A HUGE thank you to those of you who reviewed. I actually had enough time to get away and write! As a treat, I set up a portfolio of the fan art a few readers have created for this story. It may/may not be on my profile by the time you read this. They are all really nice pieces. Thanks to the artists ;)
13. Chapter Thirteen
Catching up to the carriage proved easier than Harry imagined.
Once he was within distance of the carriage, he Apparated inside, appearing out of thin air in the seat across from Ciel and Sebastian. He startled the boy enough to earn a gasp from the normally impassive façade. Harry supposed he couldn't blame the boy, as it was an abrupt appearance. Though, he couldn't help but to be vindictively amused.
Until frustration took its place.
"What are you doing?" Harry hissed. Leaning forward, he barely gave the Earl enough room to breathe. He grabbed the carriage seat on either side of Ciel and peered closely into the single blue eye. "Have you gone insane?"
From the corner of his eye, he was well aware of the dark, threatening aura coming from the demon. Sebastian was an unmoving form, his eyes piercing as they watched Harry. From the eyes of his watchful crows, Malphas knew perfectly well that his mark was gone from Harry. And he knew that Death had been the one to remove it. Yet he had enough restraint and pride to keep silent on the subject in front of Ciel, choosing to convey his displeasure through an unnerving stare.
Harry ignored him, his stomach clenching hotly as he remembered Death's words. Though, dwelling on it now wouldn't do any good. He had to brush off the situation with Sebastian in favor of focusing on the spoiled brat across from him.
"You have the audacity to call me insane?" Ciel inquired haughtily, recovering from Harry's sudden appearance. "You have a larger claim to insanity than I can ever hope to achieve."
"That's neither here nor there," Harry shot back, inclining closer to Ciel's face. Their noses were nearly touching and Harry refused to give the uncomfortable Earl personal space. "I knew you wanted to die, kid. I just thought you wanted to die by the hand of a parasitic demon, not a Muggle hag."
"Sebastian, eject Harrison from the carriage!"
"You're pride is getting in the way of your common sense," Harry continued. Sebastian wouldn't expel him unless it was a direct order from Ciel. "You have power, I understand that. You don't need to do something so risky to prove it to me. The Queen is trying to kill you."
"I am not trying to prove anything to you," Ciel argued. "Her Majesty wouldn't—"
"Will you quit calling her that?" Harry sighed and moved away, slouching in his seat across from the two. He placed a hand against his forehead and closed his eyes briefly. "You're wrong. She would kill you. What's an Earl to a Queen? Nothing but a useful pawn until he is disposable."
"You don't understand the intricate that is politics."
"Oh?" Harry exhaled in amusement. Crossing his legs, he leveled Ciel with a look of skepticism. All his frustration seemed to wane and thin. He was just so tired. "I am very curious to know what a ten-year-old—"
"… boy knows about politics that a one hundred and fifty-year-old man does not. Please. Enlighten me." He raised his eyebrows, patiently waiting for a response. When a minimal, barely-there flush stained the tips of the boy's ears, Harry withheld another sigh. "I understand you have a reputation to live up to, Ciel. I also understand that you are intelligent, manipulative, and cunning. You are a formable enemy to have, I respect that."
"Don't try to patronize me," Ciel whispered chillingly. His single eye narrowed as it regarded Harry. "You can spout all the compliments you'd like, but we both know I am nothing compared to you and your power. Your regard means nothing to me. If anything, it's insulting."
Harry stared at him before looking out the window. They were close to the palace, in fact, he could see it from his viewpoint. It didn't seem as if he'd successfully convince Ciel to stop his madness before they arrived at the Queen's lair. "You may think wizards are indestructible, but alas, we are human just as well." His fingers grabbed the Resurrection Stone out of habit and began stroking it lovingly. "Wizards carry a great deal of power. And with power comes corruption, which only serves to make us weak and susceptible to attacks." He pinned Ciel with a stare. "Your Queen has power and your Queen is corrupted."
"That means she is weak and susceptible to attacks, just as you said." Ciel's eye brightened. "She called on me. I had to accept the call. I could not hide in my manor. I'm going to play on her vulnerabilities and her power-hungry tendencies. If the topic is broached, I will sympathize with her attempts of bringing back the dead. I can also tell her I have a powerful wizard on my side and I will do everything in my power to aid her. She will be intrigued at the notion of having a wizard close at hand."
Harry narrowed his eyes on the boy. "I do not appreciate being used as a pawn."
Ciel opened his eye wide, a sort of mocking innocence lightening his face. "But you said you'd help me," he said in child-like helplessness before ruining the image and smirking sinisterly.
Harry voiced his disgust. "I have my own problems. I need to find a Dark Lord and I need to find out the extent of his allegiances with the Ministry and the Queen. Not to mention whom the demon is working for because he or she seems to be helping out the Ministry and the Dark Lord and just about everyone else. And let's not forget the pile of corpses…"
He knew the Queen had experimented on the bodies, but where did said bodies go? Were they the ones Malfoy had hidden in his manor? Or were those their own separate batch? Above all else, he needed to know how the murdered Auror trainees were tied into all this. The Muggle families they were sent to 'watch' or 'protect' had a direct hand in the Queen's experiments and the Queen had wanted to destroy the evidence of her wrongdoings, effectively wiping out the people who had aided her.
Harry was fairly certain he had a solid understanding of the Muggle side to this mystery. But Undertaker told Harry a man, Oliver Felix, who was the squib brother-in-law of Malfoy, was the Queen's direct advisor. Was he whispering in her ear on the Dark Lord's behalf? Was her decision to orchestra experiments her own selfish desire or had the Dark Lord somehow been involved?
