Title: The Only True Lords

Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.

Pairings: Eventual (very eventual) Harry/Draco, canon het pairings

Warnings: Angst, violence, AU of the end of DH

Rating: R

Summary: Harry ends up accidentally bonding himself as Lord to several Slytherins after the Battle of Hogwarts, including Snape and Draco Malfoy. It's a long journey from putting his foot in it all the time to at least trying to be a good one.

Author's Notes: The story's title comes from a quote by the fantasy and science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin in her essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie": "The Lords of Elfland are true lords, the only true lords, the kind that do not exist on this earth: their lordship is the outward sign or symbol of real inward greatness." I became interested in writing a story that would chronicle the transformation of Harry into one of those lords. This is going to be a fairly long story, and not all that fast-paced.

The Only True Lords

Chapter One—Accidentally Yours

Harry became aware of something wrong when he was dancing around the Great Hall with Voldemort, trying to keep his eyes on him and work out everything the Elder Wand would let him do, and what it wouldn't let him do. He really couldn't afford to be distracted, and it wasn't like he wanted to be.

But it wasn't every day that you thought you saw someone come back from the dead.

Harry took a quick step sideways and turned his head before Voldemort could come around to keep up with him, and yes, there Snape was, his shoulders hunched and his wand moving as he stood in front of several Slytherin students. Harry saw Draco Malfoy there, and Pansy Parkinson—when had she come back in?—and some others that stood too far back for him to recognize their faces. Harry had no idea what Snape was casting. Some sort of protection spell for students, he hoped, and not a curse that would make them all super-powerful and able to kill Harry with a single bite.

Voldemort turned to see what he was looking at, and if Harry was surprised to see that Snape had survived Nagini's bite, he appeared stupefied. He stared from face to face, and when Snape turned and looked at him from under a curtain of dark hair, he lifted the Elder Wand.

"I should have known," he said, in a hissing whisper that Harry thought would crack the walls, and started to cast.

Harry had no idea what it was, but it didn't matter. If he was right about the Elder Wand and its allegiance to one master, it wouldn't want to hurt Harry, but it would have absolutely no compunction about hurting anyone else.

"No!" Harry screamed, and sprinted forwards, towards the Slytherin table that Snape and the other students were standing in front of.

There was too much ground to cover, and he wasn't going to get there before the spell took effect, he thought as he ran. But he could do something else. He cast a Tripping Jinx at Voldemort's legs, distracting him enough that he faltered in the chant. By the time he began again—never turning away from Snape, as though it was more important to punish him than to kill Harry, just like the arrogant bastard—Harry had got between the Slytherins and Voldemort.

Snape was snarling at Harry as he turned his back. Harry ignored him. Sure, Snape had been more decent than Harry knew and friends with his mum. He had still conspired with Dumbledore to make sure that Harry would march to his death. It wasn't Harry's fault that they'd been wrong and he'd survived.

Voldemort finished the spell with a single, long hiss. Harry couldn't understand it, and he seriously doubted it was actually Parseltongue. He focused on the Elder Wand instead, that shook and trembled in Voldemort's fist as if trying to tear itself free.

Either it didn't manage before the spell flew, or it didn't care that much about not hitting Harry after all. The curse flew out, coiled and arched back on itself like a picture of a tapeworm that Harry had seen in a book last year, and bright blue and flashing yellow. The sight of it made Harry feel sick.

What would happen if the Elder Wand tried to spare me but not Snape?

Harry raised a Shield Charm without thinking about it. It had to be huge, and curved back, bright and silver, to protect Snape and the Slytherin kids. That didn't matter. He'd done it before the curse had time to hit.

The curse collided with the shield. Harry saw it spark and fizzle, and thought for a long second that it would die down.

Then the shield collapsed and blended with the curse. Harry saw the tapeworm-shape turn bright silver and rear up like a snake, but he didn't have time to look at it further, because Voldemort had started casting something else, and Harry turned to face him and yelled, "EXPELLIARMUS!" as loud as he could.

The Elder Wand flew out of Voldemort's hand, there was a look on his face that Harry had never seen before, and then an explosion of light and heat caught Harry around the legs. He cried out in spite of himself, because it was just a little pain and he'd had worse, but it was so unexpected. Like someone had splashed boiling oil on him.

And the light was playing all around him, expanding outwards, and it hit Voldemort as the Elder Wand soared above him. Voldemort didn't have time to run, and Harry wasn't sure that he would have anyway. Probably wanted to stay there and make sure Harry was actually dead.

