Author's Note: Terribly sorry for the delays, RL madness and a frenzy of Halloween-themed writing is to blame: I've been working on a one-shot for the Coldfire Trilogy and two for HP in honor of the holiday season, all of which I'll be posting soon. One Draco/Harry and one Tom/Harry, both Halloween-oriented, so if you're interested, keep your eyes peeled.
A.N.2: So, here we go: the great showdown approaches. In an attempt to properly showcase the awesomeness incarnate that is Gerald Tarrant, I have left poor Damien on Erna. He is sulking about that, but this is Gerald's moment of evil glory, so Damien can just get over it.
A.N.3: A note for those readers who are not familiar with the Coldfire Trilogy (meaning most of you!). Gerald Tarrant is technically undead, and uses a type of magic-like power called the 'fae'. One of the main advantages he gains from this is the control of a special kind of fire that acts like regular fire except it creates cold instead of heat - the eponymous coldfire. He shares many characteristics with the common vampire, including immortality and a fatal weakness to sunlight, but he has no problems with religious symbols or garlic - he's far too arrogant for little things like that! Also, instead of drinking blood, he usually feeds on pure fear, although he can also feed on dark emotions like anger, despair, and hatred. He has a lot of titles, but the important ones are: 'the Hunter', (the name by which he is known by most of his homeworld - the equivalent of the title 'Lord Voldemort') and 'The Darkest Prince of Hell' (I think you can guess how he got that one). His seat of power, the Hunter's Keep, is located in a semi-sentient forest called the Forest of Jahanna. The world he comes from, Erna, is a world in the far reaches of the Milky Way that was colonized by settlers from a futuristic Earth who traveled there in stasis, only to have their technology destroyed and basically be reduced to a medieval level of technology. That should cover the basics, and suffice to fill in any gaps I forget to cover in the chapter.
A.N.4: I guess it's true. Every person who has ever read the Coldfire Trilogy ends up at least a little bit in love with Gerald Tarrant. According to the reviews, I've induced fangirl moments in several of my readers, simply by the mention of Gerald's name. Oops?
The party of six Apparated back to Riddle Manor with a sharp crack. Riddle lingered only long enough to order Tonks, Hestia, Kingsley, and Arthur to stay put in the drawing room before sweeping off, Harry once again practically jogging to keep up. "How exactly does this work?" he asked, panting lightly as they entered a heavily warded room that Riddle kept just for the purposes of heavy spellwork like this.
Riddle was already waving his wand in complicated patterns, tracing runes in the air. "This room has a permanent temporal link with Erna, the world that Gerald Tarrant is from - from what I've been able to determine, that world is actually in an alternate dimension of some sort, which is why it was necessary to create a stable, permanent link instead of simply using an advanced form of Apparition. All I have to do is weave the portal on this end, and it will connect on the other side - and then the bargaining starts. Believe me, Tarrant does nothing for free."
As he spoke, Riddle made a last sweeping gesture with his wand, and a sudden swirl of multicolored light blossomed in the middle of the room. Harry watched, wide-eyed, as the swirling colors expanded to form a large upright oval, hovering a few inches above the floor. A moment passed, then the heart of the colors melted away to reveal the other side, like a window in midair.
The widow revealed a glimpse of what looked to be a magnificent castle of some sort, dark colors highlighted with the occasional touch of gold and crimson. The details were blurred by the distortion of the portal, though, as were the features of the tall, fair-haired man who stood on the other side of the temporal gap.
"Lord Voldemort. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I'm afraid I require your assistance on a rather urgent matter, Lord Tarrant." Riddle said tightly. "Can you spare the time to assist me in disposing of a certain troublesome enemy?"
Harry couldn't be sure, but the man seemed to smile. "I always have time for a Hunt, Lord Voldemort. I shall need only a moment or two to set my affairs in order, and I will join you."
On the Ernan side of the portal, Gerald Tarrant was being subjected to a very pointed glare from his lover, the former Church Knight and officially corrupted hero Damien Kilcannon Vryce. "You know, Gerald, I really need to get a Healer to check my hearing. See, I could have sworn I just heard you say that you were going to be gallivanting off to some alternate dimension of Earth and leaving me here to look after the Forest."
