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Forged In Flame

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Harry was concentrating so hard on the connection forged between his and Voldemort's wands that he almost didn't notice it at first. It took almost everything he had to keep it from rebounding on him. He'd never been so focused in his life. Nothing was more important than keeping that bead of light that signified the cross-point of the spells from reaching him.

Things changed when Voldemort's focus shifted off of him and onto the shades of his former victims as they emerged from his wand. If he hadn't been so stubbornly focused he'd have lost the battle there and then. The foreign thoughts flashing into his mind would have decided the battle for him.

He knew what Voldemort was thinking, what he was planning. Memories of the months of planning that had gone into getting him exactly where he currently was. The longer they stayed connected the more he saw. The things he'd done. The secrets the man held. He didn't know how he was doing it but he was in Voldemort's mind and his thoughts burned like lava.

Harry's attentions split.

Half of him was pushing the connection forward and the other half was drowning in memories, thoughts and feelings that didn't belong to him.

"When the connection is broken, we will linger for only moments… but we will give you time… you must get to the Portkey, it will return you to Hogwarts… do you understand, Harry?" His father's shade asked and Harry felt tears prick up in the corner of his eyes.

"I… can't." He gasped.

"Harry? What-?" His mother's shade began to ask.

Voldemort had prepared himself for death, done things no sane wizard would consider thinking and Harry was currently drowning in it. He saw it all. Research into forbidden branches of magic. Delving into magic so dark the only records written were in books so ridiculously old, damaged or sealed away in the most secret of collections in the seediest parts of the wizarding world.

Tom Riddle's obsession with Lords, Knights and their relationships. The connections between them, his Ruling Aspect. The thing that made him a Lord in the wizarding world.

Tom Riddle had broken himself trying to bring his Aspect to life, something no wizard before him had been able to accomplish for over a thousand years outside of a few select bloodlines. Voldemort emerged from the broken remains of Tom Riddle and broke himself again and again and again afterwards.

Horcruxes.

The diary he'd destroyed in his second year at Hogwarts, all without knowing exactly what it was. A ring he stole off his maternal grandfather's corpse. A goblet stolen from a witch. A locket from Borgin and Burkes. A diadem. Nagini.

All of them created for two reasons.

One was as a means of immortality but they had also been created to cut away the itching and crawling need to pull people close. Voldemort had been born with the Ruling Aspect, (as the man had discovered some time in his second year at Hogwarts). A Lord was born with the instinctive need to draw Knights to serve and protect him and Voldemort had been no exception. The clawing and grasping arms refused to stop reaching out to try bonding with the people around him regardless of his own wishes. The aching need had driven Tom Riddle insane and as such Voldemort had intended to cut all six reaching arms off to control them. In his mind a Lord shouldn't have to NEED anyone else, he was above such petty needs.

The night Harry had earned the name "The Boy Who Lived", Voldemort had been intending on making another Horcurx to cut away the last of the reaching arms, and to nip a prophesy in the bud before it could come to fruition. Two birds with the one spell. But something had gone wrong. The ritual had rebounded and the 'arm' Voldemort had cut off hadn't gone into the 'vessel' he'd prepared.

Voldemort hadn't connected the dots yet, but this… this was an answer to a question Harry had been asking himself ever since he'd heard the story of how his parents had died. It was all right there and Voldemort couldn't see it. The only reason Harry was alive, the reason he'd lived when he'd been hit with the Killing Curse was because that bit of soul had latched onto him.

Years later, (and he didn't know exactly WHEN or HOW it had happened), Voldemort, unknowingly drawn to the stray bit of soul, had unintentionally bonded Harry to him as his Knight, and that bond he was keeping the man alive the same way Voldemort was keeping him alive.

"I'm sorry!" Harry choked, tears welling up in his eyes as he addressed the shades of his parents and the rest of Voldemort's former victims as he yanked his wand sideways, breaking the connection.

Choosing between living with the fact he was keeping Voldemort alive or dying and taking one of Voldemort's lifelines with him at the same time?

That wasn't even a choice!

The world flashed green.

OoO

Awareness came to him in brief, muted flashes.

The scent of blood filled his nose along with a sharp stomach churning smell. Potions residue? He couldn't tell. The scent dulled down to nothing again the moment he tried pinpointing it. He felt grass under his palms and the chill of the slight dampness clinging to his clothes before that faded too. He would hear something one moment and the next thing he knew the world would go silent again.

He caught snatches of voices and then silence.

He couldn't move, not even to open his own eyes, he didn't have the strength for it. He barely had enough to be as aware as he currently was. He was so far into soul-deep exhaustion it almost felt like he could have been having an out-of-body experience save for how heavy he felt.

He couldn't even react when his body was yanked sharply up by the back of his shirt.

The darkness that had eclipsed his vision lifted briefly and eyes that he'd thought were closed cleared. He hadn't closed his eyes. His vision had joined in with the rest of the scrambled senses fading in and out.

There were men stood standing around him, staring up at him from the height he'd been yanked up to. All of them wearing black cloaks and odd masks. Death Eaters? His vision faded back to black as the grip on the back of his shirt shifted and he was shaken, his head rolled forward limply and his limps flopped uselessly.

What was going on?

Screaming. A shout and then deathly silence. High-pitched laughter. Harry's vision cleared for a second time. Dumbledore's face gone white with shock. A thick rippling barrier separating the Death Eater's and Voldemort in the champion's area from everyone else.

Being flung bodily at the barrier and helpless to do anything but smack right into it and slide lifelessly off it. Eyes that were still frozen open watched Voldemort and his Death Eaters leave.

More screaming. Footsteps rushing forward. The thick barrier collapsing and making him roll onto his back. The star speckled sky. Madam Pomfrey's face as she desperately lunged forward. Hands picking his shoulders up and levering his upper body off the ground. The feeling of an arm slipping around his back. The pressure of fingertips pressing against the pulse-point at his neck. The light of a spell cast on him.

The sound of a strangled sob and the soft touch of gentle fingertips closing his frozen eyelids for him.

Darkness.

OoO

It felt like an eternity before he was capable of even the tiniest of movement and the first thing he felt was his heart beginning to beat again. He hadn't even been aware that it had stopped. His lips parted and he breathed in a shallow breath of air, his lungs filled and emptied. His eyes fell open and he was staring at the black cloth that had been draped over his face. He felt like he was swimming to the surface of consciousness and guiding him back to the waking world was Phoenix song.

Fawkes was singing his heart out.

The golden-toned notes felt like they were energizing him, giving him the energy it took for him to try moving. In the time it took for him to figure out how to twitch his fingers against the cloth covering him Harry managed gather his scrambled thoughts together to figure out what had happened to him. He was still alive. He'd been hit nearly point-blank with the Killing Curse, there was no way it had missed him. Not at that distance. Yet he was breathing. His heart was still beating, regardless of how weak that heartbeat was.

Sensation was starting to return to his body, chasing away the numbness and pain took its place. Compared to the Cruciatus curse though this was something he could shove back and ignore, it wasn't like he'd broken a bone. The cut on his arm stung, as did the Acromantula bite on his leg. He was stiff, bruised and scraped all over, his nerves felt like they were sparking all over from the exposure to the killing curse but he could still move. Or rather he SHOULD still be able to move.

It took a few tries to push himself upright but he managed it after a few false starts and dragged the black cloth off of his face. It turned out to be a cloak, an adult-sized cloak made of thick black fabric that didn't feel anything like the Hogwarts uniforms did. Had one of the spectators left it on him?

Pushing back the bed-curtains of the bed he'd found himself in, Harry discovered he'd been moved to the hospital wing. Fawkes was sitting on the headboard of the bed, standing vigil and crooning wave upon wave of soothing music that warmed, soothed his aches and comforted him at the same time. It was the only reason he was able to sit back enough to look back at what had happened, to piece together what must have happened between getting hit by the Killing Curse and now, but from the fragmented pieces he could put together…

Voldemort had taken him back to Hogwarts using the Portkey Harry's parents had wanted him to use to get away. He'd appeared in the Champion's area, where the winner of the Triwizard tournament was meant to appear after making their way into the center of the maze. Dumbledore had put up a barrier. Voldemort had tossed his body against it and left, taking his Death Eaters with him.

From the knowledge that had unintentionally passed between them in the graveyard Harry knew Voldemort would have been in no position to fight, newly resurrected as he was… but instill fear? He'd been more than strong enough for that. Tossing the seemingly-defeated body of his 'enemy' at everyone's feet was more than enough to accomplish that without doing anything else other than Portkey back out.

Now everyone would know that he was back, that his Death Eaters were back and they were somewhere OUT there.

Dragging the cloak around his shoulders as protection from the chill, Harry slipped off the bed. He needed to find Dumbledore. Tell him the things he'd gleaned from Voldemort's mind when they'd connected and- Harry crumpled to the floor, his bitten leg unable to bear his weight. The bite burning with heat. Right, the Acromantula's poison was probably still in his system.

He needed to MOVE. Voldemort had bits of his soul hiding all over the country and no one knew about it. Knew about the one thing in the world that would finally END the nightmare. Knew about the disgusting and twisted Knight-replacements Voldemort had made to stick away the reaching arms. The ones keeping him anchored to the living world. Harry was still alive, he shouldn't be but was. The only reason he could think of was that the thing inside him was keeping him alive in the same way it kept Voldemort alive.

The other objects Voldemort had created had protections woven into their make-up. Perhaps some of the ones the self-styled 'Dark Lord' had intended for his latest Horcrux had ended up pinned to him. It would make a twisted kind of sense.

As of right now he didn't know what else could kill him, he'd tried taking a Killing Curse and that clearly hadn't worked, but the other objects had very real weaknesses. Basilisk's venom. Fiendfyre or a flame hot enough to burn through said protections. He didn't think he was capable of the spell required to cast a flame spell strong enough to destroy the other objects; regardless, he didn't have his wand. He'd dropped that somewhere in the graveyard. Voldemort or one of his Death Eaters probably had it by now. It didn't matter, he had access to something better. He knew where to GET basilisk's venom and he didn't need a wand to get it.

He just… had to MOVE. He'd never been so exhausted and his whole body was shaking, his leg was refusing to bear his weight and felt hot to the tentative touch. He needed an antidote at the very least to the venom. Some of that antiseptic potion Madam Pomfrey used on every open wound and then finally something to close the wounds-

Fawkes flashed off the bed and was at his side within an instant, magnificent head pressing up against the bloodied gash on his leg, coating the injury in a thick, pearlescent coat of tears and then hopping over to do the same to his arm.

Tears of relief pricked up at the corners of his eyes, even as he closed them against the heavy and gut-wrenching guilt twisting his insides. He was alive and he was keeping Voldemort alive… he had no right to have a phoenix cry over him, no matter how much he desperately needed it at the moment.

Pressing his uninjured hand over his eyes Harry tried to regain control over himself; now was not the time to be crying over something he had no idea how to fix right now.

"I heard you." He heard himself tell Fawkes in a rough rasp, voice scratchy and raw from screaming. "You saved me, even though you weren't even there I heard your voice. Through my wand I think… I've lost it now though. I think it got left behind."

The phoenix sang another string of golden notes that seemed to hang in the air and Fawkes flashed away, returning before the notes disappeared to drop his stray wand into his open palm, pressing bodily up against him afterwards.

Harry curled his shaking body around the warmth and dug his fingers into Fawkes's thick plumage, carding his fingers through the soothing warmth like he did with Hedwig. He was healed now. His arm and leg would probably be able to hold his weight. He had his wand. The only thing stopping him from moving was the bone-deep exhaustion. He didn't even have the strength to get up off the floor. Not even with a Phoenix cuddled up to him and willingly sharing his magic with him.

Fawkes's singing was probably the only reason he'd been able to move as much as he had. Even now the bird was still singing, though now it was a soft crooning that seemed to reverberate through him in soft waves.

"I… need to get up." He rasped to no one in particular; Voldemort's horcruxes were burnt into his mind. One of them was in the castle, just waiting for a victim to stumble across it. They were designed to draw magic from their surroundings and while it was in a remote location, there was always going to be the possibility that it would find a victim. Also given the history of that particular object… that person might even be tempted to put the bloody thing ON. It would be Second Year all over again but worse. The bit of Tom Riddle that had gone into the diadem Voldemort had stolen was heads and away more dangerous than the teenager who'd released a basilisk into the school. A fully grown adult Dark Wizard in his prime.

The castle was currently FULL of potential victims and he couldn't move. He had a wand in his hand and he couldn't even feel his magic in response, his wand didn't even spark when he gave it a half-hearted flick. He was tapped out; it would be hours, possibly DAYS before he was strong enough to cast sparks. He didn't even know how he was conscious. He usually slept through this kind of exhaustion, that he was awake was so far out of the norm…

But this was just his kind of luck wasn't it? To be awake and aware when he was helpless to move. When there were people in danger and he was possibly the only soul that could actively DO something about it.

He closed his eyes desperately with the afterimages of Voldemort's horcruxes haunting him and tried to find the energy he needed. Searching himself for even a scrap of magic he could grab at. ANYTHING to get him to his feet.

He would destroy the things anchoring Voldemort to life… and he'd do it even if he had to do it with his Bare. Hands. He'd do it or he'd DIE trying.

Heat pulsed through him and Fawkes sat up in his arms, song reaching a crescendo and the heat that pulsed out from somewhere deep inside him grew stronger.

Harry didn't waste any time trying to figure out what was going on. He felt it. That was an energy he could use. He didn't care where it was coming from, he was going to use it. Beggars couldn't be choosers and Fawkes was actively HELPING him. There was no way this could hurt him, not with a Phoenix actually encouraging him to reach for it.

"Thank… you." Harry rasped and reached for the heat.

Violet filled his vision.

OoO

His heartbeat grew stronger almost instantly. His lungs filled and when he next tried pushing himself to his knees he actually managed it. He planted a foot on the ground and used the bed as leverage to get his other foot underneath him and pushed himself upright. He pulled harder on the source of energy inside him and the violet tinting his vision exploded outwards, traveling across his body. Great arcing flames crackled around him as he straightened to his feet, steadying his swaying and anchoring him.

His body was brimming with bright violet flames, flames that were now sinking back into him, washing over his body in what felt like a numbing wave. The cuts and bruises Fawkes's tears hadn't touched healed as he watched.

Eyes that were nearly blind without his glasses were now viewing the world in crisp clarity. His sore and aching body that had been nearly completely immobile mere seconds ago was now capable of full mobility. Pocketing his wand he lifted a hand palm-up, clenched his hand and the violet flames inside him enveloped his fist in a powerful corona of pure heat. He took a single wary step and his body felt so incredibly light. His thoughts were easier to organize too and his emotions were heavily muted.

It was no wonder Voldemort had been so obsessed with it, if this was even a fraction of the power he'd been trying to gain. This wasn't the Amber Aspect Voldemort had been born with, the Ruling Aspect that made him a Lord. Violet flames. The same jewel toned colour of the Amethyst Aspect. Searching for an energy source he could draw on and he'd called on his Soul Shade, something Voldemort had broken himself trying to accomplish.

He knew he could dig into the memories Voldemort had unintentionally shared with him trying to understand it all but he didn't have that kind of patience. That was something he could bother with later.

He had a Horcurx to destroy.

OoO

The hallway outside of the hospital wing was deserted.

Harry felt like he might as well be flying, he was moving that fast. He took corners at breakneck speed, the shoes he was wearing skidded on the smooth stone but he adjusted for it before he properly noticed he was doing it. When he finally encountered people, it was a crowd that he easily managed to duck and dodge around.

He ignored the startled sounds and curses that chased after him as he sprinted away, only sliding to a stop when he reached his destination. He didn't bother with checking if anyone was watching before he slammed into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

"This is the girl's bathroom! Use your own! Get out, get out, get out!" Myrtle shrieked.

"I'm not here to use the bathroom." Harry replied shortly, brushing through the ghost that had floated to a stop in front of him, uncaring of the touch of frost that washed over him. Myrtle shrieked in outrage, almost acting like he'd caught her in her underwear. Funny, she hadn't been this unwelcoming the last time she'd seen him.

Sweeping the touch of dampness away out of his eyes and off of his face with the edge of his donated cloak, caused from a combination of the heat he was channeling and the cold of walking though Myrtle, Harry stopped in front of the sink that was the entrance-way to the Chamber of Secrets.

"Open." He commanded, but startled. He hadn't… spoken in parseltongue. Tilting his head he stared intently at the little snake scratched into the metal of the tap and tried again, this time making sure he had the image firmly fixed in his mind. "Open!"

Nothing.

Damn, parseltongue was a magical language, did that mean you actually had to have magic just to be able to speak it? He didn't have the time to wait for his magic to replenish!

"You're not here to- YOU'RE JUST LIKE RIDDLE!"

Myrtle had just compared him to…

Violet flames flooded the bathroom and Myrtle screamed, diving for one of the toilets and the sound of something breaking sounded over the pounding in his ears.

"I AM NOTHING LIKE HIM!" Harry roared, slamming his fist through the wall, a fissure cracked through the tiles underneath his feet, his footing shifted and dropped out from beneath him.

Well… that was one way to get into the chamber.

Harry skidded down the slick shaft he fell into on his feet and kicked off at the landing. He stepped to the side as bits of rubble followed him down the pipe and grimaced at the sight. Some of them were burning around the edges with very obvious Amethyst-toned flame.

As strong as it was, the ability Fawkes had helped awaken… was not very subtle.

Looking up at the pipe he'd fallen through he could see the hot purple flames sticking to the inside where the bits of rubble must have bounced off of. Hopefully they'd die down soon; he didn't want to be responsible for accidentally burning Hogwarts to the ground whilst trying to save it.

Stamping out the flames he could get at within reaching distance with his foot, Harry then scuffed the lingering edge of flames off of the melting sole of his shoe. He kicked the burning bits of rubble over so the flame on them extinguished and continued on. He squirmed his way through the opening in the rubble Lockhart had brought down trying to cast Obliviate using Ron's broken wand and absently noted the tight fit. He'd been SMALL at twelve. It had only been two years ago, and the hole Ron had opened up in the rubble that had seemed so easy to slip through then was quite the awkward fit now.

Shrugging off the cloak he was still wearing to make the task easier, Harry abandoned it and clawed his way through. He ended up having to brace his hands on the ground so he could leverage the rest of his body out without bringing the ceiling down on top of him. He almost wished he dared to try blasting through it like he had the sink in Myrtle's bathroom.

Though he supposed he might as well save that for the vault-like door barring the way through to the chamber the basilisk was. Lockhart had already done enough damage to Hogwarts, he didn't want to add to the stress and collapse whatever was above that particular bit of the ceiling. The pile of rubble he'd just wriggled his way through was probably the only thing holding it up!

The gate to the actual chamber was open when he got to it, which was something of a relief, he didn't want to damage Hogwarts more than he already had. He'd already done irreplaceable damage to the sink that had hidden the chamber for so many years. If he destroyed this one too there would be no way to secure the chamber after he left it again, something he fully intended to do after he got his hands on a few fangs.

The light coming from the still-burning traces of violet flame still burning in the pipe he'd dropped in from didn't reach much further, Harry could barely make out anything past the open vault-like door. Not even the sharpened eyesight was enough to pierce through the darkness. Bringing his left hand up to his nose he coughed; the smell was incredible. Years of rotting away in dark, stagnant water, it was a wonder no one had complained of it coming out of the pipes.

He remembered where he'd left the corpse of the basilisk, but exactly how much of the actual chamber itself did he remember? He couldn't take the chance of accidentally tripping, who knew where he'd end up if he fell into one of the downward pipes branching out of the chamber? No, he needed to be able to see.

He only had one solution to that, given that he couldn't use his magic at the moment. Directing the heat thrumming through him up into his hand was as easy as breathing. The same eerily silent purple flames that had broken a hole into the entrance to the chamber licked to life around his fist and bathed the whole room in flickering violet light and shadows.

The basilisk's dead body was just where he'd left it, untouched by anything save the passage of time. Rotting flesh clung to bared bones, with its massive skull still standing taller than he did even after nearly two full years and the loss of most of the flesh around its head and neck. Seeing it again now after so much time he realized just how lucky he'd been to walk away alive from that encounter. If it hadn't been for Fawkes…

A burst of bright orange-gold flame erupted, startling Harry into involuntarily closing his fist on the handful of flame he was using to light up the room. It didn't matter though, he still had plenty of light to see by. Fawkes was providing more than enough light, flying around the room and lighting up the unlit torches as he passed by.

"You're always saving me, aren't you?" he murmured, lifting an arm up for the phoenix to land on. "Thank you." Fawkes warbled out a drawn out string of light, querying notes as he landed. "Don't worry, I'm not going to be in here for long." He mumbled, reaching up to card his fingers through Fawkes's irresistibly soft feathers. "You might not want to get too close though, I'm about to make a bit of a mess."

Giving the phoenix a boost back up into the air Harry felt the faintest shadow of a smile ghost across his face as Fawkes took his advice, choosing to perch on one of the torch-brackets. Pulling off his sweater Harry bundled it up so it made a make-shift bag, one end secured by his tie, and stalked forward. He eyed the dead basilisk's gaping mouth and the collection of fangs lining its' mouth and grimaced, this wasn't going to be neat.

As easy as were to detach from the skull the job WAS a messy one; by the time he was satisfied with the fangs he'd gathered he was up to his elbows in filth, it coated the hems of his pants and clung to his half-melted shoes. He was going to have to have to throw everything he was wearing out and boil himself after this. If he hadn't been so absolutely focused on his task he'd have lost his breakfast, lunch and whatever meals he'd had for the last three days from the smell alone… and he was going to stop thinking about it or he'd lose it all anyway.

Deliberately stepping into the patches of water to wash off as much as he could of it off of him as he left, Harry paused at the Chamber doors and waited for Fawkes to fly through. He didn't have to do much to get it to close behind him, it swung to a close at the light tug he gave it. It closed as if its hinges had been maintained and oiled in the years since it had been abandoned and the enchanted snakes decorating its edges secured the door in, slithering into place and turning gleaming red eyes on him as if expecting him to try entering again.

No thank you, he'd had enough of the Chamber of Secrets to last him a lifetime.

The phoenix was waiting for him on a bit of rubble; Harry waved him through first and eyed the hole that would lead him back into the area he'd landed in from the bathroom with narrowed eyes. It hadn't been easy wriggling through in the first place and he hardly fancied trying to do so with a bundle of basilisk fangs… aiming the bundle so it would land near the now-smoking pipe, he tossed it in first.

He'd had quite enough of basilisk venom too, no way he was going to risk another dose. Not even with Fawkes so close-by.

Pushing the cloak he'd left behind through the hole Harry sighed and ducked in, squirming through the opening that felt like it had gotten smaller. Awkwardly planting his hands on the ground outside as he managed to push his shoulders through he kicked and tried to leverage his way out. Feathers brushed his fingers, bringing his attention back in front of him, Fawkes had the bundle of fangs in his beak and was patiently waiting for him to grab onto his tail.

"… sorry. You might need quite the bath after this." He grimaced as he gingerly took a careful handful of the phoenix's tail-feathers. His hands were about as filthy as his shoes and the hems of his pants were.

The tingling of a feather-light charm spread through him at the contact and a reassuring thrill were his only answer.

OoO

Myrtle was gone when they returned to her bathroom. Letting go of Fawkes, Harry staggered as the weightlessness dropped from him and he landed like an anvil; he caught himself on the edge of a broken sink and steadied himself.

Now that he'd taken care of collecting the fangs he needed to destroy the Horcruxes… he'd start with the one hidden in Hogwarts.

As detached from himself as he felt, Harry knew he'd be able to make it up there; his leg and arm were healed, as were the scrapes and bruises he'd earned during the Third Task. He didn't know how long that would last though, the flames Fawkes had fanned to life could extinguish at any minute, leaving him with his task still incomplete. Brushing the worst of the mess off of his hands and onto a clean area of his shirt, Harry caught the bundle of fangs Fawkes had dropped into one of the nearby sinks and left. The sooner he got to the seventh floor, the better.

He ignored everyone he came across.

Fellow students gaped and stared at him as he darted past, visitors gagged and covered their noses. Suits of armour saluted him and the Hogwarts ghosts dived out of his way and vanished through walls to get away from him. He took stairs two or three at a time and then bounded up them six or seven steps at a time when he pushed too hard jumping over a trick step and flew right over it. Soon he was leaping straight up whole flights of stairs and balancing on banisters as he discovered the flames that had turned the world crystal-clear around him… were also now strengthening and boosting his natural abilities to an unusual degree.

He wasn't complaining.

Even with one hand busy securing the bundle of fangs and making sure he wasn't about to give himself another dose of venom by squeezing too hard on it, he was making amazing progress. This was a sensation almost like the one he got flying. His balance was perfect, he landed exactly where he wanted, where he wanted and how he wanted. His awareness of his surroundings had expanded and he was capable of dodging a potential collision with barely a minute of forewarning. The only thing he had to be wary of was the slickness of his tread on the stone flooring and his grip, which he was already compensating for.

Seventh floor, left wing. Opposite the tapestry of the wizard attempting to teach trolls how to dance. A room that would open if you needed to hide something. From the knowledge Voldemort had shared… all Harry had to do was walk past the wall three times with the mental image of what he wanted to hide firmly fixed in his mind.

Easy enough, he had a handful of basilisk fangs he could sacrifice to that kind of cause.

He stalked past the blank stretch of wall three times, mental image firmly fixed in place and wondered if it would appear if he wanted to TAKE something from the room. Harry absently brushed a clump of filth off of his sleeve and focused again on his task. Somewhere to hide basilisk fangs. Somewhere to hide basilisk fangs. Somewhere to hide basilisk fangs- A door melted out of the stonework Harry was staring at and he lunged for it, barely waiting for the door handle to finish forming before he yanked it open.

Broken and damaged furniture (mostly chairs, tables, and various cabinets haphazardly stacked), perhaps hidden to hide mishandled magic. Thousands and thousands of books scattered all over the place in either in tottering piles or in bookcases. Various toys, Harry recognized a Frisbee with fangs and a winged catapult among the mess. Chipped bottles of congealed potions and corked bottles whose contents still shimmered malevolently.

Harry stepped past a pile of what looked like dragon eggshells, several rusting swords and a heavy, bloodstained axe. There was an enormous stuffed troll standing guard over a collection of hats, and a trunk that was overflowing with jewels. He even found a surprisingly large collection of clothes. Cloaks, robes, shoes, pants and skirts. Cages in various sizes, including one with a five legged skeleton in it. A chipped old bust of an ugly warlock. A few, heavy broomsticks. A set of dominoes. Various metalware, including cauldrons, trophies made from tarnished silver. Some suits of armour, some of which were disassembled and bolts of unused cloth.

There was a pile of picture frames and portraits that he would have otherwise completely ignored on his left, one of which seemed to be active. The occupant of the portrait caught his attention by jumping up and down in his frame, bright purple catching the corner of his eye. He'd only given it his full attention because of the flame he'd leaked earlier in the chamber of secrets. Starting a fire with the amount of crap in the room could start a fire that could potentially burn Hogwarts to the ground.

Picking his way through a pile of rolled up carpets Harry crouched down in front of the odd portrait and set it right-way-up. The occupant leaned back on his heels and grinned up at him, oddly purple eyes meeting his with absolute delight. "Well, I'll be a Sky's Uncle. Look at you! A little dirty, and gross, but wow! That flame! You're definitely one of mine!" Purple hair and eyes, both in vivid, jewel-toned colours. Interesting but ultimately not dangerous. He'd thought he'd accidentally leaked some flame again for a minute there.

Well as long as he hadn't started a fire he might as well go back to hunting down that goddamned Horcurx. Setting the portrait back against the trunk it had been hanging upside down and half off of, Harry straightened up to his feet. How suspicious was that anyway? An active portrait in a room that had to have been untouched since Tom Riddle? Every other portrait that had frames here had clearly abandoned them for other portraits but this one stayed behind?

Purple eyes widened and the grin on his face tilted into a proud smirk. "I come here to treasure watch sometimes, it helps pass the time."

Harry's eyes narrowed, that wasn't exactly alieving his suspicions, had the portrait somehow read his mind?

"Oh please, I don't need to be able to read your mind, you have one of the most expressive faces I've ever seen!" The portrait declared, smirking again and seating himself backwards into a large wing-backed chair, crossing one leg over the other. "Also I'm not one to invade one's privacy quite so much—Hey! Don't ignore me! I'm your ancestor!" Harry turned his back on his so-called ancestor and rolled his eyes. This portrait was beginning to remind him of a certain other portrait he knew, only Sir Cadogan wasn't nearly as unbearably smug.

"OH COME ON YOU LITTLE SHIT! DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING? I CAN HELP YOU! YOU KEEP BURNING YOUR FLAME LIKE THAT AND YOU'RE GOING TO LITERALLY BURN OUT AND DIE!"

Harry paused in the act of searching a dusty cupboard and snorted lightly. Like he was worried about that. If he was that close to death then he just had to destroy at least this one Horcurx before he died.

"Goddamn it, what are they teaching you kids today?! You're one good hit from the grave and the last moron I saw in here tore a perfectly good Sky flame into pieces and crammed it into Ravenclaw's Diadem!" The portrait whined, no doubt hearing his faint amusement. "Even if I'd been able to steal it I wouldn't be able to fence it with a goddamned Soul Fragment inside it! Fucking asshole RUINED a priceless artefact for no good reason!"

Harry did an about-face.

"All that money~" the portrait sighed. "It wouldn't even be good for decoration with all that malice floating around it, it would just contaminate and ruin all the other pieces."

"Where is it?" Harry rasped, grabbing the top edges of the portrait in desperation and forcing his raw throat to spit out the words. "Ravenclaw's Diadem."

"What are you doing out of school anyway? That looks like a Gryffindor uniform, shouldn't you be tucked away in Hogwarts somewhere? And just what are you going to do with it if I tell you? You won't be able to fence it." The purple eyed portrait cautioned. "Approach it carelessly and it'll eat you alive."

"This IS Hogwarts and I don't want to steal it…" Harry corrected. "I want to destroy it."

Skeptical violet eyes widened and then narrowed. "Do you even know how? It's not so simple to 'destroy'! I'd suggest you burn it with your flames but as pure as they are you don't have nearly enough at the moment to accomplish it! You're going to need something to break through the enchantments for you!"

"Basilisk venom good enough for you?" Harry countered dryly, setting down his burden and carefully picking a fang out of the bundle as an example.

"… if it's genuine." The portrait mused, leaning forward and eyeing the fang he was holding up with critical eyes.

"It's genuine." Harry muttered shortly, carefully putting the fang back with the others and pulled up his sleeve to show the purple haired man the fifty pence-sized scar just above the crook of his arm. "From a thousand-year-old basilisk."

The purple haired man's eyes nearly bugged out of his skull. "… that works."

OoO

The diadem was sitting innocuously on top of marble-topped dresser with half its drawers missing. It looked old and discoloured, hardly anything like the treasure his purple-haired 'ancestor' insisted it was, or would have been had it not been 'tainted'.

"Such a waste." The portrait complained, leaning against the edge of a landscape full of sunflowers. "An artifact powerful enough to still be active over a thousand years later and a Sky driven insane by his own instincts. If he hadn't already been so broken by the time he discovered this room maybe…" he trailed off, eyes staring off into the distance of fading sun painted into the landscape of the portrait he'd used to lead him to where the diadem was.

"Shut up." Harry snapped shortly, irritation breaking through the near-emotionless state he was in and fanning the heat inside him to a hotter blaze. He did not want to be hearing someone pity his parents' MURDERER. He slammed the fang down onto the diadem and held his ground as the thing screamed. It jerked and spasmed, wreathed like he'd stabbed a living creature and black blood, similar to what had come out of the diary, oozed out. Orange-tinged black smoke rose up out of it and lingered for a brief moment, howled miserably in a high-pitched and hollow tone and dissipated.

"Okay, it's dead! Come on you little idiot, you can dial it down now before you kill yourself!" The portrait snapped, pulling Harry's single-minded focus off the dead diadem. "Yes, just like that. Well done. Good work, nice job. Time to calm down now!"

Harry swayed and made to sit down where he stood.

"No! That's not the best place! Over here, come on! Here is better, there's a… nice and… comfy armchair here! Doesn't that sound better than the nasty, curse-juiced floor?" The portrait called from a portrait further away. "There are some clothes you can change into here too! Wouldn't you like to get out of what you're wearing and into something clean? You can have some of my old things, they're right here in this old trunk! One of my idiot descendants decided they were going to edit the family history and dumped all of my old stuff here, how lucky is that?"

That... did sound better. Now that he'd taken care of the diadem… he was finding it harder to ignore how bad he smelled.

The change of clothes the portrait offered turned out to be a ribbed turtleneck, a pair of canvas pants, metal plated boots, a pair of metal backed gloves that reached up past his wrist and a thick, calf-length leather jacket. All of it black and automatically resizing to fit him when he pulled them on. Harry transferred his wand into the pocket of his right glove the portrait insisted was made for it and kicked the stinking pile of clothes he'd been wearing as far away from himself as he could.

He didn't have the energy to make it much further and the 'comfy' armchair turned out to be lumpy in all the wrong places but Harry didn't care at the moment. With the immediate threat of the Horcrux taken care of he felt like he wanted to sleep away the next few years.

