Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairing: Harry/Draco preslash, Draco/OMC mentioned, past Harry/Ginny
Word Count: ~15,000
Warnings: Creature fic (vampire Draco), DH spoilers but ignores epilogue, violence, bloodplay, profanity, heavy angst, several character deaths (not Harry or Draco). Somewhat dark Harry.
Summary: Draco has the power he has always dreamed of in the nest of vampires that have adopted him as their own. But then his nest leader decides to hunt Harry Potter.
Author's Notes: Dedicated to ms_mindfunk for her birthday! (Which is now much belated). She's done some excellent beta work for me this past year, and this is a thank-you fic for her as well. She said that she'd like to see a vampire fic I mentioned, so here it is. Just in case anyone wonders: there will most definitely be a sequel to this, maybe two, as the story has a pace and scope that won't fit into a one-shot.
Draco closed his eyes and let his head fall back. He knew the picture he must make, because he had acquired an excellent imagination since he was turned. It was necessary, because he no longer had a reflection in mirrors or water.
The nest was gathered in the middle of a vast underground chamber, which had once been a cave and now was the lowest floor of a great manor house. Their leader, Caspar, had enthralled the owner of the house several months before he died, and he had willed the building to Caspar. Now the former owner crouched among them, turned, his slavery never-ending.
Just as Draco's was. Caspar was his sire, and now he pinned Draco to the middle of a block of black stone, basalt or obsidian—Draco thought it was the latter, from the sheer silky smoothness of the surface against his back and shoulders—and straddled his legs and chest with steely strength. Draco flexed to give a show of struggle, but he had not the slightest chance of standing whilst Caspar clasped him, and everyone there knew it. The torches in carved bronze sconces along the walls flickered and danced and turned every droplet of sweat running down Draco's pale, bare torso as red as blood.
But vampires were not to be fooled by imitations. Real blood was running from the slight wound on Draco's neck, where Caspar's fangs had nicked him and now dug in, pressing down until Draco could feel the cling and clasp of them and knew it would take only a single movement for Caspar to turn his head to the side and rip his throat out. Any other vampire might inflict such a wound on him, and Draco would recover in time; having his throat torn was not the true death, and meant merely a night of hunger. But Caspar was Draco's sire, master of his movements and half his will. He could kill Draco if he chose.
Draco once would have hated to find himself in such a position, but that fact hung, remembered but unimportant, in the back of his mind. He had changed since he was bitten, by Caspar and one other vampire, Thalia, now dead in France. To be close to power was enough, since he would never wield it again. It swelled over him like a red-black thundercloud and whispered in the terrified pulses of his heart. Vampires, unlike what most of their victims believed, did keep their hearts beating most of the time, to ensure that the blood in their veins did not stagnate. Caspar found particular pleasure in commanding the hearts of his get to throb like frightened rabbits' when he held them in the killing posture, and Draco had been obedient to that command from the first.
Now Draco shut his eyes more tightly and draped his head so that his hair flowed over the sheer side of the block like a blond waterfall. His heart beat harder and harder. His breath, which he was forcing in and out of his lungs again to gratify Caspar's ambition for screams, scraped against his lips. He could feel the moments turning and tumbling around him, and knew the one was coming when Caspar would suddenly intensify the display, because he had grown bored of the almost erotic tension that held them now.
But whilst the tension lasted, Draco enjoyed it as long as he could. He was the youngest vampire in the nest, except for Caspar's former lover, and he almost never got to enjoy the sexual favors of anyone but Caspar himself, who was choosy. This, complete with the scrape of nails on his chest and the punishing weight that made his ribs creak, was as close as he would come for some years, probably. Caspar hadn't shown much inclination for captures of toys rather than victims in the last few months.
And then the moment came, and Caspar leaned closer, a line of grave-cold saliva sliding across Draco's neck. "Scream," he said, his voice muffled with the flesh in his mouth, but Draco understood him perfectly, and would have even if he spoke from a distance. The faint movements his jaw made thrilled Draco. There was the slightest chance, the smallest, that the mere voicing of the words would cause his fangs to slew to the side and shred Draco's skin past hope of recovery. Tingles shivered up and down Draco's spine and made his erection ache under Caspar's arse. Caspar, of course, disdained to notice the spasmodic jerks he was causing simply by mounting Draco. "Scream for me. Show the nest and any victims watching who owns you."
He bore down so that the sharp clutch of his fangs transformed into true pain. But Draco would have cried out without the stimulus, merely from and because of the command.
His voice woke clamoring echoes in the chamber before it died away again, and Caspar growled at him and flung his head sideways and up. The wound widened across Draco's throat, but he knew immediately that it wasn't fatal. He opened his eyes and held them half-lidded as he watched Caspar, who was running his tongue around the corners of his lips to catch the dripping blood.
To go into such darkness, and then to be spared…
It replaced the dangerous thrill that had once been Draco's when he hung from a broom above the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts and flirted with mortality.
How strange, he thought, as he sat up and carefully patted the blood from his throat. He hadn't thought about Hogwarts in years. It was probably impatience at the reminder that he wouldn't have sex for years that had spawned it. Impatience cast Draco back to what he had been, the young man, not vampire, who had once strained against Caspar's grasp because he had thought being turned a horrible thing.
Now, he thought, watching with adoring eyes as Caspar whirled to face the murmuring nest, he was close to power, basking in the shadow of it, rolling in the musk of it. Why would he desire anything else?
"I have grown bored with easy victims," Caspar announced. He was magnificent, light flashing from but not entering his dark eyes, his dark hair curled close to his head like black marble. He held up one hand, but Draco couldn't see what was there from this angle. He could smell it, though. His own blood. His throat contracted and his nostrils widened, but he held himself still. Caspar would think Draco undignified if he reacted like a youngling just turned. "With victims I can command. The nest should have one that is the prize of resistance. The one who stands for heroism in the popular mind."
Suffocating silence orbited his words. Draco slid from the block of stone and to the floor, because Caspar would have commanded him to do so if he had remembered. The wound in his throat had stopped bleeding. He lowered his head nonetheless; Caspar found the sight of Draco's pale flesh writhing as it healed disgusting.
"Harry Potter," Caspar said. The words drifted across his audience like chaff, but fell like a chain. He planted one foot in front of him, and his fangs drank the light that his eyes could not swallow. "We shall claim and kill him."
An ancient, distant alarm clanged in Draco's mind, and he shifted his weight.
Caspar turned to him in moments. "What is the matter, Draco? You disapprove?" His voice slithered and scraped now. Of course he could sense the movement of thoughts in Draco's mind; that kind of telepathic bond was common between sires and spawn, as it was between master vampires and their Long-Desired.
"Harry Potter," Draco said, reaching back to the memories of a mortal lifetime he rarely disinterred, "is dangerous."
"Is that all?" Caspar smiled, shielding his fangs this time, the way he would smile at a mortal. Draco bowed his head further from the implied insult, and the nest members rustled and brushed their papery hands against each other. "I fear no danger, Draco. Are we not a nest half a hundred strong?"
Excitement flowed around the room like strong wine, raising Draco's head as if on strings.
"Are we not a nest that has moved across France and England, Scotland and Wales, and never yet attracted attention due to the cleverness and speed of our kills?"
This time, the excitement called out hisses.
"Are we not the nest that can capture Harry Potter if any nest of vampires can?" Caspar spread his hands and stood there, an etching of white and black against the darkness, splendid, aglitter with brilliance that the most powerful living wizard could not have matched.
This time, shouts were tugged from them like the snarls caused by blood-hunger, and Draco forgot his worries in the shared glory.
"I don't think this is a good idea, Harry."
Harry kept his eyes on the ropes he was winding around his body and didn't answer.
He was startled when Ron stood up, crossed the distance between their desks, and put his hands on his shoulders. In all the hunts Harry had gone on before, he'd never done such a thing. Harry fixed his eyes on Ron's face and waited patiently for an explanation of this strange behavior.
"It's gone on long enough," Ron said, and shook him a little. His eyes were steady and filled with old shadows and old sorrow and new pleading. "I miss her as much as you do, Harry, but it's enough. No matter how many you kill, it'll never bring her back."
Harry was quiet for long moments, but not because he valued the argument. Ron's words were not about to turn him from his self-appointed purpose. He was considering only whether he should tell Ron the real reason he did this.
No, he knew Ginny wouldn't come back. The very last possibility of her ever doing that had ended when Harry staked her, beheaded her, burned the body, and scattered the ashes over water.
But Ron thought he didn't know that. Harry felt his lips lift in a smile that would probably look terrifying in the mirror. At least, he had been told that it did, by some of his allies and some of his victims.
