.: Chapter Nineteen:.


What are those things? Harry wondered, pushing the thought in Draco's direction. The blond titled his head a fraction, and Harry knew that was a signal that his thoughts had been heard.

"I wasn't aware that you needed a guard," Draco murmured, gesturing to the hound in the corner. Claude did not even glance back at what Draco was indicating.

"I was not aware that you needed one, either," the elder vampire mused, his amber eyes flickering to Snape and Harry. "That beast is my favourite, my pet, if you will – much like your own. He watches because he thinks that your humans are my meal. He is quite partial to a few scraps from my plate."

Harry winced in disgust. Not only because he was quite sure he was the favourite pet that the vampire had been referring to, but also because it was quite clear, any donor that came to Claude Stanton was feasted upon in the most brutal fashion, whatever Claude's calm, sophisticated mannerisms may say. He lets the wolves eat them?

"They feed on blood, or flesh? We have not heard of their like before," Snape retorted.

"They're a secret privilege of vampires, bottom feeding guardians," Merritt chimed in happily, flashing his dazzling hazel eyes at the potions master. "I suppose in mortal terms, you could say that they are like the fish that cling to the sharks in the sea. The hounds are the familiars of the vampires; they survive on the titbits, scraps of blood from whatever the vampire feeds on. They begin life as a hellhound and become our servants when bitten and drained to the point of death by a vampire. They have more stable, corporeal forms as they are now. In essence, we create them, they assist and guard us, and in return, we give them enough human blood to live off."

Harry sneered. "It's disgusting that people are disturbed enough to donate themselves to you, even pay for it. What's worse is that you feed whatever is left to your mongrels, as if they're nothing more than butcher's meat," he hissed in revulsion.

Merritt smiled, tilting his head slightly so that his luscious blond curls dusted his cheekbones flatteringly. "It's no secret that our bite gives unrivalled, insurmountable pleasure, little human. You yourself have felt it often enough, tell me that it doesn't make your human body explode with bliss?" the vampire challenged him. Harry struggled to wipe his face clear of his emotions.

"I can smell it on you," Merritt pressed on, "you bathe in his scent and the scent of the pleasure he gives you. Is it so hard to believe that the lonely or hurt or affection-starved patrons would want to feel that too? It clears their mind, gives them release for a short time. What wouldn't any tortured soul pay for that?"

I only feel that because it's Draco, Harry thought. It made sense, but he couldn't fathom Merritt's words. It was true, Draco did give him peace and pleasure and warmth he had never even dreamed of feeling, but that wasn't because of his vampire abilities. It's because of him, Harry thought. It was unbearable to imagine feeling that with someone else. He was sure it would not feel the same. No matter how much he paid for it.

It would not be the same, a voice hissed in his mind, Draco's soft, possessive tone sweeping through him like a warm blanket being pulled over his shivering bones. But not everyone is the same. Some are desolate with loneliness and pain and will willingly accept, even pay a fortune for just one beautiful lie – just a few hours of release. You may not understand it, but that doesn't make it any less true. The human donors benefit just as much as the vampires.

"And we hardly throw their limp body to the dogs after," Merritt continued with a chuckle. "The donors are usually quite happy to pour some of themselves into a bowl. Or in some cases our familiars lap up the spillages. You make the feeding process sound so ugly and crass, but it is in fact so beautifully intimate."

"Why would you want to be intimate with anyone who isn't…yours? With someone you have no feelings for? That's just…" Harry gritted his teeth. "Just empty and hollow and…wrong. They're using you."

Both Merritt and Claude laughed. "Oh my, so delightfully passionate and innocent," Claude mused, "you must have hours of entertainment, youngling. He is completely infatuated with you."

Harry flushed with anger, but Merritt's reply stifled any razor sharp retort that had been brewing in his mind.

"We use each other, golden boy," Merritt answered, still smiling. "They use us to sate their needs and we use them back to sate our thirst. It is hard for one so young and so innocent to comprehend, but it is the way the world works. Not every vampire has a luscious young, vestal virgin donor hopelessly in love with them. We cannot all starve because of it."

Harry's mouth opened to protest, but Snape stiffened at his side and his words died on his tongue. Belatedly, he remembered his promise to be silent.

"It intrigues me that your abilities have grown so greatly in just a few weeks," Claude said then, swirling the stemmed glass in his hand before taking another sip of the bloody beverage within. "And you seem to have developed all of the usual powers. Have you developed a tolerance to the sun yet?"

Evidently sensing the answer without Draco saying a word, Claude continued, his face breaking into a smile. "It does not happen until many decades later, until the vampire is much, much older in normal circumstances. Even Merritt here, one of my children of twenty years cannot withstand more than a few moments of sunlight. I had to ask, however, since you are so advanced in everything else."

Harry wondered if that meant that Claude himself was able to go out into the sunlight. The man was wealthy and successful in the wizarding world, perhaps that was because he was able to venture out where a lot of his fellow creatures were not?

"The theory is that after absorbing the magic and blood of wizards for enough generations, some of their magic is instilled within our bodies," Merritt elaborated. "That is why aristocratic vampires will only feed from magical donors. Over a great many years, their magic will unwittingly build a protection in our skin, allowing us into sunlight for a short time."

"Indeed," Claude continued, "I would not recommend a burning hot summer's day, but our fortunate English weather does permit us near enough boundless freedom in the daylight. It took me nearly a century of drinking only from the most pure of wizards to build up the tolerance. I am curious as to your position there."

Without any further warning, Claude crossed the room with vampire speed, seizing black velvet drape from where it was lying across a sphere-like shape that had gone unnoticed before. The sheet flew back under his hand and a blinding light sliced through the gloom. A scream pierced the air and Harry felt movement around him. He squinted through the light, seeing that it was radiating from a large globe-like sphere sitting in a wooden stand. Claude was standing behind it as still as stone.

Where was Draco?

"Enough!" Came Snape's harsh, rasping voice from the side and when Harry found him amongst the blinding light, he saw that the man was on the floor, his arms around a black bundle – his own cloak, thrown over a quivering, screaming body.

"Draco?!" Harry cried out, but before he could take so much as a step towards the body under Snape's cloak, the light vanished – as quickly as it had come. With coloured dots dancing behind Harry's eyes, he watched as Claude arranged the black velvet material carefully over the globe again. As if he hadn't just risked the lives of two of the people in the room.

