Notes: There are alternative opinions when it comes to defining the 'Scandinavian area'/Nordic countries. Some believe it's only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. However, in this story, I'm adding Finland & Iceland to that list. :) Also, the Wizarding politics DO NOT mirror Muggle politics. Whoever may be an ally of one country in the Muggle world may not be so in the Wizarding world.

Chapter Two

Aksel exhaled softly as the women flocked around him, adjusting his suit and tie. They fussed after his hair, trying to keep it in proper place. He stood patiently, allowing them to do their job, but as one of the stylists reached for a flask of hair product, Aksel turned his shoulder abruptly and took a step away from the group of wardrobe professionals.

"That will be all, thank you ladies," he remarked smoothly. Pale green eyes swept past their admiring expressions before offering his watchful mother a meaningful look. "I have bigger things to worry about than my appearance."

She waved a delicate hand, agreeing with him nonverbally. "You've been waiting for this day for over three years, Aksel. It's only natural you're nervous."

Aksel shot her a cool look from over his shoulder as he adjusted his tie, much to the displeasure of the women standing on the sidelines. "Whatever gave you the impression that I'm nervous, mother? Like you've said, today has been four years overdue. And after twenty-one years of preparation, I can finally take my rightful spot in Norway."

His words sounded bitter to his own ears and they were even harder to swallow. Was it really his right to lead Norway and the Scandinavian region? Or was he simply becoming his mother's new façade to hide behind? Aksel stared gloomily in the mirror's reflection, his gaze paying special attention to the woman he came to admire and despise over the past four years. Before those four years, he would have never dared to think so lowly of her. But now, the hate was far too consuming. There was only one person he hated more than his mother.

Himself.

The blonde witch watched her son in amusement, her perfectly sculptured body merging into the dark backdrop of the side chamber. "Your father would be proud of you."

Aksel scoffed softly, mindful of their attentive audience. If Dagnar Lystad was still alive, the man would have taken pity on Aksel. He would have also felt relieved to step down and give his son the duty of parading around Norway for the merriments of Marie Lystad, the true force behind it all.

It had been a distressing blow for Aksel when he found out about his mother's true intentions. All he had ever known was a gentle, loving woman who appeared far too frail and far too ill to conjure up a devious, yet ingenious scheme. It seemed like so long ago that her warm palms had stroked his cheek as they sat in their garden. So long ago, he had offered his trust to the woman he now kept at arm's length.

Since that day, since the day of Dagnar's death, Aksel had grown and matured, looking at the world with both contempt and wariness.

Four Years Ago

As soon as they Portkeyed away from the Lystad Manor, away from his father's corpse, Aksel didn't have a chance to recover from the ordeal. The blue-clad wizards grabbed a hold of Aksel and dragged him down a series of dark passage ways. Looking around desperately, Aksel couldn't pinpoint his exact location. The corridors were dingy and shady, completely unrecognizable. Turning this way and that, Aksel couldn't hope to keep track of their progress down the halls.

"Where are you taking me?" he demanded hysterically.

A few of the faces that gripped and surrounded him were familiar. Aksel's childhood consisted of these guards who stood by solitary and watched his every move. Those guards put Aksel's wellbeing above their own. And while Aksel didn't exactly trust them, he was familiar enough with them to know they were loyal to the Lystad family. But even a loyal man could stray over the prospect of a higher reward.

Instead of responding to Aksel's demand, the group turned down another sharp corner, dragging the younger wizard forcibly.

One of the wizards opened a door and pushed Aksel inside. "Stay here until further notice," the short and stout wizard commanded.

Aksel stumbled into the room, his thoughts a whirlwind. The door slammed shut behind him and he could hear the unmistakable sound of charms reinforcing his confinement. He did nothing to stop his knees from giving out. With child-like desperation, Aksel drew his legs close and hugged them selfishly. As soon as his forehead fell on top of his knees, his pale eyes closed tightly.

He had never held any warm and affectionate feelings for Dagnar Lystad. His father was a business man and a royal pure-blood.

Though, while Dagnar and Aksel never traded heartfelt croons, he had come to respect and look up to his father. Dagnar was his father. Seeing the all-powerful politician lying so broken and lifeless at the feet of Lord Voldemort was… unbearable to think on.