"It's not for her," he said at last, and lifted his eyes to his old friend's. "It's for me."
Ron recoiled from him, though he couldn't really know what the words meant, not yet. Then he tried to pretend that he hadn't done any such thing by patting Harry's arm awkwardly. "For you? What do you mean? You can't—Harry, you can't mean that you enjoy killing vampires."
"That's exactly what I mean."
This time, Ron looked at the floor as if he expected to find a different answer written there.
"I like to see them withering and dying," Harry went on, whilst he picked up a glittering red vial with a surging, seething golden liquid inside, and cast the spells that would render it impervious to casual breakage and undetectable by any sense—even a vampire's keen sense of smell—to anyone but him. He would place it in a pocket over his heart when he was done. "I like to see their faces curling and their fangs breaking and their bodies dissolving."
"But that's…" Ron didn't say what it was. He only shook his head like a shaggy-haired pony and pushed on, though he must have known he was pushing uphill. "Not all vampires are like that, Harry."
"I know," Harry answered tranquilly. It had taken him a while to accept the "licensed" vampires who followed the rules and didn't go on rampages, but he had forced himself to accept them, because otherwise he would be banned from the Ministry and lose his job as an Auror—and thus, his access to powerful magical materials and good Potions brewers. "That's why I only hunt the ones who kill people."
"It's wrong to take pleasure from something like that," Ron repeated earnestly. "It's wrong."
"Oh, I'm sure it is," Harry said. "And if there's a heaven or a hell, then I'm sure I'll be punished when I go there." He considered whilst he hid the vial and then shrank a mirror and stuck it into one of his inside pockets. "Probably hell," he added. "I don't think I could merit even a sight of heaven, the way I am now."
"Harry," Ron whispered. He hesitated, as if trying to choose a new tactic. Harry watched him with some interest. There was always the chance that Ron would come up with something he hadn't heard before.
"Harry," Ron said, and his voice had risen and grown stronger. "Don't you know what your death would do to Hermione and me?"
Harry shrugged. "I've died once. I'm not afraid of it."
Ron fell back a step from him. Harry watched him with a little regret. He hadn't meant to introduce Ron to the truth of what he was now so suddenly and sharply. He would have softened the words if he had the time to think.
But he knew, with that heightened perception he had gained since Ginny's death, after he bathed in the ashes of the vampire who had killed her the way one of the old Black books said he should, that a nest of vampires was moving through Britain right now. And the Ministry wouldn't do anything about it. Fear of paperwork, caution about danger to the Aurors, certainty that they'd manage to kill a "harmless" vampire who "just happened" to be visiting the harmful nest, lack of willingness to put details together and connect widely separated deaths into the overall pattern…Harry knew all their reasons.
And understood them.
And didn't even scorn them, because he would do the work on his own, that was all.
Ron, best friend that he was, covered for Harry when he went out hunting. He knew Harry only hunted murderous vampires, those who refused to register with the Ministry or drink willingly donated human blood. And Harry knew he wouldn't report this conversation to the Head Auror, either, despite what must seem intolerable temptation to do so.
At the moment, he did look a bit green, and probably needed reassurance. Harry clasped his hand. "I promise I'll come back," he said. "Have I ever not?"
"No," Ron said. "But all it takes is one lucky vampire. And you seem not to care much about your own life lately, mate."
Harry smiled. "I have to live so I can kill more vampires. And you know I have a few unique advantages when I hunt."
Ron nodded reluctantly. Harry's resistance to the Imperious Curse translated into a resistance to the thrall that most unregistered vampires used to coerce their victims into coming nearer so they could kill them. And the power of his magic ensured he could clean up any traces he left behind, including the hiding of his own magical signature.
No one but Ron and Hermione knew Harry was the most successful vampire hunter in Britain, perhaps in Europe. And though Ron sometimes tried to have conversations with him like this, though Hermione furiously scolded Harry and tried to make him think of vampires as people, too—
Ha. That's a good one. Like mice thinking of a cat as just another furry animal.
—they didn't give up on him, and they didn't turn him in. His eleven-year-old self had had better taste in friends than Harry had ever known.
He wished he could appreciate them more. But Ginny had been the only person who really knew how to connect with his emotions other than anger and fear and excitement and bring them out. Since she'd died, he spent most of his time in a quiet, neutral world that only burned and acquired color when he approached a hunt.
The way it did now. Fire of emotion shivered and danced at the corners of Harry's vision like stained glass windows with a sunset behind them.
"Be careful, mate," Ron said.
His voice seemed to come from another world. Already Harry was halfway along the road to the place where he lived when he was coursing the vampires, that cave of brilliant and subtle shadings.
He waved a hand absently and walked from the office. He was prepared, and now he had only to use the other power, besides the one to sense nests, that he had acquired from bathing in the ashes of Ginny's killer.
It never took much effort; on the other hand, it was a useless ability without a murderous nest nearby. Harry concentrated, built up the image of a whirlwind in his mind, held it until it was practically foaming with the suppression he placed on it, and then released it in a soundless burst of energy. He tracked it mentally for a few paces before he lost "sight" of it.
Sometime within the next few hours, the impulse to stalk and attack Harry Potter would arrive in the mind of the nest leader, leaving him or her to decorate it with plausible reasons.
All Harry had to do was wait.
Night had its own beauties, Draco mused, leaning one elbow on the shining white boulder that rose from the moors and marked the end of Potter's wards. He would never have believed that before he was turned. His mother—
Draco faltered for a moment. Caspar, for the best of reasons, had thrown a cloak across the memories of Draco's mortal life, but Draco had the blurred impression of something involving blood and flailing arms when he had gone back to visit his mother.
He shook his head. The memory wouldn't come, sinking like a weighted stone into the depths of his mind, and he wanted to finish his thought.
Night had its own beauties. The full moon hung overhead tonight, and Draco could see, thanks to his enhanced sight, the glittering shadows that it pulled from the stones and the humped hillocks around them, even the small plants. This was the other side of darkness, the one most humans would never see because they weren't sensitive enough. Draco could feel the tiny currents of air passing over his skin, too, and trace them to the swaying of a piece of heather in the next instant. The smells, the smells were everywhere, delicate and blossoming, rich and fruitful, traveling in and out of his nose. They would have worked him into a dancing frenzy if Caspar had not ordered him to sit still. As it was, Draco tilted his head back both to further enjoy them and to be sure he could catch a clear sniff when Potter appeared.
His orders were strict. "You knew him best of any among us," Caspar said. "You will remember his scent." His fingers had sunk into Draco's shoulder, rousing a delicious ache that still lingered. "Alert us when he is near."
And so Draco crouched on the path that they knew Potter must take to get to his home—he was absurdly incautious; the route had been published and noted in the Daily Prophet—and waited. He sniffed, and rejoiced, and felt, and saw, and waited.
Then another smell drifted into his nostrils and overwhelmed the others in importance.
Blood. Potter's blood.
Draco lifted his head, his nose working frantically but silently, to make sure he was not mistaken. No. Already he could see the long-legged shadow striding along the path that wound past the white boulder. Draco wondered for a fleeting moment why Potter didn't Apparate directly to his cottage, but he reckoned that was of a piece with his arrogance in taking the same route every night. He must think he was completely safe after—
After the war, Draco told himself, and stilled the crinkling tension in his forehead that had sprung out with the effort to recall more specific memories. Caspar would not like it. He had done what he was ordered to, and smelled Potter. He opened his mouth to call the alarm.
And then he froze, because something was wrong. He could catch the edge of a tantalizing but, he thought, dangerous scent under the thrum of Potter's blood. He leaned nearer, working his nose again, trying to define it.
Hunger gathered in his throat, smoky lumps building up and clinging to the sides. Draco heard himself growling, and though he knew the sound was below any threshold of human ears, what frightened him was that he did not remember when he had begun to make the sound.
And then he became aware that he had risen and taken a step towards Potter, and that was the worst thing of all. He had actually acted as if he wanted to take his sire's prey.
Draco cowered back into the shadow of the boulder and hissed the alarm, sending a mental message to Caspar at the same time. He received a curt acknowledgment and a sliding sweep like a sword across his mind, promising retribution later.
He would be glad of it, Draco knew. He had never done something like that since he was turned. Because he was Caspar's spawn, his mind and will and body and blood belonged to Caspar.
But even now, some corner of him whined and growled like a caged dog, longing to go near, enfold Potter in his arms, and concentrate on that scent until he worked out what it was.
Harry opened his eyes slowly. Of course, he didn't betray that. He slitted them only, and looked through the slits.