It was a mess. And Harry intended to capture Oliver Felix for answers. It was what he had wanted to do before he found out Ciel made a foolhardy trip to London to visit the Queen.
"Does that mean you'll agree to be a pawn?" Ciel inquired casually.
Harry glanced at Sebastian, uneasy with the crimson stare he was receiving. The demon had a vacant look on his face, as if he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings. There was something extremely sinister brewing behind those eyes, as if he were envisioning something that was gruesomely and spine-chillingly horrifying. What was worse, the stare was directed at Harry in particular, an unspoken promise that whatever Malphas was envisioning had everything to do with Harry.
He pursed his lips, giving the demon a cool stare before turning back to Ciel. "I will make sure your visit to the Queen leaves you unscathed."
It wasn't an agreement to be a pawn, but it was a promise for protection. Ciel knew it for what it was and simply nodded, pleased with Harry's response. "The Queen does not favor public executions of her men, or at least she doesn't favor executions inside her own palace. I don't expect to be faced with any obstructions. I will be able to manipulate the Queen's favor of me."
Harry simply grunted, not in favor of approving obstruction-free plans unless they actually turned out to be as the name implied.
They arrived on the cobble path in front of the Buckingham Palace. As an expected guest of the Queen, Ciel was greeted cordially, escorted from his carriage with a graceful flourish. Harry followed after the guards and the servants, Sebastian falling into step besides him. They entered the ridiculously lavish palace, the amount of gold décor and crushed velvet almost blinding Harry. The sheer quantity of ornate furniture and designs made his eyes cross-eyed in disgust. He favored the architecture of the palace, but often time, over-decoration ruined it.
They were led through the sprawling structure before entering an open courtyard. The number of crimson-clad guards marching the perimeter of the courtyard was suspiciously many. Harry put his hands in his pockets and trotted after the crowd, his expression nonchalant and his gait even more so, yet his senses were open and cautious. The guards were marching in pairs or in fours, appearing as if they were on an automated timer and out doing afternoon exercises. Whatever purpose they had of dwelling in the courtyard, it seemed as if they did it periodically.
"The Queen wishes to see you. Alone." A butler bowed low before Ciel and held out a gloved hand towards an open porch across the courtyard.
Harry spied the Queen sitting on her pompous arse and indulging herself with tea and biscuits. She was too far to notice any distinguishable features, but Harry knew it was her. She had two men with her and another butler standing at the ready. Again, they were too far to see, but Harry wondered if the blond-haired man was Oliver Felix, the Squib he was looking for.
He hoped it was Felix.
Ciel barely glanced back at Sebastian and Harry as he followed a few guards towards the patio. The only sign of his acknowledgment to the situation was the light touch over his eye patch. His intentions were clear. If he needed assistance, he would call Sebastian.
"Please, enjoy the gardens and the architecture of the courtyard." The butler addressed Sebastian and Harry with a bow. "If you need any assistance at all, don't hesitate to ask me. I will be close by." And without another word, he and his long-tailed tuxedo retreated across the courtyard and back the way they came.
On edge, Harry caressed his wand in his pocket and gazed after Ciel. It shouldn't have been unusual to request a private audience. Surely, the kid couldn't bring his demon butler everywhere. Besides, if Harry wanted to, he could put audio surveillance around the open porch where the Queen sat. A simple surveillance charm would work, but that required silence on Harry's side. No matter where he went, he would be near the marching steps of the guards.
It hardly mattered. Ciel was in Harry's line of vision. If the Queen tried something, he could act instantly.
"Your neck is looking particularly bare."
The words were whispered across the back of Harry's neck, the tone both vindictive and seductive. Harry continued facing forward, keeping his eyes on Ciel as he met with his Queen. Death's words were still a hollow echo in his head, a reminder that he could never be with Sebastian. Even if what Death said were false, about demons not having mates, Harry would still be reluctant to start a relationship with the demon.
After all, when he died, Death had control over his soul. Judging from Michael's answer and his opinion toward demons, Harry assumed he could never truly stay with Sebastian. With a lot of power and concentration, Demons could jump timelines, but they needed to know where they were going. Malphas would have no inclination where Harry's soul jumped after his death.
"I want to keep working with you," Harry said lowly, professionally. "But I will not pursue a relationship with you."
Sebastian walked around him and came to a stop to his right. "I'm curious about many things, but I can settle with knowing what, exactly, he said to you that would change your mind. You seemed rather… prepared to continue where we left off last night. "
Green eyes focused forward, trying not to remember their time in the woods. "Remember when you asked me about my circumstances regarding immortality and the relationship I shared with Death?" He already came to the conclusion he would tell Malphas the truth. Any sort of half-truths or outright lies would come back at him.
"You said you needed to talk to Death before you answered my questions. Yes, I remember." Sebastian peered at Harry closely. "You've had your discussion. Now it's my turn to get your undivided attention."
Harry had trouble keeping his eyes on Ciel when Sebastian was so close. Somehow, he managed, but it wasn't particularly easy when he wanted to see the demon's expression after dropping this. "My soul is tied to Death, to Michael. When I die, he gets possession of my soul and delivers it to another alternative universe."
A brewing silence stemmed from Sebastian. "I had already known that."
Bemused, Harry glanced at the demon. "Really?"
"Of course. It is common sense, is it not?" Sebastian resumed his slow, languid pace around Harry. "Your soul had to get from one dimension to the next. Who else would be able to achieve that but Death himself? The question is why he would he grant special immortality to you and only you."
Because Harry was already suspicious of Sebastian, he didn't feel remorseful about correcting the demon. In fact, he was a bit giddy. He stared into the crimson eyes, feeling a spark of wicked pleasure. "You misunderstood me. When I said my soul is tied to Death, I did not mean it figuratively but literally. Our souls are integrated together."
