Not in the Hands of Boys

Fourth Rose

Story Summary:
Once the final battle is won, life must go on, although it can be even harder to master than death. Back at Hogwarts for his final year of school, Harry tries to cope with everything he's been through. As the world around him struggles for a way back to normality, he is forced to realise that in the long run, living takes a lot more courage than dying.

Chapter 23 - Part 23

Author's Note:
Thanks to cloudlessnights for betaing!

Harry stared at Lucius, utterly dumb-struck. His mind seemed to have gone blank; all he finally got out was a faint, "What?"

Lucius raised an eyebrow. "You heard me. Your precious soul is yours alone - and has always been, from what I can tell."

"But I -" Harry had trouble coming up with a coherent response; a part of him insisted that he was going to wake up any moment and shake his head at the odd dream he'd had. "I could feel him, right there in my head! I saw through his eyes, I - I was there, wherever he was, time and again!" He took a deep breath, struggling to calm down. "And I still have his abilities - I can speak Parseltongue, I enjoyed killing Greyback, I -"

"The latter is hardly remarkable," Lucius cut him off. "Power over life and death is a heady thing, and you certainly aren't the first man who ever got a thrill out of wielding it. This is no sign of a Dark Lord, Mr Potter, it's basic human nature."

That brought Harry up short; he almost welcomed the sudden spike of anger that made it easier to focus. "I do not get off on killing! Your kind may be used to that -"

"My kind?" Lucius interrupted him again, his tone scathing. For a second, he seemed about to lose his temper, but he quickly reined himself in. "Listen, I'm not here to get into a round of childish name-calling with you. If you don't want to hear what I have to say, just tell me, and I'll gladly leave this instant."

Harry just glared at him in return, but a harsh, humourless guffaw came from Snape's portrait on the mantelpiece. "You shouldn't be surprised that Potter is flying in your face, Lucius. The notion that he's not sainthood incarnate is probably too much to grasp for him, and Gryffindors are prone to react with aggression to everything that's beyond their comprehension."

The corner of Lucius' mouth twitched. "I'm well aware of that, Severus. It is of no consequence right now, though. Mr Potter, do you want me to continue or not?"

Harry would have loved to spit his smugness right back into his face, but there was no getting around the fact that he needed answers - answers that only Lucius could give him. It took him a moment to school his expression into something that hopefully looked like haughty indifference; at last, he nodded curtly.

"Very well then," Lucius said without missing a beat, "where was I? Ah yes, your 'abilities' which you think you got from the Dark Lord. The Parseltongue is indeed peculiar - it's a very rare gift, and it would be hard to explain how you could have ended up with it without the Dark Lord's interference if it weren't for the fact that you are distantly related to him. At least, that's what your memories indicate -?"

This time Harry hesitated for a moment before he slowly nodded again; somehow, his discovery that he was descended from the youngest Peverell brother had never led him to the realisation that this made him a, however distant, relative of Tom Riddle. Now that Lucius had mentioned it, it seemed completely obvious, but he'd never thought of it before.

Lucius seemed greatly amused, as if he were appreciating a joke that had gone over Harry's head. "Ironic, isn't it? You, the embodiment of all things Gryffindor, turn out to be another heir of Slytherin. It explains how you were able to get into the Chamber of Secrets six years ago; I've been wondering about that ever since."

Noticing Harry's wide-eyed stare, he added, "I take it this is news to you? The Peverell brothers, Mr Potter, were always rumoured to have been descendants of Salazar Slytherin. All three of them were extraordinarily powerful and skilled wizards, which probably explains the fact that the legend of the Deathly Hallows was later connected to them. I admit that I didn't know much about the Dark Lord's family until now, since he didn't take it well if someone tried to nose around in his past, but your memories have been most enlightening in that regard. He always took pride in being Slytherin's heir, although he never mentioned the details of his lineage. If he indeed hailed from the Peverells, then his claim was most likely valid - and like him, the fact that a Peverell was your ancestor makes you Salazar Slytherin's descendant. Knowing that, the fact that you can speak Parseltongue isn't that surprising any more."

Lucius paused for a moment, as if to debate something with himself. "It's still a bit of a coincidence that it would resurface in you of all people, but then, it wouldn't surprise me if past members of your family had been Parselmouths as well and had hidden it all their lives. It's considered the mark of a Dark wizard, after all." There was a hint of mockery in his tone at the last sentence.

