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Chapter Three—The First Taste of Joy

"I grant you indulgences, Severus, but I cannot tolerate failure."

Lucius watched with distant amusement as Severus Snape bowed his head in front of him. There had been a time when the man had thought himself as good as any pureblood. And he did have power, enough to be an asset.

But he had nothing else—no bloodlines, or wealth, or beauty—and he had been devoted to that Mudblood who had married Potter. Lucius had briefly thought that Severus might try to get "revenge" on the people who had killed her in the Sacred Hunt, but then Black and Lupin had slaughtered them, taking Severus's vengeance away from him. He had said, when Lucius had asked him, that his focus had now switched to Lupin and Black, that he hated them for completing the slaughter that should have been his. And Lucius, a powerful Legilimens, had detected no lies.

As if I would have allowed a half-blood to kill purebloods. But it was useful to let Severus believe the fiction.

And it made it natural to put Severus to work on the potion that would eventually poison werewolves through the air that breathed. That he had not succeeded was of no importance. It kept a leash on a potentially dangerous man and let Lucius attend to other matters.

"I will try to do better, sir," Severus murmured.

"See that you do." Lucius sat back and stretched a little. The Minister's position suited him just fine, but the chair was confining at moments. He had kept it, however, because it was an important continuity link between the past and the present, as the magical world adjusted to purebloods' dominion. "Dismissed for the day. Return to Hogwarts and prepare for the upcoming school year. Draco will be attending this year, you know, and I expect him to be under your special protection."

"Of course." Severus smiled. Well, Lucius found it difficult not to smile at the thought of his son, too. "Thank you, sir." He turned and left without another word.

At least Severus is efficient. Lucius wished he could say that for half of the purebloods who surrounded him.

Then again, purebloods were not meant to be servitors. The Ministry was still working to achieve the delicate balance needed between allowing some half-bloods into the magical world, as well as those whose status was more ambiguous, like the children of half-bloods and Mudbloods, or those who didn't have the good sense to hide their creature lineage, and the need to keep them in their place.

Truly, Lucius didn't expect to see the end of that work, unless his idle preparations for immortality worked out. Perhaps in his son's lifetime.

He left his office and moved down the corridor, acknowledging the nods, bows, and kneeling of those he passed, according to their blood status. Useful customs, bowing and kneeling. They signaled everyone's awareness of proper subservience while also preserving useful lives so that Lucius did not have to duel or execute someone on the spot.

Good thing, that. Lucius found dueling dreadfully boring. He always knew the outcome.

When he reached the private lift that would take him directly to the Department of Mysteries, he then had to wait while the Aurors inspected it. Lucius held back his yawn without difficulty. Yes, it bored him, but there had been an assassination attempt last week, and that always made the poor dears so anxious.

As he got into the lift, Lucius remembered something else, and glanced to the left. Yes, the blood left from the assassin's decapitation had been cleaned.

When he arrived in the Department of Mysteries, Lachesis Burke, Head Unspeakable, was waiting for him. She was a calm, tall woman with eyes that flickered and turned slowly through many colors, a side-effect of an enchantment gone wrong that she'd been caught in a decade ago. Since the other side-effects of that blast were extraordinarily useful, Lucius had refused all the calls to have her dismissed.

"Minister," she said, with a deep nod.

"Burke." Lucius fell in step beside her as they proceeded down the sleek black corridor into the Department of Mysteries. "You haven't found the Potter child, then."

"No, sir. I'm sorry."

Burke spoke the words without any variation in her breathing or tone, as usual, but that was part of the price he paid to have as complete control of her as he did. Lucius shrugged. "You will keep searching."

"Yes, sir."

The corridor bent sharply in front of them and then deposited them into a large, circular space fringed with blue instead of black stone, the way the rest of the Department of Mysteries was. Lucius considered the large hovering black artifact in front of him. It was egg-shaped, but the skin, if one touched it, was cool, and the leathery texture of a dragon's egg instead of a bird's. And so far, the Department of Mysteries had not figured out how to open it.

