"If you ask me, Crouch is vastink his time. All of zhese months spent hidink and plannink, and for what? Ve vill deal vith ze boy in August and zhat vill be ze end of it!"
"But nobody did ask you, Dmitri," Lord Voldemort said softly. Impatience crept into his tone. "And we have discussed this before, at length; I am not expecting either of you-" He turned to Wormtail, who was wringing his hands against the wall. If he had the ability, Lord Voldemort imagined he'd have melted into it to hide by now. As it was, he was surely having a hard time resisting the urge to transform and scurry away. "-to have any luck with the boy in August-"
"You doubt us?" Polkov demanded, eyes flashing.
"I doubt the boy will be allowed to attend," Lord Voldemort corrected.
"It's Quidditch" Wormtail said. "He'll be there."
"Then he'll be one amongst thousands, and well protected."
"Ve can handle his protectors."
"Then by all means, bring him to me. But Wormtail can attest to the fact that, even without protectors, Harry Potter is not entirely defenseless." Wormtail shook his sleeve down to cover the ruin of his hand as best he could.
"Vormtail is veak-"
"Wormtail remains the only one of the pair of you to have succeeded at anything in the past year, Dmitri." Lord Voldemort stroked the sleek fabric of his invisibility cloak.
Polkov's cheeks darkened at the reminder of his failure with Potter's muggle aunt, but he lifted his chin:
"I vill remind you zhat I haff gathered everythink you vill need to be reborn, and I haff kept you aliffe for months. If I had failed at zhat, ve vould not be haffink this conversation-" Lord Voldemort flung his Legillimency like a spear, sharp and heavy at Polkov's mind. For a moment his Occlumency held, but then it shattered and Polkov let out a groan and sank to his knees.
"And I will remind you, Dmitri," Lord Voldemort said coldly, "that it is only my mercy which has kept you alive these past few months. As you've pointed out, everything is already gathered, and now that Wormtail has returned he can take over your daily duties. If you wish to continue to live, I suggest you continue to make yourself useful." He twisted his spear of Legillimency as he withdrew it. Blood trickled from Polkov's nose.
"You promised I vould be rewarded for my aid," Polkov said, but his eyes were averted and his voice was small, humble. It helped that he was still on his knees, as well.
"And you shall be... provided you do not provoke me into disposing of you before then."
"My Lord. I vill… do better," Polkov said. Lord Voldemort sensed the words had cost him, and revelled in it.
"We shall see," he said.
"Guess who one of the Beauxbatons student chaperones is," Remus said, waving a letter at Sirius as he came down the stairs.
"You're joking," Sirius said. "Moony-" Then he shook his head. "How? We only found out yesterday-"
"I work quickly," Remus said shrugging. "And this way, Madam Maxime gets to keep me on; I can't Floo to France but I can Floo to Hogwarts, I know the students, she knows I can teach, an extra teacher can stay at Beauxbatons now, and I speak fluent English."
"And she hired you again, just like that?"
"This is the woman that hired me with a day's notice when I first took the job," Remus said, amused. "And, as I've just pointed out to you, I was the perfect candidate for this."
"And- the baby? The whole point of you and Dora moving back here this year was so that you can have your kid..."
"The baby's not due for another few months," Remus said. "And even then, it's our kid-" He jerked his head at the stairs. "-I'm worried about." He was smiling, but it was a grim sort of smile. "Have you told him yet?"
"Not yet," Sirius said.
"Sirius," Remus said, frowning.
"I'm not keeping it from him," Sirius said. He'd learned that lesson the hard way. Remus pursed his lips. "He's been at the Burrow," Sirius said, "and Kreacher sent him straight upstairs to shower when he got back. I honestly haven't seen him. I was going to tell him tonight."
"Oh. Good." Remus seemed mollified.
