Harry felt a jerk behind his navel when both he and Cedric grabbed the Triwizard Cup at the same time. It was a portkey! His feet slammed into the ground as they arrived and a flare of pain shot up and along both Harry's injured leg and his scar as the leg once again crumpled beneath him. He watched through a haze of pain as Cedric died by some wizard's wand and tried to fight back, weak from pain, as he was dragged to a headstone in the graveyard they had landed in. As he was tied to a massive monstrosity that vaguely resembled a headstone, he dazedly noticed that it bore the name TOM RIDDLE before being slammed back first into the headstone and secured in place with an "Incarcerous" which wrapped him from neck to ankles in conjured ropes.
Harry's scar flared again, worse than ever before. By the time that he had wrestled his pain back under control he'd realized that it was Wormtail performing some kind of ritual in front of him and that the rat bastard had laid open his arm with a ceremonial knife to collect his blood. He had nearly filled the small vial to the brim before adding it to a cauldron that was large enough to hold a full grown man, along with the creepy child thing that the rat-bastard had brought with him. Pain flared in his scar at the same instant that the potion flared and vanished. A man stood up in the cauldron, naked, and stepped from it with a grace reminiscent of a large cat.
"Robe me." The man commanded in a high cold voice. Wormtail, still sobbing from the ritual loss of his hand and wrist, gathered the black robe that had held the child thing and one-handedly pulled it over the man's head.
The man turned and stared at Harry. Harry stared back in return, completely fascinated and slightly revolted by what he had seen. The man was a slightly older, completely hairless, emaciated, red-eyed version of a face that had been haunting his nightmares along with a flash of green light and a woman's scream for as long as he could remember.
Lord Voldemort had returned.
Voldemort looked away from their staring match in favor of examining his new body, occasionally murmuring appreciatively. "It worked better than I thought it would. I suppose that feeding for so long on Nagini's venom wasn't as detrimental to the ritual as I thought it would be. I'll have to see if anything is different aside from the lack of hair. Perhaps the hair will grow back. Wormtail! Stop moaning. Hand me my wand and give me your arm." He snapped at the still whimpering animagus.
"Oh, thank you my lord!" Wormtail whimpered, handing over the Yew wand, but before he could withdraw his left arm and extend his right one Voldemort grabbed his wrist, holding it in place.
"Not that one you fool!" He hissed, as he pressed the tip of his wand to the dark mark on Wormtail's arm, making both mark and Harry's scar burn. Wormtail's barely bit back a cry as his mark flared in pain. A moment later Voldemort released his arm as the first sounds of apparating arrivals could be heard echoing in the graveyard as his faithful Death Eaters began to arrive. Nagini, whom Harry dimly remembered slithering past him at the start of the ritual, came from behind the cauldron and stretched up to lightly wrap the first part of her body around the wrist that Voldemort wasn't using to direct his wand movements as he did a quick clean up of the ritual materials (including Harry's wounds); Apparently, it wouldn't do to seem untidy after being resurrected. From between the headstones came witches and wizards, all cloaked and hooded in black with bone white masks. They hesitantly approached as if they couldn't believe their eyes. First one then another, and another, until all of them had fallen to their knees in front of Voldemort, kissing the edge of his robes and murmured, "Master". Wormtail continued to lay sobbing just behind his master, near where Harry was bound, and where he had fallen to his knees from pain from the mark when the others had been summoned. The Death Eaters formed a circle around Tom Riddle's grave, Voldemort, and Harry, after they offered their obeisance, leaving gaps as if expecting more people. Their master on the other hand seemed to believe that no more would arrive.
Voldemort gazed at his assembled followers, his face inscrutable before he spoke coldly, and softly. "Thirteen years... Thirteen years since last we met yet you all arrive as if that meeting were but yesterday. Are we still united under the Dark Mark?" More than one Death Eater flinched at the quiet accusation as Nagini released her hold on Voldemort's hand and settled at his feet.
