CHAPTER 27: Breaking Point
Thank you all fort the wonderful reviews on the last chapter!
A special thanks for this chapter goes to RighteousHate, for her unending support, her input, friendship, and for looking over my insane ramblings and correcting the worst of my mistakes!
WARNINGS: . Graphic description of violence, blood and gore, angst. Seriously people, if you have issues with some of these things, stop reading the story, or wait until I post the summary with the next chapter.
By the way: If you want to wait until all the angsty stuff is over before continuing with Night Flight, you can give me some way of contacting you (Mail, PM on fanfiction. net…) and I will do so, once everyone is safe again.
Now as for my MIA status: I'm sorry, life just got in the way and I really can't promise that this will get better in the near future. I learned with Night Flight, that I can't really do a WIP, because I'm a slow writer, what with me writing in a foreign language and all, and because I lack the time to do frequent posts. I won't do a WIP again, apart from the stories that I have yet to finish, because this is frustrating for me and for you.
The link for the anonymous review replies is on my profile, I also replied to the anonymous reviews of the last chapter (finally. I know, I know…).
Now please enjoy!
In many ways it was a rushed, ill-planned rescue mission that the residents of Lanai Manor made to set out on, but there was not much more they could have done: as it was, their only means of transportation beyond the incredibly fast but still too slow brooms were the horde of loyal House Elves, which were also their only weapons of sort. Their lack of wands hopefully wouldn't matter much though, because the moment they apparated into the nightmarish chaos raging at the old country estate of Blaise's family, the guardia would be notified and soon a squad would arrive to drag the fugitives back, armed, well-trained and experienced. But upon witnessing what was actually happening there, they would have no choice but to interfere and assist them. They had to! And to hell with the consequences of transgressing the terms of their house arrest!
At least that was the plan.
Little did they know that the spark of doubt that they had sowed in the mind of the young guardia member, Ettore Carracci, had turned into a blazing fire, making him abandon protocol.
And yet this young man, a scion of a long line of successful, high-ranking guardia members, had at first been so very sure of the two Britishers' guilt when he and his colleagues had set out on their arduous nocturnal operation. Only the fact that they were not strictly under Comissario Mancini's command but under a civilian's, had left a somewhat nasty taste in his mouth, especially since he held little regard for Eleuterio Lanai.
Nonetheless the Lanai's were considered to be respectable wizards, and the letter the submissive had apparently written was authentic, that was beyond question. Even the British Aurors had confirmed with absolute certainty that Mr Potter's well-known magical signature was all over the paper, and that at the time the words had been written, no other wizard but he had touched it.
Still, Malfoy's and Zabini's words hadn't left him untouched, had planted a seed of doubt into his mind that he couldn't get rid of, however much he yanked at the visible shoots. Not necessarily because the two men had been so very convincing, but because he knew that they – the vaunted guardia – would be guilty of destroying an innocent life and their very own reputation, if it were true. Not to speak of the consequences it might have on the relationships between the Italian government and the British one, if they just looked the other way while England's beloved war hero was abused and blackmailed and magically and physically raped.
And when it took nothing more than a few inquiries, a few minor investigations, it would be grossly negligent to keep idle.
Thus, after the Comissario and the other guards had left, content in their belief that they had done a competent job, had saved a young man from a horrible fate, Ettore had stayed behind under the pretence of taking over the unloved night shift. But instead of watching over the almost two dozen little bells that would ring in case Malfoy, Zabini or one of the other accused violated the terms of their house arrest, Ettore concentrated on trying to lift the lid on this night's happenings, hoping that it would give lie to his misgivings. And he had started where every investigator would, his instructor's lectures ringing in his mind: with the silent witnesses to a wizard's every deed: their wands.
But against all his hopes, the magical tools had not given any proof to the cussedness of their owners. On the contrary. After dousing them with a potion designed to prolong the effects of a Prior Incantato, and watching a long line of phantom images that replayed the latest spells performed in reverse order, Ettore had to admit that there not only was no evidence for any kind of abuse, but that in fact everything indicated to the three British Vykélari being in a consensual relationship. At least, it seemed as if they were courting or dating.
Of course, the clues he had weren't much to go by, but if he used the apparitions to synchronize the spell progress of Malfoy's and Zabini's wands, and considered the exact shapes of the magical phantoms produced by the Prior Incantato, Ettore could roughly reconstruct the main cornerstones of the past day with relative certainty.
The first charm he had been able to contextualise had originated from Zabini's wand. It was nothing extraordinary, just a sticking charm that the young man had activated on the ground of a Pihassan chariot; but it indicated that they had either played pugna aerea or had used them as an exotic means of transportations. Either way, they had left the grounds of Lanai Manor and there had to be witnesses, because in certain circles it was a common knowledge that neither Zabini, nor the Lanais owned winged horses, preferring to rent the animals instead of investing the extensive time and care needed to create and cultivate the unique bond between beast and wizard. In fact the Battellis often used their most frequent clients, the illustrious Lanai family, to advertise their services. They must have brought a chariot to Zabini, who was a Lanai by association, and they had also fetched them later on, because the Britishers had only used the vehicles once. If Ettore was lucky, the Pihassan's owner had seen the young submissive, could maybe attest to his treatment…
In any case, after they had left the manor, the two Britishers had at one point used warming charms, and applied them to a wizard's body – often enough that it could hint to a third person having been there, though a sceptic would point out that they might just have used it multiple times to increase the effect.
However, from the necessity of using warming charms, it became apparent that they had either reached the mountains and had been forced into higher, colder altitudes, or they had done so of their own decision somewhere else. That at least spoke against pugna aerea because the famous game was played close to the ground.
Interestingly, the next spells had fastened belts around three waists with sticking charms. Three. Even though he had no idea what they had needed the belts for, the fact that there had been three of them cemented his suspicion that Potter had been with them.
It followed a row of spells that Ettore couldn't really make sense of as they seemed little more than gimmickry. But then Zabini had used a pensive. Repeatedly and over a prolonged time span, placing memories into the liquid only to take them out again, and again and again in that very distinct pattern. Either they had taken a very lengthy trip down memory lane or, which was much more likely, they had watched a pensive play together.
An expensive pastime.
After another apparition they had made use of a certain magical signal normally used when trying to draw the attention of mobile wizarding facilities or vehicles and since apparently transportation was not the problem (they had apparated after all), Ettore guessed they had had dinner at the floating restaurant above Rome or Venice – it was the only other application for this kind of signal that he could think of. Afterwards they had apparated home and hadn't performed any more magic beyond the spells Ettore and his colleagues had witnessed when the two dominants had tried to keep Mr Potter within the wards of Lanai Manor.
All these little snippings of information culminated in one baffling conclusion: The three young Vykélari had been on a date. It was grotesque and unbelievable and so very unorthodox. They had taken an unmated submissive out into the public for a date. But that wasn't the most surprising thing: aside from being dangerous in case someone spotted them and recognized what Potter was, the submissive himself would have had enough chances to contact someone, at the restaurant if nowhere else. So why hadn't he? Why – if a few days earlier he had secretly asked his most trusted friends to come and free him – why had he not tried to escape when the chance presented itself? Why that change of heart?
Could the letter have been a brilliant fake? Could the British Aurors have made a mistake? Or were Zabini and Malfoy lying? Perhaps they had blocked Potter's magic while they had been out, thus rendering him helpless while trying to propitiate the boy…
Even if he pretended to believe the two foreigners for a moment, how should the Lanais have managed to get a hold of anything or anyone that could serve as blackmail material against someone like Harry Potter, Britain's very own war hero? Even more puzzling: how had they contacted Potter?
Because his suspicions and the inconclusive evidence of the Britishers' wand were by far not enough to convince his superiors (or even himself, if Ettore was being honest), and because he was not willing yet to risk the tremendous repercussions of interfering illegally into matters of a Vykélari courtship, Ettore had proceeded with his investigations, attempting to find someone willing to testify that Potter had been abused, or held captive by the two accused. Or not.
Contacting the floating restaurant of Venice proofed to be a waste of time, since he could not find any proof of the three young Vykélari having been there.
But in a floo conversation with the manager of the restaurant in Rome, Ettore had better fortune: the complete top floor had been booked by the Battellis, but arrived had three young men. And even though they had apparently not looked like Malfoy, Zabini and Potter, Ettore would bet his shirt that it had been them.
And according to the restaurant's staff, the three men had had a wonderful time together: laughing, joking, dancing. They'd been there for hours.
So Ettore made another floo call; this time contacting the Battellis.
To his surprise, Tore Battelli, the head of the family, had answered rather quickly, as if he had been awake at such an early hour, but he didn't dwell on it, instead focusing on drawing the information from the older wizard he so desperately needed. It took him quite a bit of convincing, sweet-talking, and reassuring but finally, finally Ettore had an eye-witness willing to testify under verita serum that Potter had been a willing guest at Lanai Manor. More importantly however: he had apparently allowed the two dominants to court him, which they had, with much effort and sensitivity.
Not losing any time, Ettore had contacted his father, the current Generale of the guardia who had then summoned an extraordinary meeting between the minister and the Senato della Magia, the official legislature of the Italian wizarding community, who upon hearing what had transpired that night decreed an official disempowerment of the Italian Vykélari council, enabling the guardia to interfere into a courtship and legally search for the submissive.
However, while the last signature was affixed to the document, there was no one in the office of the guardia to hear the two small silver bells starting to clamour for attention with their piercing ringing, signalling that Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini had violated the terms of their house arrest.
One and a half hours earlier Harry was led away from Blaise's and Draco's paralyzed bodies and it was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do in his entire life, which was saying something. Every step felt weighted down as if he was wading through a swamp, every little movement only pulling him deeper into the thickening bog that grew ever more reluctant to let him go, weighing his legs down.
If only he could utter even one reassurance to them, he might calm down enough to be able to properly concentrate on finding the one (and probably violent, with his luck) expedient to the trap he was walking into, but with the Aurors still glancing at him with the same pity and concern a phoenix with ripped off wings might gather, that small mercy was as much a physical impossibility as a foul-free quidditch game between Slytherin and Gryffindor.
Maybe it was better this way, though; Harry wouldn't have had an inkling as to what to say to them anyway. Any apology that might measure up to what he had done to them, to all the trouble he had caused them, would need more than a few pathetic seconds filled with stammered half-finished sentences.
After all he was leaving them behind helplessly at the mercy of a handful of experienced Aurors who might have no qualms whatsoever about showing them the whole extend of their disgust – which was, to Harry's regret, also his fault.
Or partly at least. Harry was neither naïve, conceited nor self-destructive enough to claim the lion's share of the responsibility for this disaster. Not when there was the man next to him handily present to blame and who commanded his attention, holding his elbow firmly enough to make it clear that he didn't wish the submissive to break loose but not so firm as to risk raising suspicion from the Aurors.
But what should keep him from doing just that, he wondered in a moment of sober clarity – or insanity, the daring idea entering his mind so suddenly that he almost faltered in his steps.