Last night, Marlene had finally confessed what it was that she and a number of other Aurors had been working on for the past few months. She was right that he'd never have been able to guess it, but Sirius had still been furious; not only was the Triwizard Tournament brilliant - he and James had sent around a petition in their fifth year to try to get it brought back - and she'd kept it from him, but - and, more importantly - Harry'd heard Karkaroff's name mentioned in a dream about Voldemort last year and it seemed likely the Tournament was the reason.
He was an old Death Eater whose name Sirius had heard thrown around a lot in Azkaban - he'd given the Ministry names to avoid prison himself - and, after Harry's dream, Sirius had looked him up. Karkaroff was the Headmaster of Durmstrang, and, given that, Sirius had pushed him to the bottom of the list of things to worry about; Peter and his schemes to get the cloak had been more important, and Karkaroff hadn't been mentioned again, so Sirius had forgotten about him.
At least until he heard that Durmstrang would be competing in the tournament.
He'd gone right to Dumbledore, of course, only to find out Dumbledore had understood the implications as soon as he spoke to Harry the morning after that dream, and had been handling things since; he'd pushed for the Tournament to be held at Hogwarts - if it was elsewhere, Dumbledore would have had to leave the school to travel to Beauxbatons or Dumstrang. The alternative, unfortunately, was that Hogwarts would be overrun with strangers, any of whom could be working with Voldemort, but, at least Dumbledore would be around. Remus - who had been the first person Sirius went to after Marlene's confession - had in turn gone right to Madam Maxime and found himself a way to Hogwarts as well.
"What's that face for?" Remus asked.
"Trying to work out how to get Dumbledore to let me live at Hogwarts this year," Sirius muttered, and was only half-joking.
"See if they'll change the pet policy," Remus suggested. "They allow rats, and I'm fairly certain at least a few of the Slytherins have snakes." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'm not sure I like your chances, though."
"They're better than my chances of convincing Harry to let me homeschool him."
"True," Remus said, with a faint smile. "Though you might have more luck if you extended the invitation to Hermione, Ron and Draco."
"That's not a bad idea," Sirius said.
"I was joking."
"I'm serious." Sirius did his best to resist the urge to waggle his eyebrows, but ultimately couldn't. "Get it?"
"You're terrible," Remus said, snorting. "And-"
A floorboard upstairs creaked and they both turned to look in the direction of the stairs. The house was silent.
"Harry." Nothing. Sirius didn't buy it for even a moment; he'd lived with Harry for long enough to know better. "Kreacher." Kreacher popped into being by the table, and gave Sirius a shallow bow. Sirius gestured for him to come closer and whispered, "Can you find Harry for me, please?" Kreacher vanished, and then Sirius heard a pop upstairs and a startled yelp.
"Master Sirius, the brat is being up here in the hallway," Kreacher called, trailing behind Harry as he came into view and started down the stairs. Harry had the grace to look sheepish, at least. Sirius exchanged a look with Remus, then gestured for Harry to take a seat.
"What did you hear?" Sirius asked, not sure whether to be amused or exasperated.
"You want to homeschool me." Harry did not look impressed.
"I said I didn't think there was a good chance of convincing you to let me homeschool you," Sirius corrected. A smile tugged at the corner of Harry's mouth.
"There isn't." He glanced between them, and Sirius knew he was taking in the scent of the room, because his smile faded. "What's going on?"
"Remember last year you dreamed about someone called Karkaroff?"
"Yes," Harry said uncertainly. "Why?"
"You're about to start hearing a lot more about him."
Narcissa knocked twice on the dark wood of Lucius' study's door and then pushed it open.
"In," she said, turning to Draco. They were almost of a height these days, and Hydrus had already overtaken her. Draco strode past, acknowledging Lucius with a slight nod but little else, and sat in the chair before the desk without waiting for an invitation.
Narcissa stepped into the office as well, pulling the door closed behind her. That seemed to unsettle Draco, who glanced warily between her and Lucius. She ignored the look and went to stand behind her husband's chair, letting him know with a light hand on his shoulder that she was ready.
"Draco," Lucius said, "we need to talk."
