Chapter Two

"Ms. Granger."

Kingsley shut his mouth with a disgruntled snap.

Beside him, Sirius Black glowered as Riddle pushed past them and approached the young woman. If it continued like this, it wouldn't be long until Riddle took complete control over the Law Enforcement Department. Kingsley had already spied the man looking for leads by himself and now the Minister insisted he accompany them as they questioned Hermione Granger.

Originally, Sirius Black was going to speak to Miss Granger. He was familiar with her and Kingsley thought an informal approach would be more effective. With the Minister questioning the young witch, it would force an immediate defensive mechanism. Riddle was her superior and she would most likely feel threatened.

Granger turned, her unruly curls tied to the nape of her neck in a proper bun.

"Yes?" She looked flustered, as if she'd just come from a meeting that hadn't gone well. "Minister Riddle," she exclaimed in quiet surprise. "What can I do for you?" She then caught sight of the two Aurors behind him and paled. "And Aurors Shacklebolt and Black…"

The two Aurors gave a quick nod in greeting.

"I hope you're not busy, Ms. Granger," Riddle began in a ridiculously suave tone. He held out his hand for her to shake, his eyes a mix between admiration and intrigue.

"I have to meet with a client shortly, but I have a few minutes to spare." She shook his hand firmly. "What can I help you with?"

Kingsley watched the Minister closely, noticing the man's posture. Did Riddle truly believe Granger was Custos? It was unlikely. While Granger had the brains for their killer, she didn't have the strength. She was short and petite. And while they were looking for a lithe and small male, Granger looked as if she couldn't hold her own against the stature of their victims.

Sirius pushed his way forward, earning a warning look from Riddle.

"I wanted to ask you a few questions regarding your line of work," Riddle started, moving them to a more secluded area in the corridor. "I've read your file. Your credentials are rather impressive. One of the youngest prosecutors to make an appearance in our Ministry in decades. And you graduated from Hogwarts with the highest score of NEWTs…"

"With the exception of you, Minister Riddle," Granger replied brightly. "I was just one point away from reaching your score. I'm afraid Defense Against the Dark Arts wasn't my strongest subject. One of my classmates tutored me. If it wasn't for him, I don't think I would have had the NEWTs I needed to continue on to Law school."

"Now you're just being modest, Ms. Granger," Kingsley praised, smiling. He was familiar with Miss Granger from the endless praise he received from the late Albus Dumbledore. The old Headmaster claimed Granger was a very bright witch. Kingsley would have to agree with him, if only from their first encounter.

"Who was your tutor?" Riddle questioned, seemingly asking to humor her, his tone not at all interested at the current topic.

"Harry Potter," Granger responded fondly.

At this, Riddle snapped his head around to survey Sirius deviously. "I was unaware Mr. Potter took his schooling seriously. I would have thought Quidditch occupied his thoughts and time."

Sirius' face turned deep crimson and a vein throbbed visibly at his temple. Kingsley stiffened, readying to intervene.

Auror Black was extremely protective of his godson and everyone knew not to comment on Harry Potter's lack of… well… enthusiasm. The boy was respectful and athletic, but that's all Kingsley knew about the late Potter's son. James, on the other hand, had been an upheld citizen of Britain. He worked his arse off to become one of the leading Aurors.

His wife, Lily, had been an intelligent young woman just as well. She had worked as an Unspeakable, he believed.

It was a pity they died the way they had. From what Kingsley knew, Harry had never been the same after the attack.

"Actually, Sirius, Minister Riddle is right," Hermione began hesitantly, placing a placating hand on Sirius' arm. "Harry is a very generous wizard. He just never put his efforts into school. He did enough to get by. I believe, if he had put his mind in his schoolwork, he would have been brilliant. But Quidditch is what he's best at." She cocked her head to the side. "Don't you believe one must excel at their natural born talents, Minister?"

"I do," Riddle returned smoothly. "I meant no disrespect; I was just taken aback to know that Mr. Potter had an intellect bone in his body."

Kingsley blinked. Before he could process the new insult to Mr. Potter, Riddle continued.

"Doubtless of your Hogwarts background, you have come a long way. You're Muggle-born, correct?"

"I am," Granger replied with her head lifted.

"It must be difficult. I understand that there may be discriminatory behavior toward you. Not only because pure-bloods mainly take positions as prosecutors, but because you are a young woman." Riddle cocked his head to the side, offering the young lawyer an understanding look. "You offer your services to lower salary clients, yes?"

