Note on OCs: There will be OCs, but I won't overpower the story with them. I favor the HP Canon characters far more than original ones. While some of you may be impatient with this chapter and lack of Harry-interaction with characters you know, it is still very important to the story.

Thanks to those of you who reviewed.

Chapter Three

It was a good day.

"Hello gentlemen," Aksel greeted brightly as he walked past the protesting guard at the entrance. As soon as his polished boots landed on the lush carpet, the raucous chatter and fierce arguing suddenly came to an unnatural halt. Aksel stood confidently in the open doorway, his pale eyes bright with sadistic pleasure. "I sincerely hope I'm not interrupting anything."

One man, his grey hair in disarray, stood up angrily, his dark eyes flashing. "Phillip! Get him out of here!" he called to the clueless guard before turning back to Aksel. "You have no right to be here, boy, what, with the ruckus you caused in your publicity stunt."

Stunt? Aksel frowned mockingly. "I apologize for being late," he began again, ignoring the man standing across the table. "Unfortunately, I must have misplaced the letter informing me of the meeting." Green eyes then landed on the bespectacled man sitting at the head of the table. "Niko, you're in my seat."

The Finnish pure-blood jumped from the seat as if it were cursed. The heavy chair tipped dangerously on its hind legs, ready to fall backward until Niko grabbed it shakily. The second-youngest Board member gave Aksel an apologetic look as he secured the chair back on the ground. "Here you are, Lord Lystad. It's good to have you back."

The three other pure-bloods offered Niko a look of contempt as the boy all but drooled at Aksel's feet. The Norwegian smiled warmly at Niko, pleased to see the boy's strange attachment toward him hadn't died off in the four years he was absent.

Niko Laakso had been an official member of the Board at the young age of twenty-eight. In fact, it was exactly five years ago that his father had passed away, naming Niko his heir. In the years leading up to Niko's initiation, he and Aksel had been the only two heirs attending the Board meetings, their close age permitting them to establish a bond.

At least a one-sided bond.

He crossed the room and stood before the four members of the Board, one pure-blood representing each of the Nordic countries. His eyes paused over the Swiss representative, Sven Eklund. "I'm surprised you weren't the one sitting in this chair, Lord Eklund," he jibbed. "I would have thought you camped here overnight to ensure that your arse would have been the next one occupying the Head chair."

The man, who had been the most outspoken about Aksel's presence, turned red around his cheekbones and his eyes dilated with ferocity. "See here, boy—"

"It's Lord Lystad, you'll do well to remember that," Aksel interrupted with cold politeness. He sat down in his chair and calmly observed the older man. "We're all gentlemen here, are we not?" He cast a frozen smile about the room. "We can have rational conversations without resorting to Muggleborn antics."

That caused the redness on Sven Eklund's face to vanish instantly. "Are you insinuating I possess Mudblood characteristics?" the Swedish pure-blood whispered icily.

Aksel pressed his lips together and smiled cruelly. "You said it, Lord Eklund, I did not." Before the man could make any more unwarranted remarks, Aksel clasped his hands on the table and adopted an aura of importance. "We have more pressing things to attend to than arguing amongst each other over the Head position—"

"I hardly think so," Vidar Berglund, the Denmark representative, intervened smoothly. As the eldest in the group, Vidar possessed an air of culture elegance. Considering his old age, the lack of deep wrinkles was evidence of his many years of practiced impassiveness. "You are twenty-one, hardly a seasoned dancer. Do you truly think we will step aside and let you hold the Nordic dynasty in your fist?"

The refutation was expected and Aksel knew how to deal with it. He may have been in isolation for four years, but his mother had been smart enough to teach him properly without sheltering him. Being thrust into the public after so many silent years was not as jarring as it would have been if it had been anyone other than Marie teaching him.

He adopted a fair expression and cocked his head ever so slightly. He offered a small smirk as he garnered the attention of the gathered wizards. "Who did you have in mind to take the Head position, Lord Berglund?"

The elder pure-blood's faint, quick blink was enough to give away his surprise at Aksel's calm disposition.