Aksel issued a dry sob, refusing to cry. Everything felt disorganized, uncertain. Questions raced through his head, some heavy and some stupidly impractical. What would become of him now? Where was his father's body? His mother! What of her? Was the Lystad Dynasty in shambles now that Dagnar was dead and Aksel too inexperienced to hold the mantle?

Endless, the questions were endless. But somehow, focusing on the questions brought him away from the one thing that was eating away at him.

Guilt.

He could have prevented Dagnar's death. He knew he could have at least stalled long enough until help arrived. If he hadn't been so overwhelmed and consumed with the adrenaline of battle, he would have watched over his father more closely. Doubtless, Lord Voldemort was more powerful than Aksel, but he could have at least taken the initiative to protect Dagnar with his life. It was his initial plan, so why had he become so oblivious to everything but the heat of battle?

And Voldemort! Aksel snapped his eyes opened and he growled shakily. Certainly Dagnar had seen the attack coming. Why had he been so foolish enough to invite the Dark Lord in their home and then proceed to insult and reject any alliance the Englishman had to offer? Had there been a foil to Dagnar's plans?

Voldemort's attack had been expected, but that didn't mean Aksel had to accept it.

Suddenly, the door clicked open and Aksel unfolded from his vulnerable position and stood up unsteadily. His hand went to his pocket where he kept his wand, on edge and prepared just in case security wasn't up to standards.

"Aksel."

The woman who glided into the room caused Aksel to slump in relief, his hand dropping from his concealed wand. "Mother," Aksel breathed. Instead of running to her like he would normally find himself doing, Aksel took an uncertain step backward, eyeing her in distrust.

Marie Lystad, known for her ice-like beauty, was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. While the treatments had kept her alive for all those years, it had taken a toll on her appearance. Her face had sunken, her glow had dimmed, her hair had fallen out long ago, and her eyes were always sickly.

But now…

It was an entirely different witch staring back at him. Her platinum blonde hair was knotted in a long tail at the nape of her neck, looking as if it had never seen a day of hardship. Her pale green eyes were just as bright as the days before the cancer. The way she held herself, full of pride and confidence, was clearly not the posture of a woman on her death bed.

It wasn't the witch Aksel had grown up doting on, had grown up relying on. The woman before him looked cold and powerful.

"Don't look so startled, Aksel, it distorts your loveliness." Wearing a gown as pale as her champagne-colored hair, Marie glided over to Aksel and reached out a hand to touch his cheek.

He reared away from the touch he had grown accustomed to since a young child. Somehow, it was not the same hand, and it was especially not the same woman who offered him security. Opening his mouth to speak, Aksel struggled, realizing it was impossible to find the right words.

Her smile taunted him and her eyes were concentrated. "You should sit before you faint, my son." She walked around him and toward the couch. Grabbing the train of her dress in one hand, Marie sat down gracefully, patting the spot next to her. "We have much to discuss."

Aksel braced his palms against the wall behind him, too stubborn and shell-shocked to follow her suggestion. "Father's dead," Aksel began stupidly, his eyes tracing over Marie's indifferent expression. "But you already knew."

"I knew," Marie assented quietly, surely. Her nimble fingers curled as she placed a neatly painted fingernail against her bottom lip. Just like the Dark Lord had done earlier that night, Marie refused to take her eyes off her son, gauging his reactions and actions.

"You did nothing to stop it…" Aksel trailed off, too troubled to continue. A greasy sensation erupted painfully in the pit of his stomach as he began to connect the dots. The Death Eaters had been able to tear down the Lystad wards without setting off the alarms. Even the guards were conveniently absent long enough for Dagnar to reach his demise. "Why?" Aksel asked hoarsely, staring at the stranger across from him.

"Dagnar was growing too arrogant, too comfortable with the power." Her green eyes sparkled. "Let that be a lesson to you, Aksel. Arrogance is necessary for such a position as Dagnar's, but when you let it affect your reasoning, it will be your downfall." Marie shook her head, causing her long tail of hair to spill over her shoulder. "I did nothing to stop him from digging his own grave, no. However, I wasn't going to let him drag you down with him. I cannot have my son—my heir— paying for his father's mistakes."

Aksel bowed his head, her voice ringing in his ears. While her tone still possessed the gentle undertones, it was also more confident and deeper than he remembered. How could he live with this woman and be so blind to the true person underneath? Was he that thick? Or was his mother just that good?

