Best Laid Plans
"But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy."
--Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"
Dumbledore's head shot up as an alarm sounded in his office. Something was wrong with the wards around the Potter boy's house. He frowned. It wasn't the first time that the alarm had sounded in the three months that the boy had lived with the Dursleys, but this time it sounded... different. The other alarms had alerted him that the Dursleys weren't treating the boy kindly, but it really couldn't be helped. He needed the boy alive and relatively intact, and the blood wards would keep him safe from marauding death eaters. A little mistreatment would be fine--it would make the child much, much more pliable and open to his influence when he came to Hogwarts.
Besides, it really wasn't any of his business what happened in other people's families. Perhaps the boy's aunt had taken discipline a bit too far, but Dumbledore was sure that she wouldn't actually hurt the boy. Still, the alarm had sounded different than any of the others, and it never hurt to be thorough. It wouldn't do his reputation any good if someone were to find out that he'd condoned abuse of the Boy-Who-Lived. The disappointed looks that his phoenix was giving him were ignored. Dumbledore sighed, stood up, and headed for the moving staircase. It wouldn't hurt to pop over and check. The ward-monitoring device hadn't screamed, so the house wasn't under attack, but he didn't know what was wrong.
On his way out of the castle, he was stopped four or five times, so it took over twenty minutes to make it outside the door. There was no hurry, as Dumbledore was sure that whatever was wrong would resolve itself before he arrived; so he meandered his way down to the gates and towards Hogsmeade, until he was past the wards. With a soft, almost inaudible, pop, he apparated into a secluded corner of Wisteria Walk, a few streets over from Privet Drive. With a swish of his wand, his purple moon and stars robes were transfigured into a slightly out of date Muggle suit. He holstered his wand up his sleeve, and made his way to Privet Drive, whistling cheerfully. He was sure that the alarm was over nothing, and he didn't really need to check, but his paid watcher, Arabella Figg, wasn't scheduled to move in until Monday.
There was nothing out of the ordinary on the street at all. It was a normal, neatly-kept, suburban Muggle neighborhood. Everything he could see was tidy, and as it was the middle of the afternoon, bundled-up children were outside running, playing in the snow, and riding what Dumbledore vaguely recognized as being bicycles on the neatly-shoveled sidewalks. In fact, if it weren't for the snow on the ground, the neighborhood looked remarkably just as it had three months prior, when he'd left the baby on the doorstep of number four, Privet Drive.
He strolled up the walk of the aforementioned house and rang the bell. He hadn't felt the tingle of passing through wards; it was almost as if they were... gone. The door was opened by a woman that he didn't really recognize, as she looked nothing like her beautiful sister, but knew that it must be Petunia Dursley. "Mrs. Dursley," he said with an ingratiating smile.
"If you're selling something, we don't want any," Petunia said as she started to close the door.
"Mrs. Dursley," Dumbledore began again. "My name is Albus Dumbledore--"
Petunia's face twisted into an expression of hatred and petty spite. "/You/," she hissed. She opened the door wider."In, before the neighbors see you."
A little puzzled by the venom in her voice, Dumbledore obeyed. Once he was inside, and before he could say anything, Petunia attacked. "How dare you waltz in here after what you did!" Petunia's fists were clenched and her mouth pinched, as if she'd just eaten crabapples. "You just left it on my doorstep without even asking if I wanted /it/."
"It?" Dumbledore inquired with a sinking feeling.
"Yes, yes, it/," Petunia said with a glare. "The /freak/. Then again, you're a freak too, and all you freaks stick together! Just like Lily did with that horrible boy! Well, we fixed /it/. We never wanted /it anyway, so we got rid of /it/. The /freak/is gone, and we've been promised that the man who adopted him made it impossible to return /it/."
Rage tore threw Dumbledore. How dare she? How dare she give the Brat-Who-Lived-to-be-his-Weapon away and ruin his carefully constructed plans? He caught her chin, turned her face towards him, and raised his wand. "/Legilimens/," he whispered forcefully. He kept atight hold on his rage, even though part of him yearned to rip her mind apart and leave her a mindless husk. Carefully, he went through her most recent memories. The man who'd brought them the papers was strangely obscured, and nothing he did made the memory of him clear. Another memory after it made it impossible for him to ever use them again--the pouches that they'd been given each contained thirty pieces of silver.
The Traitor's Payment. He left her mind quickly, but carefully so as not to cause any damage, and obliviated the knowledge that he had been inside her mind. Not only was it impossible for him to return the boy to them, ever, but they'd made their son's life harder as well. When Dudley received his wand, for he was indeed magical just like his cousin and Aunt, the Traitor's Mark would appear on the back of his wand hand. He would never be trusted within magical society, because his parents had done the unthinkable and betrayed their own kin. What they'd done wasn't illegal, so as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, his hands were tied. In a fit of pique and an intense desire for revenge, however, he cast a hex on the odious woman and her house, that no matter what she did, it would always appear slovenly and the neighbors would forever gossip about her.
Disgusted, and unsatisfied by his petty revenge, Dumbledore apparated away with an ear-splitting pop. Upon arriving in Hogsmeade, he stormed back up to the castle, not bothering as of yet to undo the transfiguration on his clothing. Rather than return to his office, he stomped down to the dungeons, and barreled into his Potions Master's office. "SEVERUS!" he yelled.
Severus looked up from the stack of papers he was most likely grading. "Headmaster," he said evenly.
"The boy is gone!" Dumbledore all-but screamed. "Petunia Dursley allowed him to be adopted for a Traitor's Payment."
Severus then did something that Dumbledore had neither seen not heard him do before-- he threw back his head and laughed. Dumbledore frowned angrily as he waited for the man to stop. "Are you quite finished?" he asked after a few minutes.