"Let's run through the candidates, shall we?" Aksel asked sweetly. "We have Sweden's representative, Sven Eklund." He nodded toward the scowling man. "Lord Eklund has been occupying his chair on the Board for over twenty years. Each year, he seems to acquire more debt from all the trifling—and sometimes provocative— things he purchases. In order to replenish his funds, he draws out enough gold from the Swedish Ministry's funds, funds that were meant to support the social programs for struggling citizens."

All eyes turned to Eklund, their expressions raging from disbelief to repulsion.

"Then we have Gunnar Olvirsson, the Icelandic representative for ten years." Aksel turned to the middle-aged wizard, who had paled dramatically. "Lord Olvirsson is a dotting husband who can't possibly say 'no' to his wife of twenty years."

"No," Gunnar exclaimed fiercely, having enough sense to know where Aksel was going. "Please, I am not submitting my name for consideration." He ignored the disapproval from the two older men in the room. "I have no desire to be Head of the Board."

Aksel studied the platinum-blond Icelandic. He had no qualms with the man, who preferred his studies to inconsequential meetings like these. Gunnar was a scholar and rather useful if Aksel would ever have use of him. The same went for Niko. Aksel didn't plan to prod the man into an awkward position as he planned to do for the two, more dominating men.

He bypassed Niko, much to the brunette's relief, and focused on a calm and inexpressive Vidar Berglund. The older man stared levelly at Aksel, hardly intimidated and every bit unyielding. The Danish man was powerful, perhaps not as powerful as the Swedes, but he possessed a fighter's spirit that would prove troublesome if Aksel did not crush him.

"And then we have you, Lord Berglund." Aksel straightened further in his chair and calmly clasped his hands upon the table. Let them see his hands, his steady and calm hands. He was in control. "You want power," he whispered softly, watching as the man gave the slightest bit of acknowledgement. "In fact, you would stoop to such levels to ingest an illegal potion that has been said to increase your power—"

"Is this your grand plan?" Berglund growled lowly. "Blackmail?" he spat.

Aksel allowed his eyes to widen a fraction. "Blackmail?" he repeated with a hint of innocence. "My goodness, no. I am merely reviewing what the public will learn when the new Head is elected. It will be an unfortunate situation should one of you be nominated. Our reputation would surely tarnish." He suddenly flashed a shark-like smile. "No. This is not blackmail. You will know when I'm blackmailing you, Lord Berglund."

He held Lord Berglund's eyes long after the man stiffly inclined his head.

"It appears as if this Board hasn't properly upheld their obligations," Aksel continued. "Openhandedly giving potential enemies such degrading dirt on us is unacceptable." He let his words linger. "Among us, I am the only one who carries an unsoiled reputation. Even if, for some ungodly reason, I was dirty, I would at least have enough sense to cover my tracks fully."

Sven Eklund waved a dismissal hand. "I am more interested in knowing your sources, boy—"

"I will correct you one more time, Lord Eklund," Aksel whispered lethally. "It's Lord Lystad to you. Next time you slip, I will slip. The press will learn about every last coin you've stolen from their Ministry and every last whore you've purchased with those coins." He kept his eyes on Eklund, but addressed Berglund. "And that, Lord Berglund, is blackmail."

From the corner of his eye, he saw Lord Berglund nod once in approval. Perhaps getting the Danish Lord's approval wouldn't be as difficult as he imagined. Crushing the man into submission had been Aksel's original plan, but if he could cement Lord Berglund as an ally, he would have a firmer hold over Sven Eklund.

Aksel knew facing the Board of Prominent Pure-bloods would be difficult, but it wouldn't be nearly as difficult as proving to the world that he was fit to lead the Nordic countries. He had influence over the members of the Board, and in turn, the Ministries they represented. However, that didn't mean he had the favor of the people, the press, and other influential wizards.

It would be endless, this pressure to prove himself. He'd go grey at the temples and still be seen as too young. Every word he said, every article of clothing he wore, and every action he took would be scrutinized. It was a challenge he was willing to take up, a challenge he'd been trained to take, and a challenge he had no choice but to accept.