".. there we go, we can get you properly cleaned up later. We can deal with everything else when you're not a sneeze away from killing yourself. Who would have thought my treasure-watching would unearth you?"

Harry didn't have an answer for that; didn't even have the energy for the sarcastic retort he had on the tip of his tongue. All he had left in him was the energy he used to tuck himself underneath an old Ravenclaw robe and…

Sleep.

OoO

It had been a long time since the last Flame Active of the bloodline had come into their flames and it had been generations since one had boasted such a strong flame. The teenager had been burning said flames at such a high and intense rate that it was hard to believe he hadn't burnt himself out already. Even with the Black disposition going in his favour the boy should have burnt himself out within five minutes of lighting that flame and yet… it was obvious he'd been burning it for far longer than that, at least twice as long.

He was covered in blood and filth, the blood from the cut on his forehead had already dried. The crusted black sludge coating the boy's clothes had also partially dried. Wherever he'd been and whatever he'd been doing before the single-minded determination to destroy the Diadem had lit… it had to have been at least ten minutes ago to already be anywhere near that dry.

What was he doing trying to destroy it on his own? Where were his parents? Where on EARTH had he gotten those basilisk fangs? Just ONE was worth a king's ransom in gold and the boy easily had more than a fair dozen all wrapped up in a sweater of all things! Clearly still a student, the ruined uniform gave that away. Gryffindor from the tie holding the bundle of fangs closed. Interesting, there hadn't been a Gryffindor in the family since Phineas had seen fit to 'Seal' away the family history.

Felis Black smirked as he stared down at the child who'd unintentionally stumbled across his own birthright. Eyes tracing the vibrant purple hair that hadn't dulled in the least, even with the boy deeply asleep. With a flame like that… it would be downright impossible that the boy hadn't inherited the lion's share of the rest of the family's gifts as well. How long had it been since his last heir? Far too long.

It was about damned time he'd found another one.

So, he was in Hogwarts was he? No wonder the treasure room Phineas had dumped him in was full of such a random collection. He'd always assumed this particular portrait-frame been placed in Gringotts. The little bastard had taken everything that had made the Black family what they were and sealed it away. He struck off all mention of Flames out from the family, including the family's origins and during his tenure as Hogwarts headmaster he'd removed all traces of knowledge about Flames from the curriculum, keeping only the barest basics. The last he heard the only mention of which was used in divinations to discover your 'Soul Shade' and to balance calculations in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy.

All of the portrait frames Felis had access to where thrown into this room, inaccessible by him until the seal was lifted from the main portrait in the England estate. The sub-basements had been locked and forgotten.

To add insult to injury, Phineas had placed his portrait in such a way as to give him a good view of the loot the man could have otherwise have fenced. Priceless artifacts left in plain view, feeling almost like they were all within REACHING distance. Worse than that? He hadn't seen his wife in centuries! The ass hadn't even had the decency to keep his wife's portrait within visiting distance!

He'd tried reaching another portrait before but he'd been locked by a blood-binding spell into his original frames, one in the Lightning estate in London, the one in the Sky Manor in Italy and finally the one that used to hang in the corridor of Hogwarts third floor so many years ago. Which, in hindsight, was probably why Phineas had hidden everything in what seemed to be Hogwarts 'Lost and Found' room instead of the house.

Now though, his young descendant had touched his portrait and had released the seal keeping him trapped within his own portrait frames and the minor landscapes they connected with. He'd unwittingly pressing a blood-stained hand directly over the seal and the bindings had unraveled, he was free to travel to whatever portrait he could reach. He was free to explore Hogwarts at his leisure.

He didn't bother with trying to reach his wife's portrait, much as he might wish to; it would still be sealed, and would stay that way until he could convince one of his descendants into releasing it. Hopefully his newest charge would oblige him, unlike his last heir who'd taken his teachings and hadn't visited the Sky Estate since! With that in mind there WAS a portrait in Hogwarts he had every intention of meeting; it had been decades since he'd been sealed away. Phineas would have a portrait in the Headmaster's office. That meant he could go and show him EXACTLY how stupid an idea it was to seal him away and then put his own portrait in the same building.

He appeared behind the little shit and locked an arm around the bastard's throat. "Hello my cute little descendant..." He purred, voice low and threatening.

He allowed Phineas to get a good look at exactly who had a hold of him and his lip curled in an expression that was decidedly NOT a smile, one that bared his teeth. "… I think it's time we had a talk."

Chapter Text

Harry woke up to the sound of broken sobbing and rasping yelps, and moved before he was even fully conscious.

He wobbled from where he'd rolled off of his 'bed' and ended up on his knees, feeling out-of-sorts and sluggish with heaviness in his limbs. He was uninjured and well-rested; he could actually feel his magic this time, the sluggishness was coming more from the abrupt wake up than anything else. His magic felt like a ball of caramel coloured light in the middle of the inferno of violet still raging around inside of him. When his focus shifted away from his magic he looked down at the house elf he'd scooped up sometime in between actually waking up and hitting the floor, and allowed his arms to loosen.

"Don't do that." He mumbled as he pried the tarnished silver plate out of the elf's hands. "You're hurting yourself."

Dobby burst into fresh tears.

"DOBBY KNEW HARRY POTTER SIR WASN'T DEAD!" The house elf wailed, sinking to his own knees from where Harry had let him out of his lap. "DOBBY KNEW! THEY WAS TAKING AWAY HARRY POTTER SIR'S THINGS! DOBBY HAD TO STOP THEM! THEY IS NOT BE LISTENING! DOBBY HAD TO HIDE EVERYTHING BECAUSE HARRY POTTER SIR WAS NOT DEAD!"

That was why he'd been hurting himself? "You don't have to listen to them." Harry mumbled blearily, brain still in the process of unfogging as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes; running his tongue across his teeth, he grimaced at the taste. "You're a Free Elf remember?"

Dobby pulled the tea cosy off his head and mopped his face up with it. "Harry Potter sir isn't dead." He said.

"Harry Potter Sir isn't dea— Hang on, what?!"

"Dobby SAID yous wasn't dead! No one is be LISTENING!" the house elf sobbed with renewed tears, bawling with the abandon of a small child.

"To be fair, you DID die. It just takes more to keep one of ours down than most regular mortals." A voice interrupted, lazily calling out from nearby. "Nothing short of a complete decapitation would truly kill a Mouzey born with the full measure of the family gifts, not that anyone here would know that."

Looking towards the voice, Harry felt like his whole body feel like it was set to bursting into flames. His clouded memory cleared as he turned and caught sight of the violet haired man with purple eyes who was lounging indolently in his portrait. The man had his feet kicked up onto a foot rest and was leaning back in a plush armchair similar to the one Harry had just rolled out of.

The events that had brought him into the room came back to him with startling clarity. The silver plate dropped out of his hands and he faintly heard a shocked Dobby catch the rolling object before it could dump a precariously teetering pile of books over his head.

"Yep, told you he was going to dive right back into heart of his Dying Will. He'll be too deep to really do anything else but focus on what lit it in the first place. Would you please support him until he comes out of it? Don't let him burn himself out, try to feed him when he forgets and make sure you bring along one of the portraits. One of the miniatures will do; good thing you got him cleaned up while he was sleeping or you'd have no chance of doing it now. Good luck Dobby, you'll need it." The man addressed the sobbing house elf.

"Shouldn't yous be stopping him?!" Dobby choked out the question around tears.

"No, stopping him right now will only hurt him and we need to get him to calm down before he'll listen. He's far too deep into his Flame to listen to anyone right now. Let him wear the edge off and we'll see what we can do to help him… I look forward to meeting him when he's no longer lost to his Dying Will, he must be quite the character to light such a strong Flame—"

Harry didn't hear anything else, the violet tinging his vision drowned out everything. He snatched up the bundle of basilisk fangs, tied it to the back of his belt and left without another word, scooping up his broom as he darted past.

The next Horcrux was in Little Hangleton.

OoO

Harry sprinted down the corridors of Hogwarts with his Firebolt in hand, having snatched it up as he left, and searched for the first window that would open. It was late evening and Hogwarts was deserted. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep but it couldn't have been for that long; the most time he'd ever spent asleep was three days and there was no way school was over already. At this time of day the halls should be filled with people.

He was glad he'd decided against snatching up the cloak that had been acting as his blanket while he'd been sleeping. The weather was almost hot, not enough to really bother him but warm enough that the cloak would have pushed past his tolerance for heat. As used as he was to flying in Gryffindor robes, it felt liberating to feel the kind of freedom of movement his current clothing was offering him.

Finally finding an open window, he stepped through it without slowing down and swung himself onto his broom at the same time. He dipped for a bit before the Firebolt caught the wind, and within one breath and the next he was high above the castle and scanning the grounds.

Beauxbaton's carriage was gone, as was Durmstrang's ship. The Quidditch pitch was deserted, the monsters and maze cleared away. The Champion's box had vanished. Hogwarts itself was mostly dark, the only lights coming from a small smattering of windows. He'd never seen the castle so void of life. The silence would have made his hair stand on end had his emotions not felt so heavily muted; as it was all he felt was a mild discomfort. Hogwarts should not look so deserted. It felt… wrong somehow.

It would not stay that way for long, not if he could help it.

Harry knew the path Tom Riddle had taken to Little Hangleton the day he'd gone to visit the Gaunt house to confront his families, the Gaunts and the Riddles. He'd taken the Muggle way there, used money he'd tricked and stolen from his school mates and had exchanged it for enough Muggle money to buy a taxi ride to the town. Harry might not know the exact route there but the location was burned into his mind.

He'd get there or he'd die trying.

A white shape fluttered out of the air to land on the handle of his broom as he hovered for a moment, trying to pick the direction he was going to head to, and Harry wasted a moment giving his owl a gentle pet. "Hello Hedwig, I'm going to try and find Little Hangleton. Don't suppose you could help me get there?" He asked softly, the violet tinting his vision fading a bit as the owl leaned into the touch.

Hedwig nibbled softly at his gloved finger-tips and boosted herself into the air, expertly cutting through the wind and wheeling away from him in what he supposed was the right direction. She flipped into a little loop as if to ask him if he were coming and he let himself fall after her and back into the single-minded focus of his hunt.

OoO

Once upon a time, it had taken Tom Riddle HOURS to make the trip from Diagon Alley to the sleepy little village of Little Hangleton. Almost the whole of a day and he'd ended up arriving under the cover of darkness. It had ended up working in his favour as he'd managed to catch his Riddle relatives in the middle of their dinner; it had stoked Tom's need for drama and had set the stage for their murders. The Gaunts had been a convenient way to cover it all up.

It didn't take Harry even half so long to get there.

The little shack that had once been home to the last descendants of the Slytherin bloodline was an old, decrepit building slowly crumbling to nothing with age. Whatever magic that had once held it up had long since faded and it was now succumbing to the elements. The only magic he could feel around the house coalesced around the windows and doors, malignant in nature and clearly meant to keep the uninvited out.

When Harry swung himself off his broom so he could land on the roof, he went through it instead, brittle tile breaking under his meagre weight and bringing what felt like nearly the whole ceiling down with him.

Harry scowled and shook the dirt, plaster and cobwebs from his hair, and glared up at the gaping hole he'd made in the ceiling. There was no way anyone was going to miss that! The second anyone, like Voldemort, thought to check on the status of this particular Horcrux he was going to KNOW someone had destroyed it! Clicking his tongue in annoyance, he brushed the worst of the mess off himself and got to his feet so he could search through the mess he'd just made for his Firebolt. He sighed in relief when he spotted its handle peeking over what was left of the ceiling and realized it had somehow escaped falling through like he had via the virtue of him having released it during the fall.

The rotting floor creaked as he let his feet follow the foreign memories to where he'd find the next Horcrux, the ring that had been stolen from Marvolo Gaunt. Voldemort should have continued to keep wearing it instead of hiding it away once he lost interest in wearing it. He would regret leaving it behind where anyone with a grudge could find and destroy it.

Breaking straight through the wood of the floorboards over the Horcrux's hiding place with his foot, Harry kicked away the debris and looked down at the innocent-looking golden box Voldemort had once stolen from a younger Ravenclaw. It was singing sweet words of encouragement, and whispering at him to reach out and touch it.

Harry knew better to do so, even with gloved hands.

He levitated it out of the hole it was in and over to the hearth where he could safely crush the delicate little container with the heel of his boot. He stamped down on the warping box with deliberate focus, spite making sure he was grinding at as much of it into the stone as he could without actually touching the ring.

It broke apart with inconvenient ease, the ring it was housing tumbling out of it effortlessly, almost like it had been waiting for him. The tempting lure that had been calling on him to open the box grew louder and Harry realized it hadn't been the box that had been Cursed into calling him, it had been the ring.

The spite had his lips stretching into a cruel smirk as he reached for the bundle of fangs he'd tied to the back of his belt and pulled one free. A lick of pure satisfaction warmed his insides at the scream the Horcrux made as it died and left him baring his teeth at the sensation.

Three Horcruxes down, four more to go.

Crouching down, Harry gave the ring a kick and watched dispassionately as it rolled across the hearth with a series of metallic tinks. There was no other reaction from the ring, no flare of magic and the temptation to wear the thing had faded. Giving it a hesitant flick with the pinkie of his left hand, Harry ripped a bit of cloth off of his ruined school vest, and used it to pick the ring up. He gave the thing a stare-down, taking in the now cracked stone and band and bundled it up into the pocket inside the lapel of his jacket.

Like hell he was leaving it behind. Leaving the tiara in the room he'd found it in was one thing; it would be safe to leave there now that it was dead and no longer capable of drawing victims to it. He'd take the ring with him on the off-chance Voldemort came back to recycle it and make it into a new Horcrux.

Securing the fang back into the bundle he'd pulled it out of, Harry flicked his wand out of his glove and shrunk the bundle to put into a separate pocket. How lucky was he that he hadn't landed ass-first on the fangs when he'd come crashing in through the ceiling? He was going to need a case or something to hold them soon; he didn't fancy having to keep storing them in his pocket. Shrinking charms were notorious for failing at the completely wrong moment.

Kicking the front door out, Harry waited for a moment to see if the wards were going to react and then snorted. Warded to prevent entry but not against anyone exiting? Seemed like not even Voldemort was immune to the lack of common sense wizards seemed so susceptible to.

Rounding the house, Harry climbed the twisted tree near the side of the house, spotted his broom and called it to his hand. He felt it smack obediently into his waiting hand and checked it over for any damage. He hadn't even needed to verbalize the 'Up!'; the Firebolt had responded instantly to the thought. It was slightly dusty but otherwise completely undamaged. Swinging himself up onto the broom, Harry kicked off the tree branch without bothering to revisit the ground.

He was done here anyway.

OoO

The next Horcrux was a locket.

Harry looked down at the seaside entrance to the cave from his vantage point on his broom and sneered; Voldemort thought he'd been so thorough. He'd even tested the protections he'd laid out himself and had gone so far as to borrow a House elf off one of his followers. He'd had left the poor elf to die after satisfying himself that his Horcrux was safe, and had arrogantly never set wards up to alert him if the cave was ever breached.

He knew the entrances and exits. Knew the spells that had gone into protecting the place and the lengths the wizard had gone to make sure that whoever went inside never came back out. It was all in the memories that had been shared with him.

Harry didn't even bother with landing. He wasn't about to play the game Voldemort set up; he was done with dancing to someone else's tune. He'd been strong enough to break through the sink and floor of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, and that was marble that had been strengthened with magic over a thousand years. One little cliff wall wasn't going to be much of an obstacle.

He chose a dropping point and dove off of his broom right out of the sky. He focused on the wall and recalled the feeling Myrtle had inspired in him. Bright violet light streamed behind him like a comet tail and exploded against the brittle face of the cliff with a deafening bang.

He might as well have been cutting through paper.

He speared into the cave right over the subterranean lake and swept the rock-dust away from him as his momentum carried him far away from the falling debris that was crashing into the black water beneath. He knew from Voldemort's memory that it was filled with Inferi, which were zombie-like creatures that were faster than humans and would be ravenously hungry. If he were so unfortunate enough as to hit the water they'd tear him to pieces before he could even think of swimming to the surface and would chase him down should he miraculously make it to dry land.

Fortunately for Harry, his mind was crystal clear and thought of a solution to his problem before he even realized he might have one. He slipped his wand out of his glove, spelled a rope to attach to a crystal spire above him and pulled himself to the safety of the island in the middle of the lake with effortless ease. He landed heavily and his boots crunched a ways through the smooth black floor, leaving deep furrows and broken rock lined faintly with violet flames. Tugging his wand free of the rope he'd created he approached the pedestal standing at the center of the island with focused intent.

The Pensieve-like bowl the Horcrux was sitting at the bottom of was about as easy to break as the cave wall had been, it was only a matter of Harry kicking the basin clean off of the pedestal. It cracked and bounced across the black surface of the floor, leaking phosphorescently glowing green potion everywhere it went. The Horcrux flew in almost the opposite direction, leaving a trail of emerald drops to mark its path.

Harry avoided the puddles of potion and picked his way delicately across the floor towards it, knowing that if he let even a single drop of that potion touch him it would induce fear, delirium, and extreme thirst. Aiming his wand at the locket, he aimed a jet of water and hosed it and the immediate area clean of the potion. He pulled the bundle of fangs out of his pocket, dug one out, resized it, pocketed his wand again and slammed the fang down on the locket. When the blow skidded off the wet locket and lodged into the ground, Harry snarled silently and yanked it back out, unthinkingly reaching for the locket again so he could secure it for the next hit.

It was only when he had his hand wrapped around the thing did he realize that maybe grabbing it with his hand, even if it was gloved, hadn't been his brightest idea. He froze for a long moment as he waited for the thing to react, fang poised in the air over the thing.

Nothing happened.

Lowering the fang Harry gave the locket a flick with a finger and aborted the movement to spear the locket again when it popped open. A piece of paper fluttered out. Being mindful of the fact that the paper could be spelled any number of ways Harry set the fang aside and unfolded it with a flick of a finger.

To the Dark Lord
I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more.
R.A.B.

At first Harry couldn't comprehend the emotion building up inside him as numb fingers picked up the locket and letter.

The Horcrux he'd gone to so much trouble to get was fake, he'd known it the second he'd gone to destroy it. The real thing would have tried to get him to wear it, would have whispered seductively of power and paranoia. It would have sapped at his will and magic to empower the soul piece inside. Someone had gotten here before he had, had likely DIED trying to kill Voldemort and who knew where it was now, or what state the Horcrux was in.

Tucking the fake locket and letter in his pocket and then packing away the fang, Harry looked up at the hole he'd made in the wall of the cave and ground his teeth. Someone had discovered that Voldemort had created Horcruxes YEARS ago. Had decided to take care of it on their own and had stupidly died doing so, without telling anyone anything. Without sharing the extremely valuable information they held and had even gone so far as to remove the Horcrux to where he wouldn't be able to find it.

Whoever R.A.B had been, he'd just made Harry's job that much harder. Now he was going to have to find out who the letter writer was or where they were likely to have hidden the Horcrux or its remains. Harry NEEDED to know that it had been taken care of. Needed to take care of it himself if R.A.B hadn't died trying to do so. If the asshole hadn't died before they could do so and had become one of the Inferi that were currently crawling up out of the water. They'd likely been disturbed by the debris falling into the water when he'd broken the wall coming in. Goddamn it, R.A.B probably HAD gotten turned into one of the zombie-like creatures currently crawling up out of the water. For all he knew the locket could be at the bottom of the lake by now!

And the war could have ended years ago.

Now that the cool clarity of thought that he'd first awakened with was fading… There it was, he could now recognize the emotion building up inside him. How could he not when it was feeding the Flames inside him into an incandescent flare? It wasn't irritation, he'd long since passed the bench-mark for that emotion. No, he was far, far past that. What he was feeling now could only be described as…

Rage.

Pure, undiluted, all-encompassing, rage.

The flames erupted out of him with all the force of a bomb going off and exploded off of him in all directions. Inferi vaporized upon contact, water flash-boiled away upon contact. Harry's vision was lost to a hot vortex of purple-violet as he SCREAMED in near-hysterical rage at the sky.

The crystal cave detonated.

OoO

Harry blearily pushed away the rubble he was buried underneath and sat himself up, panting with exertion. He was covered in broken pieces of quartz crystals, stone and rock dust. He'd almost managed to bury himself alive and probably would have had he not had the inhuman strength necessary to shift the weight. The rubble that had almost buried him alive was gently smouldering with trails of violet flames; it was a repeat of what had happened in the Chamber of Secrets but on a much larger scale. He'd blown the roof of the cave clean off, flash boiled the water in the lake away and had vaporized the Inferi all at the same time.

Now that he'd 'napped' off the creeping edges of hysteria and agitation, he realized that he could have cast a simple detection spell. He had the Gaunt ring to act as a focus for the spell, it would have been child's play to find a similar signature to the one that still clung to the former-Horcrux like a foul stench.

The numbing state he was in at the moment seemed to have a breaking point, one at which Harry could wave good-bye to his current state of clarity, the result of which was a complete meltdown. Swiping the sleeve of his jacket across his face, Harry wiped away the rock dust clinging to his face and grimaced. How long would it be until his next meltdown? Until the next time something set him off and he let loose another explosion of flames?

Having taken that 'nap' must have calmed him down though, he'd woken up clear-headed again. Clear-headed with just the tiniest smidgen of annoyance. How was he going to get out of the crater he'd created in the cliff side? Damn it, he'd dropped his broom over the goddamned ocean! That was the downside of losing himself to the murkiness of his mind.

Harry fished the Gaunt ring out of his pocket, flicked his wand out of his glove and cast the spell he should have cast earlier. No response to anything in the cave; he'd gotten all worked up over nothing. Instead, the phantom tug of the spell was reaching out of the cave, was pointing in what was clearly another direction. How much time had he wasted? He'd been so tightly focused on making taking the most direct route to where the Horcruxes were that he hadn't been able to think, to use his brain! Sure he'd gotten rid of the ring but at the same time look at where he was now? He might have even lost his broom because of it!

"Accio Firebolt!" he incanted, nearly coughing the spell out as he pulled himself up out of the rubble. The spell would deliver his broom or fail; either way he was going to need to get himself to his feet. He was a mess, covered head to toe in dust and dirt. His throat was parched and he couldn't even remember the last time he'd eaten anything, it could have been days ago for all he knew!

Brushing himself off as much as he could, Harry sluggishly picked his way across the gently flickering bits of purple flame, stamping as much of it out as he could with his boots as he passed. They took the use he was putting them to with a surprising amount of resilience, his sneakers hadn't fared nearly as well as this. Were they spelled against fire damage? That was quite handy for the ability he'd so suddenly sprouted.

Though considering that the portrait he'd found in the junk room had mentioned being his 'ancestor', perhaps the fire-proof quality of his clothes weren't so surprising. The man had implied knowing about the flames he was using, had offered advice that had at the time fallen on near-deaf ears. He was going to have to have to talk to the purple haired man… if by some miracle he managed to make time for it later.

Harry reached the side of the cave that faced the ocean and scanned the air and waves for his broom, eyes tracing the path his spell was tracking. Catching sight of the Firebolt as it came arrowing up out of the water, he shifted the ring he was still holding to his wand hand and snapped his broom out of the air when it got close enough. He gave his broom a quick check-over for any damage and concluded that the 'do-it-yourself' broom care book Hermione had given him in third year had to have been the most useful book he'd read at Hogwarts. The spells he'd cast on his broom, thinking to protect the Firebolt from the fate his Nimbus 2000 had suffered, had worked better than he'd ever expected.

Swinging himself up onto his broom, Harry pushed off the open face of the cave he'd broken and transferred the Gaunt ring back from his wand hand to his left. He cast a Point Me charm ON the ring and it flew off his palm and speared off into the distance with Harry right on its tail. It was almost like playing a game of Quidditch, a high stakes game where instead of catching a golden snitch to end the game, he was chasing after a Horcrux.

The winner of which would be the last wizard standing.

OoO

The sun was just starting to rise when Harry pin-pointed the location of the next Horcrux.

He'd been stumped at one point when the ring had floated between what was obviously the halfway point between two Horcruxes. Harry had recast the Point Me spell running through the ring and it had refreshed the spell. It chose what was probably the closest Horcrux and lead him to a manor house somewhere in London, nestled in between two others and hidden from Muggle sight with magic.

Harry dropped into the yard, caught and folded the ring back into the folds of the bit of fabric he'd ripped off of his school vest and landed heavily. Tucking the ring back into the breast pocket of his jacket Harry shrank his broom, tucked that away too and kept his wand out and ready. The Horcrux was in a house, one that would have looked traditionally gothic had it not been for the snake decorations all over the place. Considering whose Horcruxes he was hunting, this was probably the home of a Slytherin the same ilk as Lucius Malfoy, someone who'd been given the task of guarding the Diary.

Was this the home of another Death Eater given the same task? Would they open the door if he knocked politely? Whoever answered the door wouldn't be very hard to overpower, he was strong enough to break through the walls if he wanted to… but he'd rather not give the house's inhabitants forewarning of his intentions. He didn't want anyone running off with the Horcrux; he'd already wasted enough time hunting it down.

Was the door even locked?

Testing out the door handle turned out to be a mistake; the snake that he'd assumed had merely been part of the decoration shot out and bit his hand. Harry swore and almost wrenched his wrist trying to get his hand free, even putting all of his not-so-insignificant strength behind it but it didn't work, the snake had an iron grip on him and wouldn't let go.

Bright gold eyes pinned him in place and kept him there while it looked down at him as if it were deciding what to do with him. Harry wasted a wild few moments wrestling with it before it loosened its jaw and released him, licking the blood off its lips with what seemed to be a satisfied look on its face. The snake rolled its eyes, spat a black key onto the ground in front of him, gave him a look that seemed to imply he was an idiot for forgetting his key and then sank back into becoming one with the wood of the door again.

Narrowing his eyes in irritation at the injury, Harry gave the black key on the ground a skeptical glare and kicked it across the footpath with his left foot to see if it was booby trapped as well. When it didn't react he picked it up with his injured left hand, figuring that he might as well given the hand was already injured, and nearly dropped the key again when it glittered a soft green that healed the bite. The cloth of his glove was repaired and the wet of blood slicking against his skin was cleaned.

Blood wards? He'd only ever heard of those and these ones that had seen fit to grant him entry? Was he related to whoever the house belonged to? He'd known that most Purebloods were related to each other but this was disgusting, what kind of idiot relied on blood wards when you were related to practically every Pureblood in the country?

Snorting, Harry took the invitation so readily given to him to break into the house, inserted the key into the lock, and let himself inside.

Immediately, Harry could tell that no one had been inside the house for a very long time; the wooden floor and the carpet of the stairs leading up to the first floor were the identical colour of dust. The wallpaper along the walls was peeling and there was a scent to the air that spoke of mold and years of neglect. What had once must have been a very grand looking house was grimy with age and disrepair. There was even some plant life growing inside, though most of it were vines creeping in from the cracked window sills and moss.

The house wasn't on the same level of decrepit the Gaunt shack had been, likely from the difference in the ages of the buildings and the quality of materials it had been built from, but it was still pretty disgusting. Harry had been raised in a house he'd kept meticulously clean and just looking at the mess was making him itch with the urge to start cleaning; not even the abandoned sections of Hogwarts was this nasty!

Harry didn't relax, if anything he felt even warier. Voldemort's current place of residence was quite a bit like the house he'd just broken into, who knew if this was one of his haunts? One of his Horcruxes WAS in the building and he had no reason to believe the place wouldn't be booby trapped to all hell given the warm welcome he'd been given at the door.

There was nothing in the foreign memories swimming around his head about this place, at least nothing that Harry could immediately sort through. Voldemort hadn't hidden a Horcrux here himself, this wasn't the location Bellatrix Lestrange had hidden the goblet he'd given to her for safe keeping. She'd hidden Hufflepuff's Cup in the Lestrange Vault. The manor could logically belong to whoever had written the note Harry had found in the fake Horcrux, the letter-writer had called Voldemort 'The Dark Lord' and Harry had only ever heard Slytherins and Death Eater's refer to the wizard that way.

The dramatic flair the letter had been written in certainly sounded very Slytherin-like; had he or she been a Death Eater who'd gotten sick of kissing up to an insane and violent half-blood?

Either way the fact that his Point-Me spell had lead him here so strongly meant that there WAS a Horcrux here that needed to be dealt with, and he was going to take care of it regardless of who got in his way. If this fed-up Death Eater got in his way he'd go right through them too, letter or no. If the Horcrux in this building was the locket he was searching for that meant Mr or Mrs Fed Up had chickened out on following through with their plans to destroy it and had hidden it away as Voldemort had intended, intentionally or unintentionally protecting one of the wizard's life-lines.

Fashioning a leash out of a length of wool he'd pulled off of the increasingly fragile bag of fangs in his pocket, Harry tied the ring securely to one end and fashioned a loop to hold onto with his left hand at the other end. He then cast the Point Me spell again and took the stairs up when the ring shot straight up and strained the wool to its fullest length. Locating the Horcrux was simple, tempering down the urge to pull a repeat of the explosion that had demolished the crystal cave wasn't nearly as easy.

He'd found the locket that had been missing from the crystal cave.

Fishing it out by hooking its chain onto the end of his wand Harry set it down on the floor and readied himself to destroy it, ignoring its now-expected siren-song of temptation. He selected a basilisk fang and resized it. He pinned the locket down by spreading the chain out and stepping on one end as he pinned the other with his left. The thing, as if it was sensing its coming demise, skittered on the floorboards like a trapped cockroach but couldn't escape.

He was just about ready to slam the fang down when a voice interrupted him.

"Yous is not be breaking into Master's house—!"

Harry didn't wait for the house elf that had caught him intruding in on whoever's house this was, didn't look up from his task or startle. He knew what house elves were capable of when they were defending something. Dobby had managed to toss Lucius Malfoy across a full corridor like a rag-doll without even needing a wand! It would mean nothing for this house elf to do the same to him. He had no time left, it was now or never!

The fang slammed home and the Horcrux screamed. Harry yanked the fang out of the crumpled Horcrux, the chain he was still holding steady keeping it from sticking to the end of the fang. The two halves of the locket popped open from the force of it to reveal two fading hate-filled red eyes. Broken glass clinked to the floor, falling out from the frames that had been holding them into the panels of both sides of the now punctured locket. Black ooze bled out of the locket as burnt orange-black smoke rose from the ruined piece of jewellery.

Grimacing, Harry reached for a moth-eaten pillow from one of the lounges nearby and stripped it of its case, used it scoop up the former Horcrux so he could stash it away in a pocket. The House Elf was standing stunned in the doorway, having witnessed the destruction, and seemed too shocked to move. If he could escape before the wrinkled little old thing came back to his senses he might just be able to make a clean getaway! He'd jump out of the window, it was only the first floor and he had a broom! He'd be long gone by the time it took for the thing to realize what was going on!

Harry managed two steps before the wind was knocked out of him. He was slammed into the coffee table and then the ground by what felt like a rugby tackle with the house elf attached to his waist.

"MASTER REGULUS!" The wizened old elf half-screamed, half-sobbed into the middle of his back, bony little hands clutching at the folds of his coat with a death grip. "YOUS IS CAME BACK!"

Harry heard the words as if they were spoken from underwater as he'd hit his head on the corner of the coffee table way down. He heard the house elf stop its hysterical wailing over the roaring in his head and struggled to stay aware.

"Master Regulus? Master Regulus? Are yous alright? Master Regulus?"

Harry closed his eyes and went limp, allowing the darkness creeping up on him to close in on him. He needed sleep anyway and he wasn't going to be in danger, not now, and certainly not from this house elf who'd mistaken him for what must have been a dearly loved master. His last inane thought before he lost consciousness was to wonder...

Was he just lucky or were all house elves this crazy?

"MASTER REGULUS!"

OoO

Waking up to the sounds of gross sobbing seemed to be a recurring theme for Harry.

The wizened old house elf who'd rugby-tackled him into the coffee table sobbed heavily into the folds of an aged dusting cloth but he wasn't the only one crying. The old house elf was playing company to Dobby, who must have found him while he'd been unconscious and now the two elves were feeding off each other's misery.

It wasn't hard scooping up the both of them as he got up, and he rearranged them so that they were both sat on his lap facing him. "What are you crying over this time?" Harry sighed as he awkwardly tried to comfort the wailing duo, cringing back as the volume of their crying rose.

"They're worried for you." A now-familiar voice answered, sounding highly amused at his discomfort. "How long do you plan on keeping up with the rate you're burning your flames at? At the rate you're going you'll die before completing your objective."

Harry scanned the walls looking for the origin of said voice. Slytherin Quidditch banners. Old newspaper clippings of Voldemort's first rise. Coupled with the silver and green room, complete with colour matching bedding, and it seemed like his theory of R.A.B having once been a Death Eater was gaining weight. Finally, Harry spotted the portrait leaning against the wall. The purple haired and eyed occupant of which was kicked back in his armchair, ankles crossed and up on a foot rest, enjoying a glass of wine and a book. The man set both distractions aside, folding his book down onto the arm of his chair and setting the wine onto the side table.

"So what do you care if I die before completing my objective?" Harry snapped, stressing the last few words sarcastically, trying to ignore the wailing happening in his arms as the hysterics reached an entirely new pitch. "I'm no one to you, you might call yourself my ancestor but what proof do you even have of that? I could be anyone."

