing it? His posture, maybe -- his speaking style -- the way he walked? If Snape had noticed anything, he would know. And he would tell them all.

Paranoia gripped Harry like a vise. With a glance to the door, he scrambled around the room, packing his few valuables and a change of clothes in his satchel, just in case. ‘Assistant’ could flee to Dark Headquarters in an instant by Portkey, he told himself; there was nothing to worry about, he could just hide there, Voldemort would take him in--

--and wasn’t that a wild thought?

 

Two hours later, however, Harry realized he’d worried for nothing. Snape behaved no differently toward him than he always did when he arrived. The man’s report began instead with a broad summary of the Dark Lord’s recent projects, for those Order members who hadn’t taken note of any of it (wasn’t that a real generational gap), garnering responses from bafflement to genuine, pearl-clutching horror which shouldn’t have been as funny as it was.

“Murdering people on live video?!”

“And they’re watching this?”

“I thought the Prophet was exaggerating--”

“How absolutely disgusting--”

--and incredibly entertaining, Harry thought but did not say.

“The increasing popularity of this content," Snape continued when the noise had died down, "has led the Dark Lord to hire an assistant." Dark eyes looked over his audience. "It was a decision without precedent: Assistant, as he is referred to, visited the Dark Lord's current base of operations only a few hours ago."

Harry carefully did not stiffen in his seat; if he hadn't already been identified, he wouldn't tip the spy off by reacting now.

"I was ordered to observe the wizard when he arrived. Assistant was wearing one of the obscuring hoods commissioned for the Dark Order some months earlier," several Order members nodded, remembering the report, "and so his appearance was too well-disguised for me to discern any features beyond his sex and approximate age -- the latter detail being most concerning in light of the... interactions I viewed."

His face twisted in repressed disgust; to Harry’s eye, honed from years of interacting with the man, Snape actually shuddered. "The Dark Lord displayed an anomalous, and worrying, level of interest in, and attention toward, Assistant -- a boy of Hogwarts age, fifteen at youngest, nineteen at oldest."

Harry glanced toward Dumbledore; the older wizard had paled slightly. "You do not mean to imply..." he began, peering at Snape over the rim of his glasses.

"I can only report what I see," Snape murmured, once again looking about the room. "But what I saw..."

He took a long drink of the Firewhiskey that had been set out for him. Harry rarely saw Snape do that; had he really been so shocked?

“The Dark Lord was possessive of Assistant almost from the moment they met,” another swig, “both physically,” an arm around Harry’s shoulders. The warmth shared under Voldemort’s cloak, “and verbally.” ‘They know not to touch what is mine.’ “He smiled,” Snape insisted, grimacing, “multiple times -- genuinely.”

Harry remembered how the Malfoys had looked when Voldemort smiled. The fear in their eyes. He fought to keep a blank face, to keep his cheeks from heating.

“Do you suppose,” ventured Dumbledore in a faint voice, “that Voldemort’s interest in Assistant might be that sort of interest?” He had visibly aged just asking the question.

“It is too early to be certain,” Snape answered, “but…” he drained the bottle. “The Dark Lord gave Assistant an earring. Ostensibly,” he spoke up over the gasps that had elicited, “as a Portkey to his office.”

Harry nudged Hermione. "What's so important about an earring?" he whispered, as if he hadn't been present to feel its importance in person. As if he weren't wearing it at that very moment, hidden from prying eyes.

Hermione grimaced. "It could be interpreted as a... courtship gift," she whispered back. "Ugh, that's gross. He's in his nineties. Courting someone who could be our age!"

Harry very nearly opened his mouth to point out that Voldemort only looked like he was in his thirties at the moment -- but wisely closed it before he could actually say that.

"For the time being, that is all the information I yet have on the development," Snape finished. He reached for a second bottle of the Firewhiskey, with a nod to Dumbledore, and appeared to have no plans of speaking for the rest of the meeting.

"Then let us move on to the next topic for now," the old wizard suggested, receiving relieved nods and murmurs of agreement from the other Order members at the table. As conversation moved on to battle strategy and planned raids, Harry and the other non-combatant members of the Order got up to leave.

He pulled out his phone on the way up the stairs, and was about to open the chat window with Voldemort, when motion out of the corner of his eye had him reflexively swiping into a different app before anyone read what was on his screen. Just in time: Sirius fell into step with him in the hallway, and gestured for Harry to join him in the nearest room.

The dining room.

Harry's stomach sank. For the third time in as many hours, he mentally prepared himself to run for his life. Sirius took one look at the tension in his face and barked out a laugh. "Bloody hell, Harry, it's not that serious!"

"Erm." Then what was this about? And why was Sirius putting up silencing wards? Harry took the seat closest to the door, ready to bolt if need be. "Okay, so what's..?"

The other wizard was actually going a bit pink. "All right, well. I don't want you to be embarrassed, this happens to everyone," he began, not looking directly at Harry. "But you see, your room's ceiling is my and Remus' floor. And sound... travels. Do you see where I'm going with this?"

He could feel the blood draining from his face. "I.. maybe?" Harry croaked, digging his nails into his thighs. "You mean you could..." hear me?

(Hear him moaning, hear him pleading, hear the sounds that came out of his mouth as he--)

"Don't get me wrong," Sirius hastened to say, hands waving frenetically, "We didn't hear anything specific, just the general sounds of it, but it was pretty obvious you were, well, busy."

Harry stared at him, mute, and utterly mortified.

"My point is," Sirius continued on, braving the situation like the Gryffindor that he was, "the Trace won't be picked up in the house anyway, so do us all a favor and cast silencing wards in your room before you wank." He withdrew a piece of parchment from his pocket with spell instructions written on it. "We can re-enchant the privacy spells on the house once the last of the repairs are done, too, but in the meantime just use this spell."

Harry nodded, still mute, taking the parchment from Sirius and holding it in his lap. "Erm," he managed. "Thanks, Snuffles."

Sirius stood up, clapping Harry on the shoulder. "At least you aren't the quiet type," he observed cheerfully. "Witches -- and wizards, Moony would want me to include wizards -- usually like to hear that their partners are enjoying themselves." He made for the door. "I know this was awkward, but it’s far from the worst thing we could’ve had to hear, right?” A weak laugh.

Harry lingered in the dining room, staring shellshocked at the wall while he recovered from the conversation.

Then he took a calming breath, fled to his room, and opened the chat window on his phone again.

[Assistant] When should I come over tomorrow, Sir?

~

Sirius was beginning to think Harry was up to something.

Ever since he’d given his godson that advice about silencing spells, the boy had been sleeping in later than he used to, even though he went to bed at about the same time as always. Remus rolled his eyes when Sirius brought it up -- “it’s like you don’t remember being a teenager, Padfoot!” -- and at first, he could admit his concern seemed silly.

Just like Harry nicking his old clothes out of his closet seemed silly, at first: tight-fitting outfits, black on black, heavy on the leather, things Sirius wished he still had occasion to wear but left alone because he couldn’t leave the house. It wasn’t envy that made him suspicious, though.

It was that he never actually saw Harry wearing any of the garments -- and yet nearly all of his pairs of leather pants had gone missing. Sirius still wore some of those sometimes!

“I’m telling you, Remus, it’s weird,” he insisted one evening, when they were curled up under the sheets.

“You know, I have noticed him going out at night around weekends,” Remus supposed, toying with a strand of Sirius’ hair. “Harry is almost seventeen, you know. Have you considered… well…”

“What? What do you think it is, Moony? I need ideas,” Sirius whined. “Tell me, tell me!”

His all-but-husband averted his eyes. Was that a blush coloring his cheeks? “Do you think he could be… on the pull?”

Sirius bolted upright in bed, eyes wide. “Oh no, you don’t think so? Tell me it isn’t so, Moony--” he put a hand over his face. “I had a talk with him, but not that talk!”

Golden eyes sparkled mischievously. “Maybe that’s why you aren’t getting those clothes back, Padfoot,” Remus teased. “They’re… stained.”

“No.” Sirius looked like he was going to faint. “No, no, no!” He flopped back down on the bed, slinging an arm over his eyes. “He’s too young for that, Remie! He’s -- he’s jailbait!”

Remus lost it, rolling over onto Sirius as he failed to stifle his guffaws. He gave him a squeeze about the middle, wiping at the tears in his eyes. “We’re going to have to talk to him, you know,” he pointed out when he’d regained the power of coherent speech.

“Definitely we,” Sirius agreed, shuddering with repressed giggles. “If you don’t back me up, I’ll probably run out of the room.”

“Tomorrow,” Remus laughed, “tomorrow.” He turned a sly expression on Sirius. “You know, all this talk of leather pants… I wouldn’t mind seeing you in some.” A low chuckle as he climbed on top of the man, bracketing him in place with his arms. “And then taking you out of them.”

“Right away,” Sirius grinned, cheeks pink.

 

Harry’s breakfast the following afternoon was interrupted by his godfathers taking seats across from him, expressions lit with uncharacteristic seriousness. “What’s up?” he asked, turning his phone screen off without looking at it.

After a brief silent exchange in which the two essentially argued ‘you start! No, you start!’, Remus rolled his eyes and turned back to Harry. “We’ve noticed you going out a lot lately,” he explained, “particularly late at night. As your guardians, after a fashion, it falls to us to ask if you’re--”

“Harryareyougoingoutonthepull?” Sirius blurted out, hands hitting the table with a resounding ‘slap’ as he rose from his chair.

Harry stared at him blankly as he parsed the question. Out on the pull ? Did he actually think that--

“Please understand that we’re asking this from a positive place, Harry,” Remus continued. “We won’t forbid you from seeking out strange men--”

“--or women--”

“--or women, but we do want to make sure you’re going about it responsibly, particularly as you are still underage.”

“I-I’m not--” Harry spluttered, cheeks as red as Ron’s hair.

“--not on the pull? Good Godric I am so relieved,” Sirius gasped, flopping down in his chair again.

Harry had an idea. He shifted in his seat, glancing at the door with delibrate shiftiness. “Well, I mean--”

Sirius gasped. “No -- really?” 

Remus facepalmed. “Come on, Padfoot, we talked about this--”

“Harry’s out shagging men twice his age!” Sirius wailed.

What? “Wait, I never said--”

Sirius rushed around the table and sniffed Harry’s shoulder. He recoiled with a shriek. “I can smell it on him!” 

Fighting the urge to flush, Harry stood up, turning on his godfather with a raised voice. “Would you cut it out! I’m trying to explain!”

Behind him, Remus also sniffed Harry. “Oh, he really does smell like older men. Keen nose, Padfoot.”

Knowing precisely who they must be detecting -- I should’ve showered, he despaired -- Harry covered his face in his hands, regretting his spur-of-the-moment decision to play along with their suspicions. “I’m telling you that’s not what I’m doing while I’m out!”

“Not who you’re doing, you mean?” Sirius waggled his eyebrows, then looked disgusted with himself.

“I’m not ‘doing’ anyone!”

Remus, who’d by this point dragged Sirius back to their chairs, rolled his eyes. “Padfoot, calm down or we’ll never be finished with this conversation.”

“More like an inquisition,” Harry muttered under his breath.

“I’m sorry, Harry. We didn’t mean to be so accusatory, did we, Sirius?” Remus nudged Sirius in the ribs.

“Ow -- I mean, no, we didn’t. Sorry, Prongslet.”

Harry sighed. Now, to lie. “All right. I can’t go into detail-”

“I’d rather you didn’t anyway-”

“Not that kind of detail, Siri!”

Remus pinched the bridge of his nose, exasperated, and got up to retrieve a box of Muggle biscuits from the kitchen cabinet.

“As I was saying,” Harry continued when he returned, “I can’t go into detail. You remember how I met with Dumbledore a while ago?” The two wizards nodded. “Well, now I’m under an oath. I signed a contract and everything. Whatever S- whatever I do, I’m not allowed to talk about it, and I wouldn’t even if I could.”

His slip hadn’t been missed by either man, it seemed. “Snape?” Sirius accused. “You’re hanging out with Snape?”

“No! Shut up!”

Remus leaned over, sniffing Harry again. (Harry resolved to take a long bath.) “He doesn’t really smell like Severus, Padfoot. That was a rather large leap, even for you.”

“Snivellus is always up to something, Moony, it was a fair guess.”

“At least you didn’t say ‘up to some one,’” Harry suggested, then shuddered at the image.

Sirius went a bit green. “You didn’t just suggest what I think you did?” He looked at Remus. “Tell me he didn’t just suggest what I think he did!”

Dutifully, Remus responded, “He didn’t suggest what you think he did.”

Sirius scarfed down several biscuits, recovering. “You’ll stay away from Snivellus and his ilk if you ever do go on the pull, right, Prongslet?”

“What, Dark wizards?” Harry blinked. “N-no way.”

Before either of them could comment on the way he’d hesitated there, Harry’s phone gave a melodic chime. His whole face lit up. “Would you look at that, there must be a new video, I’ll just be going now-”

And he fled the room.

Sirius stared after him, a small frown growing on his face. That was the third thing that had him concerned, albeit less so compared to his other worries at the moment: Harry was… a fan of Voldemort’s livestreams and video channel. He and Remus had lost interest after the Greyback execution, but Harry hadn’t, much as Sirius had hoped his godson would move on from the fad by now.

You’re being silly, Sirius, he told himself. It’s just cool because it’s forbidden.

It wasn’t like Harry would go Dark.

(Right?)

Chapter Text

Harry’s phone gave a melodic chime. His whole face lit up. “Would you look at that, there must be a new video, I’ll just be going now-”

And he fled the room.

 

As soon as Harry was out of sight, he pulled his phone out, beaming at the notification.

[Professor Riddle has posted a new video: "Episode 2.5..."]

He was up the stairs and in his room in a flash, locking and warding the door (thanks for the spells, Sirius) before the page had finished loading. His viewing routine had become second-nature by this point - curtains closed, lights off, headphones on, video projected on the blank wall opposite his bed. Settling back against the pillows, Harry stifled an excited giggle at the episode's title card.

2.5

Channel Announcement

Introducing: Assistant

The low chime that started each video rang in his ears, casting Harry back to recent watching and rewatching. The previous Professor Riddle video, "Dark Talent and What to Do With It", had seen its viewcount surpass Britain's magical population within twelve hours of posting. This episode had 300 views, and it'd been up for less than five minutes. Even knowing what the video was going to be, on account of being in it, Harry couldn't help but share in the subscribers' enthusiasm.

The black screen resolved into the usual scene, Voldemort sitting in his chair -- the fans were calling it 'The Chair', now, with capitals -- resting his head in one hand, a leg crossed imperiously over the other. Even for this short video, Assistant remembered more than an hour of adjusting the lighting, until Sir was satisfied. It really came through now: the flickering firelight behind the chair proved simultaneously intimidating and.. warm.

In his free hand, the Dark Lord held a glass of gin and tonic, judging by the sliced lime inside. "Good evening, dear viewers," he greeted, swirling the drink with a low 'clink' of ice against glass.

"I am very pleased with the response shown to my videos thus far by both my generous donors and eager audience. If even a tenth of you take an active interest in the Dark Arts because of me, it will be a shift the likes of which the world has not seen in centuries, and I find myself delighted at the prospect.

"In recognition of your continued attention, I will be increasing the rate at which new videos are produced. To which end," Voldemort sipped his drink and set it on a narrow table beside his chair, "I am further delighted to announce the debut of my co-star." A beckoning hand extended toward the side of the room, off-screen. "Please welcome: Assistant."

Harry stifled a giggle, clapping his hands together as a figure in black emerge from the shadows of the room, coming to stand beside The Chair. Assistant turned to face the audience, but there was no glow of eyes beneath the obscuring hood like there had been for the Dark Lord. Harry had thought himself tense, going on camera like this, but none of it showed. Now, watching the video, he was grinning widely at his counterpart on the screen.

"Assistant discovered a remarkable, untapped potential for the Dark Arts through my first video," Voldemort explained, red eyes alight with smug satisfaction. "He will be learning along with you, dear viewers, and may even appear for a few of my livestreams, when he is ready." He turned to look at Assistant, lips curving in a smirk. "When do you suppose that will be?"

It was an improvised question, but between the hood and the comfortable haze Harry felt in Voldemort's presence, Assistant had not shown his surprise at being asked; nor had he hesitated for nearly as long as Harry imagined he had. "When you are satisfied, Professor."

"When you are satisfied, Professor," Harry repeated, mouthing the words. And the little pleased twitch in the Dark Lord's expression when he'd said it, oh.

Voldemort turned his gaze back to the camera. "Until next time, dear viewers. This is your lord, signing off."

Harry switched the projection off, giddily scrolling through the comments section now -- the top questions as it auto-refreshed were a mix of eager questions about the next episode, praise directed at Voldemort, and praise directed at Assistant. At him.

[Three words - Dynamic Dark Duo.]

[I'm already jealous and he hasn't even started,] complained one person with a dozen excited emoji added onto their post.

People were already using cropped screenshots of Assistant as their new avatars. One of them had drawn a smiley face in the shadow of the hood in lurid purple. The more he scrolled, the more Harry was thankful he hadn't worn anything particularly close-fitting for the announcement, because there were already a dozen thirsty comments about him; he could only imagine the reaction that he'd get if he had worn leather pants.

Speaking of leather pants. Harry checked the time, and then made for his wardrobe of 'borrowed' garments to get dressed for another night at Dark Headquarters -- Sirius was the only one in the house who owned this much black, and Assistant had decided he liked how he looked in leather.

As he turned around, examining himself from every angle in the mirror, Assistant supposed he might be able to understand Sirius' and Remus' assumption about his evening activities. Never mind that the only person at Headquarters he would want to 'pull' was... well.

The less said about that, the better.

 

A soft chime only Voldemort could hear alerted him to Assistant's arrival within the wards of his office; he glanced up from Lucius' latest Ministry report to survey the silhouette of his employee against the firelight. He had arranged for the Portkey to always orient Assistant away from his desk, in part as a security precaution, in part because Voldemort liked to observe him while knowing he remained unseen, if only for a few seconds.

The boy turned to meet his gaze; he was conscientious enough not to interrupt the Dark Lord when he was at his desk, waiting until their eyes met to speak. And when he did, he always began with something along the lines of:

"Good evening, Sir."

"Assistant," Voldemort murmured in greeting, eyes once more fixed upon his work. "I believe this report will take an hour more of my time."

"Of course, Sir. I'll let you get back to it," Assistant nodded, and made his quiet exit to the library next door.

The Dark Lord smiled slightly to himself, making a note in the margins of the page he was on. That polite unobtrusiveness was one of many things he had come to like about Assistant. His timeliness, another: for while they had no set hours, Assistant spent nearly every night at Headquarters availing himself of the resources on open offer. He tended to arrive about nine p.m. and stay until just before dawn, napping the last two hours away in his room unless Voldemort had need of him - the room with best proximity to the staircase, one floor up past the usual guestrooms, which Voldemort had chosen for him.

Between one page and the next of Lucius' Dicta-Quill's neat lettering, red eyes glanced at the closed door between his inner and outer office spaces, and he wondered what Assistant was reading tonight. Despite claiming he didn't learn well from text - a claim that bore out, when Voldemort saw how quickly Assistant picked up things that were taught by demonstration - the boy still began evenings reading Voldemort's notes and travelogues, and occasionally voiced insightful questions on the books' varied contents.

Earlier in the week, one such question had let the Dark Lord expound upon his hypotheses about wand lore - a fascinating topic he had been thrilled to have the chance to discuss, as wandmakers the world over had made it deliberately obscure. Gregorovitch, however, he had personally rescued from the Soviet bloc before the deathsquads came for him; and so the wizard had shared some of his understanding, even at the price of his reputation among his colleagues. What Voldemort had learned about wand trees, and wand forests, occupied an entire volume's worth of notes and several years of exploration of country estates across the Continent.

"So that's why Ollivander turned his nose up at Krum's wand," Assistant had murmured, when he recounted the tale.

That was another, and possibly Voldemort's favorite, thing about Assistant: somehow, he had knowledge of all manner of amusing information, a variety extending from tidbits of gossip even into worthy blackmail - which Assistant simply let slip at the right time to entertain him. It was, as the Dark Lord pointed out, admirably Slytherin of him.

An offhand mention of the rude journalist from the Daily Prophet who kept sending him nauseatingly perfumed requests for interviews - "Oh, Rita Skeeter, the beetle Animagus."

After Lucius hastily excused himself from the inner office to 'deal with his son' one night: "Did you know the students once thought Lucius' son was the Heir of Slytherin, a few years ago?"

(Voldemort had laughed especially hard at that one, not stopping until they reached the ritual room for a few hours' practice.)

"He was turned into a ferret by Moody in his fourth year - or, well, Barty Crouch Junior," Assistant amended, setting up several candles around the circle they were working with.

"I believe that is Barty's favorite story to tell at meetings," the Dark Lord observed, trying and failing to keep a completely straight face. "Particularly if Lucius is in attendance."

"It's good he escaped before the dementors arrived," murmured Assistant while he fiddled with a particular candle's placement on the circle. "Fudge was intent on a coverup."

Which, blinking out of reminiscence, reminded Voldemort of his adjusted plans for the next livestream - plans he set aside for the moment as he finished reading and annotating Lucius' report almost precisely an hour later, just as estimated. Pleased at his own accuracy, he rose from his desk to retrieve Assistant from the adjacent room: just as anticipated, the boy was already returning the book of notes he'd been reading to its place on the shelves, expecting him.

"Thank you for waiting, Assistant. Come, let us review the upload schedule for the next two weeks."

 

Episode 3: Mage Sense.

"...In decades past, Hogwarts graduates spent anywhere from months to years traveling the world, experiencing the breadth and depth that both magical and Muggle nations and cultures have to offer. Sometimes, an adventuring wizard would return to his homeland with a great discovery - the cure for the Draught of Living Death is one famous example.

"Quite as often, travelers would find countries they liked better than Britain and never return. The latter happened frequently enough during wartime that by the time I graduated, British authorities were discouraging students from the tradition. This did not stop me, of course; there is nothing stopping any of us from up and leaving this very minute besides a sense of obligation to whatever responsibilities we hold. Nothing to lose, everything to gain, dear viewers.

Voldemort blinked, refocusing on the camera. His eyes crinkled at the corners in a sheepish smile. "But I digress. I traveled across the world for more than a decade, and chanced to meet a great number of masters of magical disciplines on my journeys - artisans and alchemists, enchanters and explorers, battlemages, warlocks, oracles and healers - and beyond. All of them, to a one, employed some degree of the dark art I am sharing with you all today: mage sense .

"It doesn't sound particularly Dark, does it?" A soft laugh. "But many hidden, forbidden magics are as such because they strengthen the user beyond what is considered fair. Spontaneous mage sense, as these people developed, is considered a simple side effect of intense dedication to magical study - and entirely legal.

"True mage sense, with dedicated study and regular practice, develops it into an indispensable all-purpose skill. Locate magically warded spaces; sense nearby spellcasters; study the properties of enchantments and artifacts. Curse-breakers, potioneers, Aurors, craftsmen, wandmakers, Herbologists - there is no profession which cannot benefit from mage-sense! Learning it early on, rather than developing a limited form spontaneously with years of indirect practice, improves your learning speed by leaps and bounds.

"So why is it Dark? Why is it hidden? The local answer, for those of you in the European region, is the eighteenth-century push to exclude Squibs from our society, a movement which needs desperately to be reversed. More broadly, an adept mage with true mage-sense can find things others wish to keep hidden; can discern the qualities of goods in the marketplace; can develop other latent talents connected to mage-sense, such as Legilimency, empathy, or the Sight, which are individually restricted for different reasons. In short? You become more powerful than some believe any individual should ," Voldemort wrinkled his nose in distaste. "So they tell you not to try in the first place!

"Do not let them hold you back, dear viewers. Strengthen yourself; become more . I would rather be considered exceptional by the strong. Wouldn't you?"

"That said, it remains true that mage-sense is very easy to learn, for how much you get from it. To prove this, I will now teach the art to Assistant, having taught him nothing about it at all until this very moment..."

"...you see? Episode Four will cover how to conceal your new knowledge from others, and - for the paranoid - how to conceal yourself from those who use their new sense specifically to seek you out."

 

Assistant rubbed at his eyes under the hood, still reeling from the ease with which he'd accessed his newfound mage-sense. "If anyone can develop mage-sense," he inquired of the Dark Lord, "what did you mean when you said the Unspeakables' masks let them see 'beyond the scope of the naked eye'?"

"Ah, you remembered that?" Voldemort smiled indulgently, passing him a mild headache relief potion to ward off any aftereffects. "The masks grant a more advanced level of mage-sense than a newcomer would easily reach. Augustus is capable of nearly the same level of ability without his mask as with it, and will someday cease to bother with the artifact; Corban, who is decades younger, would see much less without his mask than with it. A crutch they may be, but for the performance I demand of my Unspeakables, the masks are essential equipment."

"Ah, you wished me to remind you to have one made for me, Sir," Assistant remembered.

"Indeed I did, and indeed I have. It will be ready in time for the first lessons in ritual magic we will cover next week..."

 

Livestream, July 30: Cornelius Fudge.

"I invite you, dear viewers, to vote for the trait you believe Cornelius least embodied in his unfortunate tenure as Minister." Voldemort gestured toward the ceiling, where four words floated in gleaming font. They corresponded to pillars holding the undesirable wizard in question over a bed of spikes. "While votes are coming in, I will be answering questions from stream chat."

...

[Will you be adding new names to the list, now that most of the original names have been crossed off?]

"To some extent, yes; this is a prime time to begin submitting requests, in fact."

[Will Assistant be joining us today?]

"While he is doubtless keeping an eye on the stream, per his contract, Assistant may be present or absent for livestream events as he chooses. In today's case, he is currently in the library upstairs."

...

"Locating wards use a designated symbol or focal point to keep track of any marked thing's location within the range of the ward scheme. The Dark Mark serves this function quite effectively in my headquarters - Assistant wears the symbol on an earring, as he is not bound to me as my Death Eaters are."

[What's your impression of Assistant so far, my Lord?]

Voldemort glanced up at the votes; it seemed 'Integrity' was the trait Fudge least possessed, in the eyes of the public. "I am quite satisfied with Assistant's fulfillment of his contract," he informed the audience, "and enjoy teaching him as much as I expected I would. He is not formally my apprentice, but I would someday be pleased to be his master."

 

A quick spell siphoned the blood off of his robes and onto the floor when the stream was over; the Dark Lord departed the set, returning upstairs to his office, in quite a good mood. Assistant's feedback on chat interaction had visibly increased his viewcount this evening - and murder was always an enjoyable pastime when he could schedule it in.

Assistant was in the office now, seated on the divan before the fire rather than in the corner chair of the library he'd occupied when Voldemort checked earlier. "I was just watching the stream, Sir," he said brightly (though not too brightly; Assistant was never annoying). "Oh! And I found one of the books you were looking for in a friend's family library, earlier today; it's wrapped in silk, he said it was cursed?" He proffered a book-shaped bundle which was indeed wrapped in a bolt of grey silk of moderate quality.