Without so much as a second glance at the hateful creature, Harry flew to Snape's side, wrenching the potions master's cloak from the body on the floor. His eyes widened when he spied blood-soaked blond curls amidst the slowly healing, seared flesh. Snape had taken pity on the screaming creature and Harry, having heard the blood-curdling sounds he'd made, could not blame him. No one deserved to die that way.

Flying back to his feet, Harry rounded on Claude but at this slightly different angle, it was then that he saw him. Draco was on the far side of the room, his face and throat were burnt and blistered. It looked as if he had been doused with scalding water and sunburnt in the same instant. His skin was rippling as it slowly healed. Grey eyes were wide with shock, the shock of surviving such an onslaught from a sunlight imbued object that seemed to have rendered Snape's sunlight potion useless somehow. The same shock that made Harry launch himself at Claude.

"Silforgium!" he screamed. A missile of pure silver bolted from his wand tip and shot through the air. Claude side-stepped it easily.

"Harry, no!" Draco roared, his voice cracked, but one of Harry's hands had already seized the elder vampire's collar, his wand stabbing the vampire in the throat.

"What if it had killed him?" Harry hissed in a low, serpentine snarl. "You couldn't know for sure that it wouldn't. I don't know what your game is, but your interest is not enough reason to kill someone. If you hurt him, if you do such a thing to him again…" Harry's voice trailed off for a second and he pressed into the vampire's iron-hard skin until it felt like his wand was about to snap. "I should just kill you now, since Draco is blinded by his aspirations and will probably think you useful."

Suddenly, Claude's hand shot out, seizing Harry's wand hand and twisting it so that the throbbing blue veins on his wrist were perilously close to the vampire's exposed fangs. Rich amber eyes flickered up to meet Harry's as a grin twisted those lips.

"You are an amusing specimen, pet," Claude purred. Harry sneered, tugging at his arm, but he could not break free. "Your passion for your vampire burns brighter than the sun. It's very intriguing indeed."

With a roar of fury, Harry sent a non-verbal Incendio bursting through his wand, singeing the vampire's cheek and making him drop his hand on instinct. Harry staggered back, rubbing his abused wrist where he felt a bruise forming. "We are not some science experiment for you to study. You swore a wizard's oath that no harm would befall Draco–"

"And no harm has," Draco murmured from behind him, causing Harry to turn on his heel. Draco stood right before him now, his face tinged with pink where it had recently healed but with no other damage on display. "I hadn't thought to check my tolerance to the sun as I had not read anywhere that I would accumulate one over the years," Draco said to Claude, even as he kept his eyes fixed on Harry. "How is it that I seem to have the same amount of tolerance as your companion over there, who is a good many years older than I?"

Harry glanced then to where Merritt was straightening at Snape's side, his face also tinged with a raw pinkish glow. Snape stepped away from the vampire with unhidden distaste, wrapping his travelling cloak back around himself.

"I am but twenty years your senior, Malfoy," Merritt said indignantly, "though my body is the same age as yours, give or take a few months."

"It is to do with the magic coursing through the blood of your First, and also the intensity of the bond you share," Claude explained, ignoring Merritt's self-involved comment as if it had never been voiced. Merritt seemed to be a decoration at best to Claude, Harry noted and he wondered what virtues the younger vampire had that permitted him so close to Claude's side. The beast seemed concerned solely with how those surrounding him could best benefit him, after all.

"That blast was the equivalent of perhaps two days in constant, unveiled sunlight in potency," Claude added. It was the magic of the object that had allowed the light to harm Draco despite the potion then, Harry surmised. Perhaps the potion only worked to guard against natural sunlight?

Harry saw Draco catch Snape's eye. If this were true, in a year's time, maybe a bit more, he would be able to go about his business under the sun without need of Snape's potion, providing he was careful. And that he always has a pitcher of me handy, Harry's mind supplied.

"What else can you tell me?" Draco asked, sounding far too eager for Harry's liking. "What other lessons can you teach me? You are aware of my thirst for success, what else can you teach me to aid in that goal?"

Claude tilted his head, still wearing an expression imbued with amusement. "I would make my main lesson in controlling your instincts, but you and your First have control of that better than most vampires twice your undead age. You say you have absolutely no taste nor desire for another's blood?"

Harry saw Draco's eyes narrow.

"Not even if there was a tide of blood in front of me," Draco assured him. "Harry's is the only blood that affects me. But then you know that."

Claude slid regally into a high-backed Victorian chair nearby, folding his fingers together as he surveyed them. "I do indeed, but then, a union such as yours has not been made in an age, and even then, it was never with a First of yours'…potency and purity."

Harry raised his chin, glaring at the elder vampire hatefully. What was the creature's game?

"He is so tempestuous, it makes me wonder how well you can control him – he is privy to a great many of our secrets, after all," Claude added.

Draco's eyes flashed and he edged towards Harry a little more, his fingers wrapping subtly around his wrist. "He is headstrong and hot-headed but he is unfalteringly loyal to me, as you've seen tonight," Draco assured him. "Surely you do not require any further evidence?"

"He is powerful, more powerful than any other human privy to our secrets," Claude replied coolly, his amber eyes wandering over Harry again, that same intrigued glimmer flashing within. "I would like not evidence of his loyalty, but of your control," he murmured dangerously. "So far, it appears that you are under your First's fickle thumb. You cannot even bid him to quiet. Our coven requires proof that he is within your power."

Movement at his side caused Harry to glance to his right, seeing Snape taking his place beside him, his face set with suspicion. "And how do you propose such a thing can be proven?" Snape asked.

Claude's pale fingers reached out, plucking up his glass again so that he could take another sip of blood as he surveyed them. "I wish to see you taste him."

Harry's body flinched. The hand around his wrist tightened slightly.

"After what happened downstairs?" Draco challenged. "After the stunt just now?" He seemed to realise that his emotions were overcoming him then, for he swallowed, taking a moment to gather himself. "Forgive me, sir, but I am still very human and am plagued by the need for privacy during such an act–"

"He doesn't want the bite right now," Claude cut across him with a careless gesture to Harry. "That is why I asked for it in particular as a display of your power. Do not drink deep if you are concerned with waste but do not believe that you have a choice here either. As this coven's leader, it is my responsibility to ensure its secrets are safe-guarded. If you cannot control your First, then we are not safe."

Harry could understand that, he supposed. It didn't make him any more amiable to Draco biting him in front of anyone, however. It was humiliating enough when Snape had had to watch the first time. That and he wasn't entirely confident in Claude's motives.