Granger nodded tensely. "With all due respect, Minister, I am unsure where you're trying to…"

"Your success rate is rather low," Riddle continued without much care. "Does it bother you that the outcomes of your cases may be predetermined before you even have a chance to prove yourself in court? It must grate on your nerves to see a murderer or a rapist walk away because of your age and blood and not as a result of your abilities."

Kingsley leaned back on his heels, exhaling past the thick tension. While he agreed Riddle's methods were harsh, they were also effective. He could see Granger turn flustered and disconcerted. It did bring more light to the situation. Riddle was a right bastard, but he was on the right track. It was not a mere coincidence that Granger was the prosecutor linking their victims together.

However, just because Kingsley saw Riddle's methods as effective didn't mean Black did. The Auror took a step forward, reaching for Riddle's arm in an aggressive manner. "I think that's enough—"

Swiftly, Riddle caught Sirius wrist in midair, moving too quickly for a man in his seventies. "Silence," Riddle hissed darkly.

Kingsley stared, surprised. In all ways, Riddle resembled an irritated predator. The Minister's position was strong and dominant as it angled defensively toward Black. The man's shoulders were set and his hand kept a solid hold on Black's hand as he angled it down and away from him.

"Sirius." Kingsley motioned for Black to come closer. "Let him finish—"

"Hermione is innocent," Sirius whispered heatedly to Kingsley. "And she doesn't need to be treated as if she's scum."

"I will talk to him when he's finished," Kingsley pacified before turning back to Riddle. He was thankful the man found a connection, but he also had to forewarn Riddle that there wereboundaries, even for his position as a Minister.

"I think anyone in my position would be frustrated, Minister Riddle," Granger tautly answered the Minister's earlier question. "I still don't understand where you're going with this."

"One more thing, Ms. Granger," Riddle continued. "It is human nature to vent one's frustrations to another. Surely you have confided in someone about your cases, correct? A boyfriend, perhaps? Parents?"

"Yes," Granger huffed. "I do."

Riddle leaned forward. "Their names."

Granger looked at Sirius before surveying Riddle. "Ron Weasley and Harry Potter. At times I talk to Ginny Weasley about it as well… and Sirius Black…" she trailed off as all eyes turned in the direction of Auror Black.

Riddle turned back to Granger, bowing sharply at the waist. "Thank you for your time, Ms. Granger. I apologize if I came across as too harsh, but we are merely investigating an active case. Your cooperation was most helpful. I hope to have the pleasure of speaking with you again."

As Riddle turned to leave, Kingsley followed. This investigating method was new to Kingsley, and frankly, it was new to the whole Department. Crimes like this were rare. When someone was murdered, magic led them to the perpetrator. Most hate crimes in the Wizarding world were committed out of personal vendetta. There were no random acts like Custos—no serial killers.It just didn't happen.

"Minister Riddle," Kingsley began, hurrying alongside the man.

Riddle turned suddenly, taking an advancing step forward. "No word of complaint from you, Auror Shacklebolt. I have half the mind to take you and your team off this case due to conflict of interest." His eyes rose and took in a lingering Black. "Some of us are too close to the suspects and the case. Not only that, but there is a strong possibility that Custosis connected to the Aurors."

"You…" Kingsley began with a loss for words. "You can't do that."

"But I can," Riddle continued. "I can easily assign this case to foreigners who are not so closely involved." He stopped within inches of Kingsley, his height almost dwarfing the naturally tall man. "From here on out, I am in charge of this case. Understood?"

A fierce ascendancy lightened the man's eyes. Kingsley had to remind himself that Riddle was the Minister and he held the Ministry and everyone in it with an iron fist. Kingsley could do nothing but bow his head in submission.

"Yes, Minister, I understand."

"Good," the Minister praised, his face morphing into elderly kindness. "Because I look forward to working with you, Kingsley."

. . Dreams . .

Harry snapped his head up as soon as he felt the turmoil of emotions approach his office. The leading emotions were exasperation, offense, and a general consensus of resentment. His sharp hearing identified the group as Sirius and two other wizards. However, Sirius' emotions were different from this morning when Harry had first observed the group of Aurors.

He pondered what had changed their mood so significantly.

"Mr. Potter." A sharp rap sounded outside his open door.

Harry offered the wall he was facing an exasperated frown before he carefully set his expression to one of relaxed contentment. He placed his palms against his desk and pushed himself away from the piece of furniture. The wheels on his office chair swiveled around abruptly and faced the trio at his door.

