Grazhir :: Crossover :: FeS2 :: 10

10

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“Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you.” — Gerry Rafferty (Stealers Wheel), Stuck in the Middle With You


Voldemort stepped out of the cauldron naked as the day he was born, though in considerably better shape than the last time around. This time he looked entirely human except for the blood red eyes and Harry found himself, only a little reluctantly, admiring the man’s form. The lack of Nagini’s venom (for a homunculus had not been necessary, and for that matter the conditions under which Voldemort had even obtained Nagini did not exist) and the inclusion of the Elixir of Life had really changed things up. Heck, it may have made a difference that he and Barty had drained Moody of blood rather than just taking a sample.

“Very nice,” he heard himself saying, absently tilting his head. He handed over Voldemort’s proper wand a few moments later, after the man had dressed himself and strapped on a holster. “Welcome back,” he said, reaching out to briefly touch Voldemort’s wrist. He then turned to Barty and smiled. “Well done.”

Voldemort simply nodded. “Barty, you may go rest now.” After he was gone Voldemort looked down at Moody’s body.

“Bury him, leave him in the alley, make trouble for Barty’s father by dumping the body in his house during a dinner party?” Harry suggested.

The corners of Voldemort’s mouth twitched, as if he was amused. “Barty may wish to kill his father.”

“He did before, but I think it was an opportunistic deal. Right place at the right time. As I recall, he had his father under the imperius. But his father was better at fighting the curse and managed to get to Hogwarts, trying to warn Dumbledore. Barty happened upon him and killed him.”

Voldemort cast a few spells on the body and began to head upstairs, so Harry followed, ending up in the sitting room. “Do you have details on the instructions for him under the curse?”

Harry shook his head. “Not unless it was to facilitate certain aspects of the tournament, and you already had Barty helping out there. Whatever it was couldn’t have been too important considering that Barty was forced after a while to keep his father more or less imprisoned at his house. I don’t think anyone ever found his body. How long is Bryce going to be away?”

“Bryce?”

“The caretaker,” he clarified.

“A fortnight.”

“So we need a new place soon. I know you used Malfoy manor at one point, but I don’t have any information on how loyal he really is. Besides, while I can appear any way I want to, I’m not sure I’d want to trust that he’d behave himself. I don’t have any properties unless you count the Black house, and technically that’s not mine yet, even if I am a Black by blood. Nothing a fidelius charm wouldn’t fix, though I might have to fake destroying the locket to get Kreacher on my side unless I just kill him.”

“I am going to take the logical view on this and assume that the city is inconvenient at this time for someone like Barty.”

Harry looked up and nodded. “It’s in Sudan. Maybe I should manufacture a reason for Sirius to escape, if only so he can change his will again to leave everything to me. That’s the only reason I had more of a claim. Sirius came down the main line and he’s my godfather. Everyone else is secondary, and lot of families married Blacks.”

Voldemort arched a brow. “And he would not find it odd that he could no longer remember his childhood home?”

“He hated the place, utterly loathed it. Wouldn’t give it a second thought, I expect, as it would bring up memories of his mother. If you’re cool with a London base I’ll go whack the house-elf and we can set up the charm. Then Barty would have a place to stay, and he has Winky to look after him. Besides, maybe you, of all people, would be able to get that damn portrait of Walburga to shut the fuck up.” He rolled his eyes at the memory of her rantings. “It’s in terrible shape, though. Kreacher stopped doing much of anything after Walburga died. But if you asked her portrait she might get him to shape up. Or she may scream at you because her beloved son ended up dead.”

Voldemort closed his eyes as though praying for patience, then stood and said, “Let us go find out.”

Harry, knowing it would probably anger the man, nevertheless reached out as he stood up and grabbed Voldemort’s wrist, then shifted them into the front hall. He let go and eyed the curtains over the portrait warily, then leaned in and whispered, “I guess if all else fails, I can take the wall plaster out. She used a permanent sticking charm, you see.”