"I'd like to know how you survived and who trained you," the Icelandic representative inquired neutrally. "It appears as if you've had excellent tutorage, Lord Lystad."

"That's all you need to know," Aksel replied smoothly. "Dagnar arranged for proper training if something were to happen prematurely. You didn't think he'd leave his heir green and inexperienced to take up his mantle, did you?"

Silence met his statement, a sign of reluctant obedience. "I meant what I said to the people of Norway and consequentially to the world. I will respect what my late father has done for Norway and the Nordic countries, but I am my own man. I want to make some changes…"

New Way

"I want more vigorous training for our Aurors, I want better compensation for our Aurors, and I want better education in Durmstrang that will result in higher requirements for the Auror program."

The Norwegian Minister, Kjell Fornes, nodded respectfully to Aksel, yet one could tell he was still adapting to taking orders from a boy who was decades younger than him. "All understandable requests—"

Aksel stopped short and turned to gaze at the man who was a few inches shorter than himself. He clasped his hands behind his back and surveyed the way the Minister's lips were curled at the edges. This surely wouldn't do. "Forgive me," Aksel said, smiling pleasantly at the man, almost bashfully. "I must have misspoken."

Minister Fornes faltered, clearly not understanding the reason behind Aksel's apology.

The young man took an advancing step forward, waving off the Lystad guards when they inched forward. He did not need their interference, especially when he could take care of himself.

Briefly, he drowned in the nostalgic feel of battle. His mother waved him off whenever Aksel mentioned dueling and battles. She claimed he had to know how to properly duel and defeat his enemies, but the battlefield was not his place. Participating in battle was for the people under his rule. Unfortunately, he was the player behind it all, the one responsible for calling the shots and moving the pieces.

Aksel's had learned to hide his disappointment well regarding his new position.

He stared down at the Minister, his eyes cold and his face deadpan. "Those were not requests, Minister, those were orders." It was difficult to refrain from smiling in the face of the man's blatant surprise. "We are an extremely comfortable country when it comes to money and finances. Now it's my time to build an even stronger army to defend it. The stagnant and relaxation period is over for Norway, it's time we move forward."

With a flourish of his robes, Aksel turned and swept down the marbled halls of the Lystad Manor. "I want drafted proposals on the policies and plans regarding the Auror program and I want them on my desk by the end of the week." He turned to glance at the shell-shocked Minister. "At that time, I will decide which plan works best for Norway. You are dismissed, Minister."

Aksel had to make a note to get in contact with his mole inside the Ministry. While he had a direct hand in the Minister's and the Ministry's exploits, he wasn't foolish enough to think they were blindly loyal to him, especially someone as young and 'inexperienced' as him.

A low, impressed whistle sounded behind Aksel, causing the Lystad heir to turn his heel and search out the source. Pale eyes landed on the three blue-clad guards trailing behind him. He had been aware of their presence ever since stepping foot outside the manor this morning. As his personal guards, they were meant to follow, but that didn't mean they had to be noticed.

Looking into their faces, Aksel could only see marionettes whose strings were held by his mother. Aksel knew he was just as much a puppet, but he had more independence than they did by realizing he needed to get out of her hold. These guards were simply Marie's eyes and her presence when she wasn't in Aksel's proximity.

"You will do well to remember to keep your tongue," Aksel informed darkly, his discrimination toward his mother directly affecting his relationship with his guards. He had no interest to maintain a friendly relationship with them. There was no point, no need. When was the last time he had a friend? The only people he extended a respectful hand to where the ones he could get out something in return. His mother made sure Aksel was forever isolated in nothing but political attachments.

One of them, the familiar-looking blond wizard, blinked at the coldness in Aksel's tone. "You- you don't remember me? We were classmates—"

"I don't remember that lifetime," he interrupted. "You should forget as well." He gazed coolly at the female and the other male before sweeping back toward his quarters. A small pang of guilt and remorse crawled its way from the bottomless void of impassiveness, but Aksel pushed it down hastily.

