A TON of dialogue … at least from Stratton. MANY questions answered in this chapter. Thanks to those of you who reviewed!
Warnings: Excessive dialogue, unintentional typos, severe grammatical errors, and wicked cliffhangers.
30. Chapter Thirty
"I… didn't want them to suffer."
"Isn't it great? We took down a nest, Lily. A whole vampire nest! Unbelievable."
Lily turned to look at her coworker, unable to stop her mouth from falling open at his gratified expression. On the other side of the glass, animalistic screeches sounded as the creature in question was poked, prodded, and dissected open. He was conscious to it all. She avoided that scene entirely, focused solely on her colleague's stretching grin. In her stomach, she felt a weight, a weight that burned and seared from within.
Sam turned and smiled at her. "And it was all your idea." He reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. "We're all proud. You should be the one in there, doing the honors. No one ever considered studying a vampire's rapidly regenerating makeup." Adjusting his glasses, he flashed the observation glass one last longing look before walking down the hallway.
Green eyes watched him go, spying Remus lingering further down the hall. His expression was grim, as it had been since Tonks' death. Only, a small, relieved smile crossed his lips, nearly lighting his entire demeanor.
He was pleased as well. They'd both planned this out, but Lily had been the one to stumble across a possible breakthrough in their work by using vampires. Remus had been ecstatic, gleeful even. At the time, Lily hadn't fully comprehended what her actions would result in, but seeing it now, seeing it in the flesh, tore her apart.
She turned back and watched through wide, unseeing eyes as the king thrashed and screamed, his fangs bared and his hands clenched horribly. They were interested in the magical core, especially, and the venom running through their veins. At the time, that's all Lily was interested in as well. They were creatures, after all, /animals/ who'd slain Tonks.
She'd never been more wrong, more unprepared for the gravity of her mistake.
Oh god, what had she done?
"Stratton," Harry acknowledged.
Anyone could tell from his tone that he was unsurprised to see the man here. After all, he'd gotten used to the Stratton's sudden and odd appearances, not to mention wickedly convenient timing. Looking at Tom, however, Harry noticed the Dark Lord was on edge. His magic slowly unfolded in an effort to appear more frightening and his expression was hostile.
The man actually had the audacity to position his body in front of Harry, blocking him from Stratton's line of sight.
Harry's eyes narrowed with insult.
"No need to be on the defensive, Tom," Stratton crooned.
"Fortunately I am never on the defense, but rather the offense." Riddle's fingers twitched at his sides. "It was you all along, wasn't it? Protecting him? I always believed it was his mother's doing. A dying wish or a ritual. A mother's love."
"In a way, you're right. It has everything to do with Lily Potter." Stratton stepped around Riddle, yet maintained a respectable distance. He looked to Harry, a mysterious grin in place. "Only, it has nothing to do with dying wishes or rituals and everything to do with her repentance and extreme remorse. If it wasn't for Lily, why, I wouldn't be here today, now would I?"
Harry looked between Stratton and Riddle, sensing the animosity between the two men. He knew they were unacquainted, Riddle more so than Stratton. Stratton knew things. He always knew things. By proxy, he would know all about Riddle and that, in itself, probably set Riddle's teeth on edge. He did not appreciate being at a disadvantage.
Stratton's grin suddenly died. "Of course, if it weren't for Lily, I wouldn't have lost half my nest and my king."
"Perhaps," Harry started deliberately, "You can start from the beginning, Stratton." He raised an eyebrow. "If William Stratton is really your name." His head was still a bit light from the bourbon he drank, yet it did nothing to dull his astuteness. "And what do you mean by protection, exactly?"
Here, he addressed the question to Riddle. Unsurprising, the man kept things from him. How would he know Harry had something protecting him? That implied that Harry had needed protection from Riddle at some point and Riddle discovered the protection that way. Had the Dark Lord tried to kill him once? Attack him in the beginning stages of their cat and mouse game?
"One of my followers was a double agent for Regbo. Regbo hired him to kidnap you. At that time, he was informed many other men had tried and failed." Riddle was not looking at Harry. He kept his eyes directed on the blasé Stratton. "I assumed there was something protecting you. I experienced no resistance, but there'd been others…"
"You are no threat to him," Stratton replied happily. "You, Riddle, are rather devoted to him, aren't you?"
Crimson eyes narrowed into slits and a slow hiss escaped his mouth. To imply the Dark Lord was infatuated and devoted to someone else was an insult. Harry couldn't blame the man. It was offensive not only to have a weakness observed by others, but addressed aloud by others. He looked at Riddle, wondering at the man's attachment to him.