Uncrossing his legs, the man sat up and leaned forward a little. "You would be correct but for one thing, have you looked in a mirror lately? Seen your own reflection at all? If you'd seen what I'm seeing I wonder if your doubts would hold together as much. Find a mirror and you'll see that our particular bloodline has a very distinctive calling card."

"A mirror?" Harry echoed, raising a cynical eyebrow. Slipping from the bed, he deposited his armful into the space he'd just vacated and bundled the two near-inconsolable elves up in the blankets he'd apparently been sleeping in. "What do you think I'm going to see in a mirror that I haven't seen before? Also where am I going to find one? I'm not exactly familiar with the house."

"Take a look around; this family has always been rather taken with their looks so you won't have to search very far before you find one, there will probably be one in every room and you'll see what I mean when you get a good look at yourself."

Spotting one set onto the wall near the windows, Harry approached it with a roll of his eyes and wondered why he was playing along with this. Then again, the implication that the man knew about the flames Fawkes had helped him bring to life was enough to get him to listen; he really couldn't afford causing another explosion. It was only when Harry was face to face with his own reflection did he realize why portrait seemed to be so very confident that they were related.

Harry was a smaller, younger version of the smirking portrait.

He might have been covered in dust, with the streaked lines of healed cuts sketched onto his face with remnants of dried blood but there was no mistaking the vibrant colour of his hair underneath it all. His eyes contrasted against the dirt on his face and they were the same jewel-toned colour of the flames he'd been using all day.

Violet, his hair and eyes were currently stained a searing hot shade of purple.

"What the hell?"

OoO

It had taken a solid week for his heir to wake up from their first meeting and in the meanwhile Felis worked his way through his old acquaintances among the current portraits still in residence at Hogwarts. There were precious few of them that remained, Phineas had been rather thorough in his eradication of the family history. There were enough left to vouch for his character and trust-worthiness to the newer portraits though, and it wasn't long before he managed to charm the answers to a few of the questions his newest curiosity had created.

It hadn't taken much to figure out the boy's identity, the whole castle was had been in an uproar over him. Putting together the fact that the boy had accessed his Dying Will meant he'd have had to have been in some serious danger to reach past his magic and grab for his Attribute. The only people in the school who'd been put in nearly that level of danger were the Triwizard Champions. Of those champions one was female, one had immediately been shipped back to Bulgaria accompanied by his highly worried parents and the third had stumbled into Hogwarts about two days after his heir had found him.

The last 'Champion' was the only one currently unaccounted for. He was confirmed dead with multiple eye witnesses but Felis couldn't confirm it himself due to the fact that the boy's 'body' had been 'stolen' from the Hospital wing.

Cedric Diggory had immediately been taken into the headmaster's office upon arrival and was interrogated; soon the shell-shocked blond was sharing the tale of how he'd survived the Killing Curse. His story had been stilted and his teachers had only managed to get the whole story out of him once he'd been dosed to the gills with a calming potion. The Hufflepuff had seen the curse coming, fainted and had woken up to the remains of a dead wasp smeared across his chest. While he'd been unconscious, England's current Dark Lord and his followers had surrounded Cedric's fellow Champion and had trapped the boy within a golden dome of light. The Hufflepuff had been paralysed with fear and had watched helplessly as the fourteen-year-old was blasted back by the Killing Curse.

Felis heard it all from the comforts of Phineas's portrait and no one in the headmaster's office had seemed to notice the extra pair of ears listening to the whole story.

Once he'd heard that, it had merely taken visiting the portraits lining said hallway to confirm his suspicions. A few moments of delicate and not-so-direct conversation, and he had confirmation that while the purple-haired teenager who'd unwittingly unsealed his portrait hadn't been seen ENTERING the hospital wing, he'd certainly been seen leaving it.

Harry James Potter, known to the Wizarding World at large as 'The boy who lived', had awoken his Dying Will and was very much the center of quite the serious tug-of-war. Or rather… he had been that central focus until very recently. The fourteen-year-old had survived the Killing Curse once before as a baby and, according to young Cedric Diggory's story, a second one. Not that anyone knew that little tidbit. The whole of the Wizarding World thought the 'Boy Who Lived' was dead and Felis wanted to keep it that way.

Harry had accidentally faked his own death, and from what he'd seen and heard in the last few days, he was more than happy to keep the secret of the boy's survival under his proverbial hat. According to what he'd managed to glean from Gryffindor's Portrait Guardian, Harry was always getting into some sort of trouble and the incident in the graveyard was hardly an isolated experience.

By the time Harry had been ready to wake up again, the castle had been evacuated; the only remaining souls being the few teachers who'd refused to leave, the headmaster and the house elves. One of which had had a rather interesting reaction to hearing the news that Harry was dead. Catching Dobby alone hadn't been easy but the effort had been well-worth it as he'd barely been able to deliver the news before the elf disappeared with a pop and reappeared by his charge's side. Felis couldn't physically reach out and take care of his new heir but he was well acquainted with finding hands to do the job for him, hands that would both be grateful for the opportunity and incredibly loyal.

Harry's fall back into the deepest depths of his flame had been rather expected, what with the knowledge of events of the boy's life explained to him by over a hundred portraits. Felis knew that his heir wouldn't be in any condition to listen to a word he had to say until the task he'd set for himself was done and couldn't blame him.

He'd have been in exactly the same place had he been in the boy's shoes.

With that in mind, he knew Harry wouldn't listen to him if he tried to get the boy to sit down for the whole history of their family and would likely walk away the minute Felis tried to leverage him into taking up the mantle of The Ghost and the family business. The boy would vanish for parts unknown before he could finish the word 'thief' and the house elves would go with him. He would lose his heir to the instincts the boy had been born with and Felis would never see him again.

He couldn't allow the boy to leave him behind! It would be a crime to waste that kind of potential!

Driven by the need to defeat the Dark Lord who'd killed his parents and had ruined his life, Harry's only focus would be the destruction of however many Horcruxes Voldemort had left. He'd want to get stronger, move faster and… he'd want to learn how to sneak around. To that end Harry would need master his new ability to call upon his Flames. It would be simple to entice him into the introductory stages of training that would lead him into stepping into the shoes of The Ghost. Judging from how worn-down his heir looked and the saturation of flame in his hair he'd already had a minor melt-down and likely instinctively knew just how dangerous letting his flame get too low was.

For anyone else, stepping into Dying Will Mode was life-saving; it was a rush of strength, adrenaline and focus to get things done. For someone born into the Mouzey bloodline? It was downright lethal and a step down from their normal state of being. Harry looked like he'd done exactly what his bloodline had done for generations, stepped into Hyper Dying Will Mode right upon calling up his flames and had then steadily burnt himself out until he'd dropped down into Dying Will Mode.

Caution and self-preservation would have flown to the wind.

Given his current state, his meltdown would have to have been rather spectacular, he'd arrived at the Black Family manor looking like he'd keel over at any moment. Felis would have loved to have seen the aftermath; given the purity of Harry's flames the resulting explosion must have been magnificent.

"How many Horcruxes do you have left to cross off your list?" Felis asked, getting to his feet and walking to the edges of his portrait. He enjoyed the startled jump he earned from his heir at the direct question and leaned back on his heels, waiting for the answer.

"… three."

"And how many have you already taken care of?"

"Four."

Felis whistled his appreciation and grinned admiringly down at his descendant. "That is amazing, you haven't even been trained in how to use your flames yet and you're already halfway finished! Well done, but now that you're here, how would you like to locate the rest without half killing yourself? Stay here for a bit and I'll be able to teach you how to both control your flame and give you a few lessons on how to defend yourself."

"… here? Why here?"

"Because here is where our family started in England," Felis replied, arms stretching wide to indicate the whole house, "… that and the training rooms should still be in the sub-basement. Restore primary control of the Wards to me and I should be able to unlock them quite easily."

"Sub-basements?"

"Training rooms, labs and treasure rooms. We also kept the archives downstairs as well if you're interested, generations worth of observations on our family flames are kept in those archives… interested?"

"… lead the way."

Felis swept into a bow with a flourish and straightened back up with a sharp grin.

"Right this way~!"

Chapter Text

Harry tracked his ancestor easily as the painted figure flitted from portrait to portrait, following Felis at a run.

"My name was Bonaventura Gasparo Noir Mouzey before I changed it." The portrait introduced himself, leading Harry from the bedroom he'd woken up in. "As far as anyone in Italy knows, Bonaventura Mouzey died with the rest of his family in Italy, and all anyone in England knew I was that I had always been Felis Black. Over here now," Felis called from the hallway next to the stairs and gestured for Harry to follow as he flitted down each picture on the wall, leading downstairs.

"The Mouzeys started out as an Assassination Famiglia but when I took over I changed our name and took us in a newer, much more lucrative and safer direction. One that wouldn't have us with the entirety of the underworld banding together again to wipe us out. The situation back in Italy was becoming rather dangerous for the continued health of the family line so I moved us here. Forget everything you ever thought you knew about the 'Black' family, it's all a lie; this is where the family began in England and that was just a little under four hundred years ago…"

Felis seemed to like the sound of his own voice. Harry didn't even bother drawing the breath needed to tell the man he couldn't care less about the information the man was currently sprouting. He had a feeling the man already knew it was just white noise to him.

"—stealing objects is also easier than stealing lives, and there is so much more fun to be had when obeying the laws of Ownership in the Magical World~!"

Sighing minutely, Harry tuned the man's voice out and watched the purple haired figure with sharp eyes instead, noting how the occupants of the portraits the man was so casually romping through reacted. Generations of Black family members dropped what they were doing to move if they were in the way. A portrait of a crowded ballroom behaved the same, with the dancing sea of people splitting in half mid-dance like the Red Sea. Not a single one protested his presence, not even those he interrupted within their personal frames.

All of them, to the last man, woman and child, stepped back from him and dipped into a bow or curtsey. It was an amazing show of respect for a portrait that had purposely been sealed away in a secret room in Hogwarts for who-knew how many years.

"Now, you're going to have to key yourself into the wards before we can get you into the training rooms and, if memory serves me correctly, to do that you're going to have to unseal the Lady's Portrait on the ground floor."

Harry spared a bit of his attention from navigating the unfamiliar house and observing the strange behaviour of the other painted individuals to give the purple haired man a look Felis had no trouble interpreting.

"Purple hangings, should be the largest portrait on that level. To unseal it, do what you did with my portrait, simply dab a bit of blood to the frame." Felis answered with a sigh of his own at the unvoiced question. "At least that's where it was. Primary control over the house was maintained by that portrait— HEY!"

Now that he knew what he was looking for, Harry abandoned the man to his monologue and darted ahead, inwardly seething at having had to wait for the information just to appease the man's need for the dramatic. It was like he didn't know how to answer with a simple 'yes' or 'no'.

Annoyingly, the portrait of his ancestor beat him to the ground floor and was waiting for him, arms folded with a foot tapping in a portrait across a set of moth-eaten, dusty and faded purple curtains. Harry would have mistaken the area for an oddly-placed window and ignored it had he not been looking for it.

"If I didn't know what was pushing you so hard I'd be inclined to think you were being rude." Felis sniffed in offended dignity, staring down his nose at him with what was probably supposed to be a glare but it looked more like a pout. Rolling his eyes Harry pulled a glove off and used his wand to give himself a shallow cut. Pocketing his wand he pushed the hangings aside with one hand, held his bleeding thumb ready to unseal the portrait and—

"FREAKS!" a terrifying voice shattered through the house. "MUDBLOODS! FILTH! STAINS OF DISHONOUR!" The dusty purple curtains abruptly came to life and whisked away to flatten themselves to the wall, revealing the portrait Harry had been about to unseal in all of its 'glory'.

The portrait was of an old woman with sallow and yellowed skin that stretched taut as she screamed. Her sunken, baggy and bloodshot grey eyes rolled wildly with her rage and her mouth frothed and dripped with drool. Her wild eyes bulged at the sight of Harry and the portrait behind him. Stringy grey hair completed the vision and clawed hands brandished forward as though to try tearing at Harry's face. "TAINT OF SHAME ON THE HOUSE OF MY FA–"

Harry took the threat of the reaching hands as if they were real. His right hand formed an instinctive flame-sheathed fist and punched clean through the portrait. Violet filled his vision, a deafening bang rocked the house and the hall filled with flames that flickered to pulse of his racing heart.

Felis, having been shocked to statue stillness, was sure that if he'd still had a heart it would have stopped beating. He'd been expecting the lovely visage of his wife and had gotten something entirely different instead. Harry didn't hear the portrait's shocked yelp as he reached forward to brace himself against the ruins of the burning wall with his other hand so he could yank his fist out of the wreck. He ripped the burning portrait from its anchors and dropped it to the ground at his feet.

His first and immediate thought was to stamp out the flames before he burned the house down as flamelets had already spread out across the hall. However, when he went to do so he noticed his flames weren't burning the way they had through the crystal cave. They instead licked across the carpet, flickered for a moment before smouldering out with hissing crackle, leaving behind the scent of burnt wood, plaster and dust. The wall was another story, it was still on fire and was quickly being eaten away by creeping little flamelets. The purple flames were consuming large stretches of wall and faster than Harry thought to try stamping them out they ate through what was apparently a facade, revealing a secondary wall behind the first he'd just destroyed.

Stepping back and pulling out his wand Harry coughed out a spell that banished the smoke, revealing the damage. The previously walled off area showed that the Black family had done some remodelling of the house in the time since the area had been hidden. The walls were a deeper green instead of the Slytherin shade of the fake wall and were patterned with random gold lightning bolts instead of snakes. The remains of carpeting that hadn't been pried up to show bare floorboards were a perfectly preserved and matching forest green.

Set into the wall directly over where the first curtained-off portrait had been, was another one.

"Thank all the gods." Felis's portrait behind him breathed, sounding so relieved that Harry heard the distinct tones of a waver in his voice. "For a moment I thought Phineas had altered… I suppose this would be the only way he could have wrested control of the wards away from Demeter. Hate to admit it but he was clever in his own way, the little bastard."

The curtains hiding this portrait weren't moth eaten, merely a bit dusty, and Harry felt the tingle of magic tickle his fingertips as he brushed them aside. He even recognized a few of the runes sewn into the fabric, which were mostly for cleanliness and preservation. Eyeballing the portrait that was revealed, Harry relaxed as the difference between the portrait he'd just destroyed and the one it had been hiding became clear.

The revealed portrait was one of a young witch, caught slumped and unconscious with her head tilted and resting against the shoulder of the plush purple armchair she was resting in. Her long, thick black hair fell over her shoulders and framed her face in a tumble of wild, dark curls. When Harry pressed his still bloody thumb to the frame of her portrait the sweep of dark lashes resting on the woman's dimpled cheeks fluttered open to reveal grey eyes.

Felis was at her side instantly, disappearing from the portrait behind him and appearing beside the woman to help her sit up. Harry huffed at the way the portrait hovered protectively over the woman and didn't even bother rolling his eyes. He wasn't about to destroy THIS portrait, he wasn't so far gone that he'd attack for no reason… the other portrait had deserved it for the way it had startled him!

"Welcome back, my lovely," the portrait murmured, gently brushing the hair away from the woman's face. "Be a dear and open the way to the training rooms? We've got a new heir to train."

OoO

There were times during the 'training' Felis put him through where Harry honestly wasn't sure if he liked or disliked the person he was becoming. The oscillation between three states of emotion, his regular self, overly passionate, and then emotionless wasn't helping, but he needed to get used to it and recognize the differences between each state. He also needed to learn how to pay very close attention to his emotions, or lack thereof, because he was currently able to switch between all three without noticing.

A sign of that was in the fact that no matter what he did, no matter how hard he pushed himself or how fine his control over the purple flames became, there was always a little bit of purple in his hair and eyes. The closest he'd gotten to fully letting go of his flame was halfway into the afternoon when he mastered the ability to step down into a state of being Felis called 'Dying Will Mode', which was the passionate and emotion-fueled flame that had him demolishing bathrooms and detonating caves.

Controlling the wild flame he'd called on wasn't easy and stepping down into Dying Will Mode without detonating was unbelievably difficult. Thank Merlin the training rooms had been built to last against exactly that sort of abuse. He looked halfway normal when in Dying Will Mode, his hair faded back to black though it retained a bit of a purple sheen. The same couldn't be said for his eyes, which remained the same alien shade of purple. So far he'd managed to make the flame in one of his eyes recede once, but hadn't managed to replicate it since then. Not that he was going to do that on purpose again, the change in his vision had left him dizzy.

The downside to that state of being was that his emotions were rather violent, uncontrollable at first and very strong. He wanted to get things done and he didn't CARE how it got done, just that he made it happen and damn who he had to go through to make it happen. It was the exact opposite of the flame he'd first called on, what Felis called 'Hyper Dying Will Mode'.

Hyper Mode pushed away all of his emotion and left him with a cool and calm, yet highly focused energy. He had a goal. He only had so many resources available to him. He could push away the urgency for a while and focus on what he had to do in the moment to get what he wanted. It was a cool headed approach that took advantage of everything he had, all the resources he could pool together and made the word 'analytical' seem tame.

When he'd first called on his flame it had been wild and uncontrolled, it had left him oscillating somewhere in between Dying Will Mode and Hyper Dying Will Mode with no balance whatsoever. Most of that had been desperation, some had been exhaustion and the rest was the culmination of years of stress. How his ancestor had managed to calm him down enough to get him to where he was currently able to control his 'temper' was a mystery to Harry. How much experience did the man have talking family members down from mouth-frothing rampages?

"I was painted over four hundred years ago so I have all sorts of experience with taming wild Cloudlings~! Also you're very much like my first-born, so similar in temperament that it's almost like you're his clone." Felis called out with a smirk in his voice.

"Ask me if I care about your life's story." Harry ground out irritably, the sense of urgency itching at him to get back into tracking down the Horcruxes. Using his flames had helped wear the edge off a little bit, and even he could tell he was picking up everything he was shown at the kind of speed that would have made anyone jealous but… it wasn't fast enough for him. The last few hours he'd spent learning how to tame his flames felt like he'd wasted the time it had taken him to learn. It was driving him insane! "Get on with it already; unlike you, I don't have all the time in the world!"

"… so much like Castor." His 'ancestor' muttered, clicking his tongue. "It would take moving to the Sky Estate's training rooms to get any further in your training. These rooms are basically for beginners, meant to contain family members when they first come into their flames. Emergency training, if you will. You've pretty much cleared it in record time—"

"Emergency training? Why didn't you tell me to go to the other place from the beginning?!" Harry nearly snarled, walking right up to the portrait he'd interrupted, nose to nose with the canvas and absolutely itching with the urge to punch a hole through it.

Felis raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you trying to say you didn't need it? At the rate you were going, you'd have died the next time your flames burst out of your control."

Damn it, the man was right. He'd known the truth of that in the immediate aftermath of the explosion that had ripped apart the crystal cave. It was a lucky thing he'd recouped flames during his brief 'nap' or he'd have apparently burned himself out several times over by now, even with his so-called 'exceptional' reserves.

That wasn't stopping the thrum of heat and the incessant need to keep working towards his eventual goal. The training was too easy. Running up and down the indoor obstacle course, learning how to trust and use his flame to support and bolster his abilities and then to actually use that flame on its own? He'd managed all of that within the first few hours of being told how as he'd always had a lot of trust in what his physical body could do. He wouldn't have been a Seeker if he hadn't. Extending that to boosting his physical abilities with his flame was as easy as anything. It felt a little bit like how Quidditch felt to him, like he barely needed to be taught. His flames were so close to the surface that it was like he simply needed to crook a finger and it would come to his aid. All he needed was someone showing him the ropes and he was flying.

Currently the training rooms were starting to make him feel like he wasn't moving forward at all, like he was simply wasting the time he could have better put to use to breaking into Gringotts. Hufflepuff's Cup was waiting for him to destroy it.

"You're nowhere near ready to tackle that particular job." Felis's voice broke into his thoughts, jostling him out of the dangerous mental slippery slope that would have had him sliding halfway down into Dying Will Mode.

"When will I be ready?" Harry snapped, letting a bit of the heat flaring up inside him out.

"… when you start wanting to be around people again." The man said coolly, eyes pinning him in place.

Harry flinched and avoided the man's gaze.

This was where Harry was starting to dislike the person he was becoming. It wasn't so hard to believe that the 'Black' side of his family tree were assassins-turned-thieves now that he was stuck with having lit the disposition to life. He was left wondering how no one had seen it in him from the beginning or how he'd never noticed it in himself before now, it was so obvious in hind-sight.

It was disturbingly easy to step into the shoes of a thief-in-training.

There was no hesitation or second-guessing. He loved the newfound freedom of movement using his flames granted him, loved the absolute control he now had over his body, and to an extent 'liked' the cool distance Hyper Mode put between him and his emotions. He could push back his worry and stress to deal with later. He could analyse them at his leisure and pick apart his own motives… however it all came rushing back to him the second he exhausted too much of his flame and lose himself to the very emotions he'd been pushing away.

The change between the two very distinct flame-modes was jarring and when it wasn't explosive it was highly embarrassing, even with house elves as the only witnesses to his inevitable meltdowns. He knew they'd never tell a soul, and would probably take the 'secret' to the grave, but it was still embarrassing enough that Harry wanted to Obliviate himself of the moments he lost control.

In the beginning, he'd noticed the distance he'd been putting between himself and the house-elves and Felis; he'd avoided the House elves and had treated the portrait with mistrust. In Hyper Mode he'd picked apart the reasoning as to why he was keeping everyone at a proverbial arms-length and the thought stayed with him.

The house elves were very high-strung and fed off each other's emotions, when one dissolved into tears the other would follow and Harry just plain did not like setting them off. He didn't like the sight of tears, especially not in such innocent little faces and he couldn't bear the thought that he was somehow causing that. Avoiding them and the hysterics was just the most logical move to make in that situation. He might have been hurting their feelings a little but it was better than hurting their feelings all the time and if he avoided the sheer level of noise the two generated when they really went at it at the same time? Silver lining.

With Felis… he hadn't had a defense teacher yet who hadn't tried to kill him and the lessons the man was putting him through felt very much like Defense Against The Dark Arts. The meaning behind learning how to use actual flames wasn't helping when his end-goal was to defeat a Dark Lord.

He'd gotten good enough at controlling his flames that he no longer detonated whenever he stepped down into Dying Will mode, but the trade-off was a complete emotional meltdown without the explosion to hide behind while it happened. The energy that WOULD have gone into the explosion was channeled elsewhere, like whatever he happened to regret most at that particular moment. He had the feeling that had Felis been capable of it he'd have expired laughing when Harry had finally showcased his new control by promptly going off in search of the House-elves, tackling THEM and apologizing for his behavior at a loud bawling howl.

When he'd come back to himself, Harry almost wished he could still detonate. Even behind the frosted wall of Hyper mode he could feel the dull burn of embarrassment every time he remembered the incident and hadn't been able to look the elves in the eye since. He also had the feeling they were avoiding him as well, both sides feeling the burn of the hours-long session of hysterics that had broken out and the rounds of tearful apologies from all sides. Harry was also pretty sure he'd apologized to Felis too and had tried climbing into the portrait itself to boot. Fortunately everything in the training rooms, including the wall-to-wall portrait mirroring the room, was spelled backwards and forwards against Felis's crazy descendants destroying things whilst in the grips of flame-fueled insanity.

He'd lost a grand total of three hours to the hysteria.

Harry didn't like it but there was no in-between state, or rather there was but it was hair thin and not a state he was capable of maintaining just yet. His body may have naturally been inclined to stepping into the emotionless 'Hyper' state but even that was exhausting after a while.

Sights and sounds were incredibly heightened, his natural balance became something preternatural and his physical abilities had become something he knew would have terrified him had he been in his right mind. Enough strength to tear through enchanted and hardened marble and the control to make it happen any time he wanted, coupled with an emotional distance that cared nothing for morality or regret?

The Harry Potter he'd been before the violet flames had flared to life would have been horrified at what he'd become. He could reflect on his abilities as much as he wanted, analyse his former behaviour and morality, but he didn't feel any of it. It didn't even happen when he was in Dying Will mode; he was too busy feeling every other emotion.

He was a mess, was it any wonder he didn't want to be around people at all right now?

"Well, it's not like you can force yourself to want to be around people." Felis muttered almost to himself. "In any case, you've come far enough along that you're ready for the training rooms at Sky Cottage. Head to the Portkey room, I'll meet you there."

"Finally." Harry muttered as he headed for the door.

"Oh, and call the House Elves for me? We can't leave them here, that would be too cruel~!"

Even with his emotions so heavily dampened he felt himself flush to the tips of his ears. Harry gritted his teeth against the burn and stalked out the door, wishing his hearing wasn't good enough to pick up the sounds of the man's laughter through the closed door.

His 'ancestor' was a jerk!

OoO

Harry managed to catch himself slipping fully into Hyper Mode when the portkey released him from its spinning upon arrival. He adjusted pretty much immediately, which allowed him to keep his feet. He didn't fight it and instead let momentum carry him and followed through with the wild spin the portkey tossed him into at the end of the journey. He twisted like a cat so he could land on both feet and bent his knees to take the impact.

Keeping the contents of his stomach on the inside and the world from continuing the spinning afterwards was another problem all on its own. Straightening, he wobbled backwards until he was pressed bodily up against a cool wall and delicately flattened a gloved hand against his mouth in an effort to calm a dry-retch. Following Felis's instructions and trusting the who-knew-how-old portkey to the 'Sky Cottage' the portrait had mentioned turned out to be a rather stupid mistake.

The ride had been rough.

"Exactly… how old… was that portkey?" Harry gagged around the hand he'd plastered over his mouth.

"About as old as my portrait is." Felis answered gleefully from where he was watching from a portrait set over the fireplace across the room. "Welcome to Sky Cottage."

Jerk. Felis was a jerk and he was damned lucky his Portraits were protected against the kind of retaliation he'd dealt to the ghoul who'd taken over the wards at the other house.

When Harry's stomach settled, he outright declined a tour of the house and instead followed Felis's wife Demeter as she sighed knowingly and led the way to the training rooms.

He hadn't interacted much with her since then, having been wholly focused on either his training or controlling the unstable emotional roller-coaster it put him through. She hadn't minded though and had watched his training from the sidelines and followed them as they moved through the rooms. She kept up in the mirrored training course in the painting using a spell he'd never heard of that had pale gold wings attaching themselves to her ankles. She leaped the same distances her husband did without fear and had a spell-version for practically everything her husband taught, which Harry mentally filed away for future use.

She did all this wearing voluminous skirts that should have rightfully tripped her up.

Had Felis not been so thoroughly glued to her side at every moment he wasn't demonstrating something to him, Harry would have wanted to get to know what she was like. The woman seemed to understand the 'mood' he was in and didn't push him, instead she called out encouragements and threw out bits of advice when she wasn't distracted by Felis and enjoyed watching him practice. That was all he really allowed himself to notice about her and after witnessing the way his 'ancestors' acted while he was 'busy'. He was studiously not paying the slightest bit of attention to the cooing, cuddles, sweet-talking and giggles going on in the portraits spanning the walls of the training rooms; the way they carried on got old fast.

As it was, he couldn't spare the time or patience; it had been sweet at first, now it was just irritating as all hell. He was also compared to someone named 'Castor' more times than he could count who was apparently the couple's first-born son.

"And where is this mysterious 'Castor', doesn't he have a portrait?" Harry asked once, resting on his heels for a bit on top of a tall brick tower near the wall, thoroughly fed-up by the comparison after what had to be the fifth time.

"You'll meet him when I finally decide to unground him for being a little shit. Which shall be never." Felis snorted.

"Well, you did say three hundred years… isn't it about time you let them out of the house?" Demeter asked laughingly, landing softly not too far away from Felis. "We're over that anyway because somebody got sealed away."

Harry stared at the two, had they really sealed away their son's portrait for over three hundred years? "… what did he do?"

"… you know I've quite forgotten? But I'm sure he deserved it."

"You left HIM in charge of children?" Harry asked Demeter, face absolutely expressionless.

"Yes, it does seem to be a bit of a mistake doesn't it?"

"Oi."

OoO

Throwing himself back into training, he didn't give the subject much further thought, not until three other figures joined the couple in the painting mirroring the training room. He gave the three shrieking adults (two purple haired and eyed men and one woman with long orange-streaked purple hair) a side glance but was content to ignore them in their attempt to murder their father. When the 'children' weren't trying to get their own back for being sealed away by their father for whatever infraction had gotten them into 'time-out', they were trying to catch his attention to introduce themselves.

Castor, the oldest, was a more relaxed version of himself. He didn't take Harry ignoring him in favour of training personally and instead vanished after a few hours to hunt down his own immediate family. He popped his head in every now and then with other portrait individuals but didn't bother introducing them.

Pollux, the next youngest son was almost the exact opposite; he seemed affronted at being 'brushed-off' and took catching his attention as a personal challenge. He wasn't as wordy as Felis was, but like his father, he preened under any attention.

The youngest and Felis's only daughter Vega didn't spend much time around Harry after that first greeting, she vanished like her older brother had in order to locate her 'Knights' and children. The streaks of orange in the woman's otherwise purple hair had the hair raising on Harry's arms and somehow he knew which of the three children was his progenitor. Thank god she hadn't passed that particular trait down. Harry didn't think he could handle the Amber Aspect on top of the Amethyst Attribute Fawkes had already helped him bring to life.

The peanut gallery watching him train grew every time he so much as turned around; men and women with jewel-toned hair popping in and out of the training rooms. The colour of majority being purple but Harry spotted members with blue, red, green, and indigo with a very rare few yellow-haired and eyed people. He tried not to think too hard about what Voldemort would have done with the ability to actually call on the Lord Attribute he'd been born with in the casual way his forbearers were displaying and instead concentrated on what he was doing.

Learning how to trust in his flames and physical abilities had been the very basis of what he was learning. Felis tested his ability to dodge by allowing him access to the correct training rooms and skipped that particular lesson, the years of Quidditch and navigating the halls of Hogwarts for so many years had apparently left him an expert there… or so the man claimed. That 'expertise' also carried him through the skills test for sensing magic as well as detecting and avoiding traps.

"As expected of a Hogwarts student." Demeter noted proudly from a portrait across the door as he exited the 'test' room, leaning up against her husband's shoulder. "Even with the teachers as next to useless as they currently are, at the very least the castle is keeping up the proper learning environment. You passed that one with flying colours!"

"… Proper learning environment?" Harry asked as the door behind him closed with a sharp snick. He'd actually enjoyed going through that room; the fake doors, pitfall traps, moving platforms, false steps and slippery tiles had been the least of it. He'd been kept on his toes through the whole maze-like 'room' in order not to end up dumped onto the slide that had him returned right back at the beginning like his first few run-throughs.

"Didn't that room remind you of Hogwarts?" Demeter asked with a laugh, "It's where I got the inspiration for it! Hogwarts is practically THE greatest training environment for young witches and wizards! The doors change, can be real and can even be a wall pretending to be a door, moving staircases with trick steps have her students learning to recognize these things or they don't get to classes on time. You have to step quick, smart and fast for you just to get to class or you end up in detention and it all starts at the age of eleven!"

Which made sense; Harry hadn't noticed because he'd adapted to the environment pretty much immediately, unlike poor Neville who was STILL getting lost in the corridors and caught in trick steps and traps. The trap room didn't take very long to get used to, Harry adjusted his mind-set to expect the traps that were sprung on him and he reacted accordingly.

It was when Felis combined the two rooms, the Dodge and the Trap room, that he felt like his training practically ground to a complete halt.

Harry found himself dumped into the slide that sent him back to the beginning of the training room more times than he cared to count and smarting from more than one phantom injury. The wards on the room wouldn't allow for an actual injury but it did simulate them. 'Injuries' stung and if he was 'cut' he felt like he bled, bruises ached and one time Harry learned what it felt like to have his nose broken, having been slammed face-first into a wall on a miss-step into a trap.

His spectators found this hilarious.

Some of them cheered him on like Demeter did and called out encouragements with her and advice that he sometimes found useful but really mostly ignored. The OTHER spectators leered from the portrait and hooted, hollered and carried on like it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen. They treated him like free entertainment and the only thing that stopped Harry from actively trying to set the portrait on the wall on fire was the fact that he KNEW he needed them, the fact the portraits were protected and… they were unwittingly dropping information.

Information that was slowly coagulating into a plan.

He only had three more Horcruxes to destroy and the only reason he was putting himself through the training he was currently pushing himself through was to get to the one hidden in Gringotts. If he went for and killed Nagini first Voldemort would have his warning that someone was hunting his Knight-Replacements. That meant Harry would have to wait to kill her for the time being, no matter how easy and tempting a target she made.

Harry wasn't stupid; given the information he'd unintentionally stolen from Voldemort he couldn't kill himself until the other Knight-Replacements were destroyed. If Harry was keeping his parent's murderer alive then the reverse had to be true as well, Voldemort was keeping him alive and it was probably the only reason he'd survived the Killing Curse both times.

His next target pretty much HAD to be Hufflepuff's cup, but if he was having this much trouble getting through an obstacle course designed not to hurt the person running through it then he didn't have a hope in HELL of being able to get into and out of Bellatrix Lestrange's Vault alive.