Why should he not raise the suspicion of the officials? No, why not go a step further: he could rip himself loose from the tight hold Eleuterio had on him, rush back and reveal the whole atrocious plot to people who could actually interfere in the one moment that was out of his blackmailers' control… Would it not be foolish of those conceited bastards to kill Hermione and Ron when a dozen Aurors would know where to search for the culprits? It might even force those men to obliviate his friends and let them go as inconspicuously as possible to try and hush it all up, getting rid of all evidence so that they could pretend that no one had ever been kidnapped in the first place…
The possibility left him reeling, the spark of hope almost too painful to bear, a flare that consumed his breath for the endless span of a moment.
It didn't take long for the high to deflagrate, though, the flame dying due to a lack of air, because Harry knew that he could never be sure whether his blackmailers would even follow the laws of logic.
Common sense was not so common after all.
And neither could Harry be entirely sure that the Aurors would help him, what with the Vykélari laws prohibiting any interference; worse, he couldn't even rule out the possibility that they might be in on this blackmail as well, in which case Blaise's family might retaliate against either his friends or the Slytherins to punish Harry for even trying to denounce them.
Harry would never dare to play with his friends' lives. Never. He just couldn't.
Still, Harry couldn't help but look back to where Blaise's and Draco's forms were half hidden by the bustle of Aurors and half veiled by darkness. He followed the determined tugs on his arm only reluctantly, longing to be able to take an option he was too cowardly for and regretting not being daring enough to exhaust all his options before handing himself over.
But it was of no use and he had never been one to wallow in self-pity. Harry had committed himself to going through with this, and going through with it he would, if only to eliminate the threat so that it couldn't creep up on him or his friends in some feint, foggy future that was still too distant to take proper shape.
He had a plan to follow as well: create an illusion of weakness, get to Hermione and Ron and free them and if it wasn't feasible, attack and force those men to relinquish his friends. Should that possibility be out of reach as well, if it came to the worst, there was still one last emergency plan resting reassuringly against the skin of his wrist in the form of a thin bracelet: the portkey Blaise had given him. It was only an insignificant weight, almost invisible, one he had considered to be a thoughtful but ultimately useless excrescence of paranoia. Now it might save not only his life, but those of his friends as well. He could escape to England, rally his allies, the press, the minister… anyone. He could witness to the extent of cruelty hidden within a major part of their society; and with his fame, with his own reputation and position, he could denounce it. He could stop it and hope it wouldn't be too late for his friends by then.
It wasn't the best plan one might come up with, Harry knew that, of course he knew it, but he had never been a brilliant strategist. That was Ron's metier. No, if there was one thing Harry was good at, it was thinking on his feet, improvising, and it was that ability he would have to rely on…
At least this didn't seem as bad as their brilliant scheme of breaking into Gringotts without any inkling as to how to get out again.
Harry could only hope that the shrunken, traitorous mirror sticking to the skin of his left forearm like some leech, hidden beneath a disillusionment charm, had not alerted their malicious eavesdroppers to the portkey. When Blaise had mentioned it a few minutes ago, and then Draco, Harry had quickly pressed his hand down on the mirror to muffle the words, but maybe not quickly enough. The thought was harrowing, nauseating, a cancerous insecurity in his chest that threatened to become malign and spread throughout his body. Harry couldn't even begin to imagine how bad this situation might become if he was hopelessly trapped within their manor.
He might die. And Ron and Hermione with him.
A shiver crawled down Harry's spine, chilling him, and he swallowed a few times, his dry throat clicking far too loudly in the silence around them, only disturbed by the periodic echo of their soft steps on the springy grass. He didn't want to go on a suicide mission. Not again.
The sound drew Eleuterio's attention and with narrowed eyes the man regarded him closely, subjecting him to a precise and intense scrutiny that Harry just had no patience for at the moment. He just wanted… just wanted this night to end without any corpses.
"Don't worry, Mr Potter. You will see: by tomorrow, everything will be alright." Eleuterio murmured quietly, whether to reassure him or to bring him to heel, Harry didn't know. But for whatever reason, the words softly sank into his consciousness and deeper, a seed of determination and acceptance, because for the first time this night Harry found himself agreeing with one of his blackmailers. For one of them it would be alright tomorrow. And for the other it would at least be finally over.
Whether Harry would have managed to save his friends, whether he himself would be able to escape… it would already be decided in a few hours. Until then he could only take this situation one problem at a time and whether his blackmailers would take away his escape route was not something Harry could change at this point.
At least he could take comfort in the knowledge that Draco and Blaise would be safe, that at least the Aurors would make sure they wouldn't be able to interfere. It wasn't like the battle of Hogwarts where his allies, countless children, had rushed into the thick of the fight without him being able to oversee the chaos.
He could still see their corpses lined up on the dirty floor of the Great Hall in rows that seemed far too long to comprehend, to bear.
Whatever legal consequences the Slytherins would have to face, it couldn't be worse than possibly losing their lives at the hands of Blaise's relatives. And not having to worry about Draco and Blaise would leave him able to concentrate on saving Hermione and Ron…
And on not getting creature-married.
As if sensing his thoughts, Eleuterio tightened his grip on Harry's arm and forced him to turn around with a sudden jerk that halted his current line of thoughts as effectively as it did his steps. Harry came to stand right in front of him, almost propelling into the other's chest, and he felt the small feathers in his hair rise in irritation, threateningly. Grimly he glared at the man, thinking about how lucky he was that Harry already had better control over his magic than he used to, or Eleuterio would have found himself thrown a few yards like a rag doll. Just as he had done to Blaise on that first day at Lanai Manor, but a hundred times worse with his magic now fully rested.
Already, it churned and hissed at the treatment, burning to lash out, and holding it back felt like trying to keep a dam that was already forming cracks from crumbling completely. The skin on Harry's back prickled and itched with the want to release his wings so he could threaten the unwelcome dominant off and unbeknownst to him, the markings on his face and the sides of his ribcage bled out of his skin, the swirling lines and curls glowing along with his irises in a vibrant, menacing green.
Eleuterio stared at them silently for a long moment, then his assessing, cold gaze rose to meet Harry's, again probing him with dark eyes that appeared to be totally black now with the absence of any light source beyond the dim stars. They were full of intent and steely harshness, speaking of grave consequences should Harry step out of line even once.
This time, though, Harry was better prepared and he would have huffed out a dryly amused snort at this attempt to intimidate him, had the graveness of his situation not been choking any spark of humour. Too often he had been the sole recipient of the penetrating, pale blue gaze of a man far greater, far wiser and far, far more powerful and perceptive. Eleuterio Lanai was nothing against one Albus Dumbledore, or even his portrait. Neither could he compare to the red, murderous eyes of Tom Riddle. And how he wanted to tell the bastard that! That he was a nothing, an insignificant insect amongst millions. But he doubted the man would believe anything but the favourable whispers of his own ego.
For a moment Harry wondered whether he should threaten Eleuterio, make him squirm like he was trying to do to him – it would be so simple to remind him that the last man he had killed had been a lord level wizard who had been a mass-murderer himself. But right now they were underestimating him and that was a precious advantage, a gift he couldn't afford to spurn.
Docilely, Harry lowered his gaze, his voice still a bit tight as he murmured "If we could just get it over with…"
But he needn't have bothered: the attempt at appearing harmless was rendered useless with his markings still blazing a furious warning signal to anyone insane enough to approach him.
Despite the threat, or because of it, the corner of Eleuterio's lips twitched into a thin smirk. "But of course, Mr Potter." He said with his honey sweet voice dripping with false compassion. "Hold on tight!"
Before Harry even had the chance to look up or prepare himself for the familiar lurch of side-along apparition that always left him feeling queasy and disoriented, the man had tightened his hold on his arm and the darkness around them dissolved into a flurry of whirling colours and lights.
Even though he had somewhat expected it – how else but with a port-key or side-along apparition would Eleuterio take him to wherever he was supposed to meet his would-be mate – the suddenness awoke that darkly ominous unease within him; his instincts, honed by forced travels to a dark manor or graveyard and the horrors that had awaited him, screamed at him, raising his hackles.
This experience wouldn't prove to be much better. After the colours and lights gave way to the warm glow of numerous candles, before he even had the chance to regain his composure and balance and sense of direction, a feeling of deep-rooting anxiety swept over his skin, cold and sticky but streaked with the thinnest, strongest threads of pure magic. Like a spider web it clung to his body, following each motion. They were wards, his mind provided a moment after the sensation registered, wards that had snapped into place as soon as they had arrived to keep Harry from disapparating and probably from doing a number of other things as well. Now they solidified around him, closing in on him, and he could feel their hold, their power as they pressed down on his body and magic as if they wanted to suffocate him.
It made him cringe away uselessly and shudder and hunch in on himself and not quite consciously he reached out with his magic to rip those threads apart before they could really bind him for good. He hadn't even touched their filigree structure however, before something cold and hard snapped close around his throat from behind, biting into his flesh, growing hot and hotter. Ripples of a foreign power streamed out from the thing, floating over his body like some glutinous fluid, encapsulating him from head to toe, and his magic, wilful and wild, was forcefully cut off from the small tendrils it had sent out and they were lost to him, like fingers chopped off with a cleaver.
Harry shook himself violently, horrified, but he was helpless to stop his magic from being entrapped within his body. It pulsated maddeningly underneath his skin, raging on like a hurt, feral animal in wild panic, throwing itself against the bars of its cage while around him the wards settled unhindered as a notable weight on his shoulders like a heavy woollen cloak.
Harry's eyes went wide as he realised what had happened and he gasped for air as if in pain, his throat closing off. They had bound his magic, they had truly… he grimaced, ripping himself free of Eleuterio's hold with a strangled groan, stumbling backwards and almost tumbling to the ground. Frantically, his trembling fingers flew to the band of unforgiving metal – a collar, he realised with dread and disgust exploding in his chest. It had melted into his skin and was adapting to his every movement, flexing with the tendons in his throat. Harry felt out the smooth surface, covered with small indentations and lines that formed inscribed runes, trying to find some leverage, some way to rip it off.
But whatever he did, the collar wouldn't budge even the fraction of a millimetre.
Of course Harry had on some level suspected this might possibly happen, had known that they would most likely restrict his magic in some way or another, but the reality of it was more disturbing than he could have imagined: he could feel his magic within him almost like a physical entity, pushing against the barrier, twisting and struggling, and he strained and fought along with it. The streams within him solidified and dissolved only to appear at a different point beneath his skin, testing out its cage for weak points and finding none, and it was so rapid and arbitrary that it left him dizzy and panting, his muscles spasming ineffectively.
But the entrapment held and as the pointlessness of fighting against it registered, when he was forced to realise that it was either giving up for now or completely and uselessly exhausting himself, his magic sizzled and vibrated and pushed once more so strongly and furiously that Harry felt the strain of its force against his ribcage, as if he had breathed in too deeply. Then, just as suddenly, it curled back, vibrating with ominous potential like a lion ducking low to the ground, lying in wait for its chance to attack.
