Disclaimer : I do not own anything you'll recognize.
It's been a few years since I've posted anything. I don't know if I'll get back to writing, but as I was cleaning my computer I found all my work in progress and idea files... I decided to post that chapter I had nearly finished since there was no point of keeping it on my computer for nothing. Maybe that will spark my writing again but I can't promise anything. It's been a bit strange reading what I had written years ago...
Concerning grammar, syntax... I'm still French, I've tried not to let my English rust too much, but there must be mistakes (and I don't trust my automatic corrector that much). I'll ask you to forgive me for them or if someone want to go over the whole chapter to correct everything, be my guest!
Chapter 8: New Year
Voldemort woke up later than usual, his head pounding. A dizzy spell hit him as soon as he sat up in his bed.
Raising one hand to massage his temple, he extended the other to grab a headache potion in the drawer of his nightstand.
His hand stilled suddenly and a frown suddenly marred his face. Grinding his teeth, he forced himself to ignore the pain. He snapped his fingers and closed his eyes as the pop of the house-elf appearing in his room increased his headache.
"Shut-up." He snapped, refraining from cursing the creature. "Go fetch Healer Questren. Immediately!"
The creature nodded and disappeared swiftly.
The Dark Lord leaned back, keeping his eyes closed.
A few minutes later a soft knock disturbed the blessed silent of his chambers.
A tall man dressed in the dark red robes of healers slipped in, a bag slung on his shoulders. He bowed.
"You asked for me, my Lord."
"I did. Perform a magical scan."
The healer frowned.
"Am I looking for something in particular, my Lord?"
Breathing deeply to try to reduce the pounding in his head, Voldemort opened his eyes.
"If you can't do your job, I'll find another who can!" He hissed.
The man wisely kept silent and took out a parchment from his bag. Unrolling it, he put it down on the bed.
"I'll need a drop of blood, my Lord."
Voldemort carefully took his wand, trying to jostle his head as little as possible, and transfigured one of his hairs into a needle. Pricking his finger, he let a drop of blood fall on the parchment then closed the wound and destroyed the needle.
The healer took out his wand and waved it into a complicated pattern while muttering the incantation. As the tip of his wand shone a bright green colour, he slowly passed it over Voldemort's body from head to toe.
Spidery lines as well as colours appeared on the parchment, drawing a body.
The healer muttered a few more charms before looking at the parchment for several minutes. Sometimes he touched it with his wand and zoomed on one part of the body.
The man pursed his lips.
"Physically, I can't see anything different from your past scan, except for your headache, my Lord. However there are some mental and magical anomalies. The only way to explain them would be a brutal, non consented breaking of a bond or connection that was quite deeply ingrained in your being so quite old given the damages."
Voldemort felt anger rise in him but forced himself to calm down as it did nothing to help against the pain.
"And what can be done?"
"Not much as I do not know the true nature of this connection. I'll advise you to use as little magic as possible during the coming week to allow your core to heal the tears that were made. Regarding the mental tears, the damage is quite deep and would have escaped a superficial check. Knowing of your proficiency with Occlumency, my Lord, I would advise you to use some meditating exercises to clear your mind and reorganize it. Headache potions can be used to block the headaches these tears have induced."
"Very well, leave me," snapped Voldemort, dismissing his servant. With a wave of his wand, the parchment burst into flames leaving little but ashes a few seconds later.
Bowing once more, the healer exited the room.
Voldemort immediately reached for the headache draught and downed it, sighing with relief as the pain disappeared.
Immediately fury rose in him.
Who. Had. Dared?!
He immediately tried to recall any bonds or connections he might have formed thorough his life.
There were the bonds to his servants through his mark but it couldn't be it. He had researched the Morsmordre spell extensively and knew he was the only one able to control this link.
He had never formed emotional bonds and had no family left so that excluded the familial bonds. His familiar bond to Nagini was still intact.
There were no debts binding him to someone else.
Mentally going over his life, he tried to remember an event that might have created an unwanted bond.
Distractively, he started eating, still pondering on this new mystery.
He needed to find the answer. He could not afford any attacks against him.
How could he have formed a bond without intending to? Had someone performed it on him without his consent?
No, it couldn't be it. He had too many shields and wards protecting him most of the time for it to be possible.
That left very little possibilities…
No, he had never fai…
But that would mean… Fury rose through him once more and this time he didn't try to squash it. Instead, he threw his breakfast tray against the wall, relishing in the noise of breaking glass.
"Potter!" he growled as he stood up and started to pace the room.
He whirled on his heel and blasted a vase standing on a chest.
That brat was supposed to be dead and buried.
He blasted a mirror.
So he had been alive all this time.
And the breaking of the bond meant one of two things. Either the brat was now really and truly dead as he should have already been, or he was alive and had somehow managed to enter the Wizarding world and learnt enough to manage to break the bond.
And if he was alive, Voldemort was going to remedy to this fact quickly and make sure the brat would die once for all.
Blasting a lamp, Voldemort took several deep breaths to calm down and to reign in his fury. He then wrenched the door opened and stalked to his Meeting room, grabbing a random Death Eater on his way and used his mark to summon his Inner Circle.
Severus Snape was brewing.
He had all the ingredients he wanted, a top of the line laboratory over which he had free reign. He was feared by nearly all those residing around, meaning he was rarely if ever bothered.
His plans were all progressing nicely.
Severus Snape was a satisfied man.
Until his mark had burnt and a house elf had popped in the room, nearly startling him in dropping the whole vial of Basilisk venom in the potion he had been working on, an action which would have killed all those living in a 5-kilometre range.
"Master Snape," the house-elf started saying.
"Silence," he barked, cowing the creature.
Stilling his hand, he dipped the vial and allowed three drops of blood into the potion and watched as it turned into a brilliant turquoise colour.
Putting a stasis field over the cauldron, he descended on the creature with a vengeful ire.
"How dare you enter these rooms?! I expressively forbade…"
"Mopy is sorry sir, Mopy will punished himself most severely, sir. But Mopy was ordered to come and get Master Snape sir."
"And who ordered you to?" sneered Snape.
"His Lordship, Master Snape sir."
A deep frown settled on the Potion master's face. He shot a glance at his apprentice who was brewing on the opposite side, apparently lost in his potion. But he knew he was listening.
"Apprentice! Once you are finished with this potion, you will continue with this batch of blinding solution. I just added the Basilisk venom."
A sharp nod was his only answer as he took off his heavy apron, goggles and gloves. Washing his hands thoroughly, he shrugged back on his usual black robes and some thin gloves he had personally treated with various solutions to protect himself from poisons.
"Where?" He snapped at the House-Elf.
"His Lordship's Meeting room, Master Snape, sir." It squeaked fearfully.
With a snarl, Snape stalked out the laboratories, the creature scrambling to follow him, popping out when the Potion master shot a cutting hex in its direction.
He quickly made his way through the compound and reached the Meeting room. Reinforcing his Occlumency shields, he stepped into the room. He immediately noticed he was the last to arrive as all the Inner Circle was already seated.
He took his seat at Voldemort's right, Lucius sitting on his left. He watched with some smugness as he appeared to be one of the few not looking tired from the past night's celebrations.
"You took your time, Severus. You do know I do not appreciate lateness."
He bowed his head, keeping his face bland.
"I do apologize, My Lord, I was in the middle of a delicate brewing."
Voldemort smirked but his face turned dark quickly.
"You are excused. You recall, I suppose, the potion you gave me last night."
Startled, Severus nodded, wondering where this was going.
"Yes, my Lord, it was a simple headache cure."
"Exactly. However I woke up this morning with a headache twice as painful. And I do not doubt the quality of your brews, Severus."
The Potion Master frowned.
"That should not be possible. Unless…" He paused. Dread filled as he suddenly linked all the dots.