"I'd gathered," Draco replied, looking pointedly around the office. Lucius' shoulder stiffened beneath Narcissa's hand.
"Draco," she said. She kept her voice soft, but knew he heard the reprimand in it. "Lucius."
"This… will not be an easy conversation," Lucius said hesitantly. "There- we will discuss things today that you may not want to hear, but I ask that you listen until you are dismissed. These are important matters."
"Where's Hydrus, then?"
"Hydrus would not benefit from this conversation the same way that you will," Lucius said.
"Ah," Draco said curtly. "So is it my House you want to discuss, or my choice of friends?"
Lucius was silent, and Narcissa didn't need to see her husband's face to know he was flummoxed by the question. She squeezed his shoulder gently.
"Both," he said after a moment, and it almost sounded like a question. Draco rolled his eyes and stood.
"Good day, Father. Mother-"
"Sit, Draco," Narcissa said. "Please." He didn't sit, but he didn't move to leave, either. Lucius' hand came to rest on the one she had resting on his shoulder; a cue to take over. She squeezed his shoulder again. "The Dark Lord has made contact with your father." Lucius stiffened and half-turned to glare at her before he seemed to catch himself. Draco looked startled for a moment, then regained control. He looked at Lucius, and then to Narcissa, and then silently lowered himself into his chair. Narcissa couldn't even guess at what he might be thinking. "He's regaining his strength, Draco, and beginning to reach out to those that served him all those years ago."
"He'll have a body again within the year," Lucius said, "and then he intends to move against Dumbledore."
"Potter will not fare well in what is to come," Lucius said. Narcissa squeezed his shoulder again, chiding this time; he had not said it gently. Not that that seemed to matter to Draco; his expression had not changed since he sat down. She wondered if that was a giveaway in and of itself.
Silence hung over the office, and Narcissa was grateful Lucius had the sense to let it stay silent; Draco's face was still a mask, but Narcissa knew he must be thinking and he deserved a moment to do so.
"Is this a warning?" Draco asked eventually. His eyes flickered but Narcissa couldn't read whatever it was that was in them.
"Of sorts," Lucius said, sounding faintly surprised; Narcissa knew he had not thought Draco would take it well when Potter was mentioned, and she'd agreed. "Draco, since your Sorting we have indulged you-"
"Indulged?" Draco said the word slowly, as if tasting it. His tone had no edge, and his expression was polite but Narcissa felt his scorn all the same.
"Yes," Lucius snapped; he'd clearly sensed it too. "I will not pretend the last three years have been easy. Nor will I pretend that I have ever been anything but disappointed with the Hat's decision. But, we have allowed you to remain at Hogwarts. We could have pulled you out the moment the Hat declared you a Gryffindor and sent you off to Durmstrang." Draco said nothing. "Instead, we have indulged you. The Dark Lord will not."
"The Dark Lord's followers are far from exclusively Slytherin," Draco said quietly. "Wormtail was a Gryffindor, Crouch-"
"It is not your Sorting he will not tolerate, Draco, but your attitudes and the company you keep. The Dark Lord has little patience for bloodtraitors like the Weasleys, or mudbloods like Granger, or halfbreeds like that oaf of a gamekeeper. And let's not even start on Potter…" Lucius shook his head, almost despairingly. "My point, Draco, is that we are trying to protect you. I would not see you meet the same fate as those whose company you keep, nor - if your association with them is born of genuine fondness, and not some pre-teenaged rebellion - have you surprised or saddened by what is to come."
"War." It wasn't a question.
"It was last time," Lucius said. Draco nodded. "Your mother and I have had a number of difficult conversations of late, discussing your options."
Hydrus would get no choice in the matter of his allegiance; he would serve as Lucius did, because he had been raised to think as Lucius did. Draco, though, would have a choice; Narcissa and Severus had made it so. The skills Severus had taught Draco at Narcissa's instruction would allow him to serve the Dark Lord as a spy, or oppose him from Potter's side, and - she hoped - survive whichever of the two he chose.