Voldemort reached out, grabbed Harry’s wrist, and squeezed until Harry squeaked in pain. He then let go and growled, “Next time, warn me!” Then in a normal voice he demanded, “And why are you whispering?”

Harry groaned and covered his eyes for a moment, shifting his hand aside then to the sight of the curtains flying apart, revealing Walburga in all her drooling glory, yellowing skin stretched so tightly she resembled an animated skull, and her eyes rolling around in a psychotic frenzy. And then she started screaming about mudbloods and blood traitors being in her house.

“Oh, good God, she went there. Look, you foul-mouthed harpy, you just called the Dark Lord a mudblood!” he yelled. In the abrupt silence that fell he could hear Kreacher approaching, muttering imprecations the entire time.

Voldemort was staring icily at the portrait, one brow raised.

“Mistress, shall Kreacher make them go away?” the elf inquired in a gravelly voice.

Harry was amused to see Walburga reach up to wipe the drool away and try to fix her hair. He leaned in toward Voldemort again and said, “She was a year above you at Hogwarts, yeah? Man, she really let herself go.”

Voldemort’s gaze swept over to give him one of those looks he was getting used to, then returned his attention to the portrait, waiting.

“I—I apologize,” she finally said. “I assumed that waste of a son had turned up and brought his horrid friends.”

“Your manners seem to have slipped since we last encountered each other,” Voldemort said coldly.

“What can I do for you?” she asked slowly.

“I had wanted the use of the house, but having seen it I must wonder how you can stand, even in that form, to exist in this cesspool of filth,” Voldemort responded contemptuously. “A once proud house is now a ruinous derelict and you don’t even have the manners left to see who it is who visits before going off on a screaming tirade like any low-class muggle female. You displease me.”

‘Oh wow,’ he thought. ‘I had no idea an portrait could go pale like that. She’s actually trembling.’ It was pretty obvious that she understood what had not been said.

“The house is yours to do with as you please,” she said shakily.

Voldemort nodded, his eyes flicking briefly over the house-elf.

She immediately added, “Kreacher, you will obey the Dark Lord in all things. He is your new master.”

Harry looked around and sighed. The place was even worse than he remembered. But then, Mrs Weasley had not been around to valiantly make an attempt at cleaning. “Do you want me to call in my two to help?” he asked Voldemort.

“Yes, that would be fine. I can give them a key to one of my household vaults for anything they might need. This will take a lot of work.” He looked contemplative briefly, then asked Walburga, “Where is the keystone?”

“The second floor,” she said promptly. “There is a hidden cupboard there, off the landing. It’s the approximate center of the house.”

Voldemort turned to him and nodded. “Call them, then we shall see about updating the wards here.”

At its most basic, the warding on the house consisted of being unplottable and having a fidelius charm on it. Voldemort performed the charm and implanted the secret into Harry, who then immediately let Voldemort in on it. For the time being Cael and Saen were whipping through the house, chivvying Kreacher along the entire time, and cleaning like demons, trying to turn the structure back into a home.

They left them to it and returned to the Riddle House. Barty was clued in the next morning and told to prepare his things for a move within the next few days. They had taken practically everything from Barty’s room at the Crouch house, so it was not as though he was entirely destitute in terms of possessions. Harry had asked one of his elves to come find him when there were proper rooms available for them and certain other rooms had been cleaned up and refurbished.

With that in mind there was no reason Harry could not take Voldemort to Ae’gura. ‘Oh, wait. Quirrell needs to be placed under a vow,’ he remembered and promptly brought it up. “I just want to make sure he doesn’t get any funny ideas this year, yeah? And on a side note, we need to get Barty a new wand.”

By the time those two issues were taken care of Saen had popped by to let him know about the house, so they wasted more time changing bases. Harry took Sirius’s room and Voldemort took Regulus’s, and both doors (and the nearby walls, and the windows, and the exterior walls, and the floors, and the ceilings) were heavily warded. Moody was stashed in the attic for the time being. And then, finally, he could show off the city to his partner.