Sebastian stared, a shadow of Malphas darkening his features at the disclosure. His eyes traced Harry's wickedness and offered his own, half-smirk. It was a cover for how he truly felt. "You seem thrilled to break that to me. So harsh, Harry. And here I thought we'd been making progress."
Harry's smile widened and his eyes narrowed. "There is no such thing as demons having mates, Malphas," he whispered vindictively. Sebastian's eyes widened a fraction and Harry pressed forward. "You played me well, I admit. That whole scenario about my deepest desire of eternal companionship… it was brilliant. I can't condemn you for that, because, in part, it was my mistake for being so weak and susceptible."
"What are you implying?" Sebastian hissed softly, his butler persona slipping and showing a sliver of his demonic self. He seemed torn between wanting to be amused and furious. "Why would I possibly want to lie about you being my mate? To what gain?"
Stepping closer to the butler, Harry was unafraid as he stared into those sinful eyes. "My soul."
"I couldn't care a less about your soul." The demon was spitting in rage, hardly able to keep his voice down.
"I find that doubtful," Harry continued onward, though he was a bit taken aback at Sebastian's fierce rebuttal regarding his soul. "You're a demon and my soul is enchanting, you said so yourself. But you were unable to consume it. So you played on my vulnerabilities and offered companionship. You want me close and exposed so you can find a way to get past the barriers that protect my soul. Death said if you were to consume my soul, you would be sated for decades."
Sebastian stared at Harry, appearing speechless in his fury. The demon took a step back, as if to compose himself. He cast a sweeping glance across the courtyard, surveying the passing guards and the area his master occupied with the Queen. Finally, after a moment of silence and composure, Sebastian reached over and pressed a gloved hand to Harry's forehead.
"I don't blame you," the demon murmured quietly, keeping his eyes focused on a spot near Ciel and the Queen. "He is an archangel and I am a demon. You would believe his words, even if they were dipped with poison. Pity you are so blinded by black and white to comprehend common sense."
Harry slapped the hand away from his forehead. "Don't patronize me. I do not live in a black and white world."
The man's dark hair fell into his face as he turned and observed Harry. "What right does he have in determining how I feel and denying what you want?" Suddenly, a sadistic light brightened his eyes. "Do I have a competitor for your affections?" He didn't appear wary or angry, if anything, the very idea excited him.
"It's not like that." Harry's words were clipped and short.
A chuckle escaped Sebastian as he resumed his circling, apparently recovered from his earlier anger. "I'm not sure I believe you. You are rather naïve. I had to make my intentions very clear until you realized what I wanted. It would make sense, wouldn't it? You are my mate. He would lie to you and plant the seeds of doubt because it benefits him."
"It doesn't matter," Harry replied tiredly. Sebastian couldn't be right. Michael wouldn't… "I don't care if you are or aren't my mate. The fact of the matter is that I cannot be resurrected into this timeline. I also can't—and refuse—to be turned into a demon. I will not pursue this relationship. That's final."
"Oh," Sebastian purred, clearly reclaiming the upper hand in the conversation. "The impossible resurrection is another thing he could have lied about." He stopped at Harry's back and leaned forward, breathing into his ear. "I've given you enough time to figure out a solution to our situation, Harry. Now it's my turn."
Harry twitched as a chill crawled down his back. It seemed as if Sebastian still had ways to intimidate him, though he thought he was immune to the demon by now. Malphas only continued to surprise him. With sinking acceptance, Harry knew the demon had yet to reveal all his cards. How many times would Harry need to be reminded that Malphas was a high-ranking demon who was once an archangel?
"I want to continue working with you and Ciel—"
"With the boy," Sebastian corrected sharply. "I don't care about the Queen or the murders of the aristocrats. The only thing on my list of priorities is you and fulfilling my young master's orders so I can consume his soul. Everything else is merely a smokescreen. If hunting Dark Lords is what you enjoy doing to pass the time, then I will faithfully follow you."
Harry's eye grew half-lidded with frustration. "Be that as it may, I will cooperate with your master, but by no means will I stand by and let you manipulate my life."
The chuckle that came from Malphas was sarcastic. "The very same life you were bound and determined to end permanently?" Sebastian's gloved finger touched the back of Harry's neck. "No. If you will not honor the eternal life you have been given, then I will." The finger against his neck suddenly disappeared and the demon slid past Harry.
The wizard held his tongue, watching narrowly as the demon stared at the far end of the courtyard where the Queen and Ciel were situated. "What is it?" He looked at the Queen himself, not seeing anything besides an old woman conversing with a prim-and-proper child.
Sebastian took another step forward and then another, his attention focused solely on his master. Harry reached out to grab at the back of his coat, wanting to know what he sensed, but found himself falling forward instead. The blunt object that slammed to the back of his skull was enough to leave him disoriented and tasting blood. His arms stretched out to catch himself, but rough hands grabbed him before he hit the ground.
Sebastian whirled around just as four pairs of hands grabbed Harry's arms from behind. They pushed him forward, forcing him to bend at the waist and support their weight at his back. Harry grunted as they manhandled him, noticing the crimson-clad guards around the courtyard begin to surround him. One glimpse from behind showed eight men somehow physically connected to him, by either touching Harry or touching a guard that had a hand on Harry, creating a living-chain.
They knew he was a wizard and they had taken precautions against him Disapparating. There was no way he could take eight men with him in Side-Long Apparation.
Through narrowed eyes, he watched as the guards aimed their rifles at him, creating an unbreakable semi-circle around his detained form. Oddly enough, they were leaving Sebastian alone, though the demon had to be a larger threat. It only proved his suspicions. The Queen had to know Sebastian was a demon, as she already knew Harry was a wizard, yet she did not take action against Malphas.
