When Bellatrix arrived, Severus floated a stimulant towards her.
“I had nothing to do with his current assignment,” she said, although that didn’t stop her from pocketing the potion.
Severus poured himself a glass of elf wine and floated the bottle to her. “Your brother-in-law drew his wand on me.”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “And this surprises you?”
“Lucius is not a man who loses his temper and draws his wand. Not without provocation. What did you tell him?” It had to be her. No one else had Lucius’s ear and hated Severus nearly as much as she.
Rolling her shoulders in a lazy shrug, she poured her own drink. “Perhaps I may have suggested that you wouldn’t aid his wife without demanding payment, and their coffers remain untouched.”
Severus nearly choked on his drink. When he’d cleared his throat, he asked, “You insinuated that I slept with her?”
Bristling, she shot back, “Oh, don’t tell me you don’t want her. Of course I know that Sissy wouldn’t degrade herself. I just pointed out the obvious. You want her and would force her into it the minute you thought you could get away with it.”
It was such a ridiculous accusation, he was tempted to tell her he was gay, but knowing her, she would just transfer his sick obsession onto her nephew.
Luckily, he was saved the necessity of a response by the arrival of the Dark Lord, Lucius, Avery Senior, Dolohov and Yaxley.
After drinks had been poured and updates given, the Dark Lord said, “The Order will persist as long as the boy remains a figurehead. I want them to see their saviour for what he really is - a pathetic child.”
“I agree, my Lord,” said Severus. “And I will make him your perfect servant. Already he-”
“You’ve yet to cow him,” Lucius interrupted. “Give me the boy for a week. He’ll be ready to take the Dark Mark.”
“You’d kill him before you’d break him.”
“Enough,” commanded the Dark Lord, and Lucius and Severus fell silent, glaring at each other over their drinks. “Severus will remain the boy’s guardian for now.”
“My Lord,” said Avery Senior softly and everyone glanced at him. “While Severus may assure us the boy is broken, I think proof of that should be obtained before he is brought out to anyone. Test his obedience.”
His voice low, Severus asked, “You think I lie?”
Avery Senior met his gaze coolly. “I think you overestimate your influence. Perhaps you’ve trained him to respond to you, but does he recognise his position with regard to the rest of us?”
“He’ll obey anyone I command him to.” Avery Senior had a point. A stubborn brat like Potter enjoyed talking back and did it on reflex. It wouldn’t be hard for a skilled Death Eater to provoke his arrogance.
“Allow me to test his obedience, my Lord,” said Lucius.
“Our focus should not be on his obedience but on his loyalty,” insisted Severus. “If the Order is shown a slave, they will simply redouble their efforts to free him. If they are shown a loyal supporter, they will fall to pieces. Don’t give them something that will prompt them to fight. Give them something that will sap their will.”
“A fine excuse,” said Bellatrix. Severus glared at her, although really, for the first time since they’d crossed paths, he had no idea what she really supported. “He always has excuses. Mark my words, the boy will never be ready if he has his way. He’s had him for over two months, yet the brat’s still not ready.”
Severus had to defend himself. “Unlike you, Bellatrix, I’ve plenty to keep me busy besides the boy. Shall we make a list of our accomplishments of these past two months? I imagine mine is twice the length of yours.”
“If the boy is obedient,” said Dolohov, “then he would obey if commanded to pretend to be loyal.”
“He doesn’t need to be loyal,” said Yaxley firmly. “It’s better if he isn’t. Let the Order have their rally to try to save him. Better that they come to us than we waste our time tracking them down. In fact, make an example of him. Show the world what happens to those who dare to disobey the Dark Lord.”
“Yes,” said Bellatrix with a gross longing in her voice. “Conduct a torture session on the steps of the Ministry. Let anyone deserving have a go at him.”
“I agree,” said Lucius, an eyebrow raised at Severus in challenge. “Your lordship can limit the type and quantity of torture allowed to ensure the boy survives without permanent damage. Public humiliation will show the Order just what we think of their ‘chosen one’. We shouldn’t fear their reaction, but welcome it.”
Severus would kill Potter before he’d turn him over to be publicly gang-raped or worse. “Don’t underestimate the Order,” he warned. “Or the boy’s support amongst the general populace. He’s a child, and torturing him could inflame the population against us. He’ll become a sympathetic hero rather than the poster child of a failed rebellion.”
