Chapter: 17 of 35 - Battle of Wills
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 17 Battle of Wills
The whole initial meeting procedure had set Harry on edge. He could feel the ancient power moving through the room from the Traveler and it caused all his instincts from the war to resurface. Without a doubt he knew that he had stepped onto a battlefield the moment he entered the Circus, and he was happy to draw the fight to him rather than allow it to touch the others in the room. This was his battle and he did not flinch when the enemy turned all of his attention onto him.
As Harry looked into the eyes of the vampire hosting the Traveler he felt the monster's power reach out to him. It slithered into his thoughts and he just stood there letting it happen as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It was not the same as when Jean-Claude had tried to enter his mind and he found himself strangely calm. It was like a net encircling his mind and he knew that the next step would be to close that net and push his thoughts aside, taking their place.
"Trying to take my body would be a mistake," he said in a voice that barely sounded like him. "I held Voldemort in my mind as he died so his soul could not escape through the Dark Mark, I can hold you as well."
This was the part of him which only came out to play in battle; the part that he had trained and kept locked away. This part of himself frightened him, it was all Slytherin and all about power, but it was the strength he needed at that moment. He squeezed one of the power tendrils in his mind to make his point, snapping it where it touched him. The Traveler flinched and the tendrils began to withdraw.
"You are formidable, Mr Potter," the ancient vampire said, but although his mind retreated the body he was using did not. There was a flash of something in the blue eyes regarding him and Harry thought it might be desire. "I did not truly believe until this moment. Forgive me, but I had to be sure."
"Only part of my reputation is a fairytale," Harry replied, noting that from the corner of his eye he could see Anita trying to cover her astonishment.
"Which part?" the Traveler asked with a smile.
"That I'm a fantastic lay," Harry replied, his tone changing completely, "I have yet to find out."
At that the Traveler threw his head back and laughed, which was exactly what the calculating persona Harry had adopted was counting on. He smiled at the amused vampire and waited for the laughter to stop.
"I like you, Harry, may I call you Harry?" the Traveler asked and Harry nodded; it would be better to be on the monster's good side. "Maybe you would be interested in finding out?"
That almost shook the icy control he was maintaining, but Harry fought his repulsion of the idea.
"I'm spoken for," he said, flicking his eyes to Draco, "and Draco was never taught to share. He's an only child."
If the large grin on the Traveler's face was anything to go by the creature was still amused.
"Ah, such a shame," the vampire said, but did not fight the rejection, "to know the flesh which houses such power would have been exciting."
Harry inclined his head, taking the compliment rather than being repelled by it. They understood each other now.
"You live up to your legend, Harry," the Traveler said and turned away, walking towards his human servant. "It is comforting to know that some reputations are deserved."
When the vampire turned back around his face was serious once more, and Harry knew they were back to business.
"The council wish me to convey to you our thanks for the death of Thomas Riddle," the Traveler spoke with a practiced authority. "His activities were becoming bothersome in the extreme, and he cost us several of our higher ranking Masters in Britain. Your intervention saved us considerable effort."
Harry did not believe for a second that the Traveler had been sent to St Louis simply to say thanks for murdering Voldemort, but it was a nice lie. He had no doubt that had the council member found him vulnerable he would have been eliminated or taken prisoner for further study. That they had sent only one council member said to him that they were being careful rather than anything else.
"You're welcome," Harry replied, still firmly in character, "I was becoming rather bored with his yearly attempts to kill me."
The Traveler laughed again, and this time the sound grated on Harry's nerves. There was only so long Harry could maintain the Slytherin warrior persona; it took selective Occlumency to do it and he was reaching the end of his tether. He still had the power to play the game even without it, but the real Harry was no where near as good with moving the pieces.
"It has been interesting meeting you, Harry," the Traveler said, all humour leaving the vampire's eyes once more. "Maybe we shall meet again under more conducive circumstances."
"Maybe," Harry replied, although not if he saw the vampire coming.
This usurper of bodies made his skin crawl and if he never saw him again, Harry would be very happy. It seemed, however, that this meeting was over as the Traveler turned back to the others, leaving Harry to his own devices.
"Jean-Claude, thank you for your hospitality," the Master vampire said, and Harry had the strangest feeling the sentiment was genuine, "but I believe I have monopolised your guests long enough. If I might have a few moments of your time when you are available, I shall take my leave."
"Of course," Jean-Claude said politely and inclined his head.
And that appeared to be that. With no more ceremony the Traveler beckoned to his two companions and walked towards the door. Even the cold, calculating Slytherin part of Harry that was in charge was surprised by that. Being paranoid he kept his eyes very firmly on the council member as he exited the room with his entourage.