In the remaining limbo, Harry was left trembling, kneeling on the ground with his fingernails clawing into the narrow gaps between small, white and black tessera beneath him, until his knuckles were white and his nails just shy of splintering. His breath didn't come easily for a few moments as he tried to get used to the sensation of his skin being too small for his body, too small to encompass his flesh and bones and magic at the same time.
Insanely he wondered whether breaking his skin might free the force caged within him, whether, if he clawed his flesh open, his magic might spill out along with his blood, drowning his enemy in red and gold…
He shivered and groaned, the image chilling him down to his very core and Harry clenched his eyes shut, trying to gather himself back together. At least, he tried to tell himself, it was still there; at least he could feel the swirling, flowing power within his very core and didn't suffer from the sensation of utter loss that had overcome him during that fateful full moon a few days ago, the damn night that had started it all. He wouldn't have been able to bear it right now: being helpless and magically depleted at the same time.
"Are you alright, Mr Potter?" A deep voice echoed slightly through the wide hall, clear and authoritative. Harry froze for the blink of an eye as his senses and his instincts, his very being honed in on that one presence in the room, his magic stirring within his core, vibrating furiously. Because this voice… this accursed voice was the one that had welcomed him into his rooms that evening, that had threatened him and his friends and had ordered him to deliver himself up on a silver tablet.
Harry whipped his head around and there stood the man it belonged to, only a few meters away from him when ten thousand would have been too close, his wand still raised from binding Harry's magic.
Quickly he jumped up, not able to stand being in a more vulnerable position, a position of inferiority, not while he was still feeling so jittery from the binding of his magic. The need to be on a more equal level with his blackmailer, right now, right there, suddenly seemed as vital as breathing even if it meant gulping down the feint nausea the fast movement brought.
Somehow, this man's direct presence discomfited him more than the sudden apparition and the magical block combined. And the recent memories of his friends' screams, the cold cruelty with which he had ordered their torture had him tense and franticly alert, expecting the worst and restlessly wondering what the worst could be.
And all the while Harry harshly berated himself about how exceptionally stupid this notion was. It was only a figment of his imagination, carefully nurtured by that man to make him insecure and weak. Voldemort had tried to do the same: making his opponents and servants alike think that he was more than he was: more powerful, superior, more mystical and wise. More than a simple human being of flesh and blood. All just so that they would rather die than risk his wrath, rather obey than fight him.
Harry should know better than to let it affect him! Especially since this wasn't the first time that he found himself unarmed within enemy territory and he knew, he knew that any wand could curse, not only a leader's. He couldn't afford to let this man draw all of his attention, couldn't allow himself to concentrate only on him. And that was as deeply ingrained into his unconsciousness as the movements of flying were into his muscle memory.
Still, Harry wouldn't leave him out of his sight. Couldn't. Never completely. But he warily looked around, efficiently taking in the entirety of the hall he had been apparated into, registering every person and their weapons, their stances and expressions, every door or entrance, every corner that might hide another nasty surprise, allowing the practiced movements to centre him.
He counted nine wizards and witches: two women and seven men, most of whom had strategically positioned themselves to easily contain Harry, should he somehow step out of line or even try to flee. Four men of various ages had encircled him, including the psychopathic bastard who had contacted him through the mirror, and Eleuterio who had backed away from Harry, getting himself out of reach of the vicious, poisonous claws that could sprout from Harry's fingertips in a moment's notice.
And behind his blackmailer a younger woman, a black-haired, hawk-faced witch with a grim, challenging smile, and another man in his early thirties barred the room's only exit in the form of a wide archway framed with bricks that lead to what seemed to be a sitting room, as if waiting for him to panic and run.
All of them had their wands drawn and at the ready, firmly held in one hand that was raised waist-high, not quite pointing at Harry yet, but the fracture of a second away from doing so. Their appearance betrayed their readiness to attack, dressed for duelling as they were with clothes that were easy to move in and wouldn't hinder or slow them down. Their hair – even the men wore it long – was tied back and their postures spoke of a level of experience that was unsettling: the slightly bowed knees and wide, secure stances, the ease in the wrists of their wand-arms… these wizards probably knew their spell-work, their calm confidence and poise said as much.
Harry eyed them warily, his heart beating fast but steady in his chest. It seemed that they weren't underestimating him as much as he had hoped they would or expected them to from Eleuterio's haughty, self-absorbed behaviour earlier.
Beyond the tight circle of this quartet of guards, the room emerged as a spacious hall with only a few pieces of dark, wooden furniture lining the rather ancient looking, pale grey stone walls: a lean side table stood centred at the wall behind him, right beneath a wide mirror. It was decorated with an artful floral arrangement of different grasses, small red and yellow flowers and a few, long and thin feathers. A gaunt, almost delicate man, bent with age, stood beside it and considered him thoughtfully, assessing him through still sharp eyes that seemed like small but shining, murky brown gems in between all those deep furrows and wrinkles, a face that seemed as ancient as the stones the man leaned against for support, burned and lined from decades over decades of a busy, eventful life.
But the old wizard at least didn't carry his wand in his hands, ready for use, only holding a thin robe thrown over one arm, and the casualness of his posture and stance at least didn't threaten an imminent attack.
Quickly, Harry continued his rushed but thorough exploration, his gaze flickering to his right where a wide alcove was embedded into the wall. There stood a pair of elegant leather chairs facing the room, a small, oval, table between them, delicately lathed and ornamented with rich carvings.
The arm chair on the left was occupied by a black-haired woman, old and serene enough to create an air of regality around her but young enough to still retain herself a fragile beauty, like a widely open rose in the very moments before its petals started to fall. She wore a pale, long dress embroidered with a dark floral pattern and adorned with small pearls glistening in the light of the chandelier right above Harry. Her slender, delicate hands rested in her lap, one of them holding an almost white wand of bird's eye maple but she regarded him with cold disinterest, one perfect, haughty eyebrow raised critically, as if he was nothing but the leading actor in a mediocre play at a nameless amateur theatre, and Harry immediately let his gaze drift away from her, knowing that she was unlikely to attack him as well. She was the kind of woman who let others fight her battles and maybe that was the reason why she seemed so out of place to Harry, in this situation, and amongst these people who were more prepared and willing to viciously and ruthlessly wrestle him down rather than negotiate his surrender, let alone welcome who they wanted to be the new addition to their family.
But the other man in the alcove immediately caught Harry's attention. He was rather young, maybe a few years older than Harry himself, Bill Weasley's age perhaps, and he stood looming beside the elder woman's chair, stiff and unmoving like an intimidating statue. With them so close to each other, one simply couldn't ignore their striking resemblance, marking them out as close relatives, most likely mother and son. The same high, distinctive cheek bones adorned their faces, the same tightness in the jaw line, and narrow lips. Only her features seemed to be more finely chiselled as if she had been the model after which a sculptor had crafted his face in a hurry, leaving it with a sharp-edged roughness that had its own appeal.
In contrast to her, though, he was dressed totally in black and even his wand, resting in a holster at his side, was made of ebony.
That was not what drew his interest, though. No, something intriguing in his posture and expression made Harry take notice, something in the way that he refused to even look remotely in the direction of the submissive so unwillingly abducted into their home and how his arms were folded in front of his chest defensively. If it hadn't been such a grotesque idea Harry would say that this man, who might seem dark and sinister at a first glance, was even more uncomfortable with this mad situation, than Harry. Everything about him screamed of aggravation.
Harry blinked in surprise, but before he could follow that discovery further a movement to his right made him redirect his focus to the old wizard who had now pushed away from the wall and was approaching Harry with slow, hobbling steps, a small, crystalline bottle in his spidery fingers – wherever that had come from.
It held a clear, apple-green liquid, wobbling drops of gold moving sluggishly within and the unexpected sight of it made Harry tense again instinctively. Because regardless of how much he didn't understand the fine art of potion making, his lack of talent didn't make him unaware of how dangerous they could be. What if they wanted to weaken him further, or dose him with a love philtre? His heart raced, each furious beat hammering another of the limitless possibilities forth into his awareness. Could they just make him into a mindless puppet, unable to defend himself or even object?
If it was true that Harry was as powerful as they made him out to be, then he couldn't think of anything worse than giving that potential into the hands of people who had already proven that they had no scruples against kidnapping teenagers and torturing and killing them…
Harry swallowed drily again, for an instant regretting that he had come here, that he hadn't been smarter, hadn't been able to think of anything to do, still couldn't think of a way out, while knowing that there never had been another choice for him the moment his eyes had fallen onto the cowering forms of his friends. Even so, he couldn't help but clench his left hand into a fist, the portkey there searing his skin, a tempting, cruel reminder of how easy it would be to flee this very moment, that maybe it would be the better option, the smarter one… .
But it would possibly mean Ron and Hermione's death.
Suddenly the same cold voice as earlier interrupted his miserable labyrinth of thoughts, but more steely and hard, a sharp note of censure tinging it, as if his blackmailer could think of nothing more vexing than Harry's lack of politeness. "If I ask you a question, Mr Potter, I expect you to answer it."
Startled, Harry glanced towards the man, still standing there so regally in his dark, silk-embroidered robe. It took him a few moments to even process the words, let alone remember what question it was he was supposed to answer. The knowledge that he couldn't do anything to prevent them from forcing this potion on him, the spark of fear it exuded, like a seed of darkness, still stole the stableness out of his thoughts and he had to hold on to them with much effort just to attempt to put the flighty shreds of reason back together. It didn't make it any easier that he had been awake now for twenty hours. Or that his magic rumbled inside his chest like a furious beast, snarling and hissing and clawing at his concentration, making him want to bare his teeth and attack.
Oh yes, and this bastard had the guts to ask how he was when he had been the one to do all this to Harry…
"Spare me the pathetic attempts at politeness!" He pressed out, hoping that his voice didn't sound as rough and upset as it did to him. "There is really no way you can make this alright! It's just crude… And I'm not drinking that!" He added forcefully, backing away a step or two.
To Harry's surprise, the old wizard actually stopped advancing on him, frowning down at the bottle in his hands and then at Harry. "Mr Potter," He began, his voice scratchy and calming, almost incomprehensible from the very strong accent. But he spoke slowly, carefully as if he was paying special attention to each and every word that left his lips. "It is just a tonic that will soothe your magic. It must be aggravated right now. Nothing more than a simple calming draught infused with Hesperides's Nectar to appeal to your magic. Perfectly safe to drink, I assure you."
Harry shook his head sharply. They could tell him what they wanted, he had no reason to believe anything they said! But apparently, at least their leader didn't want to give him that choice.
"You can take it willingly or have it administered by force." The man said in an almost bored tone of voice and Harry shot him a nasty glare, hating him more with every second, every icy word that left his lips. But his blackmailer only raised an eyebrow in challenge, a confident reminder of how defenceless his scheming had left Harry.