"I confess myself impressed," the Dark Lord admitted as he gingerly accepted and unwrapped the gift, admiring the workmanship of the silver embossment against the nearly black leather of the cover. It seemed almost familiar. "These sorts of grimoires last centuries, but they are naturally very rare, and almost universally cursed in some way or another as part of the preservation process." He laid the tip of his wand on a corner of the cover. "Ah, a frostbite curse. How quaint." With relative ease, he wrote in an immunity for himself (and Assistant) into the enchantments.

"..Should I have worn dragonhide gloves, Sir?" Assistant worried, examining his bare hands for signs of frost. "The shelf this was on had several more similarly-bound books."

"Hm." Voldemort was already leafing idly through the first few pages of the grimoire. He blinked, glancing back up at Assistant. "Oh, no, any natural fiber or silk should be plenty. You said your friend's family library has an entire shelf of books bound in human skin?"

Assistant froze, but recovered admirably in the next second. "I believe so, Sir, given their appearance. Should I look for anything specific the next time I'm there?"

"I will consider the matter and provide a list later this week," Voldemort decided after a moment. He laid the book in its bed of silk on his desk. "For now, there is something of more immediate import I wish to show you. Walk with me."

Ah, it was relaxing to have Assistant at his side - all the bits of minor tedium that had accumulated while streaming this week's execution were washed away. "You see, Assistant," they descended the staircase to the underground level, "in truth, I had prepared a different subject for tonight's livestream, earlier this week. But I changed my mind and used Cornelius instead."

They bypassed the recording room, where house-elves no doubt still scrubbed blood out of the stones, and took a leisurely pace down the corridor to the main ritual circle.

The Dark Lord stopped before the doors, removing his arm from its natural place around Assistant's shoulders to strip off the outermost layer of his robes. Magically speaking, they had already been stained with spilt blood today, which would interfere with the ritual. "The original sacrifice will be made in private," he spoke at length, tossing the robes aside for an elf to deal with later, "and I invite you to observe."

Assistant gave the invitation the consideration it was due; Voldemort was pleased by that. Anyone else would likely have agreed without a thought - taking the offer for the great rarity it was. "Thank you for inviting me, Sir," the boy spoke up again. "I would be honored."

 

Somehow, Assistant thought distantly, following the Dark Lord into the ritual room, I almost expected this.

He'd been slightly thrown by the way Sir wore grey underneath the black he so obviously favored - it must be ritually significant - and had barely parsed the words addressed to him. That wasn't to say he wasn't honored by the invitation; he had gleaned from the Dark Lord's travelogues just how uncommon such an offer was even between teachers and students. As he walked in, hearing the doors close behind him, and his gaze rested on the sacrifice, though - 'slightly' thrown became 'substantially'.

Tied with white rope in an intricate pattern like a spiderweb, Sibyll Trelawney knelt in the middle of a ritual circle prepared well in advance. A wrapping of white cloth silenced her; she perked up at the arrival of others into the room, and blinked slowly at Assistant as he took up a watcher's place on the fringes of the circle, somehow more unsettling without her glasses on.

Voldemort paced the edges of the ritual circle three times clockwise, stopping at the eastern point of a four-pointed star inscribed into the floor to pour the contents of the basin there over his head: Harry recognized the purifying elixir as it steamed off of him soon after. Then, he walked three times counter-clockwise, stopping on the opposite side of the circle as Assistant's place on the outside. "The blood of Seers," he murmured, just loudly enough to reach Assistant from across the room, "once flourished across ancient Greece, and Rome after it. The Greek demand for oracles was not so great as to necessitate such numbers, however, and eventually, they died off - but not of their own accord, Assistant."

He entered the confines of the star from the northern point, resting his palm atop Trelawney's head and carding his fingers lightly through her hair. The witch made as if to thrash in her bonds, a thread of desperation in the gaze she fixed on Assistant.

"Indeed, they were extinguished, one by one," Voldemort continued, glancing between Trelawney and Assistant with mild curiosity, "because the true purpose of a Seer is to be sacrificed for divinatory rituals such as this."

The hand in Trelawney's hair became a fist, pulling her head back to expose her neck. "It appears you are aware of your ancestor's history, Sibyll," he said quietly, words echoing in the strange acoustics of the room as they had not moments before.

A moment of silence passed between them, then. The Dark Lord looked between Assistant and Trelawney once more. "Assistant," he spoke up, and Harry jolted as he met the man's suddenly bright red eyes, "I have revised my invitation. If you are willing..." he looked Assistant up and down, "I would have you participate in this ritual, not merely watch."

The offer rang in Assistant's ears. Before he knew what he was saying, his mouth had formed the words:

"Yes, sir."

"Then enter the outer circle from the western fringe; walk three rounds counterclockwise; anoint yourself with the oils at the western point of the star; and walk three clockwise, stopping at the southern point, to join me."

 

Harry stepped forward to do as he was told, and found he was trembling. He paused to roll up the sleeves of his shirt, calming his racing pulse, and then moved on, entering the circle as described. He copied Voldemort's actions in pouring the purifying oils - not quite 'anointing', but that was a quirk of the Dark Lord's instructions he'd already grown accustomed to in the lessons on basic ritual magic they'd posted earlier in the week.

It was when he made to step through the southern point of the star that Trelawney strained against her bonds again, eyes wide. Her expression was frantic, meeting Harry's gaze despite the hood.

He suddenly had the strangest certainty that she knew who he was, underneath.

Then his view was blocked by silvery metal: a wide-mouthed goblet with handles on either side, engraved with runes too small for Harry to examine in the present lighting. "Raise the chalice, Assistant," Voldemort told him, "about two inches from the neck, three below the chin; yes. Hold it there." He hauled Trelawney up to her feet - Harry wondered what had prevented her from standing on her own, if not the ropes, unless they were enchanted somehow - and abruptly, the torches on the walls blew out, enveloping them in darkness until their eyes adjusted.

Cast in moonlight from overhead, Voldemort's red eyes were nearly black. The three of them were silent for the space of three breaths, twelve beats of Harry's heart, and then:

A chime sounded, as if from every direction. The Dark Lord's left hand rested the edge of a curved blade against the side of Trelawney's neck. He began to chant under his breath in a language Harry did not know.

A second chime, one octave lower. Dark magic swept over the circle; Assistant could feel it like a breeze, simultaneously hot and cold. Goosebumps raised on his exposed forearms, held in contrast by the angle of the moonlight. The Dark Lord laid his hand over Trelawney's mouth and Vanished the cloth that had covered it until now.

A third chime, still lower, and Voldemort pulled his hand away. Trelawney's eyes rolled back in her head and she gasped for air, lips forming a word that Assistant knew would come out in a gravelly voice - she was about to recite a True Prophecy-

"I have had enough of fate," Voldemort snarled, and drew the blade cleanly across her throat before she could finish even the first word.

A great gout of blood sprayed out from the wound, splashing into the chalice; but also up Assistant's arms and across his neck, chest, and face, burning hot against his skin. He gasped, and his arms tensed, determined to hold it as he'd been told to despite how he shivered.

The chalice filled quickly, and the blood still poured, spreading out over the stones. Assistant's breath was coming in short pants; he turned his gaze up to Voldemort's, uncertain of what to do. Beneath the hood, his expression could not betray his fear.

Blood began to spill over the edge of the chalice, dripping black down Assistant's hands, collecting between his fingers, trailing down from his wrists to his elbows and dripping noisily onto the stones at his feet with the plick-plick-plick of raindrops thrown loose from trees by the wind when the storm has passed.

His lips formed on his question, about to voice it - but cooler, drier hands closed around Assistant's on the chalice, silencing him before he could even begin. The Dark Lord had released Trelawney's gurgling body, letting the witch slump to the floor; now, with care so as not to disturb the contents of the chalice further, Voldemort lifted the vessel between them, up to the ceiling, and spoke another incantation in the same unknown tongue as the chant had been before.

Then he lowered it, and looked at Assistant. "The completion of the ritual is to imbibe the contents of the chalice," he said. "I will take my half first; hold it steady."

The press of the Dark Lord's palms against the back of Harry's hands felt far more intimate than it ought have, in any other situation; now, as he tilted the vessel slightly, and the only sound in the room was that of the motion of the other man's throat, it grounded him just enough that he could do as he'd been told, while his mind drew back from all that he was experiencing.

Harry began to understand the gravity of what he had signed up for, of what he was doing. He had forgotten, somewhere in the excitement of vicarious vengeance against those featured in the livestreams, in the warmth of praise he had gotten for the results of his tested abilities, in the ease of anonymity and the security of his contract - just who Assistant was assisting. The meaning of the words 'Dark Lord'.

He began to understand why Dark magic was forbidden. The ritualistic slaughter of a human being - someone he knew - the drinking of their blood under the moonlight in this silent, terrible room-

The metal of the chalice was warm where it pressed gently against his lips. Harry blinked up into dark eyes that had, for just a moment, glowed red.

"Drink," Voldemort breathed.

Harry drank.

The first mouthful left him inexplicably thirstier than he'd been in recent memory; he gulped down the next, finding it sweeter than any nectar. Harry swallowed, and swallowed, feeling the blood settling in his stomach, taking short breaths through his nose when he could, never pausing in filling his mouth.

As if to encourage him, Voldemort passed magic into Assistant's hands from his palms. The familiar, feverish heat mingled with the fullness of his stomach, the sweetness coating his teeth and tongue, and he wondered how much more he had left to drink - both hoping for, and dreading, the eventual end.

Just as he had that thought, he'd drank the last drop; and the metal was pulled away, leaving him not bereft as he'd expected but feeling strangely.. whole. The hands holding his to the chalice released their grasp, and the vessel itself disappeared, Banished somewhere beyond his field of view. The Dark Lord's broader fingers intertwined with Harry's, drying blood sticking their palms together, and he guided Assistant closer, until they stood only inches apart, and Harry blinked back more tears to look up at the man again.

(He realized he had been crying while he drank; had perhaps been crying for some time.)

"We have separated ourselves from fate," the Dark Lord told him quietly, slipping one hand from Harry's to cradle his cheek. When he felt the trail of tears under his thumb, his breath hitched, but he did not admonish Assistant for the reaction. Instead, his features softened, ever so slightly. "Reasserted ourselves in the universe," he promised. "There is no will greater than our own."

Assistant shivered, leaning into the touch; he was unable to help himself. He let the Dark Lord walk him out of the circle, three times clockwise, three times counterclockwise, exiting together through the western point of the star where he had originally crossed.

The ritual was over.

"You have done very well, Assistant," Voldemort murmured, running his hand down the side of Harry's neck, through his hood and over his shoulder before he stepped back. "I was just as exhausted as you are, my first time. Let us retire to bathe and sleep for a while; there are no other matters of significance tonight."

Assistant nodded wordlessly, and followed him out of the room.

 

Assistant's room in Dark Headquarters had an en-suite with a tub more than large enough for Harry to sit in while he washed the blood off his skin, scrubbing methodically at the stains that had reached his neck even with the hood acting as a barrier. He picked dried flakes out from under his fingernails, rinsed his mouth out with the bathwater, and floated for a while, staring blankly up at the ceiling until his hair was wet enough to lather.

Forgoing a towel, he dried himself with a spell once out of the tub, and sat before a mirror to comb conditioning oil through his hair - something that he'd never have thought to use to tame his hair, but it worked wonders. Pulling on a different obscuring hood than the one he'd been wearing - tonight's would have to be cleaned, along with the other clothes he'd worn - Assistant selected a change of clothes from the spares he'd left in his wardrobe here, confirmed he had everything he needed, and Portkeyed back to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.

The clock on his bedroom wall read half-four in the morning. Harry blinked at it for a long moment, before he pulled off the hood and stowed it in his mokeskin pouch. He stripped off his fresh clothes in a pile beside his bed, locked his door, silenced his room, climbed in under the sheets-

And curled up, face in his pillow, to cry.

What have I done?

He'd - participated in murder. Ritual murder. For blood magic.

He hadn't even hesitated.

He'd even known it would happen, in a sense, the minute he stood within those doors - hadn't he? Hadn't he specifically thought, 'I knew this would happen'?

Harry dug his fingers into the pillow, cradling it against his chest. The same fingers that had just been covered in blood. Stained. He could still taste remnants of sugar-sweetness like honey in his teeth. The sweetness of Dark magic.

His mind kept going back to the fact that he'd known, known things would escalate this way. Unforgivables on spiders were one thing. Watching deaths on stream was another thing. But this. This was so far beyond either of those.

"No," he sobbed. "No, it wasn't supposed to-" I wasn't supposed to be like this. He was the Boy-Who-Lived-

We have separated ourselves from fate.

And with that, he gave one last gasping sob, and fell silent: for instead of horror, or regret, or self-recrimination, or remorse - instead of the numbness of shock, the haze of apathy - instead of any of that, what Harry felt now was a rising joy, exultation, revelation.

Reasserted ourselves in the universe.

His tears dried on the pillow, and his breathing steadied.

He was not the Boy-Who-Lived, anymore.

There is no will greater than our own.

Chapter Text

The wizard who had previously been the Boy-Who-Lived fell into a sleep without dreams, as solid as stone. When he opened his eyes again, it was mere moments before the clock on the wall chimed for noon.

Sprawled languidly over the bed, Harry stared up, disoriented, at the ceiling; his left arm groped about on the bedside table for his glasses, to no avail. He yawned, rolled over, found them on the floor, and finally got up, stretching his limbs and spine in turn as he got to his feet.

A glass of water had resolved itself into existence on the bedside table once Harry put on his glasses; he reached for it, swirling a mouthful around to wet his parched throat - and abruptly remembered the events of the previous night as the metallic flavor of dried blood bloomed on his tongue. Oh, right. That had happened.

As if they’d been waiting just beneath the surface of his thoughts until now, the memories surged forward to replay in Harry’s mind’s eye while he washed up in the bathroom. He stared at himself in the mirror for a long minute, scrutinizing his appearance for even the barest hint of what he had done.

There was none.

A smile twitched at the corners of his lips. Harry let it happen. He grinned at his reflection. He began to laugh. He couldn’t stop laughing.

By the time he’d calmed down, wiping the mirthful tears out of his eyes, it was nearly half twelve. Harry leaned against the sink to catch his breath, playing with a loose strand of hair that had somehow grown long enough to tickle his nose. That was new; he’d never had long hair before. And wouldn’t that be an interesting change?

The clock chimed for the middle of the hour, interrupting Harry’s musings on a hair growth potion; he supposed he’d messed around long enough. It was his birthday today, after all. When he returned to the bedroom, or more specifically to the wardrobe that loomed on one wall, with the intent to scrounge up some more of Sirius’ clothes for the day, Harry found a large garment back in garish Gryffindor scarlet hung up in the middle of the rack, with the words EARLY BIRTHDAY PRESENT in all-caps across the front.

He grinned. Well, if Sirius insisted.

 

In the kitchen, Harry got a bear hug and a slice of chocolate cake. Sirius beamed at him, leaning back against the kitchen table. “Prongslet!” he laughed. “You made it!”

That earned a snort. “I live here, Siri, I’d have made it eventually.” Harry grinned. “This is a great birthday present, by the way,” he added, gesturing to the clothes. “Hoping I won’t empty your closet?” The garment bag had contained, in no particular order, a dragonhide leather jacket with spikes on the shoulders that spoke of Hungarian Horntail; a grey T-shirt, deceptively plain, which felt like silk against his skin; and new trousers in black denim that weren’t leather, but had a lining inside that felt just as nice when he put them on. They fit like a glove - even more than Sirius’ enchanted garments - and sheer force of habit had had Harry pulling on Assistant’s hood when he looked in the mirror, until he remembered it was far too early in the day to return to the Dark Lord’s office.

Sirius barked a laugh, flopping back down into the chair he was using; about this point, Harry noticed his was the only chair in use. “Everyone else’s at the Burrow,” his godfather answered the unspoken question. “I said I’d wait for you so you didn’t get lost in the Floo.”

“That was one time,” Harry griped, but he let Sirius escort him anyone once he’d finished his slice of cake. He’d gotten better with the Floo since the disastrous second-year mixup; this time, he only stumbled on the other end because his arrival was accompanied by a huge burst of confetti and a loud chime over the wall of noise that greeted Harry in the Burrow’s sitting room.

“Harry!” Ron shouted over the crowd of what had to be every member of the DA, with plus-ones from multiple years of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff - all of Harry’s friends and then some. The nearest people turned to the Floo, raising glasses and Butterbeer bottles with a cheer. From outside, there came the sound of a gramophone playing the Weird Sisters’ latest album; the party had spilled out into the yard through open doors (and windows), far too large to be contained indoors.

In this, Sirius was good for more than just an escort through the Floo: he made full use of his vaguely menacing aura - for all that he’d been loudly, publicly pardoned last year by the Ministry - to clear a path ahead of Harry so he could join his best friends outside. They closed ranks behind him, reaching to give high-fives and pats on the back as he passed. Now I know why Ron called my previous birthday parties ‘small’, Harry thought.

The atmosphere of good cheer couldn’t be stopped; Harry was smiling so hard his cheeks hurt, through an afternoon of pickup Quidditch, a Muggle water-balloon fight that quickly spun out of control once Fred and George started contributing balloons, and - given that most of them were of age, and they were celebrating Harry joining their number - the grand ceremonial tradition of ‘putting drinks in front of Harry until he flops over on the ground and laughs’.

Harry had known to expect that last part, at least - Assistant had been palming extra vials of Sobering Draught from Snape’s stash at Dark Headquarters well ahead of time. Therefore, when no one was looking too closely, he downed one, washing it down with a little pumpkin juice.

Towards sunset, people began their Irish goodbyes - literally, in Seamus' case - and Harry sat down next to a veritable mountain of presents. (How the hell had he forgotten there would be presents? A small voice in Harry's head reminded him to down another Sobering Draught.)

Clearly, Ron and Hermione had circulated a list, which meant all the duplicate gifts were things like sweets and broom maintenance oils. Romilda Vane had sent a book on uncommon antidotes and a set of professionally-brewed universal cures. Harry thought it was hilarious, and so did Ron, who graciously accepted her sheepish apology for last year's Love Potion Accident.

Remus gifted Harry a pin enchanted to ward off hostile magical creatures - “like vampires,” the werewolf said - shaped like a tiny Snitch. Neville brought out a tall glass jar with gillyweed floating inside: it was bioluminescent, at certain times of day, and currently glowed a brilliant blue. "You can trim pieces off and it'll grow back!" he informed Harry over the impressed murmuring of the crowd.

Sirius had contributed a good third of the presents, all clothes in a variety of ‘Sirius-type’ styles. "So quit nicking mine!" he laughed. He hadn't labelled the gifts that were from him, so every fourth or fifth box was a surprise outfit. The last of his godfather's presents, though, was a beautiful gold pocket watch, its lid engraved with a stag head in the likeness of James Potter's Animagus form. "He'd be proud of you, kid," Sirius told Harry, ruffling his hair.

Harry gave him a somewhat choked smile, tracing the engraving under the pad of his thumb.

Just as Harry was setting aside the very last gift from the pile - by which point the crowd of guests had thinned considerably - there came a loud 'caw' from overhead, and a raven circled down, depositing a box in his lap. It trilled at Harry until, with faintly trembling fingers, he untied the silvery ribbon holding the box to the bird's foot, and then hopped onto his shoulder, fluffing its feathers.

"Blimey," Ron stared at the bird, wide-eyed.

"Caw," it cawed.

The box was black, tied with black ribbon, and rather heavy. Carefully, Harry untied the ribbon and lifted the lid-

Only to hastily close it again and retie the box, looking around in a panic to make sure no one had seen what was inside.

"This one isn't a birthday gift," he said loudly, not having to try very hard to affect a flush in his cheeks. "Never mind."

From the way Sirius caught his eye and wiggled his eyebrows, he'd made precisely the assumption Harry intended, and Harry averted his eyes as if embarrassed. It wasn’t hard to pretend to be.

"I think I'd better bring some of this stuff back to Headquarters," he spoke up after a moment, standing up to leave. The raven trilled again, and flew off into the distance in a burst of feathers, so Harry hefted up the black box under his arm and bade everyone good night.

Grimmauld Place was deafeningly, pleasantly silent in comparison when he emerged from the Floo grate, finally alone. Harry practically ran up the stairs to his room, casting an especially strong locking spell on the door. Only then did he set the box down on his desk, untie it again, and lift the lid.

He stared down at the contents of the box for a moment. Sighed. Dear Voldemort, Harry mentally composed a letter, don't you know that gifts are supposed to cater to others' tastes, not your own? Signed, Harry Potter.

He closed the box, re-tied it, and hid it under his bed. Shortly afterward, Assistant departed for Dark Headquarters by Portkey.

The skull of Sibyll Trelawney would rest just fine in its box for a while.

 

The Dark Lord was already well into his cups when Assistant appeared; Harry dutifully produced one of the Sobering Draughts he'd had on hand at the party, which Voldemort downed with a laugh at his diligence. "Assistant, so good to see you," he drawled, leaning back in his chair. "Dressed up a bit today, have you?"

Harry realized he'd forgotten to change into different clothes; he must have been more shaken by the... gift... than he'd thought. "Yes, Sir. I was obliged to attend Potter's birthday party earlier."

From the interest that statement garnered, Harry nearly regretted mentioning it, but he didn't think he was a good enough liar otherwise. "Were you really," the Dark Lord asked, delighted. "I'd forgotten you were of an age to know him." He stood, slinging an arm around Assistant's shoulders, and walked him over to the divan, summoning several bottles off his desk and a pair of clean tumbler glasses from the liquor cabinet. "Here, here, drink with me, we've finished any work for the week. Did you see if Potter got my gift?"

"Was that what the black box was?" Assistant wondered, accepting a glass of - yes, that was gin. He let his head rest on Sir's shoulder, sipping at it. The Dark Lord had the best liquor; it was really quite unfair. (If Sirius had noticed Harry's newfound high standards for alcohol in the past week or two, he hadn't said anything about it.) "It arrived just before I left... he didn't let anyone see inside. He was all flustered."

"Hm.. I suppose he would be, wouldn't he," Voldemort murmured, absently stroking the side of Assistant's neck. "It isn't every day that one receives a Seer's skull."

"Oh," Assistant exclaimed, taking another sip. "From the sacrifice last night?"

"Precisely." The Dark Lord favored him with a pleased look. "Seventeenth-birthday gifts are traditionally symbolic, though they can also be functional; in this case, the skull is both - if Potter were the type for necromancy. As a symbol, however," Sir drained his glass, and summoned several bottles of different sizes to mix another, "it represents the success of yesterday’s ritual, and the negation of the prophecy which had previously governed him and I, which is the true gift I have given: free will, untethered to destiny.

"I explained it in a letter, of course," he waved a dismissive hand, passing Assistant one of the two drinks that had been produced from his efforts. "Couldn't possibly expect him to know the specifics otherwise. You, on the other hand, have proven remarkably adept at ritual magic - well done, my dear." He clinked their glasses together, and took a long swig of the sparkling cocktail.

Harry blushed hot at the endearment, and matched Sir's progress in lieu of responding. The Dark Lord sprawled out on the divan, pulling him in against his side by the waist.

It was a stronger drink than Harry had realized; by the time Sir had replenished their glasses, switching to a whiskey cocktail he jokingly called a 'Dark Mark', he was reaching for another Sobering Draught, only to find he was all out. Oh, bugger. By now, though, Assistant was too relaxed to worry about it, loose-limbed and giddy with drink as he hadn't been in front of Sir before, and he let conversation flow without thinking too much about what he was saying.

Somehow, as drunks do, they ended up on the topic of politics, and the restricted life Assistant led in maintaining his supposed Light-ness; his friends' ignorance, and the way they'd most likely disclaim him in an instant if he were ever found out. "It'd prolly go 'bout as well as Harry Potter goin' Dark," Assistant joked.

Sir laughed, topping off their glasses again, and they toasted something or other, but Assistant's thoughts were beginning to get a little fuzzy.

More laughter. More drinks. Something called a 'Slytherin fizz'. The taste of gin was clinging to Assistant's teeth like the blood had last night, and he said as much to Sir when the Dark Lord hoisted him upright, leading the way out of the office and down to the basement to bother Severus for Sobering Draught. At some point or another, Assistant fumbled at the edges of the hood, meaning to pull it off, and found it wouldn't - "y're too wasssted," Voldemort laughed, snatching vials from the shelf under Severus' weary gaze. "Won't budge till t'morrah."

Then they were stumbling up several more flights of stairs than usual, arriving at an imposing set of double doors with snakes on them, which opened at a hiss to grant access to Sir's quarters. "Dunno if you're old enough t'be in here," the Dark Lord said with a wink, but he was already making his way to the oversized bed, leaning against a bedpost for support.

"Ah'm of age," Assistant protested, waving his hand. "Had m'birthday on... on Halloween, yeah. Thassit."

"A'ight then," Sir slurred, depositing the Sobering Draughts on the nightstand on his side of the bed. "C'mere," he patted the sheets.

It was warm in the room, very warm. They stripped off most of their clothes, and sprawled out against the cool sheets together. Assistant thought he was going to sink into the mattress and get stuck, he was so comfortable; he clung to Sir's arm, just in case, and let himself be pulled closer to his side, gazing up at the distant ceiling in a daze.

Suddenly, a great black shape loomed overhead, and Assistant blinked at it until it resolved into something vaguely serpentine. "Ssat a Basilisk?" he wondered aloud, reaching for it.

Sir giggled. "No, it's Nagini," he said, and laughed at the noise Assistant made when Nagini slithered over him to coil up against her master's other side, heavy and smooth as she pressed all the air out of his lungs with her weight.

Assistant rolled onto his side, muttering into Sir's shoulder that she could be both, couldn't she? Then he yawned again, and slung an arm across Sir's chest, taking over half of his pillow.

"Master, you took a mate and didn't introduce me?" Assistant heard Nagini complain, faint as though from a distance.

"I haven't done anything to him," Sir protested, "haven't harmed a hair on his pretty head!"

"Think he's pretty, do you?" the serpent teased-

Assistant slept.

 

Harry came out of a deep, dazed sleep, struggling to open his eyes; he was too comfortable. When he did, the room seemed too bright, and he groaned, covering his eyes with his arm. There was a sour taste in his mouth, and his head-

Merlin, his head ached. "..time is it?" he muttered, mustering the strength to sit up. It was really warm in here..

"Late afternoon," a voice informed him, pressing a small bottle into Harry's hand. Eyes still closed, he sniffed it, detected the vanilla-extract scent of Snape’s proprietary Instant Hangover Cure, and downed the lot of the sickly-sweet elixir in one go, already feeling better.

He opened his eyes, remembering where he was, and how he'd gotten there - vaguely. He was.. in Voldemort's bed. With Voldemort.