Harry held himself very still until he could feel no trace of the Traveler anywhere near him, then he began to shake. Draco was by his side the moment he let his guard down, and arms wound round him, pulling him close. He buried his face in his boyfriend's shoulder and let the horror of the situation take over. That was the main trouble with this construction he had trained himself to create; there were always consequences of using it.
"You're getting far too good at that," Draco said quietly, stroking his hair in a soothing manner.
"I know," Harry's reply was very muffled, but he did not want to look up just yet.
He did not want to see what people thought of him; he was not ready for that. Draco held him and he shook.
"Mon enfant," Jean-Claude's voice was gentle, but there was a trace of something there that Harry had not heard before, "are you well?"
"He'll be fine," he was very glad when Draco did the talking for him. "When he was fifteen Harry found out he was the only person who could kill the Dark Bastard, what you just saw was his way of doing it."
For a while no one spoke, and all Harry had to concentrate on was stopping the shaking. He knew it would take him a while, it always did.
Anita could not help herself as she stared at Harry Potter. She hid what she was feeling behind the mask she had had firmly in place since the moment they walked into the Circus, but she could not take her eyes off the shaking boy. Harry had just played one of the members of the vampire council at his own game and won, only it hadn't really been Harry. The man, because there had been nothing boyish about him, that had stood there and faced down the Traveler had been a complete stranger.
What scared her the most, was that she had recognised the eyes that had stared out of the teenage face, she'd seen them in the mirror when she wore her killing mask. The personable young man she had come to know over the last few days had been gone and in his place had been a cold bloodied killer. Harry was only seventeen; seventeen year old boys should not have been able to become something like that.
Dragging her mind back from the shock she felt she turned her attention to the whole evening. It felt like such an anti-climax; the council were never this easy to deal with and the little voice at that back of her mind could not accept that this was over.
"That can't possibly be it," she said, dropping the calm human servant act and slipping back into plain Anita. "Jean-Claude, all of this cannot have been just for five minutes."
"I am as surprised as you, ma petite," Jean-Claude replied, turning to her with a thoughtful expression on his face. "I have never been witness to a visit by members of the council under such conditions, and I have never known them to be this brief."
"It was not what I expected either," Asher gave his opinion, standing up and stretching his long legs as if he had been wanting to do so for some time. "I accompanied Belle Morte and Padma on one such enterprise and it was not as," he paused as if looking for the correct word, "conducive. I believe that this outcome may be directly related to the subject."
Anita looked back at Harry and Draco and all she could see of Harry's face were his green eyes peering hesitantly though his bangs, over Draco's shoulder. The kid was still shaking, although it was little more than a tremble now, and she wondered how much it had cost the young wizard to face down the Traveler.
"It's obvious isn't it," Draco sounded protective and angry, a position Anita understood all too well when it came to matters of the vampire council, "the monster was sent to test Harry. All they wanted to know was how strong he is, and now that they know they'll crawl back into their holes until they can use the information. The Dark Bastard used to do the same thing all the time with prospective allies."
The blond wizard didn't say it, but Anita heard the 'and enemies' tacked onto the end. There was a political game going on here as well that Anita knew she could not fully see, and she didn't like it one bit.
"Please," Jean-Claude said after a moment, "stay and relax. I believe it would be wise for Anita and I to see to the Traveler's request to meet with him as soon as possible. Giving the council a reason to remain is never in the best interest."
The last thing Anita wanted to do was walk back into anywhere with the Traveler; the vampire put her teeth on edge, but she could see the advantages in what Jean-Claude was suggesting. If the Traveler's mission was over, from the way she understood the situation, the council member would be forced to leave or be seen as the aggressor. Mr Oliver had found out that council members did not survive if they were the aggressor in Jean-Claude's territory. The destruction of the Earthmover had nearly killed her, but Anita was willing to risk that again if it removed those who threatened her and hers.
She nodded her consent and followed Jean-Claude to the door. She would have liked to take Damian with her since his calming influence was so useful, but the Traveler had requested only Jean-Claude. As his human servant this included Anita automatically unless Jean-Claude chose otherwise, but to bring anyone else would have been a serious breach in etiquette.
"You know, Jean-Claude," the Traveler said as soon as Anita and Jean-Claude walked into the room the council member had been allocated, "you should consider taking the seat on the council. With such tools at your disposal, you would make a formidable member."
This was more what Anita had expected as she found herself being given a once over. She had fought off the Traveler before, but this time she chose to avoid his eyes rather than play the game again.
"Ma petite is not a tool, Traveler," Jean-Claude said evenly, showing no outward reaction, "and I take no joy in the political intrigues in which the council delight. I believe we have discussed this before; my opinion has not changed."
"You have become a sourdre de sang since we last spoke about this, Jean-Claude," the Traveler countered. "Do you not feel a responsibility to your own?"