"Either way: you will take it. If you don't calm down, your magic will prevent every attempt at mating and I thought we already established how that might end." He halted for a moment, pursing his lips as his gaze roamed Harry's body. "And hide your markings! I won't have my son-in-law strut around with his most precious assets on display like that."
Harry's face reddened, feeling mortified and embarrassed and sick all at the same time and his hands twitched at his sides as he resisted the urge to cross his arms in front of his naked chest. Instead he raised his chin, glaring defiantly at the man. "In case you forgot: you were the one who didn't give me any time to…"
"Mr Potter," the old man interrupted him with his scratchy voice, practically thrusting the robe right under his nose. His intense eyes seemed to almost beg him to comply, conveying a warning so clear that it had Harry's stomach clench into tight knots with anxious frustration and he swallowed the biting comments about to tumble from his lips, lowering his gaze as he berated himself. He was in no position to anger his captors, and by god, he didn't want his friends to pay the price because he couldn't stop himself from smart-mouthing.
Without saying another word, Harry snatched the thin garment out of the wrinkled hand and slipped into it, covering his bare torso with the soft texture. It wasn't much and the caress of the silken fabric on his bare skin almost made him feel even more naked than before, but it was at least some kind of barrier, even if it was a frail one. When he finally raised his gaze again, it was to the sight of the fragile vial being held out to him.
Feeling very much like a trapped animal, Harry closed his fingers around the small bottle, but made no move to unstop it. He couldn't take it, not while it could possibly worsen his situation even more – and with it Hermione's and Ron's odds of survival. But he couldn't not take it, either… Harry so didn't want to uncover the madman's vengeful streak again…
"Well?" His blackmailer prompted, finally having lost his rather insignificant amount of patience. "We don't have all night!"
Harry drew an unsteady breath. If only his mind wouldn't always jump to the most daring, most brazen solutions at hand…
"I came here willingly, didn't I?" He murmured quietly, licking his dry lips to win a few seconds. His nails lengthened slightly, scratching at the crystal glass that was still warm from the old wizard's hands, leaving behind a tiny, white scrape.
"And I said I would mate whoever you wanted me to mate if you would release my friends in return." Slowly, Harry looked up at the cold Italian. "And yet you obviously don't believe my word, welcoming me with raised wands, using all those wards, binding my magic… so how do you expect me to believe yours?
Taking a deep breath, Harry raised his chin with a confidence he didn't feel, hoping against hope that his opponent would stay calm and reasonable even through the words he'd have to speak, willing him to damn well understand that he had reached the limit of what he could possibly concede. "You say you'll release my friends if I obey you? Fine, but without proof I'm not buying it. I won't mate anyone, with or without this potion, until you let them go!"
'And not after, if I can prevent it', Harry added within the privacy of his own mind, before dashing the vial to the ground with all the force he could muster, smashing it against the many black and white, small stones that formed the intricate, geometric mosaic beneath his feet. It exploded with a loud clash in a mess of sticky green-golden drops, artful splashes and glistening shards. Clipped sounds of outrage filled the room, the perfect circumflex to the shattering of the glass and one or two of his captors raised their wands higher, the threat clear and unmistakable.
Harry observed it out of the corner of his eyes, tense and alert, but his gaze remained intently trained on his blackmailer, watching for any kind of emotion in that steeliness, some sort of reaction that might give him some hint as to what to do, what to think, what to expect, hoping fervently that the exceptional hearing of his Vykélari captors wouldn't pick up on the furious drumming of his heart and think that he was bluffing, even while he himself wondered whether he was.
Something twitched in the wizard's face, a little bit of the haughty, calm sophistication falling away like spalling paint to reveal some of the ugly, mad darkness lurking beneath but it was gone just as quickly like the shadow of a hunting peregrine rushing past, and Harry wasn't even sure he had seen it at all.
"You needn't have done that, Mr Potter." The man remarked coolly after a few more moments of tense silence as hard and chilly as a meters thick ice sheet. "I am willing to meet reasonable demands if they are at all compatible with our own goals. However," he lowered his voice ominously, tilting his head, "I am growing weary of this rebellious streak of yours."
At his sides, Harry's hands clenched into tight fists to keep them from trembling. The last time he had gone against this man so openly, Ron had been tortured into a mess of twitching muscles, agony and fear, and the utter helplessness of the experience still lurked darkly at the edges of Harry's consciousness, made him torn between the burning desire to attack that madman, and the need to beg him not to hurt his friends any further, to offer him anything in return.
Before he could say anything, the young man in the alcove shifted where he stood and his voice – a nuance higher and smoother than Harry had expected from such an imposing figure – broke the heavy silence.
"I don't think threatening him is in any way conducive to calming his magic down, father…"
Harry blinked in surprise, first at the unexpected intervention, then at the use of that title and his stomach dropped, the little hints and facts merging with dizzying swiftness into the harsh certainty that this was his intended mate and the knowledge drove itself mercilessly into his mind like a long nail, however much Harry had tried to avoid even thinking of the man they wanted him to share his magic with. And his body. Gods, Harry didn't know which was worse.
And yet, the only thought that he could clearly form was that he should have known… Hadn't his blackmailer said that Harry was to mate his son, a man only eight years his elder? There was only this one person in the room that was roughly of the right age, only this one man, the son of a woman sitting there enthroned as if she owned the place, as if she knew herself to be above them all – a woman fitting to be the wife of the haughty, power-hungry bastard who would spare no effort, leave nothing untried just to catch the one and only submissive Vykélari still in existence and bind him to his family.
But he hadn't even wanted to think about his would-be mate, still didn't in a way. He didn't want to be able to put a face to a man willing to commit such atrocities, but more than that, Harry didn't want to see the man he would have to kill if he couldn't prevent all this from happening.
Suddenly the memory of his first impressions rushed to the forefront of his mind, of how suspiciously he had behaved … Quickly, hopefully, Harry turned around to face the young wizard, their eyes locking, cautious forest-green meeting cold, murky agate.
Intently, Harry assessed the man, searching fervently for the discomfort or the anger in those hard features that he had thought to have seen there earlier, a steely coldness seeping into his skin when he came up blank again and again. It couldn't be just gone now, and Harry knew with absolute certainty that there had been something there, some form of… of… outrage, anger, frustration…
Nothing. The stony eyes regarded him with the same cool, calculative interest that one might show an enemy during negotiations, and the crossed arms didn't seem so much defensive, but rather unapproachable, only creating an emotional distance between them that was even more chilling now that Harry knew that this was his intended mate.
The disappointment was keen and sharp in his chest and it almost felt like a small betrayal, as illogical as that was.
An almost amused huff whipped through the entrance hall as the leader observed Harry's reaction and he waited until the younger Vykélari had hesitantly faced him again before he spoke, his eyes drilling into Harry's green, haunted ones even while he addressed his son.
"Fine, Taide. You'll have your will. In the future, it will be your duty to see to your mate's education and his manners. If he is going to be a Lanai, he should behave accordingly."
His words and voice were dismissive enough and yet, the cruel glint in his eyes and the unforgiving harshness of his smile spoke of a man who held grudges over literally nothing and Harry knew that even if he complied willingly now with everything done with and to him, he'd be made to pay for his defiance in some way, once (no, if) his position as that man's, Taide's, mate was secured.
"Enough of that for now." The man finally said after a few more moments of silent assessing, straightening his posture. With an elegant flourish, he raised his wand against himself, murmuring a series of "Finite Incantatem!" and with each of them, a small fraction of the carefully erected image of blandness fell away, revealing a thin, almost gaunt face with hawk eyes and a long, thin nose like a raptor's beak.
"Please forgive this charade." He said, in a voice smoother and slicker than it had been before. "But I had to stay on the save side in case you bailed on our agreement. You may call me Valerio." The man inclined his head, his dark eyes never leaving Harry's.
"And this is my wife, Ricarda," with an elegant but curt wave he indicated the woman in the arm chair who didn't give as much as a nod to greet Harry with, only regarding him coolly and Harry found himself despising her almost as much as her husband.
But Valerio already proceeded with the short introductions, commanding Harry's attention as he half turned towards the woman and the man behind him who were still blocking the entrance. "My daughter Alessa and her husband Marco. These gentleman" he gestured to the three other man encircling Harry, "are my brothers Eleuterio and Umberto; and this is Ignazio, a close friend of the family. My uncle Aldo," the man nodded towards the old wizard, "who is here tonight to watch over your wellbeing. As a healer and a Lanai he has specialized in the treatment of Vykélari. Lastly, my youngest child and only son: Taide. Your mate."
Valerio tilted his head, regarding Harry thoughtfully. "Don't concern yourself with trying to memorize any names for now, however. We do have a tight schedule to follow, since my ill-begotten nephew will hardly remain idle and you seem to have some very passionate, well-connected followers yourself." The odd smile froze a bit at the mentioning of such nuisances, but Valerio continued almost casually, as if not wanting Harry's attention to linger on any potential obstacles to his becoming a Lanai. It didn't work entirely, though, and Harry's rebellious streak bloomed like a twig touched by the first mild breaths of spring, even though he couldn't help the anxious, ominous feeling from settling like barbed wire around his intestines as the man spoke again.
"Now." He said with finality. "I will give you the proof you asked for and even more: an incentive that I think will greatly improve your – and our – determination to bring this to a quick conclusion."
Curtly he nodded towards his son before turning swiftly on his heels, striding ahead while Harry was ushered out of the entrance hall with one of Taide's large hands on the small of his back urging him on. Before he even knew what was happening, Harry found himself hustled and pulled through a narrow corridor with a low ceiling, so low that it made him feel even more trapped, surrounded by a mass of bodies as he was, the bodies of his captors.
Then the walls opened suddenly, a wide, wooden door giving way to more open space, the cool night air letting him breathe a bit freer again. Briefly, Harry could glimpse a large, rectangular cloister garden behind a row of pale pillars that glowed in the starlight, then he was past them and the sky unfurled above him like some black, velvety canopy, spotted with sparkling gems of pure light.
In a firm, unrelenting reminder of his damnable presence, Taide's large hand pressed against his back, pushing him forward. Stumbling, Harry was made to follow the course of one of the paths that divided the grass covered ground of the courtyard into a jigsaw of symmetric flower beds and patches of grass and bushes and exotic plants. Everything soon vanished into the night, merging into a colossal body of darkness from which the centre of the cloister garden blazoned forth like a beacon, illuminated by dozens of floating candles. They hovered above a round, cobbled terrace, empty aside from an enlarged two-way-mirror that Harry guessed was the counterpart of the one he had seen in the plane next to his friends. It had to be.
His throat closed off as if someone were choking him with cold, small-boned hands, and Harry's eyes flitted instinctively from that window to his very own nightmare to Valerio and back again. Was that mad lunatic still angry enough to unleash his frustration on 'Mione, on Ron?