Both of us are going to be disappointed, Harry thought, as Voldemort's body flared white and black, the bones showing through his skin and his organs shivering as though someone was shaking them in place, and then he had to shut his eyes and go away for a while as the pain expanded until it was all the world.

"Wake up, you stupid boy."

Harry blinked. He wasn't dead?

No, he wasn't. Because he was sure, after his walk through the Forest with the Resurrection Stone, that he would have been with his mum and dad and Sirius and Remus, not lying there on the floor of the Great Hall with Snape bending over him. He could see the colors of sunset on the ceiling behind Snape's head.

Harry sat up slowly. His body felt strange, as though the pain was lingering in his legs and arms, ready to burst out again when he moved them. But he swung them easily enough, and he finally stood, braced against someone who turned out to be Ron. Harry hugged him, hard, with one arm around his shoulders. They hadn't had time to do that since Voldemort came in with Hagrid carrying Harry and proclaimed him dead.

Someone crashed into him from the other side and said into his ear, in a voice too deep for sadness, "Harry." And Harry hugged Hermione too, and turned to face the place where Voldemort had stood.

He was pretty sure that for him to be alive, Voldemort had to be dead, but he still half-shuddered when he saw the pile of dust in the center of the Great Hall. It was sparkling grey, like a duller version of the color the spell had turned as the Shield Charm and Voldemort's curse collided, and formed a person-shaped outline on the stone. Harry swallowed, feeling a little sick, and turned to look at Hermione.

"What happened?" he asked her.

"She is not the one who can tell you."

Snape's voice was clipped. Harry turned to face him with all sorts of emotions jumping up and down in his chest. He could understand Snape a lot better—but he had nearly died—but Snape had survived—but Harry was just sick and tired of taking shit after he had walked to his death—but Snape had been on their side all along. Maybe it would all right if he asked about the spell and nothing else.

Snape stood there with his arms folded, staring at him. His face was grey. Harry assumed the Slytherin students must have died and looked around, but there was a huddled clump over against one wall that included Parkinson, Zabini, and Goyle, and Malfoy stood in his parents' arms, a forlorn little triangle, by the benches of the Slytherin table. So Harry turned around and faced Snape with the knowledge that something must have gone wrong, but at least he hadn't killed anyone he didn't intend to kill.

"Do you know what you have done?" Snape whispered.

Harry braced himself against his best friends' arms, and shook his head. His muscles trembled a little, and he wanted to lie down, but he also wanted to hear about the latest disaster so he could deal with it, preferably before he went to sleep the way he probably would any minute now. "Obviously not, or I wouldn't have asked what happened. Sir," he added, since it looked as though Snape might forget about that promise to his mum just because.

Snape shut his eyes and turned away for a second. Harry looked at him. He didn't see any burns on his shoulders, or ragged tearing of his robes, or even a bite or blood on the side of his neck where Nagini had attacked him. Harry sneered to himself. Snape didn't look all that hurt, then—nothing to be upset about.

"The Shield Charm combined with the curse that was meant to make me obedient to him and bind me as his slave," Snape whispered. "He did not dark risk the Imperius Curse, not now that he must have known I could resist his mental probing with Occlumency."

Harry just nodded, not that Snape was looking at him. At least now he knew what the original curse had been for, and it made sense that Voldemort would cast it at Snape. He always did have more rage than sense. "All right. What happened when they combined?"

Snape squeezed his eyes shut. Then he said, "You made the rest of us—the people you stood in front of, me and my students—your slaves."

"That's impossible," Harry said, after a second of startled silence. He could hear Hermione drawing her breath in, but it sounded like the sound she made when she was about to start a tirade, not a gasp of surprise, so he reckoned she didn't agree with Snape. "That was what the original curse was supposed to do. How can the combination of the Shield Charm and the curse do the same thing? The Shield Charm would have changed it."

Snape swung back on him. He raised an eyebrow, maybe because Harry didn't back away, but since Harry couldn't back away at the moment without falling on his arse, he decided that was a stupid reason for Snape to be impressed.

"Who knew?" Snape whispered. "You know some of the magical theory behind the combination of spells after all."

Harry just stared at him, and snorted. Snape was being stupid. He knew Harry had been good at Defense Against the Dark Arts, and that he'd survived the last year. He was delaying.

Snape raised his hand as if he would fend Harry off, and then let it drop wearily back to his side. His face looked dusty. Perhaps, Harry thought, he would have started crying, but of course that wasn't a good option here in the middle of the Great Hall, in front of all these people, with everyone staring at them.