Draco turned to him suddenly, his eyes burning as he stared deep into Harry's own. Give me permission, Draco insisted, the voice of his thoughts sounding quite desperate in Harry's head. The chosen one realised quickly what he meant. It was almost as abhorrent to him as becoming aroused under Draco's bite with an audience but it was the lesser of two evils, he decided. And he trusted Draco not to abuse the power Harry was about to allow him.

It will be stronger this time, I am stronger, thanks to you, Draco warned him. Harry gave the slightest of nods that only Draco could see, and kept his ground when his vampire slid close to him. He inhaled sharply when their chests touched, gazing unflinchingly into those silvery eyes.

"Look into my eyes," Draco breathed in a hypnotising, husky voice. "You can feel my will coursing through you, can't you?"

Harry breathed out shakily, trying to convince himself not to panic inside himself as Draco's thrall swept through him, seizing his own willpower with two firm yet gentle hands. He could feel Draco's cool affection and his concern. He didn't want to do this and he wouldn't hurt him. Harry fazed out, just letting the vampire's influence take control and trying to distance himself from it as much as possible. He was terrified of what Draco might make him do to prove his control. "Yes, Draco," he exhaled dazedly.

Those long, pale fingers that brought him such pleasure reached out and wrapped carefully around the wrist that Claude Stanton had abused, bringing it up to his mouth so that his now exposed fangs could graze the rapidly purpling flesh. It ached and Harry twitched under the attentions. "You don't want me to do this, you're embarrassed aren't you?"

Torn between arousal at Draco's voice and horror at his humiliation, Harry whispered, "Yes, Draco." Those lips were caressing his bruised skin now, healing the throbbing pain with a flickering stroke from his tongue.

"Yet despite this, you'll do anything I desire, won't you?" Draco asked.

"Yes, Draco."

"Get on your knees." With his pride screaming in his ears, Harry dropped slowly to his knees, his wrist still locked in Draco's grasp even though it was now healed. He kept the vampire's gaze, unable to look away as he positioned himself at Draco's feet. It was disconcerting to say the least, feeling his body move without his instruction, but he focused on Draco's voice, trusting that husky drawl with everything he had. This was Draco's chance to prove himself. He had Harry completely under his power and what he did with that power right now would dictate the rest of their lives.

Harry's adam's apple quivered, he was level with Draco's crotch and it put ideas into his head as to what Draco might do. He only hoped it was nothing sexual, but he wasn't sure what else would satisfy Claude's need for proof. He seemed the perverted sort.

"Tell me…what is it that you want most in the world?" Draco asked, apparently choosing the kindest of tortures to drag out of him – a personal admittance. Even then, as his lips parted with his dazed answer, Harry knew that Draco could not have known what his answer would be; the shocked look was far too genuine to be feigned.

"The happiness of my loved ones, my happiness – you." The final word was a shuddering gasp as he tried in vain to cling to the word, not wanting it to leave his lips. Draco's eyes widened and he dropped Harry's wrist, some odd, uncertain emotion glistening in his gaze.

"And when my fangs break your skin," Draco murmured, his voice cracking slightly. "What is it that you want most then?"

An echo of the very pleasure that seized his body when Draco bit him was now burning in his groin and Harry felt arousal trickle through his veins. The other two vampires in the room must have felt it, for they both emitted deep, raspy sounds, just as he tipped his head back as far as it could go and declared to Draco, "Fuck me."

Just like that, Draco blinked and the influence Harry felt controlling his body faded. His limbs slumped uselessly, his body heading for the floor until two strong arms tugged him swiftly to his feet. He felt the cool comfort of Draco's chest against his for but a moment, before the vampire stepped back, holding him at arm's length, not looking at him.

"There is your proof. I can command his mind and body if it comes to it, I simply prefer not to without just cause," Draco said stoically. "Now, tell me, the other things you say you can teach me, what are they? Why am I here, other than to give you opportunity to probe at me and my First like lab rats?" There was no force, no emotion or anger behind Draco's words, he hid his feelings well, even if his words were more blunt than before. His encounter with Harry's helplessness seemed to have rankled him even more than it had Harry.

"I have ascertained that our secrets will be safe with your First," Claude said in his usual, disinterested tone. "You and your First must have some trouble controlling the surmountable, ever-growing powers between you. We would of course, be thrilled to assist you in learning to wield it accurately, whilst you yourself can use your connection to me as a weapon to battle your way to the top of any office you desire."

Draco remained motionless, and Harry watched him, knowing what a tempting offer that would be, despite the dangers. Power and position, both were things his vampire longed to have, even Harry had to admit the aspect of learning to control his magic even quicker, so that he would not always have to rely on the spell was attractive, even if the rest of it wasn't. Tonight had shown what lengths Claude Stanton was a prepared to go to in order to please himself, however, and Harry was sure that his and Draco's joint powers were something he had every intention of abusing while he 'helped' them to control it.

He wants Draco and our joint power under his roof, as his weapon, Harry thought, seeing the wicked cogs turning behind those fiery amber eyes. Wondering just what the potions master thought of all this, Harry glanced to the side, only to see Snape staring fixedly at Merritt, while the blond vampire stared back. It was as if some silent conversation were happening between them. Just as Harry realised that there must be exactly that, however, the blond snapped out of his trance-like state, turning to his master, who hadn't seemed to notice the exchange.

"I will check below, my Lord, make sure that all is well," Merritt said brusquely, and with a nod from Claude, he crossed the room and shut the door behind him on his way out. Draco's arm slid subtly around Harry's waist.

"You must expect payment for your assistance?" Draco asked with an air of politeness. "Such gifts are too generous to be free of charge."

Claude's wicked grin widened. "I am sure that you would do me a favour or two in the future, should the situation ever arise," he replied, "in the mean time, entertaining you and your First will be reward enough for me. After a few centuries the world does grow…tiresome. One needs something to spice things up a bit."

We're not pawns for your amusement, Harry sneered, forcing himself to remain still otherwise.

"I would like for you to return here before the festive season starts to begin the training of your magic – and to introduce you to a few of my business colleagues," Claude continued, picking up an odd, slender crystal instrument from the table beside his chair and gliding towards them. The clear crystal glowed ominously in the light and Harry felt Draco's arm tense on his waist when the elder vampire stopped before him.

"Your blood is of my own, my subordinates will sense this without pause, but your First," he cast a furtive glance into Harry's wary eyes. "He is a stranger to them. To ensure his safety when you return here, I would have a drop of his blood for a protection charm for him. We do this for all of the pets of the coven, to ensure they are known as one of us."

