His existence – while markedly better of late than it had been for many months – still mainly consisted of time spent in a meditative sort of state, somewhere caught between dreaming and thinking. Once or twice a week, if he saved his strength, he was able to awaken, and remain awake and alert for a few hours.

The topic of his dreams and thoughts were never quite the same two nights in a row, but did tend to cycle beyond that; some nights, he was back in the cold, wintry forests of Albania. Sometimes Quirrell was there, other times he was not. He did not care for Quirrell, particularly, but the man had been smart and more importantly, malleable. He’d done everything he was asked and it was a pity he was dead now. Competent help was hard to find.

Other nights, he was in the Chamber of Secrets. It was a place he’d dreamed of frequently for the past year, but he hadn’t known why until Crouch’s return. He’d heard all about the Chamber’s opening, and had deduced on top of that, that, given he was the only Heir, the only way it could have been opened was with his old diary… It made sense, he supposed, that he’d reached out to his horcrux when it was strong and he was weak. And it had been strong… a little too strong.

The ring – his first horcrux – had been a test, imperfect. The soul it contained had been barely a sliver, for he’d not known how best to construct one. The diary though… perhaps it had been due to his effort to leave the secret of Slytherin’s Chamber in there, to give life to the diary in a way that none of his other horcruxes had, but when he’d created it, it had been with too much soul… half in fact, but even so, he’d never imagined it to have the life about it that he’d dreamed of it having… not – he didn’t think – that that was an issue anymore.

Harry Potter’s face stared up at him, covered in blood and grime and ink, and he pushed the image away with a soundless snarl. It took effort – it did, after all, require Legillimency – but it was worth it. The boy’s face blurred, faded into a pale smudge, and then it was back in an older, near identical form. James Potter wore the same panicked-yet-defiant look he’d worn on the night he’d died, and he allowed the face to remain in his dream, namely because it was a safe one; there was nothing the man could do to him. After a few moments, the resemblance to the younger Potter became too much though, and he swept that face aside too.

Or tried to; green light flashed off of the glasses, blinding for a moment, and then became the green of the basilisk’s scales, which blurred past his gaze too quickly for him to focus, until he’d reached a ruined, once-yellow-now-bloody eye. Then, there was a flash of crimson feathers, which became crimson hair and her voice spoke to him, begged him to take her instead.

He tore her image to shreds, but she only wavered for a moment, then the crimson faded to orange and freckles bloomed and green became brown and little Ginny’s face appeared before him. Then, she was running, running away from him, through the tunnels that led to the Chamber.

“I won’t!” she snapped at him, and then everything was orange and another, shriller voice repeated those words.

Lord Voldemort opened his eyes to the old, fire-lit study of the Riddle house, and the sound of voices in the hall.

“No, I won’t, we can just Obliviate him-”

“If you won’t, I will.” The second voice belonged to Crouch. Immediately following his words, was a flash of green light and a thump – the sound of someone falling onto the dusty floorboards. “Not so hard, was it?”

“H-he’s awake.” Silence fell in the hallway outside, and then the door opened and Crouch stepped in, with Wormtail trailing behind, like always.

“A useful talent, Wormtail,” he said softly, and it was; perhaps his breathing changed, or his heartbeat, or perhaps it was something else, but Wormtail always seemed to know.

“How are you feeling, My Lord?” Crouch came to kneel beside his armchair.

“Much the same. How long?”

“Four days since you were last awake, My Lord.”

“And that?” Not strong enough to lift an arm, or nod, Lord Voldemort merely flicked his eyes in the direction of the corridor.

“Muggle groundskeeper’s been snooping around,” Crouch said, apparently unconcerned.

“But no longer?”

“No, My Lord.”

“And you, Wormtail.” Wormtail, who’d been lingering in the doorway, obviously wondering whether he could slip away, stiffened at being addressed, and then scurried closer. “What news?” Wormtail’s namesake allowed him into places where Crouch couldn’t risk going, and on occasion, he was able to steal a paper or overhear something of importance.

“Nothing much,” Wormtail said, wringing his hands. “They’ve still got Dementors at Hogwarts, ready for the new term, but we thought that would be the case… Mad-Eye Moody’s taking the Defence position-”

“Shortest retirement I’ve heard of,” Crouch muttered. It was a blow, to be sure; with Dumbledore and Moody at the school, Potter would be nigh untouchable, and that boded poorly for the ritual that they’d hoped to use.

“You might have to use someone else-” Wormtail started, and – out of sheer frustration, mostly that Wormtail was right - Lord Voldemort hissed at him. He fell silent at once, with a tremor.

“I want him!

“We’ll get him,” Crouch said quickly. “Somehow. Lure him out, or lure out the teachers to make him easier to get to… it’s been done before. And we might be able to use the rat to get into the school, otherwise… there’s got to be a secret passageway or something.”

“I believe that’s your area of expertise?” Wormtail shrank under his gaze.

“I- maybe, if I can remember. You’re not in any state to travel, though-”

“I had not forgotten,” Lord Voldemort said pointedly. Wormtail seemed to fold into himself, or perhaps that was Lord Voldemort’s vision beginning to fail. His dreams beckoned. “I want more news of Hogwarts, Wormtail; about Moody, and the passages, and the general security-”

“I could be gone for w-weeks,” Wormtail said nervously.

“And if you ever did anything,” Crouch sneered, “then perhaps we’d miss you. My Lord, how can I serve you?”

“Deal with that.” He was too weak to move, but he knew Crouch would understand that he meant the body in the corridor. “And take me somewhere safe, where we can explore alternatives,” he said. “Rarely does Wormtail bring me good news.”

