RED: The Book of Blood
The Impaler's Plans
The room was cold like a morgue, bitter and biting. The air was cool and sterile, smelling of nothing. A long round table dominated the room, the fire from the torches set all around the stone walls gleaming on its aged Oak surface. Twelve figures sat around the table on ornate chairs, their faces hidden under cowls that appeared black in the gloom. All of them shifted in their chairs, as if nervous, and all of them tried not to look at the robed figure waiting at the door.
The newcomer too looked ill-at-ease, and his stance was that of a cornered and wary animal, elbows crooked at his sides, palms hidden beneath his plain black robes. His breathing was the only sound in the room except the low crackling murmur of the little fires, and the air was perfectly still except for his misty breaths. His broad shoulders were hunched together a little, as if the room itself oppressed him somehow, which would not have been a surprise for any who knew just who resided in the old stone walls. He stood stoically still, refusing to appear nervous even though he suspected that all in the room read through it as easily as through a clear glass. Twelve pairs of red eyes furtively tracked his every little gesture from under the hoods.
The still air came alive suddenly, full with the flapping sound of a hundred wings. The newcomer tried to suppress his flinch at the sound as an acrid pungent smell assaulted his nostrils in the space of a breath, but something flew at him out of the shadowy dark, something small and black that launched itself at him. He batted it away unthinkingly, his hand a blur as the palm crashed into something leathery and sent it crashing to the ground. It flopped there for a moment, then staggered up and lurched away from him into the dark shadows. The newcomer took a step back towards the door, suddenly realizing that the sound of wings have stopped and there was only that deathly silence again. But there was something else in the room now. Someone. His predatory senses recognized the threat, interpreted it into a sense of boundless terror that threatened to weaken his knees. He stood erect with only an iron effort of will, suddenly beyond mere nervousness, into a land of age-old fear where nightmares walked at your feet and spoke in angels' words. He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry and he choked. His raspy breaths misted before him, a mass of white vapour that ruined even his wolf's vision. He moved his head a fraction to the side, goose bumps pricking all over his skin, little tremors that seemed to trail their way through his flesh from the base of his spine. The dagger hidden in his belt felt hot under his palms. The room had darkened appreciably, he noticed through the fear that surrounded his senses.
The torches began to wink out, one by one.
Harry sighed as the trembling 'house-elf' put down the plate on the table, his stomach rumbling as he took in the smell of warm rare meat. The elf conjured a steaming mug filled with thick green liquid with a snap of its fingers, its hands shaking a little as it placed the mug in front of him. Harry put a smile on his face to put the poor little creature more at ease, but the elf flinched away as he showed his teeth. Harry pursed his lips, uncertain as how to proceed... without spooking the elf any further. He needed information, and there was nobody else in the house to squeeze.
He knew a way to get what he wanted, of course. Something in him observed the little things that betrayed the elf's composure. The creature was trying to stand still, but its hands were trembling at its sides. A small bead of sweat shined at the edge of its chin. The eyes were steady, but the pupils were a little wide. A green-blue vein in the elf's neck bobbed up and down, gently.
Something in him observed all this and knew the fear that resided behind the eyes, and something in him was eager.
He resisted the impulse to lean forward and smile, for he knew whatever this was, in him, beside his every step, was not what he was. Dumbledore's words floated back to him in the apprehensive silence.
"Names are our identities, Harry... even for a mere wizard, names can be binding... names, and all they entail - the identification of self."
He wasn't sure he understood it all, even though he could close his eyes now and call up every moment of that conversation as if he was living them again. But he was sure about one thing.
His name was still Harry Potter, not Dudley Dursley... and he would be damned if he was going to start bullying others to get what what he wanted.
But there were, as that something in him knew, other ways; and even though disappointment soured Harry's mouth somehow, he knew what he had to do.
"Umm... thank you. For the meal, I mean," he began. The elf started at the sound of his voice, much like it had the last time he's tried to talk with it. All the times he'd tried to talk with it, in fact. The first time when it had disappeared in the air had been a shock. Even after nearly a week in the house of a Professor who taught Potions in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, open displays of magic were still sometimes a shock to his disbelieving mind. He shook his head again at his memories of the first night at the house. Strange as the conversation with the old man had been (he still couldn't say the old man's name, even in the privacy of his own mind, hard as he tried), the night after had been infinitely stranger.
He shook his head to clear the memories, as his skin prickled and his gut churned. The whispers were echoing in his ears still, disconnected images of blood and gore flashing through his mind, and the air felt hot and dry when he inhaled. He took a sip from the mug, gulping the thick liquid down with some effort, and grimaced at the bitter taste.
