Chapter: 16 of 35 - Pomp and Circumstance
Pairings: Asher/Anita/Jean-Claude, Anita/Nathaniel, Harry/Nathaniel/Draco, Harry/Draco, Anita/Micah
Rating: R/15 or NC17/18
Summary: Harry Potter could find trouble in paradise and when Draco sends him to St Louis for a holiday it's not paradise and there's lots of trouble. With dark magic, vampires, lycanthropes and more, who else could sort it out but Anita Blake?
Chapter listing: click here for other parts, publishing schedule and A/N
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling and Laurell K. Hamilton, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, Orbit books, Time Warner Book group, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Warnings: This story is set post Harry Potter and the OotP and post Incubus Dreams and therefore has SPOILERS for all previous books. If you don’t want to know anything that went on in or before HP book five or AB book twelve do not read this story.
Chapter 16 Pomp and Circumstance
[Ma petite,] Jean-Claude's mental presence gently made itself known in her mind and Anita awoke from the nap she had decided to take in the afternoon, [we have visitors, from the council.]
Adrenaline brought her to full wakefulness; the vampire council were bad news. The problem was, they should not have been able to enter Jean-Claude's territory without negotiating it first.
[They're here, now?] Anita asked, knowing the answer, but needing to ask the question anyway.
[Oui, ma petite,] Jean-Claude replied.
[Isn't that a declaration of war?] this was very confusing.
Last time they had dealt with the council it had seemed like they had won and there would be peace for a while. They really didn't need this at the same time as whatever was going on in St Louis now.
[Non,] Jean-Claude replied, much to her surprise. [They have invoked an emergency meeting, ma petite. It requires all council members to be in agreement and guarantees our safety and the safety of our people throughout their stay. There can be no trickery this time. By declaring the emergency they have severely limited their authority. I believe they may know more about our Harry than we do.]
A protective rush of emotion ran through Anita before she could reply. They may be safe, but it sounded as if Harry was not.
[We cannot abandon him to them,] was her distinct opinion on the matter.
[I do not intend to, ma petite,] Jean-Claude told her, and she could feel his regret, [not unless we are forced into it. They have not yet taken the step of declaring him outside all influence, and until then I will protect him. However, if they invoke the final stage of the emergency, to stand against them would be to bring the whole council down on our people. Even we, ma petite, would not survive all of them.]
Anita wanted to tell the council exactly where they could go, but something had caused them to take the gloves off, and that meant it was important. If the council came to destroy Jean-Claude they would have to destroy her and everything connected to her as well. St Louis would be a preternatural war zone. Until it came down to the line in the sand she knew they would have to play the game.
[How many?] she asked.
The council were not her favourite people and she did not like them being in St Louis.
[Surprisingly few, ma petite,] Jean-Claude replied and her lover did not attempt to hide the fact that he was surprised by this fact, [only the Traveler and a small entourage. He has requested an interview this evening.]
The council did not tend to do things by halves when they felt it was important, and this was important or there would have been more games. That they had sent only one representative was confusing.
[Something's going on here we don't know about,] she said, knowing that it was true. [Do the council know about wizards, Jean-Claude? Do they have the whole picture and we only have half?]
[C'est possible, ma petite,] her lover returned with the equivalent of a mental nod. [There is much the council knows that it shares only with itself. If they are aware of wizards as we are not, then they have taken a great deal of effort to prevent our communities interacting.]
What she wanted to do was swear and curse and rant about the complications they did not need, but there were too many other things to think about to indulge that fantasy. With the council in town the danger level had gone up a notch and it was time to play hard ball.
[There has been a complication,] she told Jean-Claude as she assessed her options, [Harry marked Draco.]
For a moment there was absolutely nothing from her lover's end of the connection and it was almost as if he was not there.
[Such a powerful child,] were the words that eventually came back with an undertone of worry. [It was a remote possibility that we may have been able to hide his power from the council, ma petite, but that point is moot now. Bring them both to the meeting, and bring your vampire and leopard as well. Tonight we make a point of our strength. If Richard were in town I would contact him, but he is not due back until tomorrow. We will use Jason as a surrogate for the pack.]