Slowly, he lifted his chin and leveled her with a cool stare. "He was my father."

Something seemed to amuse Marie, for her eyes gleamed and sparkled madly. "That he was," she agreed dryly. "But even you should realize how foolish he was, Aksel. Lord Voldemort was going to kill Dagnar either way."

"But you wanted him dead!" Aksel shouted, throwing an accusing hand in her direction. "You knew what was going to happen. Hell, you all but opened the front door for the Death Eaters. Dagnar's blood stains your hands just as much as any other."

Marie settled further against the couch, not at all fazed by his outburst. "If that makes you rest easier, my sweet child, then yes, I am to blame just as much as the Dark Lord." Her painted lips parted and began to curl upwards. "How did you find the Dark Lord? Was he every bit insane as Dagnar believed?" Her eyes narrowed. "Did he find you irresistible?"

He stared. Her tone was casual as she asked after Voldemort. Her husband was dead, and yet, she was sitting easily, as if she were testing out her newfound freedom. "Who are you?" Aksel hissed in disgust.

Marie suddenly shook her head, disappointment creasing her face. "We raised you better than this, Aksel. You are royalty and you are the prince of politics. You were born into deceit and betrayal, all for the better gain." The witch unfolded from the sofa and slowly began to approach a motionless Aksel. "Men who wrap nooses around their necks should not warrant a second thought from you. Mistakes like Dagnar's are unacceptable in this family. And I will not have a son who cringes away and sulks like a pathetic child."

Aksel flinched but she was quicker. Cold hands grabbed his jaw, turning him forcibly to meet her eyes. If Marie was angry, she was doing a fine job of concealing it behind a veil of mocking concern. Forced to do nothing else, he stared at her, silently acknowledging the sliver of hate intensifying underneath the suffocating cloud of betrayal.

"I am the true force behind the Scandinavian region, Aksel," Marie informed equably.

"That's impossible," Aksel argued, "the Board has never acknowledged you. They only accepted Dagnar as their leader—"

"The Board of Prominent Pure-Bloods is a group of men who only want recognition. They are nothing. Don't you ever wonder why Scandinavians tuck their tails between their legs for pure-blood royalty? It's because more powerful wizards and witches are agreeing to stay obedient. And I control every last one." The stern lines across her face softened as she lovingly caressed Aksel's loose curls. "It's an unfamiliar world outside the Board, my son. You wouldn't last a day without proper protection. But don't worry; I plan to finish what your father started."

Uncertainty clawed at his chest. A part of him wondered if he should believe Marie's boasts. The Board was powerful. It included a handful of pure-blood royalty from each country across the Scandinavian region. Together, they dictated the on-goings of their countries, leaving the deciding vote to the Head. Dagnar had once held the Board in his fist. To imagine he was actually acting on behalf of Marie made Aksel sick.

And then Marie's last words suddenly hit him. With Dagnar dead, Aksel would now have to shoulder the manipulations and commands from the woman he had once pledged his undying loyalty to. In the end, he would be just as much as a puppet as Dagnar was. Each day, he would have to wonder if Marie would cut his strings just as cruelly as she had done to Dagnar.

If Marie really did have deeper connections throughout the Scandinavian region, Aksel knew he could do nothing but bow his head. Power exuded from Marie, so much so that it would be impossible for someone to fabricate. Her claims were not false and Aksel hated himself for not seeing it before.

She crooned as soon as she saw the defeat in his eyes. "You will make me proud, Aksel. We must train hard these next few years. It will be a difficult time for you, but I will always be here for you."

Their embrace was tense and full of falsified devotion. He stared at the wall from over her shoulder, the image of Dagnar's broken body flashing before his eyes. Dagnar had grown too conceited. Not only for inviting Lord Voldemort into his home, but for turning a shoulder to Marie. Aksel vowed he would never make his father's mistake. He would feign arrogance, but remain sharp and calculating underneath it all.

If there was one thing this tragedy taught him, it was to never trust anyone. Not even family could be trusted.

Green eyes narrowed as Marie tightened her arms around him. He would learn from her. And he was more than ready to use it against her.

Present Time

Four years had passed since that night. He had been trained ruthlessly by Marie in the depths of their hideout. The outside world eventually began to believe Aksel had died in the attack with his father. Only occasional was Aksel allowed to leave their lair on assignments for his mother, a training exercise, she claimed. But those very few times were in the middle of the night and under the heavy folds of a cloak.