"A demonstration, Burke?"

"Yes, sir." Burke stepped away to the side and spoke softly to one of the hooded Unspeakables waiting for them, who nodded and departed the room. Lucius passed the time until the return of the man and the resumption of the demonstration by considering the swirl of silver power holding the device up. That swirl traveled with the artifact when it was moved. Nothing they had found could disrupt it, just as nothing could damage the skin of the egg.

They need not be able to understand it completely, however, to use it.

The Unspeakable came back into the room with the Muggle prisoner a few minutes later. The blank eyes and the steady walk spoke of the Imperius Curse. Lucius nodded, and the Unspeakable pointed their wand and spoke a Finite.

The man's calm dissolved immediately, and he began to scream. Burke turned and floated him into position next to the egg.

Lucius, as always when he was this close to a Muggle, studied the prisoner's ragged beard and the heaviness of the jaw, and nodded. Yes, once one began to look for it, the signs were undeniable. These creatures were not even the same species as wizards. Less refined. Closer to the ape.

His researchers were still working to crack the secret of Mudbloods. Did they steal magic in the womb from pureblood children, who were then born as Squibs? Did their parents perform some sort of ritual accidentally? Did the shared common ancestor that purebloods and Muggles must have had millions of years in the past occasionally manifest in a throwback?

They were serious academic questions, and Lucius did hope that he lived to see them resolved.

The Unspeakable who had brought the prisoner stepped back out of the way, and Burke cast a simple Blasting Curse at the egg.

The swirl of silver power beneath it darkened, and the darkness coursed up into the egg, although the egg's skin was so black that the disturbance was visible only as a ripple traveling across a still pond would be. Then the egg sparkled, crackled, and snapped a silent, invisible charge of power at the floating, screaming Muggle.

The Unspeakables didn't need to step back because they were already in position for the sprayed blood to miss them. Lucius wiped a drop of it off his cheek and sighed with annoyance.

"I'm sorry, sir."

Lucius shook his head. "It's my fault, Madam Burke. I should have stood further back." He studied the charred body of the Muggle, now only a collection of blackened bones that might have excited no notice if they were found next to a campfire. No, again the egg had been too quick. He had missed the moment when the floating essence of the Muggle, the distilled dirt that distinguished them from purebloods and other humans, had been removed from the body.

"Continue your experiments," he told Burke. "The egg will be useful if we can but harness its power more reliably."

"Yes, sir."

She accompanied him back to the lift, and Lucius traveled up by himself, silently pondering as he went. The disappearance of the Potter child from his Muggle relatives' home didn't greatly concern him, but it was annoying. If someone had taken the boy to harvest him, then Lucius should have been told. If he had wandered away, he should have been easily found.

Lucius suspected magic was involved, but there were few purebloods who would act against his orders, and no half-bloods powerful enough—either magically or socially—to do so. And Mudbloods didn't even muster a resistance. They were taught the absolute basics they needed to be, at either Hogwarts or the so-called Fortius Academy, and then expelled back into the Muggle world.

Lucius sighed. It was probably a sign that Remus Lupin had returned to Britain, and that meant that he would have to urge Severus to proceed faster in his work on the werewolf poison. Genius couldn't be rushed, but Severus's was clouded by the chaotic emotions and dirty blood that had come from his Muggle father. The man would have to find some way to make it work.

The lift opened, and Lucius stepped out and smiled at his wife. "Ready for lunch, dear?"

"Yes. I think we could try that little place in Classic Alley, the Crystal Swan?" Smiling, Narcissa linked her arm with his. "I heard that they have a ward that can reliably distinguish purebloods from Mudbloods, and which mutes half-bloods when they pass through it, so we shouldn't be troubled."

Laughing, Lucius kissed his wife. It had proven annoyingly difficult to separate the categories of wizards and witches based on blood, even though Lucius knew their blood was different. Apparently the magic needed to bind to small particles which they hadn't yet discovered through their research.