Naked with Voldemort. Who was - Harry glanced a bit lower than the faint protrusion of the Dark Lord's clavicle - also naked.

He sat up properly, mindful of the way the sheets pooled around his waist, and covered a yawn in his hand. "Good afternoon, Sir," said Assistant quietly.

"Good afternoon, Assistant," Voldemort replied, just as quietly, red eyes watching him through his eyelashes.

Salazar, he's beautiful, Harry thought, then wished he hadn't thought that, because he couldn't stop staring now that he'd noticed.

Sunlight from distant windows limned the Dark Lord's pale silhouette in gold, playing along the fine features of his face and the disheveled muss of his dark hair. "It seems I've kept you later than usual," Voldemort was saying, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lush lips.

"I.. I don't think I had anything to do today," Harry supposed, swallowing. "My housemates are probably wondering where I went, though."

Sir rolled his shoulders, arching his back as he stretched; the sheets shifted slightly lower, nearly to his thighs. Harry was exceedingly grateful that the obscuring hood didn't show his gaze straying. "Best get back to them, then," the Dark Lord suggested, wandlessly summoning Assistant's clothes onto the bed from where they'd been strewn about the floor. "We can plan out the next few episodes tomorrow."

As he slipped out of bed to pull on his clothes, Harry pretended he couldn't feel the weight of Sir's gaze on his back. Just as he pretended, when he turned back to bid the Dark Lord goodbye, that he couldn't see the pronounced bulge in the folds of white sheets.

 

Dinner was on the table at Number Twelve when Harry walked into the kitchen. Sirius leapt up from his seat mid-bite to chide him for disappearing, but then looked him over and sat back down, raising his eyebrows. Remus, in the next seat, stared at Harry wide-eyed, giving a pointed sniff.

"Prongslet, you smell like a distillery," said his godfather eventually. (Ron and Hermione, who'd turned around in their chairs to see him, appeared to exchange a look.) "Stayed up all night, did you?"

"..I got plenty of rest," Harry protested. In someone else's bed, he didn't say, but the expression on Sirius' face said he'd heard it anyway.

"I'm sure you did," Remus observed dryly. He turned to Sirius. "Called it, Padfoot, didn't I? A man."

Cue good-natured jeering from both his godfathers and Ron, and even Hermione eventually joined in, stifling a giggle behind her hand.

"H-How was it?" she asked, with an exaggerated wink that Sirius had to have taught her.

How… how would it have been, if he’d done that? Harry thought about it: the creeping heat of gifted Dark Magic under his skin, the feeling of Sir’s hands on him, in his hair, on his neck, his shoulder -

“Drink.”

- blood-slick fingers interlacing with his own -

“Very good, Assistant-”

- the long, sinuous shape of Sir’s nude body against the bedsheets, the look he’d had in his eyes just earlier, hungry -

“Marvelous.”

- fingertips tracing his cheek and the line of his jaw, a thumb just a hair’s breadth away from his lower lip -

- how he’d already debased himself, in front of him, “Sir, I - ah -”

(they know not to touch what is) “Mine.”

“..rry? Harry? Earth to Prongslet?”

Harry blinked like a deer in the headlights, flushed head to toe. “I’m, erm, just going to-”

They laughed at his expense, but the moment Harry was in his bedroom, kneeling on the bed, and palmed himself just once through his trousers, he came in his pants.

Chapter Text

The sun rose high over the sprawling estate known to its residents as Dark Headquarters, illuminating long hallways through tall windows which looked out upon its well-kept gardens and - visible from higher up in the building - a dense, verdant forest.

Some unspoken rule of the magical world seemed to dictate that Dark magic took place in dark places: caves, dungeons, windowless rooms, outdoors under the new moon, and so on. Indeed, Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place - former seat of House Black, notorious Dark wizards - was an aggressively dreary, grimy, dimly-lit house. And yet, the Dark Lord had specifically designed and constructed his headquarters in just the opposite way, more like a monastery than anything else.

And no one's ever awake to see it, Severus Snape finished his inner monologue, pausing to gaze out upon the nearest bed of herbs through one such window. Not Him or any of the rest of us.. except for me. He rubbed at his eyes, exhausted from the night spent brewing yet another batch of Sobering Draught for the Dark Lord and his dread Assistant. It alone, of all his invented and modified potions, had to be started at sunrise. Now - he cast a Tempus - it was just after nine-thirty in the morning.

In other words, he was late.

Severus cursed the Dark Lord's design philosophy as he hurried along to the Apparition zone. It was located, for aesthetical reasons, on the south-most portion of the estate's main building, about as far from Severus' workrooms as one could get without going outside. He was of half a mind to request a relocation to one of the outbuildings, but that would mean moving all of his materials and giving up convenient access to the ritual rooms on those occasions a potion required magical infusion. More losses than gains, for now, and besides, Severus hated change.

Routine, though, he liked. And it was routine, circumstances permitting, for one Severus Snape to meet Albus Dumbledore on Wednesdays between nine-thirty and ten-thirty; just as, once he'd Apparated to his safehouse in Cokeworth first, it was routine to stagger through the Floo into the Headmaster's office and slump wearily into the nearest chair, draining the first cup of tea Albus handed him, and the second, until he could focus well enough to report.

"How has your week been, my friend?" Albus inquired gently from behind a teacup of his own. The phoenix Fawkes was resting its head in his hand like a cat from its perch on the man's shoulder.

"Terrible as usual," Severus complained, rather more good-naturedly than his tone suggested. "I regret ever inventing a potion that must be brewed at dawn."

They made small talk on unrelated things until Severus set his teacup aside; then, Albus returned Fawkes to his perch by the desk and invoked the privacy wards built into his office: those which kept the portraits of previous Headmasters from seeing or hearing what went on within. His expression, when he leaned forward in his chair, was a solemn one. "Have you learned anything new about Voldemort's plans for the year, Severus?"

The Potions Master sighed. "The Dark Lord has made neither an official reveal or an offhanded mention of further warfare." A grimace. "This internet project has consumed all of his attention - to say nothing of that damn Assistant."

At first, Severus would have called the boy pleasant: he demonstrated courtesy and intelligence, respectful and respected among the Death Eaters residing on the Dark Lord's estate.

But that was on his own, a minority of the time - it was when around the Dark Lord that Assistant became a problem.

Severus could swear - had sworn, during his rant to Albus last week - that the minute Voldemort walked into a room Assistant was in, it was like they shared just one brain between the two of them. Assistant absorbed the Dark Lord's attention and - if Voldemort even had any - his common sense. They rarely strayed out of arm's reach of the other, entirely drawn into their own world, and indulged in whatever caught their fancy.

Hence, Severus' now-weekly brews of Sobering Draught.

"And the illustrious Assistant remains unidentified," Albus supposed, stroking his beard.

"He has said nothing in my presence which would give further hints to his identity," Severus swiped a hand down his face, "save for a single slurred address of me as 'P'fessah' as he left a few hours ago, which only proves he's aware of my occupation. The Dark Lord, meanwhile," he sneered, "is content not to find out with whom he drinks." If it were anyone other than Voldemort, Severus would say he and Assistant were friends.

"It is unlike Tom to be so close with a mere boy," Albus murmured, "unless.." the headmaster paled. "Severus, Assistant could not be Tom's son?"

"Merlin, no," Severus choked. "Not the way he looks at him-"

Both men shuddered. "I suppose we will have to revisit the matter of the boy's identity when something new comes up," Albus concluded. Severus was already standing from his seat, setting the teacup and saucer on the desk for the house-elves to pick up. "I won't keep you from your quarters another minute, my friend. Do send Harry in on your way down."

Stifling a yawn, Severus nodded, opening the door to the moving staircase. Potter stood on the other side, just as Albus had said he would be, holding a large black box in his hands. "Potter," the Potions Master looked impassively down on him.

"Good morning, Professor," Potter greeted absently, expression blank, and passed right by him before he could say anything else, closing the door to the office with a soft click.

Severus flinched, turning to stare at the closed door. For just a moment, the boy's tone of polite distance, the way he seemed to look right through him as though he weren't there, had reminded him far too closely of the Dark Lord's Assistant.

 

Dumbledore's office was as busy with moving baubles as it always was, but there was something more serious in the air than the whimsical bubbles, sparkles and steam would suggest. Harry took the open seat across from the Headmaster, settling the box in his lap. Fawkes trilled a greeting, sticking his neck out to peer curiously at it for a moment before settling back to preen his feathers.

"Good morning, Professor," Harry offered, glancing at the finished tea set on the desk between them with a grateful thought to the Pepper-Up he'd downed just before arriving - Assistant had been up late working on the latest video with Sir, and Harry had only gotten back to Grimmauld at five.

Dumbledore retrieved a tall jar from one of his desk drawers, eyes twinkling. "Good morning, Harry. Thank you for stopping by so soon; could I interest you in a Pixy Stix?" He opened the lid of the jar to reveal it was full of the brightly-colored paper straws.

"These aren't too sweet for you, sir?" Harry had to ask, taking one. He winced at the concentration of sour as he tapped a bit of the contents onto his tongue, face screwing up like he'd bitten a lemon.

The headmaster's eyes crinkled at the corners. Harry nearly griped about taking his amusement at his expense, but in the next moment, Dumbledore's expression had gone much more grave.

"I am sorry to say," he began, "that today's meeting comes on the heels of some bad news, my boy. You recall from last week's meeting that the Order is still investigating Sibyll's disappearance from Hogsmeade." Harry nodded. "We now believe that she was murdered."

Harry blinked, hands clenching on the corners of the box. "About that, sir.."

Very carefully, he set the box down on the desk. "Erm. A couple weeks ago, Voldemort sent me this. As a birthday present." His grimace was not disgust, but secondhand embarrassment was close enough. (Really, Sir, you couldn't have picked something less creepy?)

Dumbledore appeared to have aged ten years, and that was before he opened the box to peer at the skull resting inside. "Harry," he said quietly, "I have to ask why you did not report this earlier."

Now Harry's embarrassment was firsthand. Realistically, he could have mentioned it more than a week ago. If he'd had a real sense of duty to the Order he'd have brought it up the moment he opened the box. "Erm. I went drinking right after I got it, and then forgot where it was, and by the time I found it again a week went by and it seemed like I'd waited too long to mention it. After the last meeting, I realized the Order didn't already know she was dead, so I went looking for it again to bring it to you the next time you were available, which was today, I think."

Enough of this was true that Dumbledore's passive Legilimency wouldn't notice the parts he'd left out - for example, his initial fear of being caught with the thing, which quickly became a fear of (and anger at) anyone taking it from him when they found out about it. He didn't want them to take it away. It was his now. Just like-

-blood everywhere, on his face, his hands, in his mouth-

"The letter he sent with it is in the box next to the skull," Harry offered, not quite able to tear his eyes away. "Or a copy, rather. The original felt like it was hexed against anyone else reading it."

Dumbledore, unfolding the copied letter, paused. "..'Felt', Harry?" he asked, his earlier reprimanding tone shifting to one of curiosity. In fact, he sounded almost impressed.

"Erm." Harry was feeling especially eloquent today, couldn't you tell? "I might have awakened a weak mage-sense."

"Why, how marvelous!" The headmaster's expression lit up. "I had wondered if your continued exposure to so many Dark artifacts might enable you to sense their properties, someday. It is an excellent skill to have as an Auror, though to have acquired it at such a young age is itself an achievement.."

"There was a video teaching it, sir," Harry interrupted Dumbledore's musings. "Two, actually - episodes in the Professor Riddle series-"

He realized his error when a small furrow appeared between the headmaster's brows, blue eyes blinking owlishly. "'Professor Riddle', you say?"

Oh, Merlin. Harry hastily navigated to the site on his phone - logging out of his subscriber account, as the [Welcome, Assistant!] message at the top of the screen would really give him away. "It's part of the Dark Livestream franchise," he explained. "Separate from the murdering and stuff - I don't really watch the streams anymore." Which was true, from a certain point of view. He scrolled down to the thumbnail for Episode 3, pausing it before the video loaded, and set it on Dumbledore's desk. "I thought you knew about the series already, sir, since he mentioned it in the video with the face reveal."

They watched the first few minutes together, pausing just before Sir began teaching Assistant on-screen. "Goodness," Dumbledore murmured, "I confessed I never expected Tom to return to his idea of being a professor, after he was turned down for the Defense post."

After you turned him down, Harry mentally corrected. "Mage-sense was one of the first things they covered," he said, "and then there's been ritual magic, Inferi, golems, the Imperius, and the other Unforgivables. Episodes are posted Tuesdays and Thursdays, so the next one is tomorrow."

"The Unforgivable Curses," Dumbledore stated, sounding less than impressed.

"It was by popular request," Harry felt obligated to point out. "He even said so-" He flipped to the episode in question, hitting 'play'.

Voldemort uncrossed and re-crossed his legs onscreen, examining his glass of wine. “While the Unforgivable Curses, as they are known in Britain’s sphere of influence, are not at all hidden, and hardly suppressed, they remain Dark by the popular definition for their unambiguous effects. What other use is there, one might wonder, for spells of slavery, torture, and death? It is by popular request that I will discuss each of the three spells in this video, beyond what I have mentioned of them in previous episodes: not only their primary purposes, and how to defend against them, but also the more obscure - even beneficial - purposes to which each spell may be put.

“That said,” the Dark Lord’s gaze turned sharply to the camera, “I remind you all, dear viewers, to use conjured or Transfigured creatures for spell practice, and not living ones - particularly for the Killing Curse. The Unforgivables have been illegal for centuries; those caught casting upon living creatures, particularly wizards or Muggles, face imprisonment without trial in the British Isles. Use common sense.

(Assistant’s brief surprise - quickly stifled - at Sir’s disclaimer had amused the man. “Frankly, Assistant,” the Dark Lord had drawled, “would you trust a bunch of first-years not to just toss the Imperius at each other for entertainment until they collapsed from magical exhaustion?”

Given that it had happened to Ravenclaw’s fourth-years while Moody was still teaching, Assistant had immediately seen his point.)

Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, stroking his beard in contemplation. Harry's phone buzzed with a text from Ron, and he took it back to read the message. "It looks like I have to get back, sir," he said, reaching for the box.

The headmaster didn't even stop him from bringing the skull back to Grimmauld, so absorbed was he in browsing the Professor Riddle website on his desktop computer now that Harry had provided the link. Had it really surprised Dumbledore that much to know that Sir's interest in teaching had been genuine after all?

He logged back into the site on his phone as he Flooed back to Number Twelve, eyes so glued to the new messages from Sir that had just arrived that he didn't see Sirius and Remus watching him from the sofa.

 

"You see, Padfoot," Remus muttered as their godson walked out into the hallway without looking up to greet them. "Harry would never have done that last year."

"Last year he didn't have cell service in the house," Sirius pointed out, glancing up at him from the photo feed of a motorbike restoration shop. "Come on, Remie, give him a break."

"We've been giving him a break all summer, Sirius," Remus growled, snatching the phone out of his hands. "And what has he done but go clubbing at nights in skin-tight outfits and sleep with men you and I have never met?"

Grey eyes blinked up at him, taking in the serious tone Remus was using and setting humor aside. "Remus," Sirius asked quietly, "we already talked to him about being responsible while on the pull. Why are you bringing it up again?"

“Because I thought about it and,” he clutched at the bottom hem of Sirius’ shirt, speaking in a harsh whisper, “what if it’s vampires?”

Sirius whipped his head around, motorbikes forgotten. “What?”

“Think about it - I gave him that amulet for his birthday and I've never seen him wearing it," Remus started a tally on his fingers. "There's the altered sleep schedule - Harry never slept in before this year, Siri - and the drastic change in his style preferences, and that doesn't even get into what we've both smelled on him. Men, Sirius, but more importantly, the same man, multiple times, and you saw Harry's face when we brought up sex. He looked like he was going to mess himself when we teased him the morning after his birthday! Normal sex isn't that mindblowing, even if it's as good as we've got it!" Remus faltered a little at the mention, flushing, but rallied. "And more than any of that, Padfoot, even if none of the rest had happened.."

He trailed off, and Sirius sent him a questioning look. "What is it, Moony?" he asked, leaning closer.

Remus tucked his face into Sirius’ neck, staring at the floor. "I didn't tell you at the time, because I didn't want you to worry. But the night before his birthday, on the thirtieth.."

"Hm?"

"..He had blood on his breath, Siri, a lot of it. And Dark magic was clinging to his clothes.” As if he’d been in the vicinity of it - or been part of it, and washed the traces off his skin.

The implication was not lost on Sirius; he let out a little gasp. "You don't think he was initiated?"

"I had to wait and see,” Remus insisted, “you know how complicated it is to initiate vampirism into a wizard. And St. Mungo’s could save him in the early weeks, if he did turn.”

“But he didn’t,” Sirius muttered, thinking. “So then…”

“Thrall,” they thought aloud in unison.

“Hell, it would make a lot of sense,” Sirius dragged a hand down his face. “And there’s a potion for testing and breaking vampiric thrall - Mother mentioned in in regard to Uncle Alphard.”

“Your uncle who disappeared?”

Sirius averted his gaze to the low flames flickering in the hearth. “He.. he didn’t disappear.”

Remus’ eyes widened. “You mean he-”

“Yeah,” Sirius shivered, “he turned. I stayed with him for a week before I went to James’ family, back when Mother kicked me out.”

Remus pulled away so he could lay a soft, scarred hand on his husband’s cheek, turning Sirius’ morose face to meet his eyes. “You never mentioned it,” he wondered, looking up at him through his eyelashes. “Was it..?”

“It wasn’t bad, but,” Sirius pressed his cheek into Remus’ palm, closing his eyes for a moment. “It’s not the life I want Harry to live.” A sigh. “That said, turning Alphard took years - and he wasn’t half as powerful as Harry is, magically speaking. We can save him. We’ve got to save him.”

The two wizards took comfort in each other, making tentative plans to investigate further, and Ron and Hermione stood hurriedly from the other side of the closed door to the sitting room and rushed upstairs before the silencing spell they’d cast wore off.

“I don’t think it’s vampires,” was the first thing Hermione said once they were secure in their shared room. “I read about them after sixth year - remember the one at Slughorn’s Christmas party? Harry’s showing none of the signs of thrall. He’s just being… promiscuous, I suppose is the word.”

Ron paced the perimeter of the area rug between their beds (one of which, it should be noted, had not been slept in in quite some time). “I say we let Moony and Padfoot investigate down the vampire route, there’s still a chance they could be right - but while they do that, what do we do?”

“We could check his room?”

“I don’t know about you, but he’s put up some serious wards against that, ‘Mione,” Ron pointed out with a smirk. “I zapped my hand on the doorknob yesterday, remember?”

“Why don’t we just ask, then?” Hermione huffed, exasperated. “Harry’s our friend, the worst he’d do is pitch a fit.”

“All right, so we try asking,” Ron shrugged. “Where is he, anyway? I haven’t seen him all day.”

"Let's ask Kreacher," Hermione said brightly. "He's been warming up to me lately. Kreacher!" she called.

With an overloud 'crack', the elf appeared in the middle of the room. "What," Kreacher croaked, "is Master's mudblood friend wanting?"

Hermione dutifully ignored the slur - she had at some point decided it wasn't worth correcting the elf every time, he wasn't going to change - to ask, sweetly (in a way that made Ron think of Umbridge), "Kreacher, where's Harry?"

Kreacher narrowed his rheumy eyes, glancing pointedly between Ron's empty bed and Hermione's messy one. "Master Potter-Black is taking his lunch in the dining room, and is not to be disturbed."

"So he's in the dining room, then," Ron rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Mione-"

"Is that being all?" Kreacher sneered. "Kreacher rather thinks the room ought to be aired out, and the sheets changed."

Blushing red as a tomato at the implication, Hermione waved a dismissive hand. "No, we'll take care of that, you can go-"

With another 'crack', the elf was gone, and Hermione spent a moment neatening the room before she led the way out, true to her word.

 

Harry’s self-prescribed ‘leisure hour’ between having lunch and going to Dark Headquarters was a time he usually spent snacking and scrolling through his phone. His latest perusal of the comments section on Tuesday’s video was ended quite abruptly by a loud knocking on the dining room door and what sounded like Ron swearing as he got shocked by the privacy ward Harry had keyed to the knob.

He jumped up from his seat, stuffing the obscuring hood back into his mokeskin pouch as he went to answer the door before his friends tried spelling their way in. And just in time - Hermione had her wand out and pointed at the door when he yanked it open, and the both of them seemed startled by his emergence from the other side.

“What’s up, guys?” Harry asked. “You usually don’t come up here.” Nobody does; that’s kind of the point.

"Well, we usually don't have to search for you," Hermione rejoined, crossing her arms for a moment before she seemed to shake herself and uncross them again. "There's something we have to ask you about."

"C'mon in then I guess," Harry shrugged, leading his friends into the room that had of late become a kind of private study. "Was just sitting around anyway."

They followed him in, taking seats at either side of where he did at the head of the table; Harry took a last bite of treacle tart from his dessert plate before pushing it away for Kreacher to clear. "Harry," Hermione started, then stopped. She seemed to be having trouble putting words together, which was odd for her.

When more than a minute of tense silence had passed, Harry sat up straighter in his seat, fixing each of them with a more serious look. He leaned forward. "Hermione, what's wrong?"

"Hey Har', you know Sirius' uncle Alphard?" Ron spoke up, glancing at Hermione as he did.

"The vampire?" Harry tilted his head the way Assistant did when Sir was teaching him.

"How'd you know about that?" Hermione asked suddenly, peering at him.

"His name's purplish on the tapestry downstairs," Harry blinked at her. "I asked Siri about it last year. Remember?" It was one of the spots that had been blasted off the weave until Sirius called in a professional from Switzerland to restore it. “It’s why he got disowned, but he was still Padfoot’s favorite uncle.”

"Have you ever met him? Or his clan?" Ron asked. "Besides Sanguini at Slughorn's parties, I mean."

"I don't.. think I have?" Why were they asking him about vampires of all things? "Sanguini's the only vampire I ever met, even. Is this about the clubbing, guys?" He furrowed his brow. "Do I really seem like I'm going that wild?"

"Well." Ron shrugged, sagging back in the stiff-back dining chair. "We don't really think so as much, but Remus was talking to Sirius about it just now, and they really think so."

"Remus said he smelled blood on your breath," Hermione cut in, and by the way both his friends stiffened, Harry's reaction must have shown on his face. "Did you actually..?" she asked.

Well. It wasn't as if Harry had never expected to get questioned. "..You guys know about the thing I can't talk about, right?" They shared a look, then looked back at him with tentative nods. "Okay. So, yeah. Some weird shit has happened with that, but it's not vampires, I can tell you that."

They stared at him, waiting for him to continue, but Harry knew that it was better he keep his answers concise - over-explaining was more suspicious than vague, short answers. He was a better liar than he pretended to be; but it worked best if he lied as rarely as possible.

"What about the man you're sleeping with?" Ron brought up after a beat.

Harry flushed a bright red. "Erm. I-" I'm not sleeping with him, he wanted to say, but that would contradict what he'd already implied to both his friends and his godfathers.

Eyeing him, Hermione pursed her lips. "You know we're not going to shame you for having sex any more than Remus and Sirius would, right? We don't need details," she hastened to add, pinking a bit, "but- do you like him?"

"Yeah," Harry answered right away, a bit too enthusiastically from the way they both seemed amused. "I do.”

Assistant liked Sir, at least. Assistant could like Sir. Harry Potter wasn’t allowed to like Lord Voldemort, but Assistant - Assistant could fancy him all he wanted, couldn’t he? Assistant could want him, could - could ask him, Assistant could probably even do something about it-

The interested bulge under the thin sheet of Sir’s bed, a temptation Assistant hadn’t dared to take-

"..Erm," Harry said, feeling like his face was going to combust.

"Are we going to get to meet this guy you like so much?" Hermione wondered in a teasing tone.

"Yeah, can't hide the bloke forever, can you?" Ron elbowed him, grinning. "Come on, Harry, you know we'd never be weird about it. Well, beyond the mandatory 'if you ever break his heart' talk."

Harry tried to imagine Ron and Hermione threatening Sir over a family dinner like in a romcom, and started giggling. "Let me actually date him first," he said eventually, when he managed to control himself.

Hermione's eyes widened, though she was still smiling. "Got yourself a friend with benefits, Harry?" she teased in the next moment, with an exaggerated wink - a very Sirius expression.

Ron snorted. "Never took you for a player, mate."

"Well," Harry struggled to explain it any better, then realized he didn't have to. "I like what I've got," he said finally. "Can we just leave it for now, d'you think?"

His friends sighed almost in unison. Hermione rolled her eyes. "Sure, Harry," she chuckled. "In a rush to get back to him, are you? Got a hot date? Or, well, liaison to be getting to?"

Harry's phone buzzed with a new message from Sir and he jumped a little in his seat, snatching it up right away to read, which for his friends was answer enough. "Erm, yeah, I do actually," he grinned. "See you guys tomorrowish? We can go to that street fair over the weekend?"

He was already at the door by the time they replied, and minutes later. Assistant departed Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place from his bedroom.

The other two members of the Golden Trio lingered in the dining room, staring after him. "The way I see it," Ron said eventually, breaking the silence, "he's not lying about getting shagged, but there's something else going on besides that for sure."

"Did you notice how easily he sidestepped the blood thing?" Hermione agreed, glancing at the doorway. "He mentions that mission for Dumbledore or whatever and changes the subject entirely."

"..Should we ask Dumbledore?" Ron murmured. "If he would even tell us anything.."

Hermione sighed. There was the rub - she had, after fifth year, finally come around to understanding what Harry had insisted for years. Asking Dumbledore would never work. And from the way he hesitated asking, Ron knew it, too. "You and I both know that's a waste of time." She sighed again.

"'Least he's having a good time of it," Ron smirked, nudging her foot with his under the table. She looked up to see him waggling his eyebrows. "Too bad there's no double dates in our future, innit? Could've tried that Muggle sport you like. Bawling?"

"Bowling, Ron," Hermione corrected, rolling her eyes again. "You know we could just all go bowling as a family and not as a date?"

"But that's how the movies do it," Ron protested.

"Pff. Not everything in our lives is like the movies."

Chapter Text

Just before midnight the same day, Lucius Malfoy could be found striding down the major corridor of Headquarters to the Dark Lord's office, his brisk pace not at all influenced by the prickling sensation of his son's eyes darting all around them in wonderment. He had a report to give and a request to make, and Draco was necessary for the latter; he would not give in to the urge to snap at the boy for his lack of discretion-

The telltale 'click' of Draco's phone camera going off told him enough was enough. Oh, what Lucius wouldn't have given for his son to be in control of his impulses for once in his spoiled life instead of acting like a mudblood seeing Diagon Alley for the first time!

Click. "This is so cool," Draco muttered under his breath.

Lucius stopped short in the middle of the corridor, spinning around to glare at his son. "You will comport yourself, Draco, and delete those photos until such a time in which you receive permission - it is a security risk."