Marie, however, made occasional appearances above ground. She played the part of a grieving widow, all the while, making certain the Lystad estate was well-looked after. Their servants and guards kept watch over their hideout, their loyalty almost unnaturally strong.

When Marie was with Aksel, she hounded him with endless training. Lessons of languages, politics, dueling, blackmail, physical training, and even methods of persuasion were relentlessly hammered into Aksel. He knew the name and face of every important figurehead, every pure-blood, and he knew the dirt on each man and woman he would or might interact with. The things he learned unsettled him at first, but over time, he came to enjoy it.

In every way, Marie robbed him of any shred of innocence he tried to hold onto. He once promised himself he would use the information he learned to take down Marie. Overtime, that vow seemed to stretch further and further away from his reach. Each day that passed in her presence seemed to tighten the restraints that tied him to her. His hate only grew for her, but so did his admiration and dependence.

He was not a fool. He knew he had been manipulated to depend on Marie. It was her intentions since he was a child, relying on her for comfort when Dagnar grew too harsh. And now, he was relying on her as the only central figure in his life; his mentor, his friend, his mother, his enemy. Her presence consumed him and it was extremely binding.

Though, knowledge was a powerful tool. Knowing he was being manipulated helped ease the hold Marie had on him.

There was still a shred of his old self left within him, reminding him of his vow. He wanted to destroy Marie, he wanted his freedom, but he wondered if he would be able to go through with it, especially the longer time stretched on.

He had dreams sometimes, dreams that enforced his thirst for freedom and revenge. Darkness always swallowed him and a voice just as dark whispered to him. At times, Aksel was able to look into the eyes of Lord Voldemort as the man criticized him for being so weak. When he woke up in cold sweat, his forehead always burning, he wondered why he had to dream of the man that put him into this position.

Other nights, he would sometimes have dreams of looking through the eyes of Lord Voldemort, especially when the man was enraged. Voldemort seemed to know when he was present, but never pushed him away.

Those times were few and far between and Aksel assumed his imagination was creating them as a sign of his lost independence. Voldemort represented the bridge between his old and new self. He was a reminder of all things before Marie. It was the only explanation Aksel could conjure and he refused to go to his mother and ask her.

After all, Marie was an expert at what she did. She would take every weakness of Aksel's and use it against him. She would find his dreams a sign of how pathetic he was. Her methods of teaching Aksel varied significantly from Dagnar's. Why slap him around when she could use words just as sharp?

"Are you feeling well, Lord Lystad?" a man murmured next to him.

Aksel turned away from his reflection and glanced at the blue-clad guard next to him. He had recently been assigned three personal guards, all top in their class. This one, with his blond floppy hair, seemed familiar to Aksel. They were around the same age, but those days at Durmstrang seemed so indistinct to him. He wouldn't recognize his old classmates like he used to.

"We will be keeping each other company for quite some time," he began, "you may call me Aksel." His pale eyes swept over to the other two guards, a bit surprised to note one of them a female. "You two as well."

He didn't wait for them to respond or even introduce themselves. He didn't care. They were most likely just as chained to Marie Lystad as he was. Their eyes would be hers when she wasn't in his presence.

"Are the reporters all present?" Aksel turned his attention on Marie. He noticed she was displeased with the way he treated his personal guards. In her eyes, Aksel was supposed to be friendly to everyone. He would gather more supporters that way.

"They are all gathered," she reassured, pushing off from the wall and making her way out the chamber.

Aksel followed, aware of the wardrobe women whispering between themselves and sneaking sly glimpses in his direction. He ignored them but kept his attentiveness open. Even if his back were turned, he would still be conscious of an attack that came from behind, even if it was from someone who appeared as harmless as a wardrobe woman.

They walked through the corridors of Lystad Manor and toward the great hall. It had been four years since he'd walked the halls of his childhood home. And this morning, it had been the first time since Dagnar's death that he had greeted the sun and felt the warmth its rays had to offer. His cheeks were still rosy from standing and embracing the sun for so long.

"Are you ready?" Marie's voice floated toward him from further ahead.

He knew what her question entailed. He always knew. "If I wasn't, you know I wouldn't be walking this corridor." She would have never released her talons from him if he wasn't completely under her control. Either she had seen something in him that indicated he was ready or they were simply running out of time.

