Author's Note: Hello, my dear readers. It has been a while, huh? I hope that you are all safe and sound where you are.
He had had a good few days since Vlad had shown up. He wasn't sure if it was something that Vlad was doing (he suspected it, but couldn't prove it) or if things had just managed to end up the way they were. He had been sleeping and his eating was okay. He suspected Cassius had had a word with the house elves, because stir fry was suddenly available - with tofu and prawns. It was not a combination he would have tried had he been cooking, but he liked it. It just showed that the house elves knew his own tastes better than he knew them himself. His schedule had become highly regimented with time blocked off for everything from studying to relaxing. It helped, though he wasn't sure how it worked.
The talent show had been good, too. He was glad that Hermione had insisted that he take part. She had said that part of the talent was spellwork. Nearly everyone had used spells to enhance their talents, and so his soliloquy from his first play came back and he loved every moment of it.
The Great Hall transformed for the night. The tables disappeared, and benches were lined up to face the front where a stage had appeared. Being backstage had felt like home, even if it was only a curtained off area out of sight of the audience. He had decided on just a simple Muggle suit as a costume. He had no makeup with him, but some makeup charms had helped highlight his features for the lights on stage. His name and act was announced - of course, they had only said "A Speech" and he wanted to know who thought that was a good idea. Surely even wizards knew of Shakespeare! He had paused and then walked on stage, pensive and deliberate. "Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law my services are bound."
He played it differently than his first time. This time, he was resigned rather than enthusiastic. Sad and contemplative. It still worked. There had been a pause after he finished, as though people were waiting to see if he had really finished (likely if wizards didn't know Shakespeare). The applause was good, but he did not win, and that was okay. Neville had taught plants to sing on cue, which Harry thought took a lot more talent than giving a soliloquy, especially when the small plant had the lowest voice out of the whole bush. Harry could see the spellwork that went into it, and it was extremely complex. Nevile deserved the award more than any other act that evening, in Harry's humble opinion. Neville's ability to weave spellwork and plant life together would bring him some form of apprenticeship; Harry could already tell that the professors were surprised with what Neville had accomplished, and if Harry was reading things right, Neville would have a few offers before the term was out.
"Well done, Nev." Harry said, shaking his hand in congratulations.
"I didn't think I would actually win." Neville looked shocked and slightly bewildered. "I didn't think I would actually win." He repeated.
"Have more faith in yourself, Neville. I knew your project would astound people. The professors are still talking about it." Hermione said as she hugged Neville. "Go on now; your adoring public is waiting."
"What do you think, Mi? Do you think Neville's plants are going to become the next big thing?" Harry asked her in a soft voice.
"If they aren't, then I will know that the magical world truly has no soul." Hermione gave a snort at the end and Harry smothered his laughter behind his hand. "By the way, Harry….I like the changes you made to the soliloquy."
"I didn't change anything."
"Fine, you acted it differently...though I'm not sure that's the correct term."
"So long as there is no corpsing on my part." Harry shrugged and wrapped an arm around Hermione's shoulders. "Let's get some of those refreshments." He suggested.
"Lead on, Macduff!"
"Wrong play, Hermione." Harry told her.
"You think I don't know that?" Hermione said with a firm ironic tone in her voice.
"Ah, right. Forgot you were named after a Shakespeare character...for about ten seconds." Harry made the best puppy dog eyes he could. "Forgive me?"
"Only if we get some refreshments right now." Harry laughed and guided Hermione towards the refreshments. The house elves had managed to throw together an impressive amount of sweets and snacks. Harry held Hermione's plate while she poured herself a drink, and then Harry took his own snack over to where Vlad was standing.
"Hello, son. You did very well." Vlad said as Harry stepped up to him. Vlad, as usual, pulled Harry against his side and squeezed his shoulders. Harry accepted the embrace and leaned against him. "Did you have fun?"
"Yeah, I did. I really liked revisiting my first soliloquy."
"Have you thought about drama school?" Vlad asked.
Harry blinked and looked at Vlad. "Where did that come from?" he asked. The thought almost physically hurt.