Severus smiled at him. "Yes," he said. "If you had asked me, I would have told you that Petunia Evans has always been jealous, spiteful, and vengeful, even as a child. She got worse after Lily was accepted into Hogwarts."
Dumbledore's frown turned into a scowl. "Did you know she might accept money for the child?"
Severus shrugged. "No, but it doesn't surprise me. I'm glad! Lily's boy would have had a miserable life with that bloody bitch, and he at least has a chance now of having a decent childhood." Severus's voice was passionate, it was obvious from the tone that he actually cared about what happened to the child.
Dumbledore sat down in the straight-backed chair that Severus kept around for students. "I can turn you back in to the Aurors," he reminded the man.
"And I can go to the new Head of the department, Amelia Bones, and offer to testify under veritaserum that you forced me into spying for you when I came for help." Severus glared at him and smirked evilly. "I wanted you to get Lily and her family out of the country! They would've been safe hiding in America, Australia, or even New Zealand! Hell, they would've been safer at Potter Manor! I blame you for her death just as much as I blame myself!"
"You shouldn't--you were the one who gave Voldemort the prophecy," Dumbledore countered.
"And Lily wasn't due until the end of August!" Severus said. "I only came to you when her life was endangered. It was bad enough that I'd succumbed to pressure and become the Dark Lord's Potions Master. At the time, it was the only choice I thought I had, because it was the only way my family would pay for my apprenticeship! By the time I knew what an awful mistake it was, it was too late."
Dumbledore opened his mouth; then closed it without saying anything. He hadn't really spoken to Severus about why, exactly, he'd become aDeath Eater.
"Go, Headmaster," Severus said wearily. "Just leave. The only reason why you're so angry is that if Harry Potter shows up at Hogwarts, it's entirely possible that he won't be at all easy to manipulate. And if he does, under disguise and a different name if his adoptive parents have a brain between them, I will protect Lily's child, because he is all I have left of her." He gathered up his stack of papers, capped his bottle of ink, and swept out the door.
Dumbledore sat still for a few minutes, then stood, drew his wand, undid the spell, reholstered the wand, and smoothed out his robes. He hadn't been told off like that since his baby sister was killed in the duel between himself and Grindelwald. Back then, it was Abeforth that had done it, his little brother. He'd deserved it then, but he wasn't sure he deserved it now. Slowly, he left the office and began the trek up to his office. He had plans to make. True, Harry Potter was now beyond his reach, and might not even attend Hogwarts. He would have to check the Book of Magical Children to see if he was still even in it.
There was, however, another child from a magical family that fit the prophecy almost perfectly--Neville Longbottom. He was now in the care of his paternal grandmother, Augusta Longbottom, who wouldn't be so easy to get around as Muggles were. Still, Neville was the best he could do. Perhaps it would be enough. He certainly hoped so. Harry was to have been the sacrifice to stop the Dark from overtaking their world. If he had to sacrifice Neville for the same cause, he would. It was all for the greater good, after all.
As the car pulled into the circular drive of the de Brabant estate and the doors opened, across the ocean, all the way in Scotland, a name shimmered and disappeared from the Book of Magical Children. It had faded with Henri's adoption, in preparation for the name change, but didn't completely leave until they had arrived at what was now Henri's ancestral home. Nicolas held the sleeping toddler close to him as he entered, LaCroix three paces ahead of him. They were met in the entry by a house elf, who curtsied respectfully.
"Master Lucien, Master Nicolas," the elf said in French. "I is being Mitsy. Mistress Janette has arrived. She is in the solar and wishes to see the child. Yous rooms is ready, and so is the child's."
"Thank you, Mitsy," Nicolas said. LaCroix ignored the elf, much as he always had. Instead, the older vampire, who was more than familiar with the layout of the castle from previous visits, headed upstairs towards the inner parts of the castle and the solar. Nicolas sighed, settled Henri more firmly, and followed. Most likely, Henri's room would be near it, anyway. He'd specifically asked the house elves
to prepare a room for the child that had an adjoining room for a nanny.
He carried Henri up the stairs and hurried to the solar. In the eight hundred years he'd known his vampiric older sister and sometimes lover, he'd learned that keeping her waiting was a bad idea. He entered the room to find LaCroix sitting on a spindly chair, sipping from a wineglass full of what Nicolas knew was bloodwine, and Janette lounging upon a divan.
"Nicolas," she said. "You have adopted achild into our little... family?" She rose gracefully from her seat and came over. "Let me see him."
Nicolas carefully moved Henri so that he was cradled in his arms rather than laying against his shoulder. "He's asleep," he said unnecessarily.
"Lay him down, then," she said imperiously.
Nicolas obediently laid him on the divan and stepped back to allow Janette to examine the small boy. She leaned down over him, a gentle smile on her usually impassive face. "He's gorgeous, Nicolas. And is he /ours/?" she asked sharply.
"Yes," Nicolas answered. "LaCroix said that the blood adoption shouldn't have any ill effects on him."
Before anyone could say anything else, Henri's eyes opened and gold flecks flashed in them when he found a strange vampire near him. He moved faster than any human child could have, and ran over to the other side of the room. "Papa!" he called, tears in his voice.
Nicolas all but flew across the room to his son, and gathered him up in his arms. He spent several minutes murmuring comforting nothings in French before assuring him that Janette meant no harm. Henri still seemed scared of her, though, and buried his face in Nicolas's shoulder.
"No ill effects, LaCroix?" Janette murmured.
"You have heard the legend of the dhampir?" LaCroix asked.
Nicolas brought Henri back over to them. "Yes," he said. "But it is just a legend; everyone knows that we cannot father children."
"More like the mortals and witches that male vampires make love to do not survive the experience," Janette said, amused.