He needed to stay alive for the time being, if only to locate and kill Nagini.

He couldn't spend the next three to four years training just to get into Gringotts, which had been an off-hand estimation he'd heard bandied about by his audience. Even if he took that opinion with a grain of salt… that was still years too long to waste.

Had he not overheard the onlookers mention the last person who'd gone through the training he was currently going through Harry might have left Sky Cottage's underground training rooms and gone with his first idea. Which had been sending a message to Dumbledore with Dobby, and gun for Hufflepuff's cup with no intention of being able to get OUT of Gringotts once he'd made it into the vault. He'd destroy the Cup, free himself from the unintentional bond he'd formed with Voldemort and leave Nagini to the Headmaster.

Someone else had completed the training he was doing though, which meant that if he played his cards right he didn't have to go with Plan A. There was someone out there had the skill of a fully trained Black. Felis hadn't seen this person since he'd finished training him but Felis had been Sealed to his original portraits and the landscape portrait in the training rooms. It wouldn't have taken very much effort for a fully-trained thief to avoid being seen by one portrait, especially if said portrait had taken to 'treasure watching' in his spare time.

The next time someone tried to delicately suggest that he take a break, Harry took the advice instead of ignoring the suggestion, like he had all the other times. He followed Felis and Demeter out of the underground training rooms and up into the actual cottage. His purple haired ancestor was giving him an odd look but Harry ignored it; now that the idea was in his head he was going to follow through with it. He would track down the last "Ghost" and have that person steal Hufflepuff's Cup from Gringotts for him.

All that would be left after that was Nagini and himself.

Harry let himself be led into a bathroom and cleaned himself up for the first time since he'd lit his flames. He soaked in the large bathtub the delighted house-elves had waiting and allowed them to fuss and cluck over him. He let them smooth potions into his hair and rinse it out and wore the clean set of clothes waiting for him when he came out of the bath without complaint. He ate the elaborate dinner Dobby had to have pilfered straight out of Hogwarts and afterwards leisurely allowed himself to be led on a belated tour of the house by Demeter.

Not that he paid much attention to what he was shown.

The only part of the house he really paid attention to was the wall of portraits starting with Felis of the men and women of the 'Black' family that had taken up the title of 'The Ghost'. Not all of the rubber-necking individuals with the jewel-toned hair had taken up the role, which had also by default given them headship of the family, but a good third of the crowd had. Caster had after Felis, as well as Pollux, (for a brief stint), and a fair number of Vega's children, just not the woman herself. Harry wandered down the hall, looking at the name plates and glanced at the framed men and women who took to their places as he walked past.

When he reached the last portrait it was of a male in his late teens or early twenties. His shoulder-length black hair was tied back in a very short ponytail and he was sleeping slumped in the plush wing-backed purple armchair he'd been posed in like Demeter had been when Harry had first seen her. He was dressed in shin-high boots, trousers made out of leather and a calf-length coat that buttoned all the way to the throat. Which was typical of practically every portrait lining this particular stretch of wall, the clothes were practically a uniform.

"… is this one Sealed too?" Harry asked, even though he was half-certain of the answer he was going to get, pretending to reach for his wand so he could 'unseal' it.

"Oh, no. Sometimes it means they're Sealed when they're sleeping like that, but when another portrait can drop in like this—" Pollux corrected brightly, clambering out of his own portrait so he could drop into the sleeper's one. "It means they're still alive~!" the man sang, pulling at the sleeping portrait's cheek and not getting a reaction.

Bingo.

Satisfied that he'd gotten the answer he wanted Harry's eyes dropped to the name-plate set into the bottom of the frame and read the name of the current family head and active thief 'Ghost'.

He was very glad he'd learned how to control his flames before he'd been allowed anywhere near Sky Cottage. Had Harry seen this immediately upon lighting his flames he'd have burned the house down for sure, like he'd burned through the protections in the Crystal Cave.

Regulus Arcturus Black.

If you looked at just the initials you had R.A.B. That… was the name of the Death Eater who'd accidentally extended Voldemort's life-span by stealing the locket and replacing it with a fake. By finding out about the Horcruxes and not telling anyone about them. By apparently dropping his own goddamned self-appointed mission onto an adoring house-elf who'd practically driven himself insane trying to fulfil his master's 'Last Request'. By fucking off into the Muggle World to become a goddamned thief without a care for what he left behind, not even to check on Kreacher.

The plan that had been coagulating in the back of his mind solidified into a working plan, and now that he had one he felt himself slip completely out of his dying will for the first time since he'd left Hogwarts. His flames eased down into a warm purple ball that sat within easy 'reaching' distance and Harry wobbled as the strength keeping himself standing leached out of him…

But that was okay, he needed to rest anyway. He would ask the House Elves if they could please to remove the portraits in whatever room he was going to be sleeping in for 'privacy' and have a nice, long talk with Kreacher. The poor adoring house-elf would probably have a million ideas on how to track down his wayward Master and when Harry got his hands on the man he would appeal to the man's good side. If he didn't have one then he'd appeal to the man's greed. If that didn't work then Harry would think of something else. If none of that worked Harry could always go back to Plan A, but for now…

Plan B was starting to look very promising.

OoO

"He's planning something, and you're not going to like it."

Felis rolled his eyes at his oldest son. "Really? Never would have guessed, because that's not your 'plotting' face at all~!"

"Try not to be too surprised when whatever he's planning blows up in his face." Castor snorted as he left, moving to track his modern counterpart through the halls.

"Brat." Felis muttered, eyes narrowed at the retreating form and trying not to worry about what willingly dropping out his Dying Will meant to someone who'd been riding it for the last few days. Harry, despite the strength of his Dying Will, was planning on killing himself and Felis had no idea what he was going to do about it.

It was times like this that made him wish he could step out of his portrait and out into the living world, if only to shake some sense into his apparently suicidal would-be heir.

OoO

Kreacher thought Regulus Black hung the moon.

The little House Elf was also a treasure trove of information when it came to the default family head. With a bit of light prompting and a show of curiosity, Kreacher's outpouring of love came with little morsels of information Harry used to piece together just what kind of person the man he was looking for was.

Regulus was Sirius's little brother, who had been a 'right and proper heir' according to Kreacher. Harry hadn't even known Sirius had a little brother. He'd never even so much as mentioned having one, though he supposed admitting to having a Death Eater for a little brother wasn't something he'd have brought up either. Sirius's younger brother had been quiet and studious where his older sibling had been loud and boisterous. Where Sirius had played pranks and had liked to jump-scare Kreacher, Regulus tended to the House Elf's various wounds inflicted by the heads of the household by 'testing' out his healing spells and potions.

He wondered how far Regulus's supposed kindness stretched past innocent little House Elves, how far Harry personally could stretch it. Regulus Black had been a Slytherin, one who'd fallen far enough to peer pressure that he'd actually joined the Death Eaters. He'd seemingly 'seen the light' and gotten the hell out of dodge but… not before he'd earned the Dark Mark. The Regulus Kreacher remembered might not even exist anymore, given what it took to earn the Mark.

That meant that Harry couldn't exactly count on the man's kindness. Harry could try and take the soft approach to start with, appeal to the man's compassion first, if he had any of that left. He couldn't let himself forget that he was dealing with a Pureblood Slytherin though, one who had been raised with all the prejudice that implied. One who had completed whatever task Voldemort had given him to test his loyalty. Who knew what had stressed that loyalty to breaking point, Harry wasn't going to even try guessing. It could have been anything from truth of his 'lord's' parentage to the wizard's increasingly frayed sanity, or even the way Voldemort threw Unforgivables around.

It didn't take much to earn the love and affection of a House Elf, Dobby was a prime example of that.

Kreacher didn't know what had turned his master against Voldemort either but the little house elf also didn't care for the 'Dark Lord' one whit either. It was all hidden under the rushed babble Kreacher buried his slip-ups under but the elf HATED the wizard who'd tortured and driven his beloved Master away.

"It's alright Kreacher, I hate him too." Harry whispered in a conspiratorial manner to the wizened little thing, kneeling down and holding the elf's hands to stop him from punishing himself for even THINKING of such things about a Lord. "I want to kill him for what he did to the family. For what he did to our family."

Kreacher gave a shocked gasp and Harry shifted his hands to the elf's face and wiped a tear from the wrinkled little face with the pad of his thumb. It shouldn't have mattered that the bond had been forced on him during that fight with Quirrell or who he'd been before Voldemort had unintentionally bonded Harry to him but it DID. Thanks to Tom Riddle's unrelenting research Harry knew how that sounded to the House Elf coming from someone so deeply bonded to Voldemort. What it meant for a 'Knight' to so hate his 'lord' and wish for his death.

"Our bond… went black the moment it formed." Harry told the Elf, alluding to the depth of his hatred. "He forced it on me, and there was never a moment that changed."

"You is wanting Freedom." Dobby breathed, having been listening to all this from the start. The two elves had practically been inseparable since meeting each other and spent their time swapping stories of their Wizards.

"Desperately."

Letting go of Kreacher's face, Harry straightened up and stared past his reflection in the window of the dark bedroom he'd been led to and lost himself to thought.

The bond between a Lord and his, (or her), Knights usually took on the colour of the Knight's primary Soul Shade. The bond between him and Voldemort by all rights should have been the same Amethyst shade Harry's hair and eyes took on when calling on his Flame regardless of how forced or artificial it was.

There were three exceptions to that rule though.

The first was the gold edging the bond gained when a Lord trusted one particular Knight above the rest. It wasn't a complete change of colour but a gilding; that particular Knight became the Lord's right hand and 'Gilded Knight'.

The second exception was when the bond between Lord and Knight took on a romantic turn, in which case a white thread intertwined with the existing bond and turned said Knight into the lord's 'White Knight'.

The third and last exception was something even the Muggle World remembered, and had adopted into their folklore, fairy-tales and symbology. When a bond between a Lord and Knight turned black it symbolized betrayal at the deepest and most profound level and the Knight earned the title 'Black Knight'. Traditionally cast aside rather than put to death, the second the bond turned dark a Black Knight was meant to live with the shame of his, (or her) betrayal; forever branded an outcast and mistrusted by anyone who could sense the bond. Had Harry planned on surviving his ultimate plan for Voldemort he might have been worried but… well.

Harry might never have wanted to become Voldemort's Knight, but damned if the bond hadn't taken on exactly the right colour.

Voldemort's Black Knight.

Wasn't that a fitting title for him in every sense?

OoO

Harry didn't swear the elves to secrecy before leaving his room the next day. He didn't have to. All he had to do was ask if they could please keep his secret and everything they'd talked about before he'd gone to bed might as well have been locked under a Magical Vow.

They were so affection starved and lonely they didn't even think twice about it, the poor things. How could Regulus have just left Kreacher alone with a dark magical artefact he couldn't destroy? What could a House Elf accomplish where a Wizard had failed? Sure they were amazing at house-keeping and could act defensively if something or someone they loved were in trouble. That didn't mean they had the strength, ability, training or knowledge of a fully-fledged wizard. It wasn't like Kreacher could have cleaned the locket to death, though the poor elf had probably tried.

Next, he waited.

Kreacher and Dobby needed time to gather together what Harry needed for the first stage of his plan. He was content enough to wait for them; there was an obstacle course, and a suspiciously silent Felis and crowd to distract. His ancestor would try to stop him if he knew what he was planning, if he knew what his end-goal was. The man was easy to read now, he already considered Harry one of his.

He wondered what it was about himself that made others so idiotically willing to adopt him when Demeter stopped the giggling and flirting with her husband and tried teaming up with her daughter to figure out what was wrong with him and get him to talk. Fortunately for Harry a Lord's charisma didn't translate through paint, so Vega's amber-violet puppy eyes had absolutely no effect on him.

"We could always lock him inside." Pollux whispered in suggestion once, not realizing Harry was about to enter the room. "He can't do anything stupid with all of us watching him, can he?"

"He inherited father's Flame, he could turn this place into matchsticks if he really wanted to." Castor corrected, "Don't do anything stupid yourself or father will lock us all down again for the next four hundred years."

Harry ignored a lot of the whispers and planning from the portraits.

The combination of the Dodge and Trap rooms became somewhat easier now that Harry had stopped stressing about it and it wasn't very long into the third day training at Sky Cottage before he 'cleared' that stage. The next part of the 'Dodge' side of his training had the batons turn to blades, the balls turn into 'explosives' that hurt about five times worse than a stinging hex when they landed a hit and had the traps include a 'poison' that glowed an iridescent yellow and itched like a fiend.

Harry was shown how to use the gloves he'd picked up in the room he'd found Felis in, which one had to channel Flames through to use properly. Propagating the three tiny little hooks in between each knuckle let them became sharp and wicked-looking claws. The little bird-foot 'buttons' on each glove became grappling hooks and a small strip of fabric extending from his wrists could become anything from an emergency bag, to a rope or defensive cloak depending on how you utilized your flame. He was using all three tools pretty much all the time by the end of the day as the 'trap' part of the obstacle course seemed to come to become something demonically possessed. 'Safe' areas vanished as did convenient hand-holds and perches.

The gloves weren't something a 'Ghost-In-Training' should be wearing as the claws had the potential to become quite the devastating weapon in the wrong hands, but Felis trained him in how to use them anyway. Even if giving them to him and showing him how to use them was leaning dangerously closer to training up a new assassin than the family had come in years.

"I suppose if there is anyone I can trust with this training it'll be you." Felis mused, showing Harry how to work his way through the new room. "Just don't go out and start taking up hits, you don't know what it cost to have the world believe the Mouzey Famiglia died out. Don't ruin all of my hard work."

If the gloves alone brought Harry into leaning somewhere closer to becoming a Mouzey Assassin than any other member of the family had been since Felis… then what else did it take to actually—

"Don't think about it or you'll start coming up with ideas~!" Felis advised at a sing-song, cutting off his train of thought. "Unless you WANT to become a merciless killer? I don't particularly mind, but my poor, sweet Lady Demeter would pout at me forever~! Also, that would take a further five more years on top of what you're already learning—"

By the end of the day Harry was thoroughly exhausted, irritated and no longer curious, but likewise he was pretty sure he'd gotten some of his own back when he retreated to the sanctuary of his bedroom. He hadn't cracked into letting even one portrait inside, and wouldn't no matter how much wheedling or nagging he was exposed to.

Not when the House Elves had finally delivered what he wanted to him.

He had a stack of maps, a scrying crystal, a lock of Regulus's baby hair, a travel guide for Witches and Wizards, a pack full of the things a young pureblood wizard wouldn't be caught dead without, and a spare wand. Harry was safe to use his actual wand in the heavily warded areas of the house without being detected but he'd need to be able to cast spells outside the house rather soon.

Tucking the packet of baby-fine hair into the breast pocket of his jacket, Harry allowed himself a small and slightly bitter smile. It might have taken Kreacher most of the day to locate but it had been worth the wait. With this much of the wizard's hair in his possession he practically guaranteed Regulus's cooperation. He didn't want to resort to such desperate measures but if Kreacher's beloved Master didn't willingly help him finish the job he'd started, then Harry would just have to… help him along. Even if that meant he had to magically coerce the man to do so.

It all depended on what kind of man Regulus had become in the years since he'd left his Lord's side. Harry could hate himself for it later, but for now he was going to take advantage of his own unfeeling state and desperation. He'd hold back on the coercion as a last resort and for now he'd just use the man's hair to track the bastard down.

He would use Regulus to end the war with or without the man's cooperation and if that took too long or didn't work…

There was always Plan A.

Chapter Text

Flying over the building his tracking spells led him to, Harry frowned down at the rooftop and glided around the skyscraper, trying to find an angle that would tell him which floor Regulus was supposedly on. His wand had a single strand of the wizard's hair taped to it, and while usually this would be more than enough to track anyone down, he was having trouble keeping his wand from twisting off into several different directions.

The spells on the maps Kreacher and Dobby had provided for him placed his target in seven separate locations. Even now his wand was bucking between four of them, all seemingly within the same country. Had Regulus somehow cloned himself or was Harry about to walk into a very carefully laid trap meant to catch anyone who tried to track him down?

The wizard had made a name for himself amongst his fellow Death Eaters as someone who was brilliant and vicious with it. His creative spell work had earned him a place amongst Voldemort's inner circle and his strength, ingenuity, and cunning had kept him there. As far as the Dark Lord was concerned the man had disappeared out of nowhere without a trace of him to be found and there had been no doubts as to his loyalty.

He didn't need to take the map out of his pocket to check; from the way his wand was angling, two of Regulus's cloned signals were in the building before him. That alone made it worth checking out.

A part of him was telling him to be cautious in his approach, to land at street level and take the stairs up to the level his wand was pointing at. To at least find a window to slip through or land on the roof and break in through the door leading from the helipad. It was telling him to keep his invisibility cloak up over his head and make sure no part of him was visible because he didn't need Auror attention right now, especially not in a foreign country.

It was a very distant part of him though and it was immediately drowned out when his wand levelled out on his next circuit of the building and stayed that way.

He rocketed forward and when he'd gained enough momentum, swung under his broom by his arms, tucked it and the invisibility cloak into his pockets and kicked through the windows of the skyscraper like he had punched through the marble of Myrtle's bathroom. Every moment of training under Felis in learning how to tread lightly and how to move about undetected went flying out of the proverbial window the second he realized his target might be within reach and he went cannonballing feet first in through the reinforced glass instead. He couldn't even find it in himself to be all that fussed by the thought as chaos erupted all around him.

Screams. Blaring alarms. Shouts and the sound of rubble and glass bouncing off the floor. Harry skidded forwards on his heels along the slick linoleum, bent his knees to absorb the impact and crouched, smoothly lunging into a run that had him going in the direction the tracking spell was leading him.

Peeling the tape off of his wand and deliberately wrapping it around one of his gloved fingers, Harry tucked his wand away and allowed the strand of hair stuck to it guide him through the building. It was the only consideration he was about to make to the Statute of Secrecy, his magic had gotten him this far and he needed magic to guide him the rest of the way. He only needed his wand out earlier because he'd also been flying at the same time, now he could focus all of his attentions on the feedback the spell was giving him.

He ducked and wove around shocked businessmen and women, then did the same to people who started pulling out weapons. He'd been expecting some kind of trap so he wasn't overly surprised when people with flames started popping up. The flames were all in different colours from his own but it didn't matter. He was too fast for them. Getting them out of his way was as easy as swatting flies from his path. It wasn't long before he kicked his way through a set of double doors that wouldn't have been out of place at Hogwarts and found himself in the middle of a large, opulent office.

Thick rugs in a rich array of color and emblazoned with a corporate logo he didn't care enough about to pay more attention to. The rest of the floor was shiny black marble accented with white and gold, the walls were a deep amber, a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and a polished desk spanned the three quarters of the room. How had a Pureblood of Regulus's status, a former Death Eater at that, managed to ingratiate himself so deep into Muggle side of the world's Flame Users to the point where this was where Harry's tracing spell had lead him?

Felis had trained his last heir well.

Harry ignored the man sitting behind the desk, and swept his eyes around the room for other occupants.

"C— can I help you?" the man asked, brown eyes visibly turning amber as he slowly and with very deliberate caution, put the phone he'd been speaking into down.

Harry couldn't help but notice he kept his hands in full view.

The Muggle was a bear of a man without a drop of magic in him whatsoever and was very much the opposite of who he was looking for. Blond where Regulus was dark haired, amber eyed where Regulus's grey eyes would have turned purple were he calling on his Soul Shade. Stubble instead of a clean-shaven visage. Kreacher had told him his master had used a potion to eliminate facial hair upon puberty. No hint of a disguise either, no contact lenses, makeup or latex and while Regulus could have gone as far as plastic surgery, he'd still have needed to change his Attribute and hide his eye color. The man's hair looked naturally blond to boot.

The spell tugging at his finger urged him to look down.

Two small toddlers stared up at him. One of them had wide open bright blue eyes, a shock of blond hair and his mouth hung open in a gape. The other had a curious red mark on one of its cheeks, sweetly curling dark hair and eyes that were hidden behind a red visor. The spell was tugging at both children but only one of them looked anything close to who he was looking for.

He wouldn't put it past a wizard trained by Felis Black to disguise himself as a child, all he'd have needed was a de-aging potion.

He slipped the packet of photographs Kreacher had given him out of his pocket and flipped through them to the one picture the house elf had provided him of Regulus at the same age. He compared the picture to the child in front of him and clicked his tongue. Neither child felt magical enough to be a wizard and upon closer inspection the dark haired one looked nothing like his target.

Tucking the photographs back into his pocket, he turned on his heel and left the building, stalking back through the destruction he'd left behind in his wake to jump back out through the hole in the wall. He swung his invisibility cloak up around him as he fell and pulled the Firebolt out of his pocket, then winged away towards his next destination.

What a waste of time and effort.

OoO

For as much time as he took getting there, Harry didn't have to get as close to realize the next direction his tracking spell had led him in was another dead end, and this one was far more dangerous a dead end than the last.

He'd ended up facing another Lord.

Goosebumps tickled up his spine and something akin to revulsion clawed up his throat. It wasn't revulsion though, he was all too familiar with that sensation and it was reserved for far more deserving individuals than the woman smiling gently at him from behind her desk.

Even if this one made every single hair on his body stand on end.

He hadn't had to kick down any doors or swat through people to get here. Well-dressed men and women opened doors as he approached, bowed him in and guided him through the airy estate with polite English that had him realizing that he'd been expected and that she had seemingly been waiting for him.

This wasn't Regulus. He wasn't so stupid that he needed to check. Just being in her presence was enough to know. Magic rolled off the woman in waves, and none of it was giving off the tell-tale taste of potions or spell use. It felt deeper than that, stronger and weightier, but not Dark. Her aura would've had to have been pitch black if she'd been Regulus, because if it were at all possible, Dark Magic of the blackest kind would have been the only feasible way to change one's Aspect into that of a Lord's.

Tainted as it was her Aura was still reasonably clear, and that was more than enough for him. He didn't need to spend any more time in this Lord's presence. He couldn't even bring himself to step into the same room as her. Her Knights stood at either side of him and made no move to either wave him in or chase him out, even though he was hovering in the doorway.

One of them motioned as if to take his cloak, but he shrugged off the offer and— "Okay, fine. Rude." The Knight muttered gruffly out of the corner of his mouth, blond hair slicked back with copious amounts of gel.

"I warned you not to offer." The Lord laughed lightly from her desk, casually capping her pen. "You're lucky all he did was glare." Her kind gaze turned to him and it was heavy with the kind of gravitas Trelawney affected in Divination. His own magic and flames flared in agitation in response and the urge to step back and run hit him as he realized why. Coupled with the way she'd been expecting him, the language they were speaking, the warning she'd given her Knight and the apparent instructions she'd given her staff before he'd even arrived, and it all lined up.

It was clear what he was dealing with. A Lord with the Seer's gift? Voldemort would have sacrificed his everything for a fraction of the power the woman wore around her like a cloak.

"So that's how you knew I was coming." Harry remarked almost to himself, watching her sharply as she set her pen down on top of the stack of papers she'd been working through.

"Will you keep my secret?" she asked cheekily, her deep blue eyes brimming with banked charisma. Threading her fingers together, she smiled wryly at her own question as if already expecting the answer.

"Only if you'll keep mine," he returned sarcastically, though he was pretty sure he'd take the secret to his grave. No one in the world needed to know there was a seer this powerful still living. Even if Voldemort weren't a very real threat he would have done it, an existence like hers was too dangerous to leak.

"You're not very trusting, are you?" the same blond Knight who'd earlier tried to divest him of his cloak muttered and this time Harry couldn't stop himself from retorting. "I can't afford to be, a woman with her gift helped ruin—" he cut himself off.

"… gift?"

Harry regretted answering him. Of course she'd kept it a secret from her own people, otherwise the whole world would have known about her and she'd be under siege by now. The only reason he'd connected the dots as fast as he had was because Felis and Demeter had given him a rundown of the various groups of Flame Users he might run into once he left the Sky Manor.

He'd only listened with half an ear, but now that he was this close all the details fell into place. The Giglio Nero of times past had always been led by a female Seer with dark hair, sapphire blue eyes, and a very unique orange and blue mark under their left eye. Felis Black had talked at length about the one time he'd met his match in a Lord of similar description and The Ghost had never been able to steal anything from what would have been this woman's ancestor.

Another waste of time and energy.

"Wait, Saint; take this with you!" The woman called cheerfully as he turned on his heel to leave. He caught the packet she tossed at him automatically and gave her a quizzical look over his shoulder. "… Saint?"

"That… isn't your name?" She asked, caught off guard, and the same part of him that had earlier been screaming at him to tread lightly around her abruptly laughed. A Seer caught unaware by their own gift? She must have Seen him referred to by the name and made assumptions. Her gift must not be as all-encompassing as the weight of her magic was making it feel.

Malfoy considered himself clever for the fact that he'd conditioned him to respond to the name since second year. It was useful now, he supposed. He hadn't had any trouble answering to it and he couldn't exactly go around using his own so—

"I guess… it is now."

OoO

The next Lord he came face to face with wasn't nearly so gracious a host, but to be fair Harry wasn't exactly on his best behaviour. He hadn't even noticed him until the man burst into flames almost directly under his nose. The only thing that came to mind when looking down at the man was the image of a child having a temper tantrum. A loud and messy hissy-fit that was setting fire to everything around him. Amber-red flames crackled and exploded all around him, but hit the man's Knights rather than him.

There had been no one to bow his way into the building this time, and no one expecting him. Dropping into the courtyard from above had been child's play and he'd even managed to hide his wand and cloak before he hit the ground. It was more luck than caution that no one had witnessed him land and the tug of his tracking spell helpfully drew his eyes to an open window.

A single step and a jump had him on the balcony and in what appeared to be a lounging room. The Lord had been draped along the length of a red and gold couch with a Knight in attendance, though he hadn't realized that then. The Knight, as he now recognized the long haired one as, was caught mid-sentence reading aloud from a sheaf of papers in hand and the dark haired man's eyes widened.

He had looked at the pair, the dark haired man on the couch and a man standing at attention with long silver hair, and had dismissed them as unimportant.

No resemblance to who he was looking for and neither of them had magic in them and had no hint of it on them at all. In their hair, clothes or otherwise. Neither of them were Regulus and the spell around his finger was tugging at him to go deeper into the building. A huff of annoyance escaped him as he crossed the carpet and let himself out the door, letting it close behind him as he left the room.

He would examine everyone he crossed paths with if he had to.

It wasn't until he was halfway down the corridor that he realized that one of the men he'd so casually dismissed must be a Lord as he leaped lightly out of the way of an amber-ruby inferno headed in his direction. A Lord who had taken great exception to being dismissed and was now waving his flames around like he had something to prove.

After Voldemort, this screaming teenager pretending to be an adult didn't even register as a threat. He was reduced to turning his own residence to rubble and burning his own Knights trying to kill him. It made him wonder if this is what Voldemort would have been like, had he caved into accepting Knights like this one had.

At the very least one of the man's Knights turned out to be the focus of his tracking spell, as he discovered when the toddler was drawn to the sounds of screaming chaos. Walking along the exposed top of a wall, Harry dropped down onto his heels and tilted his head at the cloaked baby, trying to see its face. So far, out of the other directions he'd been pulled in, this child looked like it might actually be who he was looking for.

Regulus had been a Slytherin and the baby he was looking at had a snake familiar. The baby wore a cloak, a holdover from his time in the wizarding world? There were also odd markings on the baby's face that were magical in nature and there was a dark taste to the child's aura. The other babies had felt somewhat magical too, but not nearly as strongly as this one did. This one felt like it could actually be a wizard. How would the toddler react to Harry casting a compulsion spell on the packet of Regulus's baby-hair within arm's reach?

"Don't ignore me, trash!"

"Then don't act like a child. Enough, I have no business with you." He countered without looking, dismissing the overgrown Lord once more. Straightening from his crouch he slipped off the wall and frowned as he approached the cloaked child.

"What business would you have with me then?" the baby with the snake asked, cautiously floating around him so he was directly in between Lord Temper Tantrum and Harry, faithfully taking guard against the threat he posed. Harry eyed the floating toddler, stepped closer until he was not even a foot away and heard, (and ignored), the Lord's other Knights rally to the man's defence.

He kept his focus singled on the one in front of him.

Would Regulus have really accepted another Lord after leaving the wizarding world? The obvious answer was no. In the man's shoes he wouldn't have, not in a million years, but the former Slytherin hadn't ever bonded with Voldemort. He'd only ever stood within the man's orbit. Had he fallen to Brat-Lord's charm?

Not that he could see the attraction, personally.

Right on cue, as the thought was crossing his mind, another blast of amber-ruby flames streamed towards him. A step away and he avoided the lion's share of it, but the hood and back of his flapping cloak caught the edge of the blast and disintegrated. He was forced into pulling the cloak off of himself as it burned. Distantly, he was glad he'd tucked his invisibility cloak away when he'd landed in the courtyard. The one that had just been burned through had been the only normal cloak he'd packed. Dobby had brought it to him, and Kreacher had cleaned and repaired it.

The baby who might or might not be Regulus also dodged the flames admirably and when Harry turned to the Lordling who'd interrupted them, he glared.

The man's eyes were red.

The Lord's flames lingered on his person, staining his hair amber and ruby along the strands the man's flames had touched. Removing the taint was as simple as running a hand burning with his own flames through them and combing his hair out of his face, but the fact he'd even had to do that…

It pissed him off.

It was strange. He wasn't tired, or at least he was in no danger of stepping down into Dying Will Mode, but… he was undeniably annoyed and that annoyance was growing by the minute. He should be numb to emotions, but he wasn't.

This Lord's complete disregard to his Knights and surroundings. Overly inflated pride with no sense of decorum. What kind of behaviour was this to display in front of a stranger? His red eyes, dark hair and pale skin, (where it wasn't scarred), the temper tantrum and the way he was throwing around what power he could. It was like he was looking into a warped funhouse mirror version of Tom Riddle minus the magic, and he didn't even have the excuse of being as broken.

Beyond the similarities this man shared with his parent's murderer, there was a look in the man's eyes he didn't like. A flavour of expectation that was pulling at him to respond and—

It set his teeth on edge.

The man's flames were crackling and burning all around them, the feel of it was feeding his ire and it made him want to teach this brat a lesson he'd never forget.

Harry thought about it for a moment, and then let his flames roar to the surface.

Far be it from him to pass up the opportunity to stomp a young Tom Riddle into the proverbial curb.

OoO

Since the Lord had worked so hard to catch his attention, Harry made sure he kept it.

He had to occasionally bat aside an interruption or five, but on the whole he made sure to thoroughly kick the lesson on manners into the man and absolutely enjoyed every minute of it. The wizard he had been before Fawkes had lit his flames would have been utterly and completely horrified, but now? He was surprised to find himself enjoying the complete beat-down he was delivering.

If given the opportunity to repeat this performance? He would. He would do it in a heartbeat and love every second of it. He was a fighter, always had been. This was no different from his usual fair, but this was easier. The playing field was levelled, or rather tilted so far in his favour that it was laughable. He didn't even need his wand for this. With no one-hit killing techniques like the Avada Kedavra curse, no one to worry about but himself, and actual training under his belt? Fighting was damn near a dream.

Gryffindors loved a good dust up, and he could no more deny that part of himself than he could his own magic, but this was something else for Harry. This wasn't just play fighting or something so simple as a lesson. Not only was he having fun deflating this Lord's ego down to size, this was also the first real fight he'd been in since the graveyard.

Being praised over completing an obstacle course while being pit up against dummies was one thing; actually putting his new skills to the test was another.

The Lord's weapons were the first to go; Harry caught them with hands burning with flames and his opponent was forced to let them go or lose his fingers. He locked eyes with the man as he crushed the barrels of the guns like they were made of cheap tinfoil and let the cracked and melting remains drop to the ground at his feet.

Seeing fear in the man's red eyes was immensely gratifying, the fleeting mental image of Voldemort's face superimposed over the Lord's made it all the more satisfying. Fear wasn't the only thing he saw in the man's eyes, he saw panic there too, and with it dragged stupidity to the fore. When the brat tried to attack next, it was with a violent palmful of fire aimed at his face. Harry leaned back out of the way and backhanded the Lord's wrist, redirecting the attack into the oncoming face of his shrieking silver haired Knight.

Silver screamed and dropped backwards in order to avoid the attack that would have otherwise incinerated his head. Harry grabbed the redirected wrist and planted his other hand against the Brat's hip to physically haul him up into the air and threw him across the room.

The Lord flipped like a cat in mid-air and attempted to land on his feet, but Harry got there first.

A burst of flame-fuelled strength launched him across the room before he could land, and he skidded on the hardwood flooring behind the Lord and punted him right back towards his scrambling Knights. The scarred man ploughed into the lot of them, sending three to the ground beneath him, though two managed to scuttle out of the way even as the young Gryffindor prowled closer.

Panic had really lit a fuse in the lot of them; to give them credit though, they hid it fairly well as they scrambled to get back up to their feet.

They were bloodied, bruised, and baring their teeth as if it were supposed to be intimidating, which might have been funny for how weak they were, if it weren't also so very insulting. Harry narrowed his eyes and shifted backwards a little, lifting his fists into the opening stance Felis had demonstrated and watched as the group in front of him stiffened nervously.