"What are they? My options."
"The Dark Lord could make great use of your place in Gryffindor and your apparent companionship with Potter, the same way he has used Severus to gather information about Dumbledore in the past."
"He'd ask me to become a spy," Draco said.
"Yes," Narcissa murmured.
"I- I'm not sure I could," Draco said. His expression was still under his careful control, but his eyes were those of a child.
"Then you will not," Narcissa said. "If you are to enter the Dark Lord's service, you will enter it whole-heartedly. Anything less and you will only put yourself at risk."
She'd worried after his first year that he'd decided too soon and thrown his lot in with Potter, but watching him now, she wasn't so sure:
It was possible his loyalty to Potter had sprung from feeling alienated by Lucius and Hydrus, and that this discussion - this honest, terrifying discussion - would give him a chance to reconnect with them. Hydrus had struggled - still struggled - with the fact that he'd lost his brother to the Sorting Hat, and she was sure Draco did too. And then there was Severus' influence to consider, Severus, who was one of the Dark Lord's most loyal followers, Severus, who knew the value of his skills too much to let them fall into Dumbledore's hands through Draco, Severus who'd never known Narcissa intended for Draco to have the second option with Potter and Dumbledore.
As if that were not complicated enough, Narcissa had come up with a third option, only recently. She knew it was one born of doubt, of fear; Severus had long ago stopped keeping her informed about Draco's progress in his 'lessons' - they might have ended and she'd be none the wiser. She'd thought they'd have more time, that by the time the time came for Draco to make his choice, she would have no doubts about whether he was ready to make it. But he was barely fourteen and she had been drowning in doubts since the Dark Lord spoke with Lucius about August.
"Your other option is Durmstrang," she said.
"You'd send me away?"
"If you decided that was best," Narcissa said. Draco looked at Lucius, vaguely disbelieving.
"If I'd had my way, you and Hydrus would have gone there and not to Hogwarts," Lucius said, giving Narcissa a mild look; she, after all, was the one who'd been adamantly against it. And yet, she was the one that had suggested it this time. Poor Lucius hadn't known what to make of it. "But yes. The move would be a way to cut any ties you have in Gryffindor before the Dark Lord could seek to use them. And if you have… doubts-" He said the word as if it were distasteful. "-about the Dark Lord, then the move would allow you to... have them, whilst ensuring you could not put us all at risk if you got carried away with Potter's lot."
Draco was struggling to keep a straight face now, but his expression was a mixture of so many different things Narcissa couldn't read it anyway.
"I imagine you're feeling rather overwhelmed," she said.
"A bit," Draco said. "Did you have more to discuss, or is that all of it?"
"Nothing more from me," Lucius said. Narcissa shook her head.
"In that case, may I be excused?" Draco stood without waiting for an answer, but waited for Lucius' gesture before he moved toward the door. It closed silently behind him.
Lucius' hand found Narcissa's, wrapped around it, and held it tight. Narcissa squeezed back with all her strength.
"You're here," Draco said, almost uncertainly.
"Your owl asked me to be," Severus said, hanging his travelling cloak on the back of his chair. He turned to arch an eyebrow at his godson, who was still standing before the fireplace, sooty, and looking lost. Severus lowered himself into his chair, and gestured to the one across from it. "What did you wish to discuss?"
"Why didn't you tell me the Dark Lord's been reaching out to his old followers?" Severus stared at him. He'd been expecting a complaint about Lucius, or- well, almost anything but that. "Father expects he'll have a body within the year."
"This is the first I've heard of it," Severus said,
"You've not been contacted?" Severus jerked his head.
"I presume your father has been?" Draco nodded, looking uncomfortable. "Perhaps the Dark Lord doubts my loyalty." It was not unexpected; after leaving Severus maimed and with altered memories after his attempts to steal the Stone, the Dark Lord would be a fool not to wonder if Severus had forsaken him. Even had that not happened, such a long time spent under Dumbledore's protection would have left him with doubts.
