Lord Voldemort paced the halls of Malfoy Manor, his mind on the old prophecy.
Longbottom was dead, and Dumbledore’s Army had shattered with the death of its invincible leader, giving him Hogwarts for good – and, as it became apparent to the English Wizarding World that he would not resurrect, the Order of the Phoenix lost hope as well. It seemed Dumbledore had foolishly gambled all on one boy.
Yet perhaps he had made an equally foolish gamble, in presuming that Longbottom was indeed the child of prophecy. Two infant boys had fulfilled the conditions, upon a time. And while only one had unequivocally stood in the Light, the prophecy, despite Dumbledore’s delusions, had never said that the child had to be pure of heart…
He lifted his head, hearing the sounds of conversation drifting down a corridor. A few steps and a turn to the right confirmed that he had identified the voices correctly: young Malfoy himself and Potter, locked in a debate.
“– told you, Draco, you’re a fool to let your guard down,” Potter snapped, his hood pulled back from his head and his green eyes flashing. “The Light may be crushed in England, but they’ve always been interventionists – or d’you not recall that Grindelwald was an Eastern European Dark Lord? Hardly stopped Dumbledore from sticking his overlong nose into –”
“I didn’t see anyone sticking their necks out when we took the Ministry,” young Malfoy sneered, wearing the pristine silver robes of the Malfoy Heir – he obviously had wasted no time changing out of his battle gear after that morning’s dueling drill, if he had attended at all. “That was the time to do it, when we were still cementing our position – but now, with all the important Acts passed and the resistance crushed? They’d –”
“That’s exactly why they would strike now, you imbecile! With no heirs apparent to the Light in England and a populace still suffering the first shocks of the new laws – if one of those damned American Light Lords or the French Light Lady, to name only the most obvious candidates, invaded now, they’d be regarded as a messiah! Perhaps,” Potter said, his voice growing deadly, “if you’d taken five seconds to read some history rather than spending your leisure reading time memorizing some outdated, half-fabricated genealogies, you would have an ounce of understanding of –”
“I understand better than an overrated common thug like you, Potter!” young Malfoy shouted, and the Dark Lord chose that moment to step out of the shadows.
“Why, Draco,” he said silkily, his gaze landing on young Malfoy’s abruptly whitening face, “did I hear you questioning my judgment?”
“Of – Of course not, Milord –”
“Perhaps I even heard you demonstrating that you understood nothing of the difference between an unequaled servant, second only to myself, and a mere thug… a strange ignorance indeed, given your supposed skill in battle,” he mused, twirling his wand between his fingers. “But, to you, perhaps as not embarrassing as your forgetting the proper form of address – unless it has somehow slipped your mind that Potter is not your peer, but my lieutenant?”
Now young Malfoy’s face flushed, and he shot a hatred-filled glance at Potter – who returned it with cold contempt. Had one not known the origins of the two young men, one would not have correctly determined which was the aristocrat and which the commoner. “I… I would never question your judgment, Milord, nor forget Potter’s… rank.” He uttered the word as though he were under the influence of a slug-vomiting curse. A puerile spell, but one that did not seem entirely unappealing at the moment.
“Perhaps you should see a Mediwitch about your Confounding, Draco,” Lord Voldemort said in a tone of sincere-sounding concern, edged with venom. Though, perhaps, young Malfoy was a touch too simple to take the hint. “Potter’s rank seems already to have slipped your mind.”
Now young Malfoy seemed ready to sincerely gag. “Lieutenant Potter’s rank, I meant to say.”
“Very good. Now, I believe you have an appointment with one of our Mediwitches to make.” Lord Voldemort’s smile widened. “Or you will.”
Young Malfoy fled with a speed surpassed only by Apparition. Potter watched him go, his expression now beyond even contempt, and then turned back to the Dark Lord. “Though I would never think to question Milord’s judgment, His mercy continues to astonish me,” Potter said in an unreadable voice, his gaze deferentially lowered. “The less enlightened amongst His servants might believe that Malfoy’s insubordination merits a… harsher punishment.”
“Lord Voldemort has often found that a period of seeming laxity, followed by a Cruciatus when least expected, does more to etch the reprimand into the minds of both the offender and his fellows than immediate discipline,” Lord Voldemort said in the light tone of an off-hand remark, and saw a smile tug at Potter’s lips. To his credit, the young man did not audibly snigger.
…Yes. The matter of Potter.