It gnawed at his insides, the question eating itself deeper and deeper into his guts like sizzling acid. And when they were barely there, only a few metres parting them from the mirror, he couldn't help but utter a quiet "Don't do it!". Only Taide reacted at all, his hand moving to grasp, and slightly squeeze Harry's upper arm.
But Valerio turned a moment later, taking in Harry briefly, intently as if committing his distress to memory, before facing his wife. A few Italian words were spoken in hushed voices and Taide's grip tightened to the point of being painful, pulling Harry closer against a solid chest. It made Harry's magic stir within his chest, sensing the powerful aura of a dominant, and for a moment Harry feared what the subtle, pervasive compulsion might make him do… ill at ease, he squirmed, trying weakly to get away, but Taide held him close, pushing calming sparks of magic into Harry's skin and it felt all so wrong! Harry had never had anyone but Blaise or Draco do this to him and somehow that tiny bit of magical interaction was already too much, too intimate to bear from someone else, especially in a situation like this.
Half overcome with sickening worry, half with the dizzying nearness of another dominant that had his stomach in knots, Harry searched an anchor in the sight of his friends, fervently reassuring himself that they were alive and had not been tormented further; but they wouldn't even face him and Harry could only hope that they wouldn't hate him for this, and that the pair of devils weren't discussing their demise right at this moment here in front of him. Or more elaborate methods of torture.
He looked back then, to where Valerio and Ricarda stood facing each other, all their considerable focus honed in on the other person as if the world could fall around them and it wouldn't touch the smallest, most insignificant part of their being.
With an air of solemnity and regality, Valerio drew his wand, gracefully steering the thin piece of wood through the air and two small, round pillows of red velvet appeared, glistening in the light of the floating candles like two pools of blood where they lay to Ricarda's and Valerio's feet.
Then, slowly they eased down, almost floating, the rustle of their robes the only noise in the quiet night air, until they kneeled on the ground in that bloody pool of velvet, not once breaking each other's gaze. Each movement was given so much attention, and it all looked so awfully much like the preparation for some kind of ritual that Harry really, really didn't want to witness…
"I believe you!" Harry called out and strained against Taide's hold, unable to let this go on much further. Somehow he knew this would become epically bad. "I don't need a proof!"
Again he was ignored, his stomach cramping painfully as he looked to his friends again – at least they couldn't reach them there, right? Whatever this ritual was supposed to do, it wasn't meant for Hermione or Ron…
But was that really better?
The other woman – Harry had forgotten her name – stepped towards her parents, the pale wood of her own wand still at the ready and pointed at the kneeling pair. At the same moment, Valerio reached out with his right hand, receiving Ricarda's white, delicate hand in his larger, darker one, holding it gently, tenderly. Their daughter stepped closer until the tip of her wand rested where they touched.
Then Ricarda spoke, her voice that carried easily through the night was hard and low, confident and clear.
"Will you, Valerio Lanai, promise to never hold anyone captive who to your knowledge claims an allegiance, friendship or kinship to Harry Potter from the moment that he mates with our son, except in the defence of yourself or your family, friends or allies?"
Harry held his breath for the cruel length of the second it took Valerio to answer, surprise and anxiety warring for dominance in his chest.
"I will." The man said quietly and a thin, read thread of pure light slithered out of the wand held to their joined hands, winding tightly around them.
"Will you promise to never directly or indirectly harm or hurt anyone who to your knowledge calls himself a friend, family member or ally of Harry Potter's from the moment on that he mates with our son, except in the defence of your family, friends, or allies?"
"I will." He answered without hesitation and Harry watched a second thin strand of magic rope around their forearms. Was this how a magical promise was made? Was this … was this an unbreakable vow?
Ricarda glanced towards him then, her eyes gleaming with a cruel malicious spark, too hard to be called gleeful, too intense to be called cold. "And will you, should Mr Potter not have mated with Taide by midday today, do whatever necessary to kill these, your captives," Curtly, she nodded towards the mirror, "as long as it won't endanger you, your family or your allies?"
Harry's heart skipped a beat and his magic erupted in a bright, parching explosion that blazed its trail through his muscles and nerves only to be forced to a sudden stop when it impacted with the unyielding barrier it had been bound with.
"Wait!" Harry called out, straining violently against Taide's hold, throwing his weight against the arms wound around his chest while his magic pulsed furiously under his skin, pushing and pounding. All for naught. "Wait! Don't… damn it, you stupid… I DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO DO IT!" He screamed desperately, the shout ringing through the air.
Valerio turned half-way to face him, determination written into every, grim line of his expression. "I will." And a third tongue of reddish flames licked over their wrists, along their arms, the three threads entwining tightly and sinking into their skin as they both pulled back their hands.
Speechless, Harry slumped into his mate's embrace, trembling with the force of his still twisting and writhing magic as he gaped at the pair. "How could…" he muttered, aghast, forest-green eyes boring uncomprehendingly into Valerio who was helping Ricarda to her feet like the gentleman he really wasn't.
"I don't even…"
"There is no need to uselessly repeat yourself," Valerio interrupted him coldly, "I heard you the first time. You will learn… Harry." He drawled. "It's as simple as that. I am sure a wizard of your stature will have no problem to grasp a concept that should come naturally to you anyway. You are\em a submissive after all. But first," he tilted his head, a twisted expression hushing over the cold façade, "you will give me the portkey you are carrying. We don't want you having to fight such a temptation after all, do we?"
It was as if the world narrowed around Harry, cruelly slowing down to savour the nauseating churning of his stomach that made thinking almost impossible. Even his magic curled back with discomfort.
His hands twitched at his side, one with the desperate desire for his wand, one with the need to hide the sudden heaviness of his one and only escape plan – or perhaps to use it? A word fell from his lips, involuntarily and almost too low to be heard, barely more than a gasp. "Three…"
But more than this first number to activate the portkey would never disturb the nocturnal air. While it might be stupid and naïve Harry couldn't be anything but who he was: loyal and courageous to a fault, a good friend… he couldn't leave Hermione and Ron behind at the mercy of their tormentors, knowing that in a few hours' time they'd be dead. And who knew how long they'd be flying? How long it would take the plane to land so that they could be reached through apparition? Surely too long. Surely the time was chosen so that Harry would have no chance to save them before they'd be slaughtered.
And a second later the choice was taken from him anyway, a silencing charm hitting his very cheek, the flash of energy stinging like a slap to his face. Unprepared, Harry couldn't stop his left hand from jerking forward as someone cast an Accio at the portkey, alerting his captors to its whereabouts and moments later there were hands on his arm, holding him still while someone groped for the invisible band of silver around his wrist, finding it within seconds.
Harry didn't struggle, staying passively in the circle of Taide's arms while glaring coldly at the man who took away the bracelet, the one meaningful gift he had received from the two Slytherins, watching with a clenched jaw as it was destroyed.
Life had been a harsh teacher, but Harry had learned to pick his fights and right now he realised that there was nothing he could do but comply with his blackmailer's, his captor's wishes. At least he now knew that making this sacrifice would not be for naught, even if he could not find real comfort in that fact.
But he'd bide his time and when the right moment arrived, he'd make sure they would pose no danger to anyone anymore, ever again.
The man, Harry thought it was Valerio's son-in-law, frowned at him suspiciously, catching on to the determination in his eyes, but obviously unable to interpret it. Harry didn't care. Should they think what they wanted to.
For now, he'd be good, he'd mate that man like they wanted him to. And in the end he would kill him. Fervently Harry begged whatever deity would care to listen that their feelings and sensations wouldn't blend the moment he'd crush Taide Lanai's body, that he wouldn't have to feel his heart stop beating, his lungs take their last breath… he wasn't entirely sure whether he could stay sane through such an experience.
For Ron and for Hermione, though, he'd go through much worse. Still, something fluttered in his chest like a sickly, dying bird, aching and cold. What was left, was solely driven by the single-minded determination of saving his friends and attaining justice… or revenge. Harry wasn't quite sure whether he could differentiate between the two anymore.
It was downright surreal, how soberly and efficiently they proceeded and explained their actions, and it filled Harry with a crippling consternation and, well… angry hurt, because it seemed to reduce their crimes against him and those, whose immeasurable importance to him couldn't possibly be overestimated, to a triviality, a bagatelle.
It made his skin crawl and bile rise in his throat with pure disgust.
"To relax you and appease your magic." Someone cooed at him as they held him still, forcing that same green and golden liquid down his throat that he had barely evaded earlier. "You will feel much better in just a moment!"
"So that you can properly focus on the essential things." They said as they veiled the two-way mirror with a wide, white cloth, hiding the sight of his tormented friends.
"You need to be physically close" They reasoned as they made him sit down between the legs of his kneeling future mate, his back pressed against the older man's chest, and he was enveloped in strong arms and wings that had the colour of tarnished silver.
"You have to imagine how it will feel like: your magic will join, the barriers of your awareness and perception will blur." They advised when Harry simply didn't know what to do.
"Focus on your magic. It might be wilful but you are its master. Force it to accept your mate!" They ordered him, when Taide's magical advances dripped off his skin like droplets of water from a waxen surface.
"You should better suppress your misgivings, Harry, or we won't be finished in time." They warned coolly. "You have to wish the bond into existence!"
"You need to focus!"
"Allow his magic in!"
"Do it, now!"
Harry flinched at the harsh voice of his future mate, and he held in his stomach as if he could evade Taide's right hand that pressed against him before fanning out, rubbing soothing circles over his skin, the warmth sinking into Harry's body through the thin, silken layer of the dark blue coat he had been given. He wasn't at all comforted.
Almost Harry wished that the damned potion had worked, at least then he might be able to mate the damned asshole and get it over and done with. But as if his magic recognized it as an intruder, it attacked the foreign influence viciously, encapsulating and absorbing it until Harry could think clearly again. Only the golden velvety Hesperide's Nectar burned through his body irresistibly. But instead of dazing him like he feared it would, it strengthened him instead with its invigorating sparks of pure, natural magic, chasing away his weariness and leaving him more alert, yet still filled with rage, disgust and anxiousness and the desperate feeling of being trapped. It felt like being crawled over by millions of ants.
Only an hour ago, he would have cheered at this unexpected, small mercy. But now, when all it did was making him unable to mate, his magic downright refusing to obey him and do something he so obviously loathed, he couldn't help but resent it as he grew ever more tense, because with every passing minute, he could feel Hermione's and Ron's lives slipping through his fingers.
Shrouded in Taide's domineering presence, the tight pressure of his wings and arms around him, the hotness of his breath against his neck, surrounded by his very smell, and with Valerio's cruel, unhelpful comments, Harry couldn't escape that state of mind, however much he tried.
"Let him rest for a few minutes." Taide spoke out behind him. "Then we'll try again."
As Valerio gave his consent in the form of a very curt, displeased nod, the dark wings closed in on him like the gates of his very own, personal hell until he could see nothing but all-embracive blackness and hear only the sound of his own breathing and Taide's and the soft rustling of feathers.