"It is only natural you feel a fleeting urge to protect him, Riddle. You can't explain that draw, that desire to keep him safe. I can, though. However, I am at a complete loss over your obsession and lust for him."
Harry took an advancing step forward, irritated at the lack of concrete answers. "Stratton!"
Gold eyes flickered over to him, unabashed at the hostility. Fortunately, he did not continue to taunt Riddle. "Your mother was a part of Regbo's group to create a cure, though she did not know the details of the assignment, just the logistics behind the disease. She had the brilliant notion to use vampires. And why not? We are immortal. We are rather elusive. There hasn't been many studies on our kind, simply because we refuse to voluntarily submit ourselves to that kind of treatment. But, they took our nest by force and held us captive. Doing all sorts of fun experiments. Vampires are stronger amongst a nest, but if our whole nest is taken captive—especially our king— and subdued, we are crippled."
Something lurched in his stomach at the admission, that his mother had a hand in that.
He'd killed men and women for less.
"They were idiots, all of them. They didn't understand the strong bonds vampires have with each other. They killed many of our brethren either intentionally or by mistreatment. When our king, Hendrik, died, we felt it painfully." Stratton's face was void of his peculiar humor and he appeared grim. "Your mother was far more delicate in her experiments. She drew a lot of blood, studied it, but kept us comfortable. We got to know her, I, especially, interacted with her often. Her delicate treatment instantly drew attention from her peers. Unwanted attention. She often argued with them on their methods, but they saw us as nothing but animals, especially Lupin who, oddly enough, is an animal himself."
He sighed dramatically. "It created a hostile work environment for Lily. Yet, I saw means of an escape. I kept on her, I wanted to get as close to her as possible. My top priority was to escape that hell with the others. With Hendrik gone, I was now in charge of the nest." Stratton crossed his arms behind his back. "And then Lily discovered something precarious."
"Immortality," Harry surmised dully. "Not through vampirism, but through medical and magical means."
Harry shared a look with Riddle. He wondered how much the man already knew. The Dark Lord knew Lily performed inhumane experiments, and he likely knew it was with vampires. However, looking at the closed-off expression made Harry realize that was the extent of Riddle's knowledge. He'd been distracted at that time, caring for Merope and searching for a cure.
He hadn't cared what the specifics were.
"Somehow, Lily extracted essence of a vampire." Stratton shook his head and his long, tawny braid swung over his shoulder. "I'm at a loss of what she did, but she did it by herself. She extracted essence from the magical core and the venom, yet her cure did not turn those into vampires. It made them superior. It made them excel in things they surpassed in their human life. You were rather the athlete, Harry, if I recall from Lily's stories. Fancy that, you are superior in physical combat and your Empathy grew even stronger."
He stared, unmoved. "What happened? She discovered immortality—"
"And she panicked. She only told Lupin and Lupin told Regbo. Around that time, Merope Gaunt was dying. Lily, of course, didn't know why they'd all been hired to create a cure for this mysterious illness, but as soon as she realized what she created, she ran. She set us loose, but she didn't run fast enough, nor did she destroy her creation as she should have." Stratton lifted his brows. "Can you imagine what the Wizarding world would do if they found out about this magical injection of immortality? There would be no vampires left—"
"Or simply, more vampires would be created for the sole purpose of generating more immortality serum," Riddle injected smoothly.
"Aw, but there is a small hitch in that plan, as ingenious as it is." Stratton pressed his hands together in front of his chest before interlocking them. "You see, one injection," here, he pressed his two index fingers together to form a 'one'. "Held the essence of one vampire. You couldn't divide the essence of a vampire among many injections; it was all in one, large injection. The essence of a single vampire."
"You!" Stratton leaped towards Harry in a blink of an eye and pressed his fingertips against the younger man's chest. "When Lily could no longer hold against the torture, she gave the location of five vials. Five. The only ones she created. To test if she was telling the truth of whether they truly held a cure, or a poison, they injected them inside you and your father. Your father went first and he died instantly. But you… you…"
Harry stared into Stratton's piercing gold eyes, intrigued despite himself. What this was… it was ridiculous, yet utterly explainable, as loath as he was to admit it. He'd worked very hard to achieve his physical superiority, yet, even Harry admitted he was leaps and bounds in front of others. He excelled easily. It was easy for him.
And his Empathy.
He'd begged Severus Snape to teach him Occlumency, simply because his Empathy had exploded while in captivity.