The vampire held his hand out now, his long fingers exposing the peculiar object for what it was. It looked like a crystal vial with a hinged matching lid, on the inside of the stopper, however, extended a sharp needle-like point. There was no question as to what it was for.

As if sensing their hesitation, Claude added, "I believe next time it might be prudent to discuss tactics to capture our mutual problem, Caius Alaric as well. You are what he wants. We can come to some arrangement as to a trap that we could set for him quite quickly, I imagine, and make you and your First safe once again."

At this, Draco glanced at Harry offering him the slightest of nods. There was something in his eyes, a secretiveness that told Harry not everything was as it seemed, that Draco and maybe even Snape were plotting something here. Draco was insanely possessive over him, all of him, including his blood, he would not ask this of him if it wasn't necessary.

Ignoring his gut feeling, not for the first time that night, Harry raised his thumb and scraped it across the needlepoint. A thick globule of blood ran down into the crystal vial, giving it a beautiful crimson sheen. When Harry retracted his finger, however, it was ensnared swiftly by Draco's grasp and brought to the vampire's mouth where that devious tongue made love to the wound until the throbbing pain and flow of blood had both vanished.

Would he ever need a healing spell again?

"Excellent," chimed Claude's voice, snapping the vial shut securely as Draco released Harry's hand. "The 19th of December, I think, same time? I will of course, remind my companions downstairs to greet you a little better this time."

"That would be much appreciated," Draco replied politely, steering Harry towards the door, Severus close at their side. "We have a second engagement now; I hope that you wouldn't think it rude if we were to take our leave?" The door was already open under Snape's hand before Claude had even answered. The vampire was following them to the door, his hound following their every step as he shadowed his master.

"Of course, you cannot apparate within our building but if you take a few steps outside you should be able to. Security measures, you understand," Claude explained.

"Naturally. I would expect no less, Good night, Sir," Draco said with a small bow, before pressing his palm into the small of Harry's back and urging him down the stairs the way they had come. When they were out of sight of the elder vampire, Harry could not help but notice that their steps hastened. Snape was just ahead, his wand drawn and Draco was urgently pushing him forwards.

"What's going on?" Harry asked them warily. He opened his mouth to insist on an answer when they remained silent, but Snape cut across him.

"Not now, Potter, we haven't much time. Hurry."

They were in the main room again, though it seemed suspiciously emptier than before. The humans were gone, as far as he could tell, and the vampires were now spread across their settees with revoltingly satisfied looks on their faces, which were mostly strewn with blood.

"They haven't killed them all?" Harry asked desperately in Draco's ear as they moved swiftly towards the door.

"You'll see," Draco replied vaguely, pulling the front door open roughly. It was then, in the next few seconds that followed that countless sounds and sensations registered in Harry's mind – all in slow motion.

"Now!" Snape screamed at the top of his lungs, flying through the door. The sweep of his robes was all that Harry saw in the dimness before Draco's weight slammed into his back, sending them soaring. They crashed into the hard, unforgiving concrete ground, just as a deafening explosion tore through the air. The ground shook. The world roared with overwhelming heat and light.

It was still trembling and burning with a fierce orange glow when he struggled to his feet, Draco's hand steadying him when he swayed a little. "Are you hurt?" the vampire murmured, his fingers sweeping over Harry's forehead, which was throbbing slightly. Harry winced. Draco's fingers came away red.

"I'm fine, it's just a little scrape," Harry insisted, raising his wand to the wound. He should've known better by now, he supposed. Before he could even utter a syllable, Draco's mouth was gracing his forehead with a swift, healing kiss. It was an odd touch though, as if Draco's mind was not truly with him in that moment. Something's wrong, Harry thought, and not just because of the inferno he now spied burning behind them – where the Bloody Mary had been moments before.

It was a fitting end to the vile place, he supposed, particularly on this day of all days. November Fifth.

"Why did you give me opportunity to save myself?" Came a voice off to the side and when Harry turned, he saw a ruffled, very stern looking Merritt standing there, watching him, Draco and Snape with suspicious, bright hazel orbs that reflected the blazing inferno surreally. There were people behind him, a handful of vampires and humans that were watching Merritt as if he was the deciding factor of their next move.

"You displayed a touch more humanity than the others, Draco told me this, and I had to agree," Snape replied coolly, "And I have seen enough unnecessary bloodshed in my life to not wish anymore upon the innocent, if there were humans and good-intentioned vampires in that coven, we wanted them out."

Merritt raised a brow. "That's why you threw yourself at me, saved me from the magical sunlight? I'm hurt. It wasn't simply to whisper sweet nothings in my ear, then?"

Harry realised then that this was why Snape had saved Merritt so dramatically. He wanted to get close to Merritt to warn him that he and the 'innocents' should get out. And that's why they were staring at each other afterwards. He had thought it peculiar that Snape had continued to hold the creature for longer than needed after the feigned sunlight had faded.

Snape's face contorted with irritation. "Insolent whelp. I hardly call advising you to get the guiltless to safety a kind of endearment. What I wish to know is why you acted without a second thought – he was your master, Claude, was he not?"

Merritt frowned. "He was my sire; I have been his favourite since Vesper fell out of his favour by falling for that vampire hunter, but… Claude Stanton is a cruel, manipulative creature whose human emotions grow more distant with every year that passes. He is older than most vampire aristocrats, he sees himself as superior to everyone and everything…"

"We had noticed," Harry grumbled, wincing as agonised screams filled the air. The vampires left within the pub were shrieking as they met their gruesome, painful end. He understood the reason for it being done this way, but he didn't think he could ever justify causing such suffering to another creature. Even if they do take advantage of those poor lost people, just looking for a moment of peace, he thought, staring at the inferno as it clawed at the pitch black heavens.

Smoke permeated the air, the heat of the flames licked at his body in the cold night and yet he shivered at the haunting sounds of their demise.

"The way that we live now, feeding only when he permits us to, leaving to venture into the real world only when he allows it," Merritt continued with a shake of his head, "Years I've tried to convince myself he was right, out of fear of striking out on my own, but it's finally come to this."

"Do not pretend you don't relish having blood easily within your reach," Snape retorted scathingly. "It may have been at his discretion but you lived well, did you not?"

Merritt's unnaturally bright eyes shone in the orange light of the smouldering inferno. "There isn't much beauty in eternal youth, eternal life if there is no one to share it with," the vampire answered, looking pointedly at Harry and Draco. "My un-life is a meaningless existence. It is just that, existing, not living. The only chance I have of finding better is by being free. I am indebted to you for helping me attain that freedom." He bowed his head slightly in thanks, just as muggle sirens filled the air. Blue lights were flashing from only a few streets away.