"You all swore eternal loyalty to me, yet I see nothing here to have prevented any of you from seeking me out and coming to my aid these last thirteen years. Only Wormtail and one other have even attempted to find and assist me. Wormtail assisted me not out of loyalty but out of fear of his old friends, whom he betrayed." Voldemort paused for a moment in his quiet speech. "I want thirteen years of repayment before even considering forgiving this breach of loyalty, of forgiving the fact that you all left and slid in amongst my enemies, claiming innocence, ignorance, and bewitchment..."
A Death Eater threw himself at Voldemort's feet crying out. "Forgive me! Master! Forgive us!"
Voldemort smiled cruelly before raising his wand and cast "Crucio" on the man, making him shriek, scream, and writhe in pain. Harry for his part hoped that someone, anyone, would hear and come to put a stop to this. He continued to hope even after the spell was lifted and the man crawled back to his place in the circle.
"Get up, Avery." Voldemort ordered the man softly. "I've already told you what I'm willing to accept to forgive this. Wormtail has already paid part of his debt to me and I reward those who help me." He raised his wand and sent a streak of pure silver at Wormtail, engulfing the man's stump creating a new liquid silver hand and wrist.
"Thank you, master!" Wormtail thanked him in wonder, as he gazed at his new hand, flexing it, watching it move in liquid grace.
Harry on the other hand barely heard Voldemort's commentary on the Death Eaters of his inner circle, as the man addressed them, until he heard the man speak of a Death Eater at Hogwarts.
This caused the boy's head to snap up and stare at the man as he hissed "Snape!" nearly sliding into parseltounge, drawing attention to the fact that he was still there, tied to a tombstone. Somehow, no one was quite sure how, Harry had managed to get rid of the gag that Wormtail had stuffed in his mouth to silence him for the ritual.
Voldemort paused and looked over at the seething boy. "Yessss, I think we should handle that now. Lucius! You may make up part of your folly at the world cup by retrieving Severus... Now." He told Malfoy Sr. in a hard tone. "I believe that he is seated with your son watching the third task of the tournement. Disillusion yourself and take the cup portkey back, take the boy's body back with you. We might as well return it to his family. If you don't return with Severus within half an hour I will take the failure out of your hide. Have I made myself clear?"
Lucius bowed saying, "You have my lord." then moved off to complete his task, as they all patiently waited for his return. Harry seethed, still tied to the headstone of a man named Tom Riddle who, according to what he understood of the earlier ritual, had been Voldemort's father. Then something occurred to Harry, completely distracting him from thoughts of Snape and being tied up.
"Why did Snape counter your curse on my broomstick in first year?" Harry asked. "I mean I know that Quirrell already told me that Snape doesn't want me dead, but why try to counter it at all? Why not just catch me as I fell?"
Voldemort raised his non-existent eyebrows and answered. "Perhaps he thought it safer since its actually rather difficult to catch a falling body, not to mention that I have no doubt that he recognized the curse as it was being cast. It was very likely that no one would have managed to catch you fast enough had you lost your grip on that broom."
Harry observed Voldemort a bit more as they all waited for Lucius Malfoy and Severus Snape to arrive. Just as they all heard the pop of the two men's arrival Harry blurted out. "I know what's different! You're sane!" Causing everyone else to freeze in fear of what their master might do with such an accusation.
Voldemort looked over at the boy in amusement and answered the implied question. "Yes, I suppose that I am."
Harry shook his head. "That's not what I meant. You're not acting as mental as first year when you were on the back of Quirrell's head, or that weird memory thing in the diary I fought in second year that sent the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets after me." Harry tried to explain.
At the mention of the diary Voldemort's face went blank and his voice flat. "My diary? You fought my diary and won against both it and my basilisk..."
"Uh, yes?" Harry admitted hesitantly.
Voldemort turned to face the two arrivals and absently noted that not only was Severus pale he was clearly unarmed and at wand point. Voldemort focused immediately on Lucius' now very grey face. "Lucius, what did I tell you when I asked you to take care of my diary?" Voldemort's voice was so flat that it seemed dead, sending a shiver down the spine of everyone there.
Nagini attempted to calm her master by climbing up his body as far as she could and wrapping him in her coils, covering as much of his body as she could manage to reach. She hissed soothingly that it was alright, it was okay, and wasn't it better to find out now from the hatchling then to never know? He could always hurt the stupid one later, the hatchling needed to be dealt with.