"You," Stratton continued softly, "Were injected with the essence of our king, Hendrik. For some reason, his essence bonded with you. As soon as you were injected, we all felt as if he'd returned to life." His fingers softened their prod on Harry's chest. "I followed the pull toward the abandoned warehouse you and your parents were. It was too late to save them, but you…"
"You decided to stick close to me because I hold the spirit of your lost king."
"Yes and no." Stratton cocked his head to the side. "My pull towards you is there, but it isn't strong. I could have easily ignored it, but you intrigued me. For whatever reason, Hendrik decided to live on through you." He dropped his hands. "And I imagine the pull for our brooding Dark Lord over there is also present, simply because his injection belonged to Hendrik's first guard."
"Ah," Harry grunted, suddenly numb. He looked at Riddle. "You took the injection?"
Of course he had.
Riddle was the perfect image of an apathetic statue. His young features, his brilliant charm, and his overpowering magic. He'd taken the injection just as well, it had emphasized his inborn talents, but at the time, he couldn't have known that it was the gift of immortality. Unless… unless Lily had told Remus what she'd discovered.
And Regbo had known.
"I was told that the cure could possibly be immortality. They had no solid evidence, with the exception of a sole survivor, but time was running out," Riddle responded quietly. "Skeptical at first, I made Regbo take it in front of me. Only when he survived, did I take it as well. Feeling comfortable enough with the effects, I gave it to Merope. She died, just like your father. Immediately."
Rather risky. He was surprised Riddle had trusted them enough to inject something into both himself and his mother. It sounded as if Riddle was both desperate and lustful over the thought of immortality.
He couldn't picture Tom Riddle being afraid of death, but then again, didn't Voldemort mean "flight of death" in French?
"All five vials were used," Harry quipped bitterly, turning to look at Stratton. "Why didn't it work on my father and Merope Gaunt?"
"It was all by chance, Harry." Stratton took a few steps back, removing himself from Harry's personal space. "It took me a long time to theorize why some lived while others died. You are the key. Hendrik was our king. Riddle was injected with the first guard; Regbo received the essence of Hendrik's second guard. His two most loyal, most devoted followers recognized that their king lived on through you, thus they bonded with Riddle and Regbo, creating a successful transfusion."
"The sheer magic that must have been involved into creating this," Riddle trailed off, his eyes distant, yet dilated. "Lily Potter was ingenious."
"It still doesn't explain why Merope and James died," Harry argued. His mind raced as he ran over the information given to him. "You said your whole nest was taken captive. I can understand why James would die from the injection. The vampire he was injected with couldn't recognize his king anywhere, because I wasn't injected yet."
"Exactly!" Stratton smiled widely, showing off a set of incisors. "The injection did not bond with James, because it had no anchor." He looked at the silent and observing Riddle. "There were many vampires who died while in Regbo's captivity, but I can only assume that Merope was given the essence of one of the newborns. They hadn't formed a strong attachment with our king, therefore, felt no reason to bond with her."
A first guard, huh?
Harry studied Riddle's profile, suddenly feeling upset. Bitter, more like it.
"Does it make you feel better?" Harry asked, drawing Riddle's sharp, undivided attention. "Your infatuation is explained. This," he motioned between the two of them. "Is simply because of the past lives we carry inside us."
Something crossed Riddle's features, something dark and irate. It was almost as if Harry had insulted him.
"You think me that weak?"
"Aw, a good, lover's angst." Stratton tittered. "While I'd love to prolong this drama and become a fly on the wall, I must confess. You misunderstand the situation, Harry, dear. As do most humans. You see, Riddle was injected with Hendrik's first guard. The first guard is incapable of feeling lust, love, or anything of the sort. Once titled the position of first guard, they voluntarily surrender their emotions and personality. Their one and only mindset is the protection of the king."
Harry ignored Riddle's continued stare in favor of watching Stratton. He hated how relieved he felt at the information. Riddle was acting on his own, free will. He did not have the spirit of a vampire influencing him. His treatment of Harry was his alone. Of course, that suddenly shed light on his unwilling urge to protect Harry.
That, in itself, would explain Salazar's wand.
Voldemort felt disadvantaged over his unexplainable urge to protect him. He'd want to be on equal grounds. But what really was the properties of the wand? Was it really protection? Or was it something else entirely?
"And Regbo?" Riddle inquired lazily. "The essence inside him belongs to the second guard. Are they likewise wiped clean as the first guard?"
Something seemed to tickle Stratton quite a bit, for his cheeks strained in order to accommodate his grin. "Oh, no. Rumor has it, Hendrik and his second guard were rather close." Here, he winked at Harry upon Riddle's darkening aura. "But I know better. I was close to Hendrik, as I was his successor. He was rather promiscuous, but he never bed his second guard. Regbo, on the other hand, I cannot say for certain, but he wants Harry quite badly."