LaCroix waved his hand, as if to say that it made no difference. "My research showed that if your blood was strong enough, Nicolas, which I did not believe it to be, something like this was possible. Improbable, yes, especially considering your... weakened state, but there was approximately a half of a percent chance of Henri becoming the equivalent of adhampir."
"Mitsy," Nicolas called.
The little elf popped in. "Oui, Master Nicolas?"
"Show me to Henri's room, please?" Nicolas asked.
"Oui," the elf said.
As he left the room, he turned towards LaCroix and Janette, both of whom had sat down again. "Are the legends correct in that he will have many of the benefits of our condition?" he asked.
"Yes," LaCroix affirmed. "He won't be immortal, and if we're lucky, he won't inherit our memory--if he does, we will have to train him to control it."
Nicolas nodded and left the room, following Mitsy. "Bedtime for you, mon petit," he said.
Henri lifted his face from Nicolas's shoulder. "Stowwy, Papa?" he asked.
Nicolas smiled and kissed the top of Henri's head. "Of course, Henri." He chuckled a little and hugged the toddler close. "It looks like Voldemort isn't the only one to find out that, where you're concerned, things just don't go as planned," he murmured; then took Henri to his room. The nanny was set to arrive in a few days, and tutors would start arriving within the month. Nicolas knew that Janette would happily mother Henri; she had always wanted a child to raise, and they could begin to teach him the grace and manners that he would need to move through the higher levels of society. He would also have to see to the blood wards he would erect with the vial of blood he obtained from Petunia Dursley--half of it would be drunk, and the other half put on the ward stones along with his, LaCroix's and Janette's blood. Henri would be protected and grow up safe and happy if it was the last thing he, Nicolas Geoffroi Pierre de Brabant, would do. If he made adifference in Henri's life, at least he would have done something worthwhile since he had come across in 1228.
Dumbledore could have sworn with sheer frustration. Augusta Longbottom refused to let him have access to Neville at all, even after he'd perused the Book and informed her that her precious grandson was, indeed, magical. It had also confirmed his suspicions that Harry Potter, if indeed he was still alive, was no longer in Britain. While the devices he'd set up to monitor the boy's life force were still somewhat active, due to the fact that they were easily affected by distance, his condition and general health were unknown.
Neville Longbottom was unavailable to him, and would be until he attended Hogwarts. It was possible, however, that the boy wouldn't be allowed to attend and would be sent to a different school. That was what the boy's grandmother had hinted at when pressed, anyway. Dumbledore cracked his knuckles as he tried to think of some way to locate the Potter boy. The alarms had sounded only the day before, so the trail wasn't too cold... yet. It was the only thing he could think of to salvage the situation--find the Potter child and lock him up in Hogwarts. An idea began to form at the back of his mind, and it had to do with one individual... Remus Lupin.
Lupin wasn't the only werewolf to survive being bitten as asmall child, but he was the only one who had been allowed to attend Hogwarts in the last century. At the time, Dumbledore had allowed it with the vague notion that the boy would be indebted to him, and that could prove useful somewhere down the line. It was time to call in the debt. It also helped that Lupin had considered the Marauders his pack, and looked on the Potter brat as the child he would never have. Even Dumbledore knew better than to stand between awerewolf and its cub.
Quickly putting thought into action, he walked over to the fireplace and removed a handful of floo powder from a pewter container. He put on his favorite harmless grandfather facade. "Remus Lupin, Marauders'Hideaway," he said; then threw a handful of floo powder into the fire. As the flames flared green, he knelt and stuck his head into the fire.
A few bare seconds later, he caught sight of a haggard, sandy-haired young man. "Headmaster," Remus said with a cautious nod.
Dumbledore gave the man a jovial smile that he didn't feel at all. "Mr. Lupin!" he said. "I would appreciate it if you would come through the fire. I'm afraid that my knees aren't up to kneeling in front of afire for long these days--old age catching up to me, I'm afraid."
Remus nodded. "If you'll just step back, sir, I'll come through momentarily."
Dumbledore removed his head from the fire, climbed slowly to his feet, and made his way back to the comfortable chair behind his desk. He sat down and had just gotten settled when the fire flared green again and Remus Lupin stepped out of it. "You wanted to see me, Headmaster?" the werewolf asked.
Dumbledore schooled his face into a serious expression and nodded. "I have some grave news for you, my boy," he said. "With the Ministry's restrictions, Mr. Black in prison, Mr. Pettigrew dead, and the Longbottoms current condition, I'm sure you're aware of where young Harry was sent."
Remus gave him a cautious nod. "And you're aware of my objections--Petunia is not the nicest of people and she detests magic and anything and anyone associated with it. Anyone who knew Lily could tell you that."
Dumbledore allowed his expression to turn sad; he was adept at projecting the exact emotion he wanted his listener to see. "I should have listened to you and Severus, my boy," he said. "Petunia sold young Harry yesterday for the Traitor's Payment." He stopped at Lupin's gasp. "Yes," he nodded. "I will be checking Ministry records first thing tomorrow, but if the adoption was done properly, the records we need will be under an unbreakable seal until young Harry comes of age."
Amber light flared in Remus's eyes. "What. Do. You. Know?" He asked, biting off each word as if it would do him an injury not to.
Dumbledore took a moment to collect himself. He hadn't quite realized what he danger he was placing himself in before. "Not much," he admitted. "Petunia neither knew nor cared who adopted young Harry. There must have been some magic involved, because she could not clearly remember what the man looked like, or even the name on the adoption papers."
"Then I want nothing more to do with you," Lupin growled. "Bad enough that Sirius is in Azkaban for something I doubt he actually did, but I don't recall ever hearing of a trial." He stood up and leaned over the desk. "Harry was his heir, did you know that? He was five days old when Arcturus, as Head of the Black family, approved Sirius's request to make Harry his heir by right of adopto."