He was going to kill that boy.
However Voldemort did not catch on his thoughts.
"Exactly, I had Questren realize a scan this morning. A scan that showed that a bond I had not been aware had been brutally broken without my consent."
Several Death Eaters started to whisper.
"Silence," hissed Voldemort. "Now, tell me, my faithful. How. Can. Harry. Potter. Have. Been. Alive. All this time?" His voice had turned into a cold hiss as he stressed every word.
All the Death Eaters blanched.
"Harry Potter, my Lord?" said Lucius.
Voldemort shot him a withering look.
"There is no other person I could have formed a bond with unknowingly. And now I want to know where he is."
Sletskaya spoke up.
"If the bond was broken, doesn't that mean the boy is dead?"
The Potion master followed, jumping on the opportunity.
"Indeed my Lord, it is most probable that the boy finally met the end he should have seventeen years ago."
Voldemort tightened his grip on his glass.
"I do not want probabilities. I want certitudes. Do you know what would happen if Dumbledore came to realize there is the smallest chance that that brat is alive? If he is dead, I want to see the body, I want proof!"
He looked around the room.
"Spare no expenses. Research all the archives at the Ministry. Wherever he was sent after Halloween, have it investigated. Send envoys to all the creatures' communities: the Goblins, the Vampires, the Veelas, the Werewolves…. If he ever came in contact with one of them I want to know. Ask all the magical schools. Spread his parents' photos, their magical signatures. Use every mean to find him: Potions, crystals, seers. Be it in the Muggle or Magical world I want him or his body found."
All those around the table nodded grimly.
"We can't afford for the Light to rally behind the hope their 'Boy-who-lived' might be alive. The Vampires agreed to an alliance, the Incubus and Succubus as well as the Syrens are about to. The Werewolves will once they are done with their fights and will join our ranks."
Voldemort swept the room with his gaze.
"If the Light has its Boy-who-lived, the Dark will have its Dark Prince. Come New Year, I will choose three protégés and will choose the worthiest one come Beltane," he snapped, changing brutally of subject.
"And how will you make your choice, my Lord," asked Bellatrix, a glint in her eyes.
"My choice will be made upon my own observations of all the potential youths currently in our compounds. All of them will be considered no matter their ages or origins."
He paused and looked at his Inner circle and smirked upon seeing the calculating looks in most of their eyes. Many of them had sons or daughters old enough to be considered and the Dark Lord was quite aware of the manoeuvring going on among the youths and most importantly their parents.
There had been many accidents during the training all Death Eaters's children were subjected to. Very few had been fatal, but most had left the victims disabled.
Voldemort had turned a blind eye to this. After all, it spared him from culling his ranks. Only those strong enough thrived in the Dark.
"It is needless to tell you that finding Potter is your priority," he hissed warningly, enjoying how most of them twitched. "Now, leave me."
They all stood up and quietly made their way.
The Potion Master sat back in his chair, tightening his mental shields. He barely refrained from smirking at the envious glare Bellatrix sent his way. He knew she had always desired his place at the Dark Lord's side and he knew from Narcissa that she had been livid when the Dark Lord had chosen Lucius.
"You seem deep in thought, Severus."
Snape immediately brought his attention back to the situation at hand.
"Nothing important, my lord," answered Snape quickly, not wishing to irritate the Dark Lord.
The man looked amused.
"You are not a man to waste time with unimportant thoughts, Severus, but that is not why I asked you to remain. I assume your apprentice's trip to his school was profitable."
"He came back looking none the worse for it. I do not know much about what happened. Nightshades' graduates have always been closed-mouthed about their school." He paused, not really sure of what was safe to tell the Dark Lord at this stage of the game.
"And there were no changes about him?"
The Potion Master frowned a little.
"Not ones I've been able to see during the little time I've had with him this morning, my Lord."
The red eyes narrowed in thought.
"I want him to attend the training session of the Juniors this afternoon."
"My Lord, if I may speak freely," said Snape a little hesitant.
"There is a lot of work to be done in the labs this week and pardon me for my audacity, but there is very little he would learn from attending this training."
"So sure of your apprentice's skills, Severus?"
"Nightshades does not tolerate mediocrity, my Lord."
Voldemort let out a small hissing laugh.
"True, so true, Severus. I however wish to see him this afternoon."
Snape knew an order when he heard one.
"As my Lord wishes it."
The Potion Master stood up and headed for the door, robes billowing in his wake.
He strode through the corridors in a foul mood wishing nothing more than an excuse to curse someone. He finally reached the laboratories and entered it without a sound.
No matter how angry he was, he did not relish the thought of his laboratories exploding.
The young man was vigorously stirring the potion he had been working on before he was summoned. Suddenly, he gave two strong counter-clock stirs to stop the twirling liquid. He took a step back and whispered a charm.
Two meter-high flames engulfed the cauldron and blazed for ten seconds before he completely snuffed them and cast a freezing charm on the cauldron.
Snape walked to the cauldron an eyed the contents.
Julian nodded and started to make his way to his own station.
"My office, now." Snape's voice was icy and left no room for argument. They both entered the office and as soon as the young man had closed the door, Snape pushed a hidden button in the carving of his desk.
A soft buzz was heard as strong wards snapped in place.
Both of them remained standing, Julian eyeing the Potion Master warily wondering what could have set off the man like this.
"The Dark Lord is convinced that Harry Potter is alive," grounded the sombre man. "Apparently he was quite affected by the severing of a bond last night. A bond he linked to Harry Potter."
Julian leant against the wall, face blank and voice calm as he spoke up.
"I wasn't something that could be avoided. You and I both knew this. And it's not like they will find any hint of Harry Potter's existence…"
Snape shot him a shrewd look.
"Do not make the mistake of underestimating the Dark Lord or Dumbledore for that matter."
"It's not like Dumbledore has been that bothersome for now."
The Potion master's head snapped up, his eyes locking with Julian's.
"If there is one man you should never, never underestimate it is Dumbledore, Julian. He is more dangerous than you think."
"It didn't look like it when I saw him…"
"You took him by surprise. However he is not your main problem right now."
Julian shook his head.
"You made sure I learnt how to cover my tracks, master. And I assure you that Master Karal made sure I was thorough."
"Who knows of who you once were?"
"Master Karal, yourself, Evan, his father and the head of their blood mages. Not even my circle was told."
"I do not think it was wise to allow them to learn of your past name."
Julian did not answer as there was little he could say or do about that.
"However what is done is done, I can only hope for your sake that this will not come back to haunt you." Snape folded and unfolded his hands, smoothing the soft wood of his desk.
"On another note, The Dark Lord wants to see you at the Juniors' practice this afternoon." He held his hand, cutting his apprentice's protests. "This wasn't a request, Apprentice."
He smirked at the young man.
"Consider it punishment for putting me in such a position."
Julian's fist tightened though his face showed little of the emotion coursing through him.
"Master." He bowed his head, silently requesting to be excused.
"Go back to work, Apprentice. You can have the rest of the day for yourself once you'll be done with the requests for today. I'll be in the High security labs all day."
As Julian was about to exit his office he called out to him.
"The Dark Lord will choose a few protégés by New Year, one of them he will choose as his prince." You could practically taste the distaste in the man's voice. "It would be wise of you to keep your head down for the coming weeks…"
Julian did not turn but nodded, the warning having been heard loud and clear.
The remainder of the morning passed quickly. They both ate in their respective offices and by 2 pm, Julian headed for the Training Halls after having changed into suitable attire and having packed some of his weapons.
He silently made his way inside and put his bag on an empty chair, making sure to charm it so no one but him would be able to touch it. Not that any would escape the bite of Sostris should one managed to bypass his charms. His snakes were getting more and more protective as time passed.
He looked over the room, eyes narrowed.