“You just want to protect your little pet,” sneered Bellatrix.
“I want him to be an asset to the Dark Lord, not a liability. What is the point of having him unless we use him strategically to advance our cause?”
“If he is obedient,” asked Dolohov, “then why not command him to be loyal?”
Because Potter couldn’t behave. “Because I don’t want him to pretend to be loyal, I want him to believe whole-heartedly so he will state that he supports the Dark Lord even under Veritaserum.”
“Is the boy at that point?” asked Avery Senior, the curve of his lip showing he knew what the answer would be.”
“He will be,” Severus promised. Perhaps he should step up the calming potions.
“I will get him there,” promised Lucius. “Just give me a few weeks and he’ll be begging to serve the Dark Lord.”
Severus scoffed and the Dark Lord raised his hand for quiet. Slowly, the Dark Lord said, “I agree that the boy ought to be tested. Tomorrow night, Lucius will examine the boy and determine if he is fit to be introduced to others.”
Again? Lucius had just been granted the privilege of torture. How could this be happening in so short a time? Severus needed to regain his status quickly, or else he’d sink lower than Avery Junior. Had he not proven his worth? Had he not sacrificed everything? He’d stayed in this prison and for what? To be trampled over again and again.
“However,” continued the Dark Lord. “The boy is not to be hurt. You must prove your mastery and test him without causing him pain or injuring his body.”
Lucius’s fingers twitched, but he gave no other indication of disappointment. “Yes, my Lord.”
“Once we’ve established that he is obedient, then we will discuss what is to be done with him. Now leave. I must speak to Severus alone.”
Questions passed in glances, but the order had been absolute, and the others gathered their travelling cloaks and filed to the kitchen. Severus stared at his glass, unwilling to look at the Dark Lord for fear of what he might let loose by accident. Perhaps he should refuse to brew. He’d done twice what Lucius had.
Once they were alone, the Dark Lord said, “You are right in that public torture of the boy will only turn the populace against us. For some reason, they still regard him as a sort of prophet.”
Of course he was right! “My Lord, don’t let Lucius test the boy. I don’t have time to coddle or restore him.”
The red eyes widened slightly. “You asked me to grant Lucius torture.”
“Once,” said Severus. “He’s a distraction now. Rpeated interaction bonds the boy quicker to me than fear.”
The Dark Lord stood. “If the boy passes this test, I will let you pick the manner by which we introduce his capture to the world.”
“He will pass it,” promised Severus.
“I know.” The Dark Lord’s lips curved in a smile. He left the room, walked past the anti-Apparition wards and left.
For a moment, Severus could only just stand there, stupidly holding his mostly empty glass of elf wine. What on earth did that little smile mean? Was it warning of what would happen should Potter not pass the test?
First things first. He needed to find out what Lucius had planned and prepare Potter for it. Heading to the kitchen, he added a few drops of calming potion to both meals, as well as a sleeping potion to Potter’s.
As Potter seemed to enjoy nothing better than training, Severus fetched him for it and let him run around to his heart’s content. Unable to focus on anything but what would happen the following evening, he furiously wrote letters to all his allies requesting information on Lucius. Bellatrix would be his best source of information, but he couldn’t contact her without risking the revelation of their alliance. Narcissa accepted the packages he sent through proxies, but she’d yet to respond to his olive branch, and he doubted he could trust her with such crucial information. No, he had to prepare Potter for all possible scenarios. He had no way of finding out what Lucius would choose until it happened.
Potter performed his best when calm. What sort of things calmed him? Good food, rest, and a feeling of security. He seemed to like sleeping in the cupboard - perhaps it reminded him of home? - so Severus ought to give him the option of sleeping there instead. What else did he like?
Potter stared at Severus with what he probably thought to be shrewd calculation. “My favourite food is treacle tart.”
At least one of his cookbooks had to contain the recipe for treacle tarts.
When Potter dropped to the floor, his chest heaving, Severus stopped the exercise. Hopefully that had been enough to keep him in high spirits. As expected, Potter wanted to sleep in the cupboard and Severus shut him in without any hesitation. Brewing needed to be done, but he couldn’t concentrate. He fixed their meals for the next day including treacle tarts. As he wasn’t sure which of the recipes he had were actually good, he baked them all, adding his best calming potion as he waited for them to cool before sampling.