Dumbledore leaned away from the werewolf. "Charlus would never have approved it."
Remus stood up straight. "He did," he said. "He supported it wholeheartedly. And the Blacks can't really contest it because Harry's grandmother was a Black."
Dumbledore closed his eyes. He could feel a headache coming on. It was well known that Walburga Black had burned her son off the family tapestry, but it was also well known that he hadn't legally been disowned. Blacks, despite their Dark tendencies, were clannish to the core. They hadn't been happy that Harry had been sent to the Muggles, but he hadn't known why. It had seemed odd at the time that an old, dark pureblood family like the Blacks would concern themselves with a half-blood Potter, but he hadn't paid it much mind and forged ahead with his grand plan anyway. "I-I don't know what to tell you," he admitted. "Harry is gone, and if we're lucky, the person who took him doesn't mean him harm."
There were still hints of amber in Lupin's eyes as he made his way to the fireplace. "I will spend time searching for him when I can," he said. "I still must make a living... do not contact me unless you have information on Harry." He turned to face Dumbledore. "I will find the cub; he is the last family I have left." With that, he grabbed some floo powder and floo'ed out.
Dumbledore rested his head on his hand and groaned. His weapon was truly gone and fled. His plans were in ashes around him. Vaguely, he registered the sound of Fawkes's triumphant chirp and a plan began to occur to him. "Fawkes?" he said, turning towards his phoenix.
Fawkes cocked his head and gave him a beady-eyed stare.
Quickly, Dumbledore scribbled a note and held it out to the firebird. "Will you take this to Harry Potter?"
Fawkes lifted his beak up in the air, turned around on his perch, and let loose a bit of poo on the note and Dumbledore's hand. While Dumbledore stared at the spattered parchment in shock, Fawkes took off,and flew around the office twice. Dumbledore felt something warm and wet splat on his head just before Fawkes flew out the window.
Dumbledore took that as an absolute refusal. He drew his wand and pointed it at the mess. "/Scourgify/," he muttered. He was relieved when it worked, because he hadn't been sure it would work on phoenix dung.
Perhaps he ought to rethink things. The Potter boy wouldn't stay hidden forever. Sooner or later, he would come to Hogwarts. Yes, the illusion of being able to control his upbringing was swept away. Yes, he would be harder to control with parents than as an orphan. But all was not lost; he still had Neville as a back-up saviour. It would have to do, because without the prophesied saviour, the wizarding world was doomed to fall into darkness and drag the rest of the world with it.
Janette rocked the increasingly fussy little boy. In the six months she'd been at de Brabant castle, little Henri had wormed his way into the heart that she could have sworn was cold and almost dead. They were between nannies at the moment--Amarissa, the halfling, had been scared off by aparticularly spectacular bit of accidental magic. Nicolas had engaged Vachon's Urs because of her sweet, unflappable nature and desire to protect the helpless ones, but she wasn't due to come for a few days yet.
A soft smile flitted over her face as she looked at the child. Quietly, she began to sing a lullaby that would have been used to sing babies to sleep a thousand years before. Henri began to settle down; hugging his rabbit with one arm, his thumb in his mouth, while the other hand held on to her dress. She had always wanted children, but they had been denied her during her mortal existence. As a vampire, well, while their hearts did beat every five minutes, it was not enough to sustain the life of another. It was not well-known to the Wizards and the Mortals, but after a woman was brought across, she would bleed for the last time in her existence, releasing everything of what could have become a child, if she were mortal.
In her immortal life, Janette had taken to mothering strays, the young fledglings whose masters had abandoned them. Now, though, she had something better; a child who would never be turned. In time, she would have his children, his children's children, and so on throughout the ages. It was so much better than Daniel, for unlike him, Henri would not be destroyed. Henri's eyes were starting to close, but he kept opening them, as if he were afraid to miss something as he fought sleep.
As Janette continued to rock and sing to the almost two-year-old, she looked around the nursery. The house elves had outdone themselves. Most likely, they had taken the furnishings from storage; Nicolas had a tendency to collect things, and must have picked them up sometime in the early eighteenth century. Every piece of furniture was ornately carved with decorative shell-like curves that mirrored the ocean in places. The whole room was classic Rococo. The walls had been painted a medium blue, touched here and there with gold. Large tapestries depicting magical creatures hung on two walls, and there was a nameplate on the door that proclaimed that it was "La Chambre de Henri."
It was ornate. It was beautiful. It was... wholly unsuited as a room for a rambunctious toddler, especially a magical one. She felt apresence behind her but ignored it; Nicolas could wait a bit while she put Henri to bed. Janette kept rocking for a few minutes after Henri had dropped off to sleep. Carefully, so as not to jostle the sleeping child, she stood up and walked to the child's bed. She laid him in it and covered him up, placing agentle kiss on his forehead. She was, for all intents and purposes, Henri's new mother, even though he called her, "Tante Janette."
For months now, they had spoken very little English around Henri, instead speaking French and Latin. He was picking up both languages fast. He was even quickly learning the difference between the modern language and more ancient variations. The rate at which he was learning astounded her at times, but considering that he'd somehow managed to inherit the total recall that was vampiric memory, she supposed that it wasn't really surprising. "Nicolas," she murmured.
"Janette," he followed her as she left the room to preserve the quiet so that Henri would not wake up.
They went to a small sitting room nearby. "Henri has taken to you well," he said in French. "After the first day, I did not expect it."
"Yes," Janette answered, in the same language. "He is almost my son as much as he is yours. I did not expect to... care as much as Ido. I have always followed our Master's teaching. A Vampire's heart must be cold," she paused. "Immortality makes this so--but I can not be cold around Henri. He will not allow it."