Then Harry unsheathed his claws. A burst of amethyst flames to his knuckles and six inch bladed claws scythed out, gleaming dully in the light from the broken window. It made one of them twitch visibly.

"Shi shi shi~, this peasant thinks he can intimidate the Prince?" the one teenager of the group hissed, teeth bared practically ear to ear in the most forced grin the Gryffindor had ever seen.

Harry didn't give the blond a reply. Contrary to what Voldemort, and every single goddamned one of his ilk seemed to think, monologuing was very stupid. Monologues had given him the time to think and recover in the past and holding a conversation with the enemy had always been his last-ditch effort to buy time. He would not be granting the Brat's Knights the luxury of a chit chat.

He would rather continue with his 'lesson'.

The Brat-Lord shoved himself through the group to get out in front, mouth opening with a furious expression on his face, but Harry lunged. He would not be allowing him to talk either.

Red eyes widened exquisitely as he ducked under one of the weird metal umbrellas the man's Emerald Knight furiously threw like a javelin and Harry snapped his heel down hard. The floor beneath them cratered and shattered. The entire building shook as the walls around them strained and then buckled. What was left of the ceiling above them crumbled without the support.

Harry kicked off the debris and shot between the fallen men, grabbed the Brat by his face and used him to cushion his fall, landing on him feet first. He parted his fingers to let the Lordling see him rear his other fist back, claws extended, allowed him see how easy it would have been to simply kill him. He gave it a moment for the vision to really sink in then launched himself away using the feet he still had planted firmly on the man's chest. Backwards and neatly up over the sword swing that would have taken his head off if he had been a fraction too slow.

Live opponents really were so much more satisfying to kick around and it was clear now how much progress he had made training under Felis. He was no longer leaking flame everywhere he went, his flames were responding beautifully and obeying his every thought.

He kicked off a corner of ceiling, cut lumps of plaster and lengths of wooden beams down on the approaching Knights with his claws as he passed them and landed with a skid across the now dusty floor. He only just managed to halt the slide when he buried a claw in the wall to stop him dead.

Slamming his foot down to shake the room again when green lightning raced towards him, Harry hauled up a chunk of the newly broken bit of floor he speared his other claw in to shield himself and minimized his profile. His claws wouldn't transfer the charge, as they were technically made from his flame.

Someone moved behind him and he was forced to reverse his position to disengage his claws from the wall and slice upwards.

The flamboyant, green haired Topaz Knight was practically bisected, his stomach split open from groin to throat in his attempt to slam a metal plated knee where Harry's skull would have been. Blood sprayed hotly across Harry's face and the man squealed a soft and surprised "Oh" as his body crumpled. The man's gloved hands clamped over the gaping wound reflexively to try and keep his insides where they were supposed to be as exclamations of shock, surprise and alarm went up around the room.

The Gryffindor kicked the large chunk of floor he had been shielding himself with off of his other claw at the closest spectator and 'Prince' cartwheeled out of the way… and directly into the path of grappling hook Harry shot at him.

Gutting the flamboyant one and catching this one by the literal throat had been a bit of a happy accident, but he was hardly going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Besides, showmanship was better left to situations one wasn't outclassed in, wasn't it? Best they learned that from him then someone else, because he didn't care in the least bit whether they lived or died.

Their Lord should have minded his own business.

Brutally yanking the blond Knight right into the path of his Liege, Harry withdrew the flames he'd put into the grappling hook and flicked his wrist as it shrank back down into size, returning it back into the button it had been. The Brat hadn't even tried catching his Knight, he'd dodged and left the teenager to helplessly crumple unconscious against to the floor.

"Boss!" the others screamed, ignoring the plight of their Brother In Arms. The Turquoise Knight kept screaming, most probably obscenities in what Harry figured was Italian. Whatever, it wasn't like he knew or even cared to know what he was saying.

One step, two, and then he bounded across the length of the room, and returned his attentions to the Lord, knee aimed towards the man's face. The scarred man dodged by a hair's breadth, but left himself wide open to further attacks as Harry landed on his hands behind the man, re-positioned, and then spun in a neat circle, sweeping his legs out from underneath him.

He could have jumped on the Lord again like last time, but the brat's Knights had wizened up a little, and he was forced to roll backwards and push himself back up to his feet to avoid a flash of bright blue that left aqua streaks along the hair on his arms.

Not that he would ever let it show, but he could feel it dull his reflexes a little. This was the shade of the aspect could tranquillise things and slow them down, wasn't it? The Turquoise Knight would not be doing that for long.

Harry fanned his flames hotter, momentarily turned his attention away from the Lord, and grabbed the silver haired man's blade, melting and snapping the sword in half much like he would have done to a bar of Honeydukes' finest chocolate. With great relish and pleasure. Spearing the Emerald Knight through his shoulder with the broken end and pinning him to the wall with it to keep him out of the way, Harry pivoted on the ball of his foot and mule-kicked Silver in the stomach hard enough to launch him across the room and bounce him off a wall from the sheer force of it.

The Lord was retreating, reaching for one of the umbrella weapons embedded in the cratered floor, but Harry didn't let him get far. He blitzed forward and grabbed the boy King by the hair and yanked him backwards, but with their height differences, and his inhuman strength, he nearly tore the man's head off.

The brat fell back with a yell, and Harry twisted to the side to let him drop and rammed his knee into the Lord's gut. He kicked the Lord onto his back, pressed his heel into the man's stomach and leaned his whole weight against the foot, grinding him under the sole of his boot as if he were an insect.

"Do you see what happens when you stick your nose somewhere it doesn't belong?" he asked, blank faced and even-voiced.

Ruby Knight was unconscious where he'd left him, bleeding from a head-wound. Both Turquoise and Topaz Knights were down for the count. The former was vomiting behind a bit of rubble and struggling for breath and the latter was reduced to a sobbing and whimpering ball, wrapped around his own mid-section. Emerald was screaming incoherent obscenities, busy trying to figure out a way to free himself without touching the flames Harry had left burning on the broken piece of sword he'd used to pin him to the wall and keep him there, lastly the Lord was trapped underfoot and would not be going anywhere.

Harry gave absolutely no tell to the thrill of exhilaration reverberating along his insides, even though his Flames were purring in pure satisfaction. He wanted to luxuriate in it, but a thought came to him as he stared down his nose into the Lordling's wine-red eyes.

A Lord who was so self-assured that he'd completely forgotten his manners, or did not possess them in the first place. Quick to insult and even quicker to violence. This man had called him trash without knowing a single thing about him, treated his own Knights like they were disposable and had attacked with little to no concern for them. How was he different from Voldemort? Was the only difference time and age?

Harry was separated from Voldemort by a sheer gulf of experience and skill, he would not be ready to kill him until all the Horcruxes save the one inside him were destroyed. No such age gap, or condition, existed between him and this overinflated would-be king.

Wasn't he training to kill Voldemort anyway?

Without thinking much further into it Harry fed another burst of Flame into the claws extending from his fists and they doubled in size. Violet streaked silently off the blades in flamelets and set the shadows to dancing around them in haunting flickers. He would be doing the Muggle World a favour if he killed the arrogant baby king here and now.

Rearing back a fist Harry locked eyes with the red-eyed Lord and—

"What business do you have with me!?" a voice screamed, piercing through the veil of focus that had momentarily tinted his vision purple.

Cutting a glance towards the direction the voice had come from, Harry paused.

The child he'd originally been here to examine was glowing, and he belatedly realized the air all around them was saturated and heavy with Dark Sapphire Flames, and had been the entire time he'd been fighting.

Regulus would have known illusions sourced by Dark Sapphire Flames wouldn't work on a wizard who also had usable flames. Was he was putting on a show for his Lord's sake? But… Felis had mentioned Regulus not having a secondary Aspect and as far as any of Harry's ancestors knew, his target's soul shade was purely Amethyst.

This... was not Regulus.

He narrowed his eyes at the child before scoffing in disgust, allowing his Amethyst constructed blades to fade.

"Pathetic," he spat as he kicked the fallen Lord away from himself.

How pathetic was he? To forget that Regulus was a Slytherin, and nothing about tracking him down would ever be so simple. He'd been wrong, this was not Regulus and he had wasted both time and energy, and potentially even tipped the former Death Eater off to his being hunted.

Three times he'd walked into dead ends and each path his spells had led him in had ended up with him face-to-face with a Lord. Two of the three Lords hadn't been magical but the second one had been, if she hadn't been as amicable as she had been… who knew what would have become of him. She'd was a Seer and there was nothing more dangerous than threatened Seer. They Saw everything and depending on their strength, could do whatever it took to make sure trouble was never seen again.

Once was happenstance, twice was coincidence and thrice was enemy action.

Furiously jerking his maps out of his pocket he scanned the area, found a flat surface and spread them out in front of him, no longer interested in continuing the fight in the slightest. Where had he gone wrong? Had he cast the wrong spell? How was Regulus rerouting it? It was being anchored on his end by a strand of untainted baby hair! His spells should have worked!

"Damn it! How am I supposed to find him now?!"

"Y— you wanted me to track someone down for you?"

Harry whirled around.

The child he'd mistaken for Regulus had just offered that like it was actually a plausible explanation for Harry's visit.

"Can you?" He demanded, stalking forward, maps forgotten.

"I— I'm the World's Strongest Esper, Viper! There isn't a thing or person in the world that could hide from me!" the cloaked toddler claimed, confidence threading back into the projected voice at the attention. Or rather from the attention the toddler's struggling Lord was not getting, who he could see was being tended to by Silver out of the corner of his eye.

Was this another trap?

"How do I know you aren't just pulling that title out of your ass?" Harry sneered, because this was too easy. He'd walked into a trap and the lure was offering him a solution to his problem?

"He is, I can vouch for his work." Silver wheezed, positioning himself in front of his brat of a charge as if intending to be a living shield, visibly struggling for each breath he took.

"I'm supposed to take the word of one of his Brothers In Arms?"

"Ask anyone in the Mafia World." Silver replied slowly, seemingly choosing his words carefully as 'Viper' spluttered in offence at Harry's show of doubt. "He's famous for it. There isn't a Mafioso worth the name that doesn't know Viper of the Arcobaleno, and for those who don't know that name will know him as Mammon of the Varia."

Harry looked to the floating baby for confirmation, and Silver used this apparent distraction to further cover his Liege from sight. The Lord swore and slapped away his Knight's attempt to hide him and Harry frowned, eyes once again drawn to him and the Brat froze under the look.

"I TAKE PAYMENT IN THE FORM OF—" the Dark Sapphire Knight started loudly in a very unsubtle attempt at regaining his attention.

"— representation!" Silver interjected.

"Representation?" Mammon repeated, turning to look his brother questioningly and then his mouth dropped open in an 'o' of realization. "Representation as the Varia's Cloud Guardian in the upcoming Vongola Ring Battles!" the child finished speedily.

"I don't have the time to waste—"

"It's in a week's time and won't last for longer than a fortnight!"

Harry weighed the offer Silver had offered for Viper.

Potentially, he could be walking into another trap, but was that so different to what he was already doing? Silver could be offering the ticket to the success of his ultimate mission. Regulus had spent years running from his past and had evidently had all the time in the world to set traps to catch his magical pursuers unawares.

World's Strongest Esper was it? Shouldn't take much effort to confirm the statement.

Giving no warning as to his intentions Harry jumped forward, shoved Silver out of the way and grabbed Brat by his hair again. "You had best be telling the truth." He warned Silver, locking eyes with him as he slipped hands through the messed up mane of dark hair. "For I will take payment for the lie with your Lord's life." He finished, snatching a few strands and shoving the Lord's face into the ground for emphasis, knocking him out cold.

Tucking the stolen strands of hair away in his pocket, he took his leave.

Detouring to pick up his almost forgotten maps, he found himself appalled by the sheer number of unconscious men and women littering his path out. They'd evidently been caught unaware by their Dark Sapphire Knight's illusions. The Brat's Knights had just about as much respect for their Sworn Hands as their Lord did his Knights, didn't they?

"Someone call in a medic team!" Silver screamed onto deaf ears as soon as he deemed it safe, probably feeling secure in the assurance that Harry wasn't about to turn around and revisit them sooner than expected.

He heard though, the words carried reasonably well on the wind as he'd pulled out his Firebolt and invisibility cloak once out of direct sight and set himself aloft. Shaking his head, Harry angled his broom up and away from the smoking ruins of what had once been a rather beautiful mansion.

The question now was, where was he going to find someone to answer his questions?

OoO

Forgetting he was covered in the Brat's Topaz Knight's blood turned out to be something he couldn't decide was good or bad luck.

The downside was in the fact he'd frightened several small children and their mothers into screaming and running away in abject terror.

There were definite benefits to looking like he'd just rolled out of a war-zone though and he could hardly argue with the results. He found the Mafia World rather quickly because of it and as a bonus he hadn't had to hunt down information; it came to him. There couldn't have been more than five minutes past him stumbling out of the bushes, unintentionally scaring the liver out of innocent park goers, before people in black came rushing at him.

Just to be sure though, he grabbed the first one he saw and shook him down for answers while other suited individuals hollered from a 'safe' distance for him to let his 'hostage' go. They also tried asking him who he'd killed and clamoured at him to answer.

Idiots, the lot of them.

The group identified themselves loudly as the Vongola, which was a name Viper had dropped earlier, and demanded to know why he'd broken into the headquarters of their intelligence gathering organization. He could see why they needed someone else to do the thinking for them. They clearly didn't have enough brain cells collectively to scrape together to process what was actually happening in front of their own eyes.

He wasn't covered in nearly enough blood to have killed someone. A casual glance at a nearby shop window revealed that his reflection hadn't changed overly much from the last time he'd seen it. He might have understood the reaction if he'd been wearing his hooded cloak as the unknown was intimidating to just about anyone, but he wasn't exactly visually impressive.

He was slight and small for his age, dusty and covered in dirt and debris. Yes, he had blood streaked liberally across his person, but there wasn't that much of it and what was there could have easily have been explained away as stage makeup. Yet people were legitimately finding him terrifying, enough so that he'd sent women and children screaming away from him and these so-called Mafioso were acting like he was holding a weapon, like a gun, or was about to set off an invisible bomb.

He didn't even have his claws out. What exactly was so frightening about an unarmed fourteen-year-old with purple hair and eyes? He could have been a goth with a particularly unique sense of fashion for all they knew, he was wearing all black.

The man he was shaking down for answers wasn't even injured, simply trembling, pale and docile within his grasp. He was conscious and coherent enough to answer his questions promptly and precisely and without adding any unnecessary information. Harry quite liked that. Easing the man from his grip, he lowered the Mafioso down so that he was no longer dragging his legs behind him and made sure the man's knees were in contact with the footpath before letting go.

It would be poor repayment for such clear and concise answers to just drop him.

The man heaved a great gasp of relief that he struggled to stifle, as if the sound alone would startle Harry into unspeakable violence, and the tension in the air was palpable for a long moment.

Until a jaunty ringtone broke the atmosphere.

"S—scusami!" a man towards the back of the ring of Mafioso said, sweat breaking out across his brow as he pointed to the breast of his coat and flipped the lapel so he could show off the pocket. Loudly telegraphing each movement he reached in with two fingers to gingerly pull out the singing device. "May I take this?" the man asked delicately in accented English, as if seeking permission.

Harry shrugged and raised an eyebrow at him.

All of a sudden there was a circle of clear footpath around the man.

Very deliberately glaring at the group that had so readily abandoned the man on the phone, he snorted at their show of solidarity and loyalty. Had about as much spine as a sack full of Flobberworms, didn't they? He ran into this all the time and it didn't matter where he was, in the Wizarding, Muggle or Mafia World, people were the same.

"I Varia lo stanno corteggiando?" the nervous man on the phone squawked, surprised into speaking a full sentence for the first time since picking up his phone.

No idea what was being said, but it seemed like word travelled just as fast in the Mafia world as it did in the Wizarding World. It couldn't have been more than two or three hours since he'd hopped on his Firebolt to confirm Viper of the Varia's statement and already people were talking about it. He was lucky the new tracking spell he'd set to find a 'Mafioso' willing to answer some questions had lead him to a city so heavily populated with them. It almost made up for the time he'd wasted at the Brat Lordling's mansion.

Darting to the man with the phone he pulled the device out of the man's hand, grabbed him by the collar and pulled him down to stare him in the eye. Grey eyes widened, pupils blown wide with fear, but the man didn't try to escape.

"I have a few questions for you." He told his new focus, walking the man backwards until the back of his knees hit a bench and forced the man to sit. Much better, at least this way he wasn't straining his neck looking up or wasting strength holding the man. "Will you answer them?"

"Yes, of course, anything you want to know." The man near-babbled and he was forced to tighten his grip to halt it.

"Good." Tucking the phone back into the man's pocket he made sure not to break eye contact. He wanted honest answers, and he would get them. First, there was a question that had popped up since landing that was nagging at him. He pulled the man forward again by the grip he had on his tie and glared at the lack of resistance. "I haven't even been here that long and you only heard about me from your phone just now. Why are you all so afraid of me?" he demanded, pulling the man up so hard he was almost rising up off the bench.

He'd more than satisfied his sudden and inexplicable itching thirst for violence with the Brat, who had caused it in the first place, so he wasn't about to fly off the handle again now! This lack of spine from so many people was unbelievable!

"Y— your flames! You're still F-Flaring! They're strong a—and the taint—"

Harry let the man go as if he were burned and backpedalled, the hair rising along his arms and realized that he hadn't pulled his flames back in from the lesson he'd dealt to the Brat and his Knights. Also the taint…That had to mean his bond with Voldemort.

The knowledge that others would be able to sense the blackened bond he had with 'his' Lord had been in the back of his mind since he'd awakened his flames. He hadn't thought much about it as neither Felis, Demeter or any of their children had mentioned it, but… they probably couldn't sense it. As lifelike as the portraits were, in the end they were spelled and animated paint.

Yanking his flames back under his skin confirmed it, as to the very last of them the watching Mafia relaxed.

"Okay, now that we're all calm now…" a woman started from somewhere behind him and Harry slammed one of the smoke bombs pilfered from the Sky Estate to the ground at his feet, pulled on his invisibility cloak and ran. He had a week to decide if he wanted to take Mammon up on his offer and he'd need the time to get his head back on straight, now that the clarity of thought had returned to him.

Maybe he should have listened to Felis when he'd said to wait until he wanted to be around people again.

Chapter Text

The most maddening thing about having been led around in circles by his tracking spells was not the fact he was wasting valuable time, or that he was making little to no progress. It was in the fact that he could not resist following a 'lead' when he found one. Parking himself on the roof of a skyscraper to calm himself down had been a smart move, giving himself the time to filter away his irritation was even smarter.

What wasn't smart was pulling out the map he had put his tracking spells on.

Stepping through the doorway he'd created for himself and into what looked to be a laboratory of some kind with the babbling, green haired toddler that was his latest focus backed up against the wall, Harry realized that he had a problem. He'd known it would probably be another dead end when he noticed the newest addition to his map, but he hadn't been able to help himself. He'd needed to check it out, because where there had been four dots in Italy there were now five.

He could tell now that the urgent need to check was satisfied. He was unravelling, and the reason why wasn't so hard to discern. Black Knights didn't last long away from their Liege. By every historical account he could scrape together from Voldemort's memories, it was the reason why they were cast aside rather than put to death. It was a slower, much more painful death than would be expected if they were simply executed. Always and without exception, Black Knights self-destructed. Either by their own hands or in a blaze of dramatic, last-minute glory.

This had always been a race against time, but he never imagined it would be from so many deadlines.

How much longer until he met one? Until someone realized he was still alive? Until Voldemort decided he'd waited long enough and was strong enough to make good on the threat of renewed war or figured out his Horcruxes were being hunted? How long could he hold onto his sanity? Already he was fraying at the edges and there was a part of him he was desperately ignoring, but could he do so forever? What if one day he stopped fighting it?

Would he find himself kneeling before Voldemort?

A part of him was screaming for it. The voice of it was there, howling against his hatred and betrayal in the very depths of the blackened bond he shared with Voldemort. The pain that came with going against it, his clashing instincts, and bearing so deep a grudge for he who was literally the centre of his entire world wasn't unbearable... but it never stopped burning.

He could function, but the trade-off was finding something else to focus on when the thoughts inevitably resurfaced. He had experience with pushing away pain and shoving it to the back of his mind, but what did one do when facing a downward spiral?

The only option was to find Regulus as fast as he could. Dobby and Kreacher had their instructions in the event of his demise. If he found himself succumbing to his instincts as a Knight to kneel… that was another story, but he could cast a spell or something on himself and set it against that eventuality. He would be bowing to Voldemort over his own dead and rotting corpse. Literally. It was the only measure he could make to safeguard himself, and the world, against the possibility.

The very thought of standing at his side while he decimated the Wizarding World made him want to kill himself, at least more immediately than he already did.

Viper's offer was as suspicious as it could get, the deal had been given in the heat of the moment and could very well be walking him into a trap, but he couldn't afford not to take it. As much as he hated the thought of it, he couldn't trust himself to be alone. He needed to be around people, to be anchored to the here and now. Distractions, he needed them and what better distraction could he get than another Lord and his Knights?

With the lesson Harry had given the Brat after the lord's attempt to Knight him without so much as a proper introduction, the boy-king would surely hesitate to try again anytime soon, and with the way information seemed to spread so quickly in the Mafia World, others would take the hint. The attempt had stirred the Bond and his flame into action, and his nerves were still alight with the sharp stinging reminiscent of the Cruciatus Curse that had resulted from the attempt, but it had given him an idea.

As twisted, malformed and distorted as the bond was, could he twist it further to make it work in his favor? Harry was good at fabricating memories, he had to do that every time he cast the Patronus Charm because he didn't have a happy enough memory for it naturally. If he used that experience… then he might find his salvation in tricking his side of the bond into believing he was serving Voldemort. Harry would be able to safely blunt his instincts as a Knight on the young Lord he'd found trying to find Regulus, use him as a very temporary Liege-replacement and earn himself a stay of execution for the duration of the 'Ring Battles'.

It was a slippery slope. A plan with a risky, high-stakes bet, but he'd always been weirdly lucky.

He'd take his chances.

Looking the green eyed toddler that was very much not Regulus dead in the eye Harry crouched down on his heels and leaned forward. "I have a few questions for you, will you answer them?"

The toddler, trapped between a bookshelf and a filing cabinet, paused in his rush of Italian, (which had the tone of someone begging for their life), and green eyes widened in surprise. It was as if he was only just then realizing that whatever he'd been babbling had completely fallen on uncomprehending ears. Harry almost smiled as the baby gave his affirmative in English, switching languages instantly.

It would be a waste of a trip if he didn't use the opportunity to confirm Viper's words from an independent source of information.

The importance of implementing a safeguard against the very real threat of losing himself to the bond was eating at him. It was distracting enough a thought that he was only listening to the toddler answering his questions with half an ear. He needed to put a spell in place while he still had some clarity of thought and sense of sanity. He was aware enough to know that his current state of mind wouldn't last long. The mental gymnastics he'd have to pull to serve the Brat as his Knight would be straining enough alone without adding more to his plate.

He was broken enough that the possibility was there. The lack of empathy when he was so deeply entrenched in his flame, his hyper focus, and the internal battle he waged with the bond and his fracturing sanity were a recipe for disaster. Voldemort would be delighted to have wrought it; it would suit his tastes, feed his need for drama and stroke his ego at the same time. Having his ultimate enemy kneeling before him in service would be perfect and sweet irony to him.

Just like the decision he'd made to accept the Killing Curse in the graveyard, it wasn't even a choice. It was now or never, for as to all intents and purposes he was about to step into the Muggle World and stay there for at least a month.

The Mafia World wasn't recognized by the Wizarding World, so any act of magic performed in front of a Mafioso would be tantamount to breaking the Statute of Secrecy. So he'd be balancing along a behavioural tightrope as well as a mental one, and he wouldn't be able to trust the Brat's Knights not to be watching him at all times. He would be watching him in their shoes, especially after the thrashing he'd dealt them.

Harry wasn't so lost to his years in the Wizarding world that he didn't remember that surveillance technology existed. There would be no excusing himself to an unused room in order to perform spells or curses. No ducking into a back alley either, because he couldn't take the chance he'd run into an unexpected witness. He was lucky enough the Trace had apparently fallen off his wand when he'd 'died' and with the way Flames weren't recognized by the Ministry as magic meant he was at least free to use them to defend himself while he was in the Mafia world.

So long as he was careful, and made sure to keep the effect as subtle as he could, he could still use magic. He'd just have to exercise… constant vigilance.

Turning on his heel, he stepped back through the hole he'd made in the wall and away from the quaking toddler that had so predictably turned out to not be Regulus. He noted the little red dot in each of the small black domes set in the ceiling and realized how lucky he was.

Harry had been walking in and out of the Muggle world without caution this whole time and he'd yet to be confronted by Aurors. Perhaps the laws in Italy were different, but that wasn't a gamble he was prepared to make. Starting from now he was going to use his magic as sparingly as he could, just in case.

It would be a shame to have to cut through Aurors to see his mission through to the end.

OoO

Finding a location that would be safe from muggle witnesses that was also suitable for practicing magic was easy. A quick scry of his map gave him a location, and when he landed he spent a long moment sitting with his back against a tree and the Firebolt in his lap, sifting through Voldemort's memories to find a suitable spell, curse or ritual for himself. The House-Elves cried horribly for hours after when he asked for their help when he finally came up with one, but they agreed to help. They understood how far he was willing to go for the sake of 'freedom' and 'revenge'.

Finding someone to cast the spell had been the hard part, but Kreacher offered a solution. He would find a suitable witch or wizard to cast the spell and return with them, and Harry would only need to provide the price for their cooperation with gold. His temporary death apparently meant nothing with regards to how accounts worked in Gringotts, as he was still considered very much alive as far as the bank was concerned. Dobby had hidden away all of his school things and had stolen his vault keys from Dumbledore. A promissory note with the correct key and the Goblins hadn't even looked twice at the withdrawal.

"Dobby wills be taking care of all of Harry Potter Sir's letters." The elf promised, his wobbling green eyes streaming tears, and sniffing grossly. "Dobby knows how! Just like when Dobby tried to stop Harry Potter Sir from returning to Hogwarts!" If anyone tried to send him a letter, whether it be from Gringotts, Hogwarts or anyone else, it would be an indication that he was still alive. Harry hadn't even considered it, thank god for Dobby's foresight.

Waiting was the hardest part.

Dobby used the time to convince and cajole him into cleaning himself up and changing clothes, having also returned from his trip to Gringotts with a tent similar to the one the Weasleys had used for the Quidditch world cup. Harry was chivvied into the tent's overly ostentatious bathroom and pushed towards the full and bubbling bath. He didn't have to wonder who Dobby had 'borrowed' it from. The Slytherin colours and the elf's personal history were more than enough to make the connection.

What else was Dobby stealing from the Malfoys?

It was only when he was peeling himself out of his clothes that he realized how badly he needed the bath. Dried blood and dirt fell off of him as he dropped his clothing to the floor in a small pile near the bathtub. Bits of brick, mortar and splinters of wood were caught in the folds of his jacket and his hair was so dirty that the vibrant violet color was muted to the exact shade of lilac Lockhart had once been so fond of.

How long had it been since his last bath? Since he'd left Sky Manor? He'd already lost count. Days blended together in a blur of focus and action. It had to have been several days already, the distance between each Not-Regulus location wasn't so small that he could have visited them all in the same day. Come to think of it, how long had it been since he'd struck that deal with Viper? His window of opportunity was a week, or three, if they accepted him stepping up as a representative later than expected.

Stepping into the bathtub, Harry sank into the warm water and splashed some water over his face. Viper had been in the middle of telling him what mediums he accepted payment in when Silver had interrupted. If there was a chance he could renegotiate the 'currency' of the exchange he was dealing with he could very well save himself two weeks of stress. He had more gold than he could ever spend, that he was never going to be able to spend, and two very willing volunteers who would be able to change it into whatever suited the toddler if gold didn't suit.

A thorough scrub, generous use of the array of toiletries available, and a fresh change of clothes later, and Harry stepped out of the bathroom to a table top crowded with food waiting for him in the tent's 'dining room'. Hunger he hadn't even known he was feeling had him draining multiple flagons of pumpkin juice, milk, water and butterbeer as well as wolfing down food enough to feed the Dursleys for a week.

He spent the time until Kreacher returned lying on his back in an overly large bed Dobby charmed from green and silver into black with purple accents. Sunken into the cushions, he found he didn't mind all that much, the colours weren't as bad as the green and silver. The house elf seemed to think he enjoyed it. He wasn't right… but he wasn't wrong either. He honestly didn't care one whit what he looked like, what he was sleeping on or whether or not he clashed with it. It really shone a light on what the Malfoys found important if this was what Dobby did left to his own devices.

He fell into a light doze, one he was jolted out of with a start that nearly had him setting fire to the bedding. The tent walls, while looking solid from the inside, did absolutely nothing to muffle the crack of Kreacher's return. Harry reined in the flames before they could do much more than make his eyes glow in the dim light of the tent and slipped out of bed. He paused only long enough to accept and shrug on the cloak Dobby quickly offered him, and stepped out into the night.

The air fogged around him as he stepped out of the bounds of the warming charm that had kept the inside of the tent at such a comfortable temperature. He was unbothered by the cold, it wasn't even touching him, but the unnerved step back the person waiting for him took had him thankful they couldn't see his face. His eyes would no doubt be glowing a hot purple in the dark and they'd have felt the minute shift his magic had made.

Kreacher wouldn't have bothered bringing the witch had she not already agreed to cast the spell in return for the gold she had been promised, but she could change her mind at any minute. He'd rather not waste time finding replacements if she lost her nerve unnecessarily. It had taken long enough to find this one. She'd had to be both strong enough to bind him and be desperate enough for money that she would accept the offer Kreacher had made her sight-unseen.

"Does Master find this one acceptable?" The house elf asked, pushing the woman forward for his regard.

"I trust your judgement in this Kreacher, thank you. Find the other one while I speak to her."

Kreacher's little face wrinkled as tears squeezed out of his tightly shut eyes. "As Master wishes." The house elf croaked, bowing low before disappearing again with a sharp crack.

"A Black Knight." The woman breathed, the air misting out of her in a visible, broken stream.

He didn't deny it, simply waited to see if her nerve would hold against the revelation of what her client was. She regarded him silently for a long moment before her spine straightened. He couldn't see her face any more than she could see his, but her determination was visible in her mien.

"What would you have me cast, Sir Knight?" the woman asked, dipping into an almost sarcastic curtsey. She straightened and closed the front of her threadbare cloak against a shiver that wasn't wholly due to the cold and her knuckles whitened under the grip she had on the straining cloth. He thought he'd have rather admired her bravery had he not been so deeply entrenched in his own flame.

"An Unbreakable Vow." He answered, walking forward through the light smattering of snow on the ground. "The clauses of which will be worded exactly as I instruct, or you will find your life forfeit."

"Naturally." The woman drawled under her breath and almost to herself, mouth twisting downwards at the words. "So you're binding yourself to me?"

"You will be binding me." Harry corrected the witch, "But first you will swear yourself to secrecy on your magic."

The woman's mouth dropped in surprise and she raised her voice raised in alarm. "Not before I see the gold!"

"Dobby? Can you—"

The house elf was there before he could finish talking, opening one of the bags of gold he'd brought and pouring it out onto the ground at his feet. Harry kicked a Galleon up, caught it and flipped it across the distance between them. "Good enough for you?"

The witch caught it desperately, lunging forward to catch it between both palms and then looked down at it and the pile she would be earning as if she thought she was dreaming. "Okay." She agreed, shaking hands clutched around the coin as if would run away from her. "On my magic, I so swear to cast an Unbreakable Vow in exchange for the gold offered and to keep all that happens here between us a secret—"

"—For a year and a day." Harry interjected

"—For a year and a day, so mote it be." She finished and the weight of her magic settled over the both of them. "… why a year and a day?" the woman asked.

"Do you really have to ask?" Harry asked, as if it weren't obvious that he was doing it to put even further pressure on himself. He would reach his goal within the year or die trying.

The witch shuddered visibly.

"Dobby, can you please fetch me some parchment and a…"

A small desk, a writing set and a chair appeared in front of him.

"… thank you."

Without bothering to take the seat offered, Harry quickly penned out what he wanted the woman to bind him to and then held it out for her to take. She took it from him with a hand she reluctantly peeled away from the Galleon she was still cradling between her cupped fingers and gave it a quick read.

Her mouth dropped open again.

"Do you have any idea what an Unbreakable Vow is!? You break any of these clauses and you're dead! You've already gone insane, haven't you?" she demanded, voice raising with the question. "There's no way this vow won't kill you!"

"That was the idea." Harry said dryly.

The woman stepped away from him for a bit and started muttering a filthy string of swearwords under her breath. She'd seemingly decided he was no longer a threat, as she turned her back on him and started to scold herself up, down and sideways for the situation she had walked herself into as if he weren't even there.

Harry nodded at Dobby to hand the pouch he'd emptied the gold from to the witch and led the way back into the tent. If she wanted to curse at the wind like a lunatic who was he to stop her? He would rather wait for Kreacher to return with the person she'd be binding him to in the comfort of the tent.