Blaise had held him like this before, Harry remembered reluctantly, his throat closing up, and some part of him wished fervently that he had just mated with him and Draco, then nothing of this would have happened! If only…
Slowly, Taide's hand wandered from his stomach downwards, interrupting the painful thought and Harry tensed as it stroked over his hip and his thigh, to press down on his muscles, an insistent reminder of just where and with whom he was. And what he was supposed to do. But gods, if this perverted asshole thought that Harry would just roll over and let him do whatever he wanted, he had another thing coming!
Harry shook himself, taking a deep breath as he closed his eyes and tried to calm down. If he wanted to see this through, he needed to steer his thoughts away from the anger and disgust, needed to accept the man as his mate. Still, he found his jaw clenching and his hands balled into tight fists as Taide's fingers started to play on his skin, drawing a line down his thigh. Couldn't he just leave him be, for just a few minutes, so that he could catch his bearings? Wasn't that why he had asked Valerio for a break?
The fingers retreated for a moment before moving in a zigzag line over his thigh, purposefully and steadily. It was unsettling, far too intimate, another in a long line of violations he had had to endure this night.
"Please stop." Harry whispered, frustrated, the limit of his endurance reached long ago. But Taide didn't, his forefinger moving in another line over his skin, before drawing an angle.
It was too deliberate, too unemotional. The touches were firm, not at all teasing or exploring… and the realization washed over him with the stunning shock of a bucket of ice-cold water. Harry froze, not quite sure what to think, what to believe, only knowing that the man he hated so much, who wanted to force him to mate him, was trying to secretly pass him a message…
Barely daring to breathe at all, he waited and felt another angle being drawn.
One after the other, Taide wrote the letters on his thigh and even through his wariness and suspicion Harry couldn't entirely smother the sparkle of hope that kindled in his chest at the words he read.
Dear god… Did Taide mean it? Or was this some elaborate attempt to trick Harry so he wouldn't be quite so opposed to mating this very man?
If only he had some possibility of verifying his sincerity… but with his magic caged within his own body, Harry could not even initiate a temporal connection, even if his magic hadn't hissed and boiled in his veins, guarding his body and his magical core with vicious determination, fuelled by the disgust and anger of its owner.
Meanwhile Taide continued to write his letters on Harry's leg with bold, confident lines and curves and with each word, Harry's suspicion faded into disbelief and anxious excitement, his magic sharpening within him, calm and quiet like a predator that had found a new focus.
In the middle of the sentence, Harry turned around incredulously, overcome with the need to see Taide's so solemn eyes, trying to read his thoughts from them. But it was too dark and the Italian was far too good an actor.
Was he aware of just how daring a plan this was, how dangerous? Almost gryffindorish in its nature this plot could – and most likely would – end in Hermione's and Ron's certain death, maybe even Harry's, or, however unlikely, it could mean their escape. Nothing in between. In any case it would culminate in nothing short of a contest of determination, the outcome of which depended on so many circumstances Harry couldn't possibly predict with his very limited knowledge about his enemy… he was highly disadvantaged.
But it had the tiniest chance of succeeding: if he managed to take Taide captive without a weapon, if his captor's valued his life and integrity enough to not attack him straightaway, if Valerio thought him capable of hurting his youngest child, his only son. If the cold-hearted bastard even cared at all about his children… If all of that was true, then it would lever out the unbreakable vow, which stated that in the case of an unsuccessful mating Valerio had to kill his friends as long as his family, friends and allies wouldn't be endangered.
It was only a dim ray of hope, but when had that ever stopped Harry? Of course agreeing to a risky act of recklessness like this would look like nothing short of an act of desperation, but then, Harry was desperate. At least if he did this, he could honestly claim that he had tried everything. And fortune favoured the brave.
With no further hesitation, Harry grasped the hand resting on his thigh and squeezed it tightly, the warm skin a stark contrast to his clammy, slightly damp fingers. Hopefully it would suffice as a sign of his consent, he couldn't possibly speak with all these keen-eared Vykélari dominants close by.
Immediately Taide drew back his hand and Harry frowned uneasily. Had he been misunderstood? Anxiously he was about to turn around, but before he could do so, there was the sharp, firm pressure of a wand at his neck. Harry's eyes widened in surprise as a spray of magic hit him, cold enough that it prickled uncomfortably at his skin like the painfully icy rain on a cold February day, and the binding collar snapped open soundlessly.
Harry would never be able to describe the overwhelming sensation that swamped him as the thin barrier that had covered him like a second skin, encapsulating his body like a plastic bag under vacuum, was soaked right back into the band of metal around his throat, drawing back inch by inch. It was as if his skin was suddenly able to breathe again after being covered by sticky tar for hours, as if a terrible weight that had smothered him, pressing down on every square centimetre of his body, had been torn off of him, as if he had been drowning and had been rescued, picked out of the water to find himself surrounded by light, fresh air, soaring, floating…
Free like a basilisk that had been caged for centuries to now be released on unsuspecting victims and rip them apart, those who deserved it!
Within Harry, the clouds of magic, the volatile and impermanent mists and sparks that had a tendency to solidify into streams and swirls only sporadically, condensed at once without warning to form sharp, gleaming needles that were pulled faster and faster towards his centre like stars that came too close to a black hole. Harry gasped, sensing the tension, the maleficent intent and excitement that was his own, partly at least, but unchecked – unhindered – by mercy, by understanding and morals. Like an implosion his magic drew together all at once but it wouldn't stop, he could see it clearly: with the incredible acceleration of speed with which his magic was rushing towards its invisible centre, it would pass it and fly in the opposite direction, unleashing its ferocious fury on whatever stood in its way.
Harry's arms flew out to encompass his chest as if he could hold in the powerful force, because it would slaughter Taide as well, and it was wrong and it would not reach the man holding Hermione and Ron captive, leaving them at the mercy of someone who had been ordered to kill them if anything went awry.
It all happened in the blink of an eye and it was simply not enough time to stop it entirely, but Harry set himself against the flood with single-minded, desperate determination, gathering as much of his magic as he could to redirect most of the attack, pushing the pulsing streams into a tight coil that lead back to himself, into a frighteningly energetic maelstrom of magic that raged within his chest, making his heart jump and race, his lungs drawing air until they were close to bursting.
The excess – still more than any wizard should possess – exploded out of Harry, pushing away Taide's wings and throwing him to the ground and out of harm's way before racing over the courtyard like a shockwave, seizing dust and leaves and blowing it into his captor's faces. Stones rolled over the pathways with a loud clatter and branches and thinner trees and bushes creaked and cracked as they snapped and were defoliated in the darkness.
But wherever it happened upon living flesh, it gathered together into a concentrated, powerful attack, delivering hard, spiteful punches and sharp stabs so that pained and shocked outcries conquered the general clamour. Hastily whipped up magical shields lasted for mere seconds before being perforated entirely, leaving their casters at the non-existent mercy of the very force they had tried to bind. More than one of his captors were swept off their feet as if they weighted nothing, those who barely managed to keep their footing, were forced back several steps, struggling against the unnatural wind and trying as best as they could to protect their faces.
It were images that burned themselves into Harry's mind, glorious, terrible images of chaos and destruction that he had caused, that was deserved and yet not justifiable. Heady and appalling. Applauded and condemned by equally strong parts of his being, the realisation of how rogue he could be driven to be felt like a ball-lightning in is chest.
There was Ricarda lying on the ground with her pale arms held protectively above her head as scarlet blossomed around small slashes in her fair dress. Like poppies so red and beautiful, and she twitched and turned but couldn't escape the razors of pale blue-white light that danced around her.
Only metres away her daughter skidded over the rough pathway, pushed further and further viciously while the abrasion first ate at her clothing and then her skin. Desperately her husband tried to reach the screaming woman as she passed him, having managed to hold onto one of the thicker trees, but at the critical moment, when their hands were about to touch, Harry's magic sharpened into invisible knives around them with vindictive glee, cleaving open the skin on the back of their hands and she was pulled into the darkness kicking and crying and screaming.
Meanwhile Eleuterio was cajoled into the waiting, thorny arms of a now naked rose bush, his wand falling from his bleeding fingers as he was punched and pushed and forcefully entangled within the spikey boughs.
The other man, the Lanai's friend that Harry couldn't even remember the name of, had caught himself after rolling a few meters, trying again and again to keep the Protego shields stable around him, only to fail and be battered down by Harry's revengeful magic as if it pleased it to see him strive desperately against the forces raging around him and watching him lose.
How it blazed with unholy satisfaction within him, humming and swirling boldly in his ribcage. It burned his horror away and whispered to Harry of the necessity of making an example, showing the world that this was the deserved prize for messing with a submissive like him, for it had obviously forgotten. And the rampage now was only the beginning, he would paint this garden blood red and plant a seed of fear so strong that no one would ever dare to hurt him or his loved ones ever again! This, this was his canvas, waiting to be covered with the symbols of his rage and power.
If he would only allow his magic free reign – artistic liberties – if he'd only unleash its fury unbridled… It would be the easiest and most effective way, wouldn't it? To just destroy his kidnappers and torturers, these criminals, who deserved nothing else anyway… and be safe.
For a terrible moment that he would hate himself later for, Harry was enchanted by that possibility, but it was something that he had been yearning for so desperately for such a long time, who could anyone fault him for wanting it, whatever the cost: sweet and peaceful and everlasting safety?
To that end he whipped his head left and right with a furiously beating heart, searching for the main culprit, his main target, but Valerio wasn't to be detected anywhere in the wreckage that had once been a doubtlessly beautiful garden. Where he had stood close to the two-way-mirror – the one exception to the circle of destruction Harry had drawn around him – was no one but the old wizard who was fighting with desperation and failing strength against the magical storm that the young, cornered submissive had whipped up. It was a futile endeavour from the start and suddenly what little weight the elderly wizard had to help him breast the furious wind was not enough anymore and he was thrown down with the terrible force of Harry's magic. The old, wrinkled eyes widened in fear as he fell for two endless seconds with a rough shout, before impacting hard with the ground haplessly so that his head hit the cobbled terrace.
His frail body slithered over the stones and came to lie in a heap in front of the veiled mirror, the fierce wind still tearing at his clothes and white hair and the equally white curtain behind him.
The sight was like breaking through the cracking ice sheet of a frozen lake, submerging into the painfully cold water and suddenly every thought of revenge was drowned along with Harry, the influence of his magic softening and dissolving until it was like the ominous, energetic potential in the air shortly before a thunder storm, leaving the young submissive behind to stare in speechless consternation at the havoc he had wreaked. And at that violently fluttering, eerily white cloth.
Behind this very curtain his best friends – the heart and soul of his very existence – were still at the hands of their tormentor, possibly awaiting their execution or, god forbid, already dead because he, Harry, was too busy taking revenge and committing murder to follow a simple one-sentence plan! Worse, without even a sparkle of remorse in his chest.
It was chilling and sickening, wrong and unnatural… and some part of him, half-buried and smothered under the humming of his magic knew that this was not who he was, not who he wanted to be, not who he needed to be for Ron and Hermione's sake.