“You ready?”

Voldemort nodded, the coals of excitement banked in his eyes, and extended his arm, so Harry took hold and shifted them to the spot where he first was able to view the cavern. He felt that same sense of awe and majesty he had the first time and was incredibly pleased to note that Voldemort’s bland, slightly-cranky expression had transformed.

“How did you find this?” his companion said, his tone hushed.

Harry grinned and tightened his grip. “Hang on a second,” he said, then shifted them to halfway down the grand staircase, a spot with a fantastic view of the lake and Kerath’s Arch. After letting go he sat on the railing, just drinking in the sight. “There’s just something about this view that’s almost transcendent,” he observed quietly. Eventually he turned to Voldemort and said, “It’s a really weird story, actually. You’re familiar with ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’?”

Voldemort furrowed his brow and nodded slowly.

“And the Deathly Hallows?”

“Yes, of course. But what do—no.”

“Oh yes. They’re real. That ring you used as a Horcrux? It was a Hallow. The invisibility cloak passed down in my family? A Hallow. The final one was the wand Dumbledore ‘won’ off Grindelwald. Last go around I had all three of them, or rather, had the cloak and ring and was master of the wand through a rather convoluted process. I don’t know if you were ever aware of my cloak, or that the ring was one, but you were very interested in the wand. It came to me via Draco Malfoy, of all people. Now, at the time it didn’t mean a whole lot to me. Like most people I assumed it was just a story.”

Voldemort took a seat on the railing as well, angled so he could see both the arch and Harry.

“After I went back is when it came into play. I was sitting there one day, eight years old, listening to my uncle rant yet again about what an unnatural freak I was, and I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t he just die?’ And then the world froze. Off in the corner the shadows writhed and shifted until at last Death was standing there. I felt like my heart was going to leap out of my chest.”

“Did—did Death come for your uncle?”

He shook his head. “Not exactly. I mean, yes, but he was curious to know how I would like that to happen. He also explained about the Hallows and how it’s impossible to separate them from me. I am, effectively, immortal, which is why your killing curses are about as useful as hitting me with a tissue and anything that did manage to off me would be useless, since Death would just pick me up, dust me off, and shove me back into the game.”

Voldemort started shaking his head slowly, his mouth slightly open and his eyes a bit glazed.

“So anyway, Death is that unimpeachable source I mentioned a while back. He explained what happened to the soul bits in my head and the ring—they went to the cup—and then gave me a nifty little book I can use to arrange freakishly bizarre accidents for people. Once you and I started talking about a country of our own I asked him if there was anything on Earth that might suit.

“We played word games for a bit before I asked for a more straightforward answer and he pointed me at a specific volcanic area in Sudan. The route here from the surface is like, fifty-five kilometers. Um, hang on, let me show you something.” He produced the wand so he could get at one of the maps in his trunk, then slid off the railing so he could spread it out on the landing, smirking when Voldemort joined him on the stone to gaze at the enormity of the journey.

“This is incredible,” Voldemort commented a bit faintly.

Harry felt a bit of surprise at how human Tom was acting, but decided to roll with it and shifted the map so it centered on the main city and would show the both of them. “My father and his friends made a map like this for Hogwarts. I did have to ask Death how they did it, though, because I never learned the last time. For some reason I never worked up enough curiosity to just ask Sirius or Remus, but in my defense I was pretty mentally deranged.”

Voldemort quirked a brow at him as if to say, “And you’re not now?”

Harry favored him with a sarcastic smile. “The point is, it allowed me and my elves to map all of this. I don’t really expect to be invaded or anything, but it’d be nice to have warning. And more importantly, if we use this city as a staging area to move people to a new Age, we can see at a glance who is here and where they are. The map doesn’t lie. Polyjuice, invisibility, none of that fools it.”