Around him he could hear contented hisses and smell the distinctive scents of a vampire nest: old blood, scraps of cloth tossed aside from previous victims, bone dust, flesh on the edge of putrescence but held there by obscene undead magic. Harry did not smile outwardly, but dark victory bloomed across his mind. They had taken him as he hoped, then, and with the swiftness and silence that marked experienced hunters.
How many have you destroyed? he asked the vampire leader silently. How many others went to feed your spawn's hunger, or become your slaves? I shall enjoy destroying you.
He listened, but could hear no speeches at the moment—and to be fair, he didn't know that this nest leader would be the kind who liked to make speeches recounting his or her victories. They often did, and then Harry would listen carefully and make note of any specific victims' names, so he could owl their families anonymously later and explain that their dead loved ones had been avenged.
Then he took stock of himself. He still wore his clothes, which meant he had the mirror and the vial with him, and the ropes wound about his body had not been discovered. Good. When vampires took someone they meant to torture before he died, they usually undressed him slowly to increase the fear.
Still, he had woken naked once. Harry had survived, but he would carry the curving silver scars on his back for the rest of his life.
But he would continue to hunt, until the vampires killed him or the dark fire that burned through and drove him, the fire that demanded payment for Ginny's death, smothered itself in ash at the last.
Harry had to admit, he couldn't see that second thing happening. He liked the thought of himself as a destroyer still, someone who hadn't been reduced to tamely running down criminals and dragging them to Azkaban when Voldemort was gone. He liked to envision himself as a mongoose, a small, swift creature that still managed to break the backs of fanged predators.
There is something wrong with me, yes. But he'd left warning word with Hermione. The moment a registered vampire died or suffered injury when he was in the vicinity, she would stop him no matter what she had to do.
It was the only compromise Harry could make, and she was the only person he would trust with it.
Abruptly a hand as strong as a steel pincer grasped the back of his neck and lifted him high. Harry felt a thrill like a current of underground water that had never seen the sun move through him.
Potter looked around the nest's home with frantic whips of his head, his eyes widening fearfully. Draco found it comical to watch him. Each time he thought Potter's eyes couldn't open any further, and each time he proved Draco wrong, his eyes spreading like some slimy green pool with the light of the torches reflecting in them.
Slimy green pool. Yes, Draco, that's good. Since he had become a vampire, he had a heightened demand for beauty in those he was allowed to couple with. Disgusting metaphors could drive him away from consideration of Potter.
Except they couldn't. Even as Caspar lifted him by the back of his neck—and he lifted him effortlessly from the ground, of course he did, where was there strength like his sire's?—Draco found himself staring at Potter. He trembled in every limb and his voice escaped him in pitiful wailing cries. His dark hair curled untidily across his forehead, as unlike Caspar's polished cap as possible.
Still he didn't look ugly. Still that tantalizing, on-the-edge-of-dangerous smell drifted across to Draco.
Draco buried the thoughts, because Caspar was turning to face them, and he knew Caspar could read his thoughts with a single glance into his eyes. It would not do to be rebellious in the teeth of his sire.
"We have here the great Harry Potter," Caspar drawled, "who thought he could walk safely to his home once the Dark Lord was destroyed. As if wizards were the only threat to a hero in England!" He laughed aloud, and the nest swayed and laughed with him. Draco was perfectly glad to blend in with the rest. The more he listened to the cadences of his sire's voice, the more he forgot the effects of his peculiar attraction to Potter. Caspar twisted, and Potter spun to face him. The motion must be making him dizzy by now, Draco thought, and surely he would vomit any moment. "What have you to say for yourself, hero?"
Harry swore quietly to himself as he revolved and looked at the nest. It was the biggest he had ever seen, fifty vampires at least, all of them with the thick faces and adoring eyes that marked them as the get of the nest leader. That was bad. If other master vampires, spawn whose sires were dead, had existed in the nest, then Harry could exploit their natural independence and open the gaping cracks that usually waited beneath the surface of their fragile unity. He'd done it before, to great success.
And one of them was Malfoy.
Harry stared when he recognized him, but there could be no mistake. Vampires often changed in appearance when they became undead, but blonds less than most. Malfoy's hair looked like gold by moonlight now, he had no color in his cheeks at all, and his grey eyes stood out from his face with glistening, unnatural clarity, but it was him.
For a moment, Harry felt sorry.
Then Malfoy's lips parted, and at once Harry saw the lean hollow of his cheeks, the snake-like, triangular jaw that replaced the normal human one when someone was turned, and the fangs that projected from beneath his upper lip, curving like a viper's. His certainty returned. Draco Malfoy was dead. What remained was only a slave, the spawn of the vampire who held Harry. It would be a kindness to kill him.
Then the leader began to make his speech, and Harry changed his plans. He would have to act sooner than he normally did. It interfered with his hunting procedure in a way he didn't like. Still, no one had ever accused him of not knowing how to improvise.
He waited until the moment the leader turned to him. This was a plan that would work, he was certain, but it had to be carried out when the master vampire was close enough.
He looked dead, Harry thought dispassionately, his black eyes as emotive as buttons, his hair staying still even when his head wagged or his neck swayed. It was beyond him to understand how there were people who found vampires beautiful.
Then the leader paused expectantly, and Harry knew he had to give a reply to the question.
He smiled, and spat into the leader's face.
The leader staggered away with a hissing cry, clawing at his eyes. Harry had been chewing garlic most of the afternoon and evening.
As he was dropped, Harry rolled, and so came back to his feet whilst the nest was still hesitating, without orders from their leader. He reached straight for the vial that nestled above his heart. He usually saved it for when the leader had been killed and he had to destroy the last pitiful remnants of a nest, but this one was too strong.
Someone smashed into him, and he saw that the leader must have sent a mental command to one of his followers. Harry took the moment to feel himself embraced by strong arms and judge that he could still get his hand on his wand—overconfident vampires; they never took the time to remove a wizard's wand, any more than a cat would to blunt a rat's teeth—and then shouted one of the spells he had learned specifically in order to combat vampires. "Advoco árbol de rowan!"
Draco gaped as he watched Mnemosyne, the vampire grappling with Potter now, suddenly crowned and draped in crawling twigs and glittering red-orange berries. She screamed, hopelessly, the sound piercing Draco's chest like a stake. She lifted a hand as if she would remove the wreath, but it slid down her body instead.
Where the berries and bark touched, she burst into sheer white flame.
Draco dived for cover as Potter tore something from his robes; he was the least powerful of the nest except for the just-turned owner of the manor, and he had received no specific order from Caspar to attack. He scuttled behind a rack that had once been used to hold wine bottles, and which Caspar had now decorated with human bones. He flung himself flat and clasped a hand over his eyes.
An instinctive reaction, he thought a moment later, dazedly. Against what?
Against that, evidently, as the entire room filled with devastating brilliance.
Harry loved the Rowan Spell. Rowan was a protective tree, once used by the European Muggles to ward off dark magic. They had been wrong about how it affected witches and wizards, but not about its purity and strength. Vampires couldn't bear its touch any more than they could bear the touch of Muggle holy water.
Harry didn't have the kind of faith that would let him use holy symbols, more was the pity. But he did have plenty of weapons.
He drew out the vial at last, canceled the Impervious Charms, and smashed it on the floor with a powerful jerk of his arm that he also loved; it felt as though he were casting out some of his demons when he did it.
Many of the specific spells for defeating vampires were powerful, too powerful for ordinary wizards who couldn't even manage a Shield Charm to learn, and targeted to individuals—not good for protection against a nest. But Harry could use such spells, and he'd had the patience to find out a Potions master within the Ministry who would bind one of them to a potion for him.
The vial smashed, and sunlight flooded the room.
Harry flung his head back, laughing, his eyes shut as his only concession to the power of the spell that shone red through his eyelids, and spread his arms in welcome to the warmth. He was still human. He could still do that. It was a gift denied to these poor bastards.
Screams started to soar and then were cut off. The sunlight acted more quickly than the Rowan Spell. The moment it pierced the eyes or touched the skin of the nest members, fire consumed them from the inside out. Harry could picture it, because he'd watched it on occasion from a distance: the roaring, the upwelling of golden-red flame that ascended through blue to white and then became a shining pillar in the seconds before it blazed out, too hot to sustain itself for long.
Harry cast a quick spell that would restrict any lingering afterimages in front of his eyes and then studied the cave—which had once been a cellar of some kind, he thought, seeing the polished rock walls and the remnants of wooden and metal racks and cases. Over half the nest was gone, but he couldn't estimate how many; shadows still flickered uneasily and limbs still scrabbled behind the racks. As long as the sunlight didn't touch the vampires' skin or eyes directly, they could survive.