Two men were working with a dozen of young children. They were going through basic duelling motions, hexes and jinxes with them. Ten older looking ones were practicing aim, speed and dodging. However, the main group was made of youths around his own age.
Several Death Eaters were walking among them, obviously trainers. Some of them were practicing sword fighting. Julian had learnt it was the only wandless method of fighting that was tolerated by the purebloods. Most of them regarded it as a noble art.
Others were involved in a melee, probably an everyone for himself type of fight. Those left were working two on two on silent casting while a few were going through an obstacle course or working with animated dummies.
Julian pursed his lips. While it wasn't close to the level Karal requested of his students, he had to admit the training was nothing to scoff at and covered both the Light and Dark area of Magic.
He went to an unused mat, having cast a notice-me-not charm on himself. He might have been asked to be here but he wasn't going to waste time.
He started on the warm-up exercises they were taught at Nightshades. He then followed with Magical Martial Arts. They used the inner magic to strengthen bones, skin, add power behind a blow, height to a jump or speed to a movement. When mastered it proved to be a deadly advantage in a fight. The Art had come easily to him, his Sorcerer training helping tremendously with his progress. He spat out a curse as he missed on one of his jumps, falling on the mat, his concentration having been broken by the arrival of the Dark Lord.
The whole room fell silent as everyone bowed to him.
"Carry on," said Voldemort dismissively, a slight hiss underlying his speech.
Immediately the room bustled with activity though Julian remained still.
The older wizard glided through the groups, exchanging a few words with the adults, his eyes looking over every face in the room. He finally stopped to talk with the man who had seemed to be in charge of the older teens. The man shook his head, barking something to the blond kid Julian had met before. He shook his head before concentrating back on his duel with a dark haired boy.
Voldemort frowned a little. Julian then felt a foreign magic spread through the room and wash over him.
Cheater, he thought as he did not miss the smirk of the Dark Lord as he walked straight to him.
"If you could drop the charms, apprentice."
Julian waved his wand and countered his Notice-me-not charm.
"Lord Voldemort," he answered, bowing his head.
"I thought I told Severus that you were to join the Juniors for this session."
Julian refrained from smirking.
"I must have misunderstood his words. I was told I had to attend their practice, not that I should join them in their exercises."
The Dark Lord looked amused, something that annoyed the young man.
"I'm sure it is just a misunderstanding, apprentice. But since their practice is not over, you won't mind joining them."
Julian's lips curled in distaste as he eyed the other teens that had for the most part stopped to watch the both of them. Having not much of a choice, he walked purposely to the man the Dark Lord had talked to.
He was quite tall, tanned skin with several thin scars on his arms, short dark hair. Julian immediately noticed the thin build, the careful movements. However it was the chocolate-brown eyes that were the most telling. They were a little slanted upwards and constantly moving, taking in everything and everyone and re-evaluating the situation.
More precisely a Master Assassin if the three beauty-spot like dots on the back of his right hand were to be believed.
He gave a small nod to the man.
"The Dark Lord required that I follow today's practice, Idrashker."
The man lips twitched as he returned the nod.
"I was told so. You can carry on with your usual practicing. I only ask that you remain once they are done."
"May I know why?"
The Assassin smiled.
"It is not often I get to test myself against a Nightshade's child."
Julian nodded, feeling some excitement at the prospect of a challenge. He went to the side and sat down. Settling in a comfortable position, he erected a shield around him. It wouldn't do for some stray curse to hit him during his meditation.
He closed his eyes, finding it easier this way, and went to practice several exercises Master Karal had required him to perform daily. It had been a duty he had been foregoing a lot these past days; something he would have to remedy to.
He was concentrating on slowing and speeding the magic flowing through him to try to enlarge his own magical channels and core. There would be the only things restraining his use of magical nodes when he'd try his hand at controlling one.
Feeling his shield breaking, he came out of his meditative stance to notice that everyone had left except the Assassin and the Dark Lord.
He sighed as he stood up. It wouldn't do if he beat the man, if he could that is. However should he loose too quickly, they would know he had thrown the spar.
"Well, young man, let see what you are made of…" said the Assassin. "Do you have any weapon of predilection?"
Julian was tempted to let the man choose but caught himself as the Dark Lord went to sit in a chair he had conjured. Now was not the time for showing of!
"Sword and Magic. First Blood" He summoned his sword and unsheathed it. He then went through a few warm up exercises followed by the Assassin.
He was more proficient with the daggers but it would be a little easier to downplay his skills with the sword.
Having finished getting ready he turned to the man.
The Assassin was graceful, not that Julian had expected any less. It was evident the man was a master.
"Ready, Apprentice?" He asked with a small smile.
Julian nodded but held his hand up and threw several privacy shields up, not wanting the Juniors he could see lurking by the room's entrance to watch. He immediately felt a hole appearing in them and whirled around to see Voldemort standing, his wand out, smirking at him.
So he wanted his minions to watch. That must have been the point he wanted to make when he had asked him to come today.
Knowing he could do little about it without revealing his strength, Julian raised his sword and saluted his opponent.
The man saluted back and fell into his stance.
They circled each other for several seconds, eyeing their opponent's movements, looking for the smallest hint of weakness. The Assassin was the first to strike.
Without warning, he twirled and lunged aiming for Julian's leg. The younger man rolled aside, sweeping his blade at the man's ankles at the same time. Once on his feet, he blocked the blow coming from upward. Both of them pressed against their crossed blades, their eyes betraying nothing of their plans.
Julian changed his grip a little and let the man tilt his sword down with his own before strongly pushing his sword's guard upward, smirking a little as the metal crashed into the assassin jaw. He danced backward, parrying the blows the assassin rained on him. One of them narrowly missed breaking his skin but ripped his shirt's arm instead.
Glaring at the man, he decided to up the spar a little and started to focus his magic through the sword.
His then made a diagonal slash aiming for his opponent's torso while silently casting a petrifying curse. The assassin ducked the blow while casting his own shield. But Julian hadn't waited for his curse to hit and was already attacking.
The assassin parried another strike, pushing the younger wizard backward and following with a series of small lunges forwards accompanied by a volley of curses.
Julian allowed himself to fall back in a defensive stance, all the while flinging his own spells at the assassin. For a few minutes they carried on like that: one of them attacking, the other defending before changing role.
Julian was quickly growing weary of that spar. Looking at the Assassin, he knew his opponent was aware he was not fighting to the best of his abilities and was consequently holding back too.
Ducking on his left and raising his sword to parry a blow, sending a mild cutting curse tweaked with a confusion curse.
He was not surprised when the cutting curse merely cut through the assassin's clothes and had to duck once more as the man reflected his curse back to him, following with a blinding hex that had been outlawed thirty years ago. Reflecting it, he twirled his sword in an eight-shaped pattern before lunging forwards, forcing his opponent to roll on his left.
He used those few seconds to perform a highly powered Lumos and quickly pulled out one of his hair, transfiguring it into a copy of himself before drifting behind the Assassin.
The Assassin had his eyes closed but did not seemed to be hindered by it as Julian had expected. Like himself the man had been trained to fight blindly using all of his senses and aura-sensing. His opponent twirled on himself, thrusting his sword at Julian who side stepped it and blocked the following blow while trying to land one of his own.
The moment the man opened his eyes, he had been careful to stand next to his dummy. He directed his dummy to attack at the same time he did, hoping to distract the man enough to end the spar.
However the assassin was not so easily fooled. Flinging a Finite Incantatem at the dummy, he attacked Julian with renewed vigour.
Julian scowled at being unable to use most of his duelling arsenal. The man seemed to sense this and suddenly accelerated, forcing Julian to defend.
He cast a banishing charm at Julian's sword only to have the young man shift hand and attack with his left hand. The assassin did a back flip putting a little distance between both of them before seemingly disappearing.