Eyes wide as saucers, Draco hastened to do as he was told, flushing with embarrassment. This, at least, was as it should be. But his stiff, straight posture was undermined by the excitement shining through his features, a grin fighting its way onto his face despite himself, as they reached the Dark Lord's outer office; Lucius wondered if he ought to have disciplined his son with more than mere words over the years. He had never exerted himself to inflict physical punishment upon the boy, but Abraxas had raised him beneath the cane, and Lucius sometimes pondered if Draco would have been more.. proper, was the word that came to mind, had he done the same.

"Wow," Draco breathed, twisting his head this way and that. "It's even larger than the library at the Manor!"

At least in part because the Dark Lord copied all of our books. Lucius suppressed a sigh, wishing his son had Assistant's easy composure. Lord knew how the mysterious boy had been raised so well. Perhaps he would ask, someday, and see if Draco could be treated the same.

Averting his eyes to the floor - lest he catch Draco's fidgeting - Lucius knocked on the closed door to the Dark Lord's private office and was granted entry, his son fast on his heels.

"Ah, Lucius, I had wondered if I would see you this evening," the Dark Lord mused. Lucius looked up from his usual low bow to realize two things: one, that Voldemort appeared to have rearranged the furniture in his office, and two, that lying against him on the oversized chaise divan, wine in hand, was the Dark Lord's Assistant.

"Yes, my lord," Lucius answered - a bit unnecessarily, but he was somewhat lost for words. "I have the usual report."

The Dark Lord's left hand was curled low at Assistant's waist; as he sipped his wine, his fingers absently stroked Assistant's side, lingering at the waistband of the boy's tight-fitting trousers. "Your report and your heir, I see," Voldemort mused, swirling the glass of white wine in his other hand.

"Indeed, my lord," Lucius nearly stuttered, refocusing his eyes away from the spectacle, "it concerns a secondary matter I hoped to bring up with you after making my report." Salazar, he was talking too much - the last thing Lucius wanted was to come off as snivelling like Wormtail had-

Slowly, Assistant sat up, extricating himself from the Dark Lord's lazy embrace. "I'll be in the outer office, Sir," the boy promised, clasping his hands in the small of his back. His wine glass floated over to the desk, left behind, as Assistant swept from the room at the Dark Lord's dismissal, fairly gliding across the carpet without acknowledging Lucius or Draco directly.

Speaking of Draco. "This is a war matter," Lucius informed his son. "Wait outside."

Thankfully, Draco did not embarrass himself by protesting - only hesitated a moment before doing as he was told. As he began his report of the latest happenings in the Ministry, it occurred to Lucius to wonder if the sudden adherence to decorum was because of the Dark Lord's observant gaze, or because Assistant - about whom Draco had not shut up for weeks - was out there, too.

 

Draco hadn't had a chance to be properly amazed before, not with Father pestering him, but now that he was back in the library, he stood right in the middle of the room and took in the space. It was incredible - he'd seen his godfather's shelves of Potions notes in his office at Hogwarts before and been impressed, only to find an entire wall of similarly-bound notebooks and loose scrolls here before him. He stepped closer, peering at the neatly lettered titles on the spines of the hand-bound books with wonder; there were research notes on everything from the aforementioned Potions studies to Transfiguration, Arithmancy, and of course just tons of Dark Arts stuff-

"Be careful, those are cursed," came a voice from behind him, on the opposite side of the room, and Draco flinched, embarrassed to be caught indulging in the Ravenclaw tendencies he'd striven to hide from other people. I know they are, he made to snap, before he realized who had spoken to him.

He swallowed, turning around. Assistant, in the flesh! "Um," Draco felt his cheeks heating at the stammer, "I won't touch them, I didn't bring gloves anyway, but thank you for the reminder."

"Certainly," Assistant murmured, appearing to nod before he returned his attention (probably) to the book open before him. It appeared to be from the same section Draco was currently examining - in fact, there was a matching gap on the second shelf from the top, now he looked for it. Damn it, Draco, this is no time to be shy, he scolded himself, and with a deep fortifying breath, made his way over to the table Assistant was reading at.

The man's empty hood turned to look at him - and wasn't that disconcerting? Draco forced himself to get used to it. "Yes?" Assistant asked, not impolitely.

Moment of truth, Draco, don't bollocks it up. "I wanted to introduce myself properly," he said, comporting himself in much the same way, he would later think, as he had on the day he'd met Harry Potter on the Express. "Draco Lucius Malfoy, heir of House Malfoy. It's a pleasure to meet you; I'm a bit of a fan."

(Quite the understatement; Draco considered himself the foremost of Assistant's fan-art commissioners, and had more drawings saved to his phone than could have fit on the wall of his room if he'd printed them out-)

Assistant seemed to stare at him for a moment, not that Draco could really tell - but long enough that he faltered, stomach tying itself in knots. But then:

"A pleasure, Draco," came a reply that sounded almost warm, through the distortion of the obscuring hood. "I am the Dark Lord's Assistant, or Assistant, for short."

And he extended a hand to Draco.

Draco took it, giving his best handshake, not at all able to keep the grin from his face. "Is it all right if I sit with you?" he asked, indicating the book on the table. "I could give you space if you wanted to read.."

Salazar, was he being weird? Was Assistant just tolerating him like one tolerated a child? How old was he anyway? Did Draco know him already? But there was no way of telling at a glance. Assistant leaned back in his chair, gesturing to the available seat on the opposite side of the table. "By all means. I've already read these notes anyway; this is mostly review in case Sir asks me for details later."

Draco sat. "You call him 'Sir'? Not 'my Lord'?" All the Dark Lord's Death Eaters referred to him as the latter.

"Sometimes 'Professor', but Sir is much faster, isn't it?" Draco got the impression Assistant was smiling. "I'm not a Death Eater, just an employee, so I don't call Sir my lord."

"But you're on His side in the war," Draco supposed, tilting his head.

Assistant hummed noncommittally. "Politics aside," he effortlessly sidestepped, "I give Sir his space in such matters for security reasons - as I am not magically bound to silence the way his servants are. To do otherwise would be irresponsible." With a gesture, Assistant summoned a leaf of parchment and a fountain pen from somewhere nearby and bent to copy a runic array from the page he was on.

"Would you want to be a Death Eater if you were given the chance?" Draco had to wonder, watching Assistant expertly scribe out the array like he'd done it a dozen times. "I'm hoping to earn the Mark by winter hols," he supplied.

Assistant rotated his parchment clockwise and started the second circle of runes within the first. "I haven't really thought about it," he admitted. "I suppose if Sir really wanted me to.. belong to him.." The pen faltered a moment, nearly leaving an extra dot of ink on the page. "I'd have to consider it more before I could really say. But I don't really see a need, you know? I serve where I am able." He set the pen down, resting his elbows on the table and his unseen chin on his hands. "A politically-minded wizard like you, Draco.. wouldn't you prefer to succeed Lucius' place in the information and influence network? You don't have to serve through combat."

The question brought Draco up short. He blinked at Assistant, surprised, and wondered yet again if he knew this person, underneath the hood. "Well," he said, then hesitated, and when he spoke again, it was quieter, confiding. "If the Dark Lord told me to do that instead, I suppose.. but my father, and his father, were both at His right hand, from the beginning. I always thought..." that I'd succeed him.

Assistant seemed to pick up on the words Draco did not say. He steepled his fingers on the table, tilting his head at him. "If that is what you wish," the man relented, "but consider that any worthy form of contribution in which you find achievement and fulfillment would be an equally worthy legacy, Draco. We are all of us more than soldiers in the war, you know?"

Their conversation lapsed into silence, weighed upon by those words. Draco didn't know what to make of Assistant's advice; half of it sounded straight out of the Dark Lord's mouth, but the other half, the way he phrased it... there was something that pulled at him in a different way, sounding strangely personal.

Before he could ask anything else, the door to the inner office opened in their peripheral vision, and the Dark Lord swept out, approaching to loom over Assistant's shoulder. Draco wouldn't admit it, but he froze, a bit terrified - the last time he'd been in such close proximity to the Dark Lord had been last year, before the sequence of events leading to His regained sanity, and the shadow of those days had not quite left Draco's thoughts just yet.

The Dark Lord paid him no notice, however, leaning in to murmur by where Assistant's ear would be as He scrutinized the runes copied onto the parchment. "I see you have made a thorough study, my Assistant," he mused, resting a hand on the back of Assistant's chair so that his thumb brushed Assistant's shoulder. "Very good."

"Thank you, Sir." Assistant leaned into the touch, voice gone slightly breathy. Draco averted his eyes to the table, swallowing. It seemed like the tension everyone saw between them in the Professor Riddle episodes wasn't scripted. Even the room seemed a bit warmer than it had been moments before.

"Lucius has finished his report," the Dark Lord informed Assistant. The hand on the back of the chair now rested on his left shoulder, a possessive gesture that sent Draco's thoughts straying to that fanfiction someone had posted on the community forums earlier in the day. Mind out of the gutter, Draco, he told himself, biting the inside of his cheek. "Come, let us return to my office," He purred. "And you as well, Draco," the Dark Lord added in the more distant tone Draco was accustomed to. "Lucius has an additional matter to discuss."

Assistant got gracefully to his feet, leaning right into the Dark Lord's side as he let himself be escorted back into the other room. Draco hurried to follow, struggling to compose himself in the face of such overt intimacy. At least, as he saw upon entering the office, his father was as uncomfortable at the sight of them as Draco was, watching Assistant sprawl against the Dark Lord on the divan as if they had never left their place there at all.

He looked like a concubine in the paintings of antiquity - or, Draco swallowed, an eromenos of Ancient Greece. Did- did Assistant do that? With the Dark Lord?

As if he had read Draco's mind, a small smirk crossed the Dark Lord's face; he summoned Assistant's wine glass back for him, using it to partially refill his own. "So, Lucius, you were saying?"

"As my Lord recalls from last year, the sending-off rites for the academic year require Narcissa and I to isolate ourselves at the Manor for a fortnight, under circumstances which prevent our son," he glanced at Draco, "from remaining within the wards."

"He refers, Assistant, to the preparations for the modern syncretic holiday we will be explaining in an episode at the end of the month." The Dark Lord's hand stroked Assistant's side, and was it just Draco's imagination or was his hand lower than it had been before?

"Ah, the sex magic," Assistant nodded, sipping his wine. Draco blushed to hear it stated so plainly, but the Dark Lord only chuckled, now petting Assistant's hair through the hood. "Indeed," he murmured.

"Given the delicate political situation," Lucius continued when he was given leave to speak, "we are concerned for Draco's safety were he to stay with his friends, who were primarily unaligned in the War. If it is not inconvenient to my lord, I request that Draco reside at Headquarters for the necessary allotment, through to the end of the summer holiday."

The Dark Lord hummed - the same way Assistant had earlier, Draco realized. How much time must they spend together to pick up each other's mannerisms? "I suppose there is space in the guest wing, and Severus will be pleased to see his godson. We have given him precious little spare time, haven't we, Assistant?" A fond glance down at the hooded wizard essentially plastered to his side. "Your request is granted, Lucius."

"Thank you, my lord," Lucius bowed again, as did Draco a bit shakily. They left shortly after, closing the door behind them, and Draco didn't say anything on the long walk back to the Apparition zone; he was somewhat preoccupied with the revelation that living here, he'd be seeing a lot of both the Dark Lord and his Assistant, and if they acted like that all the time...

...he might have to practice a blood redirection charm.

Chapter Text

Draco's prediction didn't come true, but it was a close thing.

He arrived at Headquarters the following morning with his things in shrunken trunks - outside house-elves were not present in the main building for security reasons - and was escorted upstairs by a sleepy Uncle Rudy to the rooms he'd been allocated on the third floor with other long-term occupants. "The guest rooms are always full in the summer," Rodolphus explained. "You're trustworthy enough to be on the same floor as Bella, Rabs and I."

The Lestranges were far from the only occupants of the estate, however - rooms on this floor were also set aside for Corban Yaxley, Barty Crouch Junior (who Draco hadn't realized was alive), and Draco's godfather. Augustus Rookwood had a residence and workshop all to himself in one of the estate's outbuildings, where Yaxley could be found more often than not; and Crouch was currently 'on leave', whatever that meant. "It'd be a lot louder if they were here, I can tell you that," Rodolphus yawned. "'S like Yaxley never sleeps."

Draco didn't miss the way Rodolphus skipped the first door by the stairs. "Does anyone live in that suite?" he nodded in its direction once they'd passed.

Rodolphus winced, caught out. "Oh, those are Assistant's rooms," he said quickly. "Here's your door."

Weird.

 

The rooms were beautiful and well-appointed, of similar quality to Draco's own bedroom - and much nicer than the guest quarters at Malfoy Manor. He sprawled out in the middle of the floor and stared up at the sky painted on the ceiling, admiring the enchanted mural: it did not match the weather outdoors like Hogwarts' Great Hall, but instead stowed a slow-changing fantasy cloudscape through which the sun gleamed. The sun position did match the outside - in lieu of a proper clock in the room. Draco was glad he could just cast Tempus if he needed to.

(He had to wonder why the Dark Lord bothered with these kinds of fanciful installations; but then, He really wasn't the same person as last year, was he? Draco expected he would continue to struggle to reconcile the changes for some time.)

The rest of Headquarters - namely, Bella, Rabs, and Rudy (who had gone back to bed after showing Draco around) - gathered for breakfast in a smaller dining room on the fourth floor only about noon. Fortified by strong coffee, Aunt Bella was all too happy to explain how Headquarters ran on a day-to-day basis.

"Our lord sleeps into the afternoon," she brandished the half-empty cup at the clock on the wall, "and spends most of the leftover daylight in his office until Assistant arrives in the evening - if the boy shows up at all." She drained the cup and poured a second. (Or was it a third? Draco eyed the faint tremor in Bella's hands as she poured.) "Then they'll be up all night, into the early morning."

"Completely unreachable except by appointment," a solemn Rodolphus nodded. "When Assistant is here, the Dark Lord sees no one else."

Draco's eyes flicked to Bellatrix, finding her surprisingly relaxed about that. Last year, she'd been more strung-out than, well, a string, and just as worn at the edges, so to speak. Now, his aunt sighed, resting her cheek in her hand and staring forlorn into the middle distance. "Can't fault Him," she supposed. "The boy's a prodigy."

"And an enabler," Rabastan muttered into his mug, just loud enough to be heard.

"An enabler?" Draco repeated, confused. "I mean, they did seem like they shared a brain yesterday-"

His uncle gave a small smile, reaching across the table to clap a hand on Draco's shoulder. "Trust me, you haven't seen the half of it. And a word of advice for when you do - you'll want to stare at them, but it's better for your mental health to look away."

"You'll see what we mean later, Drakey-poo," Bella cooed, ruffling his hair out of its neatly combed-and-spelled arrangement. (Damn. Draco wished he still gelled it.) He'd thought it ironic that these were the people worrying for his sanity, but as Draco found out later, that didn't mean they weren't right. 

 

He'd descended to the potions labs after the meal to say hello to his godfather, volunteered himself into brewing a complicated healing elixir from the upcoming year's curriculum, and was just beginning to sprinkle ginger root into the cauldron when Severus suddenly started casting stasis spells over everything. "What's-?" Draco began, but was cut off by the door to the lab bursting open, two damnably familiar figures swanning in without a care.

They were leaning into each other like the Weasley twins conspiring for a prank, muttering to each other; the Dark Lord was grinning down at Assistant, arm slung around the shorter wizard's shoulders for support until he could instead slump back against the wall by the door. "Sseveruss," Voldemort lisped, "the usual?"

"In the cabinet, my lord," Severus' expression pinched in the way Draco knew meant he was resisting rolling his eyes; he pointed to the blindingly white, very obvious cabinet just beside the door which Draco had wondered about when he arrived. Assistant let out a giggle, sliding a hand down the Dark Lord's chest as he stepped out of arm's reach and wove his way over. They continued their conversation, if it could be called that with how often it stopped and started, skipping words and gesturing as they each seemed to know what the other meant without needing to say it outright.

"So with the," the Dark Lord made a circular hand gesture, "over in, you know-"

"-with the tree and the burnt rope," Assistant nodded, fumbling at the cabinet door despite it not being locked-

"-exactly, a three-eights and five circless," slurred Voldemort, openly ogling Assistant's tight-fitting leather trousers while the latter was bent forward into the now-open cabinet, "but they've been susssituting a seven and a nine-"

There was a clattering of glass vials against each other; Draco flinched, expecting something to shatter any moment, but Assistant instead withdrew several bottles of Severus' specialty-brew Sobering Draught and concentrated Hangover Cures. He was surprisingly gentle in closing the cabinet; Draco suspected the Potions Master had shouted at him for slamming it recently. Then, he'd returned to the Dark Lord's side and passed phials of each kind to him. "'n it worked, or," Assistant wiggled his gloved fingers in a way that suggested fire, "instead?"

"S'thin in between," Voldemort shrugged. They clinked Draughts in some kind of toast, downed them all at once, then did the same with the Hangover Cure; within seconds, Draco watched the two go from plastered to professional. Assistant set the used phials down on a little shelf beside the cabinet which must be for exactly that purpose; rolling his shoulders, he went back to pressing himself into the Dark Lord's side, enveloped in his cloak, as they now left the room in an even, military stride.

"Contrary to expectations," Draco heard fading into the distance, "the revised ritual still worked, and was ultimately about one-and-a-half times as powerful as the original; the arithmantic theories of that time had gaps regarding odds and evens, you see..."

The door shut, cutting off sound from outside, and Draco turned back to his godfather. "And they're always like that?"

Severus closed his eyes, resigned. "Always."

 

This was the pattern of things, Draco came to understand. Assistant arrived, interrupting whatever it was the Dark Lord did all day in his office. The two of them proceeded to drink copiously for no reason Draco could discern for hours, then raided Severus' designated potions cabinet at precisely midnight. The rest of the night, until dawn, was for actual work if there was any -  enough for them to be productive, it seemed, as the next Professor Riddle episode came out on schedule, showcasing the Imperius Curse and how to resist it, and filling up Draco's phone with notifications from the massive fan server he sometimes helped Pansy moderate.

That night's episode had spawned extensive discussion of the onscreen chemistry between Voldemort and Assistant; someone actually went through and measured how close they stood to each other in each episode, and was crowing about the trendline of their data.

Draco read through the all-caps text posts with an ironic smirk. They're even worse in real life, he wanted to say, and probably pin, but his godfather had reminded him just an hour ago that he was not to mention his presence in Headquarters to outsiders, or so help him the Dark Lord would have his hide for bookbinding. (He shivered at the thought.) So he contented himself with scrolling through shitpost videos instead.

[NEW VERSION five entire minutes of Assistant saying 'Sir' 5:16]

[literally every time PR mentions Assistant when he isn't there 12:28]

[Fandom TED Talk: when is Assistant going to kiss the Professor? 18:31]

[RE-UPLOAD: Audio Manips: Assistant x Voldemort  9:09]

"Oh, hell," Draco covered his face in one hand, while the other clicked the video.

Before he could actually listen to it, he got a ping from Pansy.

[Malfoy_To_Be] Did you know your twitter has the highest followers count in the fandom?

Draco did, actually.

[Malfoy_To_Be] If you retweeted this petition

Draco furiously expanded the chat to full-screen to interrupt her before she began. [NO WAY,] he wrote in all-caps, [I AM NOT ASSOCIATING MYSELF WITH THAT PETITION.]

[Malfoy_To_Be] Fine, fine, I have a better idea anyway

[Malfoy_To_Be] Why don't you ask your father to share fan feedback with the Dark Lord? Or Assistant?

"Oh, Merlin," Draco muttered, leaning his head back over the top of his chair. But he typed, [What feedback?]

[Malfoy_To_Be] We polled the server for what everyone wants to see the most - have a look!

[Malfoy_To_Be attached a file.]

[Malfoy_To_Be] Assistant interacts the most with the fans, but his account has DMs closed, and what else is the Malfoy name for if not to forward information on followers' behalf?

It was.. actually a pretty good list. Draco found himself nodding as he read it through, thinking about when he might get the opportunity to show it to Assistant himself-

Damn. Pansy had manipulated him into it.

Double damn. He was still going to follow through.

[White_Dragon] Fine.

[White_Dragon] But only if you change your username to something less presumptuous, you know our betrothal isn't finalized.

[Malfoy_To_Be] Can do, darling!

 

How, Draco wondered some hours later, was he going to actually get Assistant alone so he could ask him about this? He slipped out of his room, heading for the stairs with the kitchens in mind-

-and nearly ran smack into the wizard in question as he came up the stairs, leaning heavily on the railing for support.

"Sorry," Draco squeaked. "Are- are you all right?" For Assistant was slumped against the railing, looking quite exhausted.

"Oh, I'm fine," Assistant gave a small wave of his hand - which was noticeably trembling - and attempted to stand up straighter. "Had a question for you, actually, the next time I had a minute - Sir's been running me ragged on ritual magic all week, not that I didn't ask for it, or I'd have come by sooner."

"Is that a spoiler for next week?" Draco joked, attempting a convincing smile. Assistant wanted to speak to him? Either this was a ridiculous coincidence, or it wasn't one, but he didn't want to think about Assistant somehow reading his mind the way the Dark Lord could. (Particularly given the series of videos he'd just been watching-)

"Kind of, yeah," the wizard nodded, going up a step. "Here, walk with me a minute?"

Falling into step with Assistant was somewhat awkward considering who usually did that and how close they usually stood, but thankfully the uncomfortable clinginess shared by the two was only shared by the two, and not extended to anyone else. "So I was thinking," Assistant began, "you're White_Dragon, right, the big name in commissions for the fandom right now?"

"Uh, yeah," Draco gulped. Oh Merlin how did Assistant know that-

"Don't look so terrified, I just guessed from what's on the fan server, I lurk under an alt-"

He what? Draco's heart was in his throat.

"-oh oops that came out creepier than I meant it to didn't it-"

"It did," Draco informed him in a strangled voice.

Assistant chuckled, a disarmingly charming little noise that Draco had just heard in that audio edit; he could only hope his cheeks hadn't gone too pink. "Sorry. The point is, you're more involved in the fandom community than I have time to be and you're here, in person I mean, so I can just run an idea by you instead of posting the same question to the whole internet.

"The fanbase is chomping at the bit for more every time we post," Assistant gestured for emphasis, but it wasn't clear what he was trying to emphasize by it, "and I was thinking of expanding the content related to the series - so, erm, do you have any idea what I should post?"

Draco's sense of 'alarming coincidence' sharpened considerably. He almost regretted not taking Divination; there had to be some kind of thing going on with that, here. "You know about the survey they ran this week, right," he began, thinking of the #DarkLivestream hashtag going absolutely hog-wild in the next few hours and the imminent spam from his groupchat with Daphne, Pansy, Blaise and Theo.

Assistant nodded, and he went on. "The biggest thing people want is - casual posts? Like a video blog about your life outside the episodes - not your real life," Draco rushed to clarify, "everyone knows that's private, but, like, day-to-day things. The popular.. Muggle streamers," he blushed to admit to being a fan of Muggle things, socially-acceptable in his age group as they were, "do videos where they open fan mail, or play games with their friends and stream that, and so on."

"Oh, epic," Assistant grinned (or at least he seemed to). "That's what I was telling Sir, he said I should ask you and see if you said the same thing."

Draco felt like the universe was playing with him.

"That's great," he managed to say as they reached the door to Assistant's suite.

"Isn't it? So yeah, I'll be streaming a thing in an hour or so on the main channel. Let me know what you think!"

The door opened and closed, but Draco didn't see the room within; he was staring into the middle distance, and desperately wishing for a cup of Aunt Bella's coffee.

 

When Assistant had brought up the idea with him earlier, Voldemort had been supportive but uncertain of how much viewership the boy alone would gather - especially on such short notice. Seeing just how many viewers had gathered within the thirty minutes that had elapsed since Assistant posted the livestream link, however, the Dark Lord had to admit he'd underestimated the fandom.

[Assistant Series #1: Q&A Introduction], read the title at the top of the screen, with a countdown underneath it showing about five minutes left until the start time. Assistant had been present for the first few minutes to greet the people who joined, promising he'd be back after a quick stop in the kitchen before he headed offscreen. This left the borrowed camera with a view of his bedroom, the bed just barely visible at the edge of the frame.

Funny how the chat was trying to analyze every detail of the room. [It's kind of empty,] one person said. [Another set?]

[The bookshelves on the edge of the screen look pretty full, though,] said someone else.

[House-elves, duh.]

Voldemort was tempted to weigh in on the subject, but refrained, eating grapes while he watched the projection on his bedroom wall. It was scaled to life-size, like their rooms had simply been magicked together with glass between.

At two minutes until the stream officially began, the door opened and closed offscreen, and Assistant returned. He set down a plate, a water pitcher, and a glass to one side, summoned a cushion from the bed onto the floor, and sat down cross-legged to untie his boots, either unaware of deliberately ignoring the chat's excitement at his return.

The Dark Lord squinted at the fast-moving lines of text. Was that the foot emoji?

Assistant kicked his boots offscreen, leaning back on his palms, and stretched his legs. "Finally done walking for a bit," he sighed in relief. "Even charmed boots get sore eventually." He picked up his phone from where it must have been sitting offscreen the whole time. He hit a few settings to project the chat onto the wall behind the camera, the way Voldemort did during his livestreams. (It was much more efficient than checking his phone.) "Wow, there's a lot of people in here. I thought I'd get maybe twenty or thirty. Erm. Welcome, everybody!"

A hundred variants on 'hello' flashed through chat faster than they could be read.

The countdown reached zero, then, and a loud chime rang in the room. Assistant jumped about a foot in the air, reached to tap a button, and the sound stopped. He wiped at his face, under the hood. "This is the first episode of what I'm going to call Assistant Series: livestreams on Saturdays from my room in Sir's estate, or wherever I end up being, but probably in here. We probably have an hour or two? Sir doesn't mind letting me borrow the camera, but I have to go to bed eventually..." he trailed off. "I figured the best way to start things off is with a Q&A for the fans, and you're all here, so - shall we begin?"

Voldemort watched Assistant scroll up through chat; he had invited people to post their questions early, and they had. "First one," the boy said cheerfully, "from 'PurpleD' - is that 'purpled' like the adjective or 'purple D'? Their question is, 'What can you tell us about yourself?'"

What could he tell them, Voldemort wondered. He was oathbound not to inquire, but Assistant could always volunteer information, as he had on occasion during their time together so far.

On-screen, he took a moment to think about it. "I'm a bloke, from England. I'm.. of age. I'll be celebrating my birthday on Samhain - October thirty-first, rather. Can't say my House, that'd be too much detail. My height, I guess? I'm five-six, that's 168 centimeters for everyone else." He chuckled. "Maybe I'll get taller someday? And - since you guys keep asking this in the comments sections - I'm not related to the Dark Lord, bloody nobody is, nobody alive anyway, I mean, he didn't spring up fully-formed from the earth-"

Voldemort snorted. Little did he knew, there were several among the Death Eaters who believed exactly that.