Marie didn't respond. She leaned against the corner, just outside the large hall. The hall itself was set up for a conference and the sounds of men and women murmuring amongst each other could clearly be heard. Aksel toed the edge between the corridor and the hall. Oddly enough, he wasn't nervous. Instead, a powerful feeling of excitement washed through him at the prospect of finally putting everything together, of finally having slack on his leash.

Inhaling deeply, Aksel crossed into the hall, its bright lighting critical for the photographers and audience. With long and fluid steps, he approached the podium and climbed up the three steps. The crowd quieted, their eyes sharp and watchful, intrigued with the striking young man standing confidently at the podium.

"Thank you all for coming tonight," Aksel greeted warmly. Subconsciously, he was aware of a few guards standing behind him. The audience would be too enthralled with him to pay any attention to the extra security detail.

The reporters would likely speculate on his identity. After all, they were currently standing in the Lystad Manor. But the public suspected he died four years ago. There would be doubt until he announced his identity himself.

"As all of you know, Knut Foresberg is the Head of the Prominent Pure-blood Board. He has been an active leader for the last four years, taking the mantle from Dagnar Lystad after his assassination. Mr. Foresberg has lead Norway through a period of uncertainty and did a truly outstanding job." Aksel paused, curling his fingers around the podium. "Unfortunately, Knut Foresberg passed away this morning caused by an untreatable heart attack."

He let the words sink in to the surprised audience. It was breaking news after all. If Marie hadn't been indirectly involved with Knut's death, it would have shocked Aksel just as well. Knut had no family, only security that didn't make it a habit of guarding the politician when he was sleeping. A heart attack would be easily explained as natural causes.

Aksel glanced down at his podium, the only sign of discomfort. For being underground for so long, it would take a while to deal with the harsh lights, even more so the uncensored cries of outrage and shock from the crowd.

Allowing enough time pass, Aksel continued once again. "It is because of this unfortunate tragedy that I have agreed to accept the legacy of my late father. I, Aksel Lystad, will now take the position of the Head of the Prominent Pure-blood Board."

And the reporters stood and the flashes began. Questions were thrown in his direction and cries of surprise and relief danced the hall. Aksel kept his shoulders back, his chin lifted, and his eyes on the crowd. It took a bit of control to keep the smug smirk from showing, and inside, he was chuckling in delight. The Board had no idea what was coming. They were entirely clueless to his survival and they would find out about his declaration of being the new Head through the newspapers.

Of course, he would have to schedule a meeting with them. Sooner rather than later. Aksel couldn't have them running their mouths to the press, claiming they hadn't agreed on any move of action. But it wasn't up to the members of the Board to vote on the new Head. No, this was Aksel's right, his birth right. Knut had taken it from him when Dagnar was killed.

It was time for Norway and its allies to be held by their rightful owner.

"It has been a long four years," Aksel continued. "My young age may hinder many of your judgments, but rest assured, I have received superior training for this position. Not only was I born into this role, but Dagnar raised me with the assumptions that I would someday take his place. After his death, my knowledge has only grown significantly."

Aksel inhaled, pitching his voice lower and fiercer. "I vow to uphold the sturdy nation that Dagnar built and Knut Foresberg continued. While my reign will be much like Dagnar's, I am my own man. I will continue to make improvements for our nation and I will stop at nothing less."

Leaning away from his position, Aksel breathed deeply, his ears being drowned by questions.

It would certainly be a long night.

And he would enjoy every minute of it.

New Way to Bleed

Lucius raced through the halls of his Lord's manor, traveling as fast as his legs could carry him without resulting in a sprint. In his hands, he held news of the boy the Dark Lord had ordered Lucius to watch four years ago. Four years had passed without a sound leak of the Norwegian boy's whereabouts, until now. Gone was the struggling boy on the cusp of manhood, and in its place, was a young man who had enough confidence for his country as a whole.

"Enter," the Dark Lord rasped from the other side of the door.

Swallowing to compose himself, the blond entered one of the rooms his Lord liked to occupy during his free time. Humid air welcomed Lucius as he closed to door behind him. Pale grey eyes swept the room, no longer surprised at the sight that greeted him. It had, initially, surprised him when he realized what the Dark Lord was doing. In fact, four years ago, weeks after they returned from Norway, the Dark Lord took on the domestic hobby of gardening.