"No, he will not. LaCroix is speaking of taking a short journey," he changed the subject abruptly.
"Delphi. That is where he must be going," Janette said. She almost smiled at the puzzled expression on Nicolas's face. "Remember the trip he made by himself in your first century?" Nicolas nodded. "He made asimilar one when I was still young. He will be seeing the pythia about Henri, just as he saw her about you and me." Her blue eyes flashed with hidden amusement. "We are his favorites, thus he consults with seers about us."
"I would say that I'm surprised, but I'm not," Nicolas said. "For all his prattle about releasing mortal bonds, he is still the General he was when he was brought across." He brushed a lock of dark, curly hair away from her face.
Janette caught his hand, and gave it a squeeze before letting go. "The rest of the Family should be showing up soon," she commented.
Nicolas nodded. "They want to teach him what they know. Before he attends school, he will know many lost and ancient magics."
Janette laughed softly. "He will know more than that. Father will not wait long before teaching him the sword, Latrunculi, and the violin, to say the least."
"I know," Nicolas said. "I was surprised that it was so easy to find tutors among our kind. LaCroix wants to mark Henri as aprecautionary measure."
"Let him," Janette said. "He won't hurt Henri."
"How do you /know/?" Nicolas asked. "I am loath to trust anyone with Henri's welfare."
Janette laughed harshly. "Because he knows that if he does, I will teach you how to better mask your presence, and we will sneak up on LaCroix as he sleeps, behead him, stake him through the heart, and drag his corpse out into the rose garden to await the morning light." With those as her last words, she left. It was true. She would do anything to keep her Henri safe, and she was cold, ruthless, and vindictive when it came to protecting what was hers. LaCroix knew this as well. By putting their marks on little Henri's neck, it would ensure that most vampires, blood oath or no, would be wary of harming the child. Age and power were the same, so few would dare incurring the wrath of one who was two thousand years old. Combined with her paltry thousand years and Nicolas's eight hundred, there would be precious few who would dare to try anything around their boy. If it would keep Henri safe, then she was all for it.
LaCroix made his way on foot to the Oracle, as tradition demanded it. He hadn't been there in centuries, but the wizarding enclave was, for the most part, unchanged. He was just lucky that most of the pomp and ceremony had fallen by the wayside in the past thousand years or so. Now, instead of being a temple as it used to be, the Oracle at Delphi was the foremost school of Divination in the world. Oh, if you knew where to look, it was fairly easy to spot the worship of the old gods that went on there as well, but that sort of thing had gone far underground a few years after Christianity had taken over the Empire.
This was the fourth time in his long life that LaCroix had come seeking counsel from the Pythia. The first had been before he left on his first campaign with the Legions, the second when he had made his Janette, the third after he had made his Nicolas, and this time, this time he was here for his grandson, Henri. His grandson had the weight of prophecy on him, and it only made sense to consult the best Seer in the world about him. He left an offering, as was customary, and made his way inside the Oracle room.
LaCroix waited quietly; he knew that impatience would get him nowhere, and it was also customary for the Pythia to make her supplicants wait. It was better than when he'd first come, he supposed, when visiting the oracle was an days-long trial. A pretty young woman walked over to him. "Pythia will see you now," she said in Greek.
LaCroix nodded and followed the young woman into a room. "Lucius of Pompeii," the Pythia greeted him in his native language, which was surprising, since Latin was long dead.
He took a half-step back, a bit surprised. The last Pythia he'd seen had not been so clear sighted. "Yes," he said.
"Yes, that is who you are," her eyes were slowly turning white. LaCroix rather thought that she must have some sybill blood in her.
"You see clearly, Pythia," he said. He was about to say more, but she interrupted him.
"You now call yourself Lucien of the Cross, an ironic name for one who walks the night," she mused. "But at heart, you are still Lucius Maximus, from Pompeii, one of the most feared and respected generals of the old Empire." The words he had been about to say were silenced by one look from her. "You have come about your grandson--the prophecy child whom your son adopted and whom you are learning to love."
LaCroix considered denying it, but this Pythia was too clear sighted to believe him. "Yes," he said again.
"The first and second prophecies spoke truly. The Fates are at work on the poor child. Two paths lie before him--one of the darkness that you love, and the other of the light you shunned millennia ago. The first path leads to nothing but destruction. Henri has the power to be the worst Dark Lord the world has ever seen." She paused and seemed to study him intently through her milky-white eyes. "The other path leads to much good, for you and the rest of the world. Teach the child to love the light you have shunned." She paused, as if to allow him time to think.
LaCroix had considered teaching Henri about the darkness in hopes that once the Council lifted their edict that he would join them in the darkness. Only the thought of what Janette and Nicolas might do to him had stopped him. Janette had a vicious streak that Nicolas did his best not to acknowledge in himself. He had known for years that if both of them turned on him at the same time, they were more than capable of dealing him True Death. If he knew his daughter, and he did, she would advocate beheading him and staking his body outside somewhere to await the sunrise.
"Lucius of Pompeii," the Pythia began again. "Teach Henri to love the light you pretend to hate, but cling to nevertheless. Henri will help Nicolas find the faith he lost long ago. Teach him to be a warrior, for he will need your teaching throughout his life; not just on the battlefield, but in the political arena as well. Teach him well, Lucius Maximus, for what you teach him to be will affect the fate of the world." The Pythia slumped in her chair, and the white drained out of her eyes, leaving them a clear brown. "Did you obtain what you came for, Lucien LaCroix?" she asked in Greek.
"Yes, I did, Pythia," he answered in the same language. LaCroix bowed and left the room. It was time to go home and begin. He would teach Henri the sword, and how to navigate through politics. He would teach him to love music, how to spot manipulation, and how to manipulate people for his own ends. Quietly, sunk in thought, he left the Oracle building and began the journey back to Nicolas's estate. It was to be a new experience for him; to teach a small child and guide him towards the light that he, himself clung to Nicolas for. It was something different, something new. And he wasn't sure he liked it at all.