Not bothering to look for him, Julian focused on his aura-sensing, and suddenly turned, raising his sword against his face, blocking the Assassin sword mere centimetres from his nose.
While the blow had been delivered with the flat of his sword and would then not have killed him, it would have hurt.
Scowling he took a few steps back casting Reducto and several petrifying charms that were ducked. He conjured a snake and ordered it to attack. He wanted this to be over and done with. That thought went down the drain when the Assassin banished it without a care.
He lunged forwards, aiming at the man's right arm for his last attack leaving his left side opened. He twisted at the last moment, placing his back to his opponent and shifting his sword from left to right hand. He thrust his sword downward, aiming for the thigh.
The Assassin seemed to have anticipated his move. He shifted minutely to the left and struck. Julian cursed as he felt a swift burn on his left side and knew the man had hit him too.
Stepping away from the man and trying to calm his breathing, he felt his left side and was not surprised to see blood on his hand.
He took his shirt out of his pants and pushed it up to get a look at the cut.
The man had been careful. It was a straight clean cut barely one centimetre deep at its deepest point. Casting a quick spell to disinfect it, Julian then used a mild healing spell before tucking his shirt back in.
"Do you yield, Apprentice?" stated the Assassin, his sword at the ready.
The man smiled tightly.
"The name is Xyos, Indigo Ring. It seems your school has earned its renown."
Julian bowed his head in acknowledgement of the implicit compliment.
"Thank you, Indigo Xyos."
The Assassin smiled tightly.
"I look forwards the day you will have reached your full potential and we will be able to have a rematch."
Julian looked in his eyes, finding a knowing glint in them and replied in kind.
"Indeed, Indigo Xyos, I still have many things to learn."
"So true, Apprentice."
Julian tilted his head forwards.
"I need to go back to my studies, Idrashker, if you'll excuse me."
"You are excused. Feel free to use this room for your practicing should you need it."
Julian turned and summoned his belongings to him before heading for the door. As he was about walk out, his eyes met Voldemort's and narrowed as he took in the Dark Lord's face.
The man had remained silent throughout the whole spar, watching the both of them keenly. Julian barely repressed a shiver upon seeing the possessiveness and hunger in the man's gaze combined with a contemplative expression.
Maybe he should have just thrown the fight, his pride be damned!
Zacharias Smith exited the practice room with a small limp. Zabini had not gone lightly on him. The more time he spent at the Dark Fortress, the gloomier the situation looked for the Light.
He could not compare the training the Light was giving to its children to the one he was receiving here. Here they were trained to be soldiers, they were trained to kill with no distinction between Dark and Light spells.
He would need to make his report to Dumbledore soon. There had been a lot of rumours circulating today, one of the main one being that You-Know-Who was about to choose some protégés amongst whom he would choose his heir.
Malfoy had stopped in the door way and was looking inside. The Lestrange twins did not bother staying behind and carried on, probably to their rooms. Zabini stopped and sighed.
"Draco, we're all tired and in need of a shower so now is not a good time for your theatrics."
The blond shot his friend a withering glare.
"I'll get you for that comment Zabini." He turned his attention back to what was going on in the room. "It looks like Richards is going to fight our trainer."
Everyone immediately rushed to the door way.
"No way, the man's a Master Assassin," said Nott with a sneer. "Richards doesn't stand a chance."
"Well, it looks like it," said Greengrass.
"Must have been why The Dark Lord came and made Richards come to our practice. He probably wanted to know how good he was," added Zabini in a whisper.
Zacharias was keeping quiet, observing the teenager every movement. Dumbledore had been particularly interested in him but there had been little to say. Richards was mostly keeping to his rooms and labs. The only persons he interacted with were his master, Voldemort and that Vampire on the occasions he visited. However, Zacharias wasn't about to go to any of them for information.
They watched as the two of them warmed up. When it looked like they were going to start fighting, Richards stopped and cast several spells hiding them from their eyes.
Groans echoed in the corridor.
"Why did he do that?!" whined Parkinson.
Zabini rolled his eyes.
"Well, he probably doesn't want his skills to be broadcasted throughout the compound. That makes sense."
"Sense or not, that doesn't change the fact that we could have gotten valuable information on him and now we can't," snapped a peeved Draco, raking a hand through his hair. Zabini snorted.
"I think that was the point. I don't think Richards will drop them just to satisfy your curiosity, but feel free to go and ask him." He smirked at the Malfoy heir. "Just let me be here to watch it though. I'm always in want of some entertainment"
Malfoy's cheeks had taken a rosy hue and he started to open his mouth, probably to gratify his peer with a cutting answer. He closed his mouth, and seemed to swallow his retort, remembering who else was in the training room. Loosing his temper and cool would not impress the Dark Lord.
Zacharias gritted his teeth. How he loathed that boy! He would celebrate the day both he and his father earned their due.
"Well, there is no point in standing there like a pack of idiots." The blonde started to walk away in a huff.
But as soon as he said this, the privacy wards seemed to disappeared, leaving them a clear view of what was going on.
Zacharias immediately saw that Voldemort had his wand out.
So he wanted them to watch this.
As the fight started, Zacharias felt his eyes widen more and more as the two duellists exchanged blows. He did not know what scared him more. That Richards was not using spells other than basic duelling curses or that he was fighting the Master Assassin to a standstill.
From the awed expression on a few faces and the contemplative one on the others he was not the only one to think so.
Then there was a blinding light. It took several seconds for Zacharias' vision to return and then he noticed that there were two Richards standing in the room.
Master-level Transfiguration and Charms
The fight continued until their trainer managed to dispel Richards' creation. Then the whole duel seemed to go on accelerated speed, as if the both of them had been purposely slowing themselves.
Zacharias frowned and studied the duel closer.
Maybe they were…
He could not stop his gasp as his trainer seemed to disappear and watched with wide eyes as Richards just stood there, only turning abruptly to stop an attack none of them had even seen coming.
The fight finally ended a few minutes later. The end left them disappointed given the intensity of the duel.
The young man looked at his companions. All of them were looking at the two duellers with different degrees of awe.
"H-How did he learn to fight like this?" asked Parkinson, face pale.
Zabini seemed to have gotten his shock under control. As had Greengrass and Nott. Zacharias knew those three and the Lestrange twins were the ones to watch. Many thought Malfoy was the more powerful of them but the young man wasn't fooled.
Those three were more dangerous. They hid behind Malfoy, watching, learning and not drawing attention to themselves at least not until they were ready to crush you.
"He is a Nightshades' alumni, Parkinson! What do you think they teach their students, knitting?" snapped Nott.
The girl turned bright red.
"What is so great about that school? Everyone knows Hogwarts is the finest one or at least was!"
Zabini rolled his eyes.
"Pansy, spare yourself some humiliation and don't talk about things you know nothing of."
Greengrass cut her.
"You have to wonder what would happen if the both of them had truly fought at their best."
"Because that wasn't it?" Crabbe's face was full of wonder.
Once more Zacharias could not help but feel pity toward him and Goyle. Both boys had been bound as protectors to Malfoy Jr when they were barely three year old children as payment of a debt their fathers owed the Malfoy Lord. Unfortunately that early of a bond had had unforeseen consequences on their development and intelligence, leaving them with slow learning abilities and mental reasoning.
"Of course not, Vincent," said Zabini, his tone gentler than when he had spoken to Parkinson. "Save for a handful of curses they never used spells above Newt-level, unique powers or abilities."
"Do you think the Dark Lord will choose him?" asked Malfoy, voice unsteady. "Why would he have wanted us to witness this if not to show us where the power was?"
"That is not for us to decide. Besides power is not everything."
"Richards is not even marked," added Zabini. "And his kind has never sworn allegiance to another before."