Lucius didn't know what had spurred the man's interest to something so mundane and… Muggle, but the blond wisely kept quiet. Admittedly, there were some wizards and witches who brought gardens alive with articulate sculptures and artistic shrub-modeling. He should know. Lucius had a hand-picked staff of gardeners at his manor.

Though, the Dark Lord's taste of vegetation left much to be desired. Granted, it fit the man's personality completely. Sharp, thorny vines and weeds grew among the exotic trees. The shrubs in the room were tall, towering over Lucius from his position by the door. There were some plants with color and they were treated preciously by the Dark Lord, almost possessively. Lucius was knowledgeable enough in the art of gardening to notice those plants were native to the Scandinavian region, Norway to be exact.

Whatever transpired between the Norway boy and the Dark Lord was enough to have an impact on Lord Voldemort.

Lucius bowed forward, unable to pinpoint the man's position inside the room. No matter, he was forbidden to step into the garden. His place was on the brick patio by the door.

"Lucius," the Dark Lord greeted silkily from somewhere to his right. "How… unexpected."

Highly unlikely. Lucius was the only Death Eater allowed permission inside this room. The others were blind to the man's new hobby, as most of them would be distraught with the knowledge. Lucius liked to think he was the Dark Lord's most trusted follower, able to hear his Lord's more closely-held plans and secrets.

"My Lord," Lucius returned the greeting before straightening. "I have news you would be most pleased to hear."

"Indeed?" the Dark Lord murmured in question, still thickly veiled in his own world.

Over the sound of placid running water, Lucius could hear the unmistakable sound of hissing. Color drained from his face as he deciphered the sound not too far from his position. There were serpents in the garden, Lucius knew. In fact, the hissing had grown in both volume and quantities since his last visit. He knew the Dark Lord bred serpents and he wouldn't be surprised to know the garden was a way to keep his pets occupied.

It made Lucius wonder what other experiments the Dark Lord was hiding in the depths of the garden.

He cleared his throat. "Aksel Lystad has appeared in public, My Lord. At the fledgling age of twenty-one, the boy has announced to Norway that he will step up and take his father's mantle as pure-blood royalty." Silence met his statement and Lucius continued, gazing down at the letter in his hand. "Of course, the world is in uproar. As you know, Norway influences the Scandinavian region. They believe the boy is too young to hold such a position—too naïve. Other countries, Britain in particular, are viewing this as a political opportunity to take advantage of the Lystad dynasty and gain Norway's power."

The Wizarding communities of Norway and Britain had never been particularly strong allies. From early centuries to the 1960's, Britain was the powerhouse of the Wizarding World. They were the first to establish a school, Hogwarts, and they were the first to construct a legalized and central government for the wizards under their jurisdiction. Many things spiraled since, and Britain grew leaps and bounds.

Even now, Britain was a strong force. And yet, since the 1960's, the Scandinavian region began to soar just as well, becoming a noticeable competitor to the West. When Britain was busy getting fat off their own power, Norway was sprinting behind the scenes, gathering their own force. They were the sole ruler of the Scandinavians, having control over Iceland, Greenland, Denmark, Finland, and even Sweden.

Now that there was a war brewing in Britain, they were seeking assistance from Norway. Having a young man—a boy— in charge of Norway was a god-sent gift. Aksel had the power to push the Norwegian Minister whichever way he fancied and Britain would jump at a chance to take advantage.

Certainty Aksel Lystad was raised rightfully to see the manipulations of politicians?

"I am impressed, Lucius, at your promptness." The Dark Lord chuckled underneath his breath, as if he found humor in his words. "After four years of having inside contacts, you were finally able to bring me news."

Lucius flushed at the mocking tone. Though, he did not blame the Dark Lord. His contacts in Norway had turned sour and he was unable to get a pinpoint on the boy's location after the attack on Lystad Manor.

"Unfortunately, your promptness was bested. I may need to consider replacing you, my slippery friend." From the opposite direction Lucius was looking, the Dark Lord emerged stealthily from the foliage. His hood was down, revealing the repulsed scowl and the sharp crimson eyes.

"Replaced?" Lucius inquired, licking his bottom lip uncertainly. Surely the Dark Lord did not have others who had better contacts than Lucius?