"Next, from-" Assistant paused, reread the name, and stifled a burst of laughter in his hand- "'Malfoy's bitch', oh Merlin that's hilarious which Malfoy? The question is, 'Hobbies?' Well, I like Quidditch - I'm shite at Quodpot but I tried it when someone set up a game. Duelling is fun, I'm pretty decent at it. Just flying without having to do anything specific is nice, too, you know?"

And so it went.

[darksidehascookies: What's your blood status?]

"There's no good answer to that, even if I didn't care about privacy," Assistant observed. "Nice meme, though."

Voldemort learned that Assistant had never traveled abroad (and vowed to change that); that Assistant's favorite color was red, but he didn't want to elaborate; that no, he had not read the fanfiction being posted about him and Sir, but he wasn't at all surprised it existed; and that Assistant was excited about the upcoming Professor Riddle episodes -

"They've been the most study-intensive topics for me so far; there's just so much Hogwarts doesn't teach, even when it's not dark arts. Do they even have NEWT History of Magic? I don't know a single person who's ever taken it. And there's no modern history, like, how is anyone supposed to know about Grindelwald and what he did?"

Voldemort actually started typing a response to that one, before he deleted it. But everyone had seen the Professor Riddle is typing notification, as it was programmed to appear whenever he typed in chat during his own streams and he hadn't configured otherwise for Assistant's-

"Oh, good evening, Sir," Assistant sat up straighter on-screen, "I wasn't sure if you were watching live." Voldemort could imagine a sunny grin beneath the hood even if he couldn't see one.

[Professor_Riddle: TLDR British publishers are more censored than people realize and the big name bookshops don't carry new foreign-language books. Tempted to edit the Wikipedia pages related to this because everyone should know what happened, but I only have first-person accounts of a lot of what I saw.]

"Huh." Assistant typed into his phone, presumably checking said Wikipedia pages. "I might ask you about that later, Sir. They don't even talk about the duel that defeated him, or about Nurmengard."

[Professor_Riddle: I will gladly tell you more later. In the meantime, I believe you have a Q&A to continue?]

"I certainly do," the boy agreed, scrolling up through chat. "Right - ‘my favorite season’, asks 420BlaZeIt. Probably fall or winter? It's way easier to warm up than cool off, and fresh pumpkin juice is best pumpkin juice..."

[bottomsupbabey: Where do you get your outfits?]

"The pants were a gift actually, I think they might be from somewhere in London? I have to ask my- the person who gave them to me. Would you believe that's a hard question to answer? I just wear whatever, but I've been trying to have a style now that I'm Assistant, you know?"

A contingent of the chat locked onto Assistant's wording and asked if he was in a relationship. "What- no! Merlin, you think I'm," he read through the chat, "married? Betrothed? Dating - oh, wow, a lot of you think I'm in a relationship with the Professor-" Assistant trailed off, scrolling and scrolling through the chat. Then he put his phone down, face-down, and turned to the camera.

"I know this is going to end up in a tabloid or something so I'll try and phrase it well: I am not in a relationship, and not looking for one, thank you, no further questions on that topic please."

He seemed uncharacteristically flustered; it was adorable, though Voldemort hesitated to use that word in regard to the boy. He was pleased by the answer, though. It had been worded very clearly - and would obviously do nothing to curb the enthusiasm of that portion of the fanbase.

"Next question - from NottYourBoyfriend, nice pun, 'What kind of magic has most caught your interest since you began studying under the Dark Lord?' Damn, there's a lot to be honest. The most most interesting, though, that's necromancy, even though I haven't learned any yet I think. Have I, Sir?" he looked at the camera.

[Professor_Riddle: Not yet, Assistant.]

"Ah, okay. It was just so cool to see it in the Karkaroff stream - I'm definitely not the only one who rewatched it that night, you pulled his soul out of his body-" Assistant realized he was going on a tangent and cut himself off with a laugh. "Sorry. Started fanboying. Next question, from mysterysalesman..."

 

The Q&A wrapped up at the two-hour mark with Assistant Transfiguring his cushion into a mimicry of Voldemort's Chair. "Same time next week I think," he promised. "I'll be streaming a game and talking about the fans. You'll see me earlier than that in Sir's next episode. Thanks to everyone who showed up tonight! I don't want to steal Sir's catchphrase but, this is Assistant, signing out." He flashed a peace-sign at the camera, then cut the video feed.

Voldemort leaned back against his pillows and switched apps. #DarkLivestream was trending, as it had been for the past few days, with a steady stream of fan content and discussion in anticipation of tomorrow night's stream. He hadn't revealed the name of the next victim like he usually did, and there was some discussion about just who it would be.

He refreshed the feed, curious what the consensus would be - certainly not who he actually had planned - to see something interesting.

[#WhatAboutGrindelwald hey did anyone else catch that detail in the #AssistantSeries Q&A just now? Do Brits seriously not know modern history? What the fuck???]

Oh. Ohoho. The Dark Lord grinned. This was going to be good.

Thinking quickly, he opened a draft to make a post of his own.

Chapter Text

[#WhatAboutGrindelwald (28/40) coincided with the mysterious disappearances of three towns along coordinate axes that same year, at what we now]

[#WhatAboutGrindelwald (29/40) know were arithmantically chosen dates and times; survivors when the wards came down were universally maimed so badly they were thought dead.]

Harry scrolled down and down the thread, morbidly fascinated: the discourse that had started from Sir's seemingly offhand comment had grown into a complete shitstorm overnight the likes of which no one could have predicted.

Unless they followed Muggle politics, he supposed.

[#WhatAboutGrindelwald (30/40) photos of survivors from the Sofia Museum of Modern Magical History (warning: NSFL): t.co/...]

"Hey, Harry, what're you readi-" Ron choked, taking several steps back.

Harry wondered if his friend would ever learn his lesson about reading over people's shoulders. With a sigh, he turned off his phone screen and set it face-down on the table. "Discussion of the war crimes committed by Grindelwald's regime," he explained to Ron. "Someone from a team searching for missing villages is sharing what they saw."

Ron shot a glance at the phone, pale. "Didn't know it was like that," he muttered with a grimace.

Neither had Harry, until now. Voldemort's words during Karkaroff's execution suddenly made a lot more sense. He'd never tried to imagine worse torture than the forms he knew of, had experienced, but that was... worse than the Cruciatus had been, Harry thought. It had been a long time since he'd felt this naïve, this young.

He glanced at the phone, swallowed, and suppressed a shiver.

Before they could discuss the topic further, thankfully, Hermione showed up in the room, oblivious to the atmosphere. "Harry, Ron," she addressed them, "Sirius wants to go shopping in Diagon. I've got to pick up an order from Flourish & Blotts, so if you need anything for school supplies, we're going in twenty minutes."

"Sounds good," Harry said before Ron could say anything, and went upstairs to get dressed.

 

Stepping out of the bookshop with the couple of textbooks for seventh year that he didn't already have, Harry was extremely tempted to sneak into Knockturn Alley for the things he really wanted. The obscuring hood was in the mokeskin pouch hung around his neck, as always; if he could just find an alleyway or an alcove where he could put up a privacy ward for a moment-

"C'mon, Prongslet," Sirius called, heading unabashedly down the intersection.

Well, that was a way of going about it.

Of course, now everyone was looking in their direction - Sirius Black was nothing but conspicuous. Harry kept his hands in his pockets, fighting the urge to slouch over while he walked; he cast his gaze about their surroundings in search of something more interesting than the apothecary Sirius had ordered more aconite from.

And, lo and behold, a bustling street fair down one side alley! Harry laid a hand on his godfather's shoulder - "see you in a bit, Siri-" and was off exploring before Sirius could say anything to the contrary.

What a fair it was! Most of the people were from a younger crowd, it looked like, around his age; Harry was about to wonder why when he stepped into one of the tents and found it much larger on the inside, laid out like an art gallery, and packed absolutely full of witches, with a few wizards here and there. What in the world..?

Harry turned to the nearest canvas on the wall, intending to circle around the room and see what everyone was so interested in, and stopped dead, jaw dropping.

'Assistant upon the Chair.' @oriole-paints (cms'd. by @white-dragon) 3/20 first printing, canvas, acrylic embellishments. Auction No. 1-3...

For a long moment, Harry could do nothing but gape at the suggestive art - fanart - being frantically bid upon by the crowds. The figure of Assistant here was sprawled over Sir's chair with his back to the camera, the black fabric of his hood matched by a drape about the hips for modesty; he was otherwise completely naked, the whole scene outlined in a glowing gold nimbus that served as the only illumination.

It was technically impressive, strikingly suggestive, and going up in price by the second as people continued their bids.

It was fanart of him.

Harry averted his eyes, face reddening, and went to see what else was on display.

'The Dark Lord Unveiled.' @willow-owl 12/16 first printing, enchanted parchment, animated... That was a stunning rendition of Sir's face reveal, with a burst of red color in the patterned background each time he pulled his hood down. Harry was entranced for several loops of the animation; he put in a dazed bid for 150 Galleons, but someone else outbid him within minutes.

The further into the tent he wandered, the more expensive the items on auction became, which only made sense. Harry passed sculptures, paintings, prints, a particularly evocative stained-glass window hanging, and one fresco so lewd it had to be behind a curtain on the way to the very back of the gallery. He was glad to have forgone the hood, now, with the way people were swooning over fanart of him. (At what point did it cease to be fan art and just be art?) One of the passersby was murmuring to her friend about cosplay hoods being sold elsewhere in the fair, not as heavily enchanted as the real hood Assistant wore, but what an idea that would be!

His phone buzzed in his pocket just as he was gazing, stunned, upon the very jewel of the gallery: a life-size painting that certainly crossed the line from hobby into obsession. It was not of Assistant like much of the nearby art; rather, Voldemort, a secretive smile gracing his features, extended a beckoning hand toward the viewer as though, by some inconceivable magic, he could really bring them into the world beyond the canvas. 'True Dark Arts', read the gallery label, artist undisclosed. The longer Harry stared into the painting, the more details he could spot pertaining to dark magic, if only he could tear his gaze away from the Dark Lord's knowing, conspiratorial smirk - so much like the real Sir that it had a smile pulling at Harry's lips. Bidding had started at 500 Galleons an hour ago, in increments of 100, and was holding steady at an anonymous bidder's 1700.

Before he could seriously consider dropping that much gold on a painting when Assistant could see Sir in the flesh every day - could sit beside him, drink with him, sprawl against his side in the divan with wine and feel the warmth of his body against him - Harry took out his phone to read the message.

[Snuffles: Can't find you in the fair, still there?]

Just as he started his answer, another message-

[Snuffles: They're selling novelty sweets]

[Snuffles uploaded an image:]

[Snuffles: it's practically a convention]

And there would be more conventions, wouldn't there, with the following they'd amassed in just two months. Harry took one last look at the painting, forcing himself to resist the siren's call of that waiting hand, and walked out of the tent entirely, texting his godfather assurances that he'd meet them back on the main street of Knockturn shortly.

Assistant would be needed in Headquarters not long from now.

 

Livestream:

Voldemort had left tonight's stream title intentionally blank when he announced it at noon. He had had to reassure the viewers who arrived early to the chat that there was indeed a victim for the evening, but the surprise would be worth it, he thought, for the imagined faces of those few Ministry agents assigned to watch every stream, when they realized just who said victim was.

"Good evening, dear viewers," he smiled at the turn of the hour. "I trust you have all had a productive summer or winter season thus far? British students will be concluding their summer holidays toward the end of this week, which means the family-friendly tourist season here is also coming to a close.

"What succeeds it, at least in western European countries, is the much-awaited season of the black markets: many a solitary mage and warlock will pass through our lands, questing for ritual materials and certain cursed artifacts one may only find on the other side of the law. Black market season has no formal start or end date, but the darker half of the year has always favored the literal dark arts; it is, as you can imagine, my very favorite time."

He drained his glass of wine and Banished it from view. "But I will speak more of that later. Tonight is a special night, only in part because of the surprise I have in store for you all. Many in the chat have wondered what it meant that I left the name of tonight's victim blank; a considerable number speculated that I had run out of people. That faction may rest easy." A laugh.

"It does bring up a salient point, however, in regard to the practice of suggesting people for upcoming episodes. I have received innumerable requests which fall into categories excluded from this show I provide - they will be listed now, and in a pinned announcement on the requests forum after the stream. Please be advised-"

With a flick of his wand, the Dark Lord conjured up ribbons of flame which settled into words at his command. "I will not be executing the targets of mere personal vendettas. Hire an assassin if you wish particular revenge." A pause, glancing over chat. "I will not endorse specific guilds, teams or individuals."

Next: "Those volunteering themselves or their firstborns - why is it always the firstborns? - as sacrifices are henceforth discouraged. I cannot assume any such offers are given by those of sound mind unless they are delivered by magical contract, and even then..." he shook his head. "That said, I continue to accept offerings such as sacrificed flesh, bones, bodies and ash. For potency's sake, make a note of the sacrificial ritual being performed and include it with the delivery. Even the finest Silvered Tongue will turn to dust if employed during the wrong half of the lunar cycle!"

The Dark Lord had been most frustrated by that incident: Assistant had arranged the ritual altar perfectly, only to be foiled by the moon phase.

"And lastly - under no circumstances will I be executing children. An individual who made repeated such requests under different usernames will be livestreamed next month. I had believed I already demonstrated my hatred for child abusers with the execution of one Dolores Umbridge, but that upcoming stream will serve as due emphasis."

With all of that out of the way, Voldemort rose from his seat and moved the chair further back in the room, until it stood nearly against the far wall. "Which brings us to today's special, an execution many of us have long awaited." A wave of his hand dismissed the glamour concealing a body on the ground, dressed in clean, white robes for the occasion.

"May I present, Bartemius Crouch Senior, former head of Magical Law Enforcement in the British Ministry."

Rather than spell him awake, Voldemort prodded the wizard's head with the end of his shoe. White fabric was tied around his mouth to silence him, and for the time being, a similar blindfold covered his eyes. Crouch grunted in pain and confusion as he awoke, unknowingly giving the viewers a clear look at his face when he turned.

The Dark Lord stopped his writhing with an invisible wall and levitated him into a sitting position on the floor before he addressed the viewers again. "Those informed of British local news may recall this man was declared dead a few years ago. I am pleased to say this is not the case - Senior here has been slated for execution on this day, today, since long before I had the idea for the livestream series."

It appeared that Crouch was not so addled he could not hear; at the news of his impending doom, he made noises behind the gag and struggled in his bonds. "Rather lively, isn't he," Voldemort muttered, just loud enough to be heard.

[In good shape for a dead man,] someone in the chat agreed.

"In his capacity as Head of Magical Law Enforcement and a prominent member of the Wizengamot, this individual is responsible for a startling number of abuses by the justice system, most notably in the conviction of an entirely innocent man to more than a decade in Azkaban on unsubstantiated claims of involvement in the deaths of the Potter family. Yes, those Potters," he confirmed for the chat. "Though the sentencing was under the pretense of killing a dozen Muggles and one Peter Pettigrew, who we all know only died this year.

"Crouch Senior abused his position to eliminate a number of what he referred to as 'troubled youths' over the decade and a half of open warfare in Britain at the end of the millennium. He orchestrated political suppression of more than one cultural group in Britain by criminalizing types of magic that were once commonplace, such as the mind arts; indeed, many such magics have already been covered in episodes of Professor Riddle and will continue to be. Those astute in Muggle history may recognize Crouch's borrowing of tactics from another politician - but we will not be pardoning Crouch after his scandal, will we?" He shook his head.

"But the reason I have chosen this date for him to die, of all times, is for those abuses he has committed against his son."

[Isn't that a personal vendetta, my Lord?] someone asked.

"In fact, it is not, dear viewer," Voldemort explained. "For you see, Barty Crouch Junior received my mark before Senior committed those last crimes. As Barty's Lord, I am not only permitted, but obliged to ensure his vengeance - satisfying as it will be to see the man suffer for what he has done to my followers. And tonight marks the twentieth year of Barty's service in my name."

There came a chime at the door, offscreen. The Dark Lord turned, beckoning his visitor into the room. "So, Barty," he addressed the beaming blond wizard behind a glittering skull mask, "do you like your welcome-back present?"

His Death Eater sank into a deep, formal bow. "My Lord," he exclaimed, "I love it." Coming out of the bow, he removed his mask, baring his face to the camera; Voldemort had been pleased with the return of youth to the young wizard's face after his extensive stay in a private hospital, so that the only real sign of what he had lived through were the deep-set shadows under his eyes.

(Judging from the chat feed, which Barty had yet to notice, the sleep-deprived look was very trendy.)

"And I see you have brought Assistant as company," the Dark Lord observed brightly, just to watch the viewers spam the chat with the newly-added Assistant emoji as the wizard in question stepped into frame. Assistant gave a polite nod to the camera before taking his usual place at Voldemort's side, looking on.

"Ah, I asked to attend, Sir," Assistant clarified, gazing up at him through the hood.

"And if I may make a request, my lord," Barty spoke up, entreating; Voldemort turned an indulgent smile upon his loyal follower. "I am.. rather a fan," the blond blushed, sheepish, "and everyone has been hoping to see Assistant participate in a livestream-"

 

Assistant's hood thankfully concealed the shocked look on his face for the moments it was present before he schooled his expression and emotions into neutrality. He had admitted to Barty his interest in participating in a future stream, minutes ago - but he hadn't meant this soon!

"Well," he supposed at length, taking in the overjoyed look on Barty's face, "if it's all right with you, Sir.."

The hand at Harry's waist slid away, across his back. "Certainly," the Dark Lord smiled.

Chat went wild with emoji.

[It's happening--]

[:pog:]

[here we goooo]

[:darkmark: :pogchamp: :wand: :fire:]

It was perfectly all right to be nervous, Harry told himself as he went over to Barty. Entirely normal to have the jitters when he was about to help orchestrate a murder on live video - when he was, at the blond's instruction, kneeling behind the limp form of Crouch Senior to hold the wizard upright for a clear target. One hand kept Crouch's arms folded behind his back, and the other held onto the back of his neck to prop his head up.

"If I may emphasize for the audience, my lord," Barty began, taking up a spot across from Crouch Senior in the camera's view, "that under ancient British law, patricide has been a legal recourse for centuries, and according to the custom of my House, it is not only condoned but expected of me-"

[wow really?]

[hella]

[:pog: :darkmark: :wand: :lightning:]

[you go guy]

Barty's stance shifted as he raised his wand and aimed it at the now-faintly-struggling Crouch; Assistant could feel his pulse under his fingertips, picking up speed. "Such is my right as the wrongéd son," the blond recited, solemn, "the scion Crouch, the only one; you, Senior, will pay the fee, and pay tonight! And set me free. So mote it be."

If he incanted the spell, Harry didn't hear it - but green flew from Barty's wand, the same lightning-flash he remembered, and Crouch went still and heavy in Assistant's grip, so that he was quick to lower the cooling body to the floor to be dealt with however the others decided.

("-with Barty's generous donation, I will now demonstrate one of many processes for rendering a whole corpse into those ingredients and components one might find at a black market...")

The hour or so of instructional, somewhat gruesome work concluded with Sir's usual farewell, and only then, when the cameras were off and they were truly alone, did Assistant bring up the other thing he'd sensed when the spell was cast.

"Sir," he began, "I... felt something odd when Crouch was killed. Like water, but without temperature. Was that an illusion..?"

The Dark Lord turned his head sharply in Assistant's direction, surprised. "Did you now?"

"Was it the spell, Sir?" Harry had been practicing his mage-sense as often as he could; perhaps it had been a sensory impression? A hallucination of sorts?

Voldemort rose from his chair and approached him, clapping a companionable hand on Assistant's shoulder. "Indeed not, my dear," he informed Assistant with relish. "Come, walk with me."

It was as easy as ever to fall into lockstep with Sir as they exited the room; this time, they climbed the stairs not to the Dark Lord's usual office, but up six stories more to the seventh floor that held Sir's quarters. "This is excellent news, you see," Voldemort was saying as he led Assistant through the bedroom and into a second study that Assistant had never seen him use.

It was dimly lit in the way that Assistant had learned was necessary for the care and storage of certain types of Dark artifacts: what light there was came from stout yellow candles set in mirrored alcoves away from the bookshelves, whose acrid smoke betrayed them as formed from tallow instead of wax. Beeswax is purifying, he remembered Sir saying, too close to sunlight. The Darkest grimoires are damaged by the sun, Assistant, and so we read by tallow candlelight, or lamps burning certain oil, or not at all...

"I had wondered, given our magical compatibility, if you would manifest this ability," he mused now, reaching for something on a high shelf. It was, Assistant saw, a box carved from deep black stone, polished to a shine and smooth as glass. "Observe, Assistant," Sir told him, "while I open this-"

Harry was glad for the obscuring hood a second time that evening, as the box opened on a soundless hidden hinge in Sir's hands: for within the box, set upon a bed of crushed velvet, gleamed and glittered the very gold Locket that he and Dumbledore had sought in vain some months before.

"This," the Dark Lord murmured, taking the Locket from its place and coiling its heavy chain in one of his hands, "is a Horcrux, Assistant: a cursed artifact containing the slightest fragment of my living soul.”

Chapter Text

The night air raised goosebumps on what bare skin it found on Assistant's face and neck, beneath the hood, as he stood gazing up at the leafy canopy - or what he could see of it lit dimly from below by candles along the path: there was no moon to see by. He had only the vivid orange glow of flames to guide his way through the rites when the time came.

And, as he thought of that, it did: the resonating peal of a large bell pierced the unnatural quiet of the forest and lingered, curling among the tall, straight trunks of old trees like the mist gathered about his bare feet. Assistant stepped down onto the sand of the path and began his wandering way in contemplative silence, aware only distantly of the ones who walked ahead of him, for his mind was far and away.

This is a horcrux, Assistant: a cursed artifact containing the slightest fragment of my living soul. So Sir had said, and then, Here - hold it, and he had laid the thing in Harry's cupped hands as though he trusted him not to do anything to it. Him! Harry-

No. It had been him, Assistant, hadn't it, and Sir had only been amused by his faint protest, heartbeat thunderous in his chest - Should I be holding this, Sir?

Ahead, the path was intersected by a wide, shallow pool; each figure cast aside their robes to wade through its clear water, which at its center would submerge the whole of them, and at the far shore don a simpler drape of black for the rest of the night. By unspoken arrangement, Assistant was the last in line.

The Dark Lord had smiled, slinging his arm about Assistant's shoulders. Do not worry, my dear Assistant, he'd assured him, it is not so fragile as it seems. Focus instead on how it feels in your hands. Harry had bitten his lip, nervous, thumbed over the emeralds inlaid in an S upon the locket's surface. It was cold in his hands, refusing to warm from his skin, and he had noticed now his attention was brought to it that the sensation was not unlike being submerged to the wrists in-

Water, Harry had realized, astonished. It feels like water. Albeit not the same as Assistant felt now, white silk left behind as he slipped into the glossy black surface of the pool. Where this water was warm around him, a streetside puddle after a day in sunlight, the locket had been a bone-deep chill same as the ocean Harry and Dumbledore had swum through to the Cave last year. And when the Dark Lord replaced the horcrux in its box, to Harry's relief, that was not like water, did not cling to his skin in droplets as he reached the farther shore: it was dry.

It was dry, and the splash of non-water when Crouch was killed was dry, and Harry had realized - that was a soul?

Thirteen steps, fourteen, and the path through the woods ended at a clearing wreathed in flame, and Assistant was dry, the damp left upon his skin steamed away. He made his rounds about the clearing, three widdershins, three deasil; by the last, he was parched, sticky where his sweat had left only salt behind, and wishing he could go back to the pool again - no matter the parallels of its black surface and that of the lake in the cave, of his thirst now and Dumbledore's then.

There would be wine ahead, he knew; a cup to drink from that bore no curse, an audience warm and alive and peaceful. This place was really nothing like the cave had been. So Assistant composed himself, and passed beneath the stone arch to the final stage, smiling beneath the hood at the celebrants he saw ahead.

He had seen this scenery in daylight earlier, on Sir's viewer special: a portion of Malfoy Manor's gardens set aside for just this spell. The wall of shadow bordering the final space was hedge, the carpet of moss beneath his feet a vibrant contrast between deep green and nearly-white, with flat stones along the sides of the rectangular space for those who watched to sit. It was all dark now, as everything was, when Narcissa beckoned Assistant forward to kneel before the bowl of wine, that he might receive the same blessing as those before him.

Behind her on another, taller stone sat Sir himself, observing the proceedings. Assistant met his gaze a moment, while the blessing was incanted. Indeed it was, he'd agreed that night. You are the only one this century to discover the talent. I had wondered if you might.

Soul magic was not inherited, he had gone on to explain. I had not dared to hope you shared the talent. But Harry did share it; did bear the touch of Death upon him, as the Dark Lord termed it. (More literally, Harry'd thought, than Sir had meant.)

"Basil, laurel, sage," Narcissa recited, drawing one stripe of ash from each down the center of his face, forehead to nose and down his chin. Powder lingered in his nose, smelling like the incense they had burned in the chamber with the Veil in the Department of Mysteries; Assistant let himself consider that fearsome thing, now, and how close Sirius had come to falling through it when Bellatrix attacked, how narrowly he'd managed to land against the arch itself instead.

There is more to soul magic than mere necromancy, Sir had promised him, more even than I know. Time, life, death, and causality - you might have manifested your gift long ago.  

Had his godfather's survival been more than chance?

"..so we invoke the blessing of success upon this student for the year," Assistant blinked out of his reverie to hear, "he who offers his name:"

And here was the test - Sir had wondered if the blessing would take, ‘Assistant’ being an assumed name and not a true one. The Dark Lord had bound the name of Voldemort to himself with ritual magic long before he had ever participated in the types of rites that required naming. Today, they would determine if such rituals were necessary in the first place.

He licked dry lips and offered, in parched whisper, “Voldemort’s Assistant.”

 

Voldemort imagined, as the gold nimbus of the blessing surrounded Assistant, that the boy's concealed eyes met his: sharing in the same astonished delight as he wore on his own face. Pride lit itself upon his features despite his best efforts not to show favoritism. (But then, everyone knew Assistant was his favorite. What was the point in pretending otherwise?) The Dark Lord knew what it meant that the rite had worked, and in time, so would he:

'Voldemort's Assistant' was his truth, as deeply as his given name.

Before him, Assistant drank deeply, greedily, of the wine vessel provided to him, getting to his feet far more gracefully than his peers despite imbibing more than they had - such tolerance an unintended bonus to letting him share in Voldemort's indulgent habits.