The Dark Lord had not helped him or Potter by insisting on no physical pain or damage. For an emotional child like Potter, psychological torture had a much greater potential for damage. It was also harder to heal him afterwards. What could Severus do besides feed him good food and step up the training sessions? Maybe now Severus could finally get hold of that Snitch. The Dark Lord had either forgotten his earlier request for it or hadn’t bothered to honour it. Now, he’d need all the help he could get.
After night fell, he dutifully retired to his room, although he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep properly. Albus waited in his frame and, after hearing what was to befall Potter, said, “Relax, Severus. I’m sure he’ll do fine.”
It was the last thing Severus expected to hear. “Do you not understand what’s going to happen?”
“I do,” said Albus simply but firmly. “I don’t think you know Harry. He’s the type of boy who, at the age of fourteen, willingly faced his greatest enemy, the man who’d murdered his parents. Show faith in him and stay calm. If you believe he can do it, then he will too.”
Was that how Albus inspired obedience? Had he convinced Potter to rise above himself? “I should tell him what he’ll face?”
“Yes. Trust him, Severus. He won’t fail you if he knows you believe in him.”
Severus doubted that. Albus didn’t fully understand the depths of Lucius’s depravity, but he didn’t have many other options. After updating Albus on what he knew of the Dark Lord’s plans and the other Death Eaters’ activities, he took a potion to help him sleep. He’d need to be in full form for the next day.
In the morning, after breakfast, Severus told Potter of his fate. After he’d cleared the empty dishes, he said, “You may feel you are ready to go before the Dark Lord, but I do not. I feel that it would be most prudent to wait until after we have destroyed all the Horcruxes before you confront him. As the Dark Lord has been very careful to keep Nagini well away from you, I feel fairly certain that she is a Horcrux. Even if I were to poison her, we would still need to find the last Horcrux before you face him. I have been told that there has been suspicious activity at Hogwarts these last few weeks, but that may be more due to the end-of-the-year pressures than any efforts by Miss Granger and Mr Weasley.” The two of them were actually investigating a lead in Albania, but Potter didn’t need to know that. “As far as I am aware, they are still hunting the last Horcrux. I feel fairly confident that one of my sources would reveal their success if they were to have any.”
Potter smiled, his eyes brightening.
Poor kid. Severus continued, “Until they are successful or we locate the final Horcrux ourselves, I believe it is imperative that we continue on the path we have set for ourselves. You should continue to focus on training your body and mind. I do not know if I will be able to procure a wand that will be compatible with your magic, or if you will be able to take one by force that will bend to your will, so we will assume that you’ll be without. I’ll continue to train you in both dodging and aiming.” Although the training was worthless, Potter loved it and as long as Severus set up goal posts just out of his reach, he’d be constantly occupied.
His expression fixed in a firm gaze, Potter nodded. As far as he knew, this was the most important thing he’d ever done.
“Equally important as your physical training is your mental preparation.” It was actually the most important part, but Potter had already been raised to be a martyr. “You have progressed better than I had hoped in regards to controlling your emotions and playing your part; however, I still see your anger flair up despite your attempts at control, and you have not perfected your role as submissive slave yet.” Potter would never perfect his role, but Severus counted on that.
The guilt sank deep and Potter frowned. “I know,” he said mournfully. “I’m trying. I’ll have it soon.”
Since Potter seemed to enjoy proving Severus wrong, Severus pressed his lips thin and said, “I’m afraid that isn’t good enough. At the meeting yesterday, it was decided that you should be put to the test.” He fixed his eyes firmly on Potter’s. “Tonight, Lucius Malfoy will attempt to determine if you have broken, and will try to break if you if you have not.”
For a moment, Potter just stared at him with wide eyes. After several minutes, he squeaked out, “Test me?” He swallowed hard before asking, “What will he do?”
If only he could tell him. Shaking his head, he said, “He wishes for it to be a surprise for the Dark Lord. I have implored the Dark Lord to have Malfoy reveal his intentions to me so that I may know which potions to brew, but he’s forbidden Malfoy from hurting you physically.”