"I think we should look at some drama schools for you after Hogwarts. Oh, I know you're a wizard, but your magic will keep, for you have a true talent for the stage." Vlad squeezed his shoulder again and Harry sighed. "There are some fantastic schools in London. Or, you could go abroad, if you prefer. Germany is full of opportunities, or France...even Japan has musical theater studies. America, too, if you would prefer that. They have so many schools and programs it could make your head spin."
"I-" Harry paused. "Vlad, I don't know…"
"Think about it, son. I think you have talent, and it would be a shame to waste that talent hidden away with the magical population." He released Harry's shoulders and melted into the crowd. Harry blinked after him and could not help the little shudder that passed through his body. Think about school in London? Of course it would be London. He wanted to join a West End musical, or as close as he could get. Don't think about it. He told himself. Not going to happen.
"You really should think about it, little brother." Khalid said as he appeared beside him.
"Khalid! When did you get here?" Harry asked, thrilled to see him.
"I came just this morning, at the invitation of our father. It was wonderful to see you act again."
"It was just a soliloquy. I'd hardly call it acting."
"It was a good soliloquy, no matter what you think." He ruffled Harry's hair. "I'm off to talk to the boy with the plants...quite an impressive feat."
"His name is Neville."
"Yes, I know. He's in your year." Khalid stepped away and Harry had to take a few minutes to get his emotions under control. Just thinking about the future, and especially, that kind of future, acting in a play or in a musical, well, it hurt to think about. It physically hurt to think about it. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, working through one of the breathing exercises that Paul had taught him. After a few minutes, he felt calmer and his chest hurt less. One day at a time, Harry.
The crowd in the Great Hall held a few people Harry thought he recognized from his summer visit to Castel Tepes. The question his brain asked, and he refused to answer on his own, was why they were here. Some of them seemed very familiar with the professors, and Harry thought that some of them were likely academics in addition to whatever they were in their own countries. Harry couldn't help but feel as though there was a conspiracy. What kind of conspiracy, he was not sure, but a conspiracy of some sort was happening. There were...plans. He could almost see them being built before him as he watched Khalid and Vlad move through the crowd. Vlad was getting plenty of sharp bows and curtseys as he greeted and talked with the students and staff. Everyone at Hogwarts seemed to be enjoying the visiting nobility; wait, was Vlad considered royal or noble? Harry wasn't sure what his father's exact status was in relation to the wider world. He would have to ask for more detail; surely as the man's son, that would be something he would be expected to know. Would he be recognized by the Queen, for instance? Harry's own mind skittered away from that thought, hesitant to question such a thing. He did not want to know if the Queen knew about an immortal individual in her kingdom. That was too much for his brain to consider today. He would ask Cassius tomorrow if the Queen knew about his father. That should tell him everything he needed to know.
Harry left the party a little early, feeling as though the crowd was pressing on him a bit. Staying in crowds was one of the things that was affecting his mood, and he didn't want to push himself too much, considering there was the masquerade that evening. He wanted to have enough energy for that, though he did plan to sleep like the dead after the masquerade.
Vlad had really come through with the costumes. Hermione had let out the most girlish squeal he had ever heard from her, hugged Vlad, and then disappeared with her box so quickly Harry thought it may have been Disapparation. Vlad looked a little bemused, but had shrugged it off. "What?" He said in response to Harry's look. "If a young lady wishes to hug me so enthusiastically, then I have no reason to deny her."
"Cassius keeps lecturing me on proper behavior with the opposite sex." Harry mentioned as he turned towards his own costume.
"Yes, he's told me. He plays by old rules."
"Older than yours?"
"Different from mine. I find women one of the most mysterious creatures I have ever have turned the tides of history and contributed far more to society than man has given them credit for. I adore them for their ways and stand in awe of their complexities. Never doubt their abilities, my son, for they can destroy and restore your life and well-being with mere glances."
"Vlad...are you a romantic?" Harry couldn't help but ask the question.
"Oh, you have no idea, son." Vlad squeezed his shoulder and shook it. "A little young yet for those stories." He said with a wink. "Now then, that costume? Will it do? I did bring a few backups if this is not the one you want."
"This is perfect, Vlad. Thank you." Harry rested his hand on the box. Cassius had already taken Viktor's off to him at Hermione's request, and all Harry had to do now was to freshen up and get dressed for the evening. Harry tucked the box under his arm. "What are you wearing?" He asked Vlad.