"But -" Harry said the first thing that came to his mind, since he found it impossible to process all this at once. "Voldemort always said he was Slytherin's last heir! If I'm really another one, then there should be others too, shouldn't there? I mean, if the three brothers had children, and their children too and so on..."

"Yes, of course," Lucius admitted. "To be honest, I always considered the Dark Lord's claim to be Slytherin's only descendant a bit far-fetched. I'd wager that most pureblood families could trace a branch of their family tree back to him, if they had records that went back a millennium. I'm not aware of any wizarding family who does, though, so at least there is no other known descendant of Slytherin alive right now."

Harry didn't reply; he was remembering the day of his Sorting, and how the Sorting Hat had wanted to put him in Slytherin. Had that been the reason - that the hat had somehow noticed that Salazar Slytherin had been his ancestor? It was not a comforting thought, but it was still less revolting than thinking that the hat might have sensed Voldemort's soul inside him.

"Harry Potter, heir of Slytherin. What has the House of the Serpent come to?" Harry didn't look at Snape's portrait, but he didn't have to; he could hear the sneer from Snape's tone.

Lucius didn't turn his head either, but it was obvious that his answer was directed at Snape. "I've been saying for a long time that we've let our standards slip." It wasn't quite clear whether he had meant to insult Harry, Snape, or both with that remark. Snape made a sound deep in his throat that reminded Harry of a growling dog, but apart from that, he kept quiet.

"So," Harry began, "what you're saying is that this... darkness... you saw in me is because I'm Slytherin's descendant?"

Lucius rolled his eyes, but Snape spoke up before he could answer. "Isn't he precious, Lucius? Now that you've forced him to let go of one excuse, he has already found another!"

"Indeed," Lucius replied slowly. "Mr Potter, I'm most reluctant to disappoint you again, but Salazar Slytherin is even less responsible for anything you are or do than the Dark Lord ever was."

Harry's head snapped up at this. "Then Voldemort is at least partly responsible?"

Lucius sighed. "I must say that I have never met anyone who was more eager not to be in control of his own life. Dumbledore has taught you well, it seems."

"You leave Dumbledore out of this." Harry was surprised by the sound of his own voice; he hadn't even been aware he could sound this cold and menacing.

"I'm afraid that won't be entirely possible," Lucius shot back, apparently unfazed. "But let me answer your question first. You shared a connection with the Dark Lord because of the curse that failed to kill you, and the mark it left you with. I'm not entirely sure how deep this connection went, but I don't think it was strong enough to significantly change your character. Perhaps it may have strengthened certain talents or character traits that you have, but I'm sure it could only bring out things that were there inside you in the first place. Maybe that's what the blasted Prophecy was talking about - at least, it's the only explanation that makes sense to me."

"I don't believe it," Harry said resolutely, even though he mostly did it to silence the nagging doubts at the back of his brain. "Dumbledore told me that Voldemort gave me all these powers -"

Lucius smiled thinly. "Yes, Dumbledore was probably careful not to let on that these might be your talents, not the Dark Lord's. He needed you to grow into your enemy's antithesis in order to achieve the goal he had in mind for you, so it wouldn't have been wise to let you know just how much alike you and the Dark Lord were in some regards. It seems to me that in the end, it was Dumbledore, not the Dark Lord, who shaped you to fit the Prophecy - he had the stammering of a half-demented seer and raised you to fit it."

Harry fell silent for a moment, biting his lower lip without noticing it. "How can you be so sure?" he asked at last. "You said that there was a connection, and that it influenced me. Why can't it have made me into something I wouldn't have been otherwise?"

Lucius was still smiling, but now there was a hint of an underlying emotion to it that Harry couldn't identify. "A small child's mind and soul are malleable to a certain degree, but there are limits. You can influence someone's development, but you can't make him into something he's not. No, Mr Potter," he added in a completely different, much firmer tone, "if the Dark Lord ever gave you something, that also means you took it. If he was able to teach you anything, then only because you were eager to learn."