Hearing this Harry realized that Nagini was referring to him and protested viciously. "Hey! I'm not a Hatchling! I'm not a baby!"
It took a moment for everyone else to sort through their confusion and realize that Harry was actually arguing with Nagini about the term "hatchling".
Snape choked a bit before hissing at the still bound boy. "Potter! Shut up!"
"I'm not a hatchling." He told his professor mulishly.
"You're certainly acting like one." Snape snarled back tensely. "Now, be quiet!"
As Harry sulked, Voldemort gazed at the two residents of Hogwarts in a peculiar fashion, trying to decide what to do about this latest revelation. Nagini, sensing that her master had calmed or was at least distracted, slowly slid off of him and gathered herself once more at his feet. Watching the other humans warily, yet clearly unconcerned about the hatchling speaker that had given her bonded wizard so many fits over the years.
"You are aware that you've likely assured your own death?" Voldemort asked the professor archly, hiding his own confusion.
Still glaring at Harry, Snape gritted out. "I am under oath and had the foolish idea that you might allow me to try to explain since this is a direct result of the task you gave me. I presume that either the brat said something that he didn't fully understand or I have outlived my usefulness and pose a threat that I am not aware of."
Voldemort narrowed his red gleaming eyes at Snape in thought then muttered a spell softly in parseltounge, swishing his wand in a complicated spiral zig zag pattern. Harry's scar began to burn resulting a quiet whimper clearly heard only by Voldemort, Snape, and Malfoy. Snape on the other hand, began to glow with a dark green light as strands of gold, red, and blue power spiraled out from him forming charts and words above his head. Each chart listed some sort of contract, binding, or oath that Snape was bound under. The gold ones appeared to be purely legal contracts, oaths, and agreements whereas both the red and the blue ones seemed to be personal or family related. The one that Voldemort was looking for was blue, indicating that there was a secrecy clause in place. Of the two blue ones both listed Dumbledor as the one who they were sworn to, one had gone dim indicating that while still active too many people knew enough about the contents that the secrecy clause no longer truly bound Snape. Harry deduced from the fact that the primary subject of the oath listed Professor Lupin, that it was probably about Remus' lycanthropy. The other one was a bright, shining blue and, to his shock, listed him as the primary subject. It had a link that connected it to a red/gold one that called its self a life-debt which listed James Potter as the primary recipient and Harry as the secondary. To say that Harry was astonished would be an understatement but he was quite happy that each chart was in fact clearly labeled in words by type in addition to color.
"What's a life-debt?" Harry asked quietly. Everyone looked at Harry, still stuck to the tombstone, in astonishment.
"How much of our society do you actually know about?" Voldemort asked, aghast that his infuriating opponent didn't know about such an integral part of their society, their world.
As Voldemort waved away the remnant of the spell, Snape sighed and admitted. "Dumbledore had him placed with his muggle relatives and assured me he was being treated like a prince, despite the fact that he could have gotten Black out of Azkaban at any time, as I learned at the end of last year. I have been having difficulty putting aside my hatred of the Marauders to deal fairly with the so called Golden Trio, Potter and his two friends. I've noticed that the boy is unusually thin at the beginning of each school year but I have been putting it down to excessive activity over the summer hols."
Harry snorted and muttered something about chores and stupid locks. Voldemort, Snape, and Malfoy shared a glance; that was not the response that they had been expecting, and it was worrisome.
"Mr. Potter, would you care to repeat that?" Lucius asked quietly. Harry looked startled for a moment then flushed red, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "No".
Voldemort's lips thinned, then made sure to meet Potter's belligerent gaze before quietly casting "Legillimens". Only Lucius and Snape heard the quiet spell as Voldemort dove into the boy's memories. It took him a moment to orient himself then he got down to business, actively searching for memories of Harry's time at the Dursleys. The first memory he found in his search was of Harry working in the garden under the hot July sun occasionally glancing longingly through the kitchen window at, Voldemort assumed, his relatives as they ate a large meal at the kitchen table in the clearly much cooler house. The next memory made the situation all too clear. Harry was serving breakfast to his family when his cousin tripped him causing him to knock over a cup of juice. Harry glanced over fearfully at the man that Voldemort guessed to be his uncle, who was now red in rage and raising a hand to strike but the scene suddenly shifted to a bruised and exhausted Harry lying on his cot in the cupboard under the stairs, indicating that the person had been knocked out. Voldemort abruptly pulled out, ending the connection, shaking and pale with a rage all his own. Harry stared at the resurrected wizard that everyone seemed so afraid of. He knew that Voldemort had done something and that it had made him angry. His throbbing scar was proof enough of that.