It had been so easy to become used to this life, so frighteningly easy, this life of magic and spells and elves who served as common servants. Almost as if he had been born for it.
But then again, he was. He was.
"I never got around to asking your name," he addressed the elf.
"I is Espy, Master." The elf whispered. Harry frowned at the epithet.
"You've always worked here? I mean, do you do all the household jobs?"
"No, no, Master," the little creature shook its head. "I work at the school. Hogwarts. I the oldest! The Head Master told me to come work this place."
"So... you're a... worker at the school?" Harry found himself very curious. "Are you alone, or are there other... house-elves like you?"
"Oh, yes, Master! Hundreds!" Espy exclaimed with a nervous wheezing that could've been a chuckle. "Hogwarts too big for old me alone to handle!"
"Really?" Harry raised his eyebrows. "So there are your fellows working at the school, too? Who else?"
"Only us, master!" Espy looked shocked at the question, its indignation overwhelming its apparent fear of him. "Elves no allow others to clean! It is we that clean, and cook, and do work! That is only our place!"
Harry blinked. "You can't mean... all of you? You're... workers?"
"Only us, Master!" Espy bobbed its head. "No else!"
"But some of you must do something else... are you made to be servants?" Harry asked. Suddenly the magic world wasn't looking as promising as it had been an hour ago.
"Oh no, Master!" Espy shook his head vehemently in denial, the green ears flapping with some emotion. "We born for this! Bad elves forget their place- " Harry stared as the elf gave him an almost pleading look. "Espy no bad elf, Master! Espy not!"
"I know, I know, Espy," Harry tried to soothe the little creature who was looking more and more agitated by the second. "You don't have to be afraid. I know you're a good elf."
The elf mumbled a phrase, but Harry heard and frowned. "Blood what? What did you say, Espy?"
The elf stared at him, the big round eyes wide and intense, for what seemed to be an awfully long moment. "Blood Knights, Master," it whispered at last. "Blood Knights. They took bad elves away, when I was young." Its lips were trembling again. "I old, Master. I forget. But I remember you."
"What?" Harry snapped. An eerie sense of age was creeping up on him, of fear and dust and violence that seeped from the elf's words. He knew this, whatever this was... "What did you say? You mean you've seen me before?"
"Not you, Young Master." Espy shook its head, almost sadly. "Not you. I remember what you are. The Blood remembers. I remember."
The door to his room slammed open, and Harry quickly whirled round towards the door where the greasy-haired potions master now stood silently observing him. A sharp 'crack' sounded behind him, and Harry twisted back, only to stare at empty air where the elf had been standing. He pressed his lips thin, angry at the wizard for the impromptu interruption but trying his best not to show it, and looked back at the man.
"You wanted something?" He asked as neutrally as he could manage. The anger was receding as abruptly as it had come, leaving nothing but uneasiness behind. Rambling as the elf had been, its words still had triggered something in his mind, some dim recollection that he could grasp if only he could think a little harder... Unnerving for someone with a near-perfect memory. Unsettling. He clenched his jaws.
Severus Snape sneered, as Harry knew from experience he was wont to whenever asked a question the wizard thought lacked sufficient merit. "The Headmaster thinks it is time for you to get your own focus," he said. "I for one would consider it a hopeless endeavour, but unfortunately he seemed quite adamant that you at least get a chance to see first-hand just how magical you are. We go in an hour. Finish your breakfast, then bathe and get ready." The man turned back, his plain black robes somehow gracefully billowing behind him even in the cramped corridor.
"Going where?" Harry called out, apprehensive even though a chance to finally get out of the house after a full week of being cooped up within without company seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. He knew enough not to trust magic.
The wizard didn't look back. "Where you would've gone last year, had you been a wizard, Potter. Where every first-year goes to get his wand. Ollivander's, in Diagon Alley. Be downstairs in an hour." He strode out.
The streets were filled with people, lights of every colour filling the air all around, white noise mingling with the smell that is unique to a city busy with the business of the night. The werewolf squinted uneasily at the swirling mass of humanity, fidgeting in the backseat of the limousine. He wasn't familiar with crowded places, by nature and instinct, and he didn't like the fact that he was making this journey again. And he didn't like his companion any further than he liked the sheep who crowded the streets.
He was a hunter, inside where it mattered. And too many prey disbalanced a predator's senses. The forests were where he felt truly at ease, and this modern hustle and bustle was too much for an old wolf who has seen too many moons. He didn't like this confusion, and tensed again when he remembered his destination. Crowded as this relatively small city of Bucharest was, London would be infinitely more so.