The smile faded from the Dark Lord’s features.
Potter had come into the possession of the Dark, rather than following in the footsteps of his insipidly Light line or dying in a raid with his parents, as part of Lord Voldemort’s gift to Severus for his discovery of the prophecy. The Potions Master, when asked for his greatest desire, had immediately replied that he wanted James Potter’s head for a mantelpiece decoration and Lily Evans (not “Potter”, Severus? Interesting) for himself; the follow-up question of what he wanted done with their son had made Severus hesitate, though at least in part because he hadn’t realized the one preceding it had been more than rhetorical.
After some internal debate, he had responded that, with the boy too young to tell whether he took more after his father or his mother, it was needlessly cruel to slay an innocent child – if the son turned out to be the replica of the father, he could always come down with a terrible case of tainted mushrooms. Amused, Lord Voldemort had agreed to his request, and promptly set off to ambush the Potters. It had not been difficult – Wormtail had gladly arranged the entrapment of all three of his supposed great friends, once the sniveling rat had been promised a comfortable estate in the Australian outback and magical protection from Order pursuers.
Within the week, Potter was dead, Evans was delivered kicking and screaming into Severus’s custody (her child being much better-behaved), Black was given over to his cousin’s tender mercies, and Lupin was presented to Fenrir Greyback, who quite eagerly took back his prodigal pup. The turmoil from the death and capture of four of their finest members and the defection of a fifth had set the Order reeling, and therefore perfectly ripe for an all-out assault on the stronghold that guarded the Longbottoms and put an end to this nonsense of a child savior once and for all.
Unfortunately, the assault had gone “perfectly” only up to the point where Lord Voldemort found himself helpless, bodiless, and nearly mindless with pain in a dank and miserable Albanian forest, with little idea of how he had arrived there and no idea as to how he would find his way back. Meanwhile, his shocked forces had been easy pickings for Dumbledore, who happened to arrive coincidentally just after the Dark Lord’s apparent demise, and his greatest servants had found themselves either dead or in prison. Severus notably – and luckily – excepted, as he had been too busy playing House with his new presents. Shameful foolishness in an otherwise exceptional wizard, but one that had saved the Dark a great deal of time in the end.
For, a decade later, when Lord Voldemort had limped home in the shell of Quirrel, he had done a great deal of enquiring into bootlegger Potions brewers willing to do anything for a price – and discovered Severus, long hidden under another identity after faking his own death, as the top one on the market. Rather, Severus had discovered him, penetrating into Quirrel’s weak mind to confirm that his employer planned no betrayal and discovering the Dark Lord beneath. And he had been more than eager to help his old benefactor.
He had indeed – giving Lord Voldemort a host in England after Quirrel’s untimely death at the hands of the Longbottom boy, aiding Lord Voldemort in fusing with his first Horcrux after its escape from Hogwarts, and acquiring Longbottom’s blood for the ritual of full resurrection. His only flaw was that he seemed not as eager for battle as in the old days, having his captive Mudblood to care for and her son to train – but even that was not such a great loss, for her son took his stepfather’s place without hesitation.
And what a surprise the boy had been. Raised at home to prevent Severus’s detection by authorities, he had lacked the full Hogwarts curriculum (and been a terrible disappointment in Potions, Severus had sullenly reported), but had taken the opportunity to specialize in his strengths. When he had taken up the Death Eater mask upon the Dark Lord’s resurrection, Voldemort had been taken aback to find a thirteen-year-old on par with a trainee Auror; by the time the boy was fourteen, he had removed the “trainee” from that evaluation; by the time the boy was fifteen, he would have been qualified to teach Defense at Hogwarts. When that position had meant something, of course – not after decades of Lord Voldemort’s curse on the professorship, when Dumbledore had gladly allowed any deranged hobo with a grade above Troll on his Defense O.W.L. to fill that role at Hogwarts.
His skill with actual Dark Arts had proven equally impressive, and the boy soon came to equal his elders in the Death Eaters’ ranks. His performances in the first Battle of the Ministry and the Siege of Hogwarts had launched him into the Inner Circle; his successes in the raids that followed had elevated him, after due consideration, to a place second only to the Dark Lord himself.