“How will I find you again?” Wormtail asked.

Crouch replied with something, but Lord Voldemort was drifting.

Lucius sat as his desk and stared at the postcard on his desk, entirely torn between being irritated by it, and curious. The postcard gave a wiggle, as if sensing his displeasure.

A quick glance up at the door of his office confirmed that it was still closed. Narcissa, of course, knew he was indirectly in contact with his Lord., and Hydrus would never dare intrude. Draco, on the other hand, might.

… But, then again, he might not, because he’d given Lucius a wide-berth this summer, spending it with Severus, or at Potter’s house, or out on the Manor grounds, beneath his favourite tree. Lucius wasn’t sure whether Draco was still mad about the conversation they’d had prior to his petrification – and whether he was being self-righteous and upset on everyone’s behalf, or whether he was upset because he himself had been petrified was a mystery.

Or, worse; the way Potter had behaved in Dumbledore’s office had made Lucius think he somehow knew about his Lord’s diary, and about how Ginny Weasley had managed to get ahold of it. It was ridiculous, of course – if Potter knew, Lucius would be rotting in Azkaban – but he just hadn’t been able to shake the feeling.

If Potter did know, he might have told Draco… not that Lucius would know that; it wasn’t something that Lucius would be able to speak with his son about. After all, if Draco did know, he’d made his feelings perfectly clear with his silence (but for the occasional, frosty ‘morning, Father’, and if he didn’t, then Lucius wasn’t about to be the one to tell him.

He was glad the Hogwarts term was due to resume tomorrow; Hydrus was brash, but otherwise growing into a proper young man, but Draco… he’d once bewildered Lucius, but they’d managed, but he’d failed to grow out of his odd opinions and blood-traitor friends, and it seemed he cared little for his family. Lucius was well on the way to giving him up as a lost cause, though Narcissa still believed that he’d come good… Lucius loved his wife, but she could be naïve. Draco had been chilly with her as well, which was baffling, as Draco had always seemed closest to his mother.

The postcard wiggled again, and with a sigh, Lucius turned it over, tapped it once with his wand, and murmured, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

Malfoy. The single word appeared on the back of the postcard, in Pettigrew’s hand.

The others have gone abroad again, but I am in Britain, gathering information for our Lord. Your last tip about the Dementors and Mad-Eye Moody were helpful, and our Lord sends his appreciation. I need to know more, though. I understand you are still an important figure at the Ministry. What can you tell me about Mad-Eye Moody? Where does he spend his time? And what is the state of things at Hogwarts at the moment?

I will be in touch.

Lucius huffed. The first time he’d received such a postcard, he’d had a thousand questions, and none of them had been answered. They had, after all, had the gall to get him involved – and he was yet to receive any evidence that either of them were actually with the Dark Lord, and not merely using the threat of that to manoeuvre Lucius. But ignoring them wasn’t a risk Lucius would take if the Dark Lord was with them, and so he’d stopped asking questions, and simply written back. Several postcards had come and gone since then. He reached for his quill.

Luckily for you I will be at the Ministry this afternoon, and may be able to look into Moody. Understand, though, I do it on my Lord’s behalf, and not yours. As for Hogwarts, my sons return tomorrow, and I expect a letter after the Welcoming Feast. I will pass on anything of use.

And, for the last time, do not use my name in your messages.

That last was more due to the fact that Lucius was feeling irate that morning and wanted to rankle Pettigrew than out of fear that his – admittedly slight – role in all of this would be discovered; Pettigrew had – Lucius would grudgingly admit – done well in creating a secure method of communication.

Lucius waited for a few moments, but no response came, so Lucius threw the postcard in the fire and made sure it burned.

“Dobby!” he called, but Dobby was nowhere to be found. Such had been the case for almost a week now. Lucius had been entertaining the notion that Dobby might have died somewhere, but Narcissa had seen him before the Lupin wedding, and Hydrus had seen him on several occasions, and their dinners had always been served on time, and to their usual standards. Lunch and breakfast were another matter entirely. “Dobby, now!” he hissed, but the room remained silent.

Lucius stalked out of his office and almost bowled Draco over in the hallway.

“Have you seen the elf?” he snapped at his son.

“Not for a while now,” Draco said. He had an envelope in one hand, a book in the other. His expression was neutral – had Hydrus worn it, Lucius would have been impressed, but on Draco it frustrated him, because it was just one more thing about his son that he didn’t understand. “He doesn’t come when I call him anymore, either.”

Lucius grunted and went down to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. Breakfast, on the other hand, was not something he had any skill in creating, and so he’d have to go without… just as he had for three days now.

Lucius’ hands clenched around his mug, as he sat alone in a kitchen – a room he’d rarely had any need to visit in the past – and brooded over the best ways to punish his wayward servant.

Draco’s mouth twitched as soon as Father turned his back and headed down to the kitchen, but he kept himself in check and continued out to the grounds, to his tree. A paper bag, containing a steaming egg and bacon roll was waiting for him.

Hello all!
I am alive, and very, very apologetic! I've had a busy few weeks (as you've doubtless noticed :( ), which included work, work, more work, and then a surprise holiday with family.
It's only a short-ish update this time, mostly just to show you all that I am still here and writing! My surprise holiday used up all of my annual leave, so I won't be going anywhere for a while, and will have no choice but to stay home after work and write! :P
Again, sorry, I hope you enjoy the chapter, and I promise you won't have to wait as long for the next one!

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