Bluntly Harry asked. "What did you just do? Why did it make you angry?"
Voldemort ignored him and turned to Snape, speaking hoarsely. "We'll deal with the particular complexities of your situation later, for now we get him away from those poor excuses of human life that the old man calls his relatives. He is not to stay with them again!"
"I'm afraid I'm going to need more information on the subject if I am to act appropriately. As I've explained, as far as I know the boy is treated like a spoiled little brat of a prince when he isn't at school and even there he is favored, much like his father was." Snape told him almost hesitantly before the Dark Lord could start in on a list of demands he didn't have enough information to understand.
"Lucius, return his wand. Severus, read the boy's memories about his so called time with those muggles, then see if you can tell me the boy is spoilt brat of a prince." Voldemort ordered, still trying to keep his fury in check as the two men obeyed and Nagini once again wrapped herself comfortingly around her wizard. This time Voldemort clutched at the snake as if drowning and hugged her close. This display unnerved the assembled adults more than a round of Crucio's ever could.
Snape quietly took his wand back from Lucius, occasionally glancing back at Voldemort but before he could cast the spell on the boy Harry himself protested in a near panic. "Wait! You're going to look at my memories? Like the Sorting Hat?"
Snape ignored the boy's obvious concern and cast "Legillimens" in a firm clear voice that carried to all present. The first memory he encountered was in fact that of Harry's sorting, but before he could move on the Hat's words entranced him.
"Not Slytherin, eh? You'd do well there. Alright then, better be... Gryffindor!" The Hat shouted out the last word for all to hear and the memory whirled away to something a bit earlier. Snape watched as Hagrid and the Weasley boy prejudiced Harry's house choice before the boy had a chance to get any information on the situation. The flashes of Draco's actions along with brief flashes of parallels connected to the cousin's actions which were connected to the main memory of the sorting showed that the young blonde hadn't helped the situation in the least. Finally managing to pull himself from the tangle surrounding Harry's sorting Snape focused on the facts that he knew about Potter's relatives, which he now saw were disturbingly few, and allowed it to bring forward Harry's own memories of the place he called home over the summer hols. What Snape saw among the myriad of memories sickened him and made him realize just how badly he had judged the boy, how in fact he had been acting just as bad as the Marauders had acted toward him in their school days. He was so distracted, consumed by what he had just seen that as he was pulling free of Harry's mind, like Voldemort when he was being reborn, he never felt the snap of an enchantment failing that someone had cast on him that had been anchored to his very soul. When he actually noticed reality again he found himself on his knees on the ground and promptly lost what little of lunch he'd managed to eat before the third task.
"How many memories did you view, my lord?" Snape rasped as he cleared his mouth with a sleeve, showing just how rattled he was to everyone present before remembering that he could banish the mess and doing so.
"Two, maybe three with indications that they were a fairly common occurrence, not isolated incidents. I couldn't keep my temper after that and pulled out." Voldemort admitted grimly.
"I saw more." Snape said hoarsely as he carefully got back to his feet. "One of which was his sorting. He was supposed to be in Slytherin, Dumbledore got to him first with Hagrid and the Weasleys. Draco's actions, especially compared to his whale of a cousin's, pushed him still farther into Dumbledore's clutches. The only good thing I can see about this is that I can now tell you about the vow concerning Harry. The premise of the vow is protection. I am under vow and the remnant life-debt to protect him. Keeping this knowledge from you after what has happened would put him in danger."
"The life-debt is overriding the secrecy clause in the oath." Malfoy realized in astonishment, then demanded. "Just how bad was his treatment?!"