Somehow, he was unsurprised to see Riddle, Kingsley, and Sirius standing outside his office. It wasn't a surprise, but it certainly wasn't welcome. Judging from Sirius' uncomfortable vibes thrumming across the room, Harry gathered they were here to question him.

Which meant they were on the right path hunting Custos.

Clearly, they had no idea that Harry was Custos, otherwise, they would be approaching him with far more force. This was a simple and informal interrogation. Harry just had to find out how they got on their current track before diverting them in the opposite direction.

"'ello," Harry murmured, pushing up his glasses with his index finger. "Please, come in."

His office was informal, as was the whole Department. Quidditch posters hung on his walls and miniature models of Quidditch fields lined his desk and filing cabinets. A small, golden snitch buzzed around his office, spelled to remain within his territory and not venture outside the room.

Ron got a kick out of his office, but Harry thought it was rather juvenile. Perhaps, his old self would have liked the décor just as much as Ron did, which is why Harry decided to decorate it this way. It was better to give his friends a false sense of security, thinking everything was back to normal. But things would never be back to normal.

Never.

"I would offer you a chair, gentlemen," he began, intentionally sounding flustered and awkward as he motioned toward the two beanbags that were shaped to look like Quaffles. "But I suppose you wouldn't enjoy the seating arrangements…"

Sirius plopped down on the beanbag and sulked. Harry sensed the obvious animosity directed toward Riddle from both Kingsley and Sirius. The perfectly adapt politician was actually causing a rift between himself and the Law Enforcement Department? Interesting. And curious.

His green eyes slyly looked toward the Minister, watching the man as he inspected the photographs. The displayed photographs were just a front, consisting of two-dimensional normalcy with his usual 'crowd'. The usual crowd always involved Hermione, Ginny, and Ron—on occasion—Sirius. Let the man search for clues. Nothing in this office reflected Harry's true inner self. The pictures, the Quidditch mania… everything was placed strategically just to make him non-conspicuous.

It was always about blending in.

"I apologize for the interruption, Mr. Potter," Kingsley began after shooting a bemused glance at a silent Riddle. Harry could feel the man's perplexity at Riddle's continued silence. The man in question kept his hands clasped behind his back as he continued to assess Harry's office.

"No problem at all," Harry replied friendly, waving off Kingsley's apology. "I'm not exactly busy at the moment."

Kingsley smiled and bowed his neck in a gesture of gratitude. "I only have a few questions for you, Mr. Potter," the dark-skinned wizard continued. "It's regarding your friend, Ms. Granger." After a small nod from Harry, Kingsley proceeded. "Does she ever speak to you about the clients she represents? Or the cases that she performs?"

Ah. This was all too amusing!

Harry's upper lip twitched and twitched again. He pressed his mouth together and clenched his twitching fingers. Now wasn't a time for a breakdown either. Harry smiled grimly and rolled his head up to the ceiling. "Ah, of course," he admitted with humor. He controlled his racing pulse and kept from laughing, although, he did let out a chuckle. "She talks to me all the time about that stuff."

Riddle snapped his head around and stared blatantly at Harry.

Kingsley was the one to question him further. "Could you expand, Mr. Potter?"

Behind the Head Auror, Sirius sat, rolling his eyes.

Harry offered his godfather a tight smile. "Well," he hesitated, making a show of shifting around and crossing his legs. "I love Hermione, I really do. And I do support her in everything she does. But sometimes…" he grimaced. "Sometimes I can't make ends meet when she begins her tirades." Harry clasped his hands over his knees and leaned forward, noticing Riddle had turned back to observe the posters. "At any rate, I don't make much sense of the whole legal system. I was never a fan of learning the terminology."

He shared a knowing look with Sirius. They both knew how much Harry hated the legal system.

Pressing his back in his chair, Harry pondered the situation. The Auror Investigators finally identified the connection between his victims and the prosecutor acting against them. Yes it was true. Harry started targeting his victims based on Hermione's cases. It was common knowledge the pure-bloods ran the legal system in the Wizarding World. Them and politicians. Despite Britain being open to equality, discrimination still transpired.

When Hermione brought a case against a powerful politician or a pure-blood, the outcome was already decided. Harry, seeing the opportunity for real justice, had begun to strike the party standing opposite of Hermione.

Admittedly, it had been a foolish mistake. Though, not only did Harry have the intelligence to manipulate the attention away from him, but his last two victims had absolutely no tie with Hermione. In fact, if they looked more closely, they would find another Muggle-born attorney had been prepared to represent the opposition to Harry's victims.