He tapped the map and said, “This area is a bunch of lower-class neighborhoods. There are also sections for middle and upper, guilds, the palace, and so on. If we had to we could fit thousands in here. I’d still prefer to write an Age for ourselves and use this for staging. I don’t know if it’s possible to put a cavern this size under the fidelius. Of course, nobody can even get here except by walking, unless they fly Potter Airlines,” he rambled. “I don’t think a house-elf could pop someone this far underground and I have my doubts that a portkey could do it. A linking book could if we could figure out how to write one, but not from Earth, which means a nexus, which rather negates sending them here in the first place unless—”

Voldemort reached over and placed a hand over Harry’s mouth, cutting him off. “Slow down,” he said with uncharacteristic gentleness. “Begin with your idea of a best case scenario.”

Harry blinked as Voldemort’s hand slipped away, and nodded. “Okay. Best case is that we learn to write Ages to our specifications so that we can make one for our population, a private vault Age for the two of us, and one for a nexus. I would prefer new just in case the people who were here previously still occasionally pop into the existing ones. Also, for the main Age, to have it be written such that we could incorporate existing muggle and magical plants and animals, metals, gems. Even extinct ones if we can get enough information about habitats and whatnot. We could still use this cavern. For example, if we had a bunch of people wanting to emigrate but did not yet have the buildings in place, they could temporarily live here, I guess. Or they could bring wizarding tents and use those while they built their homes. Because really, a little deprivation isn’t going to kill them.”

Voldemort nodded. “That sounds reasonable. So, why don’t we go to wherever you’ve stashed all the books and start working. We can return to the house for the night as I doubt there is much in the way here yet of comfortable accommodations. If you think Barty would be of any use he can assist us. The other option would be to have Barty start going through student profiles for Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, but I get the feeling you can figure out who to pick much faster.”

“Oh, right! Yes, that’s one of my, I suppose you could say, powers. I can read anyone, so yeah, I could rifle through the minds of the short-list students once they arrive and select for whatever we’re after. I have three people in mind from Hogwarts, maybe four, and all of them are wankers.”

“Oh? And what exactly did these three or four do to arouse your ire?”

Harry smiled nastily. “The only one who might really deserve it is Romilda Vane. She tried to dose me with love potions during my sixth year, and as you can imagine I’m a bit touchy on that subject. The others just pissed me off for various reasons. The problem with Vane is that she’ll only be a second year. Realistically we could select for anything. If Ron was still alive, or even Malfoy, I’d say them. It kind of irked me when Malfoy was stupid enough to get himself killed,” he said with a frown.

“So once we make a decision on what to select for, you can do it very quickly.”

“Right. We have to have the fake goblet ready, but the logistics of. . . . Er, do you happen to have a pensieve or know where we can steal one from?”

“Yes. But you could just as easily share a copy of whatever memory with me and save time. I get the feeling I would not be able to use Legilimency on you,” Voldemort said a bit sourly.

“Mm, yeah, I don’t think you could,” he replied with a shake of his head. “Copy it is, then.” He concentrated, casting his mind back to the night the other schools arrived, and more specifically when Dumbledore had brought out the goblet, and mentally marked off start and end points. He raised his wand to his temple and hooked out a copy of his selection and carefully extended it toward Voldemort, who slid the silvery strand onto his own wand, and then brought it to his temple.

A few minutes later Voldemort opened his eyes, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I see what you mean. We would have to prevent anyone from entering their name until after we could effect a switch. That means you will need to stay, even if invisibly, and deter anyone who tries. I am uncertain of how that age line would react to you, though.”

Harry glanced up out of habit and thought, ‘Derek?’ He was surprised when Death materialized in the cavern without freezing time. Voldemort jerked back in surprise and actually paled, one hand rising up in an abortive gesture of warding.

“You have a weird sense of humor,” Harry commented lightly. ‘You just scared a decade off poor Tom. You have to know how—pardon the pun—deathly afraid he is of you,’ he sent.

A smirk somehow seemed to emanate from Derek’s hood. “It must be the influence of my master,” he teased, prompting Harry to make a face. “What is it you needed?”