He swept down the corridors and zigzagged through the maze of the manor. As he reached his quarters, he threw open the doors and stepped into the sunlit room. Immediately, his eyes landed on the owl on his windowsill and the long, elegant body of his mother, which was draped across his settee.

"Is there something I can help you with?" Aksel inquired neutrally. "I thought you had prearranged plans for the day."

In her hands, she held a parchment, most likely the very same letter the owl had delivered to Aksel's rooms. "I've already accomplished my errands for the day, love." Her lips curled into a sweet, affectionate smile as she turned to look at Aksel. "You've received the most fascinating letter. Come inside and tell me about your day."

Aksel closed the door in the faces of his three guards before approaching his mother. Before he had the chance to properly clear his features, Marie jumped on him expertly.

"I know that look on your face," she observed through her lashes. Placing the letter on her lap, Marie gazed at her son with disproval. "Have you been unpleasant, Aksel? You know what I've said about treating others with respect. Remember, you gather more support and allies with a friendly demeanor, just as you would attract more bees with honey."

"Yes, that would be ideal, wouldn't it?" He sat down across from her. "Being as young and underestimated as I am, mother, I need to use a firm hand at times, especially if I want to avoid being taken advantage of." He held her gaze, even when she pressed her lips together in discontent.

"I don't want you to be like your father."

Aksel stiffened. He tried not to let her disappointment affect him, but she'd manipulated him well enough for Aksel to feel slightly vulnerable at her insult. He was raised to thrive off her approval; he was raised to please her. At his sides, his fists clenched and he tried to ward off the brainwashing, the control. However, it wasn't enough, it was never enough.

"No matter," Marie continued airily, adopting an adoring expression once again. "You've received a letter from Britain's Minister." She stood up from her lounged position with unmatched grace and handed the letter to Aksel. "Tell me your thoughts."

He took the letter from her and looked down at the signature. Sure enough, Rufus Scrimgeour had signed it with a flourish. His pale eyes skimmed the letter while his mother stroked his hair tenderly. The first few opening paragraphs included the British Minister's congratulations to Aksel regarding his position in Norway and the Nordic countries.

"I find it hard to believe the British Ministry is acknowledging me, or more specifically, my political power," Aksel told her honestly. "Britain and America are pure democracies. In their cultures, pure-bloods are seen as pompous families who are set in the 'old ways', not as valuable contributors to their society, or keys to past magics and rituals. As a result, the pure-bloods hug their secrets selfishly, and more often than not, important histories or rituals die off with the family."

"Correct," she praised genuinely. "Britain has been overrun by Muggle taint, Muggle influence. They've become weak as a result and many of their traditions and magical excellence has been depleted over time." Marie tugged at a loose curl on top Aksel's head. "In the past, Britain has expressed their distaste over the way the Nordic countries run their government. They do not agree that pure-bloods should rule the Ministries, yet, you've been recognized by their current Minister."

Aksel stared down at the letter. "They're in a war. Moreover, they've finally realized that they are no longer the powerhouse of the Wizarding world. It's not surprising that I've been contacted. It's clear they need help with Lord Voldemort's regime."

At this, Marie gave a chime-like laugh and walked around the divan. She sat down next to Aksel and crossed her legs. "I'm sure they think they can manipulate you, the youngest ruler of Norway, into supporting them in the war. That is why they invited you to Britain for a diplomatic visit."

Aksel skimmed the last paragraph where Scrimgeour eagerly invited him to Britain for a tour of their country and diplomatic conversation and entertainment. He had his own suspicions of why he was being asked to visit Britain, a certain Dark Lord coming to mind. As to why the Dark Lord wanted to lure Aksel was still to be recognized. Perhaps he wanted to finish where he left off and destroy the Lystad line completely.

Or perhaps…

"…Step out from behind your father's looming shadow and take the initiative. Maybe then, you and I can dance properly."

He would not forget those words, or the way Voldemort had spoken to him before Dagnar's assassination. He'd been so nervous then, so afraid and confused. Despite his four years of training, Aksel could comfortably admit he was still uncertain to Voldemort's motives. It was if Voldemort wanted an enemy in Aksel, or at least someone capable enough to amuse him.