Either she was afraid of the consequences or she didn't believe Sebastian would act without his master's direct orders. And Harry knew it was the latter. If Ciel's butler acted against the Queen, it would place Ciel Phantomhive at obvious odds with her. And considering Ciel had come here to try to pledge his allegiances with her, acting out against her order would destroy his cover.
Said demon was facing Harry, his crimson eyes alight with both rage and suspicion. But as expected, he stood motionlessly, expecting his master to OK an attack against her Majesty or wait until hearing the reasons behind such an assault.
A strong, unwavering voice resounded across the courtyard. "Take his wand."
Harry turned his head, watching as the Queen approached with Ciel at her side. With dull realization, Harry noticed Ciel appeared liberated, free, and utterly power-hungry. Whatever the child would do in this situation, one thing was for certain. He wouldn't be telling his demon to assist Harry. The betrayal stung. Harry wouldn't lie to himself over such petty things. He had hoped… he had hoped...
Rough hands groped him, finding the Elder Wand fairly quickly. Through lidded eyes, Harry watched as it was passed hand to hand until it was presented to the Queen. The woman was elderly, yet still regal. She looked as if Christmas had come again as she accepted the wand. Unfortunately, she was one-hundred-percent Muggle. The wand would not harm her physically as it would any other wizard culprit. To the wand, she was hardly a threat to its master. Upon physical contact, it would remain dormant.
"Pity," Harry drawled. "You do not have the power to wield it." He was unconcerned for his wand. Whether he liked it or not, it always made it back to his hand. The same disregard was directed toward the guards pointing their weapons at him. He'd let them have their fun and their self-assurances. If he really wanted to, he could escape their hold.
She looked down at him, a considering light to her eyes. "I heard you are the Master of Death." The silence around the courtyard was unnatural and her words were strong, crisp, rising above even the distant ring of civilian noise outside the walls of the palace. "They say you are the master of Death himself, otherwise known as Michael, the archangel. They say you always cheat death, that you can even bring back the dead."
Mirth bubbled up Harry's throat and he began laughing. The Queen gave him a skeptical look, not at all impressed or affected with his slip in sanity. "That's a very interesting theory. And just who is your source?
The Queen held her cards close and merely admired the wand. "Remarkable. This wand was a simple piece to the inconceivable power you now possess. It is one of the three Deathly Hallows. They were created centuries ago, yet you were the first and only one to master them. It is said, to become the Master of Death, one must possess all three Deathly Hallows and also accept death itself… almost… welcome it."
Harry kept his eyes on her, his expression blank, yet his eyes spiteful. Whoever her source was, they knew a great deal.
Her brown eyes tore away from the wand and focused on him. "I find it horrifying to imagine a mere child, a seventeen-year-old boy, who would accept death so easily. You were never told of the true extent of the Hallows, so you accepted death on your own free will." She paused and studied him with remarkable intensity. "They say you were raised like a sacrificial pig, a simple martyr. Since your birth, no less. And you've been sacrificing yourself to this very day."
Harry tossed his head and chuckled again, though he was preoccupied. How did she know of his childhood?
"You asked how a child could accept death so easily." He lowered his chin and gazed at her bland defiance. "It has nothing to do with age, or acceptance, only that I knew there were fates much worse than death." Harry avoided any sort of eye contact with Ciel or Sebastian, knowing the latter was too intrigued for his own good and the former watching with his own sense of betrayal.
They both had wanted to know the details surrounding his immortality. Harry had denied them. But the Queen was now giving them all the answers, answers he had wanted to keep private. The simple irony.
"If that is true, you must realize that is mature thinking for one so young. You can only imagine who instilled that thinking in you, who conditioned you to take the mantle of the Master of Death." She raised her eyebrows superiorly, as if she knew Harry from the inside out. "Who was it that groomed you to be a martyr, Harry?"
"No one," he spat, his rage spiking. "Those who endure a life of suffering and struggle understand that death is but a peaceful end, the next greatest adventure." Harry gave a twisted smile, staring at her without really seeing her. "I pity you for not having the capability of seeing that."
"If you do not cooperate, I will pity you." The Queen nodded her head at the guards behind Harry. "I want to see the second Hallow. Give me his ring."
Harry stayed motionless, though they acted as if he'd put up a struggle. A few elbows dug into his back and a hand twisted his arm around painfully. The finger that housed the Resurrection Stone was bent backward, causing the joint to snap. Harry exhaled lowly through the pain, hardly flinching and refusing to cry out. He watched through lowered lashes as they wiggled the ring free and passed it towards the Queen.
The ring, it seemed, was the Queen's ultimate prize. He couldn't blame her. When he learned of the Hallows, the ring was also the most appealing. He watched as her eyes brightened and narrow on the piece of jewelry with wonder. But she did not take it from the guard's outstretched palm.
"You once asked me who my source was." The Queen raised her lofty chin and smiled regally at Harry. "Why, who else would be my source but the one who crafted these Hallows?"
Harry slumped bonelessly, too surprised, too shocked, to stay upright. For so many years, he had wanted to know the one who was responsible for the Hallows. In the beginning, he always assumed it was Death himself, but was proved wrong when Michael informed him it was a demon who contracted with the three brothers. And who else would be that demon but the very same one who was putting such a thorn in his side as of late?
The guards protested when Harry collapsed, pulling him back to his feet forcibly.
"You," Harry spat, his world washed in red as a doe-eyed child stepped out from behind the Queen. Even though she was veiled in child-like innocence and youth, Harry knew exactly who it was. The wide eyes of the girl possessed an obvious glimmer of wickedness. "Beleth!" He sprung, but was quickly restrained by the guards holding him back. They wrestled him to the ground, smashing his face into the cobblestones.