Instead of answering, the Dark Lord tossed a newspaper at Lucius' feet. The Daily Prophet grinned up at Lucius, revealing a photograph of Aksel Lystad. For a brief second, Lucius admired the photograph, highly impressed with the boy's appearance. A Quibbler was then tossed on top of the Prophet, revealing the same headlines, the same photos. Not seconds later, a Golden Vault was added to the pile.

Much to Lucius' horror, the last bundle to land at his feet was Witch Weekly, alerting the witches to a new bachelor of Norway's pure-blood royalty. Through his horror, Lucius wondered if the Dark Lord had truly subscribed to Witch Weekly, but then hurriedly pushed that thought away.

He fell to his knees, bowing his head and releasing the letter in his hands. "My Lord," he whispered fretfully, sensing the unavoidable punishment. "I had no idea—"

"Of course you didn't, you fool," the Dark Lord hissed. "Perhaps I should contact the sources at Witch Weekly and request a personal advocate. So far, they have turned out to be a better source of information than you, the very same individual who reassured me that he had contacts that spread across the globe."

Face growing red at being compared to the editors at Witch Weekly, Lucius kept silent, knowing when to speak and when to remain quiet.

"Fortunate for you, I am in a good mood tonight." The Dark Lord's bare feet slapped silently across the brick patio, nearing Lucius. "I must be logical about this, no? The boy was heavily guarded, of course your wretched sources wouldn't have a chance to report the boy's location. You are lucky I was able to keep tabs on the boy myself, otherwise, your lack of delivery would have tried my patience."

Despite the degrading jab at his trusted sources, Lucius' attention was immediately grabbed by the Dark Lord's confession. It was impossible, surely. If Lucius wasn't able to get any information on Aksel Lystad through his own men, then how had the Dark Lord achieved it? Was the man simply boasting? Did he have a lot more connections than Lucius knew about? Unless…

His eyebrows rose. "My Lord," he began hesitantly, "do you still believe the boy is… Harry Potter?" The name was bitter on Lucius' tongue. Harry Potter. A mere child capable of bringing down a powerful Dark Lord? Unthinkable! And yet, if Aksel Lystad was truly Harry Potter, then he may have a sort of connection to the Dark Lord, which would explain the man being able to keep tabs on the boy.

After that attack at Lystad Manor those many years ago, Lucius knew he was not welcome to talk about either Aksel or Harry Potter. His questions regarding the boy weren't answered and the Dark Lord grew sour. A quick Crucio would hit Lucius if he pushed too far.

Tonight, though, with the boy's sudden reappearance, Lucius was willing to push his luck.

"I don't believe the boy is Harry Potter, I know he is. Don't question me again regarding his identity. The boy's true parentage will not be leaked until I wish it." There was true threat in the Dark Lord's tone.

Lucius gradually lifted his eyes off the ground, peering at the Dark Lord through the fall of his hair. The wizard had turned his back to Lucius and ventured closer to the gardens. Lucius watched him breathlessly, frightened and completely enthralled with the man's powerful grace. Power stuck to the man, drawing Lucius in but also warning him of the need for complete submission.

"Dumbledore," Lucius began quietly, "is responsible for Potter's current position, correct? Dagnar Lystad knew nothing about it."

"The old fool has never stopped looking for his prodigal pawn. No, Dumbledore had nothing to do with Potter's current position. In fact, I am now more certain that Marie Lystad had a hand in his kidnapping. The mother."

Lucius glanced down at the newspapers, tracing the sharp and handsome features of Aksel. There was no hint of Lily or James Potter in the boy's features. He resembled the late Dagnar Lystad and the mother whom Lucius had never formally met. There were rituals to alter a child's appearance to take after his adoptive parents, mostly used by pure-bloods who could not conceive their own children. But was there a ritual strong enough to hinder tracking spells, especially spells that were cast by a wizard as powerful as Dumbledore?

And if Dumbledore wasn't able to get a solid lead on Harry Potter, how had the Dark Lord known instantly who Aksel Lystad truly was? Most likely the same way he was able to keep tabs on the boy. Lucius knew he was missing a piece of vital information and he also knew that the Dark Lord would never divulge that piece of information.

"The mother?" Lucius murmured quietly, knowing the Dark Lord would hear him no matter how far away he stood. "If she is the individual standing in your way to possess the boy, then why not kill her? I have never heard of Dagnar's wife, only in brief passing."