“Well, we were just discussing our plans to fuck up the upcoming Triwizard Tournament and neither of us was sure if I’d be affected by the age line Dumbledore is going to draw around the Goblet of Fire. I mean, I’m like twenty-eight or something, but I’m in a fourteen year old body.”

Derek tilted his head and replied, “Technically, those first five years count, too, so it’s more like thirty-three. In any case, the line will not affect you. Remember what we talked about. Death is any age.”

“Right,” Harry said, nodding. “I just wasn’t sure if it would work that way given that an aging potion didn’t. But my situation is rather a bit different.”

“An aging potion does not change how long you have actually existed, it only temporarily matures the physical aspects of your body,” Derek pointed out, then practically purred, “I’ll make you a special deal on this one,” piquing Harry’s interest. “You specifically select for at least one of the Hogwarts students you dislike and write up a death for them, and I’ll be there to freeze time so you can effect the swap both times. No one there will have a clue what you’re up to.”

His right hand flew up to press against his lips, the meaning of Derek’s offer flooding him with a wild sense of glee. “Oh. Oh my. That means I would have some control over how they’d have to change the task or tasks. That never even occurred to me earlier. Yes, absolutely. You have a deal.” He suppressed the urge to cackle.

Derek’s eyes flared a killing curse green as he directed his gaze at Voldemort. “And you, Tom Riddle. So long as you continue to treat fairly with my master, you need not fear me.”

Harry watched as Voldemort nodded and regained some of his usual poise, and yet it was obvious he heard the unspoken converse of that promise. “Understood.”

Derek turned those brilliant eyes back to Harry and said, “I would suggest checking the S-14 section,” then faded out.

Harry blinked, then grinned. “Well, that saves us some time. Excellent.”

“S-14 section?”

“I labeled all the books by where I got them from. I think he’s trying to tell me that S-14 has the book or books we need to figure out this Age writing thing. And I’m sorry. I didn’t expect him to actually pop in. I figured he would think at me like he usually does. I’d have warned you otherwise.”

Voldemort gave him a considering look. “Yes, I actually think you would have. Shall we go, then?”

“Mm.” Harry packed up the map and rose, waiting until Tom was ready before shifting them to his makeshift library in the palace. He hunted down the S-14 section and sighed at the sheer number of books stacked there, but gamely sat down and pulled the first one to him as Voldemort produced potions to accelerate his learning so he could more quickly assimilate the D’ni language.

An hour or so later Tom asked quietly, “Do you ever think about calling your parents here?”

He didn’t answer straight away, though his concentration for the words on the page was shot to hell at the question. “I have at least once. Calling my mother here, I don’t know if she would be disappointed in me and my choices, and I’ve yet to figure out how I might react if she was. It’s something I’ve kind of shied away from contemplating. Looking back on what I know I can cut her a lot of slack, for her school years, anyway. She was at least as self-centered as the average teenager and she really wasn’t prepared to handle the situation she found herself in with Severus. She wasn’t the saint people would have had me believe, but neither was she a bad person. Her later choices mystify me to a degree.

“My father, though, ugh. Part of me thinks I’d call him here only to scream at him for a while and part of me thinks I’d start demanding a whole lot of answers. I kind of want to know if he felt any remorse or regret over the things he did, not only to me but to people like Severus. I look back at my own first time through and am quite disappointed in myself.

“True, I had a shit upbringing and was completely unprepared for entering the wizarding world and how all those people would react to the Boy-Who-Lived. But I wasted so much time. I was revoltingly lazy. I forgave too easily for fear of losing the only friends I had and didn’t stand up for and support the ones who needed it. I didn’t think for myself and relied too much on people like Hermione and Dumbledore to give me the answers.

“I remember, after being a nosy little sod and peeking in Snape’s pensieve, feeling horrified that my father was such an entitled, cruel, self-important wanker. I guess I could have gone either way, and please understand that what I’m about to say isn’t some unspoken commentary on you.” He glanced over and waited until Voldemort nodded. “With the way I was treated growing up I could have become cold and cruel and sadistic. For whatever reason I didn’t, but I was fairly Slytherin in my mindset.