The issue now, was how Severus was going to convince the Dark those doubts were unfounded, that he was still loyal, still willing to serve.
"And since when does Lucius speak of the Dark Lord's plans with you?"
"Since now, apparently," Draco said. "Whatever issues he's had with me these past few years are clearly insignificant compared with the Dark Lord's return."
"And do you feel the same?
"I certainly think if there's a war coming there are more important things to dwell on than the colours of my school uniform." Draco lifted his chin. "I'm to become a spy like you, or go to Dumstrang." Oddly, it was the second part of that that caused Severus' heart to clench; he was far more comfortable with the idea of Draco as a spy, than he was with the idea of him so far away.
"These were the options presented to you by your mother and father?"
"Yes," Draco said. He was giving Severus precious little to work with.
"And have you given much thought as to which option you prefer?"
"No." Severus took a deep breath and prayed for patience, or at least, for the self-control to not shake his godson until he was more forthright. "I knew without much thought at all that I wouldn't be going to Dumstrang."
"Spy, then, by the process of elimination." There was the dread Severus had expected to feel earlier, late, but no weaker for having been so. And for the first time that Severus could remember, he felt a vague distrust as well. He was being ridiculous, of course. Other than Dumbledore and - oddly enough - Black, Severus was at his least guarded around Draco. He had let him into his mind, had shared with him views that the Dark Lord would think treasonous, had let him see sides of Severus that few other people got to see. Severus cared deeply for the boy. But, he had not survived the war by ignoring his instincts, and so when the distrust crept in, he let it stay, considered it.
"I confess, Draco, I am surprised to see you taking your father's suggestions on board so… readily. I have come to expect-" Better. "-more resistance from you, wherever Lucius is involved."
"My father is not my enemy," Draco said quietly.
"You have not always believed that," Severus said, thinking of the furious boy he'd comforted after Granger's petrification, and of the vengeful one he'd sat with after Draco had woken up from his own petrification.
"No," Draco said, and Severus suspected he was thinking the same, "but I do now." Severus believed him. It was unnerving. The strand of distrust formed a small knot his his chest, beside his heart.
"Your father seems to have made quite an impression on you," Severus said.
Choose your words carefully. You never know who they might be repeated to, or who might be listening in, or who might pull the conversation out of your mind - or his - at a later date. The old ways of thinking came back quickly.
"He wants what's best for me, I think," Draco said. "He just hasn't always shown it in the right ways."
"And what's best for you is for you to become a spy?" Severus watched his godson's expression, watched it remain unchanged, and sighed. "It is not an easy life, Draco."
"I suppose you'd know." Draco's tone was resigned, not provocative.
"Intimately," Severus said. "And it is most certainly not a path to take unless you are prepared to commit to it."
"Mother said something similar."
"She is correct. Wanting to please your father-" The idea of Draco wanting to please Lucius was absurd, yet here they were. "-or avoid schooling at Durmstrang might seem sufficient now, but I assure you, it will not sustain you."
"What sustains you?" Draco asked. Severus gave him a sharp look to let him know he'd crossed a line. Severus was so unnerved, so unprepared for this conversation that the look probably lacked the edge it ought to have had, but Draco had the grace to shrink a little anyway. "I- you did it in the war, but even when everyone thought the Dark Lord was gone you stayed near Dumbledore. You're still here now. Why?"
"I never believed the Dark Lord was gone," Severus said, picking his words with more care than he'd had to in years. "I knew, eventually, he would return and that I would need to be ready when he did. Dumbledore trusts me now, and that means I have access to information that no other Death Eater does. I intend to offer that information to the Dark Lord, to make myself valuable to him, to become one of his most favoured." It was the truth, too; the closer Severus could place himself to the Dark Lord, the better positioned he would be to feed information back to Dumbledore.
"So wanting to please my father isn't good enough, but wanting to please the Dark Lord is?"