"The Crystal Swan sounds wonderful, dear. Lead on."

Severus Snape moved through Diagon Alley, his steps long and his head slightly bowed. It was the best way for a half-blood to move around pureblood-controlled areas, he'd found, as if he was apologizing for existence.

And it worked. So many gazes slid straight past the bowed head and, where it was required, the flare of the green aura around him that marked his blood status, that they never noticed the hatred and the rage burning in his eyes.

Yes, Black and Lupin had been foolish, and Severus would have let Black fall into a pit if one had opened at his feet with the man dangling over it while clinging to a branch. But he hated the pureblood society that had slaughtered Lily more.

It had begun to smother her spirit when they were still students at Hogwarts. Severus had seen it long before that moment in fifth year when he had foolishly thought that repudiating her friendship would grant him higher status in Slytherin House. Lily's laughter had faltered, her smiles had slowed, and she had begun to keep her opinions to herself more and more, refusing even to answer questions in class. That was utterly unlike the Lily he knew.

Perhaps her falling in love with Potter shouldn't have come as such a surprise to Severus. After all, Potter was a man who had openly and arrogantly set himself against the pureblood supremacists. He was someone who could be counted on to shelter a Muggleborn, to hold out a hand to her that might be condescending but wouldn't be deadly.

Severus paused to dodge a pack of children who were already learning to own the streets.

And Potter had been proclaiming his love for Lily for years, of course. That it had turned out to be true was not the most surprising thing in Severus's life.

Severus let one hand rest for a moment against the front of his robes, and then took it away. His experimental draught rested there, the one he spent far more time working on than the anti-werewolf potion, and he sometimes dreamed of taking it out and unleashing it in the middle of the alley or some other crowded magical enclave.

Then they would scream, the entitled purebloods.

But he forced himself to pull his hand away from it. In the days when he had been foolish enough to believe propaganda that claimed there were differences between the types of magical blood, he had tried to create a potion that would attune itself to pure blood alone. But he knew now that one could not distinguish the blood of a pureblood from a Muggleborn, or, often, their magic. So he had created a potion that would home in on certain patterns of thought.

But there was still too much chance that he would release it in public and accidentally catch some half-bloods and Muggleborns who had been convinced to accept the purebloods' beliefs about them.

So. He would wait.

He turned the corner to proceed to the Apparition point, and found himself rocking to a stop. An older man in a neat suit was walking past him, but although he was dressed as a Muggle, that wasn't so unusual. Muggle parents were still allowed in Diagon Alley, a convenient center point to place spells within their minds that would keep them charmed and compliant no matter what happened to their children.

No, it was the green-eyed boy at his side who had caught Severus's attention.

Severus would know those eyes if he only saw them for a moment on a crowded train. He found himself slowing down, but the man in the neat Muggle suit turned his head a little. Severus restrained himself to a look of contempt such as the man and boy would probably be well-used to receiving, and turned on his heel.

But inside his head, the drumbeat of his heart played an awful syncopation.

He stopped as if compelled to examine the inferior wares in the window of Dashing's Apothecary and watched out of the corner of his eye as the man and the boy stepped into Ollivander's. Damn it. Severus couldn't muster an excuse to linger long enough in the Alley for the length of time it would take them to come back out. There were telltales here who would carry the word to Lucius if he did, and Severus could not afford to draw attention.

But if the boy, Lily's son, had come from the Muggle world…

That suggested that Lucius had placed him with his Muggle relatives, indeed, as Severus had suspected but not dared to ask about.

The man with him could not be Petunia's husband. Not enough glaring and stomping and muttering about "freaks."

Severus still had contacts, and people who owed him favors, and those who would not have lived but for his skill in Potions. He would make sure that Lily's son was not suffering under the hand of whoever this was.