The best thing to do was to act his part. While Sirius and Ron felt a strong sense of pity for Hermione's misfortune, they tended to complain about her long-winded legal terms and lectures. Harry would simply act like them, despite the fact that he hung on to her every word.

Suddenly, he sat up, startling Kingsley and Riddle.

"I…" Harry trailed off, frowning. "She doesn't disclose the privacy of her clients, or anything confidential about that type of stuff. She's not in trouble, is she? Honestly, Hermione would never break the rules and that includes the privacy of her—"

As predicted, Kingsley held up a hand. Amusement bubbled from the man and Harry thought it was a breath of fresh air. It was tiring experiencing—tasting—those dark and grimy emotions all the time. Now a days, it was increasingly hard to surround himself with pure souls that omitted equally pure emotions.

"Mr. Potter." Kingsley chuckled. "That is not why we're here. Ms. Granger is in no trouble, I reassure you." The Head Auror cleared his throat. "Getting back to the subject at hand—"

"I find this pointless, Auror Shacklebolt," Riddle finally spoke up, drawling. The man strutted into the middle of the office, taking another critical look around him. "He doesn't have what we're looking for, much like his godfather. He is in no position to accomplish such a feat."

The Minister then picked up a picture frame, studying it for a period of time, before placing it back down.

Harry stared at the crooked picture frame. His upper lip twitched when he noticed its improper place. Everything he owned was placed meticulously. There was never anything out of place, ever. To an untrained eye, Harry's office would appear messy and disorderly. But that had been Harry's intention. To an accomplished eye, however, they would notice every single piece of paper was in organized chaos.

Schooling his features, Harry noticed Riddle watching his reaction through the frame's reflection. The man's dark eyes were trained on Harry's face as he intentionally placed the framed photo in the wrong position.

Harry sniffed, pushing his glasses further upon his nose and turning back to Kingsley. Everything needed to be in order, but his obsessive compulsion disorder wasn't severe. He wouldn't throw a fit for Riddle's amusement.

"Right then." Kingsley bowed once again. "If we're finished here, then enjoy the rest of your day, Mr. Potter."

Sirius scrambled up from his position and mouthed 'lunch' before following his boss out the door. Riddle smiled thinly at Harry before nodding in farewell.

The Potter heir watched them go, frowning. Judging from Kingsley and Sirius' submission, it was clear that Riddle had taken complete control over the investigation. Typical. Throw in an alpha male with meager men and the alpha comes out on top, all the while, gaining the strength of the others. Kingsley was a strong and commanding man on his own. It was a surprise at how quickly he tucked his tail between his legs and followed Riddle.

If Harry didn't have appearances to worry about, he would be happy to put Riddle in his place. He was just itching to knock Riddle on his arse.

He was also itching to straighten that picture frame.

Green eyes stared at the crooked frame, feeling his body twitch in that direction. No. Not yet. He would have to wait a few more hours until he gave in to that temptation. He didn't know if Riddle would be back at his office to see if Harry had an obsessive disorder. Because even Harry knew that obsessive compulsion disorders were a common trait among serial killers.

Speaking of which…

He turned suddenly, taken aback when he saw Riddle leaning elegantly against the side of his door. The Minister stared calmly at the picture frame before turning to look at Harry. A cold smile crossed the man's features and Harry felt the urge to match it with one of his own.

You have no proof. Of anything. He mentally challenged Riddle in his mind. He didn't know if the Minister actually had his suspicions that Harry was Custos or if he was just eager to make Harry feel like a fool. No matter what the man's motives were, Harry wouldn't underestimate the Minister.

"Yes, Minister?" Harry pressed softly. "Was there something else you wanted?"

Riddle smiled, running a careful hand through his hair in order to keep it parted to the side. He ran a cool eye over Harry's relaxed and aloof form. "Coffee," the man announced silkily. "With you."

The tips of Harry's ears turned an intense red. Honestly, he didn't know if it was out of embarrassment or anger at the sheer audacityof the arrogant wizard. The way the man demanded it was so accomplished, so smooth. Harry wondered if the man stood in front of the mirror each morning and perfected his seduction skills.

"I'm flattered," Harry drawled. "But you're really not my type, Minister."

For a moment, the true Riddle and the true Harry assessed one another before each wizard snapped back their guises.

Riddle chuckled merrily, losing his intensity. He patted a hand over his chest, winking at Harry. "Dear boy, don't give an old man a heart attack. I was merely offering to get you that coffee I made you spill earlier this morning. For lunch, perhaps?"