Gerald was busy collecting a few helpful artifacts from about the room, including his coldfire-imbued sword. "I won't be gone more than a day or two, love, and you know this alliance has been extremely profitable in the past. Remember to feed the wolves, if nothing else is available you can always round up some foolhardy crusaders from Sheva."
Damien sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, love, I know. Feed the wolves, keep an eye on the Forest, put down any rebellions, make sure all of Erna still fears the Hunter. I know the drill. Just... don't be gone too long, alright? I worry about you."
Gerald's silver eyes softened a little and he smiled at Damien. "I'll be back in less than three days, alright?"
"Alright." Crossing the luxurious carmine carpet, Damien pulled the Hunter into a light, sweet kiss. "Stay safe, and for God's sake stay out of the sunlight."
"Yes, I shall do my best to avoid being burned to a crisp." Gerald said dryly, and turned to the glowing window of rainbow light.
When the portal flared with light and a form materialized in the chamber, Harry was expecting either some vaguely inhuman creature like the serpentine 'Lord Voldemort' glamours that Riddle sometimes wore, or someone completely unassuming, like Karril. What he was not expecting was the slim, elegant aristocrat that appeared before them, brushing a speck of nonexistent dust from his silken sleeve.
Despite all that he had seen in recent days, Harry could only stare. The man who had just stepped out of the portal was, if possible, even more breathtakingly handsome than Riddle! He was tall and lean, willowy but still somehow intimidating: he moved with a catlike grace, his motion almost unnaturally fluid. His clothing was strange, but obviously expensive: graduated layers of velvet and silk, vaguely medieval-looking, with a satiny black cape draped over his shoulders. He was strikingly pale, almost corpselike, but the deathly shade suited his fine-carved, almost effeminate features quite well. His eyes were silvery-grey, much like Riddle's, but with a sharp diamondine glitter where Riddle's tended to glow like molten metal. He was blond, and with his aristocratic bearing and air of subtle haughtiness, he reminded Harry a little of Draco Malfoy: Tarrant's shoulder-length hair was less platinum than Draco's, though, a more vibrant burnished gold. Between the golden hair, alabaster skin, and silvery eyes, he looked more like an angel than someone who had earned a title like the Darkest Prince of Hell. He nodded smoothly to the Dark Lord.
"Lord Voldemort. A delight, as always."
His voice was a little higher in tone than Riddle's, a slightly lilting tenor in place of Riddle's warm baritone, but it carried the same rich sense of power. Riddle nodded in return, respectfully.
"Lord Tarrant. Thank you for coming, I know how you hate to leave the Forest. Allow me to introduce Harry Potter, my Consort."
Harry gathered his wits enough to return Tarrant's nod. The other Lord's eyes sparkled with a hint of sardonic humor. "Well. You spoke of a romantic entanglement, Lord Voldemort, but you didn't mention that you were a cradle-robber."
Harry bit back a defensive retort, recognizing the jibe as humor, no matter how darkly worded. Instead, he said evenly, "According to my former mentor, I'm old enough to die for the sake of Wizardkind, so I think that makes me old enough to do whatever I please."
That earned him an amused glance from Riddle and a sharp, assessing look from Tarrant. The blond's lips quirked slightly in the shadow of a smile. "I see. Forgive my rather hasty assumption, young Lord, I seem to have underestimated you."
Harry nodded in acceptance, more impressed than he wanted to admit by the man's smooth manners. Riddle cleared his throat. "To business, then, Lord Tarrant. I need your assistance dealing with an old enemy of mine - one who has gone much too far in his attempts to harm my allies and myself."
Tarrant raised one fair eyebrow, a cold light dawning in his mercury eyes. "Is that so? Well, I am always glad to assist such a steadfast ally as yourself... just tell me who I'm hunting."
"Albus Dumbledore." Riddle said grimly. "He's taken two of Harry's friends hostage, and has been launching repeated attacks on Hogwarts and us in particular."
Tarrant looked intrigued. "And he has managed to evade you? Interesting... You've mentioned before that this Dumbledore is very powerful. How old is he?"
Riddle frowned. "About... a hundred and fifteen, I should think. Why?"