It will be interesting to see if receiving the blessing as Assistant will impact his other identities, the Dark Lord mused, o r if those purported benefits to focus and comprehension of his studies only apply to those things he learns while he wears this face. Even Voldemort did not know: the invention of rituals was a different and more modern field than the umbrella of spell creation it fell under, in part because ritual magic remained illegal in most magical territories which published research. With any luck it would work for Assistant when he was at Hogwarts this year.

(And hadn't that been an interesting conversation to have to have, right after the discovery of Assistant's aptitude for soul magic? "We will have to set aside time for further study-" "Ah, about that, Sir...")

Further pondering was interrupted by the conclusion of the formal rite, and the welcome press of Assistant against his side, traces of gold still aglow upon him to the Dark Lord's well-honed magesight. He rested his hand on Assistant's shoulder while Narcissa went out among the other celebrants, passing out sachets of crushed herbs left over from the preparations to be sprinkled in gardens and burned in bonfires over the coming days; the last and largest of them, she laid in his hands.

The rest of the night would be post-ritual festivity, a final social gathering of purebloods both under his influence and favorable toward it, which under other circumstances would see Voldemort with a glass in hand and an audience at his elbows; but tonight, he had no intention of remaining to socialize. More pressing was the matter of the small but significant token he had in his pocket, which he would need to give Assistant before the night ended - specifically, in a place without potential eavesdroppers.

"Come, Assistant," the Dark Lord murmured, enveloping him in his cloak, "let us be off."

They Disapparated.

 

[Malfoys-Bitch: Okay i'm not the only one that saw that right]

[420BlaiseIt: If youre talking about sir and assistant just now, then no, I saw that too]

[Malfoys-Bitch: I feel like I just saw illustrations from a romance novel]

[Malfoys-Bitch: with rose petals falling from the sky and music playing oh wait there really is music playing]

[whtdrgn: ye theyre always like that]

[Malfoys-Bitch: You KNEW ABOUT THIS??]

[NottYourBoyfriend: @whtdrgn we can all see you checking your phone every five seconds just come over here]

Draco tightened his grip on his phone in his pocket, studiously pretending not to see his friends staring daggers at him from across the garden. It wasn't that he didn't want to tell his friends, it was that he wasn't allowed to until the secrecy contract expired, which wouldn't be too long from now-

A familiar three-note chord emanated, muffled, from his pocket. Draco excused himself from the group in whose periphery he'd been standing (they were talking about Grindelwald, not that he'd been doing much listening) and disabled the alarm in a practiced gesture as he went over to join the others.

"Well?" Daphne raised her chin at him, expectant.

"All right," Draco grinned, calling up the showmanship he so admired in the Dark Lord's video series, "my pals, my people, my fellow fandom fanatics, as it is now midnight of September first, allow me to tell you all about the past two weeks of absolute UST between the Dark Lord and his Assistant..."

 

Harry stared up at the Hogwarts Express for a long moment before his feet brought him closer to the boarding door, and not only because he was operating on about four hours of sleep with how early they had to wake up to catch the train. (Going to bed at sunrise did have its disadvantages once in a while.) This would be the last September he got on the Express as a student - he smiled, taking in the scene the red steam engine made on the platform. Nostalgia really did hit hard.

Ron jostled past him, intent on reserving two adjacent compartments for everybody to sit in together, and the moment was lost. Harry stood up straighter, turned, waved to Sirius, and followed his friend, letting the hustle and bustle of the hundreds boarding distract him from the matter of the thin silver chain hanging around his neck, under his robes.

("Here, Assistant," Sir had pressed something metallic into his hands when their celebratory bottle of gin was almost empty, just before dawn.

Assistant had gazed down upon it, all silver filigree and deep green glass, so dark it was nearly black: an hourglass, as small as the end of his finger, skin-warm from Sir's palm.

"A Time-Turner, Sir?"

"Precisely," the Dark Lord smiled his most charming smile, supporting Assistant's cupped hands with one of his own. "I spent the past several days creating it." For you, Assistant heard, cheeks heating under the hood. "It is far superior to the standard version; let me explain...")

Catching up with all his friends took hours, especially given Luna and Neville had each been in areas with limited reception over much of the summer; Harry tried to focus on the (super cool, holy shit) photos of northern wilderness and tropical cloud forests, with accompanying explanations as to the hunt for, respectively, a friendly tribe of 'summer trolls' and the exceedingly-rare 'glass fern' whose leaves were almost completely invisible to the naked eye, but his attention continued to waver. He was distracted for the entire train ride by the Time-Turner resting against his skin, just beside his heart.

Despite himself, he'd brought up the issue of Hogwarts expecting it to somehow clue Sir in to his identity; that he had instead happily provided Assistant with the solution to his scheduling problem was both a relief and the source of a new concern.

Unlike Hermione's Time-Turner, this one could send him back an entire day if he wanted. So long as Harry didn't go over the same span of time twice, and managed his extra time wisely, he could live a double life with ease.

But what if he didn't live a double life?

What if he just.. stayed Assistant?

After all, Sir had given no indication he was getting tired of Assistant the way he'd tired of Bellatrix; he seemed ever-delighted to see him, and that was before he'd made Assistant an entire Time-Turner rather than reduce their time together. Harry knew how expensive the components were; that had been no small gift.

But then, he thought as the train pulled into Hogsmeade station, it would be a shame if such a valuable gift never saw any use, wouldn't it? Harry scratched at the collar of his shirt, resisting the urge to pull on the silver chain. Tempting as it was to abandon the wizarding world and live as Assistant instead, that was the coward's way out, wasn't it? And he would be throwing away the few things he did like about being Harry - the small family he'd managed to cobble together in the past six years - if he ran off to be with Sir all the time-

Not that kind of 'being with', mind-

"C'mon, Harry," Ron called over the crowd, pointing at the second-to-last thestral-drawn carriage.

For just a moment, Harry let himself imagine what being Assistant full-time would be like, thumbing over the invisible metal of his Portkey earring. But then he was rushing down the path to the carriages, thinking instead about how he'd get to regale Sir with the news of the latest Sortings and the identity of the year's Defense professor over one of Sir's favorite mixed drinks, and something told him that this was the right decision.

It was going to be the best year he'd ever had.


Bonus content: semi-canonical Wizard Twitter feed -

 

 

Harry Potter @theboywholived

A friendly reminder to everyone to take #DarkLivestream with a grain of salt and practice legal magic! #lightmagic #responsiblespellwork #hotbutevil

Replies

        @theboywholived what was that last hashtag?

        [♥ 40k]

 

somebody @youravgmuggle

ok is anyone going to say something about that HP tweet because what

was that hashtag

[♥ 20k | retweets 15k]

        @youravgmuggle it's not even an existing hashtag like he MADE that

 

can we just... @seriouswiz-ness

...assume @theboywholived is a fan of #DarkLivestream then?

what do @theDarkLord and @assistant-official think?

[♥ 23k | retweets 18k]

 

You-Know-Who @theDarkLord

@seriouswiz-ness you have to admit that #hotbutevil is rather apt. The best villains are always attractive. I'm pleased to live up to that standard. 😏

 

His Assistant @assistant-official

@seriouswiz-ness to quote another iconic fandom hottie,

[caption: Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Council chair, subtitles: "He's right."]

 

somebody @youravgmuggle

ok so since i got verified for that last post and @assistant-official has already referenced star wars -

dumbledore @ potter rn be like: YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE! It was said you would destroy the Dark, not join them-

 

His Assistant @assistant-official

@youravgmuggle ok but i don't think dumbledore considers potter a brother like obi-wan considered anakin so the analogy falls apart

it's more like the tragedy of darth plagueis the wise, not precisely but you get what i mean

Replies

        @assistant-official @youravgmuggle "Have you ever heard the tragedy of Dumbledore the Wise? I thought not. It's not a story that Hogwarts would tell you..."

        @assistant-official @youravgmuggle "...Dumbledore was a Light Lord of Britain, so powerful and so wise he could use the Light to influence politics to create laws... he had such a knowledge of the light side that he could even keep the rules he cared about from dying..."

        You-Know-Who @theDarkLord

        @assistant-official definitely not the people he cared about tho, they're all dead, lol

        His Assistant @assistant-official

        @theDarkLord wha- Sir-


 

Chapter Text

"..another year at Hogwarts!" Dumbledore was announcing from the Head Table. The venerable Headmaster of Hogwarts smiled down at his students from the podium with twinkling blue eyes; he adjusted his half-moon glasses and stroked his beard with a hand that, in another universe, had been black and withered. (Though, in another universe, he was also dead by this point in time.) "I am sure the summer has been an eventful one for all of us-"

Me especially, Harry thought, glancing down at the phone in his lap and back up to the podium.

As Assistant, he might have taken issue with being in Dumbledore's presence, with how colorfully and legitimately the Dark Lord cursed his name. But Harry was very good at compartmentalizing by now, and instead he let himself enjoy the atmosphere of the Great Hall: this was his seventh year, his last year at Hogwarts - the last Welcoming Feast he would attend, and the last Sorting he had witnessed as a member of the student body.

Well, he enjoyed it inasmuch as anyone could enjoy a long speech before they started to get bored. Then, while Dumbledore was going on about the usual school rules - no prank items, of which a full list was posted outside Filch's office; no phones in the classroom; the Forbidden Forest is forbidden; et cetera - Harry surreptitiously opened his notes app and skimmed the list of books Sir recommended he look for in the library's Restricted Section, if he had the opportunity.

(By which he meant 'steal from the library', but Assistant wasn't beholden to rules like he was beholden to Sir.)

Some of the books listed were actually kind of familiar-sounding, now that he read the titles in detail; why, he was pretty sure that particular edition of Magick Moste Evile was the one he'd opened by accident in his first year, how about that-

Ron elbowed him under the table. Harry hastily turned his phone off, looking back up at the podium. "And lastly," Dumbledore was saying in the same solemn tone he had used after Voldemort's return was publicized in fifth year, "I would like to remind everyone that no matter how popular it may be at the moment, the study of Dark Arts remains illegal, and anyone found practicing such deplorable magic will be disciplined accordingly."

The answer to that was to just not get caught, Harry thought, ignoring the pointed look Hermione was sending him. He tuned out the rest of the speech up until Dumbledore conjured the lyrics for the school song, and was about to start the Gryffindor House interpretation they'd invented last year-

-when someone else in the Great Hall conjured the instrumental opening for Dark Livestream, and he sat bolt up right and grabbed for his phone-

In the background, Hermione facepalmed.

 

2017-09-01: hermione created group 'Lions Minus Harry' at 6:47pm

hermione added 7 members.

[6:48pm] hermione: Ron can you nudge him please

  literally the worst

  dumbledore is looking this way

  this is not the time to watch PR on his phone

[6:50pm] hermione: thank you

[6:50pm] ron: no prob

[6:56pm] ron: wait whats that

 

"The Only Cool Slytherin Server", #general:

[6:56pm] WhiteDragon: WHO IS PLAYING THE DL THEME

[6:57pm] WhiteDragon: AAAAAAA

[6:57pm] MalfoysBitch: did you see potter react

[6:58pm] 420BlaiseIt: what in fresh hells is this

  also yes I did see

[6:58pm] WhiteDragon: oh man dumbles looks mad

[6:59pm] NottYourBoyfriend: it was someone at the ravenclaw table

  the DL theme, I mean

[6:59pm] WhiteDragon: gottem

sweet Salazar potter's friends look so done

[7:00pm] WhiteDragon: -uploaded a photo-

granger especially :joy:

[7:00pm] 420BlaiseIt: draco don't use that emoji that's cringe

[7:00pm] WhiteDragon: not as much cringe as granger is doing re: potter rn

[7:01pm] MalfoysBitch: 'every groupchat has a second smaller groupchat minus the annoying people', and potter is the annoying person

[7:01pm] 420BlaiseIt: mood

[7:01pm] NottYourBoyfriend: mood

[7:02pm] MalfoysBitch: mood

[7:02pm] WhiteDragon: lol

[7:02pm] MalfoysBitch: draco you've ruined the chain

[7:03pm] WhiteDragon: :skull:

 

"Wait." Harry stopped dead in the corridor outside the Great Hall, causing something of a traffic jam as he turned to his friends. "Who's the Defense professor this year? He didn't introduce anyone new."

"Honestly, Harry," Hermione scoffed, rolling her eyes, "he said it was Snape at the beginning of the speech, you just weren't listening."

"Wha- but then he's teaching it more than a year in a row," Harry protested, dismayed. "Did they break the curse or something?" He had really been counting on that curse to get rid of Snape from the Defense post, to be honest, even if the man was teaching the subject rather well. What if it's some kind of exemption centering on the Dark Mark? But then, Quirrell would've been able to stay a second year, unless-

"Nah, mate," Ron interrupted Harry's whirling thoughts, glancing back to check on the first-years they were leading to the Tower. "Bill and Charlie used to have teachers last more than a year sometimes. It's why nobody knows if the curse is real or just a legend."

"Anyway, you would know about Snape teaching Defense again if you'd paid attention earlier," Hermione griped. Then she sighed, shoulders sagging. "Should we just expect a point loss every week from you breaking the phone rule?"

"Oh, quiet, 'Mione," Harry handwaved the subject away for now. "Your rancid vibes are scaring the firsties."

A passing fourth-year choked on a laugh and started coughing, doubling over against a wall.

The good-natured teasing continued throughout the rest of the trip to Gryffindor Tower, with Harry pretending to be more annoyed than he was and bickering back and forth for the fun of it. He waved to the portrait of Sir Cadogan, which had been moved to a new location for the umpteenth time after the other portraits complained about him; he beamed at the ghost of Nearly Headless Nick who swooped down to say hello; he pretended not to notice Professor McGonagall following the group at a distance in cat form to ensure the first-years reached the Tower safely. All the while his attention was elsewhere, with the Time-Turner strung about his neck and the Portkey on his hidden earring; and Harry was glad to at last retreat behind the curtains of his four-poster to change into casual clothes now that formalities were over.

It was kind of unfair to compare his dorm in Hogwarts to Assistant's quarters in Voldemort's estate, but damn if Harry didn't do it anyway; his cozy, red-and-gold Gryffindor four-poster had nothing on the lavish, oversized one Sir had the elves make up with black linens, and the dorm's shared bathroom didn't even have a tub, much less the pool-sized, enchanted bath in Assistant's ensuite-

"I am so spoiled," Harry muttered, fighting a giggle fit as he realized just how bad he was being. "Spoiled rotten."

And of course, when the day was done, he would soon return to those very quarters, and have all day and night to enjoy them. The point of having a Time-Turner was that he wouldn't have to keep looking at the time on his phone, counting down the minutes until he could Portkey out of the castle. Seven-forty.. seven-fifty.. eight-ten.. eight-eleven...

"Harry, if you're tired just go to bed," Ron snapped, "you're putting me off my game here." He gestured to the chessboard situated between him and a bored-looking Hermione (who was, for once, winning).

"S'pose I will," Harry shrugged, but he was more than grateful to take the out they were giving him and flee upstairs.

Once back behind the curtains of his bed, it was the work of less than a minute to discard anything he wasn't going to need, put up a Muffliato, put on the obscuring hood, and activate his Portkey. Harry had considered using the Time-Turner first, but then he would be briefly present in Hogwarts a day before he was meant to be, and Dumbledore would surely notice that. He would probably have to draw up a chart of some kind to make sure he didn't lose track of the day, but that was a problem for future-Harry.

"Office," Assistant breathed, and swirled away in a black fog.

He didn't hesitate once he landed in Sir's office - currently empty; he supposed he must have vacated the room on purpose - to turn the dials and activate the tiny hourglass. Not the full twenty-four hours; Assistant had still been in Headquarters early this past morning; but about midmorning would do just fine.

Moments later - hours earlier - Assistant tucked his Time-Turner back under his shirt and smiled.

 

2017.09.02: Assistant Series, Episode 2: "About The Fans."

Assistant sprawled out across a nest of multicolored pillows with a console controller in his lap. He was playing Animal Crossing. “Welcome back to the people who were here last time, hello to the people who weren’t,” he waved to the camera. “As promised, today’s topic is the fans - most of whom in the chat are wondering about my room, it looks like. Yeah, I live here sometimes. It’s pretty great.”

Harry eyed the plate of snacks set off to one side of the camera view with no small amount of envy. 

“I think a lot of us were there from the very beginning of the fandom - I recognize a lot of names in chat from the first couple livestreams. It’s so weird and cool to know it’s only been a few months since everything began, and now I’m right in the middle of it. So as both a fan and a content creator I’m having a really good time.”

On-screen, Assistant’s character - named Assistant, of course - was collecting shells on his island’s shoreline.

“WhiteDragon - hey! - asks, ‘how do you view the community?’ And I feel like we’re very welcoming, very accepting, but we also grew exponentially and have this excellent chaotic energy? I’m sure somebody else has a good metaphor that ends up becoming the secret symbol of the fandom or something-”

Harry snorted, typing in his suggestion in chat.

[pyrite: Spiral of ants?]

“Yeah, I see a lot of people typing.” Assistant laughed. “The cool thing I’ve seen is that despite a lot of this stuff technically being illegal, nobody’s too afraid of admitting they’re fans of it, maybe a bit embarrassed but that’s not too bad. Like, there was a whole convention in Knockturn Alley - magical London - a little less than a week ago, and it was packed. Tons of art prints, unofficial merch, cosplay gear. To those in chat who were there, you remember the really really expensive art on auction in the back of that big tent? I’m pretty sure the buyer for the life-size portrait of Sir was Bellatrix but you didn’t hear that from me-”

[Rudy: it was. She keeps it in the third-floor drawing room.]

“Sweet Salazar, no wonder that door is always locked. I was starting to think it was fake.” Assistant floated the snacks platter over so he could grab some fruit off it with his free hand. “All the unofficial merch had me thinking about what if we released official merch, actually, and if Sir wanted to do that what would you guys want? I’ll put a survey up on my page after the stream…”

“Harry, we’re going down to dinner are you coming with?” Ron called. Harry replied in the affirmative, unplugging his phone from the charger to bring it down from the dorm. Knowing what Assistant was going to say during his stream didn’t make it any less desirable to participate, but it was equally fun to see who showed up to the Great Hall and who didn’t, especially Malfoy’s group who he knew were all big fans.

Still, he tuned into the stream to listen a little longer while they walked.

“...Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes does miniatures of different people and characters, I’d really like to ask them if they’d do minis of Sir and I. The Edible Dark Marks they made last year were hilarious, I assume they’re still selling them but they might’ve been limited edition. A sour-candy version maybe? Or - heh - one that temporarily stains your tongue with the print? They were a political statement originally but I know I’m not the only one who vibes with skull and snake themed stuff just in general.”

“Hey Ron,” Harry looked over at his friend, “d’you think Fred and George would make Dark Livestream merch? Assistant is talking them up on his stream.”

“You know what,” Ron turned his full attention to him, all sarcasm gone, “I honestly don’t know, mate. They actually might. I’ve heard them talk about taking requests from customers to put stuff back in stock when its limited run is done. And really popular test items get sold officially if they get enough votes on their site.”

“You don’t think the politics would put them off?”

Ron shrugged, mouth full of potatoes. “They made minis for the Appleby Arrows, Harry, they’ll make minis for anything.”

Harry smiled. Of course it came down to Quidditch for him.

“..can see from the chat that yeah, everyone wants me to talk about Sir next time. So I will. For now, this is Assistant, signing off. Goodnight!”

 

On Sunday morning, Harry was one of several others to receive fancy star-printed envelopes in the Great Hall, their golden wax seals printed with the letters ‘S. C.’. Slughorn had organized a welcome-back gathering for his Club members and the plus-ones of their choice for that evening.

If this had been sixth year, Harry would have struggled to excuse himself, then brought Ginny or Luna and stayed for as short a time as possible - but Seventh-Year Harry remembered something very important about Slug Club that Sixth Year Harry hadn’t cared about:

Slughorn’s fully-stocked liquor cabinet - more of a liquor wall, really.

Which the professor generously allowed anyone of age to partake in during his parties.

Which contained, if Assistant had heard Sir correctly a few nights ago, several bottles of the Dark Lord’s favorite, discontinued, impossible to find anywhere in Britain (Harry had tried) gin.

And force of habit had left Harry with a mighty craving.

So where last year’s parties would have seen Harry slinking into the room late and anxious in a rumpled school uniform, hastily-selected plus one at his side, only to lurk at the edges of the room and barely interact with anyone that didn’t approach him first - that Harry? He was gone.

In his place, there was a Harry who arrived on the scene resplendent in some of his best clothes, confidently alone, with an easy grin and a spring in his step, who went right up to Slughorn to give his greetings for the new school year. “Professor,” he beamed, “It’s great to see you. How’s your summer been?”

Assistant had learned many things over the summer besides dark arts, and this was one: how to socialize with people without coming off as weird, to be friendly without being a suck-up. (Or as Rabastan called it, the Barty-Bella Balance. Man loved alliteration.) Harry started conversation, not only with Slughorn but with many of the other partygoers, of whom there was no small number. When he circled back around to the host, he offered just the right amount of flattery to keep Slughorn’s attention without overdoing it - all for this: for when the clock struck eight, and the portly Potions Professor reached, chuckling, for the cabinet door.

“Ah, Professor, can I mix you something? It’s just I learned a great recipe over the summer…”

Slughorn raised a brow, pleasantly surprised. (Harry swore that the one-eyebrow lift was some kind of Slytherin trick.) “Have you, my good fellow? Well. I don’t suppose it could hurt - if you hold back on the reserve Firewhisky, at least!” He laughed.

Harry laughed, too, because it was a good joke actually, he’d seen Ron make that mistake with Sirius’ stash over the summer. “Oh, not at all, sir,” he promised, gliding over to the cabinet with an anticipation he hoped he was concealing with showmanship. “No Firewhisky whatsoever. Though I was told this is a good drink to follow it; a classic, even…”

Interesting: Slughorn organized his liquors alphabetically by name, instead of how often he used them. Harry found what he was looking for in the very back of the gin section, as though it’d been hidden away on purpose; clearly the man knew how much it was worth. (Perhaps a quick Duplication Charm- ah, no, it would be obvious what he was doing-)

“Oho, is it now?” Slughorn paid him more attention, interest piqued. “It has been quite some time since a student claimed he knew the classics, Harry. Why, the last time must have been..”

Harry kept half an ear on the story, accustomed to such rambling after so long in Sir’s company; once he found everything he needed, mixing drinks was second nature. Most of his attention, then, was on the group of several Slytherin seventh-years approaching the bar, including a head of distinctive platinum-blond hair that somehow nobody in the student body had ever tried dyeing theirs to match. Slughorn’s setup spared him from turning around as the newcomers joined in, the conversation flowing to other topics for a moment.

On the counter: lemon juice, caster sugar, the whites of a garden snake egg, and Sir’s favorite gin. Shaken furiously with cracked ice in a chilled shaker - of course Slughorn had enchanted shakers, the glorious gourmand - and strained into a tall, narrow glass filled the rest of the way with club soda; served with a stirring rod and (Assistant had always liked this part) garnished with a few flakes of silver leaf that swirled around in the foam of the glass, green sparks dancing across the surface. Harry rejoined Slughorn’s orbit with five of the finished drinks, being generous enough to accommodate the three who’d joined in in the interval. “As promised, Professor,” he floated a glass over, “gentlemen,” he nodded to Nott, Zabini, and Malfoy, who all seemed surprised by the glasses showing up in front of them.

Now Slughorn’s brows were both risen, wrinkling his forehead dramatically. “Why, this is a Slytherin Fizz,” he remarked with obvious delight, taking a long sip. “A very good one, I might add - I haven’t had one of these in years, Harry, how did you know?”

“I hope I haven’t overstepped my bounds,” Harry joked, sipping his drink - ah, yes, that was the stuff - “but then, the Hat did say I’d have done well in Slytherin. Perhaps this is what it meant?” A sly wink.

Malfoy, who had eyed him oddly through the entire exchange, glanced past at the gin bottle Harry had left out for the next round - Assistant had mastered several different gin cocktails, when he and Sir weren’t just drinking it neat. “Isn’t that the Dark Lord’s favorite gin?” he blurted out.

An uncomfortable tension descended on the conversation he’d interrupted - Nott had been saying something about the Swiss Alps - as everyone stared at the blond, then at Harry. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was,” Harry supposed, drawing on some more of that natural charisma he’d been copying off Sir all summer as he drained his glass. “Politics aside, quality is quality - if he favors it, then he’s got great taste.”

To further change the subject, he went back over to the counter and started mixing something new. Sir’s liquor cabinet featured a few components and garnishes Slughorn wouldn’t be expected to have - who else but the Dark Lord would have skull-shaped sugar and salt crystals - but he made do with the more socially-acceptable options and returned to the group with a cocktail otherwise identical to Voldemort’s signature ‘Dark Mark’, which he introduced to them as a yet-unnamed variation on a Manhattan.

Whether Malfoy was taking the hint to keep his foot out of his mouth, or Nott had spelled him behind his back, Harry was pleased to evade any political talk for the rest of the night, matching Slughorn drink for drink (which by the expressions of some other party guests was no small feat) until it seemed like the time had come to down one of Severus’ proprietary Sobering Draughts and bid the Professor good night. Harry chased it with the last mouthful he’d saved of Sir’s favorite gin, cleaned up the bar counter with practiced charmwork, and made his merry way out of the club room-

-only to hear a hissed, “Potter!” from the second alcove down the hall.

Ah, so Malfoy was still around.

Spelling up a selection of privacy wards behind him, Harry stepped into the alcove the noise had come from and found his pointy blond rival there: not so pointy as he used to be, granted, but pointy in spirit. Malfoy was looking at him through narrowed, suspicious eyes, but between years of their schoolyard rivalry and a week of more frequent interaction as Assistant, Harry could tell the look was less aggressive, and more assessing.

“Potter,” Malfoy snapped out, though the heat behind the word was gone. “You really are a fan of Dark Livestream, aren’t you?”

 

Draco stared at Potter, who’d leaned back against the wall in flawless, choreographed carelessness, and already knew the answer to his question: even if he hadn’t seen Potter’s reaction to the prank during the Welcoming Feast, the way the Gryffindor had been glued to his phone all through yesterday’s dinner during the Assistant stream had been a dead giveaway. And that quip just now about great taste? ‘Quality is quality’? The only real question was if he would own up to it.

After all, the ever-vaunted Boy-Who-Lived shouldn’t, and the arrogant prick he’d known for six years wouldn’t-

“Well, yeah,” Potter said, with a shrug and a smirk. “I’m not WhiteDragon-” this he said with a nod to Draco, proving he knew the handle belonged to him, “-but I’m definitely a fan. I’m in your server, even.”

Draco had a sudden sense of déjà vu, but brushed it off. “Everyone is,” he proclaimed with no small amount of pride at that fact. Even Assistant, not that Potter would know that.

“Speaking of which,” Potter added brightly, “congrats on that shoutout during yesterday’s stream. I bet that was really cool.”

Damn Potter for somehow figuring out he was weak to compliments - it was low-hanging fruit, but Draco couldn’t help but eat the flattery right up.