"Do not pretend you wish to spy to please the Dark Lord, Draco," Severus said. "You've yet to meet him. Any loyalty you feel toward him is second-hand, impressed upon you by your father or-" Severus took great care not to hesitate. "-myself-"
"But I know what he stands for," Draco said. "And I know what the world that he hopes to create looks like."
And you would find it an ugly, intolerable world, Severus thought. Draco had to know that. So was he lying? Severus didn't think he was, and why would he lie to Severus anyway?
"That's more than enough of an incentive, I think," Draco continued, "at least to start with. And once I do meet the Dark Lord… if he's like everyone says, then I expect sustaining my choice will be easy." His expression was set. He'd decided, Severus realised. Whatever the purpose of this meeting was, it wasn't because Draco wanted approval or guidance. "I've- the idea of being a spy is still fairly new to me, I'll admit that much. But I've been thinking about things, about the possibility of a war when the Dark Lord returns for a while now, and wondering where my place will be in it if there is one. Now I know."
No, Severus wanted to say. What about the scar on your palm, and all of the other things I've taught you? What about your friends? He wanted to shake his godson until he saw sense, or sit him down and talk to him until he changed his mind. But the distrust warned him not to, warned him that Draco might tell Lucius or Narcissa, or might have his thoughts examined by the Dark Lord. He was disgusted with himself for thinking such things, but held his true thoughts in all the same.
"And here we all were fearing your Sorting would hold you back and stop you from finding your place at the Dark Lord's side," Severus said instead, and hated himself for it.
"Because of Potter?" Draco asked.
"He's hardly known for his love of the Dark Lord," Severus said, arching an eyebrow to remind Draco of that fact. "Surely in three years of his company, you've realised as much." Draco rolled his eyes, but there was no guilt in them, no hesitation in his expression. "He'll hate you for this, you realise," Severus continued, unable to help himself. "Look at Black and Pettigrew."
"Oh, Potter would agonise over it if he knew," Draco agreed, with a rather twisted smile. "But I don't intend for him to ever find out, so I don't imagine it'll be an issue." His expression spasmed. "And don't compare me to Wormtail." Severus' own mouth twitched at that, before he could help himself, and Draco's did as well. Then, the rest of what Draco had said slowly sank in and Severus' smile soured. He didn't feel like he'd ever smile again.
Draco's smile vanished too.
"Have I done something wrong?" Draco asked, sounding uncertain for the first time. "You seem… displeased."
Do I? Severus wanted to snarl.
"It's merely a lot to take in," Severus said instead, keeping his voice smooth. "Unexpected, but-" Severus was going to have to lie. "-certainly not unwelcome." He watched Draco's face for any sign that he'd noticed, but he didn't seem to have. Severus didn't know whether to despair or feel smug. When Draco smiled, Severus decided not to feel either of those things, and felt anger start to boil in his chest. "Now," he said, voice more curt than he'd hoped, "if you'll excuse me…"
"Do you have to go?" Draco was visibly disappointed, and Severus felt warmed by that, then shoved the feeling away.
"Yes," Severus said.
"I'd really hoped to talk a bit longer…" Draco gave him a hopeful look. "Not about this, but about-"
"That won't be possible today," Severus said stiffly.
"Oh," Draco said. He looked confused, but not upset, and helped himself to Floo powder. He tossed it into the fireplace. "Can I come and see you again this week?"
"Perhaps, but I'm quite busy," Severus said.
"Oh," Draco said again. "Well… good bye, then, sir. Malfoy Manor." The fire gathered him up and he vanished.
"Good bye, Draco," Severus said to his empty office, the words catching in his throat a little. Then, he doused the fire with a vicious Aguamenti, and kicked the nearest wall so hard he splintered the end of his wooden foot.
Just a short notice from me letting you know I will be taking a short break between this chapter and the next one because I have a lot coming up in the next few weeks; I intend to publish chapter 2 (unnamed as of yet) on the 15th of May. After that, I will be able to get back to fortnightly updates. :)