Tarrant's eyes narrowed, and the coldest smile Harry had ever seen spread across his angelic features. The combination was enough to make even the hardened Dark Lord shiver a bit. "Excellent. So many years of thinking himself invincible, yet accruing enemies with each day that passes - I imagine he will be particularly susceptible to my methods of inspiring fear. Do you need him alive?"
Harry and Riddle exchanged a long, meaningful look. Riddle's question echoed in Harry's mind. The choice is yours, my love. I assure you, if the Hunter finishes him, Dumbledore's death will be just as slow and agonizing as anything I could devise - perhaps more so. Lord Tarrant has had over a thousand years to practice his craft, after all.
Harry considered that for a moment, then looked at Tarrant. "You can have him. Just make sure he suffers."
Tarrant smiled again and bowed slightly. His silver eyes seemed to change for a moment: the icy grey darkened, falling into a swirling abyss of hungry black that raised the hairs on the back of Harry's neck.
"Oh, I assure you, he will regret every moment of his life by the time I am finished with him... including the day he was born."
At that moment, Albus Dumbledore was pacing furiously in a woodland clearing. This was simply intolerable! Tonks had betrayed him, along with Kingsley, Hestia, and Arthur Weasley: his people were dropping like flies around him, those that weren't hunted down by Riddle were defecting, and to pour salt on the open wound, the Dark Lord had found their headquarters yet again! The Order had been reduced to locating their base of operations in the middle of a forest, for Merlin's sake!
Alastor Moody approached at that moment, expression grim. He was dragging a bound, gagged, and blindfolded Draco Malfoy by the arm: the blond was struggling furiously, but Moody's grip was like a vice as he stopped at the edge of the clearing.
Dumbledore stopped pacing and sighed. "At least this part of the plan will still work. The Longbottom boy is still secure?"
Moody nodded. "We'll Imperius them separately, then send them back to Hogwarts. Less chance of interference with the spells if they're cast separately. Once they're in past the wards, we just have to wait until one of them can lure Potter out."
A muffled noise came from Draco as he tried his utmost to bite through the gag in his mouth. Dumbledore's blue eyes grew cold as he looked at the Slytherin.
"Good. It's time we brought this war to an end." He lifted his wand.
Draco's struggles ceased instantly: he straightened, standing still and relaxed. Moody reached up and undid the blindfold - the pureblood's grey eyes were glassy and calm, his expression neutral. Dumbledore smiled.
It was a warm, kindly smile. The sort of smile that made you trust the wearer, because no one who smiled that gently could be a villain.
"Perfect. Now, Draco Malfoy, you will go to Hogwarts, and you will persuade Harry Potter to go for a walk with you, down by the Forbidden Forest."
"I will go to Hogwarts." Draco repeated, his voice detached and cool. Moody shook his head.
"Just as well the little devils never listened in DADA, eh, Albus?"
"Indeed, Alastor. Just as well."
Someplace far away, on the plane of existence that served as Earth's personal Hell, a group of demons sat about the thick slab of onyx which formed their meeting table. They were deep in discussion, reviewing the instructions they had been given, when a soft 'pop' echoed through the room.
Karril had just materialized in the chamber, near the head of the table, wearing a broad grin that was somehow far more chilling than it had any right to be. "Ah, good evening to you all, my esteemed fellow demons and demigods. Have you heard the news?"
A tall demon, who actually possessed the classic curving horns and forked tail that humans always seemed to depict on his kind, frowned sternly at the visitor. "Do not speak in riddles, Ernan. What news do you bring?"
Karril chuckled lowly. "Ah, so you haven't heard. You see, Riddle's on to you. He knows something's up - and you know what he's done? He's called in Gerald Tarrant. The only man who has utterly destroyed one of us and lived to tell the tale."
There was a ripple of scornful laughter: the horned demon sneered in disdain. "You expect us to believe such a wild claim, Karril? You think we'll believe that Gerald Tarrant, the Darkest Prince of Hell, cares what we get up to? I hardly think so. Go spin your tales for someone else, God of Pleasure: leave us to our business, and mind your own."