"For immortality," Riddle hissed. "He was forced to use the interjection on himself, rather than give it to Gellert Grindelwald. He'd want Harry for his blood, to try to replicate the injection. He most likely came to the conclusion that the success of the cure relied on the nesting habits of the vampires."
"Perhaps, though he will never be able to replicate the injection. What Lily accomplished was by chance. It was by fate," Stratton emphasized. "No one would be able to replicate what happened, simply because Hendrik bonded with Harry. I'd like to consider it was his own, free will. He saw something in Harry and wanted to continue to live through him. If it weren't for Harry, you and Regbo would have died upon injection."
Here, Harry laughed. "What you're describing, Stratton, is something akin to souls and spirits. You cannot bottle that and give it as an injection."
"Almost like a Horcrux," Riddle mused thoughtfully.
Harry narrowed his eyes at the term.
"Like a Horcrux, yes," Stratton conceded, "But not. Certainly far more complex." He looked at Harry. "Your mother made poor choices. Very poor. Yet, she made amends. Initially, I only wanted to manipulate her, but I came to care for her deeply. However, my first priority would always be to my nest." He seemed to hesitate. "She gave up her family to protect the discovery she'd made. The science and magic behind it. To repay her sacrifice, I vowed to keep you safe."
"By becoming my shrink?"
Stratton smiled truly. "By getting as close to you as possible. By getting to know you."
There was true fondness on Stratton's expression, Harry noted. He wondered at the extent of Hendrik's influence in his body. Unlike Riddle and Stratton, Harry did not believe Hendrik lived on through him. He felt no influence from another entity. Harry felt like Harry. He always made his own decisions and he accepted the choices he'd made as his own.
No, this immortality had to do with the vampire venom, or more accurately, the vampire's magical core and blood. Vampires often shared blood with each other. Once becoming first guard, a very strong blood ritual most likely took place. It made the guard compliant and it linked his blood with his kings. Almost like an Unbreakable Vow, the guard promised to serve and protect his king. Upon injection, it would make sense that Riddle felt a nudge to protect Harry, simply because the blood magic lived on, doubtless of the death of its intended parties.
Blood rituals were that strong.
On no account did Harry believe in this essence bullshit. But if Stratton wanted to believe it, so be it.
"You don't believe me," Stratton observed thoughtfully.
"Does it really matter?" Harry countered. "The vampire venom made us stronger and it made our inborne talents that much more emphasized. It made Riddle younger, but when have you ever seen an old vampire? We don't crave blood, we can't move as fast as a vampire, but I'd say, we are very much a magical creature."
"Then how do you explain the order of the injections? Why James did not live?"
The vampire did have a point there. Harry looked at Riddle, noticing the man seemed indifferent. The Dark Lord hid his thoughts well; Harry had a hard time discerning his beliefs on the subject. Riddle had seemed interested in Horcruxes and that specific branch of magic dealt with souls. Perhaps the man did believe in this rubbish.
"I don't know," Harry admitted, sighing. "Maybe James' and Merope's body just couldn't accept the injection. You said yourself that it took you a long time to theorize this. My mother didn't have time to study this in depth. Who knows? Maybe we aren't even immortal. Maybe Tom will still die of old age, but retain his younger appearance?"
William closed his eyes, a mysterious smile in place. "Then we will have to agree to disagree, Harry. You need time to accept this, I understand."
Harry watched as Stratton turned his back and retreated further into the shadows. "What now?" he called after the vampire.
"Now?" Stratton turned around with a flourish. "We have a war to fight, Harry, do we not?"
The very notion of more allies got Riddle's undivided attention. Before anymore could be said, however, Stratton was gone. Harry's mouth twisted warily. Trust the vampire to drop a bombshell and depart. Just what was Stratton's gain? Was it just out of the goodness of his heart that he told Harry about what happened, and by default, Riddle?
He had emphasized Harry's name when he mentioned fighting a war, and he looked pointedly at Harry, completely dismissing Riddle.
Perhaps Harry was thinking too far into it, but did Stratton intend to slight Riddle?
"You know…" Harry started, turning towards the Dark Lord who already had his exclusive attention. "We can use this to our advantage. Regbo wants me. I can play the bait and you—"
Red eyes narrowed into slits. "No."
It took Harry off-guard. "What do you mean no?"
His tone came out harsh, vicious almost. He was offended, why wouldn't he overreact? Between mourning for Sirius and finding out the details around his mother's work—his mother's sins and betrayals—and his own immortality, Harry felt unstable. He didn't feel in control anymore. At his sides, his fingers began to twitch and something… something he hadn't felt in a long time bellowed inside his head.
