Chapter One

Harry dutifully crept into the dining room of the Potter household, cradling his burden of rare roast lamb with great care. He kept his head down and his eyes averted from all others'. He prayed that he would go unnoticed this evening and would not make a fool of himself or his pack; he could feel his father's gaze burning his fair skin as he gently and deliberately laid the heavy dish upon the lace tablecloth. He made no noise as he made his way to his own seat and curled his small hands in his lap.

His stomach was burning fiercely, but it was not from the intense hunger that he felt. He'd felt that his entire life. It was from the clinical beating he had received from his father, James, earlier that day.

Harry heard the guest that his father had invited for dinner that night help himself to some food; next in the pecking order was his father, as the host and head of household. Soon Harry's older brothers, Paul, Caspian and Richard, all served themselves also and then it was Harry's turn. He took little food from the dishes of potatoes, vegetables, and meat laid out in front of them despite the ever-constant hunger in his belly. His father would have beaten him if he had taken any more, and it was expected of submissives to be small and willowy, and never to be seen being greedy.

Harry's mother, James' mate, had died giving birth to Harry and, Harry felt, his father had never forgiven him. Not only was he a submissive -- a useless burden! -- but he had killed his father's mate, his life-long partner as appointed by the Wolf Mother herself. What boy had the right to deprive a wolf of his mate? Not Harry -- and so Harry was punished. He was starved, he was beaten, he was worked like a slave and all of the werewolves, even his own brothers, were forbidden from befriending him. He had hazy memories of a small, dark cupboard, and rope, and terrible screaming. He always hoped that that screaming had not come from his own mouth; it sounded inhuman inside his head. Harry did not take pride in much, but he was proud of the fact that he never screamed (at least, not anymore). He tried desperately to prove to his father that he was not as pathetic as James thought he was.

To add to all his faults was this: he was, apparently, empty-headed and a simpleton. He hardly spoke a word, and when he managed to it was in speech diseased with juddering pauses and hiccups. He had nothing useful to contribute to any conversation and no original thoughts of his own. According to his father. Harry tried, he honestly did, but... he just couldn't. He was scared.

Harry pushed his meal around his plate mostly, but did venture a few mouthfuls before feeling extremely sick. He quietly placed his cutlery across his plate neatly and then resumed his study of the tablecloth. He hoped desperately that his father would not punish him again tonight; he did not think his body could handle it right now.

Caspian thought, 'He makes being weak and down-trodden an art-form in itself!' Caspian was eternally angry at his brother because Harry was sad and ghost-like in his presence. It made him angry that his brother was so weak, but deep down he was just angry at himself that Harry was the way that he was. And here they were again, his father trying to charm his "guest" into taking his little submissive brother away to work for this greasy werewolf that was sitting at their dinner table, leering at his tired little brother with dull, yellow eyes. And here, again, Caspian knew that he would do nothing, say nothing, as his father hurt his little brother.

Nobody wanted a submissive to work for them; what could a submissive do that a strong dominant couldn't do better? The only employment that submissives were suitable for was as sexual partners.

Caspian felt his fists clench as he watched his baby brother, his blood, his pack member that was so abused, perch upon his chair as if he wasn't even worthy of sitting down on furniture. He imagined his father's guest undressing his little brother, and in his mind Harry did not fight back or protest as he knew that in real life he would not. Only his viridian green eyes would betray his panic and disgust as his legs were spread apart and the man fucked him, grunting and huffing like an animal.

Caspian clenched his eyes closed in horror: this was his tiny, innocent baby brother's fate. When dominants looked at him this was what they desired to do to him: to abuse his soft body, to bite and mark his flawless flesh, to fuck him brutally and watch his pretty face contort in agony. Caspian was not oblivious; he heard them talking at school, the hormone-crazed dominants fantasising aloud about his brother, his sweet little brother.

Okay, so he was angry at Harry, but only because he loved him so much and yet, he was going nowhere. He had no prospects, not in this society, not with this father that hated him as he hated death.

What was even the point of Harry's existence? Was it to make Caspian feel guilty? Why was the raven-haired boy even alive?

Caspian remembered a time before; a time when their mother had been alive and warm, Caspian noted sadly that Harry looked more like their mother than all of them, and when their father had been a kind and benevolent figure in their lives, a man in love, a passionate man. He remained passionate even now; he tortured his youngest son with as much passion as he had made love to his mate with.

They finished their meal with the guest deciding that James' son, whilst attractive, was too sombre and morose for his liking. Harry hadn't looked up once during the whole meal, but Caspian knew it was just to avoid attention. He glanced at his father warily as he escorted the guest to the door. He looked very, very angry, and Caspian knew that it was Harry that would pay.