The word burst out of Harry despite how childish he knew it made him sound. He turned bright red a minute later, but Riddle only chuckled, and so did the strange man who came out of the back of the shop.

"Oh, yes, Mr. Potter, a pleasure to see you." The man drew out a measuring tape and wrapped it around the air, and it flew over and began to measure Harry on its own. "And Mr. Riddle, I remember you. Thirteen inches. Yew." He opened his mouth as if to say more, but the heavy look from Riddle made him shut it.

Strange, Harry thought as he blinked when the tape flew past his nose. He's the Headmaster at a school that's pretty despised. I wonder why Mr. Ollivander gives him respect enough to shut up when Riddle just looks at him?

It was something that Harry had to keep to himself for now, even as the tape snapped itself shut and flew back to Ollivander, but he resolved to remember it. Now that he was away from the Dursleys, in the middle of a world that had killed his parents, he had to be alert every second, and he was the only one he would ultimately trust to protect himself. Trust in Riddle was a long way away.

Even if Harry had let Riddle kidnap him, that was more about how awful it was at Number Four than because he trusted the man.

"I think, Mr. Potter," Ollivander chattered as he reached for a box and took a wand out, "we'll have a search to find one for you. Now, try this—beechwood, heartstring from a dragon—"

Harry started to reach out for it, but Riddle shifted, and both Harry and Ollivander glanced at him and blinked. For some reason, Riddle's face was shuttered.

"No," he said. "He'll need whichever one you made that has a phoenix feather the most similar to mine, Garrick."

"He hasn't even tried one yet," Ollivander began, sounding as annoyed as Aunt Petunia did when Harry asked for food. "How can you know—"

"He used my wand effortlessly," Riddle said. "It's likely that we'll have brother wands, and you know it. That's why I brought him here instead of to the shops where the other Muggleborns and half-bloods who attend my school get their wands. Come on, Garrick. Fetch it, wherever it is."

Harry found himself grinning in a silly way as Ollivander went into the back of the shop. Riddle glanced at him. "I suppose you think I'm high-handed now, but I am only trying to save time. You'll find out that it's something I value."

There was a warning in his tone, but Harry shook his head. "It's just, this is the first time I can remember that someone was happy about sharing something with me. Aunt Petunia gets so upset whenever someone reminds her that I'm her nephew."

Riddle stared at him hard, but didn't say anything before Ollivander came back with another box. When he opened it, Harry caught his breath. This time, he wasn't going to deny the magic. There really was a warm thrum coming from the wand, and it reached towards him and surrounded him.

The wand was actually bouncing up and down in the box like an eager child. Harry didn't recognize the wood, but he didn't care, at the moment. He reached out and scooped the wand up, and the warmth hit his hand.

Harry closed his eyes. Yes, this was his wand.

"Holly and phoenix feather," Ollivander was saying, in what sounded like a happy voice. "Unusual combination, never thought I would find—well, Mr. Potter, give it a wave!"

Harry started and popped his eyes open. He was surprised that the others couldn't sense it, but apparently they really couldn't.

He thought about flinging Ollivander across the wand shop, just because it would echo what he'd done to Riddle, but the man had done nothing to him, and it seemed silly to have his first two demonstrations of magic be the same. Instead, Harry focused on the boxes around him and said, "Fly!" as he gave his wand a sharp swish.

The wand boxes all leaped off the shelves, and the ones that Ollivander had already brought out leaped off his counter. Harry laughed as they danced all around the shop, dipping up and down as if they were supported by invisible wings. He spun in circles, and the boxes echoed him, their spirals getting tighter until they settled back where they'd been.

He turned back to Ollivander and took some pleasure in how open-mouthed he was. Then he nodded and began to talk about Harry's parents, and how skilled they'd been at Charms and Transfiguration. Harry nodded, and listened.

But he had to admit that more than half of his attention was on Riddle, and the man's fierce grin.

It really was a change, to have an adult be proud of him.

But a nice one.