"Oh, you didn't make me spill it, you accidently bumped into me. I won't hold you accountable to your own clumsiness, Minister." Harry flashed the man a bright smile. Judging from the tension around the man's smile, Riddle was smart enough to catch the sugar-coated insult.

Good. The man wasn't the only one who had the ability to make others squirm.

Harry relaxed in his chair, his posture screaming arrogance and dominance. With his legs spread sturdily on the ground, he leaned back and placed his arms behind his head. Even if Riddle was the one standing, Harry was the one who held the power in the room.

"Besides," Harry continued airily, intending for the man's torture to continue. "I'm not a coffee drinker. That coffee was for Sirius."

Riddle surprised him by taking an advancing step forward. The man stopped inches from Harry's knees and stared down his nose at his sitting form. Harry kept his body motionless, suddenly feeling… belittled.

"Tea, then. I am a man of my word, Mr. Potter. It was your money lost this morning and I will be happy to repay you."

"I don't drink tea either, Minister," Harry replied sweetly. Of course he drank tea, everyone drank tea. But he wanted to see the man squirm.

Riddle lost his smile and grinned forcibly down at Harry. "Water. Everyone drinks water, Mr. Potter."

"Indeed. Though, technically, water is free. So you wouldn't be paying me back for the coffee I spilt." Harry straightened abruptly at the dangerous gleam in the man's eye. "I'm only joking, sir." He chuckled easily and turned his shoulder on the Minister. "Thank you, though, for the invitation. But I'm meeting Sirius for lunch today. Perhaps another time?"

Refusing to be dismissed so easily, Riddle pressed his back against Harry's desk and tapped his fingers on the parchments in front of the younger wizard. "I get the premonition that you harbor ill feelings towards me, Mr. Potter."

Harry grunted. He always held ill feelings toward politicians, especially arrogant ones who dismissed people as if they were beneath them. But now he had Riddle's attention; either because the man wanted to get closer to Hermione or because Riddle was suspicious of him. Harry realized that his little exchange with Riddle was only raising the man's suspicions. He was a fool for giving in to his instincts and challenging the man so quickly.

Though, there was a small part of Harry that wanted the man to know what he was. It would make everything a bit more exciting, especially when the man would never be able to prove Harry's guilt.

No!

This wasn't a game! Fool he was for thinking that. This was about innocents who were wronged and could never get their justice. This was about destroying those whose soul was so dirty, he could hardly stand upright in the face of it. People like that didn't deserve to be living. They didn't.

Harry's shoulders slumped and he lost his playfulness. It was not a good idea to play with Riddle. "I apologize for coming across that way, Mr. Riddle." He swiveled his chair to face the man. "I just find it suspicious that you want to talk to me further. Whatever you have against Hermione, I won't help you. She's a good friend and I'm rather protective of them when it comes to their wellbeing."

There. He made an excuse for his earlier behavior. Outwardly, he was just a good friend, protecting Hermione. He felt 'threatened' by Riddle and, in turn, he had turned defensive on her behalf. Hopefully Riddle would accept his excuse. Judging from the man's creasing eyebrows, Harry believed he had succeeded, if only a little.

"It's understandable, Mr. Potter." Riddle smiled and pushed off from the desk. "Let me know when your schedule opens up. I'd still like to buy you tea." The man looked pointedly toward the inventory of black tea Harry kept stacked in the far corner of his office.

Harry chuckled, giving the man a cool wave. "Certainly, sir. Have a good day."

Riddle grinned and left the office.

Green eyes narrowed at the far wall.

. . & Darkness . .

Sirius wasn't at their usual spot when lunchtime rolled around. Harry had waited for over ten minutes, yet his godfather had yet to show. It was a waste of his time sitting here, especially when the company around him wasn't particularly inviting.

Opting to go back to his work rather than wait any longer, Harry stood but paused as a lavender paper plane flew toward him. With a resigned sigh, Harry snatched it from the air and opened the piece of paper.

Harry,

Got held back at the office. Sorry for the late notice—we'll meet tomorrow for lunch.

Sirius

Trying his best to muffle his frustration, Harry curled the piece of paper in his fist. He wanted to talk to his godfather about the Custos case and Hermione's informal interrogation. The Auror Department couldn't have gotten any new leads, so why was Sirius being held back for lunch?