"The Shield Charm was a protection spell," Snape went on, into what sounded like a spreading pool of silence. Harry grimaced a little. That was only happening because other people had stopped talking and were craning their necks. He wasn't going to let Snape blame him for attracting attention this time. He was the one who'd chosen to make an announcement like this. "The curse that the Dark Lord cast at me was meant to make him my Lord in truth. And you combined them both, and made yourself our lord." He grimaced and turned away, so sharply that his hair swished across the air like a knife. "To defend us, to protect us, I suppose. Are you happy, Potter?"

"Like I knew he would do that," Harry said, shaking his head. "Like I knew that you could resist it somehow."

Snape stiffened and stared at him over his shoulder. "I could not have resisted the curse."

"Then what's the problem?" Harry tried to shift forwards a little, but his legs wobbled. No, he was definitely going to fall down without Ron and Hermione there. He knew he was breathing a little fast, he knew he probably didn't sound normal, that he sounded stupid, but Snape was acting like Harry wanted to be—what? In charge of a bunch of Slytherins? He didn't even know what being a Lord meant. "You're alive. It's better to be alive, and whatever I had to do to help you escape—"

"I would rather be dead," Snape said, every word carrying a hiss, "than the slave of a third master."

Harry nodded to the huddled Slytherins along the wall, and then at Malfoy. He had turned around in his parents' arms and was watching, his eyes so wide that they looked like they would devour his face. "And what about them? Don't they get a say in it? Would you rather be dead than—I don't know, indebted to me?" he asked Parkinson. She had been the one who had said they should throw him to Voldemort, after all.

Parkinson's eyes were tearless as they focused on him, but Harry didn't think that would endure for long. She shook her head. "You don't know what this means," she whispered, and turned her arm towards him.

Harry thought for a second it was her left arm, and she was a Death Eater. Then he saw, from the way she stood, that it must have been the right one. And emblazoned on the skin next to her elbow was a bright shield, silver in the center, with a long, thin green line around it. Harry reckoned it might be a serpent if you squinted, but he was standing too far away, and his eyes were watering too much with tiredness, to see it properly.

"I've marked you?" Harry could hear his voice changing as his emotions all slid away down a long tunnel. All right, he could see why this had upset them. Parkinson probably hadn't been a Death Eater. She'd escaped having the Dark Mark. And then Harry came along and did something else instead, and she wasn't free after all.

"Yes," said Parkinson, and she pulled her arm back to her side and closed her eyes.

"And me," Snape said, and Harry had never heard such hatred in his voice. He flinched a little from it, and felt Hermione hug him closer from the side.

"Well, okay," Harry said, and swallowed. He wanted to go to sleep. He wanted to wake up and have this all be a dream. He had never thought he would go straight from killing Voldemort into some other problem. Didn't the hero at least get a few days of rest first?

But maybe because he wasn't really a hero, just someone who had died and then survived because the Elder Wand didn't want to hurt him, he didn't get that option. He shook his head and straightened up instead. "Okay. What do I have to do? Is there any way to break this spell, or disguise the marks, or—" Something occurred to him, and he nearly knocked himself to the floor fumbling for his sleeve. Hermione was the one who pushed it down gently, and Ron was the one who pulled up the sleeve on the right arm, when Harry had been going for his left.

God, I have Death Eaters on the brain, Harry thought, as he blinked and breathed and looked.

The shield on his arm was much bigger, and when Harry touched it gingerly, the skin there felt almost metallic. On the points of the silver shield, which was five-sided, were five little green dots. Malfoy and Snape and Parkinson and Zabini and Goyle, Harry thought. He wanted to vomit. He wanted to run away.

He wanted to do lots of things, but he took the time to notice that the serpent around the edges of his shield was as bright as poison, and then he turned back to Snape.

"Is there any way to break the spell?" he asked.

Snape smiled like a skull. "I doubt it," he whispered. "Such a combination of spells has never happened before, to my knowledge, but others with similar effects have, and in each case, there was nothing to do but live with it." He shook his head, and his hair swung again. Harry wondered absently if Nagini's bite had destroyed his ability to keep it up or something. "You wanted to protect us. You will—protect us. And you will doubtless be able to command us, as the Dark Lord could do. I would not be surprised to find that you can locate us at a blink, and perhaps make our Marks burn, as he did." A pause, and Snape closed his eyes. "Further tasks must await the discovering."