"Ah, well, just my formal attire shall suit the evening, I believe. I have a domino mask. I'd prefer to be mostly known this evening, as opposed to unknown. It makes misunderstandings less common, especially when I am already known to the host. Had I been anonymous, I think I would have been the rat catcher."
Harry laughed as Vlad chuckled along. "Not Piangi?"
"Oh, heavens no. I'm not big enough to fill out that costume. Piangi is a man of massive size, and well, I am not."
Harry paused at the mirror and studied his costume. He was not sure where Vlad had found it. The lack of labels, except one small one that Harry could not read, told him it was likely made just for this event. He wondered if Hermione knew.
The first layer was simple; an undershirt and his regular pants would do, and over that, red tights. He pulled on the trousers, which gathered at the knee and buttoned closed. He did them up (why was the connection in the back?!) and he closed the clasp. Braces were attached and he adjusted them slightly to ensure that he was comfortable with them. His shoes came next. They were the same shade of red as the rest of his costume, with gold decorations that ran along the edge and gathered together in an eight-pointed star above the toe. They had a slight heel, but then again, this costume was supposed to have shoes with a heel. Harry stepped into them and reminded himself to walk extremely upright.
Harry opened the one container of makeup he thought necessary for this costume and darkened around his eyes. He powdered the makeup so that it would dry and he paused to study himself in the mirror. Further makeup was not necessary at this point. The rest of his face would be hidden by the mask. Harry thought the mask was brilliant. He couldn't wait to see everyone's reaction to it...if they didn't Stun him when he entered the Great Hall. He pulled out the hair gel he had asked for, and it did not matter what anyone said, hair gel was an amazing product and he refused to replace it with anything magic had made. This hair gel had served him well while playing Edmond and Dracula, and through so many meetings that threatened his sanity. He wet his hair and slicked it back, combing gel into it. He felt a little strange as he prepared to go to the masquerade. He felt like he was about to go on stage without having learned his lines.
He pulled on his jacket, also red with gold trim along the end of the sleeves, and down across his front in a pattern that reminded him of something from Shakespeare's time. The sleeves were puffed at the shoulders and then slimmed down against his arms towards his wrists. He did up the buttons one by one, taking deep breaths as he went. He moved his shoulders and felt that the seams were perfect. Yes, definitely made for him.
Cassius came in just then and stopped. "Ah, that's the one." He said softly.
"Do you think it will do?" Harry asked.
"Oh, no doubt." He answered. "No doubt at all."
Harry smirked. "Musical based on a novel." He muttered.
"I remember the book rather fondly...and the time period of the piece itself...ah, memories. Now, how can I help?"
"Just, um, support the mask while I put it on?" Harry asked. There were a series of straps that would hold the mask into place, but it was awkward to hold it and buckle the straps at the same time. Cassius held it in place for him while Harry reached back and buckled the mask onto his face.
"How does it feel?" Cassius asked.
"Really light." Harry answered. The mask moved with his words and Cassius's eyes grew wide. "What?"
"An extremely effective mask, Master Harry." Cassius told him. "Very disturbing."
"I love it." Harry admitted. "Hat, cloak, and gloves." Harry said finally. "The masquerade has already started."
"Fashionably late is not exactly fashionable, Master Harry." Cassius told him as he helped Harry into the cape.
"I know, but I doubt anyone has noticed my absence with the number of people here tonight." He fastened the clasp around his neck and adjusted the high collar around his mask. "Cassius, can you see what it's caught on?" Harry saw Cassius's hands move around and he found he could move his mask again. "Perfect." Harry picked up his hat and faced the mirror to place it on his head. White gloves completed the look and he again counted his lucky stars that Vlad had managed to do this for him.
"Ready?" Cassius asked him.
Harry paused at the top of the staircase, neatly hidden in the shadows. The party had spilled out of the Great Hall and into the hallways. Hogwarts students of all ages were running about, dressed in their costumed best. Most of them, Harry did not recognize, but a few looked like various book characters from wizarding novels. A few people were playing Muggles, with various stages and decades of fashion mixed together. Harry thought that the world needed better education about Muggles. No wonder magical people were so obvious when out in Muggle London.