And that part realised with nauseating certainty that the time was running short as well: the destructive storm was already toning down, the cacophony of wind and magic and screams was gradually dying away while the tempest of dust and leaves dissolved, the particles fluttering to the ground like dancing ghosts.
If he wanted to save Hermione and Ron, and himself, then it was now or never.
Snarling with angry, anxious determination, Harry turned around quickly, his green eyes flitting to Taide who lay helplessly on the ground, both of the enormous, dark silver wings splayed out to either sides. It would take effort for him to rise from that position, that much was obvious, he couldn't even use his arms to brace himself, with the heavy feathery appendages in the way; only his head was cocked, aghast eyes set on the still form of his grandfather.
Harry shook himself, letting his emotions freeze over as best as he could; it wasn't even the slightest bit difficult. Battles he understood. Fighting he understood. Duels with madmen preceded by useless talking that everyone pretended to be negotiations or attempts at intimidation that were bound to fall onto deaf ears, but which everyone knew to be stalling.
It didn't take a genius to recognize that this was the wrong time for hesitancy or guilt, the wrong time for compassion. Already his captors were picking themselves up, some searching for their wands; Harry could hear groans and healing charms being cast…
He needed to have his hostage now! And he needed it to look real.
Quickly Harry buried his hand in the grass to his sides, his lengthening claws sinking deeply into the soft ground. Then, with a sudden jerk he ripped them out again, taking the green blades and a good deal of soil and roots with him, and threw it directly at Taide's face.
The man whipped his arms up to protect himself but not quickly enough. Dirt and small stones and grass hit him directly in the face and he spluttered, throwing his head to the side and clenching his eyes shut, even as his hands moved to rub them clean again, leaving him helpless and unable to react.
Exploiting that defencelessness, the young Gryffindor jumped up nimbly, throwing himself onto his liberator, straddling his waist, his knees ramming painfully into the downy feathers, fragile bones and strong muscles with bruising force, making the man groan out and convulse in pain. Harry almost cringed – he hadn't wanted to hurt him – but he didn't allow himself to be distracted and before Taide had even managed to get the dirt out of his eyes, Harry had his deadly talons at his throat, gleaming with cold sharpness and sizzling poison in the dark night, threatening the fragile skin that moved with each swallow, each too fast heartbeat.
"Lie still!" Harry hissed half ordering, half begging, hoping for the older man to somehow forgive him his roughness and play along. He knew that it was all too likely that his one and only ally thought he would kill them all, what with the shattered remains of the garden surrounding them, Taide's family injured and scattered, especially his grandfather who might very well be dead; and if the older Vykélari decided to resist him…
But Taide only went completely stiff and still beneath him, his narrow lips drawn into a tight line and his eyes clenched shut against the dirt on his face, his expression distorted into a pained grimace.
"Just lie still." Harry repeated, and this time it was less of an order and more of a plea.
His talons gleamed against the paler skin of Taide's throat, dark grey and deadly. Flexing them to almost scratch the vulnerable flesh, Harry suddenly wondered whether he was capable of forcing them to sink in and tear and rip. The image flashed before his eyes, his mouth going dry.
He really didn't know. Never had he truly harmed an innocent. Never… but he'd never had to weigh up his friends' lives against that of an innocent bystander either.
Preying it wouldn't come to that, and mindful of the sensitive wings Harry lightened his own weight to reduce the hurtful pressure of his knees on the fragile appendages; and he reached out, letting a small wave of liquid magic wash over the other's skin, fresh and clean, taking away the harsh soil with a gentle caress. It was as much a peace offering as an inquiry: Harry needed to know whether this was turning into an actually real hostage situation, whether he needed to prepare for Taide to fight him as well.
Slowly, carefully the dominant's agate eyes blinked open and Harry unwillingly held his breath, only for his stomach to drop as he caught sight of the stony coldness and wariness within. He swallowed the bitter disappointment that wanted to rise in his throat, his chest tightening as if a giant screw clamp was about to shatter his sternum.
Here he was, with the only person willing to help him save his friends and Harry had managed to turn the man against him in little over a minute!
It didn't matter, though, not really. Harry wouldn't allow it to matter!
Determinedly, Harry took a deep breath, before shouting "Valerio!", never taking his eyes away from the green, brown, and golden ones beneath him, his voice hard and unforgiving and confident, even though his heart felt as if it wanted to hammer its way out of his body through his throat.
Taide grew even stiller beneath him, swallowing drily. There was a certainty in the harsh lines of his angular face, in the cold agate of his eyes and Harry absently wondered what it was, even while he let his expression draw into a grimace of hate and anger and he called out again. "VALERIO!"
His voice carried far further than it should have, as if he had cast an amplifying charm. "COME OUT!" It echoed through the garden, rough and wild like the roar of a big cat, and Valerio's impassive answer, when it finally came, was a stark contrast. A cooling charm on a burn wound.
"I am here."
Harry felt his heart skip a beat, the well-known anticipation of facing off with an enemy pooling in his stomach and laying itself like an armour around him. Careful to not loosen his hold on Taide, or show those fiends any weakness, Harry turned to look over his shoulder, his gaze searching the lean, hawk-faced man who stepped forth from behind the looming shadow of the two-way mirror. Valerio Lanai, tall and upright with pride and malice and confidence even now; and worst of all: unscathed, his clothes still tidy and pristine. Of course the sneaky bastard had hidden away safely while Harry was smashing everything and everyone else.
It was not difficult to muster the disgust and rage to fuel his determination, and Harry snarled at the man, his claws curling threateningly against Taide's throat. "Let my friends go, Valerio, and I won't have to butcher your son!"
Valerio craned his neck, glancing down at the still body of his uncle, his lips distorting into something ugly for a moment or two. Then he clicked his tongue in displeasure, raising his intent gaze to Harry's, full of unyielding determination.
"Are you certain that you want to play this game with me, Harry?"
If he hadn't been prepared for it to happen, Harry knew he would have cringed or frozen for a possibly fatal second when with a sudden flick of his wand, Valerio let the heavy, white curtain flutter to the ground, burying the old wizard's fallen body in a heap of cloth and folds and opening the plane's inner abdomen to the night, the place that had become his friends' torture chamber.
The horror of the scene had deepened and sharpened, tearing into Harry with invisible teeth and claws. No longer were his friends cowering on the dark carpet, and no longer was that obscure unknown third party hidden away from the visual range of the two-way mirror.
Instead, the vulture like man stood behind the strung out bodies of Ron and Hermione with his head held high, a cruel smirk tugging at his thin lips. His eyes that were half hidden behind a curtain of long, dark hair, gleamed as they beheld the sight of Harry's friends with malicious glee, his friends that were pressed flat against the mirror, their hands tied behind them. With barely half a metre between their bodies, they were forced to look at each other, their cheeks pressed closely to the glass of the mirror, distorting their expressions grotesquely. But it didn't take away from the look of desperation, fear and pain that seemed to have been permanently burned into the faces that he knew so well, like the brand mark of a nightmare.
For a moment Harry almost, almost lost his composure, horror and nausea and pain taking over his thinking, making his heart stutter and race and his breathing catch because those two pair of beloved eyes did not even fucking blink or move at all!
But then he saw it: clouds of moisture condensing on the glass as their breath fogged up the mirror between them, mingling and meeting in the middle, just as their gazes did as they were forced to witness the fate, the struggling and torture of the other, the love of their life. And wasn't that a whole new level of sick?
At that moment, ruthlessly exploiting Harry's distraction, a beam of red light shot towards his bent back and if he hadn't partly expected such a guileful move, it might have successfully hit and incapacitated him. But Harry's antsy and restless magic felt the fast approaching spell like a shark's ampullae of Lorenzini would sense the electrical fields around a prey's body, or a bird of passage sensed magnetic currents. His skin crawled ominously and his hackles rose; without wasting a single thought, Harry whipped up a bright blue protection shield that effortlessly absorbed the stunner.
Shocked silence reigned in the garden for a few, endless seconds while the powerful currents within Harry rose in defence of their owner, flaring and blazing, a fiery tornado birthed from a firestorm raging out of control, frightening and deadly. The fury streaming through his body felt like its own living entity within him, detached from his logic and his mind, but not less real for it, not less powerful and it was all he could do to keep it contained, to not let his magic rip out of his chest.
His fingers trembled from the strain and the intensity of the feeling, the fear of losing control, causing him to nick the fragile skin on Taide's throat and making the man tense beneath him, a barely contained gasp escaping his lips. Immediately Harry recoiled his fingers an inch or two, guilt, anger, regret, fear and consternation tugging at his head until he could feel the pressure behind his temples. With his free hand he squeezed Taide's shoulder as much as a reminder to stay still and quiet as in apology – even if the gesture was lost on his hostage.
He needed to get this over with sooner rather than later… or else Harry couldn't guarantee that he'd be able to keep his magic back.
Quickly, he threw an intense glare at his attacker, taking in Ricarda's fragile form standing in front of him with her wand raised at his chest, pale and wide-eyed with a mother's fear and splattered with her own blood. He snarled at her ferociously, unfazed by her pitiful appearance.
"Do not try that again, if you want him to live!"
She didn't move, a frozen, blood-splattered statue in front of ravaged and torn bushes and so Harry strained to look over his shoulder again, letting the feathers in his hair sharpen and lengthen to form an emerald crown on top of coal black strands, his vibrant green markings bleeding out of his skin, making his eyes glow in the darkness.
Valerio raised a critical eyebrow but Harry didn't care whether his captors thought it improper, it was a threat and it made him feel taller, bolder, more powerful. And using his magic so visibly as a form of intimidation helped to settle its raging fury at least somewhat, enough to focus.
"If you hurt them, I'll drive my claws into his throat," he snarled, "see how potent that poison really is. And I'd still have all of you as hostages."
Valerio pursed his lips derisively, his long fingers twisting at his side. "Brave words for someone with the reputation of trying everything to not damage his enemies permanently."
Harry glared venomously. This wouldn't be the first time that his penchant for sparing his opponents would come back to bite him, and Harry had to give this devil his due, he had done his homework. But what Valerio and many of his enemies failed to understand was that the Battle of Hogwarts had changed him, had made him realise that there were situations where a swift kill could save lives. All those deaths of children that might have been prevented if he – or others – had fought with more determination, had used more offensive than defensive spells… no, Harry had learned from his mistakes and though he would do everything to keep Taide alive, he would do even more to save Ron and Hermione. Add to that the fact that his friends had been tortured in front of his eyes, and Harry wasn't quite so sure whether mercy was still an option.
"My past enemies have rarely had the opportunity to torture my friends and those who did are all dead now. Don't underestimate me, Valerio!"