Harry, finally looking scared whimpered a small "no", earning a glance from the three men and a slight shuffle from the audience of the Inner Circle Death Eaters. Glancing at Voldemort and receiving a nod of permission, Snape waved his wand, disappearing the ropes that kept Harry in place and went to his knees to catch the boy as he fell from lack of support and blood flow. Snape clutched Harry to him as if he were a precious burden, a life line, cradling him gently in the Potion Master's arms as the man knelt on the ground.
"Lucius? Do you remember how badly my school summers tended to turn out?" At Lucius' solemn nod Snape went on practically hissing in fury. "Well Harry is treated worse. Lucius, they treat him like one of your house elves!" This news caused Lucius to stumble backwards and sit down hard on the nearest tombstone, his features pale.
"My lord unless you intend to keep us, Harry and I will need an excuse for our sudden very public disappearance and as a result an equally public return. The story must be grand enough yet also simple enough to satisfy the officials and public. But, with your permission, we will need to present something closer to the truth to Dumbledore in private. Especially if you want me to be able to come and go when needed." Snape told the man from his knees, still cradling the clearly tired and confused Boy-Who-Lived.
"After what I've just seen I'm tempted to just keep the two of you." Voldemort told them plainly. "I certainly don't want Potter going back to that disgrace of a household but I'm honestly not certain how to accomplish that at the moment barring keeping the two of you prisoner."
"Unless we splashed the situation across the papers but even if we did I doubt we would accomplish anything but to put Mr. Potter in the hands of someone unknown and possibly put him at risk." Lucius doubtfully admitted. "I suppose we could splash the more dangerous events of the last four years at Hogwarts across the papers and point out that not only is Dumbledore doing virtually nothing to protect our children but that he also seems bent on getting Mr. Potter killed. We can also publicly wonder why the boy not only seems unwilling to request help from teachers when he finds himself embroiled in such situations but also the lack of any apparent communication with his so called guardians."
"I don't want any communication with the Dursleys. Its bad enough living with them!" Harry spat waking up just enough to struggle in Snape's arms a bit before giving it up as a lost cause, relaxing back against the Potions Master, having completely forgotten about the surrounding and still masked Death Eaters, only Malfoy and Snape had no mask on.
"Or we could simply blackmail Dumbledore." Snape said quietly, holding Harry close. "He does seems to care for the boy."
"Explain." Voldemort demanded as Nagini slid back down his body and resumed her place at his feet.
"Simple, Potter and I return via apparation to the edge of the wards in the forbidden forest. The public story will be that I became concerned about his propensity to find himself in trouble and set a simple tracing charm that is often used on small children on him. I had of course used the modified version which had a much greater range. This allowed me to realize that something had gone wrong with the portkey and retrieve him. As for what happened with the portkey, it appears to have been tampered with by some well meaning individual the end result being that Diggory's body returned with the portkey mimicking the effects of the killing curse while Potter's far more powerful magic manifested in a bout of accidental magic and apparated him away just as the portkey failed. The boy has a knack for finding himself in dangerous situations that would kill a full grown wizard with more than half a century of experience to aid him, thus the tracking spell would seem to be a reasonable precaution to me at the time. Dumbledore might not accept this version of events however, so I may need to inform him that the portkey detour was in fact your invitation to your resurrection and that you had me kidnapped to act as a more competent messenger than Potter. I would have supposedly have talked you out of killing the boy and myself. You could of course have me tell him, privately, that we were in fact here and that you decided that it would be more amusing for the boy to be better trained before facing him again, but that there were a few conditions to our return. That the boy would be re-sorted and that he would never step foot in his relatives house again, or else." Snape told Voldemort his plan quietly. "Its something you might have done before, even if you don't know about Harry's situation; Especially if you decided that you were too weak from the resurrection ritual and didn't want to reveal such weakness nor would you want someone else to claim your prey. You would have made it very clear that Potter is yours alone and placed him out of reach of the blood wards at his relatives house."
Harry listened to Snape's proposal in a state of tired shock. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Was Snape insane? Even if Voldemort were truly sane the risk that he would run with the suggestion to do something if Dumbledore didn't re-sort him or send him somewhere other than the Dursleys was too great. Harry tried to struggle again only to be soothed by Snape as if he were a fussy child in his arms.