Richard had been away all week, since the full moon, at a seminar in Atlanta and there would be no way for him to make it back in time. He would have to be told in case they needed the power of the marks at any time, but Anita decided to leave that to Jean-Claude, she did not feel like an argument today. She still loved Richard, and he was trying to fit into her life, but she loved all her men and Richard still couldn't handle that too well, which meant they did not see eye to eye on a lot of things.
[What time do you want us?] Anita asked, pushing aside thoughts of Richard for now.
[Around seven, ma petite, if you would be so kind,] her charming boyfriend replied.
[We'll be there,] she promised. [I love you, Jean-Claude, don't get yourself killed before we get there.]
[Never, ma petite,] Jean-Claude returned with amusement.
Anita extracted herself from Nathaniel, who she was sure hadn't been there when she went to sleep, and headed for the bathroom.
"We're going to the Circus," she said as she walked through the door. "The council representatives are here and we need to make an impression."
"I'll look you out some clothes," was Nathaniel's response, and from the sounds of it she doubted he'd been asleep at all.
It didn't take much of an excuse for the young leopard to crawl into bed with her, whether it was bedtime or not. It was funny how she never chose to object these days.
Harry fiddled with his collar and Draco slapped his hand away while barely looking at him. The suit and full robes were hot even though Draco had cast a cooling charm on them, but Anita had said to power dress for the evening and Draco had taken it to heart. The black and green brought out Harry's eyes and the paleness of his skin according to his boyfriend, but he felt a little silly, especially in the thigh length jacket. It seemed that Draco had been picking up fashion tips from the vampires. He'd finally decided that what he had suspected since the previous day was a fact and that his eyesight was improving and the glasses had gone too. A mild charm he had always been too blind to use made sure that what was left of his myopia was not a problem, and Draco had seemed very pleased with the overall effect.
They were waiting for Anita and company outside the Circus of the Damned and three people had already propositioned him. The wizard's robes were attracting attention as if they were one of the acts and Harry hoped Anita arrived soon. Draco was in black and silver and he was incredibly handsome with his aristocratic airs and graces, which was, quite frankly, driving Harry insane. He wanted to kiss Draco into oblivion, only his boyfriend wouldn't let him because it would muss his hair.
"Stop fidgeting," Draco said and rolled his eyes in exasperation. "If you're going to be the Defeater of Voldemort for the Ministry when we get home you're going to have to get used to this type of thing."
"Somehow I don't think the Ministry is this dangerous," Harry replied and did his best not to reach for his collar again. "And I'm not sure they'll want me anymore, I'm not exactly a pure little role model, am I?"
"Harry, you were never a pure little role model," Draco said, still looking down the street to see if Anita had arrived yet. "I've never met anyone who can break as many rules as you, get caught and still come up smelling of roses."
"And if they find out about the vampire or the wereleopard?" Harry asked and hoped the girl in the short leather mini-skirt who had just ditched her parents was not going to come in his direction.
"You're the most powerful wizard since ever," his boyfriend replied and finally looked at him, "you say 'jump', they'll say 'how high'."
He would have argued the point, but at that moment he saw three familiar figures coming out of the darkness. To say he was impressed was an understatement. Anita was in a long red dress which split all the way to her thighs on both sides, long knee-length boots with two inch heels and a long leather coat, cut in the most elegant style Harry had ever seen. Her hair was piled on the top of her head in a crown of curls, and her makeup was light but very effective.
Damian's red hair was tied back in a practical-looking ponytail and the vampire was wearing black leather trousers, a white silk shirt with long cuffs that poked out the sleeves of a thigh-length black jacket. He looked the epitome of the regal undead.
Nathaniel completed the trio in a loose white shirt and red silk trousers which matched Anita's dress. These trousers alternatively clung and then billowed in places that at times left nothing to the imagination. When Nathaniel turned his head to Anita as they walked, Harry could see that his long hair was braided in a complicated pattern across the back of his head and was allowed to fall free in a mahogany waterfall down his back. The clasp holding it all in place looked like it was silver, as was the ankh that fell from a plain black suede choker Nathaniel was wearing around his throat.
The three of them together radiated power like there would never be an end to it. Harry found himself standing up straighter just because it felt like the thing to do. He was quite surprised when Anita caught sight of him and Draco and stopped walking, a look of surprise on her face. She covered it quickly and began walking again, but Harry wondered what she had seen.