Lord Voldemort gave a raspy chuckle, standing on the outskirts of the garden. His long and thin fingers reached out to touch a purple flower, petting it. "Do you find gardens relaxing, Lucius?"

The blond wizard looked puzzled at the change of subject and a bit worried. "I… to a certain degree, My Lord."

"Indeed," the Dark Lord mused. "A wizard once confessed that they were a source of relaxation for him. I decided to try my hand at it, but I came to the conclusion that gardens truly are… uninteresting."

Lucius cleared his throat. He knew exactly why gardens did not have the same effect on the Dark Lord. The man just didn't know how to relax. "I think that is the point of relaxation, My Lord. One does not have to overtax their mind when they are in the garden. They prefer not to think on anything. Though, for a genius wizard such as yourself, I believe you would find it difficult to rest your mind and truly enjoy what the garden has to offer."

The Dark Lord considered his words with careful deliberation. Suddenly, his fingernails curled into the violet flower and pierced the petals. "Perhaps you may be right," he began, "but I believe I'm only missing something that would make it truly enjoyable."

Lucius wondered what else the garden could possibly need. And then, a dark forbidding curled his stomach when he realized the Dark Lord was not considering a new plant for his collection. As if in a daze, he watched as the petals spilled to the ground due to the ministrations of the Dark Lord. The tall wizard suddenly turned to Lucius, the crimson eyes piercing straight through him. Lucius quickly lowered his eyes in compliance.

"Marie Lystad is a part of a web, Lucius. One simply does not unravel a few strings and expect the web to stay standing. She is not the docile wife of a pure-blood wizard. In all ways, she is a lethal threat. You'd be surprised to know what a twisted and manipulative woman she truly is. She makes Dagnar Lystad look like a petty wizard struggling to keep up." The Dark Lord walked toward Lucius once again, his black cloak draping across the floor but never once getting in his way. "She is the true face behind the Scandinavian power."

It can't be. To know she hides behind the scenes and lets her enemies believe she is not the true force was ingenious, but it was also cowardly. If the Dark Lord believed Marie Lystad was a threat, than Lucius shuddered to imagine facing her.

"The boy," Lucius suddenly exclaimed. "He's the new face she's hiding behind. Surely he will be targeted. We could kill her—"

"I've told you once, Lucius, that it is not that simple," the Dark Lord hissed, causing Lucius to cower. "She holds the Scandinavians in her palm. We would have our hands full with not only Britain, but a whole traffic of her powerful allies. Not to mention, the boy would stop at nothing to destroy us."

Lucius paused. He was unsure of his Lord's true intentions toward the boy. "She kidnapped him as a baby. She all but invited us to kill Dagnar. Surely the boy would be relieved at her demise?"

"He's spent four years in isolation with only his mother for company. Don't think she wouldn't take advantage of that and manipulate the boy to sit nicely under her thumb."

A sneer marred Lucius' face. "He is weak if he fell under her control." He couldn't imagine Draco being so foolish and following Narcissa blindly. A proper mother and son had boundaries, especially pure-bloods. The heir would rise up to take his father's place, certainly not under a woman's influence.

Suddenly, a hand descended on his head and began patting mockingly. Lucius' cheeks burned and he kept his eyes directed to the ground.

"Think what you wish of the boy, Lucius. The root of the matter is that Aksel Lystad must be the one to destroy the woman." The hand suddenly fisted in Lucius' blond locks and forcibly pulled back the man's neck. A joint snapped and the man issued a breathless grunt. The Dark Lord leaned forward, a repulsed sneer across his face. "It's time for the boy to come home, Lucius. I will give you one last chance to redeem yourself. Find a way to bring Aksel to Britain."

Norway had no dealings with Britain. Having the boy come here would be virtually impossible.

Unless…

The Dark Lord flung him to the ground. "I will be most displeased if I must do it myself."

Lucius scrambled quickly to his feet and bowed low at his waist. "Yes, My Lord. I will not fail you. The boy will make an appearance."

A sly smile crossed Lucius' lips. The pure-bloods of Norway may have complete control over their Ministry, but Lucius had a bit of power himself. He would be able to subtly influence Britain's government into setting up an arranged meeting with Aksel.

The boy would be in the Dark Lord's hands by the end of the month. He was certainly looking forward to how things would turn out.


Note: Expect chapter three sometime before the end of the weekend. Thanks for reading!