However, it hadn't been Dagnar's shadow that Aksel had been standing behind, but his mother's. Aksel looked over at said woman, wondering if Marie was thinking along the same lines, in that Voldemort had been the one to influence the Minister's invitation. Of course, it might not even be Voldemort behind this. Perhaps Scrimgeour truly was reaching out for an ally in the war.

Her green eyes studied Aksel closely, as if trying to read his mind. "And what do you think of Voldemort's regime?" she inquired, bringing Aksel back to their current topic. Her face was exceptionally blank, as if she didn't want Aksel to gather any hints to what she was thinking.

"I'd like to know your thoughts," he countered, knowing the difference between giving an educational guess and groping ungracefully in the dark. "You've hardly kept me updated on his movements while we were training. I only know what I saw when he visited Norway."

She leaned back, satisfied. "And what was that? What did you see when he came to you?"

"Power," he admitted truthfully. "He's extremely powerful, almost overwhelmingly so. I can see why he would have followers. Even though it's feasibly impossible, they want a piece of his power, to bask in that power and in his praise." Judging from Marie's silence, Aksel had something wrong.

"He is mentally unstable," she said cuttingly, her words sharp and disproving of Aksel's portrayal of Voldemort. "Remember that, Aksel. No matter how he tries to convince you otherwise, he is unable to possess his once unmatched intelligence. He's a recycled husk of his former glory."

Aksel kept his hands carefully folded around the letter and his gaze on the scruffy script. From the night of Dagnar's assassination to present day, Aksel had an inkling that Marie was obsessed with Britain's Dark Lord. Her hate and dislike were overpowering. Of course, Aksel couldn't really criticize her judgment. He didn't know enough about Voldemort to establish a solid opinion on the matter.

"You knew him before he fell?" he asked her casually.

"Before Harry Potter destroyed him?" Marie reformed the question with amusement. "I never met Voldemort personally, but I've heard many accounts. He was charming, persuasive, handsome, and destined for great things. He would have been Britain's saving grace."

The blonde-haired woman leaned against the divan and smiled affectionately at Aksel. With a well-manicured hand, she reached over and stroked her son's cheek. "I raised you with him in mind," she admitted breathlessly. "You are what he should have been if he hadn't been destroyed, if he hadn't allowed his fears to run him. He feared death and he sought after immortality with a one-tracked mind."

Unnerved with the confession, Aksel simply inclined his head. "He succeeded," he reminded her. "Somehow, he was able to achieve immortality; otherwise, he wouldn't have come back. Unless the rumors are false and Harry Potter hadn't truly destroyed him, only wounded him. I think it's suspicious. Harry Potter is the Boy-Who-Lived, yet he vanished shortly after. I believe Britain fabricated the story."

Marie laughed musically and patted his cheek. "No matter the circumstances, Aksel, Voldemort was defeated that night and he did achieve immortality. However, he achieved it with a price, a terrible price. He is unstable and insane." She withdrew her hand and motioned to the letter. "He is engaging in a pointless, messy war. His thought process is irrational and his motives are unclear."

"One thing is clear," Aksel started, setting the letter on the table in front of him. "I don't want Norway anywhere near Britain's war."

"Understandable," Marie commended. "But you will write Rufus Scrimgeour back and graciously accept his invitation. You will be engaging, polite, and attractive as his Ministry shows you around Britain. You will accept his praises and gifts with poise. I want the world to see how dignified you are, no matter if you plan to refuse Norway's assistance in their war."

Aksel bit the side of his cheek. "Do you think it wise to visit so soon? I've just reentered society."

"And I've trained you well enough that it's as if you've never left society," she countered harshly with an undercurrent of pleasantness. "You're the face of the Nordic rule, Aksel. You will do well to remember it."

The face. It was spoken so curtly, so professionally, Aksel almost missed the underlying meaning behind those words. It was a reminder that his power was an illusion for the people. It was a power crafted and cultured underneath Marie's skillful hands and it was also a power that could be taken from him just as suddenly.