“You must get me out of here,” pleaded Potter, his exquisite eyes never leaving Severus’s. “You have to help me escape.”
He couldn’t. If he knew that Harry would live in safety, he would, but he couldn’t guarantee that. “No, this you must do. This you will do.”
“I can’t,” gasped Harry, his head shaking. “I can’t. What if he breaks me?”
“He won’t,” promised Severus. I won’t let him. “You have performed impeccably these past few days. You will get through this. Bend for him, and you will be fine. Let him play his games whilst you keep yourself tightly locked up as you did when the Dark Lord tortured you to near death.”
“That was different.” Hugging his skinny arms to his chest, he cast pleading eyes at Severus. “It was physical pain. I can’t do it for psychological pain.”
“You have more control over your mind than your body. Think of it as dodging. You wouldn’t have been able to dodge five spells at once whilst blindfolded if you had focused on the fact that you were blindfolded. You have already proven yourself in smaller challenges of this nature. You have all the skills necessary to succeed at this crucial task.”
“I need more time to practise,” Potter begged. “Can’t you get me a few more days? I can’t be ready by tonight. That’s way too soon.”
If only he could! “The Dark Lord wishes to bring you out as soon as possible, but he will not do that until he is sure that you are broken. If you want to be taken from here, then you must do this. Besides, you can accomplish this. Just remember what I’ve taught you, and you’ll be fine. Do not fight him, no matter what he says or does. Be compliant to him and obey his wishes. Every time you wish to fight, beg instead.”
Potter stared at him as though he’d suggested a week as Lucius’s personal slave. Maybe this had been a mistake. He needed to give Potter something more substantial than tasty food. He stood. “I must check on my potions. Think over what I have said.”
Potter said nothing.
Sighing to himself, Severus strode up to his lab. What sort of potions would Potter like? Felix Felicis? It wouldn’t be good to give it to him before he faced Lucius. Maybe Severus could just pretend to give it to him? Maybe he’d want to drink a calming potion? No, too many would make him slow to react. Lucius would feed off his fear.
As he stepped outside, Strix flew to his arm, carrying a package in her talons. Severus freed it from her to find a few back-ordered potion supplies. As he tucked it in his robes, he noticed her fly up to her nest, where her chick awaited her. Potter had wanted to see Severus’s owl, presumably to secret his letter out. Right now, as far as he knew, his friends had no way of finding him.
“Come,” he said to Strix after she’d stuffed her chick full of food. “I’ll take you to meet Harry Potter.”
She flew to his arm quicker than she’d ever delivered post. Apparently the boy was famous even amongst owls. He carried her down to the cellar, where Potter had curled himself up on the bed.
Gently, he said, “I assume your desire to see my owl has not diminished.”
“No.” Potter twisted slightly and, when he saw Strix, he jumped up so fast it was almost as if he had Apparated.
“Sit down or you will scare her.” The daft cow just blinked at Potter curiously, but Severus didn’t want Potter to do something stupid like fall on top of his bird, useless though she was.
Hurrying to obey, Potter scrambled to the side of the bed where he sat impatiently, his body humming with excitement.
Pulling over a chair, Severus nudged her onto its back.
“D’you have any owl treats for her?” asked Potter in what he probably thought was a nonchalant manner.
With the viewing spell in place, Severus would know exactly what Potter did. “Yes, I will fetch them for you.”
As he walked up to the kitchen, he pulled out his mirror and saw Potter retrieve the letter from its hiding spot and carefully tie it around the bird’s leg. The boy was persistent, if nothing else. Fetching the owl treats, he returned to the cellar, where Potter fed Strix nearly half the bag.
“I like her a lot,” he said. “I would have thought you’d own an owl more like yourself, but she’s really quite different.”
In other words, the more an individual differed from Severus, the better Potter liked them. It didn’t surprise him to hear it. “Don’t give her the entire bag. She’s supposed to be on a diet.”
Potter theatrically whispered, “He can be such a git, can’t he?”
Time to return her. “Come along, Strix.”
Lovingly petting her one last time, Potter said, “Better go so you don’t get in trouble.”