Harry grinned and began to prepare for his next spell. There was a specific reason he had invited the vampires' nest to attack him so close to home.
And then, abruptly, they all rose from their places and flew at him at once.
As he fell back, concentration disrupted, to lean against a wall, Harry's one thought was that this master vampire had the best control over his nest that he had ever seen.
The killing light was gone, but Draco didn't want to venture out. Let him crouch here in the safe silken shadows that had spared him from the sun's fury. Let him lower his head until his mouth almost touched the ground and pant, and only dream of blood swirling around his fangs, rather than seeking it.
But then Caspar's will invaded his limbs and jerked them as if on strings.
Draco found himself rising and rushing forwards. With him came the others, at least twenty left of the major nest, their mouths open and the air passing out of them in breaths scented with grave-dirt. Energy shot and coiled through Draco, and he joined his fellows in hissing.
So wonderful to hunt at someone else's command. How could he act on his own, with his senses enslaved at a whim and his mortal memories obscured? Yes, to be a master vampire's spawn was the best fate that could befall a turned human.
Harry saw in moments that he couldn't escape, and he knew no spell powerful enough to drive them all back, except the one he had already been working on. What he must do was win enough time to go on working that spell. He couldn't let them kill him.
Ron and Hermione would mourn. And who knows how many others they would go on to murder?
Harry flung his arms over his head, shielding his throat—and thus the major source of temptation for the master vampire's spawn—and whimpered, calling, "I yield!"
The rush slowed. The nest was all around him now, seething and hissing, their necks curving in odd swan-like twists and their limbs sweeping the air like scythes. But none of them had touched him. His words had reached the nest leader and made him curious.
"Why?" asked the master vampire's voice, as resonant as before, but not quite as confident.
Harry whimpered a little more, then whispered, "I don't want to be devoured like that. Not whole, not by a pack of—wild beasts." The nest bristled, growling, and he whimpered again. "I'd rather you turn me. Then at least I'm only your slave." Bitterness, they would expect to hear that. Harry didn't think he could actually imitate the cringing fear that would probably be most realistic, and the master vampire would probably be suspicious of it if he could, anyway.
Long moments passed. The nest didn't move forwards. Harry let out a sigh of relief he didn't have to feign. Being eaten alive by a nest was a fate that he wouldn't wish on Voldemort. Any survivor would become the slave of every vampire in the nest, its will and mind divided among so many masters that it would be little more than a vegetable, unless the spawn were ordered to cooperate by their leader.
At last, the leader emerged. He looked unchanged, except that his manner had become much more that of a stalking predator and less that of a conquering hero. His spawn swayed away from him, and Harry saw their hands trembling. They were naturally attracted to reach out and touch him, but because he didn't desire that, they didn't.
It was, by far, the most complete control he had ever seen. Harry's dread and admiration increased. Maybe it had been accident that put this vampire in charge of so many spawn; he had probably shared some of his kills with at least one other master vampire, and when that one died, then control of the turned vampires would pass entirely to him. Technically, those slaves could be considered half-free—they would be used to being ruled by two masters, and not react as strongly to the control of one alone—but most of them wouldn't exploit the loophole.
The vampire halted in front of him. His eyes were enormous, drowning black circles now, pupils completely submerged. He bared his fangs and leaned forwards to nuzzle them against Harry's throat.
This was the moment when, if he was in a vampire romance novel like the rubbish constantly produced by the same press that published the Daily Prophet, Harry would have swooned and offered his throat to the vampire, because "he was irresistible in his dark heat and promise of seduction."
But Harry was immune both to the thrall of a vampire's gaze and the slight poison on the fangs which made a bite seem desirable. That poison, as Harry had discovered after detailed research, really only worked because of the suggestion in a vampire's gaze.
He could still be turned. He could not be made to want it.
"You say that you want to be mine?" the leader breathed. "Yield to me. Give your will into my keeping. That will be the sign. That will be the only reason I have to trust you." His hand shot up with terrifying speed and grasped Harry's hair, yanking his head back. "You have proven resistant so far. I want you to surrender."
Harry's body shook with hatred of the word. He had to fight hard to keep his lip from curling into a sneer. Even now, he was less afraid of the vampire nest than he was of the impulse that might arise from the depths of his soul and tell him to go painlessly to his death.
But that impulse wouldn't arise, he knew. He didn't have the weakness, the twist, he had seen in some other people, who either wanted to dominate others or wanted to be dominated. Harry was self-sufficient in himself, complete and whole, freeborn.
But at the moment, his life depended on convincing the vampire leader otherwise. He let his head droop forwards and his eyelids flutter. "You promise it won't hurt?" he whispered. It was the thrall that made a vampire's bite sexual.
"I promise," the leader said. His breath smelled like dead rats.
Harry nodded and rolled his head back on the wall, still staring into the leader's eyes. He let his jaw relax, his gaze become glazed and unfocused. In the meantime, he reached for the power to continue casting the spell that would destroy the lot of them.
The leader growled in victory and sank in his fangs.
It hurt. It hurt like fury. But less than the Cruciatus had, or the knowledge that he was trapped in the dungeons of Malfoy Manor whilst Bellatrix tortured Hermione. Harry put the pain to one side and cast his magic like a lasso, chanting the necessary, long incantation steadily in his head.
Draco shifted uneasily. He didn't understand why, but the sight of Casper biting Potter started an awkward fire low in his belly.
It felt like—
It felt like the revelation of the Long-Desired.
Which was ridiculous. Draco knew that he couldn't have one of those. No vampire could who was spawn and not master.
But still the impulse was there. Thalia had been the one to tell him about the Long-Desired, explaining the concept with graceful motions of her sharp-nailed hands. In general, she had been kinder than Caspar, which meant she had taught Draco some of what he had needed to know but not fulfilled his craving for power.
"The humans think we have mates. That's only because they're used to thinking of us as animals." Thalia had tossed her hair over her shoulder with a snort, and then bit casually into the throat of the young girl tucked under her arm. "But we are vampires, and thus the superior blend of animal and human. What we may have is a Long-Desired, a wizard who will lend us both the power and the blood we crave. The blood is a matter of taste, and many wizards will have that. Likewise, many wizards, even the weakest, may have a power level that can tempt an individual vampire. But the balance of the two is rare, and rarer still is the person who will give his express permission to be taken as such, without which the power is unreachable, the blood only blood. You will not find only one person who could be your Long-Desired, but you will not find a hundred, either." She had paused and run a hand down Draco's cheek. "But you will not need to worry about that for long centuries, little one. Both Casper and I are your masters, and neither of us has any intention of dying any time soon."
Thalia had died, spitted on the stake of a witch who got lucky.
And now Draco discovered the free half of his mind that he had ignored.
It shone like a doorway with light coming through it, an arch from darkness into radiance. Draco hesitated; the impression was unnatural for him. Sunlight would destroy him. He rejoiced in night.
With one half of himself.
He had been mortal, and now the mortal memories came swimming back to him, still blurred and rippling like fish seen underwater, but there. He thought, if he concentrated, that he would be able to reach out and touch them.
He started to, but then his intentions crashed into the chains on his will and his own desire to be Caspar's slave. Half free, half enslaved, he fought, his body twitching and his mind flexing with contradictory impulses. If three master vampires had made him, and two had died, would he be two-thirds free and one-third captive?
Thoughts. Thoughts he hadn't believed he would ever have again, racing and redoubling and splitting and breaking and reflecting. Draco took a few heaving breaths, not because Caspar had commanded him to scream but merely because he wanted to move his lungs, and watched with shadowed eyes as Caspar drained Potter. Did he want to stand here? Couldn't he move a step backwards?
He could, if he wanted to. He had simply never wanted to before. But now he did it, and the nest gave way for him, their gazes never wavering from their lock on Caspar. They all assumed, of course, that if he was doing something, it was because their leader had commanded him to do it.
He could be closer to the power he had always wanted than he assumed. He could wield it for himself. He had given up that dream because—well, it was a dream of his mortal days, and thus half-forgotten, and because it was simply impossible. Caspar was the one who wielded the power for him and made Draco into a willing instrument. That was enough. That was the way it always should be.
It was more for himself than Potter that Draco moved as he did then. Perhaps the strange impulses he was receiving had come about because Potter was a potential candidate for Draco's Long-Desired; perhaps not. But Draco wanted to find out how much he could rebel.
Harry could feel his mind darkening responsively to the pull of blood. He was being drained, he thought with hallucinatory calm. When the leader slit his wrist and held out the blood for Harry to drink, then he would be dead.