“It was only after meeting Draco and being subjected to some brainwashing about the evils of Slytherin that I begged the sorting hat to put me anywhere but Slytherin. More fool me, I discarded all those lessons learned with the Dursleys and bought into the Gryffindor mentality. I dunno, maybe going into Slytherin would have refined me, or maybe I’d have been dead inside of a week. The thing is, I can see where I made mistakes, a whole lot of them, and part of me fears that my father just never did.

“I’m already so angry and disappointed in him that I’m not sure I could bear to learn he never once stepped outside his own skin.” He shrugged uncomfortably, yet felt perversely relieved that he could say these things to a living person.

“And this also flows into your thoughts about Sirius Black and Remus Lupin.”

“Yeah. All these years Sirius has been in Azkaban for crimes he did not commit. He didn’t escape last time until he saw a photo of Wormtail with the Weasleys on the front page of the Daily Prophet. He told me he stayed sane mostly because his innocence was not a happy thought and therefore couldn’t be taken from him by the dementors. Well, and being an animagus. All these years, and not once has it apparently crossed his mind to escape, not for revenge or even to find some way to prove his innocence, but purely for me, his godson, the person he swore to guide and protect.

“Maybe I’m being horribly unfair and the deaths of my parents really screwed up his head and the guilt he felt was so devastating and crushing that he was flattened for too long. Still, I’m having a really hard time working up anything resembling forgiveness, especially since he agreed with my father on the whole homosexuality thing and would have left me a mere pittance if Azkaban hadn’t scrambled his brains. Him continuing to mistake me for James at times was just feathers on the tar coating. That I blame Azkaban for, but it was really hurtful for me at the time.”

He huffed a laugh. “All this kind of stuff is also why I’m ambivalent about the fate of the muggle-born. I realize now that there may have been countless muggle-born or raised children who suffered abuse at the hands of their parents or guardians. I was too wrapped up in my own problems to see it back then. Those children I would be inclined to kidnap and bring along. But the ones with loving, supportive parents? Not so much. The thing is, Death confirmed something for me. My ritual didn’t take me back in time to start it over.”

Voldemort quirked up a brow. “I had been wondering. How is that relevant?”

Harry swallowed and a bitter smile twisted his lips. “Well, this world is different in a number of ways. My Draco was not nearly so stupid, for one thing, or do I mean to say suicidal. What I told you about my father was true, certainly, but this father. . . .” He shook his head and said thickly, “The James and Lily of this world are alive.”

“What?” Voldemort whispered.

He nodded. “Yeah. And I have a twin. Two sisters.” He blinked a few times against the sting in his eyes and looked up. That old rage was welling up again, the fury that he had tried so hard to sublimate for the sake of his already somewhat tenuous hold on sanity. “This James still had a problem with me being gay, so that didn’t change. But since I had a twin, well. . . . He conspired with Dumbledore after those tests and they obliviated the few people who knew about my brother.

“The people you killed were not my parents. They were, as Death put it, minor Order members who had been induced to believe they were. And of course, once they were dead, it wasn’t like my parents could just pop back up after such a Slytherin maneuver. Hagrid had already spilled the news down at the pub and it spread like wildfire.

“James left the majority of his money to himself under a new name, some obscure branch of the Potter family. My mother, though, she disagreed. She was against it, fought it. Death didn’t give details and I didn’t ask, but she was ‘convinced’ to see things their way. I can never forgive him, and I’m so very tempted to arrange his death,” he finished in a harsh whisper.

He rubbed his eyes wearily, then looked over to see Tom was resting his chin on the palm of his hand, gazing at him solemnly. “I haven’t unloaded like this on anyone ever. Do normal people do this kind of thing, you think?”

Voldemort shrugged, a bemused expression flitting by. “I am afraid I have no idea.”