"We must go before the muggles come, they will find nothing here by the time they reach it, do not worry," Merritt said to them, focusing solely on Draco now. "I do not know if this will help you, but Caius Alaric was…he was a passionate man, Mr Malfoy. He is so driven with grief because he loved Lucan Vesper with every beat of his mortal heart. Take advantage of that if you can."

Draco gave a curt, thankful nod, gazing at the roaring fire thoughtfully.

"The bulk of the coven has been vanquished with your fire, there may be an enquiry at the Ministry, but no one will be able to track it back to you," Merritt said, seeming to understand the concern permeating the air from both Harry and Draco. "They will most likely assume it the work of some rogue anti-vampire enthusiasts. All I pray is that my master perished in the flames as effectively as the others."

Harry frowned. "Why wouldn't he?" he asked. "I know the feeling of those flames – they were made from the cinders of fiendfyre. Nothing can survive that." He may not know much about vampire etiquette, but he bloody knew a thing or too about dark magic.

Merritt fixed him with his warm, hazel gaze. "He was a very ancient evil, Mr Potter, his body pounds with the blood and magic of decades worth of potent magical blood. The finest. However, I can only hope you are right…"

Beside him, Draco raised his chin with a snort. "The screams have died, there is nothing in there but ash," the blond insisted, "And even if there is, they know exactly what they're dealing with now. Not a skittish youngling and his pet human. We're a force to be reckoned with, and the next person to learn it will be Caius Alaric." His words were spoken with such conviction, such strength that Harry could not help but stare at his lover in awe. The vampire had such confidence in him, in them. Despite the darkness they had touched on tonight…

The sirens wailed deafeningly now and it was Snape that spoke next.

"We must go," he urged Draco and Harry, taking hold of both of their forearms.

"We will meet again, Mr Malfoy, Mr Potter…Professor," Merritt whispered the latter with a flicker of a smile before he vanished into the night after his rescued comrades and the humans. A sharp jerk in Harry's gut was then his only warning, before Snape's magic made their world spin into a torrent of light and kaleidoscopic colour and they disapparated.

It was a cold autumn indeed, a stark contrast to the raging inferno earlier, the grass crunched noisily underfoot as they made their way around the lane, with the Lumos glowing at the end of theirs wands the only light thanks to the vacant sky above. The air was oddly calm and quiet compared to the chaos of earlier that evening and Harry found himself tensed, apprehensive as if expecting another attack. He shivered as Draco walked alongside him in the dark, his cool hand brushing against the back of his every now and then in a comforting gesture.

"You've been quiet since we returned from the Bloody Mary," Draco said softly, the subtle vibrations of his words slicing through the silence. There was an edge of uncertainty in his voice, of apprehension and Harry wondered if he was going to find out why the vampire hadn't met his eyes since the 'display' in the vampire dwelling. "I…I hope that you know I tried to choose the least…humiliating proof for Claude that I could," Draco paused, glancing over to him as if to gauge his reaction. "I took no pleasure in controlling you."

Harry sighed, his breath coming out in a light mist on the chilly air. "I gave you permission to do it. I'm not happy about it by any means but that displeasure isn't directed at you. You did what you had to in order to get us out of there. I know that you will never use your influence on me again, that's not what has me so quiet."

Lifting his head as he walked, Harry stared up at the little specks of light just ahead, soft glows from the windows of the house just up the lane. This wasn't the time to be getting melancholy about the coven they had just all-but vanquished. They came to a large, wooden country gate and Harry laid his hand on the metal latch, about to lift it up so that the gate could swing open, but Draco's long fingers settled over his, stilling his movements.

"Harry," Draco said softly, summoning his gaze up to meet with his own, silvery orbs. "Those creatures happily took advantage of lost, lonely people. They took their blood and money – they would have drained you dry. I could smell the sin on them, the lives they have squandered and enjoyed taking. Do not feel any sadness for their demise. It is unwarranted."

Harry gave a small, weak smile, looking down at where Draco's fingers were caressing his own with the slightest of movements. "I just can't justify taking another creature's life. I don't think I'll ever be able to."

At that, Draco moved towards him, as if he were being pulled by an invisible force, like the tide to the moon. His body pressed flush to Harry's and while one hand continued to pin Harry's to the gate, the other cool palm caressed the scarred side of his throat, before dancing across his skin to tilt his jaw up a fraction.

The next thing Harry knew, those lips were covering his own, massaging him with a firm yet tender passion that made his blood bubble softly and coerce a sound of exhausted bliss from his mouth. He melted forwards, his own free hand reaching up to grasp the back of Draco's neck and hold him to the kiss for longer. He groaned, diving in to taste the wet muscle of Draco's inquisitive tongue and feeling his head spin as if it were being starved of oxygen.

It was terrifying, that he had grown so attached to someone, was so hungry for another person. That someone had torn their way through the fierce barriers he had erected around himself. He was falling and deeply, but if anything had been proven by tonight, it was Draco's sincerity, his feelings. He wouldn't fail to catch him, no matter what the cost. If he broke apart into a thousand pieces as it felt he might, there would be someone who cared about him more than anything else to piece him back together. Tonight had been more of a test to Draco, to their relationship than anything to do with Claude, and the vampire had passed that test.

Suddenly, their kiss broke with a thin trail of saliva and a guttural moan from both of them and Harry stared into those stunning, darkened eyes, seeing two kinds of hunger there. The healing must've taken a lot out of him after that sun spell, Harry thought dazedly, finding it odd that he no longer minded the lines of the bite and their relationship crossing anymore. It was like any other normal couple incorporating food into their bedroom play, he supposed, having had an experience only last week where Draco introduced this point to him with a bowl of strawberries and cream. He flushed darkly at the memory, but that did not stop him from knowing his thoughts were the truth.

Whatever anyone else thought or said, Draco needed his blood to survive and if the feeding gave them both pleasure, why should they not indulge in that? They weren't hurting anyone, not even he, Harry was truly harmed by it thanks to the blood restorative and Temporentia Sensium that both safe-guarded him. They only had themselves to please.

"You should feed later," Harry breathed huskily, his eyes lingering over Draco's lips as he tried to convince himself not to ravage the blond against the fence. He was sure Remus wouldn't appreciate their lateness or the scent of their orgasms in the garden.

"I can wait–" Draco began, but Harry cut him off by pushing the gate open and casting him a furtive glance.