Even after all these years, he didn't know the extent to Marie's reach across Norway and the Nordic countries. He didn't know what made her powerful. He only had her word and the way the Lystad personal guards pledged their loyalty. There were occasions when she had left Aksel to go above ground during their four-year training. She'd always come back more lively, more radiant than before. He had never known where she had gone.

"I will inform Minister Scrimgeour to expect Minister Fornes and myself—"

"And your security detail, of course," Marie interrupted smoothly. "Now. Tell me about your day."

Aksel occupied himself with setting aside the letter and grabbing a blank scroll of parchment and his black quill. He humored his mother by telling her about the Board meeting and the general consensus among the pure-blood representatives. Fortunate for him, he was skilled enough to contemplate at the same time.

Marie was an excellent manipulator. One could truly believe she wanted Aksel to visit Britain because it would be good publicity. However, Aksel wasn't just anyone. By agreeing to bring security detail, he had agreed to Marie's presence as well.

Aksel silently pondered on Marie's true intentions for going to Britain.

To Bleed

Lucius bowed low at his waist before the hooded figure. The Dark Lord was seated in the empty parlor with his hood drawn and his head bowed. Many would make the mistake and believe he was slumbering, but Lucius was quick to spy a bone-white finger gently caressing the underbelly of the serpent, which was coiled around the Dark Lord's shoulders. The serpent eyed Lucius lazily, almost unhappily due to the interruption.

"My Lord," Lucius addressed carefully, clearing his throat. He flashed another guarded look at the serpent, knowing the Dark Lord had an unusual connection with the reptile. Even for a Parselmouth, the Dark Lord had exceptional control over her. At times, Lucius believed the Dark Lord could see through the snake's eyes and use them as his own.

Nagini hissed impatiently, though the Dark Lord remained still and silent.

Taking it as his cue to continue, Lucius held out a parchment. "The boy accepted the invitation, just as I believed he would. He will be here within two days' time." He inclined his head. "While the Ministry will be the boy's host, I am certain you will find a way to communicate with the boy—"

A single hand flicked toward him with irritation and Lucius closed his mouth abruptly, fear welling within him. He understood his plan to lure Aksel Lystad to Britain wasn't ideal, but it had been the only route open to Lucius. By convincing a few moles inside the Ministry that they could reach out to Aksel for assistance in the war, Lucius had indirectly brought the young man back home.

He was confident Aksel would not lend Britain's Ministry his assistance and he was too smart to be manipulated. The boy's acceptance to the invitation was most likely spurred by the desire for good publicity. Moreover, Lucius hoped the Dark Lord could accomplish his plans for the boy at the same time.

Indubitably, Lucius did not know what the Dark Lord had planned and he did not know if the Dark Lord would approve of his methods to lure Aksel Lystad.

Hunched in a half-bow, Lucius watched Nagini through the fall of his hair. The snake hissed at him again and slowly slid off her master's shoulders. As if waking from a slumber or a trance, the Dark Lord gradually lifted his head and pierced Lucius with bright crimson eyes.

"The boy's mother is accompanying him."

Lucius blinked and lowered his head, unable to identify if that had been a question or a statement. The Dark Lord couldn't know that bit of information, simply because it was just reported that Aksel Lystad had accepted the invitation. Just as he was about to reply his doubt on the matter, the Dark Lord stood up.

"It will be more difficult to maneuver around her than just the Ministry." Like a shadow, the Dark Lord breezed silently past Lucius. "Good work, Lucius. You've finally impressed me. Come, we must prepare for the Savior's home welcoming."

Unabashedly, Lucius savored the praise coming from his Lord and relished in the magic that brushed past him. While few and far between, the praises encouraged Lucius to dedicate himself fully to his Lord's cause in hopes of experiencing that praise and that magic again. It was what the other Death Eaters strived to accomplish and what few could only dream of.

His posture proud, Lucius followed after the Dark Lord, briefly wondering if the man planned to stage an elaborate attack or a simple discussion with the boy. Whatever his Lord had planned, Lucius was eager to see how things played out.