As he glanced up from the crumpled note, he came face to face with Tom Riddle. The smugness the man exuded was answer enough as to why Sirius was staying back.

Oh…but the man was good!

"Fancy meeting you here, Mr. Potter," Riddle began innocently. The Minister placed his lunch on the table between them, seemingly oblivious to the prying spectators around him. "I was hoping…" the man trailed off, sipping once at his tea, "that I would run into you doubtless of your lunch date with your godfather. Imagine my surprise to see you sitting by your lonesome." He flashed a wide smile. "I got your tea. I know you fancy black."

Harry bowed his head, staring at the presented cup of tea. No matter what Riddle knew or what he didn't know, Harry knew he had to interact with the Minister carefully. He couldn't underestimate the man and he couldn't play word or mind games. Honestly, it had been fun interacting with a man like Riddle earlier in his office, but Harry had to remind himself that he and Riddle were on other sides of the law.

He had Riddle's interest now. The best thing was to put distance between each other and turn the man's interest away.

"Actually, I was just going—"

"Sit."

Harry grimaced as he submissively followed the order and clumsily sat. Tugging the cup of tea closer, Harry wondered if he would lose his temper before Riddle lost his interest. Following the man's orders would bring Harry's resolve at the edge.

He adjusted his thick-framed glasses, embracing his 'Harry Potter' role. Divert Riddle's attention and bore the man senseless. "I'm sorry," he blurted out, beginning his ruse and slumping his upper body toward the table in misery. "For earlier."

Riddle paused in spreading his dressing over his baked potato and gazed at Harry from over his glasses. "For what?" he inquired.

Harry's lips twitched uncontrollably and he raised his teacup to hide the tremors. It would seem that his tics grew far more uncontrollable in Riddle's presence. "I was a right bastard to you," he admitted weakly, inwardly, cringing in horror at his meek tone. "You just have to understand that I take the protection of my friends very seriously."

"Yes," Riddle acknowledged, pausing before looking back down at his baked potato. "You mentioned that in your office already, Mr. Potter."

"Harry," he corrected with an air of sickly good nature.

Riddle's knuckles turned white from tightening his grip on his fork. He did a decent job veiling his expression, but Harry knew he was confusing the hell out of the man. Riddle wanted to see Harry as a threat, but Harry was giving the man doubts.

"I beg your pardon?" Riddle murmured in question.

"H-Harry, it's my name," he responded, ducking his head and tearing a large bite from his sandwich. "Everyone calls me Harry," he explained, a large chunk of food in his mouth. "If you wanted to talk more about 'Mione, you might as well address me by my first name." He kept his eyes downcast, grinning into his sandwich. "But…" he chewed his food, frowning at the table in mock concentration. "I don't know how much more you want me to tell you. Hermione's line of work isn't exactly easy to follow with a—"

"You have remarkable table etiquette, Mr. Potter," Riddle cut him off silkily. "It's truly… riveting to watch."

Harry took a large sip from his tea to wash down the food in his mouth. He cast a bashful glance in Riddle's direction. Acting this way was so second nature to Harry that it wasn't difficult to make it seem natural. Though, he had to remember not to go overboard least Riddle become suspicious.

"Sorry, sir," Harry apologized.

"Indeed." Riddle gazed at him, his eyes cruelly suspicious.

Harry paid it no heed as he gazed down at his lunch. It was odd, not being able to sense Riddle like everyone else he encountered. The man was an empty void, discerning Harry yet setting him at ease. Sometimes, the emotions of others grew almost impossible at times. With Riddle, Harry felt as if he were doused with a calm silence, giving his weary senses a much-needed rest.

Still, he was conscious of the man's suspicions. Harry wasn't surprised. Riddle, so determined to have Harry as his suspect, would take anything that proved otherwise as deceit or trickery. The Minister would believe this was a rouse. And while it was, Harry was determined to make Riddle think this was the real him. His friends would vouch for him, Sirius would vouch for him, and even his old classmates would remember Harry as being a bit awkward and carefree.

"At any rate," Riddle announced, dropping his fork. "I didn't want to meet with you to discuss Miss Granger."

"Oh?"

"No." He shook his head. "I came here to talk about you."

Harry didn't miss a beat. "Sure," he grinned in response. "But you won't find me particularly interesting."

Brown eyes surveyed Harry and a smirk lifted the man's aristocratic mouth. "On the contrary," he purred, "I find you very interesting."