"I want you to," he clarified for him brazenly, before leading the way up the garden path and toward the house. Draco was hot on his heels.

"Look, Harry," the vampire said as they approached the house. "I know that this isn't the best time to discuss this, but you're trying to push away a very important fact in your life and until you accept it, you'll never be free of the…the needless guilt that haunts you."

Harry stopped on the crisp white wooden porch. It was sheltered by the grey tiled roof that projected out across it, framed at the edge by a few strategically placed matching wooden supports. Draco leant against one, staring at him with crossed arms as he surveyed Harry. The hand that Harry had set on the white-wash door fell away as he turned to set a frown on his lover.

"What are you talking about?"

Draco studied him levelly. "You cannot accept that you killed Voldemort, you dance around the subject, blame the spell instead of your own hand. Harry, whether it was wrong or right is redundant, you need to accept that you killed him, that the people that died in the war didn't die because of you. It's quite the contrary, you saved everyone's lives by taking his–"

"Stop it!" Harry hissed, glaring sharply at him. "I…I don't know what you're talking about. Where the bloody hell did this all sprout from?"

Approaching him now, Draco laid a hand on the man's shoulder, sighing heavily when the touched was shrugged off. "I've been pondering it for a while now, but I didn't realise how much it was affecting you until I saw your face when you saw the Bloody Mary burning." He paused, staring thoughtfully into Harry's eyes before adding, "You need to accept responsibility for the one death you actually caused and come to terms with the fact that not every other death around you is your burden to carry."

Harry recoiled from him until his back was pressed against the front door. "I can't help that I…I mourn death of all kinds, no matter who it is. That's just who I am, Draco–"

"It is not that which concerns me," Draco pressed on, "it is the fact that your inability to accept that you took a life, truly ended Voldemort. It makes you unconsciously seek the blame in other parts of your life. I saw your face when you heard their screams, despite the fact that they'd near enough ripped your throat out less than an hour before." He set his hands on Harry's shoulders, squeezing them so that Harry could not shrug him off or escape this time. "I won't let you destroy yourself over killing Voldemort, not when you're finally starting to open up to me."

Harry bowed his head slightly, staring down at his feet so that he could avoid those searching eyes. "I didn't kill him," he insisted quietly, but his voice lacked the conviction he had hoped for. "I can't talk about this…"

Those hands squeezed his shoulders a little tighter. "Not now, but when you're ready," Draco murmured, and stepped back suddenly, just as the front door opened.

A woman with violet, pixie-cut hair stood in the doorway, her eyes a warm hazel, even as they widened in surprise. And there in her arms, was a (currently) yellow-eyed, blue-haired tot. Teddy sucked thoughtfully on his dummy for a moment, before reaching out for Harry, his hair fading instantly to a dark hue to match his own, his large eyes bleeding into green.

"He's a–" Draco gasped, dumbfounded.

"Metamorphmagus like me," Tonks finished with a smile, "and you're my aunt Narcissa's boy, aren't you? Blimey, if you don't look like your mum."

Draco's mouth, that had been hanging open in shock at Teddy's sudden transformation, snapped back shut and he averted his gaze from Tonks's awkwardly. It must have been strange, meeting a cousin for the first time at his age, especially when his mother had helped to cast Tonks's out of their family decades before…

"Sorry, yes, I suppose I'm your cousin," Draco said sheepishly, holding his hand out with a surprising lack of hesitation. "Draco Malfoy."

Harry watched the exchange curiously, never having really known just what Tonks thought of her wizarding relations. Thankfully, the woman shifted Teddy higher on her hip with a grin and shook Draco's hand. "Just call me Tonks, although I suppose I'd be Nymphadora Lupin now, officially." She bounced Teddy on her hip, the infant still reaching for Harry as she said, "And this is Teddy, who as you can see, loves his Harry."

Harry tried to keep the discomfort off his face as Tonks pushed Teddy into his arms. He did love the boy, but he felt awkward at best, being around something so young and fragile and…innocent. Perhaps it was because, aside from when he was that young himself, he'd never been in contact with children, but he felt distinctly nervous around him, especially since he was so eager to follow him around.

Just as he was reminding himself that he hadn't had much time to settle into 'family life' yet, and that the unease would probably fade with time, Harry swore he heard Draco mutter, "We have that in common then." Before Harry even had time to glance back at the vampire, however, Tonks began ushering them inside, making no effort to retrieve Teddy from Harry as she did so.

Harry tightened his grasp around the tot, following Tonks through the cosy warm hall into the kitchen-diner, Draco close at his side and looking at him peculiarly. He looked odd with a baby in his arms, he supposed. He felt odd with a baby in his arms, but that wasn't his main reason for feeling skittish around the child and family who adored him.

Maybe it was because of Draco's presence, because or what the vampire had proved earlier, or the concern, the support he had displayed a few seconds before the door had opened, but he felt slightly more optimistic being back here again. It wasn't as difficult to relax in the homely environment as he had pictured it to be. He was settling in, he supposed, still adjusting to living with a normal family – being included in that family.

Yes, definitely more optimistic, he even smiled slightly as he saw Teddy fiddling with his shirt buttons – awestruck. He was silently grateful he had changed his shirt back at Hogwarts after the 'visit' to the Bloody Mary before coming here. He mentally cringed at the thought of Teddy being even that close to such darkness.

Maybe that's why I find it hard to relax around him, Harry thought on entering the kitchen-diner. Maybe I'm so protective of him that I want to keep him at arm's length along with everyone else, just in case he gets dragged into the chaos that always surrounds me. A glance to Draco beside him reminded him that that was changing. Slowly but surely, he was letting people back in, letting them close to him again. If that was possible, maybe a meal with his 'family' and Draco could also possibly not end in disaster. There was always hope.

The kitchen had honey-coloured wood floor with matching units and cupboards, it was the perfect image of the 'ideal' country kitchen he'd often seen on the front of Aunt Petunia's lifestyle magazines. The table cloth and curtains were matching checked white and blue – a gift from Andromeda when they'd first moved into the house at the start of the summer. And Harry, despite his feeling out of place in such a loving family environment, couldn't help but feel the warmth radiating from the room.

It was the heart of the building. However difficult waking up over the summer had been, breakfast in this room had always been bathed in light and the kind of comfort he had only ever felt at The Burrow.

And with Draco, his mind supplied quietly.