"That is all good and well but we should leave. Richards is about to walk out."
They all hurried away, their minds still reeling from what they had seen and for some of them already planning what they were going to do with this knowledge.
Zacharias went straight for his rooms.
Once there he walked to his desk and slumped on his chair.
He needed to see Dumbledore.
Rising to his feet, he went to take his cloak which was lying on his bed. As he walked to the compound exit, he fingered a piece of parchment.
It was fortunate that the Healer Apprentice had been too lazy to go fetch the items his master had required and had gladly handed his list to Zacharias.
He quickly explained his reason for leaving to the guard and was allowed outside.
He knew he couldn't waste time without getting suspicious and so hurried to the apparition point.
He appeared in a dark street not far from the Leaky Cauldron. Quickly going inside and entering the Alley, he bought the items that justified his errand. He then exited Diagon Alley and went inside Muggle London.
Finding a dark desert place, he raised his hood and fingered his heir ring. Five seconds later, his portkey activated.
He reappeared in a small bare room.
"Name?" asked a disincarnated voice.
"Strawberry Marshmallow," he sighed, needing this to go quickly if he didn't want to draw attention to himself.
A stone of the room glowed blue and already knowing what to do, he went to place his hand over it, tuning out the instructions given by the voice.
A click was heard and a door appeared in the wall.
He opened it and strode to the Headmaster's office, keeping his hood up despite the wary looks he garnered on his way.
People couldn't talk of what they didn't know.
He finally reached the office and knocked on the door.
He stepped in to find Albus Dumbledore deep in thought while looking at a map of Britain.
"Headmaster," he said nodding sharply.
The old man looked up with a tight smile.
"I assume you have important news to take such a risk, my boy. But take a seat. Tea?"
"No thank you, Headmaster." Zacharias took a few seconds to gather his thoughts. "You-Know-Who announced his intention to take on several protégés on New Year's Eve and that one of them would be chosen as his heir."
Dumbledore's face darkened a little.
"That is indeed grave news. Do you have any idea as to who could be chosen?"
Zacharias looked as his hands.
"Nott, Zabini, Greengrass are strong candidates, Montague is also a possibility as is Keller."
"Malfoy or Lestrange?"
"He might choose them as protégés to placate their parents but never as his heir. But the more dangerous choice would be Richards."
Dumbledore leant back in his chair.
"You-Know-Who has taken quite the interest in him no matter how discreet he is trying to be. We rarely see him except for meals and the meetings You-Know-Who asked him to be at his side. However there is something you should see… I'll need your pensive, Headmaster."
The elder wizard silently went to fetch it and placed it on the desk. Zacharias raised his wand to his temple and drew one silvery strand he put in the basin.
"I think this will interest you, Headmaster."
Dumbledore nodded and both of them placed a finger in the swirling liquid. As they were drawn into his memory, Zacharias watched Dumbledore's face thorough the whole thing. The old wizard appeared troubled, surprised and then thoughtful.
They were both expelled of the pensive as the memory came to an end.
"Most interesting indeed my boy," he said, rising to his feet to walk to the perch where his phoenix was resting. "You've given me a lot to think about. For now, carry on as you have done. Leave the Richards boy alone: do not hinder or aid him."
"Very well, sir."
He stood up and headed for the door.
"Be sure to stay in the compound for the coming weeks, my boy."
Knowing this to be a warning, Zacharias bowed to the Light Leader and left to go back to Lazarin.
Back in his office, Dumbledore pat his phoenix one last time.
He walked back to sit in his chair and gazed at the map once more.
A silver phoenix burst from his wand.
"Please come to my office" he said to the Patronus before directing it to go to those forming the Resistance council present in Hogwarts.
Taking a Phoenix engraved medal, he waved his wand over it, signalling a meeting was to occur then activated the four mirrors hanging on the walls.
Ten minutes later everyone was there.
"Thank you all for coming, Tea? Lemon drops?"
"Spare us the pleasantries, Albus," snapped Moody. "Have you come to a decision regarding the plan?"
Dumbledore nodded and waved his wand at the map that had been pinned to the wall.
"Yes, we will carry on with the plan on New Year Eve."
A victorious smile broke Moody's face in two.
"Finally! I'll have my men ready."
"Are we keeping to the targets we chose, Headmaster?" asked Kingsley.
"Indeed my boy, unless you think we should make some changes."
The Auror looked at the map and shook his head.
"No, I just wanted to make sure. Your spies will have everything ready by then I expect."
"Yes, if all goes well, we'll manage to regain some ground. Amelia you'll have to send word to the more southern underground cells. They need to go to sleep for the coming weeks. Once we strike, Voldemort," he frowned as many in the room shivered upon hearing the name, "will be out for blood and he'll want to make some examples out of those that resist him."
Amelia Bones nodded. She had lost her right arm and the use of her legs in the Ministry attack. Since then she had been driven by the need to get revenge. As she could no longer fight, she had been given the task of coordinating the various Underground cells.
"Very well, I'll spread the word. Anything else, Albus?"
The old man sighed.
"I want any investigation about the Richards boy to stop."
"Why, that boy could be dead useful if we could convince him to help us."
Albus shook is head.
"We have more important matters for now, Alastor. Richards is not a threat for now."
"But he could be!"
"What would you suggest we do then, Alastor?"
"Eliminate the problem before he starts to be one."
Amelia Bones shot a withering glare at the scarred man.
"We're not assassins, Alastor. I did not fight for us to behave no better than Death Eaters!"
Before Moody could answer, Dumbledore spoke up.
"It would solve nothing. One of my spies informed me that Voldemort was about to choose some protégés. One of them he would later choose as his heir."
"And you don't think Richards is a shoe in!" cut Moody.
Dumbledore shook his head.
"That is not our main problem for now. We need to concentrate on our plan."
Moody leant back in his chair, crossing his arms on his chest.
"I think you are all making a mistake. That boy will be a danger, mark my word."
Albus shook his head.
"We need to choose our fights, Alastor. We can't afford to alienate people that have remained neutral for now."
One more hour was spent checking the different parts of their plan.
It was their one chance and they were all determined to succeed. Any failure would mean the end of the British Resistance.
Julian entered his room, closed and locked his door behind him, raising his privacy wards immediately. Standing in the middle of his room, he took several deep breaths.
Swirling on his heels, he slashed his hand towards the window and was strangely soothed by the sounds of broken glass falling on the ground. All his snakes had woken up and were watching him keenly.
Feeling better, he waved his hand again and watched as the window slowly repaired itself.
"What has angered you so, Master?" hissed Kahn.
Julian walked to the bed and fell back on it with a sigh. Immediately his five snakes slithered to him.
He absent-mindedly stroked the young Basilisk's head.
"Nothing you can help me with I'm afraid, Kahn."
"Was it the Snake-speaker?" asked Salya. "We have seen him looking at you, Master."
Layn bobbed his head.
"There is hunger in the air whenever he gazes upon you."
Julian sighed once more.
"He hungers for my power," he stated, "and what happened today will do little to dim his interest."
"You should just kill him and be done with it," hissed the right head of the Runespoor.
"Fool! Killing him will only bring destruction upon us," answered Zianie, the left head.
"It's not like you can give a better idea!" hissed the first head.
The two of them started to bicker and try to bite the other while the middle one was starring dazedly at the ceiling.
The young wizard rolled his eyes.
"Things are happening faster than I thought they would." He rubbed his eyes. "I did not expect Voldemort to take such an interest in me that quickly."
"No Parselmouth would have ignored another on his territory," hissed Kahn.
"It's not like I flaunted that particular skill, Kahn. But I need more time before I can show my hand."
"Then make yourself more time, Master."
"Time-turners do not solve anything. Most of the time they create more problems."
Sostris raised his upper body.