"Fine!" The woman exclaimed, stomping in after him a bit later. "Fine! It's like I'll be doing you a mercy by swearing you to this vow! You would have died a painful death otherwise, at least this way it'll be quick and clean!"

She sounded as if she were trying to convince herself.

"… whatever. Dobby, if you could please make her welcome until Kreacher returns?"

"Dobby will! Dobby is be taking care of her while yous be sleeping."

Harry almost felt like rolling his eyes at the not-so-subtle prompt and headed to the room he'd been in sleeping earlier. This time though he was too wired to sleep, so much so that he didn't bother taking off his cloak before settling back down on the bed. Kreacher wouldn't take nearly so long with the next person, the house elf only needed to pick up the first willing witch or wizard he came across. He'd just have to put the cloak back on again once he returned.

Leaning back against the pillows Harry turned his guest's words over in his mind: mercy? It was strange to hear from a stranger, one who didn't even know his circumstances or history beyond whatever conclusion she could draw from what she was seeing. Called out into the middle of nowhere and brought before a Black Knight on a mission to kill his own Lord. A Knight who was camping in an overly luxurious tent, had enough gold to burn, and two house elves waiting on him hand and foot.

He wouldn't have been nearly so sympathetic in her shoes.

As desperate as she was, there was still something in her that actually had her empathizing with him, even though she'd clearly felt the bond he shared with Voldemort. It was honestly a measure of kindness he hadn't been expecting. From both her and Kreacher, the house elf really had chosen his bonder with the utmost care, hadn't he? How had he gotten so attached to Harry so quickly? Even Dobby was doing the best he could to support him. The two were working hard to ease what they saw as his suffering.

He might not have felt it, the state he was in was a blessing that way, but he was lucky to have Kreacher and Dobby regardless.

A sharp crack and the crunch of snow heralded Kreacher's return; this time Harry had been waiting for it, expecting it even. He didn't startle when he heard it, he simply sat up and levered himself to his feet.

"Call your Master out, elf." A drawling male voice demanded. "I would have this done as quickly as possible."

Harry paused in the middle of fixing the hood of his cloak so it covered his face more securely. An adult wizard's voice? He obviously knew not to break a threshold uninvited, but he seemed to lack any further manners. Surely he'd know his voice would be audible within the tent?

"No need." Harry replied to his new guest, sweeping out of the 'bedroom' with a few quick steps, through the common area of the tent and out through the main flap. The witch Kreacher had brought to him jumped up from her seat in a fat armchair next to the faux fireplace and followed. "Dobby, could you hand me the gold?"

The house elf leapt up to hand him the sack and stepped back with a completely unnecessary bow. At any other time he'd have reminded Dobby that he was a Free Elf, but now was not the time; the new arrival wanted to get this over with? He was fine with that.

Kreacher's hand-picked wizard was a tall young man that looked to be in his early twenties. He'd arrived without covering his face, and had an arrogant quirk of a smile on his handsome face at the sight of who was greeting him. The man raked his smooth dark hair out of blue eyes, and looked down his nose at him. He wore an air of comfortable wealth around him, but was eyeing the bag Harry was holding greedily, as if he were already planning how he would spend the gold.

"Does Master's find this one acceptable?" Kreacher asked, eagerly searching his face for approval. "Kreacher has be finding him gambling!"

The wizard choked on a sputter he tried unsuccessfully to smother, as if he hadn't expected Kreacher to mention it, and opened his mouth to retort but Harry spoke before he could.

"You do know how to pick them, don't you Kreacher? He's perfect, thank you." he said, allowing himself a brief smile. The clauses were simple enough on the man's end of the vow that Harry would harbour absolutely no guilt over this man's death should he break his vow. Opening the sack of Galleons, Harry tipped the bag open over the snow, caught one of the coins as they fell and tossed it to him. The man caught it lazily and made it dance over his knuckles before flipping it to a rest on his palm.

"How do I know this isn't leprechaun gold?" The man asked, trying to 'regain' the upper hand in the deal he was making.

"You don't know how to cast a Revealing Charm?" Harry bandied back instantly, raising an eyebrow as the man flushed an abrupt red.

"Idiot." The woman behind him breathed, as if she could hardly believe the man could put up such airs in front of him. To be fair though, Harry had his magic and flames tucked neatly away under his skin and without flaring them the man would have no idea who he was dealing with or whose chain he was yanking on with his posturing.

The man cast the Revealing Charm on the coin in his hand and then at the pile of gold at Harry's feet. "Alright, I find the terms acceptable." The man sniffed, trying to scrape together his lost dignity.

"Then kneel." Harry said, grabbing the man by the front of his fashionable robes and pulling him forward and down with him as he dropped to his knees. He snatched up the man's right hand and looked to the witch expectantly. "Do it."

The witch who would be binding them handed the man opposite Harry half of the clauses he'd handed her earlier, having torn the parchment in half. "You'll be swearing him to these." She told the man. Turning to look at Harry she offered him the other piece, but he shook his head, he didn't need it.

"Then I'll bind you now."

Her wand snapped down on their clasped hands.

"Do you agree to give payment as it was agreed upon completion of the vow and to not seek to reclaim payment once given; by you or other parties acting on your orders?" the man asked Harry, reading from the parchment he was holding with wide eyes.

"I agree." Harry replied and immediately a thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from the witch's wand and wound its way around his hand like a red hot wire. "Do you swear to keep secret all that happens between us for a year and a day?" He asked in return.

"I agree." The man answered and a matching red hot wire twisted around his hand. "Do you swear never to bend knee or bow before he whom you know as Tom Marvolo Riddle, under that name or any other aliases he uses?" he continued quizzically, moving on to the next clause.

"I agree." Harry repeated and a second wire branched out from the first to twine around his hand, tracing a different path from the first. "Do you swear to never seek out any of the parties here tonight for retribution or further compensation for a year and a day?"

"I agree" The man echoed and then finally… "Do you swear to one day sever the bond you share with the man you know as Tom Marvolo Riddle, under that name or any other aliases he uses?"

"I agree." Harry breathed, watching intently as the last clause traced a new path across his hand. "Do you agree to leave as soon as you are able upon payment for this vow?"

"I agree." The man finished and the vow was complete, a last red hot wire braided through the ones already on the man's wrist. The strands brightened momentarily before the magic binding them together calmed and vanished, but not without leaving a mark. The completed vow left behind visible reminders of it in thin black lines that looked to have been scorched into the skin of their hands, but it wasn't like Harry needed the reminder.

The vow swam through him like a living creature, twisting into his very being and settling into a tight, wary coil to await the moment he broke any of the clauses.

"… t-that was the most one-sided vow I've ever heard of!" the man stuttered, but Harry didn't care. He'd gotten what he wanted from the man.

Pushing himself to his feet, Harry rose up out of the pile of gold he'd knelt in without noticing and kicked it over to the man to get rid of him. "I don't care. Here's your payment. Take it and go." The man lunged for the pouch Harry tossed him, frantically spelled the Galleons into it and was gone in a sharp crack of Apparition before he even turned away.

OoO

Jessica Reins stared after the Black Knight as he swept back into his tent, guilt settling into her gut heavily, though she couldn't put her finger on why. Everything about him felt wrong, her magic was trying to tell him he was untrustworthy, an oath-breaker of the highest order… but something about the picture he was presenting didn't fit.

He was abrupt and short with words… but he'd remained semi-polite, even in the face of her reaction to him and the grandstanding of the idiot the house elf Kreacher had brought him. He was powerful, from the slip he'd made when she'd first appeared, and yet he sounded young. He didn't even show it off like any other witch or wizard would have done and had kept his aura to himself since pulling it back under control.

He also sounded cold and unfeeling, but there was a warmth and gentleness in his voice when he spoke to his house elves. They adored him and jumped to obey his every wish and unspoken desire without hesitation and now one of those house elves was sobbing so heartbrokenly at his master's predicament that she was half sure he'd die from it.

How did a Black Knight earn such loyalty?

Kreacher wrapped his arms around Dobby, the elf who'd watched over her earlier, and rocked him comfortingly. "Dobby must not be crying now..." The wrinkled old thing consoled the tearful elf, using a corner of his filthy pillowcase to dry the tears. "Master will not die for Kreacher never promised anything."

Dobby immediately stopped crying.

"D… Dobby has not been promising anything either!" the little elf grinned happily. Two pairs of bloodshot green eyes gleamed fanatically in the darkness and Kreacher looked at her over Dobby's shoulder and offered her a demented, extremely self-satisfied smirk.

The Knight might have sworn to not kill the person he was bound to or send anyone on his orders, but the elves hadn't made that same oath. They were so loyal that they had just basically decided they were free to do whatever it took to ensure their Master's safety of their own volition. Also… she had been so focused on the gold earlier that she had forgotten to extract a promise of safety from their Master.

Jessica felt every individual hair on her body stand on end.

They could kill her any time they wanted.

She held up under the weight of Kreacher's manic gaze and implied threat for a long moment, before she broke and lunged for the tent flap.

"SIR KNIGHT? DO YOU PERCHANCE NEED ANOTHER SERVANT? I WOULD LIKE TO JOIN YOU ON YOUR CRUSADE!"

She was never going to be able to look at house elves the same way again.

OoO

"Do you even know how to behave in the Muggle World?"

The witch, (introducing herself as Jessica Reins), looked almost offended by the question. Which was sort of funny given how she'd suddenly decided she wanted to help him kill Voldemort without knowing who he was planning to kill. "Of course I do!" She exclaimed, "Look at me! Do you think I could afford to live primarily in the Magical World?"

Harry grimaced, only now picking out the tell-tale signs. Underneath the threadbare robes she wasn't wearing slacks; those were a pair of faded black jeans. The boots were leather, but upon closer inspection, were of Muggle make; the treads had simply worn down so far that he hadn't seen it at first glance. Her robes were high necked and had a deep hood, so he couldn't tell what kind of shirt she was wearing underneath it, but he expected more of the same.

There were some things he wouldn't be able to do because he was underage, and secondly Dobby and Kreacher needed to remain out of sight of Muggles, else they'd be in danger of breaking the Statue of Secrecy. She could fill that void because he wasn't so stupid as to think he didn't need the help.

Harry had a very narrow view of the Muggle world as he'd grown up so restricted in the things he was allowed to do. His world had revolved around the cupboard, the school and Mrs Figg's house. There was so much he didn't know, and the woman offering her help was also a fully-fledged witch. He'd have to be brain dead to turn her down.

Just having her nearby while he was tracking down Regulus would ensure he wouldn't get into trouble for underage magic. She could serve as a passable parent/guardian while in the Muggle world. She would know things he didn't know, simply for her knowledge of the modern-day Muggle world. Likewise she would know how to navigate the Magical one too, as he only knew Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.

The less he had to rely on the memories he'd accidentally gained in the graveyard, the better. Already he could tell his demeanour had shifted to the pureblood formality Voldemort had affected so early on in his education at Hogwarts. While that would be helpful in some situations, it would be a drawback in others.

"I know all about the muggle world! I don't care how fancy your broom is, you can't fly everywhere! Also where are you going to stay? You can't book a hotel room without an adult and you can't pitch a tent like this just anywhere, who knows who'll see you? Tell me where you want to go and I'll take you, I've had my apparition licence since I was sixteen and I know how to drive!"

"I've made a deal with a local Lord's Knight in exchange for a favour. I'll be leaving in the morning; if you're late I'll leave you behind."

"Great, I'll probably be back before then." The witch sighed with relief. "Just don't…" she trailed off and looked at where Dobby and Kreacher were watching them with great concern. Harry sighed and ran a hair through his hair under his hood and plucked out a vibrant purple strand to hand over to her.

"Use that to find me if you get lost." He suggested, ignoring her boggling look of near-horror. A single strand of hair could potentially be a powerful tool that she could use to control him, but only if he didn't know she had it. He'd given it to her willingly and for a specific purpose only. He very much doubted she'd be able to use it for anything else, the magic imprinted in the act would spoil any potion or ritual it was used in.

She should know that.

"I'll… take good care of it." she promised shakily and Harry dropped it into her waiting palm.

Pivoting on his heel, he retreated to the safety of the bedroom he'd claimed as his own and fell face first onto the mattress. That had been exhausting in more ways than one… but at least he would no longer be in danger of becoming his worst nightmare.

Closing his eyes, he turned his awareness inwards and towards the Vow he made, eying the shape it had adopted. Already, one of the strands that made up its structure was duller than the rest, signifying the completion of that particular clause, but the rest of it was still gleaming. A lovely, reassuring red-gold against the sea of purple and the creeping edges of black inside him. For the first time since he was twelve, he was not afraid of symbol it had become, the shape of the particular snake it had adopted was actually somewhat reassuring.

A boa-constrictor?

Harry curled into his pillow and allowed himself a small smile.

How appropriate.

OoO

Waiting for Jessica to return didn't take up much time, and even though he'd said that he wouldn't wait for her an internal itch wouldn't let him leave just yet, not until she came back. She was, in a way, his responsibility now, and he did not want to be the kind of person that would disregard the people under his care; that was too much like Tom Riddle, the Dursleys and even Dumbledore to an extent and the brat-lord whose Sapphire Knight he planned to make a pact with.

So he waited, and used the excuse of transfiguring a candlestick into a pair of rings with which he embedded Regulus' hair and the strands of hair he'd stolen from the Boy King. When she finally came, he didn't speak a word of how long she'd taken or how much time he'd wasted. Instead, he merely followed her out of the tent and to a car she'd apparently driven up to their campsite.

"It's a rental." She said as she strapped herself into the front seat. "We'll just leave it when we don't need it anymore, the Muggles will find it again. It's got a GPS tracker in it… uh, that's a bit like a tracking char—"

"I know what a GPS is." Harry muttered, opening the car door and sitting himself in the passenger's seat, strapping himself in with ease. Pulling his collection of maps out of his pocket, he pointed out the location of the Brat's mansion and the woman compared it to a Muggle map to find the name of the closest street. She then input the information into the GPS and they were off.

Harry adjusted the tilt of the seat till he was lying almost flat, shaded his eyes from the sun with the hood of his cloak and listlessly fold his arms across his chest.

"You're going to attract attention with that getup." Jessica remarked.

"You'd be surprised, s'not much different from what a Goth would wear." He mumbled, eyes drooping. Now that he was moving and actually working towards his main goal the tension in him was receding and he was actually finding it easier to relax now than when he'd been 'camping'.

She stared at him from the corner of her eye for a moment, "You... definitely aren't Pureblood," she muttered to herself before turning her attention back to the road with an almost offended air of bewilderment.

"Neither are you."

He eyed her back through the folds his hood. She'd cleaned up and replaced her threadbare clothes with newer versions, but had forgone the robes in favour of a long tan jacket with a belt. He could now see her features clearly and the tawny gold of her eyes and the color of the thick braid she wore her hair in gave away exactly why she'd been so poor and desperate for someone strong enough magically to bind him to a vow.

"Alright, my father was a muggle before he turned werewolf. Got a problem with that?"

This time Harry really did roll his eyes.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but you're sat next to a Black Knight." Harry drawled sarcastically, stretching out without an ounce of care and slouching into a more comfortable position. "Got a problem with that?"

Her jaw dropped.

He sat up briefly to tap a finger under her chin and helped her shut her mouth before leaning back again, "Eyes on the road and wake me up when we get there."

"… yes sir."

OoO

Harry was startled out of his nap for the second time in as many days by the sound of a sharp whistle. At first, he thought the sound had come from his driver, but Jessica had also been startled by the sound and was looking at him in complete and utter confusion.

"Did you just whistle at me?" she asked incredulously.

"No. Did—"

A bell-like sound interrupted him and started ringing like a…

"Do you have a mobile phone?" Jessica asked, equally as flabbergasted, as if that were somehow even more baffling than the thought of him whistling at her.

Sitting up, he searched around his seat and when the car pulled over to the side of the road, he opened the door and got out to check under the seat to check there as well, but he couldn't find where it was coming from. The sound followed him as he moved and he realized he might actually have one on his person. Patting himself down, Harry localized the sound down to a side pocket and reached in to pull out the small packet the Giglio Nero Seer had given him and gave it a glare.

"Apparently I do." He said flatly as he back in his seat, peeling the phone out he turned to address the woman behind him. "How do I—"

Jessica plucked the phone from his hand and answered it for him. "Um, hello? I.. yes, there is a hooded individual— Saint?"

"She's the one who picked the name, not me." Harry spat, leaning back to swipe the phone back from her. "What do you want?" he asked the only person who could possibly have the number.

"Now is that any way to talk to someone who's about to save you from wasting the next few days trying to find someone who's not even in the country anymore?" The Giglio Nero Seer asked brightly, voice brimming with amusement. "Here I was hoping to pay off a little of the Life Debt I'm going to owe you!"

"You can't pre-pay a Life Debt, that's not how it works." At least he didn't think it worked like that, turning again he tilted his head at his driver in question.

"I—it's not." Jessica confirmed, amber-gold eyes as round as saucers even though she was listening to only half of the conversation.

"Then a bribe? Viper's gone to Japan; if you move quickly, you can cash in that offer before they do something foolish."

"It's no wonder you're trying to pre-pay a life-debt, if this is how careless you are with your own safety. Don't call me again." Harry snapped, crushing the phone with his bare hands on the Seer's moue of disappointment and tossed it out the still-open door of the car as far as he could throw it.

Anyone could have been listening to that phone call, either by wire-tapping or physically listening in. All the time she'd spent keeping her secret and she was risking it all over a phone call? He was starting to think all Lords were idiots.

"That… sounded like you got a text message before she rang." Jessica cringed against backlash that wouldn't be directed at her. She tried to smile, but with her elongated canines and the tight expression on her face it looked more like she was baring her teeth. "Next time let me hang up for you?"

"There won't be a next time." Harry said, getting up out of his seat again and slamming the door closed. "Take me to the nearest Magical District, we're going to Japan."

"Not with the way you are now I'm not." the woman countered, determined all of a sudden. "You won't make it two steps without being arrested for disturbing the peace. Stay with the car and I'll go get us a Portkey. Did she say where in Japan specifically, or just Japan?"

"… just Japan." Harry grumped, jerking the car door open again so he could slump back into the seat. "Fucking seers."

"Just… take another nap or something. I won't be long." The woman promised, voice modulated to sound as soothing as she could get it as she opened her door in preparation to get out of the car.

"Wait." He said, shifting so he could see into the back seat of the car. "Dobby, can you please go with her and pay for it with my vault key."

Jessica lunged out of the car as if her ass was on fire, scrabbling away on all fours for a brief moment before pushing herself off her hands. "They were there the whole time!?" she yelped, boggling through the window at the two house elves cuddled up together in the back.

"Where else would they sit?" Harry asked the woman, honestly confused by her behaviour.

"Dobby will! Dobby is be taking good care of Miss Jessy! Yes Dobby will!" the house elf exclaimed brightly, bouncing up and disappearing with a crack to reappear at her feet, his little face lit with eagerness and tilted up to grin excitedly at her.

Jessica face drained of color and she turned a little green around the gills.

"Kreacher will stay with Master Saint." The older house elf grizzled, pulling in the blanket he'd been sharing with Dobby around himself.

"I'm not your Master." Harry corrected, closing the door after sitting down again.

"Yous is Master's heir, that makes yous Master." Kreacher disagreed.

"…… okay. So, how are we doing this?" Jessica asked Dobby, bodily cringing back as she awkwardly reached out to pick the house elf up.

"Dobby can be taking yous!"

A surprised shriek sounded out of the woman as the elf made good on the offer by grabbing her around the knees in a bear-hug and disappearing with her.

"Does Harry Potter Sir want a blanket?" Kreacher asked hopefully from the back seat.

Harry sighed.

"No, Harry Potter Sir does not want a blanket."

Chapter Text

Harry didn't know how long it took for Jessica to come back with the coordinates for the next Portkey to Japan, he just knew that one moment he'd been laying back listlessly in his seat and the next he was very gently being shaken awake. He opened his eyes to the car door and realized he'd rolled onto his side in his sleep and Dobby was leaning right up in his face and shaking his shoulder. "We is be needing to get to the Portkey, Master Saint." The house elf coaxed anxiously, eyes meeting his before flicking away nervously. He snatched his hands back to twist at hem of his little knit jumper as if he couldn't believe he'd dared to wake him up.

Biting his lip on a groan, he tried to blink away the fog in his head and forced himself up. He hit the lever that would return his seat back up into a sitting position and flopped back to rest against it. He felt heavy with sleep.

"Thanks, Dobby." Harry mumbled, rubbing a hand over his face to wake himself up a bit more. Then the words the house elf had used cut through his exhaustion and he frowned fuzzily at his friend. "Why are you calling me Master? What happened to calling me—"

Four tiny little hands plastered themselves over his mouth before he could finish the sentence. Kreacher had landed in his lap with a sharp crack and tangled his hands with Dobby's, who had lurched over his shoulder and had wrapped his skinny little arms around his neck. The actions had Harry waking all the way up in surprise and their wide green eyes, looking both at him and to the side clued him in to the fact that he'd almost outed himself to a near-stranger.

Peeling their hands away from his mouth, Harry grimaced, "Thanks, I'm awake now. Just don't call me Master, call me Saint." He instructed the elves, ignoring the look boring holes into the side of his head from the direction of the driver's side of the car.

When he turned to look, Jessica's tawny gold eyes were burning curiosity. The expressions on her face were part-offended, part expectant with the rest of it being a lot of badly hidden excitement. "I— you don't have to hide who you are from me." She said awkwardly, trying and failing at acting casual and completely uninterested. "It's not like I'm going to tell anyone."

It was like she didn't even realize she was tilting her head to the side, unconsciously ducking down to get a peek under the hood he was wearing. Had she utterly forgotten who she was dealing with?

"There's more than one way to break a secret without actively telling someone." Harry informed her bitterly and freed himself from the seat-belt, "I'd rather not risk my mission because someone harvested the knowledge directly from your mind."

"Directly from my— but that's illegal!" Jessica gaped.

Harry rolled his eyes. "Like that's stopped anyone before. One would think, being what you are, that you'd be used to people of dubious legalities."

"First of all, my father being a werewolf doesn't automatically make me a criminal! Secondly Legilimens are required by law to register their gift and using it without being licensed is— you just can't do that in this day in age! You'd be found out! Hello, one-way ticket to jail! Also do you know how rare that ability is?" Jessica whispered to him like she was scared of being overheard as she also unbuckled herself from the seat-belt.

Probably registered like 'every' Animagi were listed. If Dumbledore's name was on that list, he would eat Kreacher. If Snape's was on there, he'd add Dobby to the menu.

"Not as rare as you think it is." Harry muttered as he opened the car door and let himself out, curling an arm around the elves so he could let them out of the car without squishing them. Kicking the car door shut with his foot, he knelt down to let them out of his arms, "As for you not being a criminal… correct me if I'm wrong but isn't 'aiding and abetting' a thing that exists?"

"… aiding and abetting?" Jessica echoed blankly.

Harry pointed at her. "Aiding and abetting," he clarified then pointed back at himself. "The Black Knight on a crusade to commit murder."

"T—THE HOUSE ELVES THREATENED ME INTO IT!" Jessica wailed.

Harry looked down at Dobby and Kreacher's too wide, innocent green eyes and sighed feelingly. "Cause that's going to hold up in court." He replied dryly.

If he hadn't already known what Dobby was capable of, the elf's history and the lengths he'd go to 'protect' him he wouldn't have believed it. He might not have known Kreacher for very long, but he was no doubt cut from the same cloth Dobby was. They'd taken to each too quickly and got along far too well that he couldn't imagine they were very different personality-wise. "You're better off just saying I threatened you into it, it'll be more believable."

To the house elves he fixed a stern look.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" He asked them bluntly, making sure to meet both pairs of shifty eyes. "Whatever you're doing with Reins, stop it. You know what's at stake here, I can't have this disrupting my plans. Dobby… what happened to your promise to me when I freed you? If I can't trust you to work with me instead of behind my back I'll leave you behind. Same with you Kreacher."

Dobby crumpled like a wet paper bag, collapsing onto his knees and wrapping his little arms around Kreacher's waist to keep himself upright and blubbering incomprehensible words into his side. Kreacher wavered but surprisingly held his ground, though it looked like it was taking every ounce of willpower he had in him to do it.

"Yous… is not… Kreacher's master." The elf gritted out, as if the words were physically painful for him to say. So he was trying to play that card?

"You're right." Harry allowed, giving the elf a tight, wry smile. "I'm not your Master. I can't order you to stay behind, nor can I really stop you from following me. As I'm not your Master how am I to truly trust you or the things you've handled? Do you really think I'm going to let someone I don't trust help me? Why, I'd have to set up the tent on my own."

Kreacher jerked as Dobby's tears shuddered to a shocked stop.

"Cook for myself."

The aging house elf twitched and Dobby smothered a scandalized wail against Kreacher's pillowcase.

"Clean my own clothes… and since I don't know the spells to do it the Magical way, I'd have to do it the Muggle way. With a washing machine."

Dobby and Kreacher choked in union and the picture they made, with the pure horror sketching itself across their faces, would have made quite the funny picture had he been in any kind of mood to enjoy it.

"Master Saint will not." Kreacher spat, glaring at the threat through a suspiciously wet sheen in his eyes, like he'd actually been brought to the brink of tears at the thought.

Dobby was already crying.

"Sir Saint would!" he bawled, still clutching Kreacher around the middle. "Dobby has be seeing him do it before!"

There were the instances where he forgot that Dobby had once belonged to a Dark Pureblood family. His rebellious spirit, cheerful attitude and bubbly personality made it easy. Which was why it caught him so off guard when reminders like this one popped up.

Harry ignored the choked sounds coming from Jessica's direction. She was probably having trouble reconciling the mental image of him as he was now with the picture of him doing something as domestic as cooking and laundry. Little did she know…

"I might even have to… serve Reins dinner."

"Kreacher will do as Master Saint wishes." The grizzled old elf hissed, the tone of his voice outright insulted, sharply folding under the implied threat like a cheap suit. It was the ugliest and most graceless capitulation Harry had ever seen, and was marinated with the taste of 'How dare you', but he'd gotten it. Kreacher's little hands clenched on the pillowcase he was wearing and he could tell that the elf's mind was working furiously behind those hardened, bloodshot gleaming green eyes.

There was no doubt in his mind that Kreacher was already trying to find a loophole to exploit in his 'orders' without breaking the letter of them. For now though it seemed like he wasn't able to immediately come up with one, given the badly-hidden seething on the little elf's face. As for Dobby…

"Well? Are you going to keep the promise you made me?" He asked the younger elf directly, using a finger to tilt his face away from Kreacher's mid-section to look him in the eyes.

"… Dobby will." The elf tried, eyes shifting away.

"Dobby will what?" Harry pressed, because he didn't need the extreme amounts of trouble this one little elf could bring to the table in his life right now. He could hardly have that happen to anyone under his protection either.

"Dobby promises… not to try and save… Master Saint's life again."

Dobby's ears flattened against his skull and pressed his face back into Kreacher's side, all the better to hide his expression.

"No more harassing Reins. Cause her any more trouble and so help me I'll never let you do anything for me again. That goes for both of you, understood?" Harry cautioned, direction the question to both elves, well aware that if he didn't lay out that stipulation that they'd find a way around it.

"Yes, Master Saint."

"Yes, Sir Saint."

That was probably the best he was going to get out of them for now and he didn't exactly have forever to waste.

Finally straightening up from his kneeling position in front of the elves Harry made a mental note to revisit the topic at a later date and hopefully seal any loopholes he could think of before the elves found and exploited them. "Which way is the Portkey?" he asked their victim, who was stuck staring at him with her jaw dropped and her mouth hanging wide open.

"Uh, that way." The woman clarified, pointing to the hill opposite the road from where she'd parked the car. "It's going to be a broken tricycle." He held his hand out for his ticket and hummed thoughtfully to himself as she unconsciously handed both hers and his over.

"Given the circumstances… you can stay behind if you want. I can't afford to have someone unwilling following me for this." Harry told her, stalling for just this one moment after checking the time for the Portkey against the time displayed on the dashboard of the car. "Dobby and Kreacher won't be harassing you any further. You can forget you ever met me; go about your life."

He didn't have a lot of time, but he had enough for this. He wouldn't have this woman following him into danger out of fear of retribution. A small, faint voice that came from somewhere beyond his violet flame didn't want to give her the chance to leave like every adult in his life had ever done. It was telling him to keep hold of her and never let go, but he squashed that part of himself ruthlessly.

Releasing the grip he had on his magic, Harry allowed it to settle around him like a cloak and flared his flame. All the better to give her a solid reminder of exactly who she was dealing with, just in case she'd actually forgotten. "Or you can follow me of your own volition. Your choice."

There might have been more than a handful of reasons to keep her around, because she was useful, but he could make do without her. She'd already done him a huge favour simply by acquiring a Portkey for him to travel with.

To his surprise Jessica Reins didn't flinch back or cringe away from him. In contrast to his expectations her spine straightened, something wild sparked in her tawny gold eyes and she bared her blunted fangs. Far from intimidated, she was instantly fired up by the display and too late Harry remembered how they'd met. How she'd agreed to a meet-and-greet on the words of a sketchy-looking house-elf alone. The sass she'd served him back then, and her easy acceptance of the threat he'd made on her life to warn her away from altering the vows she'd bound him to.

Jessica snatched the tickets back away from him and Harry was too surprised by the action to stop it.

"No! What the hell? You can't just… just turn around and do that! You can't defend me from psychotic house elves and then expect me to take you seriously when you threaten me! What kind of Black Knight are you!" she demanded, making a helpless, expansive gesture with the tickets in her hand as she glared and pointed her finger at him. "You might be a Black Knight, but you're hardly the stuff of nightmares that I first thought you were. If someone like you is a Black Knight then maybe your Lord deserves what's coming to him! Besides, I can't just leave you with them!" she said pointing at Dobby and Kreacher directly, "They're insane. You'll end up arrested by the Aurors or the police! Merlin knows how you've avoided it so far! If I left you with them, I could never face myself in the mirror!"

She slapped one of the tickets against his chest and stomped off in the direction of the hill. Harry caught it, tucked it into a pocket and followed.

He knew what this was, he'd experienced it himself once upon a time. This was a mirror of his own past loyalty to Dumbledore. He hadn't counted on it, hadn't expected this even though he'd experienced it himself first-hand. He should have recognized the broken edges of someone at their wits end and pushed to their absolute limits. No wonder Kreacher had been so self-satisfied at finding her; he'd scooped her up out of the middle of the perfect storm of helplessness and desperation. All it had taken to earn her loyalty was to give her the gold he'd promised her and show her the barest basics of human decency.

Harry shoved his hands deep into his pockets to hide their shaking and allowed his flames to filter away his emotions as they bubbled to the surface. He'd underestimated Kreacher, to a terrifying degree. He hadn't created the situation Kreacher had scooped Jessica up from, not like Dumbledore had with him, but he'd played right into the house elf's hands. This hadn't been part of the plan. This was nowhere near it. How was he supposed to work around her unearned loyalty now that he had it?

"You'll regret this." He told her quietly as he caught up with her, pulling back his magic and banking his flames. He deeply regretted giving his own loyalty to Dumbledore so easily.

"Jokes on you, I already regret it." The woman laughed hollowly. "Hasn't stopped me yet."

Harry could almost hate Dumbledore, even with his flames actively filtering the emotion away. The headmaster could have done so much. He'd been the only one to see past the innocent exterior Tom Riddle had adopted at Hogwarts. The old man had Magical England wrapped around his little finger, he could have used that influence to have Tom Riddle examined by a healer. He could have used any excuse, hell he'd been his teacher before becoming his headmaster. He could have taken him to a goddamned healer and had him examined under the pretence of concern when he was too young to protest. Dumbledore had been the only wizard, the only living being Voldemort had ever feared. Dumbledore could have stopped Voldemort before he'd even begun. Could have stopped him at any time.

Now Dumbledore didn't even have to so much as lift a finger. Harry would end up doing that for him like the good little toy soldier he'd become. He was Voldemort's Black Knight after all, it was only natural.

There was no way the headmaster hadn't known what he was and what he'd become. Yet the man had kept him alive, had let him continue living in spite knowing he was keeping Voldemort alive. The worst part of it was the false hope he'd fostered in him. The grandfatherly act. The sheer indulgence with which he treated him. In hindsight it was so very obvious the headmaster had been metaphorically fattening him up for slaughter.

"Fine then, I'll work you to the bone."

"Hah, bring it on."

OoO

The Portkey between England and Sky Manor in Italy might have been rough, being both very old and largely forgotten about, but it had nothing on the one Jessica had bought tickets for. For all that it was the modern version of the spell, the distance the Portkey had to travel made the advancements the charm had undergone in the years since it had been invented seem like they were nonexistent.

It took a while after they landed for the world to stabilize. Jessica had been fine after a few minutes, but Harry himself had been left nearly immobile. The witch ran interference between the overly concerned group of well-intentioned individuals they'd met up with at the location they'd found their Portkey and gave the house elves time to bundle him up and away.

Japan was very different from what he expected, or at least Magical Tokyo had been. The area the Portkey had taken them to had been reminiscent of a train station without the trains and made completely of stone. The light grey walls and ceiling stood impossibly tall and the pillars were grown over with moss. Stained glass windows had different coloured lights flooding the area and lit up which part of the world travellers would be visiting.