Voldemort contemplated Snape's plan for a moment before nodding slowly in agreement. "Alright, sounds plausible but you need to find an excuse to teach him Occlemency and get him checked over thoroughly. Document everything you find, I want everything recorded so that we can press suit against his so called relatives." He sneered the last part.
"He likely has nightmares from both his treatment at the hands of the muggles and his 'adventures'. You can use that as your excuse for the Occlemency. I don't want him to ever set foot in that house again. We might even have to resort to kidnapping him again if the old man is stubborn about all of this." Voldemort ordered using his most menacing tones and expression, resulting in looking like a demonic cross between a reptile and a human, eyes glowing a fiery bright red, as he clearly addressed both Snape and Malfoy.
"Of course my lord." Was murmured by both Snape and Lucius as Severus bowed low over Harry so that he wouldn't have to let go of the boy in his lap.
"But, but, I don't understand." Harry said softly in bewilderment. "Why are you helping me? Everyone keeps telling me that you want me dead, that you killed my parents. That I stopped you somehow when I was a baby and now they're going to expect me to stop you again. I don't even really know anything about who my parents were and you've already tried to kill me again in both first and second year. Why are you helping me???"
Voldemort knelt down to look Harry in the eye as he answered him. "I've tried to kill you because I didn't have all of the information that I need. I also acted, like a Gryffindor, without thinking properly. I still don't have all of the information that I need but one thing is certain, I am thinking clearly again, and as you said, I am once again sane. I have lived through something very similar to what you have to deal with each summer, to what we saw in those memories." At this admission Harry flinched back into Snape's chest, remembering what happens whenever he had to stay with the Dursleys. Voldemort waited patiently for Harry to come back out of his memories and met his eyes again. "No one should have to live like that. I cannot promise not to try and kill you again, in fact its likely that I will try; But I promise you that if I can help it you will never set foot in that be-damned house again; And if you do then I or one of mine will be with you to help you."
Harry stared into the ruby red eyes of the man who had tried to kill him and saw them shinning with the sincerity of his promise before slowly nodding his acceptance. Magic flared around Harry, Snape, and Voldemort, signalling the sealing of a magical vow. Snape having been caught up in the vow simply by the virtue of having the boy in his arms, swore softly under his breath, startling Harry into jumping a bit and breaking the eye contact between the two powerful wizards. Voldemort stood back up and gazed at the two thoughtfully. Snape was clearly feeling guilty about something concerning the boy but did it tie in with his vow of protection? Perhaps it could be used to his advantage.
"Severus." Voldemort waited until he had the man's complete attention, almost missing the involuntary tightening of the man's grip on the boy still in his lap. "Would you be willing to take another vow concerning the boy?" He carefully watched the man's suddenly blank face. Only the eyes even hinted at the turmoil that the Potion Master was feeling at that moment.
"I cannot answer that until I know the vow its self, my lord." Snape informed him quietly, face impassive.
Before Voldemort could decide whether or not to elaborate there was the clunk of a falling object from behind the headstone that Harry had been tied to earlier. At the command conveyed by a simple glance, Lucius nodded and went to investigate. What he found was not what anyone had expected. Lucius returned to the group with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, bearing several items in his hands, the sight of which made Voldemort pale even further. Ravenclaw's Lost Diadem, the Gaunt Family signet ring with the Pervell crest, Slytherin's Locket, Helga Hufflepuff's cup, and the remains of his old school diary.
Lips thin, Voldemort grimly cast "Revelio Animus" and watched as none of the objects in Malfoy's hands glowed. He absently noted with some satisfaction that Nagini had two different glows, one red and the other an almost non-existent silvery grey. Snape's startled cry, however, quickly snapped his gaze to the man and boy. What he saw caused a shock to go through his very soul and nearly brought him to his own knees. Sitting there looking tired and bewildered sat Harry Potter, glowing with two intertwined lights. One was red and about the size of a snitch and centered perfectly over the scar that Voldemort himself had given the boy. The other infused the rest of his body to the point of glowing brilliance bringing a light blue glow to the graveyard. Snape, on the other hand, having been close enough to be affected by the area spell, was glowing green almost as brightly and pulled the boy back into his chest as he desperately looked up at his sworn lord.