Second. Second, indeed… The boy was laughably inferior to him in most fields of magic, true enough, but his prodigious rise was enough to make Lord Voldemort, in his heart of hearts, wonder… Had Tom Riddle, after all, not been a modest, charming half-blood who had displayed nothing but the utmost respect for those in authority, even as he cultivated talent beyond even that which had earned him their unconditional admiration? And the boy’s known talent, loath as the Dark Lord was to admit it, surpassed Tom Riddle’s at the same age…
And the boy, much like Tom Riddle, had taken care to insinuate himself into the good graces of those in power…
“But the Dark Lord has more important matters on his mind,” Lord Voldemort said slowly, causing Potter’s gaze to flicker upwards, his expression perplexed. “It has come to his attention that, perhaps, the prophecy had been… misread.”
“Misread, Milord?” Potter inquired, his tone curiously flat. “But – I don’t understand, Milord. How?”
“Both I and the old fool took the boy of prophecy to be Longbottom – the heir to an ancient line of great power, the child of those who had most publicly defied the Dark Lord and lived, and, after the calamity of 1981, the one apparently marked by the Dark Lord as his equal.” Lord Voldemort turned his wand over and over again in his long-fingered hands. “But, I now wonder… perhaps, in our arrogance, we unconsciously endeavored to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. And failed.”
Potter remained silent, watching the wand. “Longbottom’s unusual abilities stemmed not from any native skill, beyond perhaps above-average magical strength – impeded by conditions for which his foolishly proud grandmother would not let him be treated – and a certain knack with magical flora,” Lord Voldemort continued. “It was discovered, after Dumbledore’s demise, that the great and terrible ‘loving sacrifice’ which Longbottom’s parents supposedly made on his behalf had been… arranged. That, in fact, the much-remarked-upon aura of foul magic surrounding Longbottom stemmed not from my accidental Horcrux, but from a ritual at which Grindelwald would have balked… Those who trusted and loved Dumbledore most of all had been ordered, without exception, to take up posts that any fool with full knowledge of the stronghold’s layout would understand would lead to their hasty demise in the event of a raid, with my Death Eaters and I as nothing more than the instruments of their execution.”
The Dark Lord let out a low hiss; as unbound by petty ideas of “good” and “evil” as he was, he had never misled his followers regarding the dangers that awaited them in battle, nor betrayed any one unless that one had already broken his side of a bargain. Dumbledore’s sacrifices had died screaming for their Lord, unable to comprehend why their master was not appearing to save them. At the time, he had taken it as evidence of their disarray and Dumbledore’s dreadfully mistimed visit to France to plead for help with the war effort; in light of newer knowledge, it was clear that all had gone according to plan, and it had been merely the sacrifices who had been dreadfully misinformed. The sacrifices, that was, who had trusted Dumbledore as thoughtlessly and unconditionally as little children did a loving father…
As the ritual required, of course. The greater the betrayal, the more power and protection it conferred. In retrospect, Lord Voldemort suspected Dumbledore would have fed it half the Ministry, had he been able to arrange the proper conditions on such short notice.
“Perhaps the prophecy anticipated what Dumbledore would do to fulfill it, and all that transpired involving the Longbottom boy was exactly that to which it referred,” Lord Voldemort said, ceasing the movement of his wand. “But perhaps Longbottom was nothing but a counterfeit.”
“I thought, Milord, that you were quite certain about it – that you had no doubt that you had marked Longbottom as the prophecy demanded.”
“Indeed I thought so,” said the Dark Lord. “But did I, perhaps, fall for Dumbledore’s propaganda, coming to embrace his senile delusions as my own thoughts? I did not mean to mark Longbottom as my equal in 1981. Far from it. If I meant to mark him as anything, it was as a pretender and a child who died as easily as any other. And, in truth, I have precious little memory of exactly what transpired in that horrible moment… Was I truly the one who marked him? Or was that the doing of the ritual alone?”
Potter’s left hand clenched and unclenched, seemingly without Potter being conscious of it; the Dark Lord wondered if his lieutenant’s unique Mark – customized in honor of his unprecedented skill and unequaled service – had begun to drip with sweat. Potter knew his own birth month well enough, after all.
“It is,” Lord Voldemort said finally, “entirely possible that Neville Longbottom was never the one marked out by prophecy. That both the Light and the Dark played themselves for fools. That the one prophesied let others believe what they would, choosing instead to bide his time –”
“Milord.” Potter stepped forward, casting glances both ways to make sure they were unseen, and placed a hand against Lord Voldemort’s cheek. “I’d beg pardon for the interruption, but I’m afraid I’ll need it a lot more for what I’ll say next – you play yourself for a fool only in obsessing over prophecy.”