"And this is the wand shop that we're supposed to go to? It's just, in the books I read they only talked about Ollivander's…"

"I know," said Professor Johnson, putting a hand on Hermione's shoulder for a second. "But Muggleborns aren't allowed in Ollivander's shop anymore, and half-bloods only on sufferance. It's best that we come here."

Hermione bit her lip and felt a hot surge of defiance in the center of her chest. "But Headmaster Riddle is working to change that, right?"

"Yes, he is," said Professor Johnson, and smiled fiercely at her as they entered the nameless little shop off the street in Paris that Professor Johnson had Apparated them to. (Hermione had been dismayed to find out that she hated Apparition). "And I am. You are. We're all part of that."

Hermione wasn't sure she was part of that when she wasn't even a first-year student yet, but she kept silent. It wasn't hard to do that when she was in Professor Nora Johnson's company. She was as tall as Professor Riddle and as imposing, her skin a few shades darker than Hermione's own, her dark hair meticulously braided and bound around her head, so that she was wearing what looked like a crown. Even after she had told Hermione a little about herself—how she'd been the only one with magic in her family until her little cousin Angelina had flown a teakettle over to herself when she had a broken leg, for example—Hermione was still a bit shy around her.

"Professor Johnson, welcome." The voice came out of the shadows at the back of the shop, and a white woman stepped out who wore shimmering silver robes and had silver hair that cascaded around her shoulders and down her back. Hermione blinked. She thought the hair actually trailed off into the darkness like a wedding dress's train. "And a new student. What is your name, young blood?"

Well, that's unnerving, Hermione thought, but she managed to meet the woman's electric blue eyes and say, "Um, Hermione Granger. Um, madam."

"Hermione, young blood," said the woman, and nodded several times, and then reached behind her and came out with huge, long wooden boxes in her hands which seemed far heavier than she should have been able to hold. But she lifted them without difficulty and put them down on the long white counter that curved through half the shop. "You will tell me which of these feels stronger to you."

"How do I do that?" Hermione hated feeling so lost. She glanced at Professor Johnson.

"Pass your hand over them," the professor murmured. "You'll feel a tug towards one or the other."

Still a little unnerved, Hermione stepped close to the strange woman and extended her hand. Nothing happened for long enough that she started to worry. Maybe she wasn't supposed to attend a magical school after all.

But then her hand jerked sharply to the left, and the woman nodded and slid the right-hand box back into the shadows with a long shove. Hermione listened, but there was no clatter of the thing falling to the ground. Instead, the woman turned the left box around and touched her hand to the top.

A series of white stars blossomed down the top of it like scars in the wood. "Again," the woman said.

Hermione swung her hand back and forth, and this time it was faster. Her wrist oscillated towards a star about two-thirds of the way up the box. The woman nodded and made that one vanish, and the stars rearranged themselves, coming closer together now.


And Hermione did it again, and again, and each time, the space between the stars shrank. And at last her hand drifted down gently onto a star near the middle of the box, and the woman closed her eyes and sighed.

"Ah, this wand has been looking for a match, long and long," the woman whispered, swaying back and forth in what was almost like a dance in place. "It will be happy, and you will be happy, and the air shall rejoice…"

This was all a little mystical for Hermione, who looked at Professor Johnson uncertainly But the professor appeared calm, so Hermione tried to be the same way. Besides, her books had seemed as if stranger things happened all the time in the magical world.

The woman held out her hands, and a wand formed in the air right over them. It was as if the shadows and light from the woman's silver hair spun themselves together and made a cocoon, and then the cocoon split and there was a wand there. The wood was shiny enough that Hermione blinked, and Professor Johnson made a soft sound behind her.

"What is it?" Hermione asked, even as she reached towards the wand. It pulled her hand more powerfully than any of the boxes or stars had.

"It's yew, that's all," Professor Johnson said. "The same wood that Professor Riddle's wand is made of. It's not common."

Hermione had a conflicted moment to feel pleasure at that, and then the wand touched her palm.