"Da!" Teddy squeaked excitedly on spying Remus on the far side of the room, at the same time Harry did. The werewolf was fetching plates out of the cupboard above the Belfast sink. It was now November, meaning the tyke was around eight months old now, by Harry's memory, and still talking in gobbledegook, it seemed. He smiled brightly at Remus, feeling slightly guilty about the way he had been avoiding the werewolf the last few weeks.

"Wotcher, Remus," he chimed in typical Tonks style, sliding a reluctant Teddy into his highchair. The werewolf returned his smile, before wrinkling his nose, his expression dropping as he noticed Draco at Harry's side. Before he could say a word, however, Tonks had taken the plates from his hand and seemed to make a point of setting an extra place for Draco at Harry's side.

"How is your mum fairing?" Tonks asked jovially, beginning to dish out what Harry recognised as Remus's home-made toad in the hole. His stomach rumbled loudly at the smell of it. He hadn't expected to miss home cooking either…

"I…I haven't heard from her much recently, she and father live a fairly quiet life now though," Draco said tactfully, evidently pretending he hadn't heard Harry's rambunctious stomach.

Tonks's bright expression fell as she seemed to realise the hidden meaning behind those words and she poured an extra helping of gravy onto Draco's portion, gesturing for him to take a seat beside the one Harry had taken up. "Well, the entire wizarding world are eager to see you two together, so I consider myself lucky that Harry invited you round to introduce us properly before the ruddy Prophet announced your wedding day."

Harry hurriedly poured himself a glass of milk from the pitcher on the table in order to hide his embarrassment. The Daily Prophet's stories about him and Draco had not stopped by any means, they had, however turned to the sort of everyday celebrity gossip, where their 'first date' would be, and most recently, when they'd tie the knot. His gut felt tight at the thought. That didn't even bare thinking about right now.

"Sod off, Tonks," he murmured good-heartedly grateful that she at least seemed quite happy to accept Draco's presence, even if Remus was still sceptical of him.

"Good to have you home, Harry," Tonks laughed, looking to Draco next. "Would you like something to drink, Draco? Harry likes milk with his dinner but maybe you'd prefer…" She stopped dead then, seeming to realise what she was saying. "Oh, bugger, sorry Draco, I'm not really… Do you drink? Besides umm…Harry, I mean?"

Harry almost choked on his mouthful of milk. He supposed he should have suspected that Remus would tell Tonks – there were no secrets in their marriage. Subtly, he reached under the table to squeeze Draco's hand reassuringly, he knew that neither would betray his secret, he hoped Draco knew that too.

"I'm…surprised you say that so casually but yes, I can drink and savour food, it is simply that it doesn't give me sustenance," Draco explained, not seeming to know what to make of Tonks. She wasn't like everyone else.

Tonks smiled, seating herself between Remus and Teddy, who was making an admirable mess of his bowl of baby food. "I don't know much about vampires, but I remember how difficult it was to make people understand about our relationship," she began, gesturing between her and Remus. "I don't think anyone can truly understand the dynamics of a 'supernatural' relationship unless they have experienced it for themselves. Some people are squeamish or simply can't understand how it could work or even be…healthy. Merlin knows, I had enough raised eyebrows and not so quiet whispering behind my back at the Ministry when word got about that I was having Teddy. I have an insight to what you must be going through, what you will go through when you eventually let what you are be known to the public."

Harry didn't know much about how Remus and Tonks had got together, and he only knew pieces of what they'd had to endure as a couple with Remus being a known werewolf, but it was nice that Tonks seemed to understand his position. There was no possible way he could make anyone understand or see his and Draco's relationship as he saw it. He could understand Remus's disapproval, of course, but it was that very viability that made this so hard to convince him of.

"I can see the similarities too, Dora," Remus murmured quietly. "But the difference is that you chose me of your own free will, a werewolf does not have any abilities that would seduce a human without their consent. Vampires do. I am not misunderstanding anything, I am only saying that after everything, Harry deserves to have the freedom to choose this for himself with a free mind, or walk away, if that is his wish."

Harry just knew instinctively when Draco's fangs had broken free of his gums. The vampire's jaw was tense, as if struggling to keep the canines behind his closed lips. Draco was somewhat uncontrollable in matters that concerned him, Harry was starting to realise. And vice versa, he thought.

"And why do you not ask Harry instead of trying to force your way between us based on what you think is best for him?" Draco snarled, his fangs visible now. Teddy squealed with excitement, drawing everyone's attention to him, just as two little vampire fangs popped into his mouth. There was a short silence around the table for a moment, and then Tonks burst into laughter.

"My me," she chuckled, patting her son's currently dark hair affectionately. "Seems that makes three against one on the subject of Draco, Remus, but really, Harry seems happy, why do you need any further assurance than that?"

Remus looked as if his wife not taking his side was trying his patience. Harry felt sorry for him really, his heart was in the right place and he, Harry, wasn't exactly giving anyone a straight answer. He set down his knife and fork, staring at his half-eaten toad in the hole as if it might hold all the answers to his problems.

"I am happy, or at least I think I'm on my way there better than I was before. I'm still recovering from…everything but Draco's been a big part of that and I would like the choice to choose this for myself but…" He paused, wondering on how he could possibly voice the torrent of feelings, the gratitude, the connection, the passion he felt for the vampire beside him. Things he had never felt for anyone before.

"I'm not willing to risk something that makes me happier than I've ever been for a choice that I would make exactly the same, I suppose," Harry murmured quietly. "And I appreciate you wanting to give me that choice, Remus, but I…I don't want you to think that I'm being forced into something I don't want, or for you to worry about me anymore. I want to start contributing more to…to this family than just problems and bitterness."

It was then that Remus reached across the table to grasp Harry's hand. "We are not always in a position to choose our family, Harry, Tonks's mother learnt that lesson the hard way." Despite knowing that Remus hadn't meant that as an insult to Draco, Harry could not help but notice Draco tense beside him. "We chose you, and you us," Remus continued, "and I think you must know that you contribute a lot more than that, Harry. You've suffered greatly, you can't expect to move past that any quicker than you are. But part of being a family means that we are certain to worry about each other."

Harry nodded slowly. "I know I'm…I'm still adjusting to that too," he replied quietly, glancing at Teddy as the boy started chewing on the edge of his spoon happily. "But surely it also means accepting my decisions, my choices. I-I've…I've realised now, that even if I had the freedom to choose, I would make the same choices all over again. Draco isn't some evil I need saving from."

That had a lot to do with it, he thought, that Remus had been unable to offer much in the way of help in the fight against Voldemort and was perhaps over-compensating now. The war would still affect them all in different ways for years to come, of course.