“Indeed?” the Dark Lord said, his voice cold; I would kill any other Death Eater who spoke thus to me, and slowly at that, went unspoken. Potter’s fingers traced the line of his jaw, leaving burning, tingling trails in their wake. The same feeling would be trickling through Potter’s hand, he knew; it had always been the effect of his and Potter’s magic coming into contact. He had dismissed it, once, as a mere strangeness of the interaction of two mighty wizards – those of their caliber were rare enough that there was very little medical literature about them, though literal libraries full of myths and folklore, so it was reasonable enough that irregularities might occur. Now, however, he wondered if it signified…
“Cassandra Trelawney was a great Seer. Sybil Trelawney was a conning, conceited drunk.” He took advantage of his own dramatic pause to press a kiss to the Dark Lord’s neck, then continued, “What proof is there, really, that, as it became apparent that she would fail her interview, she didn’t decide to tell the old fool exactly what he wanted to hear?” Another kiss. “That the Longbottoms had defied you thrice was infamous, Severus tells me; if she knew the right people, she could have made an educated guess as to when their child was due. Better Seers than she have made grandiose predictions about unborn princes, knowing the exact opposite would come to pass.” A third kiss. “Would it be so difficult for a lifelong charlatan to make up that rubbish on the spot – it didn’t even rhyme – and do her finest impersonation of an actual Seer, doubtless gleaned from observing her grandmother prophesy?”
“It is possible that, for once in her life, the woman spoke truly,” the Dark Lord remarked, running a long-fingered hand through Potter’s thick, dark hair.
“If Milord insists. But the prophecy – such as it was – is so vague I doubt Trelawney would have passed herself in her own course.” A snort. “Without the boy’s parentage and birthdate, what does it tell you? That there will be a boy with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, and that the Dark Lord will mark him as His equal. All it asserts is your ability to recognize a peer when you see one, Milord. Hardly the stuff of fear and wonder that Dumbledore made it out to be.”
“It also proclaims,” the Dark Lord hissed, “that either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.”
Potter, caressing the front of Lord Voldemort’s robes, blinked and shrugged, as though the words were totally meaningless to him. “Even presuming the prophecy is partly true, Milord – are we sure she didn’t wake up midway and decide to throw some balderdash in to make absolutely sure Dumbledore gave her the position? That line doesn’t even make sense by the prophecy’s standards. You’ve been living quite well –” He moved his hands deliberately over sensitive spots – “quite well, I think. As, presumably, is this Chosen One.” He shrugged again and gave Lord Voldemort a sardonic smile. “Chosen by who, d’you think? Trelawney’s prophecy didn’t speak of anyone being chosen – only born, and recognized. Dumbledore’s senile rot strikes again. If you will forgive me, Milord –” His hands moved lower – “I think your focus on destroying a foe and figurehead was so great that you neglected to inspect the prophecy with your usual sharp intellect and skepticism. Longbottom is dead. The Chosen One, the Boy-Who-Lived, is most thoroughly and publicly dead, and by your hand. Let that satisfy Dumbledore’s silly, pumped-up prophecy.” He looked almost innocent. “As for the child of prophecy, if he exists, I’m sure he has his hands full with his own business.”
Cheeky brat. (“His own business”? What an interesting euphemism.) “Very well, Harry. Presuming that the child of prophecy still lives, which seems less likely by the moment, we shall… discuss your theories on his preoccupation… in a more comfortable location.” Wretched boy. He never ceased to be surprised that the Potters’ legendary quick reflexes and coordination transferred so well to non-Quidditch tasks.
“My bedroom is just down the hall, as Milord well knows,” his young lover replied, smirking. “While its humble accommodations are unworthy of Milord, I hope He may forgive me this brief visit, and allow the intellectual discussion to compe-”
“Enough of the prophecy, and all its rot,” Lord Voldemort hissed, pushing Potter away – half-reluctantly – and taking him by the arm, pulling him along. “Let us say there is no child of prophecy – and there is no cause for concern if there is. You can compensate me for your accommodations in… another way.”
“It will be my pleasure, Milord,” Potter replied, and Lord Voldemort did not need to look at him to hear the grin in his voice.
When they stood at the threshold and the Dark Lord paused to wave the door open, he thought he heard Potter murmur, “Besides –
“There’s a world of difference between having the power to vanquish the Dark Lord and caring to use it, don’t you think?”