Reluctantly, Strix flew to Severus’s waiting arm. He carried her to the library, where he set up the secrecy wards. “Let’s remove this, shall we?” He stretched his fingers to the leg with the hidden letter, but she shrieked and pecked his fingers hard enough to draw blood.
“Stupid bird!” Instinctively, he released her and she flew for the stairs. She’d never give him that letter. “Petrificus totalus!” She hit the stairs and he retrieved the letter, sending it up in ash as he’d already read it. Picking up her prone body, he carried her upstairs and dumped her outside. The spell would wear off in a few minutes.
The owl and another spot of training perked Potter’s spirits to the point that Severus felt secure enough to leave him alone whilst he worked on his Clone Potion. Although he couldn’t get very far in the short period of time, if he showed a bit of improvement, the Dark Lord might grant mercy.
Someone Apparated to his kitchen and he walked in to find the Dark Lord standing in the middle of the room. “Show me your memories.”
Without sex for a distraction, Severus had to allow the Dark Lord to rifle through everything. Thankfully, he had nothing to hide other than his conversation with Albus. The Dark Lord released him as Lucius arrived along with Bellatrix.
“Have your tasks been successful?”
“Yes, my Lord,” said Lucius. “I expect-”
Severus left to go check on Potter who jumped up from his bed, his eyes wide. “Is Malfoy here?”
“No, not yet. Sit down.”
Slowly, Potter sat on the edge of the bed, his head bowed, his entire body hunched as though he could make himself invisible.
Perhaps he should have given him more calming potions... “Do you remember what I told you earlier? What will you do for Malfoy?”
“I won’t fight him. I will do what he wants. It’s just so hard...” Absently, Potter rubbed at his arm. “I feel like I’m giving up. I know that I’m not. But still.... I hate not fighting.”
As a Gryffindor, Potter had been taught to fight to the death, no matter how foolish such a course of action would be. He hadn’t learned the values of a snake. “You won’t give up as long as you continue to fight him, even if your fight remains unknown to anyone but yourself. You may not have control over your situation, but you have control over your mind. As long as you retain authority there, you will have power.”
“I know,” said Potter, although he didn’t sound convinced. “It’s just . . . that’s what he’s trying to damage. You can stop them from hurting me physically, but I know you can’t stop them from breaking my mind. What if he actually succeeds?”
Were words enough for a non-intellectual like Potter? No, he was Lily’s son. Some part of him had to respond to well-crafted literature. “Wait here,” he said as he stood and strode into the library, fetching the copy of The Best of English Poetry which he’d kept from Hogwarts. Although he could probably recite the poem from memory, he wanted to be sure he got it right.
Returning to Potter’s cage, he set the chair by the edge of the bed and sat within arm’s reach of Potter. “The Best of English Poetry.” He’d read the poem so often, he could open the book straight to the page. “This poem is by William Ernest Henley. It’s called Invictus, which is Latin for ‘unconquered’. You may have heard it before; it’s rather well known.” He paused, breathed, and read,
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed...”
He lifted his eyes to meet Harry’s beautiful ones. He didn’t need the book for this part.
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
Closing the book, Severus said nothing, merely watched Potter.
Almost indecipherably, Potter’s shoulders straightened and his jaw hardened.
A few more individuals Apparated into the kitchen and Severus stood. They would begin shortly. “They have arrived,” he gently said before he left, heading upstairs to see who’d come. The Dark Lord stood in the throne room with Lucius, Bellatrix, Yaxley, Mulciber Senior, Macnair, Dolohov, and a youngster who dragged a crying, dishevelled teenage girl behind him. Severus gazed at her long enough to be certain she wasn’t a student before turning away.
“The Polyjuice?” asked Lucius and Bellatrix retrieved a bottle from her robes.
“Fetch the boy,” ordered the Dark Lord and Severus reluctantly obeyed. If he could see who they planned to Polyjuice the girl into, he could better prepare Potter.
Waiting at the bars, Potter held his back straight, even as he marched up to the throne room. Outside the door, he glanced at Severus with the look of a questioning co-conspirator rather than a frightened child.
“Remember,” said Severus, not sure how they would use the girl against Potter. “No matter what happens in there; you must play your part. Promise me that.”
“No matter what happens,” said Potter as he sank to his knees.