"I just can't comprehend someone as good, as pure as you being happy with someone who needs to drink your blood to survive," Remus sighed, retracting his hand and staring between Draco and Harry in frustration. "Don't you want to get away from all that bloodshed?"

Under the table, Harry felt Draco's hand grasp his knee under the table, as if he weren't sure he wanted to hear the answer. The blond seemed more unsure of Harry's emotions after the events of the day than he, Harry was, as if he thought that what had happened would change their relationship for the worst.

"Look, Draco doesn't come at me like a ravenous beast," Harry said, trying to hide his mortification by clearing his throat. This was definitely not the topic he wanted to be discussing with Remus and Tonks. "I don't feel any pain by it, quite…quite the opposite, actually. He always heals me immediately afterwards and I always take Temporentia Sensium and a blood restorative. To me it's just…just another branch of intimacy. One that just so happens to give Draco life."

Remus visibly blanched at that, while Tonks looked away uncomfortably. It seemed they were more embarrassed about the idea of Harry having sex than Draco sucking his blood. Harry fidgeted in his seat as another, longer silence fell.

"One thing that has had me curious," Remus said then, cutting through the disconcerting quietness. "I can…I can smell that you are…well, virginal, Harry. Not that that's a bad thing, on the contrary, but I could not help but assume that you and he would… With his desires and…hunger being what it is, I mean."

Harry stared at him. Never had he ever heard Remus so tongue-tied. But then, he was quite sure that the werewolf had never asked him something so personal before, either. He fiddled with the corner of the checked tablecloth to give himself some sort of distraction so that his throat did not close up with humiliation.

"I'm sorry," Remus murmured, "I don't mean to be difficult. If you're not hurt and you're not unhappy then I don't have any objection. I just find it hard to believe a vampire would leave you…pure for so long."

Draco straightened up in his chair then. "If I were interested in Harry for only what he could give me – sex and blood, then I probably wouldn't have. But he means more than that to me, Mr Lupin." His gaze and voice were so intense that Harry doubted even Remus could argue with the vampire's sincerity.

"Eat up boys," Tonks chimed suddenly, her enthusiasm breaking the uncomfortable lapse in conversation. "Remus managed to get hold of some muggle fireworks for us – we're going to have our very own display in yours and Teddy's honour, Harry."

"BANG BANG!" shrieked Teddy with delight, slamming his spoon down on his highchair for emphasis. Harry beamed. This was what he had imagined families to be like when he'd laid awake in his cupboard reaming of a better home, one to which he truly belonged. One like the place he had right now.

Everyone began eating a little quicker as the now green-haired baby rocked back and forth in his highchair in excitement, seeming to have recognised what the word 'firework' meant. "We tested a few in the back garden a few days ago, he loved them," Tonks laughed. "Wait 'til you see his little face…"

It seemed that Teddy was eager to see them, so they returned to their plates, wolfing down their food quicker in an attempt to stop those over-excited sounds from piercing their ear-drums. Draco even continued with his own, seeming to enjoy the taste if nothing else. Harry wondered just why Draco was bothering putting on the display of eating in private company, but he supposed even if the food did vanish inside of him, devoured instantly by his volatile organs without giving him sustenance, that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the taste.

It must be weird eating and yet not getting full, Harry thought blushing profusely as he thought of the one thing that did give the vampire that satisfying 'fullness'. Far from disturbing, the fact that he gave Draco even that simple pleasure was…nice. He didn't know if that made him strange, he didn't really care either.

"So, Severus told me that you've been asked to continue teaching Defence until the end of the year," Draco said to Remus conversationally, seeming to want to test the waters now with the werewolf to see where they stood. The man gave a small nod as he finished his mouthful.

"Yes, it's an honour, really, I haven't been asked to stay on at a position before in my life. It will be nice to have an on-going position, and paycheque of course," Remus elaborated softly, his tone lacking the usual wariness or bite that it had when he'd previously addressed Draco.

Harry continued to eat quietly, listening to Draco and his family, watching them all contently. Perhaps things would work out alright in the end after all.

The distinctive smell of smoke and blood still filled the air, despite the fact that the muggle authorities and the bystanders had all vanished now, leaving nothing but a ruin surrounded by smoking ashes and a barrier of flimsy yellow tape in their wake. The Bloody Mary had been levelled with magical fire, that was for sure. The muggles could not explain nor fathom how nothing but the pub had burnt down into nothing – the surrounding buildings and the pavement were completely untouched. The muggles didn't know, but he knew exactly what had happened.

Walking forwards into the ash-covered ruins, the man cloaked in black scanned the rubble. This had been a magical fire, a carefully constructed magical bomb that contained the essence of fiendfyre to ensure that it did the job it had been created to do – annihilate the coven. Nothing could have survived this, Alaric was sure of it, and yet…

And yet if anyone could find a way to escape it, it would be Claude Stanton, he thought with revulsion. An odd feeling was clawing its way through his chest as he stared at the destruction around him, breathed in the smell of death. He wasn't sure what he thought or how he felt about the building in which his life had changed forever being burnt to the ground. It wasn't exactly a sad feeling, but it wasn't happy either.

He'd been brought here, freshly snatched from Hogwarts by the vampire that had stalked him for months. He had known what he was from the first, he was in training to be a hunter, after all, and could recognise them on sight. When he first saw this one, however, he had been unable to do anything but avoid him wherever possible. For some reason, he hadn't killed him that first time he'd seen him lurking in the shadows, watching him. And that one decision had changed the course of his life.

With his insides burning with nostalgia, Alaric bit back the melancholy that tore through him, forcing himself to study the surroundings for clues. He had to know if any had survived. Draco Malfoy was his first target in revenge for what had happened, but Stanton and the coven were next in line. He'd planned on ruining them first by selling their precious secrets to those they feared most, allowing them to stew before he would then end them as effectively as he planned to end the Malfoy wretch. It seemed, however, that his first prey had stolen his second from under his nose.

Alaric's fingers curled into his palms as he walked the length of the charred remains. He could still picture where everything once stood as if it were still surrounding him now in all its dark glory and he winced as he spied a burnt metal ring bolted to the floor. A shiver caressed his spine. Oh he remembered the shackles well, more than the room that had once been where he stood.

It was in this very place that he had been chained to the floor for days, weeks, perhaps, snatched from his school on his way back from his graduation by none-other than Claude himself, and all because he'd shown weakness in sparing Lucan's life – all because he had dared to love him…

~To Be Continued…