Nicolas sat crosslegged on the floor and watched three-year-old Henri play. He didn't necessarily have the be there; Urs was working out well as Henri's nanny, but in the past few years, he'd found himself wandering more and more to the nursery and school room to spend time with his son and supervise the tutors. He'd begun teaching his son to play the piano, and had spent many happy hours painting with him. Henri preferred his fingers to brushes still, so he'd obtained finger paints for his son to play with; they were much more washable than what he usually used.
"Regardes, Papa!" Henri called as he ran over holding apiece of paper. He handed it to Nicolas, beaming.
Nicolas took the drawing and examined it. For a three-year-old, it was very good. "Bon!" he praised. "Tell me about it?" he requested, in English this time.
Henri plopped down in Nicolas's lap and pointed at the big blob with yellow eyes and fangs. "That's you," he pointed at the smaller blob with black scribbles on its head. "An' that's me." He pointed at the big blue round thing at the top, left-hand corner of the paper. "An' it's night, an'we're out flying." He gave Nicolas a big, innocent smile. "Can we go flying, Papa?"
Nicolas laughed. Henri's favorite thing in the world was flying, be it on his children's broom or with his family. "May you, Henri," he corrected.
Henri's smile grew wider. "May we go flying, Papa?" he asked.
"What's the magic word?" Nicolas asked.
"As soon as it gets dark enough," Nicolas said. He was rewarded by a big hug from his son. On average, he took Henri out flying about once a week. Henri had adapted quickly to living at night, but some days, like today, he woke before the sun went down. His mornings were usually spent in lessons and he'd already learned to read. One of his tutors had insisted upon adding Italian lessons to the French, Dutch, and Latin he was already learning, and Nicolas expected that Greek would be added before Henri's seventh birthday. Both he and Janette had insisted upon raising him with wizarding traditions; while he could probably blend in the Mortal world, it made more sense to teach him about his rightful world first, before teaching him about the world that ordinary mortals lived in.
Urs appeared at the door and beckoned to Henri. "Breakfast, Henri," she said with a smile.
Henri bounced to his feet and hurried to take the blue-eyed blonde's hand. "D'accord. Je'ai faim," he said cheerfully. Nicolas watched as Urs led Henri away.
"Mitsy!" he called.
The little elf popped in. "Master Nicolas?" she asked.
"Henri is to have porridge, fruit, milk, and juice for breakfast," he said. "No sweets!"
Mitsy curtsied. "Yes, Master Nicolas, but the little Master/likes/ sweets!"
Nicolas fought the urge to bang his head against the wall. "They are not good for him," he said. Despite not having eaten real food for eight hundred years, he knew what a balanced meal was; he had briefly studied at the Cordon Bleu, after all. The house elves were delighted to have someone to cook for, and it seemed every time his back was turned, they plied Henri with candy and other goodies.
The little elf pulled her ears and looked forlorn. "No sweets ever?" she asked.
"On holidays and occasionally, not all the time," Nicolas said.
Mitsy looked close to tears. "Yes, Master Nicolas," she said; then popped out.
Nicolas sighed, stood up, and left in search of Janette. The war with the house elves over spoiling Harry was an ongoing thing. It was in the little creatures' natures to want to please, and as vampires in general didn't need as much care as a child, all of them had set out to please Henri. If they weren't careful, it would turn him into a spoiled rotten little beast. The sugar wars were the worst, though. The house elves seemed to love to load Henri up on sweets, which at his age, just made him hyperactive and hard to deal with.
If the house elves kept it up, it was entirely possible that they'd have to roll Henri out the door, though the physical training that LaCroix had started with the child might prevent that. Nicolas found Janette in the library, curled up in a leather wing chair with a thick book. "Janette," he said with a smile.
She looked up from her book, her lips curving into a smile. "Nicolas." Janette closed her book. "I find that I am bored," she said. "Henri is a darling, and amusing, but we are rather... isolated here."
Nicolas nodded. "I know. It's not like Paris, is it?"
Janette sighed and pouted. "No, it is not. I have been bored many times in this Immortal life, and I survived it. I daresay I will again." She stood, stretched like a cat, slinked over, and kissed him. "You can relieve my boredom, Nicolas," she said, with a spark of mischief in her eyes.
Nicolas smiled. They had played this game many times before. After all, they had spent ninety-eight years living as husband and wife. "But then what happens when you become bored with me?" he asked. He leaned in and kissed her.
Janette simply smiled and moved away. "Then I take Henri on a, what do the mortals call them? Ah, yes... a field trip."
"We could do that anyway," he said. "It would save on the drama that would eventually happen."
"Ah, yes, the drama," Janette said. "There was much of that in the sixteenth century, as I recall."
"Yes," Nicolas said with a smile. "I still have the painting."
"And I still want it," she answered. "Leonardo painted it for me, and the sittings took forever."
"You said you would commission another," he pointed out with a smile.
"I lied," she said.
"I know," Nicolas admitted. "It is just a... thing. Perhaps it is time I let go; you are welcome to it, Janette."
"Yes," Janette murmured. "I was serious about the field trip," she said. "Henri needs to see life outside these walls. We do him no good keeping him locked up here."
What Janette said made sense to Nicolas, perhaps a trip to the zoo or something like that? It would have to be in the evening hours, or they could obtain a supply of the potion, perhaps? He hadn't used any since he had acquired Henri. As much as he loved to see the sun, it was too big of arisk. "We need some sun potion," he said. "Next week we can take him to the zoo or someplace like that."