The pathway to Muggle Tokyo was littered with small stone statuettes of squat little monsters and bald headed men. Moss and rock gave way to concrete and steel. They exited Magical Tokyo by entering into a building and then exiting through a set of electric doors and the change was jarring.

"Welcome to Shibuya, I hope you have a wonderful stay!" a woman said, handing Jessica something as she bowed them through to the Muggle world with a polite smile. The woman repeated the gesture and message in Italian, presumably for the benefit of the others exiting the Magical world with them.

His stomach was still turning queasily.

Dobby and Kreacher set up the tent in a nearby park, which was more like a grassy little nook, and tucked him into bed before he could fight the manhandling. He handed the ring he'd transfigured out of a candlestick in Malfoy's tent with the Brat Lordling's hair embedded in its core over, (only once she assured him she was no more reactive to silver than he was), to Jessica and she vanished to parts unknown to rent another car.

Harry had known right from the start that trying to track down the Brat-Lord's Dark Sapphire Knight should he renege on their deal would be difficult, so he'd taken precaution. The strands of hair taken right from the baby's stupid Liege would be more than enough to find him. A proper Knight would be hard pressed to leave their Lord's side, especially in the aftermath of a conflict.

For all that Viper was part of the web of confusion that made tracking Regulus down so hard, working around it to track down the Sapphire Knight was easier than he thought it would be. All Harry had to do was look for the dot on his map that lay closest to the location of the Brat and they had their destination. If that didn't work and they ended up running into one of the unconfirmed maybe-Regulus dots? Silver lining.

Soon the tent was packed up and Harry was back to sitting in the passenger's side of the car with Dobby and Kreacher warming up the back seat.

"What was the thing the woman at the terminal gave you?" Harry asked his driver absently as he eyed the traffic outside his window. The weather was overcast and stormy, it wouldn't be long before it started raining. A train thundering past had him rather glad he hadn't come to Tokyo on his own, just the thought of being stuck in that over-filled train like sardines in a can made his skin itch.

"Hmm? Oh, right! They're language lozenges. They give them out to tourists for free in some countries." Jessica took her attention off the road for long enough to toss him a small white pouch of what turned out to be ruby colored round candies and casually opened her own. "Here, I'll turn on the radio and give us something to learn on our way. Didn't they give you any when you came to Italy?"

Harry didn't bother asking how she knew he wasn't Italian, his accent and the language they spoke in gave him away. Taking one of the candies out of the bag, he popped it into his mouth before he could second-guess himself, ignoring his nausea. A sharp-sweet flavour flooded his mouth, a taste that was luckily somewhere between ginger and peppermint. "I didn't take a public Portkey."

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jessica freeze in the act of rolling one of the candies around in her mouth. Harry turned his attention to her and rested his elbow on the ledge of the car window and his chin on the heel of his palm, wondering what she was getting worked up over this time.

"I— that's… illegal." She spluttered, jerking her eyes away from the road and back again.

Harry rolled his eyes.

"Do I need to start wearing a sign around my neck that says 'Black Knight' before the idea actually sinks in?" He asked sarcastically. "Also, eyes on the road."

Jessica sharply fixed her wandering attention back onto the road again and grit her teeth. "That's not what I meant!" the woman snapped. "Private intercontinental Portkeys were banned by the Ministry of Magic over a hundred years ago! Their instability is notorious! You're lucky you didn't kill yourself! Where did you find it?"

"In the basement." He replied shortly, not bothering to comment on his luck or lack there-of.

Jessica made a garbled noise of pure frustration. "One day, you're going to sit down and tell me everything."

Harry snorted.

"Keep dreaming."

OoO

The closer they got to their goal, the tighter tensions ran and it became impossible to focus on anything outside of that.

It was a sharp contrast to the near relaxed atmosphere at the start of the car ride. Harry was no longer capable of sarcastic banter. All he could focus on was the fact that they were finally within reaching distance of Viper and his brat of a Lord. Soon, he would be one step closer to finding Regulus.

One step closer to defeating Voldemort once and for all.

As soon as they made it to the sleepy little town of Namimori Harry held out his hand to his driver. "The ring." He couldn't take sitting in the car anymore.

Jessica slammed on the brakes in her haste to comply with the demand and deposited it into his waiting palm. Harry released himself from the seat-belt, almost tearing it in his haste and slipped the ring over his index finger as he wrenched himself out of the car and into the rain.

This close he didn't need his maps, the ring would be enough. He fed the tracking spell through it and felt his magic hum through the silver. His magic reverberated through the air and an intangible pathway carved itself through the rain, one that would be invisible to anyone but him.

Pulling his broom out from his pocket, Harry resized it and ignored Jessica's yelp of, "You're going to get us arrested!", and left her in the metaphorical dust. Aiming his broom sharply up, he winged his way up high over the town and pulled out the pair of Omnioculars he'd gotten at the Quidditch World Cup.

With a press of a single button, it was like the curtain of rain he was flying in was gone and day replaced night. Following the pathway his now-visible spell cut through the air, Harry wondered if this was how fans knew when a Quidditch player was 'cheating' during a game. What a wasteful use of resources… though maybe he should be grateful, he'd never had gotten his hands on a set if they hadn't been so casually up for sale.

A plume of bright pink smoke exploded off the rooftop of the building he was looking down on, prompting him to zoom in on the indistinct figures there and frown. Not only could he now see through the storm, but he could clearly see several bright figures lit up by an internal glow of colour.

Harry identified no less than three Lords by those colours, (or was it four?), two of which he'd 'met' before and one whom he hadn't had the 'pleasure' of introducing himself to. Several Knights were in attendance and two Emerald Knights were facing each other off in what looked like an arena set up to attract the lightning generated by the storm he was flying through.

Tucking the Omnioculars away, he angled his broom down for a dive and when he was sure he'd gathered enough momentum, he swung himself off, shrank it back down and shoved it into another pocket. The fencing he landed on bent and wobbled under the weight of his impact, but held. Surprisingly, his arrival went unnoticed due to another burst of pink smoke that enveloped the area and a deafening bang that rocked the rooftop. Pulling out a ring identical to the one he'd used to track down Viper's brat of a Liege, only with a strand of Regulus's baby hair in it, he tried to locate the Dark Sapphire Knight through the smoke.

The spell jerked his hand into two separate directions, to his left and right.

Had he located another possible Regulus? Slipping on both rings, the one containing Regulus's hair and the one containing the Brat's hair, (who was no doubt lurking somewhere nearby), he channelled the spell through both rings at the same time and his hand jerked more strongly to his left. Meaning the new possibly-Regulus was to his right.

As the smoke cleared away Harry gave this new direction his complete attention, even as a thick, overpowering sensation started to saturate the air with an intense pressure. He would be able to keep the source within view out of the corner of his eye easily enough; he wasn't so distracted by the thought of maybe locating Regulus that he could ignore such a sudden-appearing threat. Especially after the many dead ends and false leads he'd run into chasing after Felis's last heir.

No one noticed him as he began to leisurely pick his way along the warped and unstable fence he'd landed on, as all eyes were focused on the pillar of pink smoke and crackling arches of lightning in the middle of the rooftop. He tucked his flame down as far as he was able without driving himself out of Hyper Mode and folded his magic neatly in next to it.

Of those standing under the eaves near the door was one of the Lords he'd run into in Italy, and with him he'd brought a single Turquoise Knight. The rest of the eclectic group was out in the rain, three teenage Knights who couldn't have been any older than himself and lastly… a baby.

So far all of the false Regulus leads had ended up leading to toddlers, the only exception being the Lord-Seer. Was Regulus hiding himself in a proverbial haystack? Who would look for an adult amongst a group of babies?

He gave the others standing with his focus a cursory look-over, just in case, but none of the teenagers watching the fight had even the slightest hint of magic on them. The only person who was even remotely magical was the child riding high on the shoulders of a black haired Turquoise Knight with hazel eyes. The baby shifted and balanced with the teenager's excited movements easily and without conscious thought, not even needing to hold onto anything or brace himself.

Digging his Omnioculars back out Harry focused it on the baby and zoomed in. He traced the baby's features with his eyes and reached for the stack of photographs in his lapel. Good thing he'd spelled them impervious to water well before meeting Jessica, he wouldn't have been able to do anything to protect them from getting wet this deep in the Muggle world.

Pale skin was visible in what little he could see of the soft, rounded edge of the baby's face and tiny hands. Everything else was obscured under an orange banded black fedora and high collared leather trench coat. It would be impossible to see the baby's face from his current angle without drawing attention. He would have to get down onto the actual rooftop to get a better view. How to do that without being noticed though…

Casually popping another Language Lozenge into his mouth, Harry put the Omnioculars away again and considered his options as he sucked on the candy, giving himself more time to absorb the language everyone was using. He'd heard enough of it from the hours-long trip listening to the radio that he was catching most of what they were saying, but it didn't hurt to make sure he understood everything. Speaking the same language as the one Regulus was currently using was common courtesy.

He needed Regulus to cooperate with him and hopefully guilt-trip him into lending his assistance. He hadn't meant to rampage his way through the confrontations with the Lords he'd come into contact with, but his flame had pushed him to it. He'd behaved himself perfectly well with the Giglio Nero Seer, hadn't he? So long as everyone else minded their manners he could do so as well.

He was in no way intimidated by the gathering of Lords and Knights in front of him, he was more than confident he had what it took to handle everyone present, but he had to at least try the soft approach first. You attracted more flies with honey than with vinegar… or spice. A willing helper was always going to be less of a risk than an unwilling one, or even a grudging one. Dobby proved at least that much.

He needed Regulus's help, needed it so desperately that if there was even the slightest chance the toddler wearing the fedora was Regulus, he had to brush off the manners he'd left under the rubble of the Brat's mansion. He could not risk his mission by frightening or pissing him off. He needs to destroy Hufflepuff's cup as soon as possible.

"If the stupid cow from ten years into the future uses the ten year bazooka again…" The Ruby Knight closest to him asked no one in particular.

"What's going to happen?" The little Lord at his side asked, eyes glued to the fading pillar of smoke and bristling lightning.

Ten year bazooka?

The Emerald Knight Harry had kicked around a while back looked nervous and stepped back away from the smoke. He'd evidently gotten a little smarter since the last time he'd seen him.

There was a moment when Harry briefly lost all sense of being able to understand what was being said. Viper's voice had Harry cutting his attention away from the new Maybe-Regulus for a beat to locate where it was coming from. The smoke cleared away from the center of the rooftop and all talking ceased, giving him time to adjust to what he'd just absorbed.

The scene was all very dramatic.

The Emerald Knight who'd been cocooned within the pink smoke emerged and where Harry had glimpsed him as a teenager, he was now standing at the very impressive height of a fully grown adult. He stood languid and relaxed, basking in the full attention of the gathered court of Lords and Knights as lightning curled around his form in graceful, twining arches.

The pose he adopted said that he knew exactly how impressive a figure he cut in comparison with the teenager he had been just moments ago. A lazy eye flicked open and caught the chain and ring in front of him like he'd only just noticed it falling and hadn't been the one to have tossed it up in the air in the first place.

Harry ate another Language Lozenge.

"Lambo from twenty years in the future?!"

Oh, the language came back.

"My, my. This phenomenon…" the now older Emerald Knight drawled out in a smooth rumble, "If this isn't a dream then it's been a long time since I've been summoned by the ten-year bazooka." He tossed a one-eyed look over his shoulder at the youngest Lord in attendance, pinpointing him immediately. "Meeting you all again… It's been such a long time that this feels like a nostalgic dream." Something fond and bitter-sweet passed over his face before melting into a crooked little smirk. "I'd like to cry, but this is no time to be sentimenta—"

A simple flash of lightning meant that Harry was visible against the backdrop of the storming sky behind him. Combined with the glow that briefly lit up the electrical spires and network of cables below meant that Mr Attention was at the perfect angle and facing exactly the right direction to get a clear view of Harry's face. Tugging the hood of his cloak further down over his face as everyone turned to see what had captured the man's attention, he grimaced.

"Saint-Nii?!"

Damn, he hadn't exactly counted on being spotted so quickly, but that was his fault for being too distracted by the possibility of Regulus being within reach to plan his approach. He hadn't understood what the word the man had tacked onto the end meant, but he'd clearly used the name 'Saint'. The closed right eye snapped wide in surprise and boggled right along with the left as his jaw loosened to hang open in an unattractive gape. All hopes the man might have had of maintaining his 'cool guy' image was lost to the storm raging around them and what happened next caught everyone by surprise, Harry most of all.

The pressure in the air vanished. The man's face crumpled. A jagged, garbled sound burst out of his throat and the man tossed the ring he'd caught to the floor to the shock and horror of half the people watching and to the delight and joy of the other half. A howl broke free of the noise the man was making as he used the opponent he'd been fighting moments earlier as a springboard to launch himself into the air at Harry with both arms flung wide and grasping.

"SSAAAAIIIINNNTTTT-NIIIIII!"

He was too paralyzed by the genuine and honest emotion being directed at him to even think of ducking or retaliating. He couldn't have retaliated against the 'assault' to save his life. It would have been like attacking Kreacher and Dobby at their most affectionate. Instinct took over and Harry found himself catching the grossly weeping adult and pitched backwards from the tackle.

Unfreezing the moment he realized they were falling, Harry hooked one of his arms around him, managed to free his other arm from the clinging grasp and released his grappling hook. Latching the edge of the fence he'd been tackled off of was lucky, Harry hadn't had much time to aim for anything else. Twisting, he managed to plant his feet against the wall to stop them from crashing into it and ended up creating a neat little crater in between two windows.

After kicking his feet free, Harry lowering the two of them down to the ground and had a moment of profound awkwardness as the man's feet touched the ground first and he was left hanging in the man's arms. It lasted just long enough for him to register the fact that the man had absolutely no intention of letting him go before the man sank to his knees and pulled him further into his arms. He ended up half in the man's lap, pressed up against his chest with the man's face hidden in the crook of his neck as he cried loudly into his shoulder.

"I— Okay…" Harry muttered, awkwardly patting the man's head. This was uncomfortably like dealing with a human-sized house elf.

"Why?" the man choked out against his ear, holding him desperately, as if terrified Harry would vanish into a vapor the moment he let his arms loosen. "Why didn't you say anything? Why did you keep it to yourself?"

His breath caught in his throat as the pieces fit together in his mind at hyper speed from the snatches of Japanese he'd managed to understand. The expression on the man's face coupled together with this… this outpouring of what he could only call heartbreak. "Twenty years… from the future?" Harry asked, relaxing a little into the hold now that he was starting to understand what was going on.

"We… we could have s…saved you!" the man blubbered in lieu of an answer, or maybe that was answer enough all on its own. 'We— we could have—"

"I'm sorry." Harry murmured into the man's hair, reaching up to smooth down mussed up curls. He couldn't even imagine what it must be like, coming from the future to the past only to run into someone you knew had died. Knew and had formed an attachment to? He would avoid this man's younger self as much as possible going forward. "If it's any consolation… there was nothing you could have done that would have saved me, even before this moment in time."

"No." was the man's vehement denial and he sat upright and pushed him back a little to glare at Harry through his tears. "We've met others like you in the future! Saved them! Bianchi was like you and we helped her! We can still—"

Whatever he'd been about to suggest was lost as he abruptly vanished in a plume of pink smoke. Catching himself on his knees Harry felt something land in his lap and caught the small body before it could tumble down off of him and onto the wet concrete. Just like a Time Turner, the 'Ten-year bazooka' must have a finite time limit; he wasn't as surprised as he should have rightly been at finding himself holding a young child.

"… like me? Unfortunately, no one's quite like me." he snorted to himself as the smoke cleared and he got his first real look at the younger version of the adult who had been so ready to save him without knowing anything about him. Or what he would be saving him from.

Wide green eyes blinked at him and the afro haired little boy in his arms wearing a cow-print onesie physically cringed back away from him, rightly suspicious of the stranger holding him. "Who are you?" the child asked mistrustfully, his little face scrunching up leerily.

"I should be the one asking that." Harry replied dryly, holding back another snort at the saucy attitude coming from someone so young.

Harry set him on his feet and let him go, then stood up to shake his grappling hook free of the roof fence and pulled his flame back so it would shrink back down into the cuff of his gloves. The sound of several sets of thundering feet had him leaping up and backwards, catching the ledge of the entryway of the building he'd been tackled off of one handed so he could flip himself up onto it. Getting out of the way of the group of teenagers that had been on the roof just as they came pouring out the doors. All the better to keep himself out of striking distance lest anyone get the idea to start a fight. He hadn't been the one to launch himself off the building, but with the way people had been reacting to him recently it was better to be safe than to start a brawl when one was trying to curry favours from strangers.

"Lambo!" the teenage Lord exclaimed upon reaching his Knight, immediately bending down to pick him up and check him over.

"Gupa!" the boy squeaked over being scooped up so suddenly.

"You stupid cow! Why did you leave the ring up there? You lost the match because of that!" The teen's silver haired Ruby Knight scolded, even as he scrunched a hand roughly through his Brother In Arm's hair in search of injuries. "Hold still damn it, if you hit your idiot head because your stupid future self threw you off the roof and you die because we missed the concussion I'll kill you!" The teenager squished 'Lambo's' plump cheeks together to get him to hold still and peered into his eyes. "Don't worry the Tenth like that!"

"That extremely doesn't make sense, Tako-head!" the teen-aged Topaz Knight of the group interjected.

"No one asked you, turf-top!"

"At least he seems fine?" the young Turquoise Knight who'd had the Possible-Regulus balancing on his shoulder earlier laughed easily.

They were a surprisingly functional unit, completely unlike the Brat and his Knights. There was a sense of comradery between them that was absent between the older Lord and his set of Knights.

Studiously ignoring the seed of jealousy that wedged itself into his heart, Harry eyeballed the group for the baby he'd spotted earlier and nearly stepped back when he realized the young Lord below was now looking up at him. He held his ground. He would not lose to a wet-behind-the-ears Lordling who couldn't even rein in his own squabbling Knights.

The young Lord swallowed and tried to smile; the wobbly expression did little to conceal his nerves, he would have been better off not forcing it. "D—do you know him, Lambo?" the fluffy haired Lord asked his Emerald Knight anxiously, looking between the child and Harry as if he weren't sure whether he should be frightened or relieved about his presence.

"Lambo… doesn't know…" the boy mused, stretching out the sentence further than it needed just for the sake of the eyes watching him and Harry stifled another snort. "Lambo-sama… has never seen him before!" he finished, squirming in his Lord's hold and wriggling free so he could drop to the ground and strike a pose, laughing evilly at the expressions directed at him.

"I… feel stupid for asking." The teen Lord muttered to himself, drooping a little, but then looked up. Gratitude and relief shone through his entire being as he looked up to address him and something warm and inviting infused the air between them. The young Lord's Amber-brown eyes caught his and the brown haired teen shared a more natural smile with him. "Ah, um… thank you for catching Lambo, but… are you alright? You fell from really high up!"

Harry's gibbering flame screamed and ran smack into a wall.

There was no way he could actually be meeting his eyes from where he was standing. The hood obscured too much of his face and he was fully within the shadows of the building at his back. Unless the young Liege-lord had some kind of ability to see in the dark the only thing he'd be able to see of him would be his general outline.

"I— I'm FINE! That was only the t—third floor!" he spluttered in offence, somehow caught completely off guard by a Lord that genuinely looked concerned. "I'd ha—have to be a complete d—dumbass to injure myself from that hei—!" Flattening a hand over his mouth Harry forcefully cut off his own panicked babble and felt himself flush beet red from head to toe. Thank god for the cloak. What the hell was wrong with him? He hadn't felt this knocked off-kilter since he'd initially properly noticed—

Cho Chang. Oh no.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit. SHIT! This was absolutely the worst place, worst time, worst life for this! He had entirely too many things to do and accomplish and even if he couldn't currently really remember what he was supposed to be doing he knew it was important. What the hell was his brain doing blanking on him right now—

A hand grasped his shoulder. "Vooi~! You took your time getting here…" The Brat-Lord's silver haired Turquoise Knight remarked all-too carelessly, grounding him and roughly snapping him back to the present, chasing away his distraction. The acrid taste of his presence cut sharply through the warmth. "Did you decide to take us up on our— FUCK!"

Harry cut through the man's arm like it was made of butter, skin crawling from the sensation of the bond the man shared with the Brat. "When, exactly, did I give you permission to touch me?" he hissed poisonously, booting the prosthetic that dropped to his feet with flame-fueled force at the man as he jumped back. The Knight caught his own dismembered metallic appendage with his face and fell backwards off the ledge and landed on the concrete below with a very heavy thud and the distinct, audible crack of bones breaking.

Kicking off the ledge to follow him down, he aimed a knee at the fallen Knight and clicked his tongue as the man rolled frantically out of reach. Concrete cracked and exploded away from him to form a crater underneath him as he landed and he distantly heard the sounds of a shocked 'Hiiieee~!' coming from somewhere behind him. Hopping lightly out of the hollow he'd created he stalked after Silver. "Want to try explaining why I had to chase you all the way to goddamned Japan? I thought we had a deal… or did you lie just to get rid of me?"

"As violent as ever, Saint."

For a hot second Harry's vision went red. The Brat-Liege dared to speak to him so casually? As if they'd known each other longer than meeting the one time and in front of a gathering of other Lords to boot? It was as if he were sending a message to the others, staking a claim on him, and this was after trying to Knight him without warning? Was he asking for a repeat of their first encounter? The way he stressed the name he was going by also reminded him of every other time he'd been called Saint and who had conditioned him to respond to the name. This red-eyed Brat's mannerisms were really reminding him of the most unfortunate people.

What a unique gift.

'Teach him another lesson,', the hot side of his flame purred, curling down his arm and feeding into the blades he still had out from cutting Silver's prosthetic off. The cool side of his flame coiled up his spine and wrestled with the heat. 'No.' it said, 'You still need his Knight. You can kill him when you have what you want.'

Hot. As if he hadn't already given the man enough of a reason to mind his manners. Cold. Harry needed to keep a level head, Regulus could be nearby. Hot. Like the other Lords and their respective Knights, who were all converging on his position. The Lord from the opulent office in Italy and his Turquoise Knight. The little one and his Knights. One he could feel hiding somewhere out of sight, his presence guttering like the last burn of a candle-flame. The rest of the Brat's entourage. Cold. Regulus could be watching. Hot. The brat wasn't minding his manners. Cold. Hadn't he decided to mind his own?

His wildly see-sawing flame was a breath away from tripping him into the boiling volcanic eruption waiting to explode out of him when rescue came from an unexpected direction.

"Master Saint, you mustn't! You'll negate the meaning of the Ring Battles!" an unfamiliar voice called out and a dark skinned woman wearing a black raincoat jumped in front of him, spreading her arms out wide and a wave of neutral energy washed over him. Another woman stepped up behind him and the sensation that everyone in the area was closing in on his direction was abruptly cut off. The feel of what felt like a hundred pairs of eyes bearing down at him from all directions vanished and Harry accidentally flipped himself deep into the cooler side of his flame from how hard he'd been trying to force himself there.

The separation of sensation from the outside world lasted less than half a heartbeat, but that was enough time for him gather himself and reassert control over his flame. Safely tucked away from all emotion, he calmly opened his eyes and pulled back what he was wasting on his claws and the blades on his gloves shrunk away. Tucking his hands into his pockets, he leaned back on his heels and examined his rescuers through half lidded eyes.

"That was a neat trick." Harry remarked, looking first at the one in front of him before cutting his gaze back to the one behind him. "Do you use it often?"

"We rarely come across any who would heed it, as most would simply have pushed through or ignored it." The one behind him replied with a polite smile. Her voice was gentle and what little features he could see of her face from under the black mask she was wearing were soft. "Thank you for your consideration." She finished with a curtsy.

"My apologies for making it necessary." Harry murmured, bowing back with all the Pureblood formality he had pilfered from Voldemort's mind. Fifty-plus years' worth of memories made it look and feel natural. "I'll not be forcing your hand again."

With his mind cleared of all distractions he was free to think, analyze and plan again. He was finally able to implement the beginning stages of the strategy with which he would hopefully be manipulating Regulus into helping him. A former Death Eater would of course be more willing to help another Pureblood, and if the man held a grudge against other Purebloods, he could always reveal his true blood status and excuse his adoption of their mannerisms on survival tactics. A Pureblood forced into servitude for a Half-blood son of a Muggle man and a Squib, or a Half-blood son of a Muggleborn mother Knighted unawares by a ruthless and insane Lord… he could play whichever role garnered the most sympathy.

Considering his audience the act had to start now. It was a pity he'd lost his head with the Brat, but the man had practically asked for the beating. His only saving grace was that he hadn't killed anyone yet. When asked about it he could always feign confusion over his own reaction. He wasn't that far away from having first lit his flames and he had the excuse of not being fully trained working in his favour.

"Very well then, as we were given foreknowledge of your possible attendance please accept this proof of your participation in the Ring Battles as the Varia's Cloud Guardian."

An ornate, velvet lined black and gold box was presented to him, inside of which was a single oddly shaped ring.

"Before we go that far…" Harry replied silkily, scanning the crowd of rubber-necking individuals. "Where is Viper? I would like to renegotiate the terms of our agreement."

Regulus would help him. He had to cover all his bases. Either one of the many planned manipulations would work… or he would have to go for a more heavy-handed, direct manipulation using the man's baby hair. It wasn't something he wanted to rely upon, but he'd do it if he had to.

For the 'Greater Good'.

Chapter Text

Harry ran his fingers along the armrest of the throne he'd seated himself in, dug his nails into the bumps and grooves of the overly elaborate chair and basked in the awkwardness as the silence in the room stretched. His gloves blunted the sensation, but that made it no less satisfying, and as a bonus at last half of his watchers shifted nervously when he leaned back into the cushioned comfort. Crossing his right leg over his left, he made a great show of relaxing, locked eyes with the teenager masquerading as an adult across the room, and shaped his lips into a challenging smirk.

He'd issued a challenge not to react and the Brat, displaced by his choice of chair, rose to expectations and failed miserably. Seething, the man-child glared at their hosts and the dark skinned, pink haired women were quick to procure another throne. Satisfyingly, it was smaller than the one he'd claimed, the placement was awkward with its back to the doors, and the spoiled would-be ruler had been forced to wait for it.

The red-eyed Brat's Knights filed in along the sides, jockeying for positions closest to their Lord and a pecking order was established. Silver and Viper closest to the Brat, Emerald and Ruby sitting in the following seats, with Topaz noticeably absent. They were behaving themselves, albeit in the same grudging way Kreacher had been with his recent 'orders', but behaving themselves all the same.

Ideally, he would have liked to talk to Viper on his own, sit with him one on one to strike a deal, and be on his way with what he wanted, but the 'Varia' had shot that down rather quickly. When he'd asked to speak with the not-baby, Silver had stepped in again where he wasn't wanted and offered to move the conversation to their Inn.

There was no way he was going to go anywhere near where the Brat had set up temporary domain; that would have put him on the back foot as far as negotiations went. Luckily, the cloaked women with the clever flame tricks, who introduced themselves as the 'Cervello', stepped in. They discarded their cloaks, revealing themselves as more dark-skinned, pink haired women, and very clearly explained why they had chosen to involve themselves. They were an independent third party whose sole purpose was to host, witness and judge the results of the Ring Battles.

As Harry was a potential 'Guardian' who might be fighting on behalf of the Varia, they would have to play witness to their meeting to make sure the Vongola did not try to sneak in a 'spy'. It was a neat solution to his problem as he was offered a neutral meeting place at a nearby hotel without having to ask for it.

Luxuriating in his seat, Harry smothered a sigh behind the back of his hand as out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jessica's face lock into the shape of a silent scream. If she was going to react like this to every little thing he did why had she followed him into the hotel the Cervello had led them to? Was he going to have to peel her from the wall and away from where the other 'servants' stood when their meeting concluded? Not that the lift to the hotel wasn't appreciated, but if she'd been a little later she could have avoided being trapped against the wall. Now she was stuck playing retainer to a Black Knight who was purposely baiting a foreign Lord and his Knights.

Yes, he was deliberately ignoring any and all social cues as well as the etiquette now etched into his soul, but he needed to. Jessica should have stayed with the car in the parking garage, it wasn't like Dobby and Kreacher would try anything. He'd put a stop to that. Also, she should have expected behaviour like this from him. He was essentially tangling with the possibility of joining the Varia's Court as their Amethyst Squire, however temporarily.

Forced into sharing space with the spoiled Lordling? Might as well make this as uncomfortable as humanly possible for everyone involved. Guilty as he might have felt for getting her caught in the crossfire, he couldn't actually be blamed if it was Jessica's own unfortunate timing and luck that had her tracking spells leading her to him before the negotiations could even start. Asking her to leave now would just be weakening his position with his… hosts.

She would just have to soldier through.

No protest was made about his choice of chair, even if there were a lot of interesting expressions worn around the table and surprisingly his audience went with it. Wine he wouldn't be drinking was poured into the glass in front of him and the thick viscosity of it as it settled gave away its quality.

Someone was pulling out all the stops, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. The Bratling had a hole in his Court and the Cervello were under the impression that he was here to fill it. That he had shown up at all would have looked like an indication that he was at least somewhat willing and open to the idea.

As much as he'd like to utterly crush those expectations, he knew he would have to use them. It was in his best interests to play along and see where that got him. For so long as they were bending over backwards like this in the hopes of tempting him to join them, he would be spared that much less time and effort in getting what he wanted. They were basically broadcasting their intentions; far be it from him to ignore the open invitation to take advantage of their collective stupidity.

It was preferable to running around directionless in yet another unfamiliar country. The fake Regulus's didn't stay anchored in one place and roamed freely. It was a minor miracle that he hadn't run into the same fake twice whilst caught up in the intense Flame fuelled focus that had him running roughshod around Italy. He had to remind himself of his goal. Time was his enemy, he simply did not have the luxury of ignoring this chance.

Viper was an expert at locating things and had reportedly never once failed to locate what he was after. Everyone Harry had spoken to had confirmed it. Using him to do the leg work for him was just common sense.

"Viper." He bit out before anyone could even begin talking, cutting a sharp glance to where the 'child' was sitting upon a stack of firm cushions. "Will you consider a payment in the form of gold?"

"G—gold?" The amount of avarice dripping off that one word alone was an indication he was on the right track.

Reaching into a pocket, Harry casually flipped one of the coins found therein at the baby. "I have more of those than I could ever possibly spend within my lifetime, and one very specific target. You need not do much, simply point me in the correct direction and I will take care of the rest myself. Name your price, I will be more than happy to match it."

Viper worked as a Hitman, and from the look of how tightly the toddler was grasping the Galleon he'd tossed across the room, he knew what he was being offered. A possible fortune for barely any work. No one to kill and no clean-up afterwards. The silence that followed his offer stretched and stretched.

"I will be most grateful for your cooperation." Harry added mildly, sweetening the pot with pure bullshit. He wouldn't be around long enough for Viper to cash in on the good will he was offering, not that the Esper knew that.

Viper was wavering, he could almost taste the agreement on the tip of the faux-child's tongue. He was a second away from having what he wanted when interruption came from their audience.

The Brat, apparently having had enough of being treated like he wasn't there, swept the table in front of him clear with his overly long legs and kicked them up onto the table. The wine he'd been offered 'accidentally' hit the edge of Viper's chair and the glass broke, raining alcohol and broken glass all over his Knight. The young Liege-lord's presence expanded to engulf the room thickly in an overbearing, almost hostile atmosphere and the coin his Knight had been holding dropped out of his tiny hands.

A careless-seeming shift of the man-child's overgrown feet and the Galleon returned to him, rolling off of the table top closest to him.

Harry caught it one-handed it as it dropped off the edge and kicked the table up with an equally casual looking move, watching in satisfaction as wood slammed upward and away. The Brat croaked as he was abruptly flipped up and folded in half, forced into an introduction of his legs to his face. Adding insult to injury, the throne tipped back and crashed to the floor so the young Liege was sandwiched between the back of his throne and the tipped over table.

"That," Harry informed him mildly. "…was rude."

He was straight-up negotiating with Viper, he's made his offer for Viper's services; why was he interfering? Why were the other Varia here? They were basically sticking their noses in where they weren't needed or wanted and the Brat was trying to rodeo lasso him into joining his Court while he was busy talking to someone else. It was beyond aggravating. "I believe I've told you once before to mind your manners, so quiet down while the adults are talking." Harry instructed over the deafening silence. "Or I'll put you into time-out like last time."

The scarred lord, after freeing himself with an Amber-Ruby blast, lunged for him with his red eyes glowing like embers. Emerald snarled and decided to join in on the fun, but when they got close enough Harry put an end to it. He grabbed them by the closest body part and tossed them out the closed window, one after the other. They busted through with a screaming thump, a crash, and the sound of breaking glass that trailed off as they fell. It was a decent drop; they were on the penthouse floor of a multi-story hotel. Even if they survived the fall uninjured and wanted to come back up for more it would take them a while to return.

"Anyone else want to try me?" Harry asked the remaining Knights in attendance.

Ruby Knight rolled out of his chair and fell to the floor, in absolute hysterics with laughter and seemed unable to gather enough breath to reply.