But his body and his magic were separate at the moment. Vampires had never figured out a way to drink a wizard's power. Instead, Harry slumped, and Caspar licked and sucked and drew and hurt him and thought he was getting it all, whilst instead Harry's mind and magic extended outwards in a steady call.
Come here, he told the force he demanded strength from. I need you.
The same words repeated over and over again. He had used them before. The vampires might have their nests anywhere, but what was importantwas that they ambushed him in certain specific sites. He had cast the first half of this spell, each time, before they took him captive.
And the force he called heard him and rolled nearer and nearer each time, separated into millions of small disparate flying particles, but ready to come together and act together when they reached the nest.
The world wavered and flickered in front of him. This was further than Harry had ever forced his body before. He hung on the edge of turning, he knew; he could hear his own slowing heartbeat, feel the blood leaving him in a steady, agonizing pull from his neck.
But he had not yielded in truth, and so the beast did not have the advantage it normally would have, when a victim gave in. Harry's will did not hurry him towards union with his predator. He didn't want to be a vampire.
Vampires could not drink a wizard's power, but they could use it against the wizard himself, making the blood-drain more pleasant and potent, seducing him with the notion of becoming a creature who could do this.
Harry would never find that fascinating.
Come here. I need you.
And then the master vampire's body shook as if someone else had answered Harry's silent plea, and he found himself opening his eyes in astonishment.
Malfoy was fastened to the master vampire's back, one hand curving around his neck to strangle him, nails lifted as if he would rip open his throat. His lips were drawn back in that obscene snarl that Harry knew had consumed more people than he could count, and his fangs stuck out far enough to look bare and pale near the top, where they gradually lost color. He was twisting his head as if he intended to bite his owner.
Of course he couldn't, but the leader withdrew his fangs from Harry's neck and turned to deal with this newest threat, and Harry discovered that he still had the strength to stand on his own. The leader must have drained less blood than he thought; in fact, he decided, as his mind cleared more and more, it was probably his own concentration that had come near to paralyzing him, rather than the drain. The leader wanted to play with him, wanted to go slowly.
It would cost him now, Harry thought, as he spread his arms and cast himself fully into the power.
Come here! It was an exultant shout, and he heard a distant rumble. I need you!
The magic rose, and surged, and crested, and broke, as the drops Harry had summoned from the stream near his home forced its way through the cracks between the stones, came together again, and descended as running water on the vampires.
Draco had never imagined how absolutely strong Caspar was until that moment.
An iron hand seized his fingers and bent them backwards until they broke. Needles drove into Draco's mind, making him scream with the pain. Each needle carried a command for obedience like poison on it. Together they stuck Draco, draining his strength, drinking his independence, trying to make him the crawling wretch he'd been before.
But he was astonished, too, at his own strength of resistance.
He escaped into the free half of his mind. Even as his body began, mechanically, to break his own fingers and claw at himself, bringing the old blood flowing out, he seized his will and wheeled around with it like a hawk clutching a sword in its talons.
Vampire magic was uppermost in him now; it had been since his turning. But the wizard magic was still there, layered underneath. It had to be, or the Ministry would have no reason to forbid vampires from carrying wands.
Draco hurled the constrained wave of that power against Caspar, whom, he knew, had been a Squib before his transformation. Thalia had explained that when she was also explaining why Caspar broke the wands of all the wizards and witches he turned.
Caspar growled, and the hold on Draco's hands and mind faltered. He sprang backwards immediately, rolling over three times in midair, and landed on a projecting shelf high up the wall where the owner of the manor house had been accustomed to keep bottles of wine. The shelf was barely three inches wide, but for someone with a vampire's sense of balance, that was nothing.
Caspar hissed at him. His throat hung in ragged shreds, but the blood pumping out of it had already stopped flowing, and, as Draco watched, the shreds began to tie themselves together like bandages done up by invisible hands. He stalked forwards, every step graceful.
"You were content to let me rule you for months, Draco," he said, his voice lovely and also trembling with rage. Draco didn't think the mere beauty of that voice would have the power to take him in again. "I will forgive you if you yield to me now."
Draco rolled another breaker of wandless magic at him in answer. Caspar staggered, gasping as he writhed under the Cruciatus.
But Draco was used to channeling his magic through a wand, and though his recollection of the time he had spent as a vampire was vague, he thought it had been at least a year. He was too out of practice. The magic faded, and Caspar was striding towards him again, driving his will forwards like a hammer to batter Draco into submission.
Draco had just started to prepare a response when the water spun through the cavern, an immense flowing stream.
He was safely above the rush, and Caspar, whose senses and reflexes were superior to any of them, leaped onto another shelf.
But the others were caught by surprise, and still focused on Potter and the blood dripping from his throat, and too unused to taking action on their own without a command from Caspar. They hesitated, and the stream caught them, sluicing the undead magic from their bodies, undoing the forces that bound bone to skin and fangs to mouth.
Caspar cried out in loss.
Draco found himself howling, the sound bursting from his throat as steadily as a werewolf's song, in triumph.
He knew, the knowledge taking possession of him in that instinctive fashion which Thalia had told him he would use to recognize the Long-Desired, that Caspar was weaker without his nest. He would be stung and battered by so many deaths at once, and he would be confused for at least a few moments, a few vital moments, by the sensation of losing limbs and minds he had been used to wielding like his own.
Draco sprang at him, and the next moment they were swaying back and forth on the shelf above the water, limbs clasped around each other's shoulders and necks, fangs scraping skin, Caspar's control over Draco and Draco's determination to be free locked into a confrontation as inescapable and deadly.
Harry had never called the water with such urgency before.
Perhaps that was why he had neglected to leave himself an escape from it.
The river snatched him off his feet and swirled him through the cellar. His head went beneath the water. Harry firmly held the direction of the surface in his mind and struck for it, breaking the water for a moment and gulping air hastily before he spun under again.
Stupid current, he thought, and then it smashed him against a wall and he almost lost consciousness.
He clung grimly to it, the way he had when he was fighting the drain of his own blood and the dizzying effects of his own magic. He remembered he had a wand, told himself that no wizard was helpless as long as he had that, and stuck a hand into his robes to search for it.
Smooth wood brushed through his hand at the same moment as his ears and head began to ring with the pressure that accompanied drowning.
Harry controlled the impulse to spit a curse. He contorted his body in a sharp motion and pushed himself as near to the surface as he could, whilst fumbling for the wand still.
The incantation for the Bubble-Head Charm was there, floating just under his tongue, but he couldn't say it yet, or he would lose his air.
It was escaping anyway, of course, forcing its way past his lips in tiny bubbles. Harry jackknifed upwards again, and for a moment seized the space to expel the foul air.
Then his head dropped beneath the surface again, and he could see only murky green and drifting black, and the wand was near to slipping from his nerveless grasp.
Harry's will leaped like a winged horse in flight, forcing the last burst of wandless magic he was capable of into the Bubble-Head Charm. He gasped in clean, pure air a moment later and breathed it hastily, smacking his lips; nothing had tasted better in his life.
Of course, that took away the strength that he'd been using to fight the current. Hanging on to his wand the way he might have a much larger piece of wood in a shipwreck, Harry had to let himself be tossed from point to point, bouncing off walls and barking his shins on hidden crates.
Draco was bent backwards with Caspar's fangs at his throat as if he were the lover he had so often pretended to be. Caspar was snarling in small, constant puffs of air against his skin, trying to twist his head against the implacable hold of Draco's arm to find the right angle.
Draco pressed the arm down further, and heard Caspar's spine creak warningly. Of course, if he could break Caspar's back, it would be ideal, but Caspar's bones had the same light, flexible strength his did; they would bend before they broke.
He was stuck.
Draco panted for long moments, his fangs extended, his fingers clamped like manacles, his muscles aching. He knew he had to let go and do something else, but if he let go, Caspar would plunge his head and rip the skin of his throat, and the true death would overcome him.
And he wanted the blood he could smell under Caspar's skin so badly. He literally ached to drink it. He had to have it. He licked his lips with a tongue he knew would be pale now and tried to inch closer, but once again Caspar's embrace closed on him and he was held fast.
"Yield, Draco," Caspar whispered. "Yield, and I will be merciful. Your death will be pleasant."
Well, fuck that. Caspar still controlled enough of him that Draco couldn't use his full strength the way he'd like, but he could refuse commands that were intended to subdue his will instead of his body. He snarled and didn't move.
"I should have known better than to share kills," said Caspar reflectively, and he began to bear down. Draco could feel the strength in him, burning like a white flame, beyond anything he could match. It wasn't natural, wasn't limited by the physical frame that enclosed it, whilst Draco's still was. Caspar was a master, with full access to all the skills that being a vampire entailed.