"Good!" Janette walked over and kissed him on the cheek. She slipped out of the room, leaving Nicolas to his thoughts.
Even a year ago, he would have never thought he could find such... contentment as he did caring for Henri. Oh, he still felt incredibly guilty about the people that he'd killed, but there was no way to avoid that. It was a bit strange, he supposed, that he and Janette were teaching Henri the religious beliefs that they'd learned as Mortals, yet didn't really believe in them. It was even stranger since LaCroix had returned from Delphi, for he had begun doing the same thing. Nicolas stuffed his hands into his pockets and left the room to go to the schoolroom. He had to make sure that the house elves had followed orders; the last thing he wanted to deal with was asugar-high three-year-old.
LaCroix had declined to come. Nicolas was sure that it was his long-held disdain for the Mortal world that had given him the strength to resist Henri's sad puppy dog look. It was a downright strange sight to see the three-year-old almost succeeding in manipulating the old Roman, but the truth of it was that Henri had almost succeeded in wrapping the General around his little finger. Nicolas rather thought that if Henri had been a little girl, LaCroix wouldn't have stood a chance. Janette had caved under the power of those big, blue-green eyes. It was funny what they'd do for Henri. The sun potion was just plain nasty, and very few vampires wanted to risk the side effects and the addiction that could result from using it.
They'd already seen lions, tigers, bears, and elephants. Henri had loved every minute of it, and had been racing excitedly back and forth between exhibits. Nicolas breathed a sigh of relief as they entered the reptile house. Despite the potion, being in the sun, as beautiful as it was, made him feel uneasy. Part of it was probably the knowledge that the sun potion had a tendency to wear off at the worst possible moment, making most vampires, including himself, to look on it with suspicion.
Nicolas watched as Henri ran from tank to tank, finally stopping in front of one. He cocked his hear to one side as if listening to something, then hissed at the tank before assuming a 'listening' pose again. Nicolas turned to Janette and silently asked if she'd seen what he had. At her nod, he lengthened his strides until he got to Henri; then picked the child up.
"Papa!" Henri protested.
Determined to protect Henri--there might be wizards around who would get the wrong idea--Nicolas ignored the plea. "We're leaving mon petit," he said.
"But Papa!" Henri protested. "The snake said she was /bored/!"
"Henri," Nicolas said gently, "Most people think that talking to snakes is something that only bad wizards do."
Henri shrunk back a little. "Does that mean I'm bad, Papa?"
Janette caught Henri's hand. "No, mon cher," she said with a smile. She kissed the little hand. "You can no more help that you have the ability to speak to snakes than you can the fact that you have hair like mine." Henri reached out to her, so she took him from Nicolas.
Nicolas ran his hand through Henri's hair. "Tante Janette is right, Henri," Nicolas said. "People, and very much so wizards, are often illogical when it comes to things like this. You aren't bad, and people that will think badly of you because of your gift are wrong. It's how you use it that counts."
Henri frowned, puzzled. "What do you mean, Papa?"
"They say that people who speak to snakes may also /command/them," Nicolas explained. "So if you told a snake to bite someone, that would be bad. But if you just make friends with them, that's good. Do you understand?"
Henri bit his lip for a moment, and then nodded. He held out his arms to Nicolas, who obligingly took him from Janette. Henri wrapped his arms around Nicolas's neck, seeking comfort. Nicolas rubbed the child's back and pressed a kiss into his dark curls. Together, the trio left the reptile house and made their way out of the zoo. It had been a trying end to along but happy day, and they were looking forward to going home.
Janette sat with Nicolas and LaCroix in a sitting room with a glass of bloodwine in her hand. Four-year-old Henri was long in bed, and LaCroix and Nicolas were playing chess. She disliked the game, so didn't mind that she wasn't playing. Life was.. pleasant at the moment, if sometimes a bit dull. Not that life could ever truly be dull with Henri around. The little boy was a bit of a daredevil when it came to heights, and at least twice aweek, they had to rescue him from some strange place he'd managed to climb to, but couldn't get down. Last week, he'd gotten stuck on the roof, though nobody knew how he'd managed to climb up there as the towers had long since been closed off.
That night, though, she was unsettled, and it had everything to do with the topic of conversation.
"Have you put some thought into... securing the boy's future, Nicolas?" LaCroix asked.
"A betrothal contract, you mean?" Nicolas asked.
"But of course," LaCroix said. "A British witch would be best, I'm sure you agree. And she should have a proven magical lineage."
Betrothal contract. The very words sent a shiver down Janette's spine.
Janette wandered the halls of her father's keep. It was a cold day in early January, very soon after Christmas. At fifteen, she knew that her father would soon be looking for a marriage for her, and she did not relish the idea. He'd been making comments lately about how she was getting old for marriage, and it would not be long before he forced a match upon her. She had considered fighting it, but she had no recourse; he was quick to remind her every time she showed a little free will that she was his to do with as he liked. Not only that, but she was just a useless daughter anyway, who would cost him money for a dower.
"Daughter," a voice behind her said.
Janette stiffened and turned around, her head lowered submissively. "Father," she said.
"I have found a match for you," he said, catching up to her. "He's a duke, so your station will rise." He ran a hand over her stomach. "You will produce him an heir within the year or there will be consequences. Remember, you're only a girl and can be replaced or sold."
"Father," Janette protested.
He slapped her across the face. "You belong to me, Janette, and soon you will belong to the Duke. You will/ do as I say!"/
Janette shivered again. "Have you given no thought to the girl?" she interrupted. "Shall she have no choice in the matter?"
Nicolas got up from the chair he was sitting in, came over, sat down next to her, took her hand, and squeezed it. "I'll make sure that both of them have a way out of the contract if they really want out, Ipromise."