He couldn't see, but he could hear the child's laughter and Ciel's sharp order.
"Sebastian, I order you to stand back."
Through his sweat-coated hair, Harry angled his head and spied Sebastian standing between him and Beleth. Though he stopped short at Ciel's order, he did not take any steps back. He held his ground, gazing at the high-ranking demon with cool warning. Harry remembered Malphas explaining that demons were rather civil to one another in hell. If one angered or intentionally got in one's way when they were contracted above ground, it was forgiven and forgotten when they encountered each other in hell again.
But Sebastian had claimed he would hold it against Beleth if she did anything against Harry.
Harry would see how far Malphas would go to keep his word. He would see firsthand how much Sebastian was willing to protect him in lieu of his master and his friends from hell. If he really was the demon's bloody mate, Malphas wouldn't stand back. It was enough reason to stay placate. And despite his burning rage, he wanted to know why Beleth was here, working for Harry's enemies.
Hadn't she done enough?
"I have no business with you." Beleth soured, her childish face morphing into cool regard as she glanced at Sebastian. "Just the human you're protecting." Her small, thin fingers curled around the Resurrection Stone and she admired it before pinning Harry with a stare. "Hold him up."
The guards yanked Harry off the ground once more, struggling to keep him still and motionless. He complied, reluctantly, and watched as Beleth took another step forward, only to be stopped once more by Sebastian. The child-demon flashed the butler's territorial pose an amused look before smiling cruelly.
"That's fine," she whispered. "I can destroy him from a distance."
"What is your aim, exactly?" Harry demanded, tired of the dominance-play between Beleth and Sebastian. "If it's true that you had a hand in constructing the Deathly Hallows, then you would know the Master of Death cannot be rid of the Hallows. Why are you working for a Muggle who wishes to possess a power she can never have? Or the Dark Lord, for that matter, if that is his goal."
The Queen was watching the interaction with a sense of control. Fool that she was, she actually thought she had a solid hold on the situation. Pity there were two, high-ranking demons in the vicinity who could unsettle the situation with a tip of a hat. Then again, they were leashed demons who had their own orders to abide to.
Maybe the Queen did have authority.
Beleth cocked her head to the side and her eyes flashed an unnerving yellow. "I know you must have many questions." She turned the ring over in her palm and smiled cutely at Harry. "All you have to know is that I was the one to give the Deathly Hallows the real power, the power of immortality. I'm sure Michael would enjoy explaining the entire story." She paused. "As for her Majesty, the Queen wishes to use you for your power of bringing back the dead."
Harry stilled, recognizing the wary amusement in Beleth's gaze. If she smiled any wider, her razor sharp teeth would puncture her bottom lip. They both knew Harry couldn't bring back the dead. That meant Beleth and her master, most likely the Dark Lord, was still in need of the Queen's services. For whatever reason, they were humoring her and keeping her alive.
"And the Dark Lord…" Beleth trailed off, her high-pitched and childlike voice lowering into a whisper. "Well, he is very interested in meeting with you."
"Really?" Harry barked irritably. "He must be of the shy sort, then."
Beleth's bell-like laugh would have been adorable had it belonged to another. Instead, with the vicious and vindictive gleam in her eyes, the giggle sounded like something straight out of a horrific tale. "He couldn't make it today. But he wanted me to send his regards." Her mirth fell and her fingers continued to turn the ring over in her palm. "He also wishes to tell you that he's found a way to end your very existence, despite your endless quest to do it yourself."
Harry reared in the arms of the guards when he felt the shift of atmosphere, the familiar pull the Resurrection Stone produced when it was activated. Grey and blue hues seemed to grow more prominent and the world seemed to drop in temperature. Surprised murmuring spread across the crowd of spectators, the Queen's hushed approval somehow the loudest.
Beleth rocked on her heels and tapped them together joyfully.
Harry couldn't hear any of it. A sharp, high-pitched ringing echoed inside his ears as figures emerged from his past. Though they might have died appearing differently, or they might have changed forms in the afterlife, they appeared before Harry in the form he remembered them best. Dumbledore, Sirius, Hermione, Ron, Lily, James… even the people he'd gotten to know and love from his other lives were there. All of them. Beleth was conjuring all of them.
They were real too. Though just shades of his past loved ones, they were still the real soul, disorientated, but so very real. There was a reason why Harry had never called on anyone other than his mother. Simultaneously, they turned to look at Harry, seeing him as the only familiar object in such a harsh, unfamiliar world. In their eyes, he saw nothing but pity and bitter remembrance.
In their eyes, it was a reminder that they had each other and he was forever cursed with immortality. What made it worse was that it was in front of all these strangers. Every last one of them was witnessing his weakness. It was humiliating.
Harry bowed his head in the face of their shades' pity, his body shuddering. "If you think that will destroy me… you are sadly mistaken." With each word, he built up his bravado.
He'd dealt with his immortality before. He'd come to terms with it. Hadn't he? Eventually, there would be an end. Death would take his hand and lead him to the afterlife. Before that time, Sebastian had given him a solid acceptance of his eternity. There would be other things to do, to see, to accomplish, to master…
He didn't need people as anchors. He wasn't affected by their memory.
Among the Muggle's awed and fearful exclamations, Harry heard the unnatural rustle of leaves and dirt directly beside him. He turned slowly, staring at Ginny, her seventeen-year-old self finally conjured. Her eyes were just as compassionate and compelling as they had been in life. The pity in her gaze wasn't as strong as the others were. She only looked at him with concern.
They might have drifted and parted before he killed himself, but she had always been the one who understood him best.
"Oh, Harry," she whispered softly. "What have they done to you?" Her eyes flickered over Harry's shoulder before she outstretched her arm.