Karril shrugged, his face expressionless, though inwardly he was cackling madly. By the Demonic Code, the Demon Lords were bound to warn each other in advance of an attack, to give the one being attacked the chance to make amends and avert a genuine battle. Those rules had been instituted aeons ago, due to the rampant destruction that could result when they went to war against each other. Even though the Hunter wasn't technically a Demon Lord, Karril had just set it up so that the true Demon Lords would have absolutely no recourse when Tarrant set about disciplining them. They had been outright warned. There fate was now sealed.
Karril vanished from the Demon Council and willed himself to Riddle Manor. He appeared just as Tarrant was debating strategy with Riddle: the three Dark sorcerers had adjourned to the lavishly appointed study, Riddle and Harry curled up together on one couch and Tarrant settled in a sort of elegant sprawl on the other. Karril watched as both Earth wizards started at his sudden appearance, returning Tarrant's smirk. "Afternoon, all. Everything's set, Gerald, they walked straight into the trap."
The Hunter's eyes glittered with cold delight. "They took the bait?"
"Hook, line, and sinker." Karril confirmed. "Rassilos said - and I quote - you think we'll believe that Gerald Tarrant, the Darkest Prince of Hell, cares what we get up to?'. He thinks I was only fear-mongering. That covers the requirements of forewarning, though, so you're free to slaughter them at will."
Riddle's grey eyes widened in sudden comprehension. "You circumvented the Demonic Code? You're good, Lord Tarrant, very good indeed." A look of genuine admiration was on the Dark Lord's face.
"Look, I hate to interrupt here, but aren't you lot forgetting something?" Harry spoke up suddenly. Riddle glanced at him curiously.
"What might that be?"
Harry sighed. "Apparently, these demons have gotten such overinflated egos they're not even scared of you, Lord Tarrant. How the hell - pardon the phrasing - did Dumbledore ever get them to cooperate?"
There was a long pause, then Tarrant shook his head. "You have excellent taste, Lord Voldemort. That is a very good question, young Lord - I doubt we shall find any definite answers until Albus Dumbledore has been dealt with. I do, however, have certain suspicions... which, if correct, mean that Dumbledore has been very busily digging his own grave."
Karril's eyes lit up. "You don't think he was stupid enough to try that, do you?"
"I can't see how else he would have done it." Tarrant said thoughtfully. "Unless he somehow bought the aid of one of the preeminent Lords, like Rassilos, and the others simply followed... but after what I did to Calesta, I doubt they would risk that. And with the way they're constantly fighting for dominance, I doubt such an alliance would have lasted without at least one betrayal. No, I think the only way Dumbledore could have pulled this off without making them believe that they were safe from Voldemort, which means he must have convinced them he is a Summoner's Heir."
Even Riddle looked confused at that one. "A what, precisely?"
Tarrant smirked faintly. "A Summoner's Heir. It's a long story: suffice it to say that in ancient times - ancient even by Wizarding standards - certain foolhardy individuals sought to tame the Demon Lords. Some few of them were strong enough to succeed: they were given the title of Summoner. The way demons look at things, each person's descendants are a part of that person, so any direct descendant of a Summoner still commands the loyalty of the Demon Lords. I myself am technically a Summoner's Heir, although that lineage is from my mother's side of the family, and I had no idea of my status until Karril informed me some decades after I became the Hunter. I suppose it is possible that Dumbledore is actually a partial Heir as well, but he cannot be a true Heir - the last known line of Heirs died out centuries ago."
"So if we expose him as a fraud, the demons will turn on him?" Harry asked, his green eyes lighting up with vindictive eagerness.
Tarrant smiled coldly. "Indeed. Given what Karril has related... I very much doubt that they will be pleased to see me. Not too long ago I was responsible for the death of an Iezu, a demon renowned for its near-invulnerability to all physical forces: they've started calling me Kis'hnav'rarren. It means 'slayer of immortals' in the demonic cant. If it comes down to a contest between myself and Albus Dumbledore, they will undoubtedly abandon him rather than face my wrath."
"Excellent." Riddle smirked, his eyes gleaming with dark triumph. "In that case, Lord Tarrant, I suggest that you and our demonic friend here iron out a final strategy: my Consort and I could use a bit of a rest, we've had a rather long day."
Tarrant rose, bowing gracefully. "As you wish. Karril?"