Anita knew she was radiating tension at the conversation, but she did not like where it was going. The council had not bothered them in over half a year and she had been hoping it was a permanent feature.
"I am far more useful to my people here than involved in machinations within the council," Jean-Claude replied, still appearing totally calm. "But enough of this, you came here with the one aim of meeting Harry Potter; this is done."
The Traveler inclined his head, admitting the truth of Jean-Claude's words, but Anita still moved closer to her lover in support of him. When it came to the council, strength was everything, and she could not hide her smile of victory as Balthazar moved into a similar position behind his master.
"So be it," the Traveler replied, "perhaps the council will offer the seat to Harry. I have never seen such strength."
"He's not a vampire and he's only seventeen years old," Anita said instantly, immediately very uncomfortable at even the hint of what the council could be playing at.
"He is not precisely a vampire, no," the Traveler acknowledged, "but the child is enough of one to count, and he has the power to hold such a position, even though all his power is not of us. Raw power such as his should not go untapped, and we may have need of power in the future. My reason for being here is primarily Harry, however, the council also wished to speak to you both and this gave us the opportunity."
That sounded far too upfront to have just come out of the mouth of a council member. Candid and any vampire powerful enough to be on the council just didn't go together, but the Traveler seemed serious.
"Since Belle returned certain investigations have been made," the Traveler continued before Anita could voice any of her opinions. "It is possible that Anita's supposition that the Mother of All Darkness is waking may hold some truth."
If Belle Morte had admitted that to the rest of the council then Anita knew there had to be more to it. It had been Belle Morte's assertion that she had been able to call some of the creatures of the Mother of All Darkness to do her bidding because she had become so powerful, Anita had pointed out it was because Mommy Dearest was only dozing rather than sleeping deeply as the original vampire had been doing for centuries. Belle had not liked to be told she was wrong, and Anita knew that if it had been reported to the rest of the council then Belle must have changed her mind in a big way.
"And this concerns us how?" Jean-Claude asked in a way that suggested to Anita he was being very careful.
"The older we are," the Traveler said in an equally careful manner, "the more idiosyncratic we become. It is our belief that should the Mother of all Darkness wake, our aims may not coincide."
"What you mean is she'll wander around the world playing with any of you she feels like before killing you when she's bored," Anita said bluntly.
She had felt part of the mind of Mommy Dearest and it had not been fun. The source of all vampires had no trace of humanity in her and her whole thought process had been about what was interesting. The council played with those around them, but they had goals and aims; it was their machinations that kept them in check, but Mommy Dearest needed no games. The sleeping vampire was powerful enough to do what she liked, when she liked without stooping to playing politics, so her waking up would not be a good thing.
The Traveler did not agree, but neither did he disagree.
"She had moved before over the centuries," the Master vampire said eventually, "and has returned to her slumber. It is possible she will come no closer to waking, but it would be wise to be prepared should this occur. Those of like mind should come to agreement don't you think?"
Jean-Claude was silent and still, completely still in that he gave no indication he was alive. It was something Anita had only seen on a few occasions and in this case it meant Jean-Claude was thinking and hiding very carefully.
"I will not join the council, Traveler," Jean-Claude said eventually, obviously choosing his words very carefully, "but I remain ever watchful."
The two vampires stood like statues for a few moments, just watching each other, but eventually the Traveler inclined his head just slightly.
"Then I shall leave you," the council member said, his voice devoid of any open reaction. "We will be in touch."
Anita did not like the sound of that, but when Jean-Claude nodded she did not interfere. Vampire politics were dangerous and volatile, Jean-Claude knew how to play, she did not, so for once she left it alone.
Harry had taken his outer robe off and thrown it over the back of his seat; he still felt cold, but it was not the kind of cold more clothes helped with. It would take company and probably a glass of firewhiskey to shake the chill in his bones that had nothing to do with temperature. As it was he was sitting close to Draco on the sofa with Nathaniel sitting on the floor leaning against the sofa and his legs, and for once the contact did not make him feel uncomfortable.
With Draco it didn't feel that odd anymore anyway, although Harry was not used to any type of public displays of affection, and the warm weight of Nathaniel's back leaning against his shin was soothing more than anything else. Nathaniel had not made an issue of where he chose to sit and the wereleopard was chatting away to the others as if everything was perfectly normal, but Harry appreciated the gesture.
Firstly it told him that Nathaniel was not afraid of what he had seen; a great relief to Harry as his paranoia tried to convince him that everyone would hate him now; and secondly it stroked the pard bond that Anita had told him was beginning to form, giving Harry comfort that he did not quite understand, but accepted anyway.