At first, Harry imagined she was reaching for him, to touch him once again. But her hand bypassed and stretched toward another figure that arrived late. As Harry turned to look, he acknowledged the dim pain in his gut. He had already expected it, knowing it was inevitable not to see him again, his son.
James stood before Harry, appearing no older than thirteen. Perhaps it was because Harry preferred remembering his son when he was younger than his own immortal age of seventeen, or maybe it was because he'd been around Ciel too long and constantly reminded of James when he was that age.
All the shades were disquieting, but they did not grate on Harry as he would have thought. It proved that he'd slowly begun to accept his immortality, his isolation. Granted, it was hard at times, especially with the recent revelation that Sebastian would not be the eternal companion he'd hoped for. But overall, Harry found it conceivable to stay standing in the face of his past.
However, the most difficult part of it was looking his son in the eyes. Possessing startling similarity to Harry, James had inherited Ginny's eyes. When they weren't sparkling with mischief, they held a deep, compassionate wisdom. They were not the eyes of a thirteen-year-old, but an old soul.
James smiled sadly as he looked up at Harry. "It's ok, dad," he whispered. "I don't blame you for leaving. I've only missed you."
A choked, bitter exhalation escaped Harry's lips. What had he expected? All these years, he'd only anticipated James' disappointment for the abandonment. He'd thought he would experience guilt and remorse far sharper than he was already experiencing, a type of repentance for abandoning his child. But instead, Harry received closure.
It was closure on another chapter of his life, one he had been reluctant to close.
Harry began laughing and he looked up at Beleth, noticing the smile faltering from the demon's lips. "Thank you," he said boldly, "for doing something that I was too cowardly to do myself. Truly, your actions are admirable. I hadn't expected such benevolence from the Dark Lord and his minions."
Perhaps he should have forgone the mocking, for Beleth clamped her hand more firmly over the ring. The shades of his past all disappeared with the exception of Harry's son. James stood before him, his form seemingly becoming solider, more real. Harry looked on with concern, never witnessing this kind of power from the Stone. Surely…
James suddenly gasped, his expression twisting in horror and pain. He doubled over, clutching his abdomen. Harry struggled against the restraining arms, growing more frantic when James began screaming. It couldn't be possible! Could Beleth have a way of bringing back the dead and making them suffer? Their soul suffer?
"It's just an illusion."
Harry tore his eyes away from James and looked toward Sebastian. The butler stood stiffly, staring at Harry. His expression was hard to discern, but his eyes were intense.
"Your son left with the others." Sebastian nodded at James with his chin. "This is just an illusion."
Even if it was an illusion, it wasn't something Harry could stand by and watch. He tugged at the guard fiercely, causing the crimson-clad man to bend forward. When he was within range, Harry threw his head back and slammed his skull into the man's face. With a startled cry of pain coming from the man behind him, Harry's arm was released. He threw his free elbow in the other guard's nose, effectively releasing himself from their hold.
Harry lunged for Beleth and the Queen, but in the last moment, he dodged left and reached for Oliver Felix. The Queen's aid gave a startled yelp, took a step back, and Disapparated.
Disapparated. The last time a Squib Disapparated was Side-Long Apparation with a wizard, never a solo trip. Either Undertaker misinformed Harry about Felix being a Squib or Felix had deceived the Undertaker and the Queen.
He didn't get long to contemplate, for a force struck him in the back and ripped through his chest. Startled, Harry looked down, seeing the gunshot wound but having trouble recognizing it for what it was. As his fingers came back bloody, his eyes rolled in the back of his skull and he collapsed to the ground.
When he came back to consciousness, he was aware of the persistent dripping. It sounded like water hitting concrete from a high altitude. The more it dripped the more water it seemed to gather beneath it. His surroundings were cold. And hard. Harry's chest hurt and there was a heavy weight around his neck.
"Will you change your mind, Mr. Potter?"
Harry roused himself, blinking open his eyes and focusing on the ceiling. He was on the ground of a dungeon cell and the stone ceiling above him was a murky grey. Craning his neck just slightly, he spied the small audience outside the bars of his cell. The Queen was the one who had spoken, her expression void of anything but mild displeasure. The displeasure was probably due to the smells the dungeon was secreting and not from any regret she may have felt for Harry's situation.
"About?" Harry croaked, feeling as if his head weighed too much to lift properly.
"Offering your services freely," she replied stiffly. "I would prefer if we got off to a positive start. It would be easier for everyone involved if you came willingly. I don't wish to break you."
His fingers brushed the area the bullet had pierced, noticing it was sore, but fully healed. It had to be magic that saved him. Someone on the Queen's list of allies was a wizard. He had his suspicions that it was Oliver Felix. "I'm afraid I don't know what services you are referring to." He dropped his fingers from his chest and caressed the thick, metal collar around his neck. "I'm useful for many things…"
"Bringing back the dead, of course."
Harry stilled and rolled over on his stomach, propping himself up on an elbow and facing his cell door. He could see Ciel and Beleth standing behind the Queen, both of them of equal height and age, and both possessing sullen frowns. Harry even spied Sebastian in the background. Green eyes lingered over the demon, trying not to feel the bitter sense of betrayal. Apparently, Sebastian thought more highly of his next meal then Harry's safety.
But he quickly quelled his disappointment. He'd get out himself.
"You have the Stone," Harry responded tiredly. "You bring back the dead yourself."
"I have been informed that the ring may not stay forever in my possession, as you are its true master." The Queen raised her eyebrows expectantly. "We both know the ring is only a temporary solution. I want the dead back permanently."