Harry just nodded, because he didn't think that he could do anything else. He looked back at the Slytherins, to find that Malfoy was the only one watching him. The others just leaned on their friends the way he leaned on Ron and Hermione, as if they were tired to death.

And Malfoy's eyes were terrified.

Harry swallowed and turned back towards Snape again. "Fine. I'm going to—I'm going to rest and think, and see what I can come up with."

Snape bowed to him. Bowed to him. Harry felt some combination of bile and a hysterical giggle working its way up his throat, and forcing it down again took more strength than it had to face Voldemort. "Of course, my lord," Snape said. "It's not as though this is our future and our lives that you're talking about and proposing to put off dealing with until later. Nothing as important as that."

Harry turned away. "You don't want to call me that again," he said over his shoulder to Snape, "and I don't want you to. You don't need to bow to me. You don't need to obey me."

"You don't understand."

That was Lucius Malfoy's voice. Harry turned to face him, too. His body was shaking, he realized distantly. He would have thought it was fever if that was possible, instead of just fear and anger and—he didn't even have a name for the emotions that rolled through him. He had thought he was free now, of the prophecy and the burden it had laid on him. Another one, another one he thought he could hate more, since it made him a master, had replaced it.

"You don't understand," Lucius repeated, his voice low and his face inflexible. Harry thought he could see Lucius's hand digging into Draco's shoulder, but since Draco turned away and hid his face again immediately afterwards, he really wasn't sure. "There is no breaking such a bond between Lord and vassal. You are, in multiple ways, responsible for them. You might command them not to obey you, but that would still be commanding them. They cannot act against you. They will need to know your will, not because they want to, but because that is what a Lord does. You will have to protect them."

Harry took a swaying step away from Ron and Hermione. He felt Ron trying to restrain him, saying something in his ear about how Hermione would find out about Lords and they could tell whether Malfoy was telling the truth that way, but he couldn't listen. "What if I just asked you to kill me here and now?" he asked. "That would break the bond, wouldn't it? That would mean Draco is set free?"

He heard Snape hiss behind him, and didn't ask why. Maybe he could have found out why, if he had asked. He didn't care. He didn't want to command. He didn't want to have any contact with the Slytherins ever again, unless they needed him to testify at a trial or he was going to thank Narcissa Malfoy for saving his life. He just wanted to go away and live out the rest of his life, or at least drop senseless on a bed and remain so for a few hours.

"I cannot," Lucius said. "I told you. This is—this is not what the Dark Lord did with the Dark Marks." His voice became low and charged, and no wonder, Harry thought. It wasn't as though he wanted to talk about being a Death Eater in front of a bunch of people who had either been Death Eaters themselves or suspected it all along about Lucius. "This is something else. This is a Lord bond, and I cannot act against the Lord who wards my son." He raised Draco's arm, which was so limp Harry wouldn't have been surprised to see Draco fall in a dead faint, and turned it towards Harry. The mark looked like Pansy's, Harry thought, and he stared blankly at it, wondering what he was supposed to see that was different.

"This is a shield," Lucius whispered. "You stood between him and danger. You saved his life. I saw it. I cannot act against you. I cannot."

Harry rubbed his forehead. In retrospect, he thought it was probably kind of stupid to have asked for that, but he was tired of being mature and responsible and thinking about what was stupid. He wanted to go to bed.

He turned his back on the Malfoys, too, and turned to Ron and Hermione, and said, "Look, I want to get some sleep. Can you make sure I'm not disturbed?"

Ron, his eyes full of compassion, nodded. "Sure, mate. But I think…" He stooped down and picked something up. "This is yours."

Harry stared at the Elder Wand, and shut his eyes. "Shit," he said succinctly.

The only good thing he could think about the situation was that he might be able to use the Elder Wand to repair his own holly one. But not in front of these people. Not in front of all of them.

He did take the hawthorn wand out of his waistband, where someone had stuck it, probably after he fell, and tossed it back to the Malfoys. Narcissa was the one who caught it, since Draco still had his head turned away.

"Thanks," Harry said tiredly, and turned away. "It's yours now."

He managed to make it up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, and to his bed in a corner. He curled up with the Elder Wand throbbing like a broken limb next to him, and the stupid, stupid bloody shield mark on his arm trembling and pulsing like a second heart.

I never wanted this. I thought—I thought it was done. I thought no one would ask anything more of me after I defeated Voldemort, at least for a while. Wasn't that what I was supposed to do?

And then he drifted off to sleep, because there was no one who could answer him. Maybe no one ever again.