Harry pulled back as Draco Malfoy passed him, and he had to wonder if Julie had sent him his costume. He was dressed as Jareth the Goblin King from a movie called Labyrinth. Julie had to have picked this costume out. Those trousers were barely decent, but at least Harry wasn't the only one in heels. He was almost jealous of the sequins, if he had to be honest with himself. Draco made an excellent Jareth, and he had gone all out for it, too. He was even wearing makeup. I need to write to Julie and ask if she came up with this idea.
Harry took a few deep breaths again. This was just a party, and yes, it was a lot of people, but no one knew who he was tonight. The full face mask hid his identity. Masquerade. Hide your face so the world can never find you.
Harry stepped up to the top of the stairs and just as he reached the top, the music ended completely and did not start up again. All eyes were on him. If I find out vampires were involved, I will drop a million chia seeds in front of them. Hell with it. Harry stepped down each step, one at a time, making it as menacing as it could be. Step. Step. Step. He finally reached the bottom and saw Hermione standing there, dressed as Christine Daae in her masquerade outfit. Viktor was next to her, dressed as Raoul. He held out his hand towards her as the music started, and she took it, giving Viktor a smile and a wink as Harry started to dance with her. The crowd around them started to pair off and dancing again, relaxing as Harry moved towards the center of the Great Hall.
"Harry, you look incredible."
"I'm not Harry this evening." He said softly.
"Oh, you're not, are you?" Her tone was teasing.
"Certainly not. I am someone with much more class than Harry Potter would ever have...an accomplished musician, engineer, artist...need I go on?" Ok, playing a part was fun, Harry would have to admit it. "Can I ask you to sing for me, my angel?" Hermione just threw her head back and laughed. Harry spun her around and around again until the slow song ended and he handed her back off to Viktor when the next fast song started. Harry melted into the crowd around him and joined the person he had really come to see.
"Hello, Tom." Harry said, settling against the wall next to the apparition of his double. He let Tom have the Phantom costume.
"Hi, Harry. Interesting night?"
"So far...nice costume."
"I can't claim responsibility for it. Vlad provided them all." Harry turned his head and looked back out at the crowd. He couldn't help but feel as though something was going to happen this evening.
Harry watched as Tom pushed off the wall and walked into the crowd, offering to dance. Strangely, many people shied away from Tom once they saw the mask. Same for Harry, he realized, as he walked among the students and staff. I look like a Death Eater in their minds. Harry wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
"And who are you?" Harry turned and found Professor Snape standing there, dressed in a Victorian suit. The man was wearing a small silver crucifix around his neck. Harry had to think hard for a moment, for that small clue (especially since Snape had never mentioned a religion of any kind ever) gave Harry a vague idea of Snape's choice of costume for the evening. "Hello, Professor. I'm the Masque of the Red Death. Phantom of the Opera. Do I have the honor of addressing Doctor Van Helsing?"
"Does that crucifix work?" Harry couldn't help asking.
"Well, no vampires have made for my neck this evening, so I'm going to say that it's doing its job."
"You know that it's not real, right?"
"Don't shatter my illusions, Potter. Allow me to enjoy this night of peace."
"Yes, sir. Cassius is probably behaving himself because Vlad is here."
"Some warning that we are having visiting royalty would have been nice," Snape groused. "Honestly, I don't know what the Headmistress was thinking, having him visit and not telling anyone who he really is."
"Those who know, know, and those who don't, well, are having a good time?" Harry said, watching as Vlad danced with a young first year. He was teaching her to dance, as her toes were resting on Vlad's toes, and Vlad was steering her around in a little circle. "He should have had a lot of children. He's a good father."
"Is he, Potter?" Snape asked, suddenly serious. "He's good to you?"
"Yes, sir. He's very good to me, and to my family as well. I don't know about Uncle Vernon, and I hope the pair never meet, but he keeps a close eye on me, he knows about my history with my aunt and cousin...he even gets along with Remus."
"That's good...I know your mother would have wanted you cared for...happy." Snape said as he edged closer to Harry.
"I am very well-cared for now, Professor. I hope my mother's spirit is at peace." Harry said softly.
"I pray it is as well." Snape paused. "Excuse me, Potter. I must go stop some enthusiastic snogging in the corner." Harry laughed as Snape moved away. He had sounded way too enthusiastic, but Harry supposed that teachers had to find their fun where they could. Breaking up a snogging couple likely provided a bit of entertainment in their dreary days.