"I'm impressed," Anita said as the two groups met, "you two scrub up nicely. Do wizards have an equivalent to Armani?"
"What makes you think Armani is a Muggle?" Draco asked with a smirk.
Harry fidgeted; he felt out of his depth. All the people around him seemed to go with their clothes, he felt like a mannequin that had been put in the wrong part of the shop. His clothes fitted these days, but they were high street clothes that every teenager wore, not the designer stuff Draco had put him in.
"You should wear green more often," Nathaniel said with a smile, "it brings out your eyes."
"That's what Draco says," was all Harry could find to say.
"If you'd let me dress you more often rather than that tat you wear all the time, you'd always look this stunning," the Slytherin said without batting an eye, and Harry couldn't help blushing.
He was nothing to look at really and he knew it. That Draco desired him was beyond his wildest dreams and he didn't handle compliments well.
"Shall we go in?" Anita rescued him from dying of embarrassment and swept towards the door.
Anita was impressed. When she had explained to the wizards what was going to happen that evening she was not quite sure what she had been expecting from them. After all she had no idea what wizards considered power dressing, and after seeing it she decided that Harry and Draco had more in common with vampires than they would probably admit to.
The outfits were a strange mixture of modern and old fashioned. The suits both young men were wearing would have put catwalk models to shame, but the frock coat type arrangements they had over top were straight out of a history book. The gloves and a cane were a nice finishing touch on Draco's part as well, but it looked as if Harry had put his foot down at that since he had neither accessory. Where sometimes it was possible to forget that the two young men were not ordinary when they wore normal clothes, in their current get up it was impossible not to know that they carried power with them.
With Damian on one arm, Nathaniel on the other, and the two wizards following, Anita knew they were the equivalent of a preternatural battering ram and she would have smiled at the effect they were having on everyone who saw them, if it hadn't been quite such a serious situation. Appearing weak in front of the council was not an option.
She realised she had managed to convey this point very well, when as they approached the entrance to Jean-Claude's chambers, instead of waiting for the door to be opened for them, or having one of them open it by hand, Harry held out his hand, muttered something under his breath and the door opened for them. This was all accomplished without any of them so much a missing a step. Anita decided that even she would have been impressed with showmanship like that.
Taking in the whole room in one glance she could not fail to notice quite how different it was from the last time the Traveler had visited. Then everything had been danger and tension, but although there was some grandstanding going on, the fact that Jean-Claude was completely relaxed was obvious. Anita had not been particularly comfortable with the idea of the emergency measures in effect, but they must have meant a great deal to the vampires or Jean-Claude would have been far less casual. There was still danger in the room, but Anita could not help but notice that it was firmly aimed at the wizard behind her.
Asher was sitting down in one of the antique chairs, looking completely relaxed if you didn't know him, but the way he was hiding his face behind his hair and had one hand resting on the arm of the chair as if he would grip it at any moment told Anita that her blond Adonis was not as calm as he appeared. The outfit he had chosen for the evening was tight PVC pants and white poet's shirt that was laced only very loosely from navel to chest. The ensemble screamed sex and confidence.
On the other side of the room was Requiem, dressed in courtly style. He could have stepped out of the pages of a Jane Austin novel except that his whole outfit was dark black and blues. Anita had the impression that Requiem could melt into the shadows whenever he saw fit.
The only non-vampire in the room was Jason, and he was sitting on the chaise near Asher decked out like a powerful toy. It was quite obvious that Jean-Claude had dressed the werewolf and Jason looked like something between a sex slave and a dangerous weapon. Very tight black leather pants disappeared into long black boots, and the only other thing Jason was wearing was a small silver dagger on his belt. The marks where Jean-Claude had fed earlier in the evening were obvious on Jason's neck and announced very clearly his status in the room.
Anita took in the enemy next and was pleasantly surprised. There were only three: Balthazar whom she remembered from the Traveler's last visit and still as striking; a woman she did no know, but who gave of the air of being human; and the vampire she had seen the Traveler inhabiting when he had last visited. The somewhat innocent looking vampire had changed a great deal since she had last seen him, dressed in pale pink silk and sinfully tight pants, and it was completely obvious that the Traveler was in charge of his body. How the Master vampire had convinced the young vampire to leave with him for France was something Anita chose not to think about, since she was not about to go up against a council member because of it.