"Those sand-filled baubles are for fools, Master."
The black-haired wizard frowned.
"What do you mean, Sostris?"
"You need time away from the Speaker. Then make it so he will choose to stay away from you."
Julian bit his low lip, a frown marring his forehead as he went over the snake's words.
"Why would he choose to leave me alone…"
"No snake preys on one ill." Kahn slithered so his head rested in Julian's lap. The young man absent-mindedly scratched his head, knowing the young Basilisk was starting to shed.
He waved his other hand summoning a thin manuscript to him. After checking that the preserving charms were still working, he carefully leafed through it. Finding what he wanted, he slowly read the yellowed parchment.
"That might work… But I'll need to tweak it… maybe if I switched…"
Sostris butted his head against his side, breaking his train of thoughts.
"You should speak to your master. You will need his help, Master."
Julian nodded slowly, his thoughts once more going to what he had been reading.
"I will… Tonight."
He placed the manuscript on his night-table and lay back down on his bed, waving his wand to set up an alarm to wake him up in two hours.
He would catch some sleep. He needed to be rested before he started to plan. Closing his eyes, trusting his snakes to guard him, he let sleep take him.
"It might just work," finally stated Snape, looking up from the parchment he was reading.
Julian leant backwards, slightly relieved.
"When are you going to set this up?" the potion master asked.
The young man frowned.
"A few days before New Year Eve," he answered, "it will give me enough time to have everything ready."
Snape nodded, his forefinger going down the page.
"It should be possible. I assume your contacts will manage to get the missing ingredients…" He frowned. "The Dark Lord knows he has little to make you abide to his will. You will have to be careful. For the coming week, you will spend your time on your thesis in the High Security Labs. Should you be asked, you received word from the Guild of a mistake in the premises of your thesis. I disciplined you and forbade you from doing anything but working on it."
Julian tilted his head on the side.
"Won't the Dark Lord object to this?"
Snape shot him a dark look.
"You are MY apprentice. You are the first one I ever took and the Dark Lord needs Potion Masters, more particularly high caliber Potion Masters. He also knows that I won't tolerate a failure on your part."
The young man raked a hand in his hair.
"It could put you in a difficult position…" he pointed out.
"I didn't think you cared apprentice," he drawled. "However it is not like it will undermine his plan. He might even see it as an opportunity. You will be confined to the compound while he will have time to find a way to make you join him."
He looked down to the parchment in his hand.
"The Dark Lord is possessive and in his mind, he has claimed you as his the moment he saw you were somewhat part of his line. If this works, it will only give you some time to plan but won't solve much. The moment you are back or he learns of your trick, he won't stop until you join him or you are dead. You will have to be ready." He looked up and locked his eyes with those of his apprentice.
Julian slowly shook his head.
"I will be."
"You are not coming to the Christmas Ball?"
Julian looked up from his parchment, annoyed. Seeing the blond hair of the Malfoy scion, he had to bite back his words. Zabini and Parkinson were also standing in the room.
Low profile, he had to keep a low profile.
"As you can see, I'm not."
The blonde's eyes widened minutely.
"But it is Christmas!"
Julian leant back on his chair.
"And I should care because?"
"I don't know! Christmas cheer? Presents? The Ball? An excuse to have a good time?"
The dark-haired young man rolled his eyes.
"I did not think the Malfoy heir was so attached to a Muggle holiday," he said with a smirk.
Malfoy flushed much to Julian's amusement.
"It's not-… "
"The Dark Lord usually requires everyone to attend the ball," cut Zabini, much to Julian's disappointment. Watching Malfoy flounder would have raised his mood.
"My master deemed my thesis' work more important than the Ball. The Dark Lord agreed with him."
Zabini tilted his head minutely.
"It's true that lately you seem to sleep in the Labs. You've scarcely left them."
Julian looked back to his parchment.
What he had written had little to do with his thesis but they did not have to know this. For all purpose he had to appear to be neck-deep in Potion theories if he wanted his plan to succeed. The potion was ready, only missing the last ingredients. Evan had promised to have them sent in two days time. He had everything planned for the coming months.
Now he could only hope that his deception would be good enough to fool the Dark Lord.
He pushed those thoughts aside and focused back on what Zabini was saying.
The young man seemed to have taken his silence as a tacit agreement.
"But even Snape won't be able to keep you to the Labs for New Year Eve."
Julian raised an eyebrow at the implicit question.
"Yes. Master Snape told me the Dark Lord required our presence at the celebrations," he stated, empathizing the master part.
"Have you already found an escort?" The look Pansy shot him left little to the imagination.
"That is for me to know, Miss Parkinson." He paused for a few seconds. "You should not waste anymore time. It wouldn't do for Pureblood heirs to arrive late to the Ball."
Malfoy quickly cast a Tempus spell and cursed.
"Let's go Blaise or our fathers will crucify us… Richards, we'll see you around."
Zabini gave him a short nod before following his companion, Parkinson in tow.
Julian leant back in his chair, his eyes on their backs.
Voldemort fingered the sheets of parchment lying on his desk.
For now the search for Harry Potter was proving fruitless. The Muggle family he had been placed with had not been that hard to find. They had quickly told them all they knew in exchange for their lives.
Apparently they had gotten rid of the boy as his accidental magic had proved to be too much for them to bear. They had abandoned him in front of an orphanage, one they hadn't cared to remember the name.
Voldemort would have them killed gladly if he had not feared drawing attention to his search.
With a disgusted snort, he pushed the parchments aside and slowly rubbed his temples.
Why was this dratted boy appearing now! The resistance was nearly crushed and people were starting to resign themselves to his reign. He couldn't lose all of this because some brat refused to die.
Should he be alive, Voldemort vowed to kill him once for all and this time he wouldn't make the mistake of using magic.
Muggle means worked just as well and he wouldn't risk the spell going back at him.
No, this time he would succeed, even if he had to strangle the boy with his bare hands.
Evan handed the small pouches to his friend.
"Here they are, Julian."
He took them and peered inside, inwardly relieved. His deadline was coming closer and he was starting to feel the pressure.
"You are just in time," he said before going to his cauldron. He took a pinch from the content of one of the pouches and sprinkled a dark red powder in the liquid before stirring it vigorously.
"Well, thank you Evan for your hard job. Why, Julian? It's what friends do... No, no, really, thank you soooo much," said Evan in a high-pitch voice.
Julian rolled his eyes.
"Thank you Evan," he sighed.
The vampire shot him a satisfied smile.
"You're welcome." His face became suddenly more serious. "But you know it won't come for free, Jul. Nor will the rest that you asked for."
The young wizard nodded.
Evan grabbed his shoulder and shook.
"I'm serious, Jul. Had it only been me, I would have done it as a favour. As Heir I can't."
Julian nodded once more.
"I knew that the moment I asked you for these... I will pay my debts."
The vampire tilted his head to the side.
"I just hope that the price my father will ask for won't be too much for you to pay..."
"Your father is not a fool. He wouldn't ask for something unfeasible." He shot a look at the simmering cauldron. "Anyway it's too late to go back now. I'll just have to weather the storm when or if it comes."
The 29th of December started out as had the day before. The sun feebly tried to pierce through the heavy clouds that filled the sky. It had snowed during the night. Wrapped in heavy clothes, the guards on duty were melting the heaps on snow barring the entrances and exits of the compound.
Slowly the inhabitants started to wake and mill around; carrying on the tasks they had been assigned. Three days away from the New Year celebration, many people were coming and going to have everything ready in time.
Breakfast had just ended when a deafening blast shook the building. Creaks appeared in the walls, dusk fell from the Hall's roof.
For a moment, no one moved, all of them too shocked to do so. Then one of them shot to his feet and ran outside the building, immediately followed by everyone.