"It is the tourist season," his companion spoke softly, as if sensing his unease. "The Romanian nation encourages tourists, however much they can." Shadows hugged the vampire's face as Fenrir turned his head to look at him, cloaking every feature of the handsome face except red eyes that peered at him with seeming indifference. "Add to that the excitement for the Târgul de fete, or the Maiden's Fair as you would call it…"
"I'm not interested in your festivals," he growled out in his unease. He regretted the outburst instantly as the vampire grew still at the interruption, but trudged on. "I am... concerned, about what your Sire plans for us."
"It is good that you have finally found the wisdom to bow to our Father," his companion said. "It is as it should be, for are we not brothers in the Gift given to us, the Gift of tooth and claw? We are creatures of the Moon, and the Night, and the Mother favours her greatest son like she favours no other. Be not wary, Brother, for under the guidance of the House Dracul you shall know glory that you had never dreamed of."
"I don't doubt it," Fenrir said, mindful not to interrupt the vampire again. "But I still don't know what He wishes to use us for."
"And is that not as it should be?" The vampire returned, a note of irritation strong in his voice. "He is your Lord now, Brother, he is the Master of us both. It is His will that we go unto the Enemy lands and destroy those that have oppressed us for centuries, have denied us our rightful heritage!"
"Sounds a lot like rote propaganda," Fenrir snapped, and he knew he had finally gone too far.
But the vampire only gave a little laugh, to his surprise. Years later, he would remember this moment as the start of a friendship that would change both of them forever.
"It has been a century since somebody had last talked to me of that," the vampire said, turning his head to better look at the werewolf. "He was my blood-son. Do you know what is done to someone who preaches against the teachings of the Holy Father of our House, Brother?"
Fenrir shook his head, aware that a verbal response was not what the vampire wanted.
"I have lived three centuries," the voice that emerged from the shadows was bitter. "I have lived through two wars with the Wizards. I have travelled far from my homeland, yes, even to see the land you roam, Fenrir – and Britain is not to my liking. I told the Holy Father that we should leave that blighted land and its blighted protectors to their own, but he in his infinite wisdom decided otherwise." A sigh, so faint that Fenrir wasn't sure he had been meant to hear it even considering his supernatural senses. "And I have known doubt, Brother... I have known the same doubt that you experience right now... I have suffered such doubt again and again. And I like you, mannerless and rude as you are, not to mention ignorant of the rules that bind our ancient society – for some reason. So let me tell you this, Brother – " Fenrir found himself leaning forward to hear better, even though there was no need in that cramped space, "what the Lord decides is to be obeyed without question and without any appearence of doubt. Whatever you think, Brother, whatever seditious thoughts plague your mind, give no indication. Opposition amuses the Lord, and bravery he sometimes finds admirable, but treachery – or what he considers as treachery – he punishes. And the Impaler's punishment is none like what you would find even in your worst nightmares."
"I wasn't thinking of... treachery, brother – I would never – I was simply trying to know if you could tell me what we are intended to do – " Fenrir found his voice choking unexpectedly, and the vampire snarled.
"A plague on your withered brain!" The voice hissed like a snake, old and knowing and dangerous. "You heard him today, did you not? Did not the Lord demand your presence in his own Council?"
"Yes – "
"And you saw him, Fenrir? Saw what he is? Heard his voice? And still you doubt? Hear me – no, hear me and heed, my ignorant werewolf Brother – there is no place in the world where the night does not reach, and no place where you may evade the Lord of Night. Not even in that cursed scorpion pit where you live. Not even Britain will keep you safe."
"I understand," Fenrir whispered. "I live only to do His will." To think that he'd thought of better days, had hoped for something better than what Voldemort had in mind for us, he thought. All Masters are the same, and this one might just prove to be worse than any he had ever imagined.
"And that is the only way you will continue to live," came the calm reply.
The limousine trudged on through the dense traffic, and Fenrir reflected on the impossibility of the situation. Lights were flashing all around, cars blaring their horns, people shouting and jostling each other on the sidewalks. Would anybody believe if they were told the truth – that the beautiful limousine cutting through the traffic had two supernatural creatures – a werewolf and a true vampire – in its backseat? Probably not, he thought, but then another thought accosted him. He had not believed in the rumours about this place either, had he? And yet he had come here and found – what? A Master? Somebody – or something – the extent of whose power he could not even guess?
"What punishment – " he started suddenly, and the vampire sighed.
"The unbelievers are given to the Blood Knights, which to any sane being would be a fate far worse than the final ending," he replied, "and that is perhaps more than what you should know, Fenrir. Now I suggest you stop keeping you brain as another ornament like the dagger you wear at your belt and start thinking. The airport is still an hour away."
They rode the rest of the way in silence, but Fenrir often looked back at the way they had come, for there were clouds in the east, and in the shape of the clouds he thought he saw the hint of a darkly smiling face.