She had heard him, but it hadn't really registered. "A thousand years," she murmured. "Have things not changed? A woman belonged to her father, who arranged her marriage. Then to her husband, and if she did not produce an heir, she was replaced by servants. When she got in the way of another marriage, she was sold to the brothel keeper." She took a deep breath. "There is a nameless, faceless girl-child out there who will be betrothed to our Henri. She should have a choice, and so should he."
LaCroix came over and kissed her on the forehead. "So they shall, ma Janette," he said quietly. "I shall look into it, but I'm sure we can put some out clauses in the contract. If Henri and the girl we choose truly hate each other, or fall in love with someone else, they do not have to marry."
She looked up at her Sire, searching his face to see if he was telling the truth. Something told her that he was, but things were never that simple with LaCroix. He always had plots within plots, and a whole sting of back-up plans in case the first failed. So instead of replying, she simply raised an eyebrow, which was a mannerism she'd picked up from LaCroix.
LaCroix put his hands behind his back. "We need someone from a traditionally Light family," he said. "That will offset the fact that the Boy-Who-Lived was raised by vampires in the public eye."
Janette sighed and gave in to the inevitable; when LaCroix decided something it was usually easier to agree with him. "She should come from a... fertile family," she said. "I want petites-enfants to play with."
"She should be magically powerful," Nicolas offered. "If they do marry, it should be a marriage of equals."
"British, too," LaCroix said. "He will have to return there someday." He smiled a little. "I will begin the research tomorrow."
Nicolas nodded. "I'll paint a miniature of him to send along with the offer."
Janette sighed. "That leaves me to make arrangements with the tailor for new dress robes." She stood and left the room. She still didn't like the idea of arranging a marriage, but she knew her Henri. He would never treat anyone the way she had been treated... and if he did, well, he would never be too old to be turned over her knee! Not that he ever had, of course, as he was a generally well-behaved child, even during dancing lessons, which he hated. She dismissed the thought. Perhaps it would work this time. She had known some arranged marriages to actually work, after all.
Henri sat up in his bed, tears streaming down his face. He was four and a half, and, in his opinion, too old to cry, but the dream had scared him. He'd seen people that he vaguely recognized from his Aunt and uncle screaming at him, hitting him, and throwing him into a dark cupboard. He'd been the same age he was at the moment, so it wasn't a memory at all! It was as if he were seeing what his life would have been if his Papa hadn't taken him from the mean people.
He shivered; then stood up on the bed. Papa could make the bad dreams go away; just like he'd protected him from the monster that used to live under his bed. Grandfather had made the monster go away, and he said it was a boggart, but Henri wasn't sure if that was true. It never hurt to be careful, so he'd taken to jumping in and out of his bed so the hand of the monster couldn't reach out and grab his ankle.
Henri jumped off the bed as far as he could and stumbled alittle on the landing. He walked as quietly as he could--Grandfather said he should practice stealth whenever possible--and headed for his Papa's room, out of his and down the hall. He briefly considered going to Tante Janette or Mademoiselle Urs, but Papa was better at making bad dreams leave him alone. He hurried inside his Papa's room and, with a great leap, jumped into Papa's bed.
"Papa," Henri said, shaking his arm. "Papa!"
Nicolas's eyes snapped open, glowing gold. Henri wasn't afraid at all; he'd seen his beloved Father like that quite often in the two and a half years he'd lived there. "Henri?" Nicolas said, sounding sleepy. "What's wrong, mon petit?"
Henri sniffled and threw himself at Nicolas. "I had a bad dream about the mean people again," he said.
Nicolas caught him, sat up, and rocked Henri a little. He rubbed his back comfortingly and kissed his forehead. "Did you see the green light again?" he asked.
"Uh uh," Henri shook his head. "Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia hurt me and threw me in the dark cupboard, and I was still four and ahalf."
Nicolas hugged him tightly and Henri felt safe for the first time since he'd woken up. "It won't happen, Henri, ever. I won't let the Dursleys hurt you ever again, I promise."
"Really?" Henri asked.
"Really." Nicolas kissed his forehead again.
"Tell me a story, Papa?" Henri asked.
Nicolas tugged the blankets out from under Henri and held them up. "In, first," he said.
Henri crawled under the covers and snuggled up to Nicolas. His Papa was cooler than most people, but he didn't mind; it was how Papa had always been.
Nicolas hugged him, and then began. "Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a little boy named Harry," he said.
"Is this a true story, Papa?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," he said. "Anyway, before Harry was born, there was a prophecy about a little boy that could make a very bad wizard go away. There were two little boys who could have fulfilled the prophecy--Harry and another little boy named Neville."
"Was Neville nice?" Henri asked.
"Yes, he was, and so was Harry," Nicolas said. "Both Harry's parents and Neville's parents were scared for their little boys, so they went into hiding so their boys could be safe."
"Were they safe?" Henri asked sleepily.
"For a time," Nicolas said. "But baby Harry's parents were betrayed by someone they trusted, and the evil wizard killed Harry's parents and tried to kill Harry. But Harry's mother loved him so much that she wove layers of protective spells around her baby. And when the evil wizard came to kill him, he made the mistake of killing Harry's mother first. She used her death, her innocent blood to seal the protective spells so that the evil man couldn't hurt her Harry."
Henri listened to the comforting rumble of his Papa's voice and got sleepier and sleepier. "Did it work?"
"Oh, yes, it did," Nicolas said. "When the evil wizard tried to kill baby Harry with a spell, one with green light, it bounced back and hurt him instead. But the evil wizard wasn't dead, only banished..."
Nicolas's story continued, but Henri, lulled by the sound of his voice, had dropped off to sleep. This time, he dreamed not of the Dursleys, but of a red haired woman and a man with messy black hair who tickled and played with a younger version of himself.
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