What Harry wanted to do now was talk to Jean-Claude about the marks so that he knew what he had done, and then go home and curl up with Draco. This evening had been a bit much for him to deal with and he wanted it finished. If he never saw a member of the vampire council again it would be too soon. The others were chatting, almost as if nothing had happened and Jean-Claude and Anita hadn't disappeared to talk to an ancient, powerful vampire. Harry was not joining in, but the rest of the group did not seem to mind. Even Draco was adding his opinions from time to time, but Harry was in no mood for chit-chat.
Being capable of murder was not something he was proud of and he had hoped he had left it behind, but it seemed fate had other ideas for him. He was so intent of banishing the sociopathic construction from his mind that at first he did not notice the slight ache in his chest. It was only when Nathaniel turned to him, frowning that Harry realised that anything out of the ordinary was going on.
"Oh shit," he said, as the familiarity of the feeling in his chest made itself known.
Without caring where he was Harry ripped at the buttons on his shirt, heedless of whether he damaged the material in his haste. At least one button flew off in his race to part the material, and then he was looking down at the spell scar which was ever so faintly glowing.
"No, oh no," was all he could say.
He did not need this now, but the madmen who had tried to kill him had other ideas. He heard himself scream as pain ripped through his chest, but it was remote, almost as if someone else was screaming as his consciousness was ripped away from his body. The sound of his own voice was replaced by the sound of chanting and he was consumed with the strange feeling of being bodiless. It took longer for his vision to be anything but a cloudy blur as his metaphysical aspect adjusted to being so suddenly invoked.
Below him there were six robed figures, all standing round a cauldron with their arms raised. Harry recognised some of the words they were chanting because they were in Latin and he had used them in spells himself, but others were in at least two languages he had never heard before. What he could make out were 'blood' and 'sacrifice' being chanted over and over again with whatever else was part of the spell.
The robed figure closest to the cauldron was holding the strange shaped bottle that Harry knew held his blood. Last time the potion being made had only had a few drops of his blood in it, but this time the potion maker poured whatever was left in the vessel into the cauldron. The mixture which had been a wilted green colour turned a deep blood red and Harry felt the power infused in it as the strange mixture of cold and warm that was vampire, lycanthrope and human magic all mixed together.
As the bottle was put aside he realised his time would be limited; only while these people were doing magic with his blood could he see them, and he suspected the potion was almost finished. Dragging his eyes away from the scene in front of him he looked around the room, trying to find anything that might give a clue as to where this was happening.
The walls were hung with red curtains, making then uniform and there was nothing in the room but ritual objects, but Harry kept looking. There had to be something. The ritual was not underground; it was a normal room with a normal wooden floor, it could not be completely faceless.
Then he saw it; just the faintest flicker of light from beyond the ring of candles. It had to be a window. He was held by his blood having been dragged to this place by his magical connection to it, but with everything he had he willed himself closer to that source of light. It was hard to move away, but Harry was all too familiar with things being difficult and he fought the invisible chains holding him in place. The chanting was slowing, the ceremony was coming to an end and he focused everything he had on reaching the tiny sliver of light before he was thrown back to his body.
It felt like he was stretching himself as he pulled away from his position above the cauldron, as if part of him had to remain there and the rest was being pulled thin over the distance to the side of the room. If he could not find out where this place was the vision was as good as useless, and he had had too many useless visions in his life to let that happen. He felt as if he might break, but he was at the curtain and he forced his awareness to the gap in the material. What he saw was a road and the lights of a motel and a bar with cityscape behind it. It told him very little, but then he had seen very little of St Louis.
Almost as if fate knew he had what he needed, the chanting behind him stopped. As the casting of magic in the room ceased his connection to it snapped and he was catapulted back into his body with what felt like the energy of an explosion. It hurt, in fact everything hurt and all his body wanted to do was pass out, but this was too important. This time he had details and he knew how to give them to someone else, someone who might be able to understand. Fighting against the need to let his physical shell recover he opened his eyes.
He was on the floor of the main room, that much he figured out with one blink and he was surrounded on all side. Hoping that someone would have called Jean-Claude he searched the faces around him, praying that the vampire was there. As green eyes finally found midnight blue relief washed through him and without trying to do anything else he held out his wrist. Jean-Claude did not hesitate, seemingly understanding exactly what Harry was trying to communicate, and he felt fangs sink into his arm almost instantly.
A connection flared between them and Harry pushed the image from the window down it. It was all he had and his need to pass it on held him strong for just a few moments. He felt Jean-Claude acknowledge what he was showing him and then his strength failed. There was only so much magical stress any one body could take and Harry found his limit like a bludger to the head. Calm, peaceful blackness reached up to take him and he slipped into unconsciousness with a small sigh.
End of Chapter 17
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