The powerful werewolf prowled through the entrance hall of their elegant home back to the table that none of them had been excused from. He trod the rich, dark floors with rage in his footsteps, through the pale arches of the doorway, and soon loomed like a storm cloud above the oblivious submissive.

Harry was tired, so very tired, and he still felt ill. He couldn't wait to just curl up in his nest of blankets in the cupboard under the stairs and drift off to sleep. Suddenly his attention was brought back to the present situation by the startling silence. It was so quiet that Harry felt it more obtrusive than a bustling funfair (something that he had never visited himself, but had observed from the isolation of the manor windows). He gulped, trying to shift the sudden painful lump in his throat that formed when he realised that his father... sounded very upset. Harry could hear his violent breathing that betrayed his elevated stress levels, and without looking Harry could tell from the warmth bathing his left side that his father was standing very close to him.

"You…" James growled. His fist came crashing into the side of Harry's head and he fell from his chair. He lay motionless, sprawled on the floor, not daring to move. Harry was certain that he heard someone gasp but he couldn't tell who, and he wondered why they had. Harry daren't let even his pinkie toe twitch, and he felt his leg beginning to tremble from the tension in his muscles.

"What're you good for? I can't even seem to get rid of you-"

The thickness of the air dissipated and Harry jumped violently when there came a sudden crashing at the door. His father snarled, then sighed and left the room to answer the door. Harry shakily stood on his own. He pulled and tugged at the skin on the back of his hand nervously, not making eye contact with anyone in the room, not acknowledging his watering eyes.

There came a deep voice from the entrance hall and the owner of the voice soon emerged into the dining room with his father. Harry peeked from under his dark bangs at the new arrival and saw a tall man in the Alpha's Guard's uniform. The Alpha was in charge of everyone in Europe, the continent of werewolves. All the humans had left the continent when the population of werewolves began to outnumber them. Eventually all the world's leaders simply sent any werewolves of their country to Europe where they would be out of the way and looked after by their own people. There was little contact between the two races nowadays.

The man spoke, "I am the Alpha's messenger. I apologise for the lateness of my visit. I am here to inform you that our Alpha has now reached the mature age of thirty-three and all unmated submissives are to make their way to the palace where the Alpha's mate shall be found. Also, mates shall be found for the submissives that are destined for anyone else that is residing in the palace at this moment in time during the Mating Ceremony. This means that the Mating Ceremony that was due to take place in November this year shall not take place. You have three weeks to arrive. You shall have accommodation provided for you in the palace if you arrive before your three weeks are up. If, after the Ceremony, you are still unmated you may return home. If, however, you have found your mate, then it is up to you to decide where to go; you must discuss this matter with both your mate and your pack, but the Alpha will no longer provide accommodation for you. Thank you, and have a safe journey."

The messenger left and there was silence in the room. Then James turned to his youngest son. "I pity any man or woman that has to endure you. You will leave tomorrow with your brothers accompanying you. Pack tonight. I hope I never have to see you again." James swept from the room.

Harry remained frozen where he stood. His whole life was going to change very, very soon. Or perhaps it would not. Perhaps his mate would not be at the palace. Perhaps he would have to come home again, back to this, back to a family that did not want him.

"Paul... W-w-what... did the-the man m-mean…" Harry paused for a long time and breathed in concentration, but no one spoke because they knew that he was not finished and it had been such a very long time since they had heard their brother's voice. " 'mature a-a-age... of thirty-three?'"

Paul was momentarily mesmerised by the caramel-softness of his youngest brother's voice, but soon rushed to answer his question when Harry glanced up and he caught a glimpse of his mother's bright eyes. "Well, werewolves are immortal, as you know, and there comes a point when we stop physically maturing or ageing. It is different for different people, but generally a dominant werewolf stops ageing at thirty-five and a submissive werewolf at twenty-five. When a werewolf stops ageing then you say that they are "mature". Usually a werewolf will simply wait for their mate to come along as the Wolf Mother decides, but for the Alpha, to be fully matured and still without one's mate is unacceptable." He said in a softer voice so that if James was listening then he would not hear this, "You may not feel like it, Harry, but a dominant werewolf can be made a lot stronger by their mate, submissive though they may be. A lot of people judge a mated pair not as individuals but as a single entity. By being unmated, some people may see this as a weakness in the Alpha and may challenge him."

Harry was wide-eyed and rapt. When Paul said no more, Harry nodded and gave a rare, albeit unsure, smile, and went to his cupboard to pack his meagre belongings and then sleep.

The three remaining brothers glanced at one another when Harry left. Paul and Richard were shocked to see Caspian crying silently. "Caspian?" Richard gasped.

"He... He's just so small…" Caspian breathed, "And now... we're just giving him away. Like a possession. Why are we so weak? Why can we not protect him? I love him, you know. I wish he knew that." The other two brothers understood and looked away. It was best not to embarrass Caspian by witnessing his tears.

end chapter