Harry looked away, his mind racing; there was still something missing. "But after he got his body back, the connection became much more than just -"

"Ah yes," Lucius interrupted, "now we're getting to the crucial part. You do remember the means by which the Dark Lord managed to rise again, don't you?"

Harry was speechless for a moment; he had trouble believing that he'd heard that correctly. It was suddenly easy to imagine how Lucius had been able to fool the whole Ministry about his true loyalties after the First War - a man who could ask Harry such a question with a completely straight face, after having witnessed the very event he was talking about from behind a Death Eater mask, was capable of any kind of deceit if he set his mind to it.

"Yes, of course I remember," he replied at last, his voice trembling with barely repressed fury. "I was there, in case you've forgotten. So were you, and I assure you I have not forgotten that." He waited for Lucius to show any reaction, but no such luck. "I suppose this is about Voldemort using my blood to create a new body for himself?"

"Indeed," Lucius answered. "Dumbledore seemed very interested in that too, didn't he?"

"He said - " Harry began, but Lucius cut him off with a sharp gesture.

"Let me finish first, Mr Potter. Blood magic is one of the oldest and most powerful kinds of magic known to wizardkind. It is considered Dark Magic nowadays, although there is nothing dark to it as long as the blood has been given willingly. However, most wizards are reluctant to use even that because of the power it unleashes."

Harry glared at him; he felt as if he could still feel Wormtail's knife biting into his flesh. "Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, remember? Does that mean the fact that he took my blood against my will made the magic stronger?"

"That's what he thought, at least, and it's likely that he was correct," Lucius replied softly. "There's more to blood magic than just raw power, though. By its very nature, it creates a link - and I thought even then that one had to be supremely confident or supremely desperate to risk a blood bond with one's worst enemy. It was your blood that allowed him to return, so the balance within the link was tilted in your favour from the beginning."

That gave Harry pause; he clearly remembered the look of triumph in Dumbledore's eyes when the he had heard about the blood ritual, although Harry had understood it only much later. "Dumbledore said something along those lines too."

Lucius shrugged. "I doubt he really grasped the way blood magic works, though. For him, it was all about Lily Potter's great and tragic sacrifice."

"And you think that's not true?" Harry felt his hackles rise again; this was one thing he wouldn't let Lucius take from him. "If it wasn't my mother's sacrifice that protected me when he cast the Killing Curse at me - the second time, I mean..."

"Then why wasn't he able to kill you?" Lucius finished the question for him. "I would have thought you'd have realised that by now, Mr Potter. The Dark Lord wasn't able to kill you because the curse he hit you with had been cast with a wand you were the master of."

Harry blinked in surprise; he'd completely forgotten about that. "I - yes, I suppose that's true, but that can't be the reason. Dumbledore explained it to me; it was all about mastering death, which was the one thing Voldemort had never managed. Dumbledore said that it was necessary I accepted the idea of dying..."

Lucius made a face that was a mixture of contempt and - pity? "I bet it was, because there was a very real chance that you would die. If the Dark Lord hadn't used the Elder Wand against you, his curse would have killed you."

"And if your wife hadn't betrayed him, he could still have killed me afterwards?" Harry snapped. "Is that what you're saying? Didn't you listen to anything I told Voldemort in the Great Hall? Oh, sorry, I forgot you were too busy looking for your coward of a son to care about your precious Dark Lord!"

Lucius' expression turned stony; there was deep silence for a while. At last, Lucius raised his wand and pointed it straight at Harry. "Let me see Dumbledore's explanation again. Legilimens!"

Harry had barely time to brace himself before the scene in the place that looked like King's Cross Station began replaying itself in his mind - the feeling of utter peace and contentment, Dumbledore's kind old face smiling at him while his eyes were filled with sadness and regret... Voldemort's mangled soul, gone beyond redemption... and the pieces of the puzzle falling into place and, for one glorious moment, finally making perfect sense...

He was almost sorry when he snapped out of it as Lucius lowered his wand. The fingers of Lucius' left hand were tapping the armrest of his chair; he seemed deep in thought. "I find it highly unlikely that you were able to come up with a hallucination with that kind of detail, so let's assume it was really Dumbledore you saw. It certainly sounded like him - half of what he told you appeared more like guesswork than sound magical theory."