I should break free and try it from a different angle, if I can. But Draco still couldn't force himself to move, with that tempting blood so close. His instincts clashed with his common sense, and the clash held him still.
Then a hand seized the shelf near Caspar's foot, grabbed his ankle, and yanked.
Normally, Draco knew, Caspar could have held out against a pull like that, but his focus was on his arms and fangs right now, and not bracing his feet. He slipped, and Draco yanked himself free of the hold and sprang up, clinging to the wall with his fingers and toes. He knew he would have to move fast.
The current had finally slowed, as the confined water became more akin to a lake than a river, and Harry had been lifted high enough to find a projecting shelf. He shot a hand across it, found something to grab that might haul him out of the water, and took hold of it.
The thing moved in his hand, and Harry, too late, recognized the heel and ankle bone of a vampire.
Harry didn't hesitate, but lifted his wand and cast a fire spell. It wasn't ideal, but he was weak and tired from magical exhaustion and blood loss and the physical exertion of trying to breast the water. And undead flesh did burn more easily than human skin, although a mere fire wasn't enough to kill a vampire.
A ringing scream and a smell like a firework greeted his effort. Harry fell back into the water and tilted his chin to be out of it, panting as he stared through the haze of the Bubble-Head Charm at the vampire.
It was the leader, and Harry felt his heart rise again, his will to battle returning, as he saw the vampire hopping madly around, stamping his foot and trying to put the fire out. He could destroy the monster still.
If he could only find the strength.
Draco saw all the factors of the solution that would save both him and Potter as if in slow motion, but his mind put them together with a speed like sheet lightning.
The water had slowed. It could no longer properly be called running water.
The hand belonged to Potter, who was staring at Caspar with alert eyes and seemed to be trying to gather up the wherewithal to attack.
Potter had a wand.
Draco gave himself no time to consider the plan that revolved in his mind like a twist of wire. He let go with his fingers at the same time as he kicked off from the wall, which caused him to drop in a vast arc over Caspar's head and into the water.
The moving current brushed and slammed against him, making Draco shriek aloud in torment; one of the fingers on his left hand loosened and drifted away. But his guess had been correct. The water no longer resembled a river. It was running water that had the power to harm a vampire.
He grabbed Potter's arms, looped them around his neck, seized his wand, and aimed it at Caspar. He had put out the fire on his ankle and was preparing to spring into the lake. After all, if it hadn't harmed Draco, it was unlikely to harm him.
Draco cast a spell through Potter's wand, pulling on his magic since he couldn't access Potter's power except by Potter's express permission. The unfamiliar core pulsed against him, resisting for a moment, but Draco had seen how naturally Potter used his hawthorn wand during the war. That suggested a sympathy between them, which would only make sense if Potter had the ability to become his Long-Desired. Draco could do this.
The modified sunlight spell hit Caspar in the middle of the chest and illuminated his ribs for a moment, which glowed like white-hot barrel staves. Then Caspar had to beat on his chest and scream and try to muffle the flames with his robes, and Draco knew he would be busy for a time. He didn't think the sunlight spell was strong enough to kill Caspar—even if the wand hadn't resisted Draco, magic based on light had—but they had a few moments to discuss their strategy.
He dived. He had no need to breathe, and Potter was wearing a Bubble-Head Charm. They swam underwater towards the far side of the cavern. Now and then Draco winced as he lost bits of skin from his arms or upper back, but there were no more losses as large as his finger.
And he had a skill and grace as he swam that he had never suspected before, and his eyes revealed a murky, blue-grey, surprisingly beautiful world that sank little by little as the water found its way out through minute cracks in the floor and walls.
He surfaced with Potter near the entrance into the cellar, where they could sit on a set of mostly dry stairs and converse. Draco shook his hair out and listened for long, intense moments. He didn't hear any sounds of movement from Caspar, and he didn't feel a pressure on his mind, either. However, there was an echo of pain if he concentrated.
He deserves it, for enslaving me.
Now that he was awake, the notion that he had ever welcomed that enslavement seemed preposterous. He had not rejoiced in the Dark Lord's domination over him; why would he accept someone infinitely less impressive as a master?
You had no choice. He controlled you before Thalia died, and when she passed, you never pressed to the logical conclusion. No doubt he asserted as much control as he could so that you wouldn't think of it. Pleasure was his bridle on you.
And it would have been still, except that Potter had awakened him.
Draco turned to face him, only to encounter narrowed eyes and an uplifted head that told him Potter was far from finished yet. And probably considering the best way to kill Draco.
Draco laid his mouth against the side of the bubble surrounding Potter's head, keeping his voice low enough that he knew Caspar wouldn't hear him. He could hope the spell would distort Potter's voice enough that Caspar wouldn't hear him, either. "You have to let me drink your blood. That gives me a conduit to your magic, and we can use it against Caspar. We don't have a chance if we remain separated. He still has part of my mind in his thrall, and you're too weak physically to stand up to him."
There. That was good sense. Hopefully Potter's survival instinct would let him see that and agree.
Harry relaxed. He had been tense, wondering why Malfoy had saved him. It wasn't any vampire behavior Harry was familiar with.
But it made sense that Malfoy had saved him to eat and use. That fit both the beast he was now and his personality before his turning.
"Even if I gave you my blood, I couldn't give you my power," he said. "I know you can't drink magic." He coughed and winced as he heard a bubbling in the wound that Caspar—that seemed to be the master vampire's name, if he could trust a lying Malfoy—had given him. Malfoy's eyes went to the neat punctures. Of course. "You're lying and trying to gain some revenge on me before Caspar kills you. No, thanks. I've lived free, and I'll die free." He took his wand back from Malfoy and turned to face the water again, peering into the darkness. The water had put out the torches, and Harry didn't dare cast a Lumos that could lead his enemy right to him. He would have to make do with the moonlight that fell through the entrance above the stairs.
Malfoy seized his wrists in a punishing grip and leaned towards him. "I don't care what you think," he whispered. "I know more about vampires than you do. There's something called the Long-Desired—"
"Spare me the vampire mythology." Harry was certain he'd heard a small splash that might be Caspar swimming towards them. He gave a sidelong glance at Malfoy, making sure to hide the direction of his gaze, to see how he could push him into the water. With any luck, he could destroy them both with one spell.
"It's no mythology," Malfoy said, speaking so fast and with such agitation that Harry felt some of his words as vibrations against the bubble more than he heard them. "It's no joke. We can find wizards compatible in blood and magic whom we can work with. But it has to be willing." His fingers stroked up and down the sides of Harry's neck. Harry ignored them effortlessly, despite the urge to throw up he briefly felt. "Do you grant me permission?"
"I would rather die," Harry said. "I never yielded to a vampire's thrall, and I'm not about to start now." Malfoy might talk as if he had reason, but he's still a beast.
Malfoy's eyes darkened and flashed as if a storm were building in the middle of a winter sky. "But Caspar—"
"I only pretended to surrender," Harry said. "I'm immune to it." He heard another splash and whirled around, but at the moment he could see only dark water. He cursed softly as he remembered that, probably, Caspar was swimming beneath the surface and wouldn't show a sign of himself at all. On the other hand, maybe the sunlight spell Malfoy had cast had damaged him too much for that.
"It's the only way we can survive," Malfoy said, his words more rapid still. "Stupid Potter, don't you understand that?"
"Why should I care about your survival? You're already dead." And Harry whirled around and planted an elbow in Malfoy's ribs, trying to knock him off balance and drive him into the water.
Draco went down with a whoof and a cry, but he didn't slide into the lake. Potter was weaker than he must have thought he was. In a moment, Draco lunged up and pinned him to the stair with his hands above his head, keeping that dangerous wand at a safe distance.
Even then, Potter didn't look intimidated. He panted, but in the way a cornered predator might, to give warning. He stared into Draco's eyes as if Draco was only another of his many enemies, whom Potter would defeat in the end because that was what he did. He moved a knee as if he would try to strike Draco in the groin, in fact.
For a moment, Draco shivered. The thought of all that splendid power and wild mastery yielding to him was wonderful. He almost met Potter's eyes and tried to seduce him with a gaze. If he wouldn't give his compliance one way, he should give it another.
But words returned to restrain him—Thalia's words reminding him that the Long-Desired must give willing surrender, and Potter's statement that he was immune to the thrall.
Draco growled, exposing his teeth, and leaned near so that Potter could feel his strength. Potter's eyes didn't change, except to move from fearlessness to grim acceptance of his own death.