Turning his back on Riddle, he tried to suppress it. The urge. The temptation.
It had been quite a while since he needed to hunt. In the past, when Custos found his victims, he'd done so out of a need to feel in control and stable. After a kill, he'd felt more at ease, knowing he'd gotten rid of taint in the world all the while satisfying his own need.
Aside from the sudden urge, he wavered at the edge from uncertainty. Uncertainty regarding his mother and her actions—she was definitely no Saint—and most pressingly, uncertainty towards Riddle. He should hate the man, now more than ever. He'd gotten solid evidence that Riddle was responsible for his parents' deaths, and yet, he felt as if he should stay put and strategize ways to destroy Regbo. Together.
He threw his arm out in a dismissive gesture and Disapparated.
. . Dreams. .
Kingsley sat at his wife's bedside and held her unresponsive hand.
The Healers confirmed he could take her home, just as long as he had the proper potions and charms to keep her condition stable. Fortunately, Rebecca's sister, Arleen, agreed to stay with Kingsley for however long it took Rebecca to wake from her coma. She would take over when Kingsley had to leave for Auror work.
He felt better knowing she would be under his wards, his care. The both of them. With the way the Wizarding world was going now… It was just better to keep family close.
"You summoned me?"
Kingsley's eyes widened at the abrupt presence behind him, never having sensed the man enter. He was facing the door, keeping a close watch on it from the corner of his eye. The only way for the man to have entered was through the window. Slowly, he turned, spying the dark figure standing in the corner of the room, near the open window.
"Why had you assumed otherwise…?"
There was something peculiar about Potter tonight. He was not his cocky, confident self. He never missed the chance to display his face, nor his expressive green eyes. The man never dwelled in the shadows. He did not talk in a monotone clipped with impatience. Potter always had time to taunt Kingsley, to converse with him.
Licking his chapped lips, Kingsley stood up, gently tucking Rebecca's hand back into the mattress. "You took a nasty fall. Your friend, Mr. Zabini, had to carry you out the Ministry. You were bleeding a great deal." He narrowed his eyes on Potter. "Are you alright?"
"I have never been better." Potter stepped away from the shadows and looked stoically at Kingsley. "You sent a Patronus to me, summoning me to here of all places." His eyes fell on Rebecca before searching Kingsley. "I knew you intended to reassure me of the neutrality of our meeting, but how could you take the risk with her? Do not make the mistake of trusting me, Kingsley."
Something dark and ugly slid down Kingsley's spine. There was no doubt something had happened to Potter. Darkness curled greedy hands around Potter's neck, darkening his brilliance, his goodness.
"You would never hurt her," Kingsley stated firmly, confidently.
Scrutinizing the younger man, Kingsley realized that life on the run, life without expectations and social norms slowly ate away at Potter's decency. When he hid his vigilantism to the world, he had interacted with friends and loved ones who were decent men and women. He was constantly reminded of who he was supposed to be and what kind of morals to keep close.
Without that mask, however, Custos was free to come out and play whenever. The company he kept nowadays, such as Tom Riddle and Barty Crouch Junior, probably did not help matters. Darkness had a way of swallowing a man alive. Potter was standing knee-deep and quickly sinking. It wouldn't be long until he could not find his way back from the madness and the depravity. He'd be submerged.
Kingsley faltered upon this realization, feeling an unmistakable pang of pity, or more appropriately, remorse. He reached forward and laid a hand on Potter's bicep, squeezing it once before abruptly removing it again.
He had the crazy urge to reach into that darkness and pull Potter back into the light. However, he was not a naïve fool. He knew Potter would never be holy. He was full of sin, unforgiveable sin, but the young man had strong morals. Without those morals, he'd be a shell of the man whom many worshipped and looked to for protection.
Upon his sudden revelations and objectives, his strategy abruptly revolved. He could not appeal to Harry Potter for help, the son of James and Lily. No, Kingsley spent months studying the serial killer when Custos' identity remained a secret. He'd liked to think he knew the man through those many long nights of research and analysis.
If Kingsley wanted help against Riddle, he would need to appeal to Custos, the vigilante.
The man truly wanted to help others, albeit in his own way. Perhaps Kingsley could use that to his advantage. "I contacted several foreign Ministries outside Britain for their help detaining Tom Riddle."
Green eyes slowly lifted from Kingsley's retreating hand to his face. "You're an idiot." Potter sneered. "Do you have any idea what they could have done? You do not know the extent of their loyalty with Riddle. They could have sent someone after you, to eliminate you upon the discovery of Tom Riddle's alter ego. Alternatively, even worse, they could have lulled you into a false sense of comradeship and played you for a fool. Destroying you and your little group from the inside out."