And - double damn Potter for stepping closer with a conspiratorial smile on his face, angling his gaze to look at him with something bordering on flirtatious. “You’re not so bad after all, you know, Malfoy?”

“Draco,” Draco corrected, knowing and hating that he was going a bit pink even in the alcove’s dim light. “You can call me Draco.” He swallowed; the sudden tension was making his mouth dry.

Potter laid a hand on his shoulder, and Draco’s heart skipped a beat. W-what? “Only if you’ll call me Harry - offline, at least.” He winked.

Draco blinked at him. Potter’s - Harry’s - hand was still on his shoulder, just this side of too close for comfort. “And - on the server?” he managed, fumbling for his phone in his pocket.

Harry stepped back, a lazy smirk on his lips, toward the hallway: the half-light of the alcove caught his satiny shirt and close-fitted trousers just so, every movement made sinuous, the faint perfume of gin leaving Draco dizzy enough he almost missed his answer. “Pyrite.”

And then he left, the bastard, and Draco did not have the slightest idea what to do with his now-racing pulse except go on the server and add Pyrite as a friend.

How had he just done that? Turned the whole conversation around on him - captured Draco’s attention with only a few gestures, made him want-

[Pyrite accepted your friend request.]

[Pyrite, 10:02pm: See you around, Draco.]

Chapter Text

Severus Snape was not pleased with Harry Potter.

Granted, he never was, but in six years, the magnitude of his ire had never even come close to what it was now. This year - the seventh, and (he hoped) the last - was the worst, because the Boy-Who-Lived had done the one thing that no one had ever suspected he would:

Harry Potter had managed to become friends with Draco Malfoy.

It was hell.

Potter alone, with his absolute disregard for the rules and Dumbledore’s endless supply of favoritism, he could have handled.  Draco alone, lacquered to a mirror finish with nepotism and Slytherin politics, he could have managed. Potter and Draco? A dynamic duo with more potential for chaos than the Weasley twins and essentially no oversight, not even the law - Severus dreaded the day they did anything of major legal consequence, because he was already suffering every time his godson showed up at his office unannounced to whinge that all the detentions Severus was handing out were cutting into his time with Harry.

‘Harry’.

Dear Merlin, he needed a drink.

Severus grimaced down at his desk, littered with work he hadn't mustered up the energy to do, and wished fervently he'd saved some Sobering Draught from the most recent batch - that way he could at least drown his pain in Firewhiskey. Alas, no such luck.

He was at least thankful that the initial impression - of Draco being infatuated with Potter - had proven false under scrutiny; Severus dared not imagine what the two would have been like as a couple. It would have been a dreadful sight on par with the very pair who had inspired Draco and Potter to become friendly in the first place: the Dark Lord and his Assistant.

In his darkest moments - no, more often than that - Severus wished the Dark Lord would just go back to open warfare. Because of course Potter had to go and become a fan of the accursed media franchise sometime during the summer; the boy was as avid a fan as Draco, which was saying something, given WhiteDragon was one of the biggest names in the fandom short of the stars themselves. And now it was all they talked about.

All of this, irksome as it was, would still have been.. tolerable.. if Severus didn't keep catching the two of them practicing Dark Arts in his bloody classroom-

(Which, incidentally, was why he was overseeing detention for both of them, right now.)

The Potions Master wanted to scream, but he would not give them the satisfaction of witnessing it. He kept his eyes on the first-year Defense essays and refused to acknowledge either of the so-called Despotic Duo where they were scrubbing cauldrons ten feet away; if either of them caught his eye they would try to piss him off so he’d send them out early. (It worked more often than he’d like to admit.)

It was the third such detention he'd assigned, now, a few weeks into term; and they all knew it for the impasse that it was. Because they also all knew there was no way to enforce Dumbledore's puritanical rules about 'acceptable' magic in the school: Draco was, simply put, Lucius' son, and Potter...

A tiny hole singed in the corner of one essay, spreading slow but steady like a cigarette burn until it reached the very edge of one messily written word on the page.

If the headmaster even believed such an accusation against Potter, he would most likely 'make an exception' for the boy after a long lecture and judicious application of disappointed blue eyes, and Potter would pretend at contrition, as he always did, and continue what he was doing while trying harder not to be caught. As he always did.

Severus blew out the smoldering parchment and rubbed between his eyes.

There remained a risk, minimal, but nonzero, that Dumbledore's recent stress with the Dark Lord's overt activities would boil over with a claim against Potter - and he would turn on the Boy-Who-Lived with extreme prejudice for the perceived betrayal of values. It had happened before, with Black: he'd pushed through a guilty verdict without a trial and thrown the man in Azkaban for over a decade.

(And there had been something different about the interactions between Potter and Dumbledore for a month or two, already, hadn’t there? The headmaster knew something about Potter that he hadn't told anyone - something serious, something to do with the War - the more Severus let himself consider the possibility, the likelier it seemed, and the Unbreakable Vow he'd sworn to protect the boy pulled at him in warning-)

So. Detention.

"Professor," called Potter, dragging him out of his thoughts, "is this cauldron still functional, or should we throw it away? The pewter's been corroded down into its component metals in several spots." He sounded lightly curious, even interested, which was not a tone Severus wished to hear from him or Draco; it never boded well.

"Oh, this one too!" Draco exclaimed, sounding equally fascinated. With cauldrons. "There's those restorative solvents, if we set up for a bit of alchemy," he said to Potter more quietly, "like in the episode-" and Severus looked up sharply from his desk now, to see them both examining Draco's cauldron with bright, wide eyes - lit with the faint gleam of illegal magesight.

He put his head in his hands.

 

The forlorn Potions-Master-slash-Defence-Professor was not the only one who’d taken note of Harry’s newfound friendship; but for much of September, he was the most informed. The other two-thirds of the Golden Trio had quickly come to the worst conclusion, and spent the intervening weeks in quiet conflict over what to do about it - most of the times Harry teased them for ‘canoodling’, they were actually arguing over whether to stage an intervention.

Ron was dead-set on telling Harry to his face that he had to stop seeing Malfoy. “He’s our sworn nemesis!” he insisted, time and time again when the subject came up. “Who knows what kind of influence he’s been?!”

It did explain Harry’s change in behavior over the summer, far better than Sirius and Remus’ vampire theory. The late nights, the edgy fashion sense, the clubbing and the drinking - it was just the sort of activity Malfoy and his cronies enjoyed, Ron proclaimed, associating with bad people, playing with dangerous magic, throwing money around on overpriced drinks and outfits-

(Hermione had tried explaining what 'class envy' was to Ron, but that lecture went in one ear and out the other.)

For her part, Hermione doubted that blanket-forbidding Harry from seeing Malfoy would even be acknowledged, much less heeded. She didn't approve, but there was no chance of that being enough to sway her notoriously strong-willed friend. They'd talked to Harry about his boyfriend over the summer, and been brushed off, hadn't they? He'd shown no signs of being love potioned, and he resisted the Imperius easily enough, so there had to be something he liked Malfoy for...

(Hadn't he gone extremely red the time they'd joked about sex? But it wouldn’t be just that, surely-)

Obviously Ron didn't like any of that line of thinking when she brought it up, so they continued watching Malfoy and Harry interact from a distance, waffling over whether to take action. It put something of a wall between them and Harry until nearly October, when Hermione happened to overhear the two troublemakers talking in a nearby classroom. She'd thought at first it was, well, something other than talking-

“-weird about it, Harry, everyone does it,” Malfoy was, predictably, whining. “It’s not a hardship, you used to do it all the time.”

Hermione had been walking back from NEWT Arithmancy at the time; she’d stopped dead in the middle of the corridor and gone and plastered herself to the wall, listening carefully.

“It’s not that I haven’t done it before,” Harry grumbled, “I just..”

“Then quit being so embarrassed and just do it,” Malfoy snapped, exasperated.

Hermione sometimes hated being imaginative, because it sounded like he was telling Harry to-

“I will, just laer, alright, obviously I’m not going to do it here-”

She covered her face, blushing fiercely, hardly daring to breathe.

“Excuses, Harry,” Malfoy singsonged, “just admit you can’t do it, I wouldn’t be surprised-”

“I can!” Harry bit out, with a sound like he’d slammed his fist on the wall. Then, a sigh. “It just feels weird doing it now, okay?”

What exactly felt weird? No, wait, don't answer that-

“Fine, fine, I won’t tease you,” Malfoy gave up. “But seriously, you calling all the staff ‘professor’ is getting weird, Snape’s definitely noticed…”

Hermione tuned out for a second, completely thrown. They weren’t talking about - fellatio? When she resumed paying attention, Harry’s voice had dropped to the nervous muttering he always used when someone called him out on his bullshit.

“..know it makes me sound like the biggest simp in the fandom, okay, but it just feels weird saying it in any other context now.”

“Pff. You can call other people sir without sounding like you’re talking about Him, Potter - it’s very easy when you aren’t thirsting like a desert at noon.” Hermione hid behind a statue as footsteps approached the door to the classroom the boys had been bickering in. “Someday, I swear,” Malfoy went on, chuckling, “I dare you to call the Dark Lord ‘Sir’ to his face, just to see what he says. At a meet-and-greet or something.”

Harry groaned. “I am not inviting comparison to Bellatrix.”

“More like Assistant,” Malfoy snickered, as their footsteps faded off in the other direction. Hermione stuck her head out from behind the statue to peer after them - there was no hand-holding going on, and they kept a normal distance between them, nothing about body language to suggest they were involved.

...Had she and Ron misunderstood?

The look on Harry’s face after dinner, when Hermione finally asked directly, said yes, they very much had. “You thought I was WITH him?” Harry choked on his pumpkin juice. “Godric, no,” he grimaced, “I have a type, Hermione, and Draco is Not It.”

“Oh? So what is it then” She teased, passing him a napkin to wipe up the juice he’d spilled on the table. “Tall, dark and handsome?” All three things Malfoy wasn't.

“Well, actually,” Harry scratched the back of his neck, flushing a bit.

But if it wasn’t Draco, then who was Harry’s boyfriend?

 

Elsewhere and elsewhen, a shadow lingered in the heart of London.

Rain had misted over the city as the sun set, magical and Muggle districts alike; the clouds still hovered overhead, heavy with the promise of more, and colder, and sent their chill breeze through the streets and alleys to jostle hanging streetlamps and call up fog to mist around pedestrians' ankles. Knockturn Alley had the worst of it: yellow light from its dusty lanterns quavered with the wind, casting all manner of strange shadows against the walls, so that those lurking between buildings could scarcely see into the street.

Thus they missed the figure in black who kicked up swirls of mist in his path down the Alley, undeterred by the weather; whose silhouette was framed in instants against shops' darkened windows. Some inside the shops did notice his passing - and shivered. For while it was not as though the stranger were dressed any differently than most clientele at this hour, there was something else, something threatening about him, that even glimpses conveyed.

The fog cleared with the turn of the weather, blown apart by another, colder gust, to unveil gleaming cobblestones, trod upon by black boots polished to an equal shine - just in time to catch the stranger setting foot on Diagon Alley. Cheery in daylight, the street had a much different cast when the sun set: shops closed at dusk, an old custom none had dared break with, so that the evening hours for many Diagon merchants were spent conducting business.

It was such business that had brought the shadow here.

He had not been invited, precisely, but that did not mean he was not awaited at his destination; so he did not tarry, but swept across the street, black cloak billowing, and slunk into the unlit gap between two buildings, to an unmarked side door, and knocked - three times, just above the knob.

All activity within the walls stilled at the sound. The shop owners exchanged a look, expressions gone equally tight with nerves: they had been notified only hours earlier of their visitor, not nearly enough time to gather their wits, but he was there, beyond the door. For a long moment, they waited for him to knock again.

He didn't.

But the air of danger did not lessen: still, he lurked beyond the door. Would lurk, as long as they made him wait, and that rudeness would cost them, they were sure-

Go open it, one mouthed to the other, and with shaking hands, he did.

He flinched, despite himself, to find their visitor on the other side of the door when it opened, only inches from the wood; the nervous smile he'd plastered on to greet him fell, in favor of simply standing back, to let the shadow in.

"Misters Weasley," greeted Assistant, as the door closed behind him without any touch from Fred or George. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I hope I didn't interrupt anything scheduled for the day."

"N-not at all," George stammered, ears pinking in embarrassment at the slip. "We were surprised to hear from you-" more like terrified- "and didn't have anything that couldn't be moved, really." Merlin, he was rambling, Fred save him-

"This way," Fred spoke up, opening the door to the parlor they set aside, further back, for meetings. Assistant said nothing, merely nodded and followed him; the black cloak shimmered under the parlor's brighter lights, almost iridescent, and he took a moment upon entering the parlor to take it off and hang it on a provided hook - but the hood stayed. Of course it did.

The twins had seen Assistant before, on episodes of Professor Riddle; he was dressed much the same now, they thought, but somehow darker, as if the shadows obscuring his face weren't enough. The thought that crossed their minds, as he took a seat at the meeting table, was that those episodes didn't do justice to the aura surrounding the man. He was a cheerful, relatable student in counterpoint to Voldemort's more serious professor face - but that persona was shed offscreen.

"Would you care for a drink?" George asked, to break the silence. He was already reaching for the top-shelf stuff.

"That would be lovely, thank you," said Assistant, and his voice was warm but the rest of him was empty, devoid of body language just like Snape had described him to the Order. Coupled with the hood over his features, and the weight of his presence in the room, even the politesse came out sinister.

Fred poured three glasses of the fifty-Galleon Firewhiskey he and George had been saving for a Christmas gift. It smoked faintly in the open air, promising the burning heat it was famous for. Neither twin dared touch it while Assistant observed his glass. Was it not something he drank? Had they made a wrong move? This was the Assistant, currently the favorite subordinate of Britain's most infamous murderer, and he was here on business   and what if they got on his nerves, there wouldn't be enough left of them to fit in a thimble, they had seen clips from Dark Livestream-

(Fred teased George for being a worrywart, but in the confines of his own mind he worried much worse.)

"Oh, this is interesting," said Assistant brightly, sipping it. (The glass just disappeared beneath the hood, which was unsettling to watch even knowing it was magic.) "Sir doesn't drink much Firewhiskey, so I haven't had it. Thank you."

"Glad you like it," Fred squeaked. He coughed to cover it, then downed a mouthful of the Firewhiskey. (It did burn.)

Then, more silence. The twins exchanged a glance, but let it stand, sipping their drinks at about the same pace as Assistant did. They had had deals in the past with people who would finish two glasses before they were ready to talk, and with people who wouldn't touch anything they were offered, for a variety of reasons. (Mad-Eye, for example, was paranoid as fuck.) Assistant was somewhere in between; he seemed perfectly at ease saying nothing and just drinking his liquor at regular intervals.

At last, he set the glass aside, half-empty. "Ah, much better. I can finally feel my fingers again." He wiggled one black gloved hand. "Chilly out there tonight. Down to business, then, I suppose?"

Yes, please, thought George, wringing his hands under the table. Whatever this is about, let's just get it over with-

"You've likely received quite a bit of mail asking for Dark Livestream merch recently," Assistant began, and they nodded - more like a deluge. "Sir and I were hoping to make that happen on an official level; he sent me over with a proposal."

What.

They watched, astounded, as Assistant withdrew a fancy-looking scroll from his sleeve - particularly interesting in that there was no sign it had been there before. It was wrapped in black brocade, tied with a vivid green ribbon; the dark wooden caps holding it together were carved to look like skulls. No mistaking that for anyone else, thought Fred, even his mental voice gone faint.

"We hadn't been following the show too closely during the busy season," George admitted, "so the uptick in requests was a bit surprising."

"And 'sides that," Fred went on, "we'd've thought You-Know-Who would rather fill our graves than fill our pockets-"

"-given who our family are." So to say they were blindsided by the proposal was an understatement.

Assistant hummed, thoughtful, as he laid the black fabric out on the table and carefully unrolled the scroll onto it for them to read. The parchment didn't try to roll back up once it had been set down, like other documents they’d seen. "I'm not sure Sir cares," he said frankly, stepping aside to let them read. "Politics mean little to him against quality, even if he isn't much a fan of the love potion section."

(They winced.)

"The fans, meanwhile, are chomping at the bit for official merch; many of whom are already collectors of your line of miniatures." Assistant gave a small laugh; it sent a shiver down Fred's spine. "Myself among them. I'll give you some time to look this over."

And he sat back down, letting them read. George's eyebrows (or, well, eyebrow - one of them had been singed off earlier in the day) climbed higher with every line, and he grabbed Fred's wrist for stability. "Look," he whispered, pointing at a particular section.

"..Oh, damn," Fred said after a minute. He glanced up at Assistant, who was sipping the rest of his Firewhiskey and reading something on his phone. Did he know what this said? Or was he just an instrument of Voldemort's will, like Death Eaters were said to be?

Because this was an incredible offer. They were being given more than a month's profits in just R&D; the proposed thirty percent royalties were only marginally steeper than what the Chocolate Frog Company demanded for the 'privilege' of selling their product at the counter. And to sweeten the pot, half of the merch would be bought ahead of time to resell on the site, with only minor stipulations about reasonable pricing of non-limited edition merchandise-

George was a faster reader than Fred; when he choked, suddenly, going still at his twin's side, Fred was quick to skip down to the last section and read the additional incentive being offered to them: ..letter of referral to the Blackthorn Bazaar-

"We'll take it," Fred blurted out, louder than he meant to.

They had been trying to get into the Bazaar for longer than they'd had the shop - there were materials, ingredients, enchanted tools sold there that could be found nowhere else. The contract could have had only that, and they would've agreed.

"Excellent," said Assistant, tone suggesting a smile. He stood, retrieving a small black case from the same sleeve as the scroll. "Sir will be so pleased."

He set the case down on the table and opened it for them to see: there, on vivid red satin, rested a fine black quill. Gloved fingers held it out to them; goosebumps rose on their skin, even as Fred took it first, because there was no ink.

George watched his brother sign with faintly trembling hands, feeling like they were making a deal with the Devil, but Merlin, the Devil did good business. Assistant had rolled the last few inches of the scroll down for the signing lines; there at the bottom, gleaming in black wax, was the skull and snake seal of their new patron, and beside it in spidery, red lettering, the name. Lord Voldemort.

Then it was George's turn, signing with the same simple calligraphy they'd all learned from their Mum a decade ago, before Hogwarts. Mum would kill us for this, he thought suddenly, biting his lip. But when Fred passed him the quill, its Dark magic making his fingers tingle, he did not hesitate to sign as well.

Assistant offered them a spray of dittany and murtlap essence for the backs of their hands when it was done; unlike their brief experience with Umbridge's detentions, the scratches healed instantly without scars. Then he took off one of his gloves, revealing a fine-boned, pale hand of his own, and bent to sign on the witness line: Lord Voldemort's Assistant.

"Is that really your name?" Fred couldn't help but ask.

"Yep," said Assistant, popping the 'p'.

George hummed, thoughtful. "Almost makes it sound like you're married. Mr and Mr You-Know-Who." He laughed a little at the idea.

Assistant snorted, the most unintimidating sound they'd heard from him yet. "Now that would be a much different contract, wouldn't it?" Steadily, methodically, he put everything away: the glove back on, quill in its case, the scroll rolled up, capped, wrapped and tied. "Sir will have two copies of the contract sent here by tomorrow night for your reference, with the original in his safekeeping. If you need anything," he retrieved a triangular business card from the front pocket of his shirt, laid it on the table, "this is the business line. And if you would prefer to deal with me directly, my number is one digit higher. I've written it on the reverse side."

"Pleasure doing business with you," said Fred, offering a hand for a handshake. Assistant shook it, and George's when he offered his after.

Assistant retrieved his cloak from the hook, and let them walk him back out to the door he'd come in from. And just before he left, disappearing into the denser fog that had filled the street in the interim, he turned back to them and observed, pleasant as anything,

"I can see why Harry recommended you."

Then he was gone.

"How in the world," Fred looked to his twin-

"-does he know Harry?"

 

Voldemort was already watching the door to his office when Assistant opened it. "Excellent news, Sir," the man said, producing the scroll from his sleeve without delay.

"Indeed?" He sat back in his chair, content to watch Assistant lay out the parchment on his desk for him, kept clean by the layer of silk brocade used as wrapping. There was an art, a ceremony, to scroll-reading; he enjoyed it as the small luxury that it was, and Assistant had been pleased to learn from him as he was pleased to learn all things.

Red eyes found the signatures at the bottom: the merchants', yes, good, and then Assistant's, which provided a visceral satisfaction whose source he could not place. "I had expected them to negotiate more," Voldemort mused, a small smile dancing at the corners of his lips.

"The Bazaar cinched it," Assistant informed him. "The whole of it was generous, but they agreed the moment they saw that clause." He was leaning in over his shoulder, close enough for Voldemort to scent the Firewhiskey on his breath.

It wrinkled his nose, a little, to know Assistant had drank without him - he had expected it, but there was something he disliked about knowing Assistant had imbibed anything he had not given him, that anything from the outside world had touched the man. Voldemort passed him the glass he'd been sipping from for the past hour, a red wine from the case Assistant had previously enjoyed, and watched him drink it down without hesitation, a small pleased sigh escaping obscured lips.

"Thank you, Sir," Assistant said, leaning against his chair, the wine on his breath a small relief. "Shall I pour another?"

"Perhaps later," the Dark Lord demurred, making the necessary copies while the task was at hand. "These will need to be sent out in the morning," he said more to himself than to the other man, and was surprised when Assistant offered to deliver them to the postbox now, rather than later, so that they wouldn't have to be on his mind. "I forgot to check the postbox while I was on Knockturn earlier," he laughed, "walked right by it without thinking."

Voldemort watched him depart through the same door as he'd entered, a graceful sweep of black robes borrowed from his wardrobe. Assistant was a fine sight in his clothes, as he was in his own - as he was in none at all.

He contemplated that last thought, staring into the fire. His appreciation for the man was not new, and not limited to aesthetics; beautiful though Assistant was, it was more than that which had driven him to craft the Time-Turner he had gifted him at summer's end.

He had laid the silver chain about Assistant's neck, knuckles brushing on warm skin, and lain awake thinking of that touch for hours afterward; and when Assistant returned to him that evening with all the time in the world to spend together, he had then wondered - worried - if it would be too much, if he would exhaust his interest, and lain awake a second time.

But he had not grown tired of the man, not in days, weeks, a month, and neither did Assistant bore of him, as he had also worried he might. On the contrary: the Dark Lord could not help but want more of him, impossible as that was, and dedicated increasing portions of his schedule to Assistant's presence.

Alone in his office, Voldemort ran fingers through his hair and tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. There was a possessive thing growing between them that he could not deny: it was slow, but it was there, and in moments like earlier, it burned. And Assistant, bless him, did nothing to discourage Voldemort from wanting to keep him always, as his own alone.

He closed his eyes, imagined. Assistant, his Death Eater, his Mark upon his arm. No - Assistant becoming his Death Eater, the very moment that he cast the spell. Voldemort always cast that bond with a wand, but in his imagination, the spell was channeled instead through his palm, the Mark emerging on a bare forearm, the racing pulse under his thumb as he pinned Assistant beneath him-

The Dark Lord breathed out sharply through his nose and opened his eyes, fascinated by the flush that had spread across his face at the implication of that thought. There was more possession there than he had anticipated; more urge, as well. He told himself it did not bear consideration: a visible Mark would render Assistant's other identity moot, whatever it was, and how many times had the man spoken of his fear should he be found out? Fear of ostracism from the few others he valued-

A very small part of Voldemort, that he had excised from conscious thought when he recovered his sanity, hissed at the knowledge that Assistant had anyone he valued more than him; wished to find such people and destroy them, or to possess their bodies and take their place. That maddened shred of his soul demanded all of Assistant's positive regard to belong to him, every warm feeling Dementors would feast on, and further, every cold feeling that was left. Voldemort acknowledged those intrusive thoughts and dismissed them, because he no longer succumbed to the weakness of singular obsession, did not want it.

He wanted Assistant, but only as much as Assistant wanted him back.

Still. The same side of him that thrilled every time they shared a bed after a drinking night, that drank in the sight of Assistant sprawled on his back, pale and lean against his black sheets, that had - on one occasion only - knelt over Assistant's sleeping form and imagined an ecstatic face beneath the hood, flushed, wide-eyed, lips parted on a gasp, or a plea, forming the name Assistant gave him-

"Sir-"

It could not be entirely ignored.

Perhaps that was why he did not consult Assistant before the announcement.

 

Sunday, 1st October, 2017.

Harry sank into the pile of beanbags next to Draco, watching the livestream they'd projected onto the wall. He wasn't the only one who used the Room of Requirement as a secret clubroom anymore: the DL fans in Hogwarts gathered here for every scheduled stream, posting their reactions in the spoilers channel as it aired. Soon, very soon, he'd be off to repeat the day, and pick up where the last lesson had left off. The October episodes of Professor Riddle were going to be all about soul magic, more demonstrative than practical, and Sir had been teaching him plenty ahead of time, too, so he would get to demonstrate a lot of the magic he'd been mastering.

Tonight's stream had been an excellent, gruesome watch, featuring one of the criminals who the Aurors hadn't been able to catch - a serial poisoner with no real pattern to his acts save a penchant for the very young and the very old. Sir had demonstrated counterspells to all the types of poisons the man used, from the careful work healers did separating the poison from the blood to the crude and painful methods used by the very desperate.

("Accidental magic," Sir murmured, "responds in this fashion to poison; it is understandably as traumatic to the mind as to the body..")

Now, he had set the remains aside, and spelled the mess off of the stone floor; Harry leaned forward, ever attentive, to hear the post-stream announcements for the upcoming week, ready to post them in the server for everyone to read. They would be posted on the main page of the Dark Livestream website as well, but that would be at midnight, hours away.

"This week marks the beginning of the topic many of my dear viewers have been waiting for in the Professor Riddle series: soul magic, and more specifically, necromancy. Tuesday's episode will serve as an introduction to the Darkest Art, with an easy set of aptitude tests to discover those with the talent.

"In its highest form, it is rarely seen in a century of wizards, even though it is not inherited - as rare as a True Seer, or more so. But there are many levels of ability, as there are with Dark Arts as a whole..."

Harry transcribed as he listened. Sir had given him a similar speech early in the last month - and you, Assistant, are at that level, a cherished rarity-

"..and lastly," the Dark Lord said, smiling, summoning a rolled-up scroll from the side of the room, "I have become aware of the petition circulating amongst our fans, which has reached seven thousand signatures as of last night."

The entire club's attention turned to the screen, drawing in a breath and holding it.

"I have given it due consideration," Sir went on, letting the scroll unroll and unroll, "seeing such interest from you all..."

Draco had a hand over his mouth, wide-eyed. Blaise and Theo's jaws had dropped. No way, Theo mouthed.

"..and so, at two million Galleons in cumulative donations, yes, I will kiss Assistant."