"This doesn't need to happen," Draco hissed at him. "You can become stronger—we can become stronger—and escape." Sudden inspiration struck him. Of course. I can use his own stubbornness against him. "And if you're immune to the thrall, then I can't rule you, no matter what I do. Just allow me the use of your blood and magic in the fight against Caspar, and after that, you can go back to your own independence."
He knew that he would never give up on trying to persuade Potter unless Potter died or he found someone else to be his Long-Desired, but that was a long-term goal, not a short-term one. Potter didn't need to know it.
Now Potter was staring at him as if attempting to determine his angle. Draco held his gaze and tried to look as reassuring as possible.
A temporary alliance? I never thought about that. Vampires are too selfish for those sorts of things.
But Harry had been able to see reason since Ginny died—it was why he could continue to attack unregistered vampires instead of every one in sight—and he had to admit that Malfoy's words made sense. Even wounded, Caspar was probably too powerful for them to escape alive. And Harry wanted to live. He wanted to see Ron and Hermione again.
And he wanted to destroy more vampires.
He rolled his eyes at himself, at Malfoy's words, at the ironies that life forced him into, and rolled his head to the side as he dissipated the Bubble-Head Charm. "Make it quick," he said.
Malfoy didn't make it quick enough, of course, even though he bent his head to the task like a striking snake. He flicked out his tongue and tasted Harry's throat first, which caused Harry to roll his eyes again. When will the git realize that I'm not going to go into a romantic swoon over it, no matter how long he takes?
"This would be easier if you would let me use the thrall," Malfoy whispered, his breath coming out in puffs that might have been erotic if they were warm. Harry's fetishes didn't include cold air and a stink like newly turned earth and rotting flesh, though. "It would be more pleasant for you and less painful. It would take up less of your physical strength. You'll resist me physically when I bite, you know. You can't help it." Malfoy's left hand anchored itself firmly in Harry's hair. "Let me enthrall you."
Harry laughed. Malfoy didn't let him go, but Harry knew from the slight hissing of indrawn breath that he was startled.
"I'm not someone who's always harbored secret fantasies of someone taking care of me and making my thoughts go away," Harry drawled. "Just do it."
And Malfoy did.
It was more painful than Caspar's bite, because this time Harry was tense, not faking relaxation to make the vampire think he was enchanted, and Malfoy was tearing open a new wound, as if he couldn't bear to touch the punctures Caspar had left. Harry grimaced as the blood flowed out of him, and more so as an invisible hand seemed to reach into him and scoop up his magic. He had to do this; he didn't have to like it.
And that was what separated him from a vampire's hapless victim. He was doing this because of his desire to survive, not because of his desire to surrender.
Malfoy began to suck. Harry flinched. He hated having cold, worm-like lips pressed against him.
But he had agreed to do this. And at least the magic was rising up and spreading over them like a sheltering tree, spreading branches above the water and sinking roots deep into the stone. Harry would have felt like a fool if it turned out that giving Malfoy permission to access his power didn't work after all.
This was bliss.
Potter's blood was exactly the kind that tasted good to Draco, deep and rich and meaty with the fragrance of adrenaline and bravery. Draco sucked it the way he would have sucked an orange or a peach when he was mortal. Juice trickled down his face and was captured by his tongue. His body shook with the sweetness and the flavor.
And the magic.
It flowed into his, and just the way Thalia had said he would, he knew instinctively how to handle it. He whipped it around them into a protective, embracing shield. The shield took the form of a tree, and Draco wasn't sure if he had adopted that from Potter's mind or his. He could sense Potter's thoughts, dimly, coursing past him like fish in a stream. He might have absorbed the conception from them without realizing it.
Draco moved closer to Potter, hardly aware he was doing so, or that his hand locked in Potter's hair had begun to caress him. He wanted, needed, had to have more of this. He tried to capture Potter's hands so he could exert his thrall without interference. Potter said he was immune to it, but he was weakened and tired now. He might give in without knowing it, and then he would be Draco's forever.
But a splash and a roar behind him distracted Draco's attention.
Caspar had arrived.
The master vampire rose from the water like something out of nightmare. Harry stared, startled and impressed the way he had been several times this evening by the creature's uniqueness.
His chest was hollowed out, the skin and bone in the torso mostly burned away. Tatters of cloth clung around it, and inside veins and the shrunken remains of inner organs clustered like roosting bats in the middle of a cave. The smell of rotting and old blood that emerged from the hollow made Harry gag. He tried to draw up his hands to cover his nose, but by this time, he had lost so much blood that his arm rose and then flopped back uselessly.
Caspar tried to charge at them—
And one of the invisible branches of the tree caught him in the hollow and speared him.
Harry tried to wrap his arms around himself, but once again he couldn't move. The sensation that traveled through him when his magic was used demanded some response, however, so he gasped.
He could feel the tree, even though he couldn't see it. He could have reached out with one hand and shaped the curve of its trunk, the graceful droop and arch of its branches, the smoothness of the bark. He could feel the way it moved as it recoiled from the blow struck against Caspar and readied itself to defend.
He shut his eyes, and suddenly so much seemed clear. His magic wielded this way had no visible effect except when it struck, but he could feel it, hear the leaves rustling in the wind, and smell a faint fragrance like gum or resin.
Malfoy's hand rested on his chest, even as he finally drew his head up from Harry's throat and his fangs out of the punctures. Harry felt his gesture with his left arm, as if invisible cords bound their limbs together.
The tree turned and splayed its branches in front of it like a circle of stakes, holding Caspar at bay. Harry could feel him, too, a faint, throbbing malignancy, perhaps connected to the power that he supposedly wielded over Malfoy. He heard him hiss, and it sounded like Nagini.
Malfoy laughed, and he started speaking. Harry paid more attention to the tree than to his words, thinking Caspar might seize the chance to attack whilst his former slave was distracted.
"I've found my Long-Desired," Draco said. His vision sparked and twined with distant but distinct light, which outlined the tree he used against Caspar, and the connections that flowed back and forth, breaking soft as water, between him and Potter, and the blood flowing through his veins that had come newly from Potter's throat. He was lit from inside like an angel. How many vampires could say the same thing? "Do you care to challenge me now?"
Caspar answered without words, but with a sudden, vicious pounding into Draco's mind, a single command where before he had tried to command all of his muscles at once. Give up the magic.
Draco gasped as one of his hands opened and waved towards the tree as if he would dismiss it. Half the branches vanished. Caspar laughed quietly and walked a little closer. His fangs were so extended that Draco could see the place where they became transparent near the top. The ends glittered, sharp enough to cut hope on. Again, the command struck Draco like a kick from a dragon. Give up the magic.
And more of it slipped his grasp, even as Draco retreated desperately into the free part of his mind. He was no match for Caspar in brute strength, and he knew it. And now Caspar was stepping within the guard of the invisible branches, stooping over Potter, Draco's Long-Desired, who lay with his eyes shut and a furrow of concentration wrinkling between his brows.
He hit Caspar, and they tumbled down the stairs towards the water again, but Caspar locked a leg on the step beneath the one where Potter lay and caught them. Once again he bent Draco's head back, but this time he had madness and pain lending strength to his arms. He smiled, his eyes sunken into his head.
"I am going to enjoy this," he whispered.
Harry opened his eyes, sighing in annoyance. Of course Malfoy was in trouble, and Harry reckoned he had to rescue him; Malfoy had kept his word and not tried to enthrall him.
He snatched at the magic hovering above him and wrapped it around his limbs, drawing himself to his feet like a puppet on strings. Then he picked up his wand, which Malfoy had laid on the step beside him, and aimed it.
He fumbled for a moment as he tried to figure out how to force the ambient magic through the wand core. Malfoy's spine creaked warningly.
But his power and the phoenix feather core in the wand knew each other of old, and the spell Harry was trying to cast this time wasn't very complex. The ropes tied around his body unbraided and slithered down his sleeves and robes and into the air.
They were soaked, but that didn't matter. They'd been magically, not physically, infused with essence of garlic and rowan.
With a smile he knew was twisted, Harry used the invisible scoop of the magic to fling the ropes across the space between him and the struggling vampires and drape them over Caspar's shoulders and head.
He couldn't bind them tightly, because at that moment he sunk back in utter exhaustion, close to fainting. But he had done enough.
One moment Caspar's fangs had begun to pierce his skin, slowing his movements, taking the blood Draco had rightfully drunk, stealing the warmth—
And then he was crying out, long, shrill shrieks of pain that could not spiral high enough to become other than beautiful to Draco's ears.