Harry raked a hand through his hair and stared at the ground of his cell. For a moment, he let them stew in silence, anticipation. "And who do you like to curse?" he asked innocently. Slowly, he looked up at the Queen's hard face. She didn't let it show, but he knew she was bemused at his question. "Who would you like to pull from the peaceful afterlife and thrust into a hell like this? You must be one selfish bitch to condemn someone to that fate."
The Queen's expression hardened further and her dark eyes were stone. "I'm sorry you feel that way, Mr. Potter." She nodded to Beleth before sweeping her pompous arse from the dungeons.
Harry watched her go before looking at Ciel. "And what about you? What do you get out of all this?" he questioned stonily. "Do you get more gold? More prestige? From a child who has everything, but sees nothing, I should have expected this." Slowly he got to his feet, trying his best not to sway despite the spinning room.
Ciel scowled. "It was about you all along." He leaned on his cane and gazed at Harry from the other side of the bars. "All this time, they were after you; the Queen and the Dark Lord. You kept Sebastian and I in the dark about your status as Master of Death, effectively putting us all in danger. I gain nothing in return for your capture, only my life back."
Standing solitarily, Harry gazed at the boy, unsure of what to feel. "Good luck."
The Earl blinked at the ambiguous comment, clearly not having expected the whispered words of good fortune. Despite his pride, the boy forced himself to ask. "For what?"
Harry approached the cell door. "For finding what you're looking for in life, whether that be purpose, revenge, or damnation… I hope you find it and are satisfied with the results." He hated the kid, but he couldn't really blame the boy. Ciel was right. The Queen and Dark Lord were evidently after the Master of Death. The boy was saving his own skin, it was something Harry could only expect from human nature.
As soon as his hands curled over the bars to his cell, an excruciating pain erupted through his body. Harry released the bars and scrambled backward, biting his tongue to stop the screams. The pain originated from the collar around his neck. He didn't know if he felt as if his insides were on fire or if imaginary blades were plunging deep into his flesh. Maybe both.
He fell to his knees and bowed his neck, forcing his hair to veil his expression from the spectators. Blood from his bitten tongue trickled from the corner of his mouth and steadily dripped to the ground. Eventually, the pain subsided, but the after effects made his body weak.
"From what I understand, you were once tortured to death in one of your previous lifetimes." It was Beleth. "I realize that you may be immune to most pain tactics, which is why the collar is only a precaution against your escape. I've been around wizards long enough to know some are capable of wandless magic. If you call on your magic, of any sort, the collar will eat away at your core. If you come too close to the cell door, you will experience pain."
Harry grunted, far from defeated. He would find a way out.
"If you do not believe me, I welcome you to try casting a wandless spell."
Slowly looking up from his hunched position, he noticed Ciel had left. Only Beleth and Sebastian remained, the latter an unreadable statue. Harry gave him a fathomable stare, never more disgusted with the demon as he was then. A parasite would always be a parasite. How Harry thought any differently, he didn't know.
Beleth noticed his wandering attention and smiled sweetly. "If anyone should be looking forward to your imminent destruction, it should be you, Malphas." The child-demon was hardly affected by Sebastian's scorn. "After all, he could have been your downfall. And we both know how much you enjoy power and ranking."
The doe-eyed girl waved at Harry before trotting towards the exit. Before she could leave entirely, Sebastian quickly took the bait.
"Explain," he demanded darkly.
Harry remained on his knees, keeping in his dark corner. He watched as Beleth turned to look at Sebastian from over her shoulder. There was nothing deceitful about her expression. If anything, Harry recognized her eagerness as something one would experience when they knew how much a truth would harm the listener.
"Demons don't have mates, silly." She giggled and winked at Harry. "Angels do." Her humor died abruptly and she scrutinized Sebastian with an air of antipathy. "Apparently, you aren't entirely Fallen, Malphas. You have a chance at redemption, a chance through Harry Potter."
"You lie," Sebastian hissed, clearly distraught at the mere mention of 'redemption'.
"No. The truth is so much more satisfying." She flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Why do you think mates are so rare in hell? Even you are oblivious to their true meaning. Most of the demons that have identified their mate have been redeemed or they've just destroyed their mate. It's a bit of an embarrassment. I would imagine many would be scandalized to know such a high-ranking demon, such as yourself, has a sliver of goodness left within him."
Harry marveled at the revelation. If he was honest with himself, it didn't sound so unbelievable. Demons having mates sounded farfetched. Angels having mates was… farfetched, but not as ridiculous as the former notion. Raising his chin, Harry endured Sebastian's sudden scrutiny, realizing the demon was looking at him as if he'd never laid eyes on him before.
"He was such a mediocre angel," Beleth addressed Harry. "Why would he go back to an ordinary existence when he has so much more power as a demon?" She began walking away, leaving Sebastian alone with Harry. "Be fortunate I warned you before things got too out of hand, Malphas."
It was indescribable. Harry wondered at the turbulence of emotions he was experiencing. Ciel's betrayal shouldn't have bothered him, the Queen's selfishness shouldn't have affected him, Beleth's appearance and role shouldn't have surprised him, Michael's decision to exclude information shouldn't have disappointed him, and Sebastian's inactivity and repugnance shouldn't have hurt him.
He was supposed to be jaded, immune. Nothing should have made him experience this level of emptiness and loneliness.
Crimson eyes stared at him from the other side of the cell. Without so much as a word, the demon turned his heel and fled the dungeon, leaving Harry alone.
From Sorrow's Hold
"Ah!" Undertaker tapped his fingers cheerfully against the counter. "Darling, you should really wait for me in the backroom. We have a particular customer who might become quite disagreeable." He peeled back the shadows of his shop and spied the dark aura lurking impatiently. As much as he'd prefer making the entity wait, he knew better when said entity was giving off an aura as dark as that.