The Hunter swept out, Karril on his heels. Harry allowed himself a soft sigh and sank back against the couch cushions, closing his eyes in exhaustion. As the adrenaline faded, he had grown more and more weary: by now, he felt like he might just pass out. As they sat there in silence, though, a question that had been niggling at the back of his mind started to push forward more and more. Before he even knew it, Harry was speaking, his voice unusually hesitant. "Tom, love, can I ask you something?"
Riddle had delved into a book on demon magicks that he had conjured from somewhere: he looked up from the pages swiftly and smiled at Harry, his silver eyes warming. "Of course, little serpent. You can always ask me anything, you know that."
Harry bit his lip, but there was no help for it: the thought had been burning in his mind since the arrival of Gerald Tarrant. He'd seen the little glances that Riddle shared with the Ernan man, the way they seemed to understand each other's ideas even before they were spoken aloud, and Harry was going to have to get an answer to his questions or he would go mad from wondering. "I don't mean to pry, obviously, but... from the way you two were acting earlier, I wondered... was there ever anything between you and the Hunter?"
Riddle's silver eyes shadowed slightly: he obviously understood what kind of 'anything' Harry was asking about. He hesitated just a moment, then said honestly, "Yes. Decades ago now, before you or Damien Vryce were even born, but - yes. We were... lovers, for a time."
Harry felt a tight knot of jealousy coil in his gut, but he resisted it: he knew it wasn't even close to rational. As Riddle had said, he wasn't even born at the time, it wasn't as though the older wizard had betrayed him. He nodded, slowly.
"Alright. Were you planning on telling me?"
Riddle set the book down on the low table in front of the couch and leveled a steady gaze at Harry. "I assumed that, if you wished to know, you would ask. I will never lie to you, Harry, but there are going to be issues on which I don't volunteer information. If you hadn't guessed the history between Lord Tarrant and I from our actions, then you would not have needed to know - especially given that I was certain it would make you uncomfortable."
Harry sighed and let some more of the tension relax from his overwound muscles. "I know. Thank you for answering, anyway: I know it was a really personal question..."
Riddle reached out and caught hold of Harry's hand, clasping it gently. "Love, you are my soulmate. I will never lie to you - and I will not refuse to answer, either, if you feel it important enough to ask. I will not do what Dumbledore did and keep vital information from you, whether or not I believe it is in your best interests. As to what happened between Lord Tarrant and I - it could not even remotely be considered within the realm of affection. It started as a simple mentor-apprentice relationship: I was still quite young at the time, young and reckless and ambitious and power-hungry, and Lord Tarrant... Gerald was fascinated by the opportunity to study an alternate of Earth, and more than willing to teach me about the effective application of power in return. After a while, though, things changed: Merlin knows there was enough mutual attraction there, and so we ended up - dallying, if you will. There was always a clear understanding between us, though, that no emotional attachment was expected or welcomed by either party. Eventually, our paths parted: he had other issues to deal with on Erna, and I devoted myself to my quest for power. We parted on good terms and remained allies, but nothing more."
Harry turned that over in his mind for a little while, then nodded slowly. "Okay. I can't really say that I'm alright with it - honestly, I'd like to hex him from here to next month - but we need his help, and this was all so long ago that I don't really have any right to be pissed off. Just - if he so much as looks at you the wrong way, I'm going to have to AK him, is that clear?"
Riddle chuckled softly. "Quite. You don't need to worry, though, love: he won't try anything. For all his failings, Gerald has a very strict code of honor, and he's apparently just as content with this Damien Vryce as I am with you. He's not the type to jeopardize something like that."
Harry nodded. "Good. Now, where were we?"
Riddle smirked at him. "I believe we were plotting the gruesome demise of Albus Dumbledore."
"Ah, yes." Harry said, slowly matching his lover's expression. "That reminds me: I have some ideas about what to do with the rest of the Barbecued Chickens..."
Author's Note: Before you all go apeshit on me, I promise that the purpose of the Crystal Lichen will be revealed next chapter: this was already a long one, and I'd already taken too long to post, so that revelation will have to wait for the next one. Besides, Gerald pulled his usual trick and stole the stage. So, keep your shorts on: it's coming, I swear.