He slithered free and took a moment to pause in admiration. The ropes Potter had thrown were coiling around Caspar as if alive, fibers shivering like the teeth of hungry sharks. Draco could smell the garlic and the rowan from where he stood, and though he had never known vampires were allergic to rowan, he would know to keep his distance from now on. The ropes were flaying Caspar, turning his skin, muscles, and bones to delicate rains of ashes that pattered to the steps and into the water.
Draco hesitated, wanting badly to sprang on his former master and destroy him. But that would mean risking exposure to the ropes. He preferred to draw off and wait patiently, now and then reaching towards the magic that hovered between him and Potter. When he could touch it freely, he would know that Caspar's command had dissipated, and with it his life.
It seemed to take a long time. Caspar's skull remained, rocking on top of the debris of his spine, long after the rest of him had fallen to dust. Draco could almost see the preternatural flame of the undead life flickering behind his eye sockets, and the jaws moved and clenched impotently, fangs clashing, seeking a drop of blood.
Draco had the impulse to kick the skull into the water, but again, it would mean a risk. Caspar's fangs might gash his thigh. He refrained.
And then the skull dissolved into a whirlwind of white particles like snow, and Potter's magic flooded into Draco, warm and welcoming.
And the chains on his mind fell off.
And he was master, for the first time, of all his skills, all his strengths, all his senses, and he threw back his head and laughed as he hadn't done since he was mortal, for pure joy.
When Harry woke, the first thing he felt was a breeze on his face. He smiled drowsily. He'd had the strength to crawl into the open to die, after all.
A hand brushed his hair back from his scar. "You're not going to die, Potter." A wrist brushed against his mouth, temptingly. "If you would drink, then you would gain back your strength faster."
But memories of Ginny's death, when the vampire had nearly overcome him and then demanded a similar thing, saved Harry. He shook his head and clamped his lips over his teeth, his fingers twitching for his wand. "No, thank you," he muttered.
Malfoy sighed. Other memories had returned to Harry by then. "Very well," he said, and braced his shoulder under Harry's arm so that he could sit up. "Then I reckon I'll just have to heal you a different way. Hold on."
Harry's magic surfed back into him like the breaking wave he had directed against the vampires. He gasped, his eyes widening and spine arching until it almost cracked. His legs drummed the air like a hanged man's.
Malfoy chuckled, but didn't stop pushing the magic through him. Threads of fire chewed up Harry's weariness and left strength behind. They treated his limbs like straws and sucked the weakness out. Last, the magic went off like a firework inside Harry's skull, and he found himself forced to almost painful awareness of his surroundings. They sat on the moors near his home, with a white boulder gleaming not far away, and the song of the wind was in his ears. From the full moon descending in the west, it was the same night.
"Hmmm." Malfoy nuzzled under his ear, his breath warm with stolen life. "You're certain you won't change your mind and stay with me as my Long-Desired? We could become powerful together. You have no idea—"
"And I don't want to." Harry was on his feet in instants, wand aimed. "Get away from me, Malfoy."
Malfoy remained sitting where he was, looking up at him. His arms were folded on his knees, and his smile was tolerant. It might have been human, except for the fangs that marked him as an animal and no more. "Now, Potter, is that the way to talk to someone who saved your life?"
Harry stared at him steadily. "You did it for your own motives. You wanted me to join with you and give you even more power than I did."
"And do the motives diminish the actions?" Malfoy rose gracefully to his feet. Harry retreated further. He knew that Malfoy, now that his sire was dead, was a master vampire himself, dangerous beyond anyone that Harry had faced in the last month except the nest leader.
Malfoy only looked at him, gaze lingering and proprietary and sexual in a way Harry hated. No one had looked at him that way since Ginny had died. No one had dared.
Malfoy arched an eyebrow, and Harry was reminded that he had never answered the idiot's question. "When it's a bloody vampire doing the deeds, yes," he growled.
Malfoy laughed and shook his hair back. It still looked like gold washed by moonlight even under moonlight. Harry hated it. And him. And the sense of connection that hovered between them, though Malfoy's healing of him seemed to have used the last of the magic he'd pulled from Harry.
"Now," Malfoy said. "I'll leave you for a time. But expect to hear from me again, Potter." His eyes flashed, and for the first time, Harry saw a good mimicry of living passion on a vampire's face. "The power and the connection that I want from you are good for you too, you know. Together, we can be as gods." He sounded as though he were quoting something.
Harry laughed at him. "I don't want that power. I don't want that connection. I'm going to bring you into the Ministry, Malfoy. You saved my life, so I'll be lenient, but you still need to register and drink only donated human blood—"
A blur of contrasting images like doves' wings moving across the sun, and Malfoy was in front of him, holding his shoulders firmly. "Can you take me right now?" he asked. His breath had already begun to cool. "A young vampire in the pride of his power for the first time, when your strength is fading?"
Harry felt his breath quicken in frustration. He knew he couldn't. Every trick was exhausted but the mirror, and Malfoy would never let him reach that. He was too weak at the moment to cast powerful sunlight spells.
"I have to stop you," he said. "You're a vampire who's killed humans. You might start building your own nest now."
"I don't want a slave," Malfoy said intensely. "The only person I want to have power over and share power with is you, Harry."
"I'm not submissive," Harry said, and tried to hook his ankle behind Malfoy's right leg.
Malfoy leaped gracefully into the air, dodging the sweep of Harry's foot as if it didn't exist. His eyes stayed locked on Harry's all the time, and he was smiling now, a faint, appreciative expression.
"You might not want to be dominated," he said. "But you might consider what kind of help I could give you in your continuing quest to hunt my kind."
The offer stole Harry's strength in a way that the mere fading of the magic never could. He stared at Malfoy. "No vampire betrays—"
"Not most of them," Malfoy said. "But most vampires don't build a nest as large as Caspar did, either, or try to keep as tight control over us as he did. I haven't learned most of the traditions of my kind because he refused to teach them to us, thinking we'd demand more independence if he did. I'm free. I'll act in my own best interests, the way I've always done. And it's in my best interests to ally with you."
Harry shook his head. "You haven't even said what you would use the magic for."
Draco kept from grinning with an effort. That would bare his fangs, and he didn't think Harry needed the reminder right now.
He's considering it.
"Power in itself is enough for me right now," Draco said simply. He could feel the wind whistling through his ears and nose, and he had to fight the temptation to leap into the air simply to see how high his newly free muscles could take him. "I'd use the power to defend myself and keep any human from trying to kill me or any master vampire from trying to coerce me into joining him. And other goals as I figure them out."
Harry closed his eyes and swayed on his feet. It had been a long night for him, Draco thought, watching him hungrily. But he had survived, thanks to a degree of cunning and strength that Draco had never seen from him in Hogwarts.
He was smarter and stronger than Caspar, in the end. And so was I.
His eyes went to the pulse that beat wildly under Harry's skin, and to the almost invisible golden shimmer of power around him, which anyone but a vampire would have found difficult to see.
I want him. Why shouldn't I have him? There's no one with a better claim.
Harry opened his eyes and started, as if he had expected to find Draco retreating. He immediately pointed his wand and said, "Go, then. But I'll hunt you down the moment I sense you forming a nest." He grinned himself, and the expression cut across his face like a knife scar. "I have ways of doing that."
Draco stifled his curiosity and bowed. He should leave some things to learn about Harry, which would make their next coming together all the sweeter.
For the moment, he would leave him with promises. He wanted to go to Malfoy Manor and see whether he really had killed his mother, as his memory seemed to suggest. He wanted to sniff out other vampires who might be in the area and drive them away. He wanted to run over hills and test the strength of his limbs.
"I don't intend to form a nest," he said. "I don't intend to be any trouble or bother at all." He paused, and then leaped closer and leaned in to sniff at Harry's neck. With difficulty, mostly by concentrating on thoughts of future feasts, he restrained himself from biting.
"Look for me on your next hunt," he whispered.
And then he turned away and ran, pelting across the moor, gliding faster and more smoothly than any mortal could have managed, into the night, into freedom.
Harry shook his head and lowered his wand. His hand shook, he noted absently.
That has to be why I let Malfoy go. Because I knew I would get myself killed if I tried to kill him. There's no other reason.
But Harry suspected the shadow of this night's work would walk beside him long after he had healed the wounds and the weariness that came with it.
Still, he did not care. He was already thinking ahead to the next nest, which would probably arrive soon. Vampires had a habit of moving in on "unclaimed" territory left vacant by the destruction or splitting of a nest.
For you, Ginny, he told the other and stronger shadow in his mind, who still watched him with shining eyes and a gentle smile from beyond the world. For you, I will remain free, and destroy them.
And I will destroy myself before I surrender to him.