Air whistled around her, and Hermione found herself plunged into a memory of a hot day when her parents had taken her to London and they'd been walking for what felt like miles, and then stepped into the cool of a shop to get an ice. This was the same feeling, cold like a blessing, like a fever breaking. Hermione waved the wand, the way it was whispering at her it wanted to be waved.

The air quivered and split, and a pink light like the kind that used to shine from a lamp Hermione had had as a little girl came forth. Hermione beamed, and the woman crooned, and Professor Johnson clapped her hands.

"Feather of an Abraxan in the core," said the woman. "Handle it well, young blood. Use it wisely." She paused. "Seventeen of your Sickles."

Hermione blinked. "I thought the gold coins were called Galleons?"

"I only accept silver," said the woman, in the kind of tone that Hermione knew not to question.

She nodded and got a handful of the silver coins out that Professor Johnson had helped her exchange when they first landed in Paris. Her hands were shaking so hard with excitement that it was hard to measure out the correct amount at first.

It was really happening. She was really a witch.

There was no warning, no tremble of the wards or the innumerable protective spells that Severus had set up around his quarters. He simply turned and there was a man behind him, standing with his back to the door that led into Severus's bedroom.

Severus's wand leaped into his hand. The man raised an eyebrow and…

Dropped his shields.

The surge of magical power through the air drove Severus to his knees, as he would have fallen if confronted by a mighty wave. And that wave was hanging over him now, ready to crush him more than drown him. Severus knew that, and he fought to hide his expression, his fear. He would have preferred to die on his feet, and with purebloods screaming in front of him for preference, but he had had little enough to live for since Lily's death.

The wave didn't fall. Severus finally dared to look up and saw the man step away from the door.

And although he didn't wear the Muggle suit now, Severus recognized him as the man he had seen in the alley earlier that day with Lily's boy.

"How…" he breathed.

"Professor Severus Snape." The man nodded to him. "I never approached you before now because I doubted, despite your power, that you would be an asset. Your private grief seemed to wrap you away from everything except the willing service you gave our beloved Minister."

"Beloved," Severus said, and the man smiled.

"My name is Headmaster Thomas Riddle," he said, and of course Severus had heard of him. He simply couldn't remember ever seeing him. And he had had no idea that this power could lurk inside anyone, no matter what their blood status. "Now, however, I have little choice but to take you into my service, given that you saw my newest student today."

"You want me to teach at Fortius?"

"No. I want you to stay in your place, and feed me information instead of Malfoy. Pass to him the information I request that you pass. Teach the half-bloods who come through these halls to conceal their power and their pride, if you can, since some purebloods will still believe they are strong in the way they will not believe it of Muggleborns, and keep the secret of Harry Potter's attendance at Fortius. In return, I will be pleased to let you participate in my vengeance in any fashion you wish."

"You are going to…" Severus felt his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth in the way no curse could have plastered it. Riddle only watched him with dark eyes. Severus had to be the one to unstick his tongue and say, "You are going to bring about a revolution."

"Yes." Riddle gestured lazily, and an image of the wave that Severus had been envisioning appeared, towering over them both. Severus felt the dark power thrumming in it, and he knew he didn't imagine it when Riddle's eyes flashed red. "You pictured it as a wave? Most people do."

"Those who know about it," Severus dared to whisper.

"True enough. The purebloods don't." Riddle leaned towards him. "I will annihilate you if you betray me."

"I will swear whatever oath you desire," Severus said at once. He hadn't been this impulsive since Lily's death, but the thrum under his breastbone, like the touch of a hand on a new wand, promised to make up for everything. "As long as I know that you are going to crush them instead."

Riddle flashed him a smile as dark and low as his voice. "It will be their tsunami."

And when the power retreated enough that he could reach for his wand to cast his loyalty oath, Severus knew that no student who had claimed their wand that day, not even Harry Potter, could be more joyful than he was.

To ruin them.

It was all he desired.