"Vooooi~! We're not as drunk as he is!" Silver cackled gleefully. Was that an excuse? The Brat hadn't looked drunk to him. "You really would be a great fit amongst us. We haven't had anyone take him to task like that in a long time~!" the Turquoise Knight finished, slapping his knee even harder. He was still sitting exactly where he'd been right from the start, only he was now doubled over and nearly crying with mirth.

"Then it was long overdue." Harry replied shortly and frowned, taking a moment to look him over and raised an eyebrow as he took in the lack of injuries and the replaced arm, only then noticing how put-together he looked. "You're not going to check up on him?"

"No need, the Varia Medical Team is on stand-by for the duration of the Ring Battles." Viper drawled, drawing his attention back to where it was supposed to be and answering both his initial question and the mystery of Silver's miraculous healing.

Reminded of what he was here for Harry got up from his stolen throne and tugged a handkerchief out of his pocket, approaching the fake child to extend it as a peace-offering and olive-branch in one. "Interruptions aside, my offer still stands. Unfortunately, I do not have much time to waste, so I will need your answer now. Keep in mind the fortune I'm offering you is one that has been amassing for generations and all I need from you is one location."

Viper took his handkerchief and began to wipe himself clean of wine. "You come to the best assassins in the world, offering a small fortune and you only want me to find one person?" the child sneered in scoffing hauteur, enunciating each word with careful deliberation. Confusion, disgust, and amusement filtered through his voice in equal measures. "It's almost a waste of my time."

"I think I've more than demonstrated why I have no use for an assassin." Harry bandied back instantly, raising a mental eyebrow at the attitude, what was giving him such confidence? "However, tracking my 'guy' down is proving harder than I originally thought it would be." Leaning forward into the fake-child's space Harry posed his next statement to his face. "Agree and I'll make the arrangements to have your payment delivered right here. You'll be swimming in gold within the week."

"Voi~! In five days you won't have to pay him." Silver interjected nastily. "Everything will be over by then, just participate in the—" the man flipped over the back of his chair and away from the kick Harry made in his direction to shut him up. "—Ring Battles and you won't have to waste your money!"

"SQUALO! Stay out of—" Viper started, and that was all Harry needed. Silver was just going to have to go join his Lord.

"You are not the one I'm negotiating with!" Harry hissed, lunging for him. "You have nothing I want. Why would you have a say in this? As far as I'm concerned you're nothing more than a useless security blanket! I don't care about wasting money, I care about wasting time!"

"Voi~! I'm a 'security blanket' with leverage and information!" Silver clarified, dancing out of reach, tension in every step, only managing to avoid him because Harry wasn't actually calling on his flame. The Cervello released twin bursts of calming energy and Harry paused, taking the opportunity to even out his flame and caught himself listening despite himself.

"Viper is an asshole, he wants gold like no one's business!" Silver insisted, "He'll take your deal alright, then he'll charge you extra for every little detail! For the location of the man you want, sure. Then he'll charge you to keep him from warning your target you're coming for him and again to 'escort' you there so you don't lose him. His locations are time sensitive too, so your target might be in one location when he does his Thoughtography, but be somewhere else within the next moment. I can get you exactly what you want with none of his bullshit. People request his services through us all the time, it's a standard contract with us; only easier since you don't want us to kill your guy!"

Whipping around to face Viper again Harry waited for a protest and didn't get one. The absence of any kind of denial from Viper was damning and a click of his tongue at the lost opportunity sealed it. Had it not been for the Cervello, both of whom were emitting the same flame calming trick from earlier, he'd have reacted violently to the near-betrayal.

He had been forthright and honest with the deal he'd been offering, fully prepared to find a way to hand over the Potter fortune without breaking the Statute of Secrecy and had already been mentally drawing up plans to have it delivered. In return he'd have gotten nothing but more demands.

Giving no warning as to his intentions Harry lashed out, only instead of grabbing Silver his hands gripped the fake Regulus none-too-gently by head and tossed him out of the broken window after the others. His good faith had been wasted on Viper and he was no longer worth negotiating with.

Breathing out a slow breath Harry straightened up and gave Silver his full attention for the first time since coming across him in Italy, meeting his sharp grey eyes dead on. "Your name?"

"Vooiii~!" the man breathed, eyes alight with success.

"… Your name is Voi?" Harry asked sarcastically, one eyebrow raised disbelievingly at the man.

The Ruby Knight, who'd been in the process of trying to pick himself up, fell back over again as he sent himself into stitches one more time. "H—hah~! His n-name is Su—Su— Superbi Squalo~!" The blond Knight sputtered from behind the hands held desperately over his mouth.

Harry gripped him by the hair and slung him out the window too.

No more peanut gallery.

The only people left in the room were the Cervello, the servants still standing along the walls and Jessica, who was pale, blank-eyed, and leaning heavily against the wall. As she didn't look like she was in immediate danger of collapsing, he turned his attention back to the task at hand.

Retaking his place on the throne he'd claimed, Harry relaxed back into it and the servants along the wall took this as their cue to spring forward and right the room.

Plywood was taped up to the broken window. The table was righted and the chairs put back into place. The Brat's throne was carried away and replaced by a simpler wing-backed wooden chair that matched the others in the room. Broken glass was swept up and wine was re-poured, though Harry waved his away when it was offered again.

Superbi Squalo drained his before he even sat down.

"First things first," Harry started, tapping an index finger against his armrest as he relaxed back onto the throne again. "What are the Ring Battles, why you want me to fight for you, and what are you expecting of me?"

The Cervello, in tandem with each other, smiled. One bowed while the other curtsied, and when they spoke their voices blended together.

"Allow us to explain."

OoO

By the time the Cervello finished clarifying everything, Harry's head felt like it was spinning. He should have waited until his ancestor had deemed him fully trained, the control he had over his flames wasn't as stable as it should have been. He wasn't ready for extended periods of time around other people, and actively wanted to bury himself somewhere isolated where no one would find him.

His focus waxed and waned, and it had been since he'd left Sky Manor, which might have been a good thing as his brain would have probably overloaded by now. It certainly would have after the first handful of questions he put to the Cervello in any case. He'd voiced them as they occurred to him, making sure to couch them in the phrasing everyone else was using, and didn't shy away from asking anything until he finally couldn't take it anymore.

His stomach was already at his feet and an internal vertigo set up camp inside his head and started smoking. He'd hit his limit. Emotions he really shouldn't be feeling bubbled up inside him and set his lips to thinning as his throat tightened. He was glad he'd refused to take off his cloak when entering the hotel, the only thing visible of his face was his mouth, and the set of it could have been taken for anything. Without seeing his whole face no one would know just how upset he was.

From the terminology they were using… the Ring Battles were a form of territorial dispute between two Lords. A controlled form of dispute between two Lords. A form of dispute where the only people effected were those directly participating, namely the Lords in question and their respective Knights. There were laws to this kind of conflict, ones where rule-breakers looked forward to spending time in a prison that sounded just about as bad for Elementals as Azkaban was for Wizards.

Muggle Elementals had taken what had time and again ripped the Wizarding World apart for millennia, streamlined the process and turned it into an art-form couched in traditions and inheritance laws.

It was downright civilized.

There was none of the politicking like what was going on in England, where you had to pick a side or risk being trampled. No bystanders were to be harmed in this tug-of-war and every precaution was taken to keep 'civilians' safe. To the point that illusionists had been hired for the specific purpose of redirecting them away from the fighting if they got too close. Lords didn't hide themselves behind their Courts, they were to stand side-by-side with their Knights and expected to fight alongside them. Casualties, if there were any, would be confined to combatants alone.

Here, there was none of the bullshit two-faced, double-standard that had ruled Harry's life. A Squire was given the same rank, respect and authority of a fully-fledged Knight and in exchange was expected to fight no matter the age of the 'Guardian' in question. The Vongola's Emerald Knight was the perfect example, and that was unlike anything he'd ever heard of or experienced.

Harry had been turned away when warning the teachers of dangers to the school. Thought to be 'playing detective' when he was inevitably caught up in whatever trouble was happening. One moment he was the Boy Who Lived and the next he was a liar. An attention seeker and unrepentant trouble-maker, filthy Parselmouth or Dark Lord rising. He was too young to fight, tucked away and 'protected' when out of school and not taken seriously even after years of proving himself.

It was only in the aftermath, when he was recovering from actively living up to the expectations of being Dumbledore's de-facto Knight that he was granted any regard. Even then his peers were rewarded in his place and he alone was flooded with attention, respect, admiration from all sides, which made him the target of envy and jealousy. The cycle would then repeat itself all over again the next year.

Superbi Squalo was another example, though not as extreme. Here was someone who'd likely been born and raised to this culture and their differences were as clear as day and night.

The bond the man shared with his Lord was undeniable, rock-steady and gilded. He held his Lord's ultimate trust and had the authority to negotiate a deal with outsiders on the Brat's behalf, which he was using with confidence.

There was a arrogance to him that told Harry that the man had never wanted for anything in his life or had the world dropped out from under him even once, let alone the multiple times within the last few years. Loud and attention-grabbing where he just wanted to sink into the shadows and be anywhere but where he currently was. Constantly at his Lord's side where Harry couldn't even imagine himself in the same position without feeling physically ill.

It didn't end with him.

The rest of the Varia, from what he'd seen of them, were the same. The only one who seemed at all like he'd experienced even a fraction of the same hardship he had was their Lordling, but he looked like he'd made quite the recovery. His pride was the only thing that outmatched his ego and whatever else he'd been through in the past, he now had companions at his side that eagerly followed him into battle.

The Brat didn't know how lucky he was.

Fighting over a throne when he already had his own? Ridiculous! And his men followed him anyway. None of them knew how lucky they were. In his right mind and without the pressure of his own goals pressing down on him, that would have been enough to have him walking away.

In a perfect world Harry would have made his offer for assistance, paid in gold and the spoiled Brats would have found someone else to fight for them in this idiotic power-play. Everyone could have gone on their merry way.

This wasn't a perfect world though and Viper had already proven himself to be a self-serving, money-grubbing, double-dealing backstabber and at his most generous guess, Harry was set for a complete, irrevocable meltdown in a matter of months. His options were slim to none and the rate of his mental deterioration left no room for error. The time he'd lost in between meeting Viper and finding him again in Japan proved just how bad off he was. He'd thought he'd had enough time to think the offer over, but instead he'd been late for the Ring Battles by several days. Already two battles had been fought without him.

Find Regulus. Get the man to help him retrieve the Horcrux from Gringotts and destroy it. Kill Nagini, Voldemort, then himself. Why did such a simple sounding goals have to be so complicated? He was essentially failing step one and his hands were tied, especially given that he couldn't trust his own mind not to lead him around in curlicues chasing fakes of the man he was looking for.

Merlin help him, but he had no other choice. He was going to have to take the deal.

"What happens in the event you die during your fight?" Harry asked the silver haired Turquoise Knight, crossing his arms against his chest at the prospect. "You're participating too, aren't you? I have no guarantee that Viper will cooperate without you."

"We'll draw up a contract, Voi~!" Squalo enthused, not at all insulted by the implication that he might lose. The excitement of being on the winning side of their negotiations had him leaning forward and baring his fangs in a gaping smirk. "The Ring Battles are serious business; if he breaks it, he'll have to explain himself to the Vindice and they're not idiots, he'll cooperate."

"If you find it acceptable we, the Cervello, will facilitate your bargain." The soft-spoken of the two pink haired women offered, getting up from her place at the table and dipping into a polite curtsy.

"We can draw up a contract which honours the letter and spirit of any agreement you come to with the Varia and file it with Vindicare." The sharper voiced of the two women continued. "As an independent group we hold no interest in either party, so you can rest assured that the both of you are guaranteed fair, honest and equal treatment."

"Fine then, I'll leave it to you." Squalo answered for him, still grinning toothily. "Our terms are that you represent the Varia as our Cloud Guardian and you don't kill our boss."

"My terms are that Viper will track down my target in return for temporarily representing the Varia for the duration of the Ring Battles. I reserve the right to defend myself and my vassals. Any harm done to me or mine will not go unpunished." Harry sniffed, catching the attempt to trap him into servitude indefinitely. "How stupid do you think I am? Did you honestly think that would work?"

Squalo burst out into raucous laughter and slammed a fist down onto the tabletop hard enough to rattle his empty wineglass. "It was worth a shot, Voi~! I like you, what did you say your name was?" The man cackled, reaching out his flesh and blood right hand to seal the deal.

"I didn't say, and it's Saint." He bit out. He grimaced at the offered appendage and left it hanging, galled by the unholy light of accomplishment in the man's eyes and eyeballing the hand with distaste.

The man, taking no offence, redirected the hand as if to clap welcomingly on his shoulder.

Harry pushed him away with all of his no-so-inconsiderable strength and sent him flying through a wall where he crashed out of sight.

"Could you add one more thing to our contract?" Harry heard himself ask the Cervello distantly, the hair on his arms standing on end. He fought off a full body shudder and reflexively reached for one of the cloth napkins, fastidiously dusting off the shoulder Squalo would have touched as his skin crawled.

"It shouldn't pose any trouble." The pink haired woman with the sharper features and voice claimed, "So long as it's not something the Varia will object to."

"I don't want them touching me. At all. That goes for all of them and their servants." The Brats could keep their disgusting paws to themselves.

"That should be acceptable, we will have the contract drawn up shortly. Have you decided where you will be staying?"

"Not with them, and not here." he answered immediately, fighting against another disgusted crawl shuddering up his spine.

The Lordling's presence lingered like a bad stench. It basically felt like the Brat had violently shat all over the walls. Gagging lightly, Harry tossed the cloth napkin away from him and grimaced at the pink haired women. "Got any suggestions?"

OoO

It took a bucket of chilled water to bring Jessica back to her senses.

The woman remained blank-eyed and unresponsive to a pat on her shoulder, him shaking her arm, the light pinch he'd pressed into the web of her thumb and forefinger, and a carefully controlled slap to the face. The Cervello suggested a bucket of icy water and had it delivered, then stepped back to allow him to revive his 'servant'.

She came-to with a loud, in-drawn gasp and flailed, catching herself against the wall before she could fall over, then stared at him gape-mouthed, shocked and highly offended.

"Had a nice nap?" he asked.

"No." Jessica whimpered, squeezing her eyes shut and wiping her face with the sleeve of her jacket. She combed the strands of her choppy gold bangs out of her eyes with shaky fingers and pressed a hand to her cheek. "No, I didn't. Was that absolutely necessary? I wasn't actually sleeping, I was meditating! Also holy god, why does my face hurt?" she moaned, cupping a hand to the spot Harry had slapped and bowing over it.

Rolling his eyes at the needless dramatics, he straightened her up and pushed her hands away. Calling up the tiniest smidgen of his own flame that he could command, he brushed his fingertips against the raised red hand print along her cheekbone and the bruise melted away. For the first time since Fawkes had helped him awaken it Harry found himself grateful for the healing properties inherent in his Flame. He hadn't meant to hit her so hard.

"Eh? What? It doesn't hurt anymore! What spe— what was that?" Jessica asked, patting her face and pressing her fingers into her cheek searching for the bruise.

"Propagation-healing." Harry explained, "It's a… family gift. Normally it only works on the person who's using it, but with enough effort it works on others for small things like bruises."

Which was a bit of a white lie, he could do more than heal bruises, he'd recovered from so much more the moment he'd Awakened. However, it wasn't like he was going to admit that with an audience. Especially not with the way the Cervello were giving him some major side-eye. Felis had told him how rare Amethyst Regeneration was and had warned him against revealing it. He would trust those words for now and if word got out about his talent, he would know exactly who was to blame.

"Is there a bathroom nearby?" he pointedly asked the pink haired women who had yet to leave; so much for getting the contract written up as soon as possible. "Ms Reins needs to freshen up."

Jessica took that as permission to leave, however loosely granted, and fled the room. "No need to show me the way! I saw one in the hall outside!"

Harry followed, stepped over a bit of rubble and absently kicked Squalo's leg out of his way as he passed the man's prone form. He spared the silver haired Turquoise Knight a glance, (unconscious, but still breathing), and surprised himself with the renewed urge to wipe himself down. How had the man managed to repeat the same mistake that had made him replace his fake arm earlier? Did his brain only boot up when his Lord wanted something then switch off when the task was complete? As if he hadn't given him enough warning; next time it happened he would just kill the idiot.

The world would be better off without him.

Entering the bathroom Jessica had ducked into, Harry wandered over to the sinks, pulled off his gloves and washed his hands.

"Hey, this is the women's side!" Jessica complained from where she was standing by the next sink, catching her in the act of using her wand to spell herself dry.

"So?" Harry asked, searching for something to wipe his hands with. "It's not like you were actually using the toilet. Also you need to be more careful, I could have been anyone coming in."

"Obliviate exists for a reason, and you healed me in front of those women!" she countered instantly, looking away to examine her cheek in the mirror, then froze as if realizing something. "Oh shit, does this mean we have to go back and find them?"

Shrugging, Harry grabbed the trailing edge of his cloak and dried his hands on it for lack of anything else to do the job. The toilet paper would have just disintegrated and made a mess. "They're not exactly Muggles, they're Elementals and I used Elemental Magic. As far as the Statute is concerned, I did nothing wrong."

"Muggle Elementals?"

"Elemental magic takes on the form of flames and manifests in the colours of Soul Shades. The Muggle Mafia discovered it several hundred years ago and have been using it ever since. Try not to be too surprised when you see them using it."

"… and you're making deals with them. This is insane! Do you have any idea how dangerous this is? You're crazier than I thought you were!"

Harry paused in the act of scrubbing the cloth between his now dry palms. "Yes," he agreed flatly, dropping the fabric from his raw hands to tug his gloves back on again. "And it's only going to get worse from here on. You know what I am. You know the goal I'm working towards. For me this is merely the beginning, though at this point…you've done more than enough, you are free to return home if you so choose."

She'd gotten him into Japan and delivered him to Viper. The Cervello would make sure he cooperated. All he had to do was fight and that was something he was more than prepared to do. Dragging her into a Court of violent, back-stabbing Elemental Knights whose Lord had to be one of the most repulsive people he'd ever met was just… something he'd like to avoid given half the chance.

Jessica was lonely enough that she'd already gotten somewhat attached to him and she hadn't even known him that long. Not so surprising for someone as genuine in personality as she was, who was also just as open and honest with their reactions and emotions as well. What was surprising was his own growing attachment. He was seeing too much of his past self in her and empathizing when he shouldn't be.

If he let too much time pass, eventually he might not even be capable of leaving her behind. So… he would just leave the way open and let her go if she left on her own. If she continued following him, he would inevitably get her caught up in something they'd both regret.

"I already said no, damn it! If I decide I want to do something stupid then I'm going to do something stupid and you aren't going to stop me! Stop trying to chase me away!" The woman snarled, slamming a fist against the sink she'd been leaning over.

The sink cracked.

Harry coughed at the startled squawk she made at the damage she'd caused, quickly turning away when she scrambled to fix it and started walking for the door. He managed to hide his amusement from her, but couldn't resist the words that spilled out of his mouth. "The difference between stupidity and courage is the outcome."

He could see Jessica's jaw drop in the refection of the mirror that spanned the wall as she whipped around to face him.

"Did you just—"

"If you're going to do something stupid, and we all do, it might as well be a brave and foolish thing." Harry continued, cutting her off before she could get another word in edgewise.

Her reaction was priceless, mainly because she had no idea she was talking to a former Gryffindor. He was discovering more advantages to anonymity with each passing day.

Hiding a snerk by angling his face away, he left the bathroom and headed for the lifts where he let off another line he'd heard bandied about by his housemates. "Bravery is by far the kindest word for stupidity."

"You've read Sherlock Holmes!?"

"Stupidity and bravery go hand in hand." he quipped, ignoring the question entirely as he pressed the button for the lift and motioned her in with a tilt of his head before joining her.

"You're not going to answer me, are you?"

"An apple a day keeps anyone away, if you throw it hard enough."

"… what?"

OoO

With that sorted out, or as close to it as he was going to get for now, a lot of the weight Harry was feeling dropped off of his shoulders.

He could relax for a bit, things would be straight-forward from here on out. He didn't have to think and plan. All he had to do was fight when called on. A part of him was also disgustingly relieved, for as odious as he'd found the Brat… he was still a Lord.

Completely the 'wrong' Lord, but his flame didn't know that. The bond he shared with Voldemort quietened as he was at least taking steps to do his job as a Knight. As he'd half hoped and expected the bond was just too twisted and distorted to register which Lord he would soon be fighting for. The similarities Voldemort shared with this Liege-Lord might have helped and an internal itch he didn't know he was feeling actually soothed itself.

Any doubts he might have had about binding himself to an Unbreakable Vow vanished. If the feeling was this strong at simply taking a single step in the 'right' direction, then the time and effort that had gone into it had not been wasted. The respite was so strong he almost felt refreshed, the relief of it was unbelievable.

He could allow himself the fantasy that he had a place in the world, and there was no need for him to worry about the state of his mind or the lack of control he had over his own flame when stressed. For a little while he could pretend his problems were the Brat's problems and that the Varia Knights were his Brothers, ready and available to join him in his crusade. For now he could ignore his consistently shaky focus and dupe himself into believing it wasn't an issue, even if he'd been wavering somewhere between Hyper Dying Will Mode and Dying Will Mode for… he didn't even know how long.

Things had been so much simpler in Sky Manor, no wonder the portraits had been trying to cook up ways to keep him there. He was in way over his head, and it was all he could do to keep himself afloat.

Pathetic.

"Hey, we're stopping here."

Lifting his wrist off his eyes, Harry sighed internally and reached for the seat lever so he could sit himself up. Jessica didn't wait for him; she'd already exited the car and was making a beeline for a building he was very sure wasn't on the list of hotels the Cervello had given him.

"This doesn't look like a hotel." Harry remarked pedantically as he caught up to her, following her into what was clearly a restaurant. She really was getting unnaturally comfortable with him. It might have been a mistake passing the decision of where they would be staying off to his driver.

"It's not. We haven't had dinner yet, we're eating here. Hotel food isn't worth the money they charge for it." The woman declared, putting on a false show of bravado.

Lucky for her the place was basically empty, being as late as it was. Had there been even one customer Harry would have turned right back around and left. He'd had enough of people for today. There was only one person at the counter, and he kept his distance after a very brief welcome. They were told to call him over when they were ready to order and were left alone to talk. A glance over the menu, which thankfully had English translations printed underneath each dish, and Jessica chose something and called the man over, pointing at the plastic sheet in her hand.

"I'll have this mixed sushi set— "

"Two." Harry interrupted; he honestly didn't care what he ate so long as he ended up with something in his stomach.

"Two of this sushi set and some of your warm sake—"

"We don't serve alcohol to minors here, would you like tea for him instead?" The man suggested, pausing in the middle of taking down their order.

"I'm fine with tea." Harry answered as Jessica froze, boggling at the question for whatever reason.

"Was there anything else you wanted?" The man asked as he jotted that down.

"No, that's all we want." Harry replied for her, placing the menu back in its holder. "Thank you."

"My pleasure, your order shouldn't take long."

The man bowed slightly and walked away, leaving Jessica still staring gape-mouthed at him. Harry had to tug the menu out of her hands to get her to release her grip on it and the action jolted her back from whatever reality her brain went when she got like that.

"Minor?!" She shrieked quietly, leaning across the table and getting right up into his face. "He said minor! Tell me he was making assumptions!"

"Age is just a number." Harry retorted, mild as milk as he pushed her scandalized face away with a hand to her forehead.

"And weed is just a plant!" she countered instantly, grabbing his hand and patting along his arm.

"Curiosity killed the cat."

"— and information brought it back! Tell me!"

"… I've never heard that continuation before." He returned, very lightly slapping away the hands that were now feeling along his shoulders.

Information brought the cat back? Maybe it would be enough to push this one away. He was far enough removed from his former appearance that he was neigh unrecognizable as it was. There was also enough distance between here and England that the likelihood of running anyone who might recognize him was fairly low.

Reaching for the clasp of his cloak before he could second-guess himself, Harry undid the brooch holding it closed and pulled off the garment, dropping it at his side.

"How!?" Jessica exclaimed immediately, gold eyes wide as she reached across the table again to squash his face between her palms in outrage. "How are you so young?!"

Harry pushed her hands away again and snorted as she flailed and was forced to catch herself by slamming her hands down on the surface of the table to stop herself from planting her face onto the wood. "When a witch and a wizard love each other very, very much—" he started sardonically, just to be as annoying as possible.

"That's not what I meant and you know it!" The tawny haired woman shrilled, cutting him off. It was a reaction that was better than anything he could have hoped for, she was standing straight up now and her face was reddening. Shock, outrage and more emotions than he could put names to were working their way across her face with stunning clarity.

Would this be the deal-breaker he'd been looking for?

Lips curled back away from teeth, showing off her blunted fangs and a savage glint sparked to life in her eyes. "Tom Marvolo Riddle, was it?" she snarled through gritted teeth and the sheer unexpectedness of it startled him enough to jolt. "Where is he?"

"Nowhere you'll find him." Harry cut back, narrowing his eyes at her in an acidic glare for using the name. "Stop being stupid and sit back down before I make you. He's stronger than the both of us combined, you wouldn't last a second against him."

"There's more to magic than raw power!" Jessica argued hotly, thumping a hand against the table as if to emphasize her point. "There's no way you're fully trained, maybe if an adult—"

"My parents, who were Aurors, tried that when I was a baby. They're dead, so are a lot of their friends and my… Lord is currently in his early seventies. What does that tell you?"

Jessica's mouth opened and closed wordlessly and she deflated, sinking back onto the seats on her side of the booth. "Maybe… maybe there's something we can do to stop—there's got to be something we can try, it's the modern age! Surely someone, somewhere would have found a way to stop you from…" she trailed off, weakly thumping her fist onto the table again.

"And what, exactly, do you think I'm doing here?" he asked lightly, even as he hid his own clenched fists under the table. He'd miscalculated, she really had gotten far too attached to him; revealing himself had been a mistake. At the very least she didn't know the full extent of his plan. "The man I'm searching for has information I need, if I can get to him before it gets too bad then I have a chance. The Varia know how to find him, that's the only reason I'm here."

To kill his 'lord' before Harry died from the corruption. That wasn't something he was stupid enough to tell her, though. She was the type to try and stop him, to fret, worry and fuss over it all until she ended up dead herself. Hermione would have loved her; Jessica ticked just about every box that would have had his friend falling all over herself to help.

The woman slumped forward over the table and dropped her face to the wood with a none-too-gentle 'thunk'. "This isn't fair."

"Life sucks and then you die, isn't it the same for everyone?" He asked dryly.

"… that sort of thing just sounds weird coming out of you now that I know how cute you are." Jessica griped without looking up, thumping her head against the table.

Harry wasted an affronted glare on the top of her head but his ire at the insult faded quickly as he found himself winding down. The atmosphere of the shop helped a lot for that. The warmth, lighting and rhythmic sound of rain drumming on the rooftop were downright tranquilizing and the thunder rumbling away in the distance made a nice contrast to the soft music that was playing and blended in with the sounds coming from the kitchen.

Soon the food they'd ordered was set out in front of them and that just added to it all. Everything smelled and looked so appetizing that even though he could see that he'd been served raw fish, he didn't care. Hadn't he heard something about Japanese people eating raw fish before? Even Jessica perked right up at the food that had been presented to her and began eating without reservation and with obvious relish. Copying her as she poured soy sauce all over her food, Harry dug in.

Moments later he was picking his plate clean of even the tiniest piece of rice and licking his lips. He polished off the salad and the small bowl of soup that had been served with the sushi and he had no regrets. Raw fish or not, that had to be the most delicious meal he'd had in a while. Had this been a hotel he'd have put money down for a room in an instant. Perhaps there was one close-by. He wouldn't mind visiting again for more, there were still four more Ring Battles to go, he should have time to come back here for another meal or two.

"… what's your real name?" Jessica asked sombrely, bringing his attention back to her and looking up from where she was watching the steam rise from her sake cup to meet his eyes.

He waited for the exact moment she took a nice big sip and raised an eyebrow at her mockingly. "Harry James Potter."

As expected Jessica sprayed her mouthful across the table and covered her mouth too late against the spluttered choking fit of laughter his name sent her into. Her dark mood was expelled within an instant and she was her flailing and flustered self again.

"Oh my g-god, you're such a little shit—" she interrupted herself with another cough. "—head! I can't believe I was so scared of you! I feel like a dumbass! How did I not see it before?"

"… bravery?" he suggested as he got up from the table.

"Oh, very funny." She drawled, catching onto the subtle insult as she made her way to the counter to pay for what they'd eaten. "You should try becoming a comedian."

Heading for the door of the restaurant without answering, he waited for her in the entry hall and swung his cloak back up around him. He settled the hood back over his face and pinned it closed with a shaking hand. What had possessed him to reveal himself like that? To then go as far as to give her his real— his former name? Even as a joke that was— that… had been stupid of him. What would he have done if she'd believed him?

How would she have reacted to it served as the truth?

No use thinking of it now. Might as well let her continue thinking he'd been joking. Pushing the thought out of his mind, he shook his head to clear his thoughts and reached for the handle of the door to let himself out.

It slid open before he could thread his fingers into the handle and suddenly he was facing the dark haired Knight of the little Lord playing opponent to the Brat, who blinked down at him in surprise. Hazel eyed widened, the teenager's face sharpened for a fraction of a second before smoothing out into a relaxed, open and friendly smile. "Oh, sorry. I didn't see you there." The boy laughed easily, yet seemed hesitant to try getting past him.

When was the last time Harry had seen anyone with such good control over their own emotions? He was almost envious of the smooth recovery.

"No, it's fine. I shouldn't have been standing so close to the door." Harry demurred, not taking his eyes off him. So long as the boy didn't try attacking him, he wasn't about to start a mess, especially not in the doorway of a restaurant that had served a meal like the one he'd just had.

Tension charged the air as neither of them moved.

When Jessica got close enough, having finished paying for their dinner, he grabbed her by the arm and pushed her out into the rain. "Get in the car." He ordered sharply, keeping himself between her and the Knight at all times just in case the boy decided she was a softer target.

"Takeshi, what are you doing? Get inside already and close the door! You're letting the cold air in! Bring in the shop curtain while you're at it, we're closing now!" The man that had served them called out from inside the restaurant.

The hazel eyed boy inexplicably relaxed and broke eye contact to glance up at the dark blue banner hanging from the entrance. He reached up and unhooked the pole they were attached to and tossed them a relieved smile. "Sorry dad, I'll be right in!"

Harry clicked is tongue at the situation; he'd been hoping to come back, but he supposed that wouldn't exactly be the smartest idea now. What a shame, he couldn't enjoy his food if he was constantly looking over his shoulder waiting for an attack. Jessica wouldn't be able to defend herself from the other boy and he'd no doubt lurk, convinced Harry would attack his father. Turning on his heel, Harry stalked to the car where Jessica already had the engine running.

"What was that about?" the woman asked, leaning down a little to give the teenager still staring after him a look of her own.

"One of the Varia's opponents in the Ring Battles." He clipped out as he closed the car door carefully to avoid damaging it. "Don't go back there without me."

"He can't be any older than you are." She observed faintly as he fastened his seat-belt, leaning back into her seat so she could pull out onto the road. "He looks so innocent! Also damn it, I really should have been paying attention, I'd have felt him coming a mile away…"

"Looks can be deceiving." Harry muttered. "And don't worry about trying to sense them, I'll have the Cervello get you pictures of the others so you'll at least know by sight who to avoid around town while we're here. I'll get them once I've signed the contract. For now let's head for a hotel, no more stops along the way."

"Yessir~!"

OoO

The contract arrived at their hotel the next day, hand delivered by the Cervello and escorted by none other than Squalo himself.

Harry read over the contract before he picked up the pen he would be using to sign it with and paused. "Who the hell is Xanxus and why the hell is his signature on the contract?" He asked the silver haired Knight in front of him.

"He's my boss? The one I said you couldn't kill?" Squalo offered, "The one you met— the drunk from yesterday?" he tried.

Oh, right. The Brat.

"He never did introduce himself." Harry muttered as he scanned the rest of the document.

It was as straightforward as the Cervello had promised it would be, written in clear English with no room left for creative interpretation. The Brat had signed at the bottom and a small Ruby-Amber Flame sat under it. Viper's signature was next, with a Dark Sapphire Flame pressed underneath and lastly was Squalo's, whose flame was the fiercest shade of Turquoise he'd ever seen.

Not wanting to spend any more time with it anywhere in vicinity, Harry uncapped the pen and signed the contract as 'Saint' before adding his own Flame Seal to the parchment. The Cervello stepped forward to examine the document and seemed to find no issue with the Amethyst flamelet, even if Harry's own bias deemed it mismatched against the others.

They didn't complement each other at all.

"Very well, we will now present you with proof of your participation in the Ring battles as the Varia's Cloud Guardian. Take care that you do not lose it, for you will earn yourself a place in Vindicare Prison for your negligence."

The Cervello with the softer features stepped forward with the ornate box he'd been presented with the night before and sat it on the table in front of him. She curtseyed and left the room without further prompting, taking the one holding the contract with her.

Squalo mouth twisted into a vicious leer.

"Voooiii~! Welcome to the Varia!"