Harry ended up dancing for most of the masquerade, stopping only for refreshments a time or two or reconnitor with his doppelganger in the Phantom of the Opera costume. He even made his way back to Hermione and stole her from Viktor for a dance. "Having a good time?" She asked as he led her to the center of the dance floor.
"I am, actually, which I thought was impossible with this many people. Having the mask and playing a character really helps." Harry said as they started to dance.
"I'm glad. I've noticed another Phantom here this evening. I wonder who he is." Hermione said, nodding to the Phantom currently standing on the side, chatting with a little first year.
"Yeah, we ran into each other. Said his name was Tom." Harry told her. He could see her thinking very hard about something.
"Harry-" Hermione's voice cut off as the music suddenly stopped and the room darkened. Harry stopped dancing as the Great Hall ceiling darkened and the floating candles went out. Hogwarts herself shuddered and Harry felt something catch deep inside, not entirely sure what was happening. He looked up as the darkened hall tinged to green. The Dark Mark filled the ceiling space above them, the empty eye sockets glaring down at the people. The walls around them and the floor under their feet shuddered again and there was a ghastly sound that echoed down the halls and stairways of Hogwarts. "The wards have been breached." Harry heard McGonagall say from her position. All students into the Great Hall immediately!" Any student that had been outside the Great Hall now rushed in, their fear evident on their faces.
"What did McGonagall mean - 'wards have been breached?'" a second year said from beside him. Harry looked down at him.
"It means that something has broken the magic protecting the castle, but don't worry." Harry said, leaning down to rest a hand on the boy's shoulder. "You're still safe in the castle." He ruffled the boy's hair and gave him the strongest smile he could muster.
"Harry?" Hermione stepped closer. "Oh, don't worry - everything is going to be fine. The teachers will protect us." Hermione said as she saw the frightened twelve year old. Harry paused as he thought about this young boy facing a basilisk as Harry had done when he was only twelve. Never again. No child would suffer at Hogwarts again like Harry had suffered. Harry closed his eyes and reached out to feel the protections surrounding the hall and the castle. Hogwarts herself responded and the dangers that Harry had survived embedded themselves in the hallways hidden away for the Magus. Harry's story of his seven years of Hogwarts were now carved in stone, and Harry knew that the next Magus, whoever they may be, could learn from what Harry had done. Harry moved away from the younger student and stopped when Hermione grabbed his hand. Harry squeezed Hermione's hand as she turned him to look at her.. "No, Harry." She said softly. "I can tell what you're thinking and-"
"I have to, Hermione. No matter what, remember this: You are my friend, and I love you." He leaned forward and gave her a brotherly peck on the forehead before escorting her back to Viktor. "Viktor, keep her with you." Harry told Viktor.
"Oh no you don't, Harry Potter!" Hermione said, coming after him as he moved towards the doors. Viktor stumbled behind her and tried to convince her to stay in the hall where it was safe.
Tom appeared at Harry's side and Harry held out a hand to his construct. It was almost like having a brother when Tom was around, but it was time for Tom to go away now. Harry felt his missing part resettle in his body as those close to him let out gasps. "And where do you think you are going, Potter?" Snape said in his ear, one hand clamped on his shoulder.
"Nowhere, Professor." Harry said as he stepped away from the man. Hogwarts herself was helping him now, keeping the Potions Master and everyone around him in their place as he moved through the crowd. Their hands could not hold him, and they could not move to stop him. The Great Hall's outer wall shivered and then the bricks and stones started to peel away from themselves to create an archway for him, complete with the Magus symbol at the apex. Did you have to tell everyone? He couldn't help but think as Hogwarts gave him her usual farewell. The magic settled deep inside him and warmed him; it felt similar to how he felt when Aunt Petunia made him tea when he wasn't feeling well, or when she smoothed his hair back. Loved. He felt loved.
As he stepped through the archway and down the steps that Hogwarts had made for him, his elaborate costume shifted to his robes and mask, and behind him, he heard students start to speak as the archway shut behind him. They had all recognized the costume change and thought that they knew what it meant. Harry gathered up some magic and created strong wards around the castle itself. No one would be able to leave while he willed it, and he knew they would have to wait long.