It was impossible. Harry clutched his sandwich, his tense fingers indenting the bread. He had interacted with Riddle a total of five minutes before their lunch date, if that. There was no way a man, even a mastermind, could possibly see through Harry. Granted, he had slipped only a few seconds at his office, but he had given a reasonable excuse that he had felt protective over Hermione. Anyone would understand that pretext.

So if Riddle was so smart, so clever, that he could see through Harry, then what kind of man did that make Riddle?

Green eyes assessed Riddle, finally on edge and finally realizing Riddle was not a normal politician. Yes the man knew how to work people, he knew how to pull strings, but there was something more to this man. And whatever it was, Harry knew it had to be dangerous.

If he could somehow feel, somehow taste Riddle and his emotions, would he encounter another prey? Instead of petty political manipulations and political deceptions, would Harry find proof of something much worse?

He only had eight victims so far, nine targets. But he was confident in his abilities of being a successful hunter and savior. Harry wondered if he would be up to the task of hunting someone as high-risk as the Minister. It would be a challenge, but if there was incriminating evidence that suggested Riddle was more dangerous than he let on, Harry was up for the task.

Amusing. They were both hunting each other, both scoping out the other's invisible limits and boundaries.

Could Harry manifest a front for Riddle while hunting the man at the same time?

The answer came to him quickly, reminding him of the importance of logical thinking and the reason Custos existed. No. Other innocents out there needed help. Though tempting, Minister Riddle would need to remain untouched.

"Ask away," Harry invited, lowering his sandwich.

"Sirius Black indicated you were quite good at Quidditch but quit because of an injury." Riddle discarded his meal in favor of leaning closer to Harry. "I've noticed you shuffle and take uneven steps as if your leg bothered you. I assumed you injured your leg, but you don't need to use your legs to fly, Mr. Potter."

Harry raised an eyebrow from behind his glasses. "Are you saying I'm intentionally faking it, Minister?" He offered a grin for good measure. "Good guess on the leg injury, but it was my spine that took the beating. I find it hard to sit for very long, especially on a broom. The discomfort travels to my step, I suppose."

I dare you to try to understand the real reason I stopped playing Quidditch.

Brown eyes dilated and Riddle placed a curled fist underneath his chin. "Of course I'm not suggesting that you're faking it, Mr. Potter. I'm merely curious. After all, what reason would someone have for parading around as someone they're not?"

Harry pressed his lips together. The chatter across the cafeteria seemed to disappear completely from his senses as he focused on the wizard across from him. Riddle meant to probe Harry with a gentle, almost inconspicuous jab. Instead, it only caused Harry a deep and true sadness.

"A very good question, Minister. Faking an injury aside, there are countless of men and women who parade around as if they're someone they're not." His eyes drifted toward the table directly to his right.

During his time waiting for Sirius to arrive, he had already pinpointed a couple that had an invisible wedge between them. A man and a woman sat together, the bands on their left fingers an indication that they were married. But every time she smiled at him or laid a loving hand on his arm, his whole being stank of guilt. He was most likely cheating on her, yet he continued his charade, too afraid of losing the women he betrayed.

Everyone had their own guise; he could feel the contradictory feelings to prove it. The ability to experience emotions was born into Harry since his birth, but his ability had only intensified since the incident. Instead of having the emotions of others consume him, Harry had learned how to turn down the intensity. Now he only received an occasional rush and a taste in his mouth that he had learned to distinguish between different emotions.

Not to mention he was able to manipulate emotions just as well. It was a treasured gift. He especially enjoyed making his victims feel what their own victims had felt at their hands. Such sweet and poetic justice.

Harry turned his eyes back on Riddle and placed a hand against side his cheek in a lazy manner. "You should know better than anyone, sir. You're a politician, aren't you? You're surrounded by men and women who put on a guise—yourself included."

Riddle blinked and offered a coy smile. "Touché. You are most certainly correct in your assumptions, especially about politicians, I'm afraid." He chuckled lowly but sobered immediately after. "Such insight, Mr. Potter."

It was Harry's turn to offer the wizard a coy grin. He shrugged, spreading his hands in a guilty manner. "My friends claim I'm candid and open. I'm never one for politics, no offense sir."

The Minister smiled and bowed his head. Shadows crossed along his face, bathing him in an ominous light. "Getting back to the subject at hand," Riddle whispered lowly, his expression completely blank and unreadable. It was certainly different from his Minister persona. "Your decision to stop playing Quidditch was due to an injury. How long did you play before you sustained an injury?"

"A few months, unfortunately," Harry replied, shrugging. He pondered at the man's direction and received his answer just as a sick and cold weight dropped in his stomach.