In their hurry to leave the building, they did not care about those that fell to the ground. They walked over them despite their cries for help.
As they exited the compound, making their way through the snow they immediately noticed a thick smoke coming out of the North wing.
"What happened?" said one of the Death Eater, voicing the question everyone was thinking.
No one answered.
"That's the High Security Labs..." Nobody had the opportunity to speculate over that piece of information as guards started to mill about, ushering everyone to several safe areas. Then they started to secure the compound.
An hour later, warders and builders were hurrying across the compound, repairing and strengthening the building.
Meanwhile Voldemort was standing by the entrance of the High Security Labs with Snape by his side and a team of curse breakers as well as two healers working inside.
"Severus..." hissed the Dark Lord, cold anger piercing through his voice.
"I want answers. Now."
Snape looked over the destroyed Labs with an internal wince.
The brat hadn't done things in half. More than two third of the room was completely destroyed. Melted metal covered the grounds as well as ingredients. Glass shards on the floor glinted in the light, various fluids dripped slowly to the grounds and mixed, producing various fumes that filled the room with a noxious smell.
Repairing the labs would take weeks not to mention rebuilding the protective wards.
He sent a glare towards the prone form lying on the floor.
"He was working on his thesis. He had told me he was going to try a new approach as part of his work had been refused by the jury."
"I do not see how that could have resulted in this disaster," said the Dark Lord with a frown.
Snape approached the body and crouched next to it, ignoring the curse breakers around him and the two healers practicing their craft on his apprentice.
Inwardly, he had to admit the body was eerily life-like. He had to hand it to the blood-suckers. They really knew their craft when it came to blood magic.
The body was on its back, eyes wide opened. No wound or blood was visible. He just seemed petrified.
Snape stood up and walked to the side and picked up a brown book that seemed to have survived the destruction.
"He was working with Basilisk ingredients. He was using the eyes, the venom, the saliva and the head feathers in his last experiment. I can only speculate for now but this look like a case of Basilisk petrifying. But I can't know for sure if a Mandragore Draught will work or not."
Voldemort raised his wand and cast in Parseltongue.
Snape stiffened as a green glow surrounded the body. It slowly seeped inside with a hissing sound.
"His whole body is frozen. All his organic functions have been stopped but his magic seems to keep it alive somehow," hissed the Dark Lord. He turned to the Healers.
"I want him healed. Do what you must, spare nothing." The tone of his voice left little room for failure. Both healers knew it.
He then shifted his eyes to Snape.
"Find what happened, I want answers."
With that said, he turned on his heels and swept out of the room.
Snape closed his eyes and slowly counted to ten and let out a long breath before starting to collect samples of the mess his apprentice had come up with.
For the next two days, the Death Eaters tried to remain out of sight of both the Dark Lord and the Potion Master. The former had been quite quick to punish for the slightest mistake. The latter seemed to walk around with an angry cloud surrounding him and had taken to curse whoever had the misfortune to come to him. It had not been long before the compound had learnt of the accident and many rumours were flying around.
"Do you really think it was an accident?"
Parkinson's voice broke the silence the room.
"Be quiet Pansy," snapped Zabini in a hushed voice.
"I heard someone tampered with his experiment..." said Goyle.
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear, Gregory. You know nobody can enter the Labs without proper clearance!" answered Malfoy.
"But then what do you think happened?" Crabbe looked down at the prone form of the Potion apprentice.
The blond shrugged.
"Who knows? Maybe he just made a mistake?"
"And that mistake conveniently happened two days before the Dark Lord was to announce his choice of protégés."
"You are seeing conspiracies everywhere, Blaise," answered Greengrass, rolling her eyes. "It might just be an experiment gone wrong."
"Maybe, but you have to agree that the timing is quite convenient for a lot of people, ourselves included." He cut Malfoy's indignant rant. "I know you had nothing to do with it Draco, no need to get on your Pegasi. However Richards was assured to be one of our Lord's protégés."
"Nothing was assured," grumbled the blonde.
"Please, everyone could see how the Dark Lord favoured him. There was no doubt he was going to be chosen."
The blonde shrugged, not wanting to admit that fact. Nobody really knew who Richards was. The Potion apprentice had not interacted much with them. Not even his blood status was known, which was unheard of. Spare the Slytherin mark on his neck that showed a tie to the Serpent line, nothing was known on his lineage. But his power made him hard to dismiss.
Pansy extended her hand and pushed hair strands aside, revealing the Slytherin crest.
"Pansy!" hissed Blaise, "Stop that!"
"Please Blaise, it's not like he's going to wake up and curse us." She took a sharp pin from her hair and brought it to the young man' skin, piercing it none too gently.
"You're going to get us in trouble!" Smith snapped, looking around to make sure nobody had seen it.
The young woman waved his concerns aside.
"Stop worrying all the time, Smith. Do you know how much we could learn from those drops?" she asked gleefully, pressing a handkerchief to wipe the blood. Her smile turned into a pained grimace. With a shrill shriek, she dropped the piece of cloth as it burst into flames.
Panicking, they all looked around.
"W-We should go," stuttered Malfoy.
"A wise decision, young Malfoy," hissed a cold voice making their eyes widened with fear.
"M-master Snape, we were..." started Zabini, hastily bowing to the Dark Lord.
"Were going against the Dark Lord's orders," finished Snape, glaring at them. "I will deal with you later, now get out!" he barked, smirking as they hurried to the door. It was nice to see he hadn't lost his touch.
Shooting a dark look at the body on the bed, he healed the pin prick with a small Episkey charm. Taking out a large obsidian stone from his pocket he placed it at the head of the bed and watched with a satisfied smile as a white bubble enveloped the space around the bed. Raising his wand, he keyed the ward so that only a few healers, his Lord, his apprentice and his vampire friend could pass it.
Sighing, he took the bag filled with potions he had brought the healer. It ate at him to waste time brewing draughts he knew were useless. His bad temper had reached new heights these past days. After he had sent three people to Healing wards, word had spread to stay away from him.
He stepped in the backrooms where the healers lived and worked. Heading straight to the three men pouring over old manuscripts, he dropped the bag on the closest one's table.
The man jumped slightly, startled by the clinking vials.
"Master Snape! I didn't hear..."
"I brought you the potions you asked for is there any progress?" He cut, not wanting to stay there anymore than he needed to.
"No, we've been researching his condition as well as the samples you gave us... The Mandrake Restorative looks to be the most promising solution but it won't be ready before a month."
"AsI am the one brewing it, I'm well aware of how long it'll take to finish it. I want to be informed of any progress regarding my apprentice."
He spun on his heels and left, cloak billowing in his wake. He paid no mind to the terrified apprentice that jumped aside as he left the Healing house.
He strode back to his labs and slammed the doors behind him. With an impatient gesture he picked up a few messages waiting for him on the stand by the door.
He read them quickly but stopped at a short note.
My Dear dearest Severus,
It has been so long since I last met you. I accepted your need for space but I need you my sweet. Yesterday, like every night before, your face haunted my dreams. My memories are filled with nothing but the dark whispers of your voice. Your prolonged absence is tantamount to torture. Why won't you end my torments? You entered the room, my life started anew; a life devoted to you.
Tomorrow and forever yours,
Snape's first reaction was to shred this letter to smithereens until a small mark in the top and bottom left corners caught his eye.
Frowning a little, he reread the missive a few times, placed a bloodied finger over one word, reread it once more before setting it on fire.
He then headed for the labs, a small smirk on his lips. Time to go back to his brewing. There were hours before he was forced to endure tonight frivolities.
New Year Eve, Voldemort's main compound.
Voldemort surveyed the room, a small smirk playing on his lips. The ballroom was brightly lit, couples gracefully gliding across the dance-floor, magical instruments playing in a corner by themselves. People were gathered around the many tables holding food and drinks. House-elves were discreetly popping in and out to refill the glasses and the plates and clean the eventual mess.