Kingsley nodded, not taking offense. "I know. I hadn't realized how big his reach."
"His reach…" Potter trailed off, his eyes distant, yet still trained on Kingsley. "Is ridiculously large."
"So you've told me before. I had to experience it myself." Exhaling forcibly, Kingsley ran a hand down his bald scalp with agitation. "How—no—it doesn't surprise me that you know about the group we've been establishing as defense."
"Defense against whom, exactly?" Potter walked around Kingsley and sat in the chair next to Rebecca's bedside. He slouched lazily for a moment before giving Kingsley a shit-eating grin. "Against Riddle? You are aware of the second threat. Between two battling Dark Lords, your group will be a mere pest. In fact, your group wouldn't survive the reverberations of two Dark Lords clashing."
"It hasn't even started yet. If we could eliminate one threat first—"
"But it will start soon. Sooner than you think. You cannot possibly eliminate Riddle or Regbo within such a short time span, especially when Riddle has spent decades creating his regime."
"Regbo," Kingsley tested the name on his tongue. "Is he Grindelwald's man?"
"He's the second Dark Lord you need to consider," Potter countered. "He is very powerful, not so much by magical means, but he has the ability to coerce those who oppose him through mind control. And if worse comes to worst, you also need to consider Grindelwald entering this war. As of now, he is rather…" he paused, searching for the right word. "Aggrieved."
"Why did he wait so long? Riddle? Why is he still waiting?"
Potter scoffed and removed a pale wand from his pocket. It was a striking wand, very alluring. "Dark Lords are usually radical. They love to create chaos and fear amongst people in order to draw followers. Join them or die. But… you never truly hear of a Dark Lord winning, do you? Why do you think that is?"
Kingsley furrowed his brows and shrugged. "There is always another powerful Light Lord opposing them."
"Very true," Potter consented. "Albus Dumbledore's passing is just an added bonus to Tom Riddle's plans. There is no Light Lord opposing him, but I think there will always be someone opposing him." He twirled his wand lovingly between his fingers. "Why the Dark Lords always tend to fail is because they start off too early. They are impatient. They think they have everything planned out, but in actuality, they are disorganized. They crave power and recognition too soon.
"Tom Riddle is like fine wine. He has these radical ideas, but he recognized that he was not ready to take that leap. He needed to preplan things, preplan people and reactions. He has accounted for everything. Everything, Kingsley. He's probably even accounted for a small, rebellious group to come out of his uprising. As soon as he does make that step into declaring himself a Dark Lord, all the pieces will fall in place beautifully."
Kingsley crossed his arms over his chest. "You sound impressed."
Potter looked upward, not so much rolling his eyes, but close enough. "Patience and restraint is an impressive quality to possess if you're a Dark Lord." He curled his fingers suddenly over the wand in a rather violent way. "I told you there wasn't anything you could do, Kingsley. I told you to—"
"Run, I know." Kingsley geared up, readying himself. He walked between the chair and the bed, putting himself directly in front of Potter. It forced the serial killer to give him undivided attention. "But this is my home. Our home. Not everyone will support Riddle or Regbo. When they realize this, I want them to know there are people they can go to for protection. For resistance. I'm not going down without a fight, Potter. I hardly think Riddle stands for an ideal change, if kidnapping Muggle-born infants isn't enough to go by."
Eyebrows skyrocketed. "Then do as you please, Kingsley. I am merely warning you. No need for the fanatical diatribe."
Rubbing his nose between his thumb and forefinger, Kingsley sat at the edge of the bed and looked imploringly at Potter. "All those people who won't support Riddle will most likely die or lose their families. We need help. We need someone who knows Riddle, someone who is clever and not afraid to dip his toe into questionable methods."
Potter stared at him for a long while before laughing. "You cannot be serious."
"It seems ludicrous, I know." Kingsley shifted forward. "We are on other sides of the law, Harry, but I really think we are on the same side for this particular issue. I need your help."
"I work independently. I am what they call neutral in wars."
"Which is smart. You are a survivalist; it comes to no surprise that you'd want to keep your allegiances close to your chest. Nevertheless, I also know you feel obligated to help others. You strive off protecting those who are not corrupt, who are rather innocent in their own right. I know many of those kind of people will be in the resistance against Riddle. I'm only asking for your guidance from time to time."
Kingsley observed Potter, immediately noticing the line between his brows. The boy was truly thinking it over, yet he had reservations. And Kingsley had a feeling he knew exactly what those were.