Lastly her eyes found Jean-Claude. She had left him until last because he often had the unsettling effect of distracting her from everything else and she had needed to know the lie of the land before she let that happen. Asher was stunningly beautiful, but Anita knew why her second vampire lover had thought Jean-Claude would take his place as Belle Morte's favourite at court when they had first met; Jean-Claude was always breathtaking. Anita felt her throat hitch as she looked at him and drank in the glorious sight that was the Master of the City.
Jean-Claude's choice of clothes was nothing out of the ordinary, deep blue pants; pure white shirt with a wing collar; silver cravat and black half coat style jacket, but the way Jean-Claude could wear clothes was stunning. If they had been alone, Anita would have gone to him immediately, but as it was she held herself still and allowed the tight arousal she felt wash over her.
"Anita," the Traveler said with a smile that did not touch the eyes of the body the vampire was inhabiting, "how lovely to see you again."
"If you had given us more warning of your visit we would have been better prepared," she replied, playing the game of words for now.
She was fully aware how her greeting could have been taken in many ways, and it was pointless to try and hide the fact that she was less than completely comfortable with the Traveler in the room. Master vampires, especially old ones could usually smell a lie, so the trick was making sure you could say exactly what you wanted them to hear without actually lying outright. Anita had never been very good at political games, but she was willing to try for Harry's sake.
"And had this matter not been so urgent the council would have been delighted to accept you hospitality," the Traveler replied, wilfully ignoring the other interpretations of her choice of words, "but when events involve our Wizarding brethren the pleasantries must become secondary."
That shifted all eyes onto the two wizards in the room, and Anita directed Nathaniel and Damian to the available seats and out of the line of fire. She had the Browning in its thigh holster and knives on both her wrists, but she still felt almost unarmed. If it came down to guns she would be very surprised, but she was ready in case it did.
"Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy," the Traveler said and Anita didn't really like the look the vampire was giving the two young men, "your reputations precede you."
"You have us at a disadvantage," Anita was not surprised when it was Draco who spoke first.
The blond wizard had a silver tongue when he wanted to and when backed up by the quiet strength that was Harry, it was an impressive combination. Both young men were almost humming to Anita's preternatural senses and she wondered if they were deliberately projecting or if this was just them when danger was in close proximity.
"Permit me to introduce myself," the Traveler said with a charming smile, "I am the Traveler, and I bring greetings from the vampire council."
"We have had no cause to recognise the vampire council in the past," Draco's voice held a hint of carefully aimed disdain, as if the Traveler was not quite what the wizard had hoped. "Why, if you are as powerful as we have been led to believe, have we never heard of you?"
Surprisingly the Traveler did not appear to take offence at that and merely raised his eyebrows.
"To avoid a war many years ago, our two races came to an agreement," the council member said, in what for a vampire was a very open manner. "We interact only on an individual basis unless exceptional circumstances arise. It would be a shame for the peace treaty which has lasted over a thousand years to be damaged now, would it not?"
The veiled threat hung in the air and Anita could tell that Harry didn't like it. Draco's face was an emotionless mask, but she had no doubt the blond wizard was calculating behind it.
"This has nothing to do with our races," Harry said, stepping forward and putting himself in the forefront of everything, "it has to do with me, so let's drop the acts and deal with it."
"Indeed," the Traveler said, also taking a step forward, "I simply wished to impress upon you that it would be unwise to publish the knowledge of our existence."
"Likewise the other way round," Harry said bluntly.
The momentary flash of worry that flashed across Draco's face mirrored Anita's own, but there was nothing she could do now that Harry had placed himself right in the middle of everything. She was beginning to see why Jean-Claude sometimes despaired of her in these situations as Harry calmly stamped all over protocol. Back in the hospital Harry had dealt with Jean-Claude in only a few seconds, but Anita had no doubt that if the council knew about wizards then they had defences against them. What this would mean in a fight she dreaded to think.
She felt for Jean-Claude through the marks, not opening them enough to alert the Traveler to what she was doing, but enough to be comforted by his preternatural presence and hold them ready should an attack be forthcoming. As the Traveler moved yet closer to Harry, she prayed that they would come out of this without too many dire consequences.
End of Chapter 16
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