He could see how some of his men and women seemed to draw more attention than others. Sycophants were keeping an eye on him, flocking to the one he was going to gift with some of his attention and avoiding the ones he'll ignore.
Opposite to the Samhain celebrations where they could let their basest instincts loose, the New Year Eve's ball was all about traditions, politics and pureblood customs.
A quick Tempus showed him it was nearing on midnight. He stood up from his throne, immediately drawing the eyes of everyone.
Silence fell over the Ballroom.
"Friends, Allies." He paused, looking over the mass of people gathered before him, letting his magic ensnare their senses. "Tonight marks the start of a new year, one which will see our victory!"
Cheers and applause saluted his words.
"All our work, the blood spilled by our comrades, the sacrifices made will be rewarded when we take our rightful place at the helm of a new world where the Dark will reign!"
Amidst the cheering crowd, he did not miss the satisfied smiles worn by most of his Inner Circle, nor the anticipation in their eyes as they waited for the next part of his announcement.
"This Dark Kingdom will need its prince or princess. To that end, three young men and women will be called to my side. They will learn and be tested. Come Beltane, only one will remain, the one worthy enough to stand by my side."
He increased the power behind his magic, making his aura flicker around him.
A tall dark haired woman, dressed in red robes sashayed forward, clearly enjoying the envious and for some lustful eyes on her.
A smug smirk was etched on the face of the Malfoy heir as he walked forward.
A brown-haired youth, thin with wiry muscles, stepped to the Dark Lord, his dark eyes roaming over his peers.
The three of them stopped before Voldemort and fell to one knee, head lowered.
The Dark Lord red eyes fell on their bared neck.
"Look at me children."
Making eye contact with each of them, he let his magic surge through them, enjoying their wince of pain. Delicately, he let his magic form a thin link to their mark, alowing him to locate them and if needed to draw on their magic.
Slowly walking to them, he increased the flow of his power, taking in the slight trembling of the Malfoy scion, the way the Carrow boy's knuckles became white in an effort not to show any discomfort or the slowly paling skin of Bellatrix' daughter.
As he watched them, he was made sure of his choice.
Let all those fools pander and ingratiate themselves to them, thinking it would gain them his favor. Let the Light try to get rid of his presumptive heirs. Maybe they would surprise him and make good lieutenants when the time came. Meanwhile he would work in the shadow on his true choice, ensnaring him to his service.
He could see Severus standing on his right, an hint of relief in his eyes, making him smirk inwardly.
The Dark Lord grabbed the young Lestrange's arm, uncovering her dark mark.
He was about to start his spell when a guard burst through the doors.
He didn't have time to finish his sentence as an alarm broke the silence and sent the whole room into chaos.
New Year's Eve, Isle of Arran
Albus Dumbledore stood, overlooking the burning building before him. All around him, members of the Order of the Phoenix were gathering the freed prisoners, healing those those who could be, giving mercy to those too far gone.
He could feel a deep weariness seeping through his bones as bringing down the wards over the prisoner camp had taken its toll on him.
As opposed to their other targets, their spies hadn't been able to enter this camp and place the ward breaker runes through it. Thus his presence, as he was the only one with enough power to tear his way through the wards.
Fawkes landed on his shoulder; softly singing and making his tiredness recede for now. He gently petted his head as he activated his mirror. He was now ever so thankful to the pranks the Marauder pulled as Sirius and Remus had remembered how to charm those devices.
"Phoenix one to Phoenix two?"
The mirror shimmered and Alastor scarred face appeared.
"We're nearly done. We've gathered all we could and Sirius is about finished with the explosive."
"Quite, but those twins' Peruvian powder helped."
"Don't know yet."
He closed the communication and brought his attention back to the scenes enfolding before him. So many lives lost... He watched as Neville assisted their healers while the young Weasley boy organized the evacuation.
"What are we going to do with all those people, Albus?" Hestia Jones' voice broke through his musings.
His answer was cut by the vibrating of his mirror.
"Albus, we're leaving, we're severely outnumbered. We managed to destroy about half of the building before reinforcements came. We can't do more. Everyone has gone their separate way and we'll meet back at headquarters. We tried not to leave anyone behind but I can't be sure..."
Dumbledore's face fell a little. Everything had been going so well until now.
"Be safe in the Light, Kingsley."
"You too, Phoenix five out."
The old wizard looked up to Hestia.
"We can't stay much longer. Get everyone to Hogwarts, we'll do triage there."
The young woman nodded.
"And what about those too wounded or weak for a Portkey?..." she asked with a frown.
Albus shook his head.
"Do what you can."
New Year's Eve, Guane compound
Bill Weasley ducked through the shadows, making a shushing sign to his four comrades.
They had infiltrated the place without too much effort, thanks to their newly planted spy.
They had been sifting through the research lab, grabbing what they could and destroying the rest, for the past twenty minutes when they heard the alarm. The attacks had started.
He looked to the spy who had helped them in.
"You're leaving with us?"
The guy snorted and showed his Dark mark.
"See this Weasley? It means I'm dead if I leave. Now finish your job and get out."
"I'm sorry" he said as he raised his wand and let loose several curses.
Looking at the bleeding form of their helper he swallowed, reminding himself nothing was life threatening and looked to the others, transfiguring their clothes to Death Eaters garb.
"Remember, follow everyone and once you're out, get to the meeting point."
He watched as they dispersed and was about to follow when a file caught his attention.
"Potion accident. Victim's name: Richards".
Snatching and shrinking it, he put it in his pocket and hurried down the corridor. Time to leave.
New Year's Eve, Aures Palace
Julian was leaning against the wall, a glass in his hand, watching people dancing and celebrating the night. Since his escape from Lazarin, he had been enjoying Evan's hospitality and would soon leave for Italy to Cidius' clan with Kal and Reana. There no need to tempt fate by staying in England and risking some unfortunate meeting. After all he was supposed to be petrified.
His Doppelganger seemed to have worked. It had been worth the effort and what he would have to do to settle his debt to Princeps Thoran. He would contact his master tomorrow to check how things were going.
He knew he had at best gained a few weeks, at best some months, but that would have to be enough.
He looked up as he felt his friend come close.
"Enjoying yourself, Evan?"
"Quite, the music is good, the alcohol is free and the night is young... But the party doesn't seem to be to your liking?"
The Vampire shook his head.
"You're always thinking about something Julian."
Whatever he was going to say was stopped as he made eye contact with Reana her normally dark blue eyes having taken a silvery sheen drawing him to her.
He sensed Evan following him.
She shook her head as he stopped by her, trying to clear her thought before emptying her glass.
"I hate when they come like that... it's a nightmare on my Occlumency." She sighed, with a put-upon look.
"Vision?" asked Julian.
"If you can make some sense of it." She grimaced then stated to speak again.
"I saw what looked like your corpse going up in flame, a ruby incrusted sword, a phoenix scratching a basilisk, a black tower rising, your body bleeding on a dark tiled-floor, a dagger ripping a blue cloak, a serpent coursing through the world linking some kind of dots."
She massaged her temples.
"I hate those spontaneous visions..." She looked to Julian. "I'll try to meditate and make some sense of them but they're not very reliable..."
The young Sorcerer sighed.
"I know, and if I can be truthful," he shot her a small smile, "things are complicated enough without throwing in some Divination."
The Vampiress smiled.
"You of little faith... Now let's dance, you'll worry tomorrow!"
She grabbed his hands and dragged him to the dance floor to the amusement of those around.
Julian shot a look to Evan as he started to waltz across the room. Evan toasted him.
Yes, they would worry tomorrow.
End of Chpater 8 for now... Don't know when the next one will be...