Claudia glanced coolly around the room before rising from her position near the coffins. Without so much as a protest, she gracefully swept from the front room and disappeared in the back. Unknowns to her, the demon emerged from the shadows and watched her departure with cruel speculation.
"Butler, so good to see you again." Undertaker executed a fancy flourish with his sleeves, motioning toward the leather and the shower of black feathers. "Or should I say… Malphas?" His pupils dilated in the face of a fully revealed demon.
Unlike the fear humans experienced in front of demons, his shinigami senses were more along the lines of eager determination to hunt and exterminate. Briefly, he pondered on the Master of Death. Would Harry experience something relatively similar? He could order around shinigamis, yet his soul was still entirely human. Most likely, he would experience fear. He…
"Is the proposition still valid?"
Undertaker forcibly concentrated on the current and tittered at his slip in awareness. How silly of him. "I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific than that, Butler." He held his sleeves up to his face and inhaled. He so enjoyed the smell of his lilac perfume, a tonic he used on his corpses. A little dab here and there never harmed anyone. "I make propositions every day."
Malphas narrowed his eyes and his wings flexed irritably. Wings that did not fly must be a burden…
"I want to know everything there is to know about Harry Potter. I want to see it. I want to hear it."
The ex-shinigami perked up and removed the lilac-smelling sleeves from his face. "And you'll terminate your contract with Ciel Phantomhive and refrain from consuming his soul? You'll continue protecting him—"
"I am not his shadow," the demon hissed darkly, any sort of humanity he might have achieved in his butler-persona now gone. "I will protect him if I become aware of any danger to his person. However, you must realize my main priority is Harry." The dark entity held up the back of his palm, the glowing Faustian Contract marked across his skin. "Just say the word and I will terminate it."
Somber, Undertaker mused at the proposition. "You would be an unleashed demon…"
Now that would be a serious complication he hadn't considered before. Demons could find ways above ground without being called, but their power wouldn't be as strong as it would be if they weresummoned. However, if a demon formed a Contract with their summoner, their abilities would also be reduced. It was when they were summoned and free of a Contract when they were their most powerful.
Malphas stared at him. "Beleth is unchained."
"Is she?" Undertaker smiled pleasantly. "Two high-ranking demons creating havoc on earth. Michael would be displeased, very displeased. As a shinigami, I really shouldn't absolve this, much less be responsible for it." He shrugged. "It's a good thing I'm an ex-shinigami, eh?"
No humor registered across Malphas' face and Undertaker marveled at a joyless existence.
"You will be able to show me his past, correct?" Malphas asked skeptically.
"Your demon friend has the ability to see someone's past, but shinigamis are also a reservoir to the past. Or, really, the future in Harry's case." Undertaker conjured his Death Scythe and embedded the blade just inches from the demon's hand. Regrettably, no matter how impressive his flourish was, the demon never flinched.
"They are my memories of his past…" Undertaker trailed off and snickered. "Although, I have nicked Harry with the Death Scythe once before. Shh, don't tell him. It didn't affect him, but she remembers his memories all the same. Don't you?" he stroked the Scythe lovingly. "She remembers every human she's ever touched. It will be simple to reveal his memories, though it's only his first lifetime."
"That's fine." The demon was curt, cold. "As long as it includes his history with the Deathly Hallows."
Undertaker froze in his ministrations. Slowly, he looked up at the demon, revealing his bright green eyes. "So you know," he mused carefully. "Beleth told you? About many things, I imagine." He narrowed his eyes. "You know, you cannot reverse the Deathly Hallows. Harry will always be tied to Michael."
Silence stretched and Malphas seemed to blend completely with the shadows. The only thing visible was the crimson eyes, which were currently directed on Undertaker. It was a stare even Undertaker had trouble meeting for very long. "His soul is mine. He is mine."
"No need to be so possessive with me." Undertaker waved a dismissive hand.
"I assume you knew only angels had mates?" The word 'mate' was uttered with almost the same loathing as the word 'angel'. "Did you know this whole time? Was it all a game to you?"
Undertaker bowed his head, trying to veil his smile. "You know, they often say you cannot have your cake and eat it too. I imagine, it couldn't be truer when applied to your relationship with Harry." He swooned. "A tragic tale. He cannot turn into a demon and you cannot—correction—choose not to be redeemed. One must make sacrifices if they want something."
A hand swiped out and grabbed him around his collar. Malphas leered down at him, his eyes narrowed sinisterly. "I will have my cake and eat it too."
Undertaker blinked before he snorted. Eventually, his merriment grew to loud laughter. "Fufu! I can't take you seriously when you say that all sinister-like. Really, Butler, that isn't exactly something you'd say to send hair-raising chills down my spine." He was released abruptly and even his loss of balance couldn't muffle his amusement.
"Do we have a deal?" Malphas pressed, clearly unaffected by Undertaker's mirth.
He watched as the glowing Faustian Contract on the back of the demon's palm suddenly disappeared. And just the same moment, the aura around the shop darkened even further, and this time, it was enough to completely subdue Undertaker. This was power that Undertaker hadn't experienced in centuries. A fully unleashed demon, especially one as powerful as Malphas, was a force to be reckoned with.
Undertaker knew Malphas had the potential to destroy anything in his way. If he really wanted to, he could bring hell on earth. But there were certain factors that held him back, at least for now. Although, if the demon were pushed far enough, he wouldn't care about those factors and he wouldn't hesitate to unleash his fury to get what he wanted.
It wasn't too damning. Beleth was also unleashed. If Undertaker was right in his assumptions regarding Beleth's and the Dark Lord's plans for Harry, any help was imperative. At least this way, Harry and the Dark Lord were on equal footing. They both had a powerful, unleashed demon at their command.
Michael wouldn't agree, but Undertaker was eager to see what kind of destruction would result from this.