He paused for a moment, as if to organise his thoughts. "First of all, you need to understand this, Mr Potter: Dark Magic is by its very nature unpredictable, and you have to be willing to take great risks in order to use it successfully. It's a concept that your side has never really grasped - apparently it takes my kind, as you put it, to understand and appreciate the intricacies of it. You need to grow up with it, grow into it, and learn to use it without ever overstepping your boundaries. The Dark Lord could never accept that; he always tried to reach beyond the limits, the limits of his power, his body, his whole mortal existence, and that's what finally destroyed him. Dumbledore's theory of embracing death in order to master it is very inspiring, but unfortunately also irrelevant when it comes to the Dark Lord. All you can achieve by accepting death is dying, and that comes all by itself eventually whether you accept it or not."

"So you're saying that Dumbledore was wrong about the Deathly Hallows?" Harry asked, irked by the casual way in which Lucius had brushed aside the fact that Harry had been willing to sacrifice his life.

Lucius made a face. "The Deathly Hallows are an old wives' tale, Mr Potter. Oh, they're three very powerful magical objects, none of them more so than the Death Stick, but that's all there is to them. I can see how the story might have excited two impressionable young men with more raw power and less reason than was good for either of them, but I don't understand how Dumbledore managed to hold on to such a childish fancy for all these years. The conclusions he drew from it are mind-boggling, to say the least."

He gave Harry a look that was a pale ghost of his usual sneer; something seemed to have got to him. "I may have been... preoccupied... when you faced the Dark Lord at Hogwarts, but I still heard you tell him that he needed to - what were your exact words? Try for some remorse?"

"So?" Harry shot back. "That wasn't because of anything Dumbledore had said. Hermione found out that the only way to unmake a Horcrux and put yourself back together was remorse - regretting what you'd done when you split your soul..."

"Ah, I must have overlooked that bit." Lucius had found his countenance again. "And she got it from..."

"A book that - that had belonged to Dumbledore," Harry said slowly, not liking where this was going.

Lucius raised an eyebrow. "Forgive me if I'm not surprised, Mr Potter. This just goes to prove further that Gryffindors shouldn't be allowed to meddle with Dark Magic, since they will never be able to understand what it is they're trying to handle. I've been wondering what had got into you back then, but now I'm sorry to inform you that it wouldn't have made a difference if you'd really got the Dark Lord to feel remorse, even if I can't imagine how you would have achieved that. A Horcrux is created by killing someone, and that can't be reversed, no matter how much you regret it. Therefore, you can't unmake a Horcrux any more than you can undo death."

Harry felt his throat close up; he couldn't help remembering how he'd fallen for the illusions the Resurrection Stone had created. Echo and shadow, shadow and echo...

"This brings us right back to Dumbledore's obsession with death, doesn't it?" Lucius gave Harry a quizzical look. "Are you still convinced that you are the 'master of death', whatever that is supposed to be, after everything I told you?"

"I have no idea what to think any more." It came out as a hoarse whisper, and Harry had to take a deep breath before he could continue. "There's one thing I'm sure of, though - the fact that I was willing to let Voldemort kill me did protect those on my side in the final battle, so there must be something to Dumbledore's ideas. None of you managed to harm us, did you?"

Lucius sighed. "Name just one person from your side who got hit by a Killing Curse and survived during that battle."

Harry opened his mouth and closed it again; he was sure he'd seen it happen, but he couldn't for the life of him remember...

Lucius smiled thinly. "I thought so. The fact that none of you was hurt had nothing to do with any noble sacrifices you made, it was likely due to the fact that the Dark Lord's supporters panicked after his fall - I don't think any of them had expected it to happen, and before they could get their wits together and aim properly, they had already been overpowered."

His voice softened when he continued. "It worked for your mother because she cast her life in the way of death coming towards you. This isn't something you can arrange in advance or reproduce at your convenience - quite apart from the fact that you never died for anyone in the first place, so the point is moot. Thousands of people are willing to lay down their lives for their loved ones, Mr Potter, and it doesn't change a thing."

There was an almost wistful expression on his face for a second, and Harry couldn't help remembering the moment when he'd seen him and his wife clutch their son to them as if they never wanted to let go again.

He was startled out of his thoughts by the sound of a familiar, yet utterly unexpected voice.

"Harry, my dear boy, Severus told me you would want to see me?"