"There has been some speculation you already support Riddle."
Potter's eyes sharpened. "I support Tom Riddle, I do not support Voldemort."
"What does that even mean, Potter?"
The vigilante stood up and turned his back on Kingsley. "It means that I am loyal to the man, not the cause."
He seemed defensive, angry even. However, was he upset with Kingsley or their current line of conversation? Was Potter uncomfortable admitting to being loyal to Riddle? He should be. From what Kingsley observed as an outsider, the two had a peculiar relationship. One moment, they wanted to destroy each other, the next, they were defending one another.
He couldn't make sense of it, though he deflated with the admission of Potter's loyalty.
Just as he expected Potter to retreat, the man suddenly turned back around and reached for Kingsley. Only, the young man's hand bypassed him and made its way toward Rebecca. Kingsley sucked in a breath, his pulse racing with sudden adrenaline. Protectiveness surged within him and he lashed out, grabbing Potter's outstretched arm.
His fierce grip immediately slackened when he noticed Potter loosely holding Rebecca's limp fingers. Retaining a relaxed hold on Potter, Kingsley watched as the young man peered intensely at Rebecca's unconscious form, hardly deterred at Kingsley's abrupt, physical challenge. Seconds seemed to stretch on for minutes when all three occupants remained silent and still.
Potter's face suddenly softened, all hard and abrasive lines smoothing. Then just as suddenly, Rebecca's own features softened in sleep and she released a soft, content sigh.
"The antidepressants are flat-lining her emotions," Potter informed. "They certainly have a time and a place, but in this case, she needs to work through her emotions and confront the demons inside her. She's a fighter, Kingsley." He removed his hand and turned away just as Rebecca stirred from her sleep.
Kingsley turned fully to watch his wife, unbelieving. "You- you…" He licked his lips excessively, a tick to balm his anxieties. Running a hand down his face, he resisted the urge to cry with relief as Rebecca slowly woke from her coma. "You are destined for such great things, Potter. Your gift can help so many lives, and you just don't realize it."
Wrapping a reassuring hand around Rebecca's wrist, Kingsley eyed Potter's turned back.
"I will consider your proposal," Potter said quietly. "My advice right now? There will not be two Dark Lords for much longer. Either they will destroy each other or one will destroy the other. It's best to weather that storm and grow your resistance in the meantime. Get stronger. Grow in numbers."
Just as Kingsley was about to respond, an owl Patronus flew into the room.
"Auror Shacklebolt, there is an attack in Diagon Alley. Backup needed immediately."
Kingsley turned to his waking wife as the Patronus disappeared, torn between his duty as a husband and the Head of the Magical Law Enforcement. He needed to be in Diagon Alley to reinforce his men and defend the Wizarding community… but he also needed to be here with Rebecca when she woke.
Turning back to Potter, he was surprised to see him already gone.
Kingsley needed only one guess to know where he was headed.
. . & Darkness. .
Balancing at the very edge of a rooftop in Diagon Alley, Harry watched the chaos unfold. He walked in a steady and confident line, jumping to the next shop over when the rooftop promptly plummeted to an alleyway below. He paused and teetered at the edge, watching the groups destroy shop windows and set the buildings aflame.
With a critical eye, he examined the attackers. There were some wizards with royal purple robes, but there were others in their company that made the most noise, created the most damage. Judging from their unkempt and rather harried figures, Harry knew them to be werewolves. So the werewolves allied themselves with Regbo after all…
Rather fitting that William Stratton came out as a vampire tonight with the intentions of fighting in the war. Perhaps he had a bone to pick with the werewolves. Weren't vampires and werewolves like cat and dogs?
An ear-splinting whine filled the air suddenly before a loud explosion sounded. An acid green light blinded everyone present before a sadistic mark hung in the clear night. The Slytherin S smoldered in the sky, the serpent wrapped around the mark coming alive. Harry stared at it, feeling something akin to a grin twist his lips.
Regbo initiated the first move.
Now it was Riddle executing the counter move. Lord Voldemort was going to make his appearance tonight.
Harry crouched down abruptly when he noticed the hooded cloaks swarm into Diagon Alley, arriving before the Aurors. The green mark in the sky reflected off their metal skull masks, giving them a malevolent ambiance. Then Harry saw him. Oh Merlin, but he was hard to miss, wasn't he? In all his smug and arrogant glory, one would find it hard not to admire.
Admire Harry did… with an obsessive and greedy eye.