The Dark Lord and his Death Eaters waited for him in a half circle. The Dark Mark was floating in the sky above them, tinging everything the same sickly green. Voldemort did not look powerful, or even fearsome. He looked old, and tired, but triumphant. "Finally, I have returned to Hogwarts. The moment has come, my followers. Tonight, we end this conflict, with my child, oh, my child." Harry had walked steadily forward towards the Death Eaters as Voldemort was speaking. Harry saw Robinson standing at the edge of the crowd and gave him a small nod of hello, which the man returned. "My child." Voldemort stepped forward and wrapped Harry in a hug, squeezing him tight. "Oh, my child. Straight from Hogwarts and didn't even need to be called. Very good, child. Very good." He paused for a moment and then his eyes shifted to the castle behind them. "I think everyone should see this, don't you?" He told Harry.
Harry turned as Voldemort raised his wand towards the school. The Great Hall's wall turned transparent and Harry could see the people inside staring back at them. "I have a gift for you, my child." Voldemort told him as Harry watched Hermione cast spells at the doors of the Great Hall, with that ridiculous squad of students that thought they were Harry's protectors helping her as best they could. Harry couldn't help but want to laugh. The teachers were motionless, but the students were attempting to reach him. And then he saw Vlad, Cassius and Khalid moving towards the doors at their superspeed, and Harry knew that Vlad was going to be absolutely livid when he realized that the wards Harry had set wouldn't let them through, that they were trapped with the students and staff of Hogwarts in the Great Hall.
"Yes, a gift for you, my child. My gift - only mine to give." He said close to Harry's ear. "It is time to make you mine."
Harry felt the men shift around them and they peeled away to give Harry and Voldemort space. "Yes, only mine to give...my Mark." Harry understood then. Voldemort had to Mark him. He took a deep breath. Play the part. He told himself. This is it. He stood before Voldemort and then knelt at Voldemort's feet. He bowed his head and rolled up his shirt sleeve with small, sure movements, taking his time to ensure that the folds were crisp and smooth. When it was just at his elbow, he stopped, removed his mask, and then looked up at Voldemort. Voldemort smiled down at him and rested one hand on the side of Harry's face. "Are you ready, my child?" He asked.
"Yes, sir." Harry bowed his head again and then raised his arm. Voldemort's wand touched Harry's arm. "Morsmordre!" Harry felt the spell enter his skin and Mark him. He was surprised that it did not hurt. He thought it would hurt. As soon as he had the thought, fire ripped through his bones and he screamed. He screamed for far longer than he thought possible, but in all reality, it was only a few seconds. Inside his body, something snapped and now was the time. Voldemort's smile contorted into a grimace as he dropped his wand and screamed louder than Harry had.
Harry pulled himself away from Voldemort."Now!" He shouted. At his signal, Robinson cast a spell and hit six Death Eaters at once, disarming them. He did it again and Harry joined in, using the magic Hogwarts had given him to disarm the entire group at once. A quick gesture threw them all back through the air towards the gates of Hogwarts. Figures Apparated just beyond the gates and stormed towards the Death Eaters with shouts of "Aurors! Lay down your wands!"
Harry turned back to Voldemort and saw the man on his feet again, rage burning in his eyes. "Why?! I gave you EVERYTHING!" Voldemort wailed at him. "EVERYTHING!" Voldemort's face contorted as he processed the fact that his Death Eaters were taken into custody, Robinson directing the Aurors after giving up his wand.
Harry raised his hand and a domed shield descended around him and Voldemort, digging into the ground and shielding against the Aurors now approaching them. "Not everything…" Harry said. "You were cruel...so cruel. You took away more than you ever gave me." Harry told the man. "Now, Lord Voldemort, it's time that Death caught up to your flight." Harry raised his hand again and the dome shattered around them, tossing the pair of them high into the air. Both men plummeted to the torn earth and the entire grounds of Hogwarts felt their impact as a concussive wave of magic exploded out of them. When the magic settled, the doors of Hogwarts finally opened, releasing those inside. The meeting between the Magus and the Dark Lord was over. Vlad, Cassius, and Khalid were the first to reach the site. Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter were sprawled on the ground with no light in their eyes.