Harry dropped his phone.

Chapter Text

"...I will kiss Assistant."

Harry dropped his phone.

 

The announcement on Sunday left Harry adrift for the greater portion of the following week, walking around in a daze that barely receded even during class; he didn't so much as look at his phone for the first three days. Draco noticed; Ron and Hermione noticed; hell, everyone noticed. But, once word had spread as to what'd happened, nobody dared to say anything to him about it for fear of setting him off.

They thought he was offended. That was laughable. At one point he even did laugh. (In Defense. During a discussion of mutilating curses. Merlin, people thought he'd cracked, he could just tell.)

Harry wasn't offended, though, no.

He was anxious.

And why ever could that be, hm? Could it possibly, possibly be that the weight of Harry's situation had dawned upon him, that he was realizing he'd come to associate with a powerful and dangerous enemy, that he'd abandoned his own values so utterly their return had shocked him into silence-?

No, no. It was because the fandom was right:

Assistant and Sir had to kiss. Or the UST would kill everyone in the audience. Harry (as Pyrite) had signed the petition himself.

He just.. had forgotten that Assistant meant him.

But he certainly wasn't forgetting that now. He couldn't forget, even if he'd wanted to; the fandom had practically exploded into Sirssistant shipping ever since Sir announced their upcoming kiss, and Harry was subscribed to a lot of fanfic authors. When he finally got back to his senses and checked his phone, he had well over a hundred notifications for fanfiction alone.

[DM from twixtthetrees: hey pyrite are you around? i wrote another fic look look]

Unofficial Official DL Fanserver, #fanfiction:

[2017-10-02, 10:52pm] itsevanffs: @readers new fic new fic read it here: https://archiveofourown.org/works/....

"The Only Cool Slytherin Server", #fandom-talk:

[2017-10-04, 3:03am] WhiteDragon: THE SIRSSISTANT SHIP HAS BEEN MADE A COMMON TAG ON AO3, THIS IS NOT A DRILL

[3:03am] MalfoysBitch: about time, I thought it already was one

  also why the hell are you still awake

[3:04am] WhiteDragon: Counterpoint: why are *you* awake?

[3:04am] 420BlaiseIt: we're literally all awake draco do you bloody mind

[3:05am] WhiteDragon: What are you guys all doing without me ???

[3:05am] NottYourBoyfriend: Sneaking into the Gryffindor dorms to pester Harry of course, he's not responding to anyone's pings

[3:06am] NottYourBoyfriend: @Pyrite

[3:06am] 420BlaiseIt: @Pyrite hang out with us

[3:06am] MalfoysBitch: @Pyrite

[Pyrite is typing...]

[3:07am] Pyrite: ok fine I am here what is it

[3:07am] 420BlaiseIt: :blurryeyes:

[3:07am] MalfoysBitch: IT WORKED

[3:07am] NottYourBoyfriend: so pinging three times in a row works, noted

[3:08am] Pyrite: seriously what is it I'm trying to sleep

[3:08am] MalfoysBitch: no you aren't you're literally in the clubroom

[3:08am] Pyrite: how did you know tha-

[3:08am] Pyrite: whatever what the fuck do you want I am busy

[3:09am] WhiteDragon: ..u ok m8? this is the first time anyone has talked to you in days

Harry slumped against a smushed-up beanbag on the floor, scrubbing a hand over his face. Resigned, he clicked on the voice channel where the others were all gathered.

"-ten Galleons, Theo, pay up-"

"Okay how did you know I was in the club room, first of all," Harry interrupted Pansy's crowing, "I put up privacy wards and everything.”

"Proximity ward for inbound magical presences," Theo drawled. "And you're the only one of us with the password to open the club room that isn't already hanging out, so, deduction."

"Well, hell," Harry muttered, just loud enough for the phone to pick up the words. "Fine. Let me keep sulking a little longer, would you?"

"Depends, what are you sulking for ?" Pansy pressed. "Jealous much, golden boy? You could probably get a pity kiss on grounds of being His nemesis and all-"

Harry choked. "Wh- no," he managed, summoning a water jug from the side of the room. "I don't-" don't need that, technically- "-besides, we're not nemeses anymore, I got a skull about it in the mail over the summer-"

"A what," the others blurted out in unison.

"Erm." Harry scratched the back of his neck. "Maybe I should explain that in person if I'm going to explain it at all."

A pause.

"Well, Draco," Blaise said solemnly, "if there was ever a reason to bring Potter into the Slytherin common room, this is it."

"All in favor?"

"Aye."

"Aye."

"Aye."

"Aye. Well that's that then, Harry, get your arse down to the dungeons and explain yourself," Draco announced.

"D’you want to see the skull?" Harry felt obliged to ask. He could call Kreacher for it anytime he wanted; the elf highly approved of his Dark Arts shenanigans.

Even the volume modulation couldn't keep Pansy's shriek of excitement below 'ear-piercing' levels.

 

Several minutes later:

“Sweet-and-sour Salazar that is an actual human skull-”

Harry snapped the lid of the box shut before anyone tried to touch it, suddenly a little self-conscious of having shared this secret at all, much less with the most gossip-prone friends he’d ever had. He snatched a shot glass of Draco’s Firewhiskey off the coffee table and downed it, letting out a sigh at the weak burn. “It’s not exactly a known fact,” he began, darting glances at their surroundings; the Common Room at this hour was utterly empty. “So, erm, any chance I could convince you guys to keep it that way?”

“Well obviously,” Blaise cut in, eyeing him over the rim of his goblet. (Alcohol expert that Assistant was, Harry still couldn’t identify the contents from the scent of the vapors, beyond ‘fruity’, ‘potent’, and ‘probably illegal’.) “No one is that gauche, Potter; we’re snakes, not rats. You say it’s a secret, it’s a secret.”

Harry’s only response was to glance pointedly in Draco’s direction and raise an eyebrow.

“Okay but tell us all about it,” Pansy ordered, sprawling out against Theo’s side. (Theo, for his part, ignored her antics with the air of long experience.) “You said you got this over the summer?”

“Yeah, it was a coming-of-age present.” Harry shrugged, refilling his shot glass. “It’s Trelawney’s skull,” he added, stroking the velvet lid of the box. “She was the one who gave the prophecy about me and S- and Him-”

“Just call him ‘Sir’, Harry, we all know who you’re talking about,” Draco rolled his eyes.

“Wait,” Blaise blurted, “Trelawney was an actual Seer?”

Harry blinked, then facepalmed. “Merlin, I forget not everyone’s in the loop about this.”

“Is anybody?” Theo murmured. “It sounds like arcana imperii.”

"State secrets? S'pose it might have been," Harry muttered, reaching for the Firewhiskey again, only for Draco to slap a bottle of water into his hand instead, the mom friend bastard that he was. He scoffed, but drained it, slumping back in his chair. "Who cares, though? She's dead now."

He spent the next several minutes explaining the whole deal with the prophecy; according to Voldemort's letter, and also Sir's explanation to Assistant which Harry carefully didn't mention, it was officially broken, so it meant nothing if people knew.

(And, frankly, fuck Dumbledore's compulsive need to hoard pointless information. He was probably still hiding things from Harry...)

"-and he'd only heard that much, which was why he killed my parents, although the whole 'failing to kill me' part wasn't really his fault, it was mum's blood magic, which incidentally is how I burned Quirrell to death in first year with my bare hands-"

"You what?"

Harry blinked at Blaise. "Erm, yeah, he was possessed by the Dark Lord's wraith and tasked with stealing the Philosopher's Stone? Hidden on the third-floor corridor? Did no one else know? Don't tell me that's still a secret-"

The Slytherins were still staring at him with a variety of expressions ranging from wariness to reluctant awe. He faltered under the scrutiny, reaching for the nearest bottle off the communal liquor table and conjuring a glass to fill from it. "He tried to kill me first, for the record. It wasn't an ideal situation all around."

More silence.

"..The statue of limitations on manslaughter by magical accident is three years without an open investigation-"

"Speaking frankly, what the hell." Draco knocked back another shot of his Firewhiskey and shook his head, swiping at the loose strands of hair that'd fallen on his forehead. (Harry would never say it, but he had the taste of a total lightweight.) "Just- spill more of this tea, Harry, we need context on your trainwreck of a life."

Harry chose to ignore the way Blaise and Theo were sharing wide-eyed looks, heads twitching in his direction. They wouldn't have been his first guess as to who in the group had an unspoken language, but. "How about second year, then," he went on, trading out the cheap bourbon for a Palate-Cleansing Charm and mouthfuls of the vodka Theo had supplied for the table. It was very smooth vodka, definitely not a Muggle variety. "I actually was Heir of Slytherin on a technicality, but didn't know it until after the year ended-"

"Morgana's tits, Potter, what kind of life are you living?" Pansy's glass of plum wine very nearly spilled, she gestured so wildly with it.

Harry squinted at her. "Isn't it 'Morgana's saggy tits'?"

"What? Of course not, Morgana was fit as fuck-"

"You would say that, lesbian queen," Blaise muttered, startling when he realized he’d spoken aloud.

(Theo choked on his drink.)

Pansy turned up her nose at Blaise. "As the only witch-loving witch in our friend group it's practically in my contract." Then she looked back at Harry, batting her eyelashes in a way that reminded him alarmingly of Bellatrix. "Go on, tell us more!"

Third year, third year... what had happened in third year that was actually news? "We all know Sirius was innocent now, of course," he tested the waters-

They were nodding, okay-

"-and that Remus is a werewolf-"

Pansy made a 'go on' hand gesture-

"-and that they're a couple now?" Raised eyebrows all around. "Oh, okay, well that's not from third year anyway, more like fifth, but yeah, they're my godfathers now. Not much really happened that year," Harry shrugged, holding up the last of his near-empty glass in the firelight. Would it be ungrateful if he complained about their liquor? Sir kept a much better-stocked cabinet-

"Didn't you learn the Patronus?" Draco asked, though he was looking more up at the ceiling than at Harry when he said it. (He was totally watching the room spin; such a lightweight.)

"Guess that's true, yeah," Harry reached for the next-nearest bottle, which smelled like Blaise's glass so it must be pretty good-

"Hey, dibs," Blaise protested, snatching it out of his hands. "Didn't you bring your own?"

Harry sat up. "Oh, I can drink my own? Thought it'd be rude." He reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the rare gin bottles he'd duplicated from Sir's liquor cabinet. Now this was the good stuff-

"Oh god, I thought he was kidding," Draco groaned in Pansy's direction, before flopping his head back to look at Harry. "Potter, how can you drink that swill? It's so- gin-"

"Hm?" Harry was fumbling in his pockets for the other ingredients to a Slytherin Fizz. (He'd been drinking them upstairs, okay, he didn't always carry booze around in his pockets, it was a special occasion-) "But 's tasty. Jus' cause you're featherweight-"

"What?" Draco started to sit up, before Pansy pushed him back into his chair with a lazy spell.

"Don't start bickering," she slurred, "we're listening to the story, Dray, c'mon..."

Harry added a little extra silver leaf on top of his Fizz and kicked his feet up on an ottoman, sipping it. "Ah, that's the stuff," he sighed happily. "Where was I.. oh, yeah, Patronus, whoop-de-doo, d'you know it's not even some special Light spell? It's only 'difficult' 'cause it leans heavy on the Will, everyone in fifth year learned it 'ventually."

"Show us show us," chanted Pansy, who was definitely less sober than she'd managed to seem so far.

Harry probably didn't really need to use his wand for the spell, but it had been ages since he needed to cast a Patronus, he didn't want to embarrass himself. In fact, hadn't the last time been before the summer?

He stared at the wand in his hand for a long minute while the others watched him.

.
..
...

"Um. I don't have any 'pure' thoughts right now," Harry admitted defeat. "Can I just get back to you on that?"

Blaise snorted so hard he started coughing; he wasn't the only one laughing.

"Look, it was Hermione who was the most suspicious in third year," Harry went on, louder, over the snickering; "she got a Time-Turner from McGonagall and only used it to take every elective-"

"I KNEW IT!" shrieked a triumphant Theo, finally dropping his empty vodka glass to shatter it in a million pieces across the floor. "AH, BLAST," he exclaimed, just as loudly, looking around for where he'd left his wand. (It was in his sleeve; Harry could see the end sticking out.)

"Reparo," Harry waved a hand at the mess, impatient to continue his monologue; it reformed into a glass, and he floated it onto the nearest end table, out of range of Theo's elbow. He was focused enough he didn't notice Blaise's flinch at the careless use of wandless magic.

"Now fourth year, that was a clusterfuck of epic proportions," Draco spoke over everyone else when he'd gotten his laughter under control. "Tell us about that, Harry, bet you've got tons of gossip."

"Right, so," Harry assembled his thoughts on the matter. "Tell me you all know Moody that year was actually Barty Crouch Junior?" They did. Good. "He entered my name on S- V- fuck it, on Sir's orders, there was this whole three-in-three-in-three ritual going on to get him a new body," Harry drew the overlapping triangles in the air with a fingertip, the symbol's red glow reflecting in his audience's wide eyes. "An' then me 'n Diggory in the middle of the maze, we grabbed the Portkey - the trophy, I mean, it was a Portkey - and got moved to a setting of magical significance-"

He faltered, because there were parts that needed to be skipped over, here; stuff that was a little too personal. "And, well, Cedric was killed, by Wormtail actually, hell, they probably have a claim on his corpse, but Amos Diggory is an entitled douchebag, ain't givin' him my trophy arm..."

"You won the arm?" Pansy cut in over Harry’s descent into muttering. "Merlin, did you rig the roulette somehow? I put three hundred Galleons into that lotto-"

Harry coughed into his hand. “Got you beat then at seven hundred," he admitted, sheepish. "Hit the 7 key once too many when I sent in the donation."

Although he very well might have rigged the roulette, as she said, if the explanation of soul magic Assistant had gotten still applied. Time, life, death, causality...

Anyway. They all paused for a moment to toast Cedric's memory, which made Harry feel a little better about being so callous over his death, but he'd had years to come to terms with it; the small part of him that took precedence when he was Assistant laughed that he didn't really give a damn.

"Then the ritual happened, or well, it finished," Harry amended, forgoing a second cocktail in favor of just drinking the gin neat. It was Assistant’s favorite. Sir had such good taste. "I got bloodletted for it!" He rolled up his sleeve to show them the scar; it glinted wickedly in the firelight, the notch at the end where Wormtail's knife had wavered vaguely reminiscent of the hook at the end of Sir's wand, if he stared at it long enough.

"Wicked," Draco breathed. The others voiced similar admiration.

"Zero out of ten at the time, did not recommend, I'd just been bit by an Acromantula earlier and was in shit shape, and then there was this whole duel thing after," Harry handwaved the details, "but in retrospect? Very cool."

It was. Assistant had finally come upon Sir's notes for the ritual in the library; with what he now knew of ritual magic, it was clear that Sir must have had to work on it for months before he could even start the preparations. No one had ever been in his situation before; the whole rite had been put together from scratch, painstakingly stabilized with extra runework and secondary rituals, and it had all hinged on Harry surviving the Tournament and being conscious enough by the end to try and fight the bloodletting, which he had only barely been - if he'd passed out from the Acromantula venom, or hell, just agreed to his part in the ritual, the whole thing would have fallen apart.

The near-impossibility of the arrangement, all the little details that had to be in place, astounded him; reminded him that Sir, too, was a practitioner of soul magic, and one far more studied and practiced in it than Harry had had the chance to be. Small wonder that he admired the Dark Lord for more than just his taste in gin (although this was really incredible gin)-

"..Potter? Hellooo," Blaise was waving a hand in his face. Harry startled out of his reverie. "You were gonna tell us about fifth year next, if you finished fourth," the other boy prompted.

Shit, he'd gotten off topic again. Harry conjured himself some water and pulled a box of biscuits from his other pocket to soak up the alcohol a bit. He wasn't ready to completely sober up, but it wouldn't do to underestimate Sir's gin.

"Right, erm, yeah," he nodded when he'd gotten through most of the biscuits. "Well, to finish off fourth, we all know Barty was Moody and that Barty's alive and well now." Good thing, too; he was great fun at Dark Headquarters. Assistant would've hated to have missed out on knowing him...

 

Pansy had stopped refilling her drink around the time Potter wandlessly fixed Theo’s glass, and she wasn’t the only one; nobody dared reach for more booze, not when it could mean missing any of the forbidden knowledge Potter was sharing in his drunken rambling, as carelessly as if it meant nothing at all.

(And maybe it didn’t. He’d started out being shocked at their ignorance, but wasn’t even asking if they hadn’t known these details, because of course they didn’t. The gleam in his eyes now was familiar to any Slytherin: ‘I have prime gossip and everyone will want to hear it’.)

“Fifth year… now that was a lotta Ministry nonsense,” Potter stretched out on his chair, refilling his glass with a swirl of his fingertip on the rim. (How in blazes?) “Polllliticssss…” he rolled his eyes and rolled the word. “Dray’s dad prolly knows how that went down, but I s’pose he keeps his mouth shut, eh?”

Draco nodded, exchanging a look with Pansy. "Yeah. Thought so. Whatever," Potter sighed. "Only time I even got within twenty feet of politics was the beginning of that year, when they called me to sit in front of the entire damn Wizengamot over an underage magic charge for saving my fat fuck of a cousin from a dementor. Didn't go back to that stupid building again 'til the whole prophecy debacle, but that's at the end of the year, we'll get to it in a minute," he waved a dismissive hand, heatless silver sparks falling from his fingertips like rain.

"So. Yeah. Good riddance t'Fudge, may he rest in pieces," Potter sipped his gin in a twisted sort of toast, "wish I'd been savvy enough to just buy him 'stead of arguing at that trial but 's not like anyone would tell me how that works, had t’realize it was an option by myself..."

Pansy exchanged another look, with Theo this time. The longer Potter talked, the more she got the impression Gryffindor's 'Golden Boy' wasn't as golden as they all thought-

Hold the fuck up.

'Pyrite', her brain supplied, and she choked on the water she'd just poured, stifling the coughing fit in her hand while Theo thumped her back. He calls himself fool's gold, that clever bitch-

He'd chosen that nickname and been using it and somehow none of them had ever picked up on the wordplay? They were supposed to be Slytherins! Merlin, it should've been obvious from the beginning, but Potter's over-the-top fanboying and reputation as the Simp of the Server had thoroughly distracted every single person in this room from the discrepancies between his attitude and his background. Were it not for this insane (inebriated) infodump, Pansy knew without a doubt that none of them would have ever even asked.

Harry Potter, the paragon of virtue, the hero of their age, the silly Gryffindor with more brawn than brains-

-versus Pyrite, the debauched fiend, the acteur, the sarcastic, self-satisfied archetype of a modern Slytherin-

Pansy's mind repeated her earlier observation, for emphasis. Gryffindor's golden boy was not as golden as they all thought.

Case in point: "-and ‘riddance to Umbridge regardless of who hired her, though, that was one vote I was really thrilled to win-"

"Wait, you were the winning execution method? 'Martyr'?" Draco blurted out, before his shock began to subside into a wide-eyed consideration that said he was coming to the same conclusion as Pansy just had: "You know what that's a really obvious nickname I shouldn't have been so surprised-"

Because Potter wasn't subtle. But somehow, fantastically, he didn't have to be - like some magic worked in his favor to turn people away from obvious conclusions. Did that even exist? Pansy couldn’t recall any such thing off the top of her head, but it seemed familiar...

"I might have gotten a bit too enthusiastic about her death," Harry grinned, flushing again in spots that the liquor hadn't already pinked. "I really did tell her so, though, didn't I?" A laugh, a sip of his drink. "Got the lines framed in my room at Sirius' place. Everyone says the room is cursed now."

"Hardcore," Theo supplied, not disapproving.

"Pretty fucking brutal, yeah," Blaise nodded along. (And if Pansy squinted she was sure that his hands were shaking a little, his eyes a little too wide, his posture a little too tight, the tells of his unease-)

"But what the hell was that whole thing at the end of fifth year, then?" Draco demanded, smoke steaming from his nose and mouth. (He'd only just Vanished the contents of the pipe he'd been smoking - behind a Freshening Charm so they didn't have to smell the stuff.) "Father refused to tell me about it."

"Hm, ‘course he did. Well.." Potter paused, staring at the back of his right hand, for a moment; frowned slightly, as though confused; then seemed to mentally shrug and move on. "Sorry, got distracted for a second - this gin's really good, y'guys sure you don't want some?"

Everyone shook their heads.

"Right then, let me sober up a little at least or this part won't make as much sense." He reached into his sleeve and withdrew a tiny phial that made Draco's eyebrows jump into his hairline for a second before he controlled his expression. (Pansy would be asking him about that later. If she remembered.) The smell of vanilla reached her in the half-second before Potter downed it like a shot, then chased it with more of the gin he was drinking.

"Ah, that’s the stuff.. where was I..." Potter - or should Pansy start calling him Harry at this point? - smacked his lips, took another swig of gin, and beamed at them. "Oh yeah! End of fifth year, that was a pitched battle in the Department of Mysteries to get the record of the prophecy between the Dark Lord and I-"

"The one that's now been unravelled?" Theo cut in-

"Yup, that one! Now, Sir couldn't get into Mysteries himself for plot reasons," Harry’s face split in a silly grin, "so he sent me some more of the visions I'd been getting since like fourth year to trick me into going instead, and sent some of his Death Eaters to get it from me once I'd bypassed the wards on the shelves that prevent other people from taking prophecies that aren't about them."

He uncrossed and recrossed his legs, swirling his glass of gin. "A fight broke out, of course, when I realized it was a ruse, and, heh, they should really have secured those shelves better, 'cause we pretty much broke the whole room-"

"'We'?" Draco asked.

"The DA, Drayy~co, do keep up," Harry singsonged. Then he beamed at them all again. "We were the secret club Umbridge was trying to uncover all year! I was teaching Defense practicals since that bitch wouldn't. The livestream clubroom upstairs used to be the DA room."

Pansy.. remembered those rumors, actually, now that she thought of it. Hell, she'd helped track down suspected members when that Ravenclaw girl broke the news to Umbridge; and later, when they'd rounded up a bunch of Harry's Gryffindor friends, she'd helped with that-

"Wait, was that that night?" she blurted out.

Harry nodded.

"How the hell did you get to London in the middle of the night?"

"Thestrals, obviously.” Harry answered, like that was in any way normal, before using that as a springboard to tell the rest of the story. "It doesn't even matter, the point is..."

And honestly? Pansy didn't even have to account for the Heir of Slytherin thing he'd mentioned earlier; she was coming to a lot of conclusions, the longer Harry went on recounting his tale of adventure, tragedy, and drama. It could have been taken wholesale from a work of fiction - the story was fascinating, even clearly abridged as it was.

“-Bellatrix tried to kill Sirius by pushing him through the Veil, and I went apeshit, basically, and chased her to the Atrium where we almost had a duel but I wasn’t even close to her level yet - am now, though-”

(What?)

"-which is when I tried the Cruciatus for the first time but it only sort of worked, which was too bad, I’d been looking forward to it-”

(What?)

"-and then Sir appeared and so did Dumbles and Sir briefly possessed me and dared the old goat to murder me right there if he wanted to stop me-” he coughed, “-stop him, rather - and I finally figured out the Occlumency I'd been studying all year and pushed him out of my head! Then they had a pretty wicked Transfiguration duel between the two of them in the Atrium," Harry stared wistfully into the fire, reminiscing. “Until some civilians showed up, at least. Obviously that was when the news broke to the rest of the world that, you know, Voldemort was alive. Not a lunatic after all then, was I?” He giggled.

There's a lot to unpack here, thought Pansy faintly in the following silence, so let's just throw out the whole suitcase.

 

Little did the students by the fire realize the error in their choice of meetingplace for this subject matter.

They could not be expected to know, unless you asked Mad-Eye Moody (who expected everyone to meet his standards of paranoia) - but privacy wards, and the lateness of the hour, were not nearly enough to keep them from being overheard here, the way they were elsewhere. For the Slytherin common room, and its adjacent halls and corridors, were all encased within a net of surveillance wards and artifacts the likes of which were normally only seen in ancient family estates-

And all of these fed into the scrying-mirrors and listening-instruments of the Head of House, Severus Snape, who could and did check in on his students throughout the night.

So it would be no surprise that Severus had, upon listening to some of Harry's rambling, recognized from his observations the mannerisms of a different wizard: an equally-rambling, alcoholic, too-savvy Dark wizard with whom he was regrettably acquainted-

-or two, rather-

-and, knowing that Potter wasn't being possessed thanks to a very specific ward in the array, would come to the other obvious conclusion, quite in line with that of his seventh-years, just a little more informed.

In other words, he would absolutely recognize Assistant.

But - as time, and fate, and circumstance would have it yet again - Severus Snape was not in his office tonight to monitor the dungeons.

Where on any other night, after finishing his late-night patrol of the castle, the now-Defense Professor would be settled in his office chair in nightrobes and those fuzzy Gryffindor themed slippers Minerva had bought him last Christmas, self-inking red quill in one hand and mug of brandy-with-tea in the other...

...it just so happened that this was a night he was not in the castle at all.

Rather: he'd expertly thrashed Filius, Minerva, Pomona, and Madam Hooch in poker on Sunday, winning a week's freedom from the night shift. On Monday, he'd spent that free time tearing through a backlog of paperwork; and today, the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, he skipped dinner in the Great Hall to luxuriate in a hot bath, before pushing aside his teaching robes and pyjamas in favor of a different outfit hidden in the very back of his wardrobe, still wrapped from when it had been delivered from the tailor's.

Granted, not too different: it was still black, after all. But there was nothing dramatic and flowy about this outfit; nothing plain and utilitarian in the lavish satiny shine of the shirt, cut just-so to flatter shoulders and arms toned from intensive potions work, with glinting onyx buttons that fastened only so far to leave his collarbones bare for the gossamer-thin silver chain that lay across them. This shirt he tucked into the high, trim waist of neat-pressed trousers, cinched tighter by a broad dragonhide belt as was the current fashion (and of a convenient size to hold his utility kit in enchanted pockets), which only exaggerated how the trousers tightened appealingly across his backside when he bent to lace polished brogues over fine silk socks patterned with curling silver poison-ivy vines.

And there was nothing concealing, nothing armored, about it: in the mirror, tying lengthened hair back with a ribbon at the nape of his neck, Severus looked bare. He could never appear like this in public.

But, as was rather the point, he was not going to be in public.

And since he wasn’t, Severus carefully, relishingly, rolled up each shirtsleeve to the elbow, where a strip of fabric fastened it in place on one more button. This final touch revealed, on one arm, numerous scars from ritual bloodletting; and on the other, as vivid black against his sunless skin as the clothes he wore, the sinister coiling shape of the Dark Mark.

Severus looked at his reflection now, and smiled.

And then he strode through the Floo to Spinner’s End, from whence to Apparate.

The Death Eaters were gathering, and never more would he be one to miss the call.