The man huffed once in what might have been disbelief but he sobered up rather quickly, maybe too quickly. Up to now Valerio had taunted and humiliated him and treated him like a brainless child that he expected to obey and submit to each of his whims…
Now he straightened his posture, his eyes flitting around over the chaos in the courtyard, dwelling a moment on each of his family members who were starting to drag themselves out and towards the centre of the garden, and with it Harry and Valerio and that damnable mirror. Grave and wary the head of the Lanai family looked as he contemplated the young submissive and it made Harry nervous, made his hackles rise. Something was off, something was not… adding up and he couldn't stop his heartbeat from racing, his eyes from trying to keep every one of these bastards in his sight. Not that that was possible.
Finally Valerio spoke, his voice urgent and almost beseeching, like a negotiator trying to reason with a kidnapper (and by god, Harry thought a bit hysterically, that was exactly what he had become, wasn't it?), like an animal trainer taming a wild, skittish horse.
"No matter what you do, it won't change the fact that you have to mate, and soon."
Valerio spread his arms as if to encompass the entirety of the destruction Harry had caused. "Look around you, submissive! Look what you have done! You can't control your magic without a mate. You have to mate! Why not Taide?"
Disbelieving and outraged, Harry snorted.
"Fuck you, Valerio! Everything would be better than mating one of your wretched family! Now release my friends!"
With a quiet, disparaging smirk, the older man leaned forward conspiratorially.
"And which family would you rather be mated into? Malfoy? Zabini?"
Harry trembled with anger and he couldn't even regret it. How dare he? How dare that man, who had had his best friends kidnapped and tortured, who had blackmailed Harry and belittled him, trying to force him to mate his son… how could that man stand there and think that he could be on the same level as Draco or Blaise?
"They are better than the Lanais by far!" He sneered with utter conviction.
At that, Valerio huffed in sharp, acid amusement. "So you think yourself in love with them?" He mocked, a quiet laugh erupting from his thin lips. It looked stilted, calculated and so very out of place. "You do, don't you? Oh you poor thing. Driven by your own magic and mating instincts and you don't even know it."
"Shut up!" Harry snarled. He didn't want to hear the foul lies, he only wanted his friends free! Only wanted to return to Lanai, no Zabini manor, back to Blaise and Draco; he was safe with them and he liked them. He liked them! Who the hell was Valerio to tell him otherwise?
But the man wasn't finished by far and he kept on ranting, gibing. "Do you think they love you? Well, let me tell you this: love is a capricious feeling, and easily manipulated by magic. The affection you feel is only an illusion," he spat, his voice full of cold anger, "and it will fade as soon as you find a worthier mate. They have snared you."
Harry turned half away, the accusations and horrible claims leaving him more shaken than he wanted to admit, because he had feared the same thing only two days ago, after Blaise had dazzled him with that colourful display of his magical prowess. Hadn't his own magic whispered to him of all the numerous virtues of the two dominants who had lead him through his inheritance? It had appealed to him to submit to them, had made them seem more honourable than they perhaps were…
And Harry had… Harry had grown to like them.
It made him want to scream and weep and rave and deny it all. His magic was seething, wriggling within his stomach like a ball of hissing, agitated snakes that wanted to strike!
"How long have you been my nephew's guest? Four days? Do you really think that is a sufficient amount of time to fall in love? Especially with those two?" Valerio asked, confident and smug. "You and that Malfoy boy fought on different sides of a war two months ago; given the opportunity he would have killed you. And all the while my nephew hid in some hole like the cowardly fool that he is!"
The denial ripped out of Harry before he even had thought it through, regardless of knowing that the accusations were not baseless.
"Don't speak abou…"
Valerio whipped one arm up as if to declare Harry a hopeless case of idiocy.
"Look at you:" he scoffed, "so protective of someone so undeserving! Almost unable to mate another, because your magic is already so used to theirs. And why? Because they helped you through your inheritance when you were at your weakest! Like a hatchling imprinting on the first thing it sees… "
"STOP IT!" Harry shouted, unable to take more, unsure what was true and what was not, but uncaring all the same. Whether or not he had feelings for Draco and Blaise, whether or not they were true, it didn't change the fact that he wouldn't allow himself to become a pawn of this man, to be used and exploited as he saw fit. It didn't change the fact that his friends were still in danger.
Still his voice, his entire being shivered with upset as he addressed Valerio, his entire attention focused on the man.
"It is none of your damn business. Now let my friends go or I swear I'll kill him and if you think I won't do it, think again! He wouldn't be the first man I killed."
Had Harry not been so upset and unsettled, had his magic not clouded his mind with anger and the almost unbearable urge to attack, he might have noticed how Valerio's attention shifted for a short moment to a spot behind Harry, exchanging a meaningful glance with someone there, how the man gripped his wand tighter and subtly changed his stance as if readying himself for an attack.
But Harry remained oblivious of the threat. A fatal mistake.
"Harry." Valerio said, trying for calming and soothing but ending up patronizing. "I cannot let them – and you – leave now, and have you run to the guardia. I won't see my family thrown into prison."
Suddenly his expression became harsh and grim, transforming into a cruel mask of violence and determination and he flicked his wand, which spew out red glowing sparks like the spray of blood that followed a bullet to the head.
And behind him the vulture like man in the mirror swung his wand-arm back as if he were cracking a whip, a maniacal, gleeful grin on his face; Harry could see him aim and his entire being just stopped for that one horrible second. As the crimson light sprung forth from the tip of that thin wood, Harry jumped up mindlessly, abandoning his hostage and running, rushing desperately towards the mirror, his magic breaking from his chest dashing against the shiny surface, reaching for it, trying to follow the mirror's magic along the connection to its counterpart.
But he couldn't, he couldn't and when he was still metres away, the red light circled the pale, smooth column of Ron's throat, dotted with freckles, and it squeezed! It cut into flesh and sinews and through arteries. Spurts of blood, equally as red and gleaming as the curse, splattered against the mirror and Hermione's chest, pumped out of the large incision by each beat of Ron's yet strong heart.
Harry opened his mouth to scream, wordless, mindless, desperate, horrified screams full of agony but nothing came out and suddenly the world tilted and Harry fell, barely catching himself on all fours, scraping his knees and the balls of his hands. Only then did the pain register, searing and blinding and bright and he looked down his chest and stomach, not surprised to see the gleaming tip of a dagger protruding from his lower abdomen, smeared and dropping with crimson.
Gasping, Harry fell to his side, groaning at the sudden pain as he hit the ground. He could sense his magic draw close around him, feeling it condense around the wound, a warm and pulsing and fluid thing that tried valiantly to push out the sharp blade and close the deep cut.
But the streams of sparkles were pulled closer to the metal with growing strength and speed and they were absorbed without taking effect, sucked right into the cursed thing. Harry didn't understand it at first, his thoughts too raw and hurt, too agitated… and it didn't seem as important as the sight that hit him if he twisted his head just so: there was Ron, his Ron and Harry could see the way he gurgled and gasped for breath that he couldn't draw – his killer must have cancelled the magical paralysis to delight in his victim's agony – and he could see him cough and spit and try to get rid of all the blood that was running into his lung, could see him twitch and writhe in pain and fear and he was dying! He was dying and Harry could only watch! Could only watch until those watery blue eyes finally stopped their mad dance, and his so familiar features went lax.
Harry wailed and screamed, convulsing around the dagger deeply imbedded in him, feeling his magic trickle softly into the cold metal, but the physical pain and loss were insignificant, paling in comparison to the other loss he was experiencing at this very moment and he couldn't care less that he was haemorrhaging, both blood and magic streaming out of his body.
Ron's corpse fell to the ground, collapsing into a heap of long limps as his killer released him from his levitation spell, like a puppet that had its strings cut. Harry stared and stared helplessly, his vision swimming from the upwelling tears, and he couldn't breathe from the sudden feeling of emptiness within him, the smothering, crushing weight of grief and loss and anger. His chest was so tight, his ribcage and his lungs started to ache, the hurtful sensation mingling with the agony in his stomach and heart.
He couldn't breathe!
Seven years, seven years of battling trolls and monsters together and Death Eaters and Dark Lords, of surviving against all odds only to be cut down and slaughtered like a pig!
The pain and rage consumed him and he didn't even notice the dark presence at his side until strong, bony fingers grasped his chin in a vice-like grip, forcing him to tear his gaze away from the gruesome sight of his best friend's bloody form and towards the pale oval of Valerio's expressionless face. Ron's murderer.
"Don't try to use your magic, sottomesso, or you will be drained." The man advised gravely, voice hard, before tiling his head sideways and calling out "Find me that collar!"
Desolately, Harry shook his head out of the other's firm grip, desperation taking over as he heard scurrying feet rushing to do the man's bidding. Ron was dead and Hermione would soon join that fate and he'd be collared again. For what?
For the sick pleasure and greed of a madman who wanted to enslave him. Tears of rage and grief clouded his eyes and overflowed, pouring down his cheeks and dropping to wet the tiles beneath his head. No, Harry couldn't live like this…
Desperately he tried to raise his magic, tried to concentrate the clouds of sparks within his body into streams that he could grip and wield but as soon as he did, they were sucked away from his control, sucked into the vortex that was forming around the blade, a maelstrom that ripped everything away, his blood, his magic, his consciousness, leaving only white-hot agony and a bone-deep weariness. His limps were heavy and numb and too cold.
"Put it on him and kill the girl." Valerio ordered quietly, so damn quietly and Harry didn't know whether to scream or sob.
Weakly he craned his neck, catching a glimpse of Hermione's still immobilized form, seeing silent tears fall from her dark eyes, her breath clouding the mirror in quick, uneven gasps. Sweet, noble-hearted Hermione who had had to witness her love die, who was about to be butchered herself, the man behind her already raising his wand…
Rage and hate flooded Harry, swamping his body, leaving enough room only for a single realisation, a single desire, a single vision.
They would die here! They would all die here and there was nothing he could do to change that anymore.
The only thing left for him to decide or affect was how he wanted to go down and by god, he couldn't allow these murderers to get away with all that they had done! He'd avenge his friends, if it was the last thing he would do!
He'd kill these bastards for all they had done, he'd tear into them with savage hate, cut off their limps inch by inch and rip their stomachs open and cook them in their own blood with the pure force of his magic!
With unconquerable determination, Harry ripped at his magic, tore at it with mindless abandon and with a sudden lurch he overcame the pull of the cursed dagger. Forcefully, he pushed it all out of his body, not bothering to keep any for himself. He reared up as he convulsed, the feeling of loss, of magical exhaustion hitting him more fiercely than even during his inheritance.
A heavy coldness seeped into his flesh, his fingers and toes, crawling up his limps and into his torso, leaving only deadness behind. Finally it was too much and Harry vomited violently, black shadows pouring from his mouth: his magic, permeated with hate and ruthlessness, driven by the overwhelming need for revenge.
CHAPTER END NOTES:
Uhm… yeah. No lynching the author, okay, not till she had the chance to save the day, alright? In any case: I didn't warn for major character death. And I didn't do so for a reason.
So, I really hope you liked the chapter (I think 'enjoy' is probably the wrong word, considering all the blood and gore and violence), and I really look forward to your opinions!