Shaking his head at his ridiculousness, Harry hated the feeling that welled inside his chest. It made it hard to breathe. It was both a longing and a certain hatred that was far more whimsy than he would have liked. He hated Riddle one moment with a ferocity, but the hatred waned into something passionate moments later.
Forgetting about the conversation with Stratton, Riddle, and Kingsley for just a moment, he drank in Voldemort's grand entrance.
But the magic.
He sunk lower in his crouch and stared unabashedly as the Dark Lord, blanketed with a sea of supporters, walked confidently amongst them. His magic spread around him in lazy, but noticeable waves. As if the magic possessed a mind of its own, it seemed underwhelmed with the threat before it. Harry knew that magic possessed a certain consciousness. He knew it would grow eager if excited, darker if aroused…
The latter bit Harry experienced for himself and it was delicious.
His fingers curled around the edge of the rooftop as he watched Voldemort confront a group of loitering werewolves. With a mere wave of his wand, all four bodies froze unnaturally. One by one, their innards tore through their abdomens and they slumped to the floor amongst their own mess of intestines.
Harry released a suffering breath.
Kingsley didn't stand a fucking chance.
Even if Kingsley somehow managed to raise an army for himself to bring down Voldemort, he still had to consider the mass of supporters that Voldemort possessed. The ones present tonight in Diagon Alley weren't all of Voldemort's followers, Harry knew. Yet, they still took up the majority, they remained loyal to Voldemort probably even after many years of inactivity and uncertainty if they'd ever see a change.
The best way to take down Voldemort was to go through his solid foundations and destroy him from the ground up. His followers. His money. His foreign contacts. Leave him isolated, destroy the image he's been building for the past fifty years. It would take time, patience, and extreme manipulation. Kingsley could do it, possibly, but he started the dance too late.
Voldemort was already on top of his game. He would destroy Kingsley and his group before they could do much damage.
It was unfortunate, but it was true.
Kingsley's best shot was Regbo. If and only if Regbo did a significant amount of damage could Kingsley capitalize on a wounded Voldemort and act accordingly. Harry thought that was a very strong possibility. Regbo had the ability of mind control. Regbo could turn every single Death Eater against their Lord.
Hell, he could turn the foreign Ministries, who'd agreed to side with Tom Riddle, against Lord Voldemort.
No, Regbo was a very fierce competitor and Harry was truly concerned for Riddle. This attack tonight was mere child's play. As was the attack at the Ministry. If Regbo put his mind to it—pun very much intended— he could terminate Riddle's regime. Completely. All with a few mind suggestions. With careful maneuvering, Regbo could have all those supporting Riddle dead within days. He would hardly need to lift a finger.
It made Harry a bit jealous.
Yes, Voldemort was without his right-hand follower tonight. She was dead because of Harry. Half the Inner-Circle was incarcerated because of Harry. Just as he'd mocked the other night with Riddle, he had done a significant amount of damage to Voldemort's regime in a matter of days. Yet, he didn't bloody compare to what Regbo could do.
It upset him. Regbo posed more of a threat to Riddle than Harry did.
Despite his musings, what Harry told Kingsley today was true. He was loyal to Riddle. He wanted the man very much alive, but he always wanted to be equal with the Dark Lord. Even though he may not do it, Harry wanted Riddle to know he could cripple him politically and socially.
Nevertheless, you can cripple Tom Riddle in a more intimate way, a way Regbo couldn't even hope to achieve.
Harry considered the sudden thought, realizing that was true. Emotionally, sexually, intimately… he possessed all those things with Riddle. If Harry wanted to, he could play on those feelings and destroy Riddle through careful manipulation. The idea was both reassuring and revolting. He'd never do it. Never even consider playing someone like that. Yet, it was still there. It was still something Harry possessed as an advantage over Regbo.
Satisfied with that upper hand, Harry turned back to Voldemort. Just as the man turned his attention on another enemy, Harry slipped a throwing knife in his palm and threw it across the battlefield. It barely missed other wizards as it soared expertly through the masses of bodies and lodged into the throat of one of Regbo's men—the same one Voldemort set his sights on.
The wizard crumpled to the ground, an obvious blade protruding from his neck.
Voldemort turned, but before they could make eye contact, Harry stood up and intentionally looked away.
Riddle had this all under control. Harry was not needed, nor did he want to be here when the Aurors arrived. It would be slightly amusing to see what they would do. Team up with Riddle and force away the werewolves and Regbo's men? Or fight all two parties? After tonight, the world would know about the Dark Lord Voldemort.
As he made a step to Disapparate, he caught sight of a familiar-looking werewolf in the crowds below.
Well now, he couldn't have imagined anything else that would have compelled him to stay.