Throat dry, Voldemort made a decision. The boy had to be protected as much as if not more than Nagini. He was a living human Horcrux. "It appears that unless you wish to remain a spy, Severus, both you and Mister Potter will be staying with me from now on. It also appears that young Mister Potter's participation as a part of the ritual conducted earlier is part of the reason my sanity has returned. As a result I now appear to owe him a rather large life debt." Admitting the existence of the life debt openly, in front of other magic users not directly involved with the debt made its existence and power even stronger. Sending shivers of magic down the link to the marks binding his minions to him causing an echoing acknowledgement from the magical core of every single Death Eater still alive. Their lord had acknowledged a life debt and it bound both him and all of his people. No man, woman, or child sworn to him would be able to intentionally harm Potter until magic itself had decided that the debt was paid. Voldemort decided that he would have to come up with more than one way to protect the boy but for now this would give him the greatest possible protection. Voldemort believed that by the time magic had declared the debt paid he would have managed to make it plain to his people that the boy was no longer a target but instead a treasure, or at least someone under his protection.
"Then he must be returned to Hogwarts or we risk putting him in danger from both sides of this conflict, my lord." Lucius informed him quietly.
Frowning, he considered this new wrinkle. The boy carried a piece of his soul in him. The boy had somehow returned every soul piece which was not housed in a living being. Snape was already sworn to protect the boy and was routinely around him except during his ghastly summer holidays. The boy's summer holidays were - are - an absolute nightmare that he wouldn't put his worst enemy through, well maybe Dumbledore. There wasn't much help for it, the boy was going to have to be Snape's responsibility and gotten away from Dumbledore, but he'd be damned if he allowed one of the man's presented complications to kill the boy. Voldemort strode over to the still kneeling man, lap filled with an exhausted Gryffindor and yanked his head back by the the hair to stare down into the man's eyes.
"From now on your sole responsibility is the boy. Do what is needed to keep him safe and alive, even if it means defying me or compromising your position." Voldemort ordered in quiet tone heard by all present that brooked no argument.
"Yes, my lord." Snape allowed his relief to be given such an order to fill his voice. Voldemort nodded once and released his hold on the Potions Master, who practically slumped down over the boy in his lap, greatful that he still had a chance to repair the damage done that long ago Halloween night and protect Lily's son. Lily, his sister in all but blood.
Voldemort looked around at the gathered audience of Death Eaters, absently noting their reactions to his choices thus far before starting in on his orders and mini-speech. "I want full reports on events since our last meeting by the time I receive the first Prophet of the weekend. The more complete the report, the less likely you will find yourself on the floor screaming at the next meeting. Harry Potter is to be protected and is no longer considered an enemy. Children are off limits, what this means is that if they are underage and you find yourself fighting or dueling one of them treat it like a teaching session. Use non-lethal spells and do your best to get them out of the line of fire. The way we've all acted will be examined and any actions or activities deemed harmful or unnecessary will be dealt with accordingly, as will the instigators. I will be the first to admit that I have been... ill. Many things are going to change but I am still your Dark Lord." A soft sigh of released breath came from every Death Eater present as he turned to his resident Potions Master. "Severus, part of the 'price' for being able to walk away with Potter is that neither of you may communicate anything about this little trip that I do not allow. If Dumbledore objects than remind him that I could just as easily have kept the two of you and that unless he wants me to forcibly retrieve the both of you with much fuss and damage he needs to adhere to my conditions."
"He will obviously object over removing Potter from his relatives, likely on the grounds of the blood wards." Snape pointed out quietly.
Harry drifted off to sleep in the protective arms of Hogwarts' very own dungeon bat as they discussed how to deal with Dumbledore. He wasn't going back to the Dursleys' and that was all that really mattered for now. He'd deal with the confusing complexities of nice resurrected Dark Lords, a protective Snape and an oddly acting Lucius Malfoy when he woke up... if he woke up. He wasn't sure he really cared either way at the moment. Grumbling slightly, Harry Potter finally relaxed and slipped down into the blissful blackness of sleep. He never felt the return apparation to Hogwarts nor was he woken by the uproar their return caused...