"Your godfather claimed you played right out of Hogwarts, so I imagine were around eighteen when you withdrew from the team," Riddle mused aloud, picking up his fork. "Two years ago." He repeated. "If I remember correctly, James and Lily Potter died two years ago." From the corner of his eye, he peaked at Harry like that of a smug serpent.

Harry applauded himself for keeping a blasé expression. Inside, he was wailing at the top of his lungs in both anger and misery.

"Yeah," he replied with the perfect balance of remorse and regret. "I guess you could say they were one of the reasons why I quit."He would have to give Riddle credit, however much of a bastard-move it was. "After their deaths, I wasn't focusing much on the game. I sustained my injury at that time. It was treatable, of course, but I chose to use it as an excuse not to play."

Underneath the table, his fingers twitched uncontrollably and patted his thigh in an erratic pattern. Glancing down in perfect melancholy, he spied Riddle's deflating smirk and the stiffening shoulders. Harry had the man fooled, he knew. After all, Riddle was also a player in the game of charades. Knowing how arrogant Riddle was, Harry assumed the man would refuse to believe someone could be better at guises.

Harry could send waves of conviction toward the man, but he wouldn't chance it. If he couldn't sense Riddle, he had no reassurance that his emotional manipulation worked. Worse, he may somehow detect Harry's touch.

"I could never really part with Quidditch, no matter how much it reminded me of my father. So, I choose to apply for a position at the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Sometimes—"

"Miss Granger mentioned you were skilled at Defense Against the Dark Arts," Riddle interrupted. He was grasping at straws, drawing on anything that would give Harry credibility as Custos. "Why didn't you join the Auror Department? Like your father?"

It was difficult to keep from snickering.

He had the man puzzled, exactly where he wanted him. How satisfying it was… to draw Riddle by the string and encircle him with doubt. It was obvious that the Aurors believed Custos to have a position of power, to be arrogant and god-like. While Harry supposed a few traits did apply to him, he also knew that it was expected.

He wasn't stupid enough to walk the halls of the Ministry, flaunting the personality that fit the profile of their serial killer.

It helped matters that he had always been like this, this carefree and good-natured person. After his parents' murder, he had altered for the worse; he had lost his naivety in a world full of evil. For the sake of his friends and godfather, Harry continued reassuring them that things had not changed, that he was slowly getting over what had happened.

He supposed, in a way, he truly did love his friends and family. Otherwise, he wouldn't have thought to keep up a charade. He didn't want to hurt them; he didn't want to lose them.

"My injury, of course," Harry replied slowly. "I wouldn't make a good field Auror with my gait."

"You said it was treatable," Riddle insisted heatedly, leaning forward and finally showing his teeth.

"Oh, it was treatable," Harry reassured calmly, the polar opposite of Riddle. "But I didn't get it healed in time. It affected the alignment of my spine permanently. I'm sure they can perform intensive surgery with just as exhaustive therapy, but I don't have time for that."

Actually, he had his injury treated a several months ago.

The pain afterward had been excruciating, but he had pushed past it and continued to give the impression he still had a slight limp. A serial killer who relied on physical force wouldn't have a spinal injury. If Riddle wanted to, he could look up Harry's medical file and see no record of corrective surgery.

Doctors without licenses would gladly perform surgery with shady circumstances— all for a large sum of gold.

Riddle suddenly stood, his face pinched and his knuckles curled. Doubtless, the Minister wore a smile and it somehow chilled Harry senseless. "Thank you for humoring me with a lunch date, Mr. Potter. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day." He didn't even wait for Harry's response.

With a dramatic turn of his heel, the Minister left the cafeteria, nodding kindly toward those who waved in greeting.

Harry slumped against the table, looking down and smiling thinly. Riddle's arrogance was his downfall; no one could outsmart Riddle, no one was better than Riddle, no one could manipulate Riddle.

But Harry could.

He wouldn't fool himself, though. Now that the spotlight had touched him, albeit briefly, he needed to remain extra cautious. Riddle may still be determined to prove his assumptions correct and identify Harry as Custos.

He needed to find someone that would attract Riddle's obsession. Surely there were better wizards out there that didn't have spinal injuries. Preferably someone who assumed a position of power during the day, like a lawyer with connections to Hermione Granger. Someone who was ridiculously suave and arrogant. Someone who could be Custos in the eye of the Aurors.

And he knew just the wizard Riddle could play with next.

Cormac McLaggen.