Chapter: 31 of 35 - Curtain Call
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 31 Curtain Call
Anita looked up from where she was trying to eat dinner even though she did not feel like food at all. She had learned to her cost that if she didn't eat bad things happened and she took feeding in all ways very seriously. What little appetite she had vanished completely when she saw who had just entered the room. Every so often she still had nightmares about Raju, Melanie's partially transformed mate from when she had been forced into the cave containing the mutated human. If it had been possible she would have preferred Melanie dead, but the lamia was truly immortal and nothing would kill her, well nothing Anita had control of anyway.
Why the preternatural creature had decided to visit Jean-Claude's living space was a mystery and Anita wished she did not have to find out. She and Melanie would never see eye to eye and they usually stayed as far away from each other as possible. Jean-Claude stood politely as soon as Melanie entered. The lamia was carrying a small brown snake and Anita shivered at the way she was stoking the thing.
"Melanie, this is a delightful surprise," Jean-Claude greeted with a smile. "How may I be of assistance?"
Anita knew it was good politics to keep the lamia happy, but she didn't have to like it. She tried to look at least non-hostile.
"You are missing the young wizard," Melanie said, holding up the snake as if it was important, "he has sent me a messenger."
Now Anita stood and for the first time ever she believed that the lamia might be worth her skin. If Melanie could help them find Harry, Anita was willing to bury the hatchet for good.
"You know where to find Harry?" she asked, not caring at all how her eagerness would affect the situation.
There was bitterness in Melanie's eyes as she looked at Anita and for a moment she thought the lamia would not answer, but eventually Melanie nodded.
"I do not normally concern myself with such matters," the lamia said coolly, "but I find this child of Salazar captures my attention. I ask only that you tell him I would value his company for a short time when he is safe, and I will help you find him."
Melanie was not usually helpful with anything she did not have to be. Anita had heard Jean-Claude complain about the lamia on several occasions, but as they looked at each other Anita had a revelation; the creature was lonely. It was rather a shock and she doubted that Melanie would ever voice what Anita thought she knew, but in the depth of her soul, Anita knew it was true. For a moment she regretted killing Raju, but it had been a kill or be killed situation and Anita was a survivor and she had had no choice.
"We will tell him," Jean-Claude said with his calm face in place.
"The small one has come a long way out of his territory," Melanie said as her price was met. "He speaks of death in the place that is his, but he only knows how many territories he had travelled through, not how far he has come as we would measure it. The only method of returning to Harry is to follow the small one home."
It sounded like a long laborious task, but what else could they do? Anita nodded without trying to object; in this she was helpless.
Cogs were moving, Jean-Claude was preparing people should they be needed, and Anita was trying to work out how much and when to tell Dolph what was going on. So far they had a snake that they had to follow, which the Mobile Reserve would like about as much as a hole in the head. She was also wondering when to call Richard because she knew he would want in on this, but he was even less patient than the cops. Calling in Richard too soon could result in a pissing contest between him and Jean-Claude, and calling him in too late could result in manly sulking, which in Richard's case meant bad things. If Anita hadn't been quite so worried she might have been amused.
Standing up she decided that whatever the hell anyone else was going to do, she was going to get moving. The members of the pard who weren't at the hospital with Draco were scattered around the room and they all climbed to their feet as she did. There was a feeling of complete support as they all looked to her and she knew that where she led they would follow. However, she was also aware that they could be walking into a demon confrontation, and she was not about to take anyone into that she did not have to, especially when she knew several of the pard were atheists and hence had no protection in prayer.
She glanced at the clock and then swore colourfully, as she realised that luck was not on her side. So much had been going on that it never occurred to her to keep an eye on the time; dawn was less than an hour away which ruled out all vampire assistance.
"Ma petite," Jean-Claude said, his eyes flicking to the clock face as well and then back to her, "there are other resources upon which I may call, other than our vampires."
Anita tried not to glare at him, she really did, but she was now out of patience. One of hers was missing, another was lying in the hospital near death; she could not sit still a moment longer.
"No time," she said firmly, completely adamant about what she was thinking. "You round up the cavalry, but some of us need to start the search now."
Even as she spoke she began to plan properly and a clear idea of what to do formed in her mind. Surprisingly, when she looked at Jean-Claude, ready for an argument, all he did was nod.
"Micah," she continued, since everyone, including Lupin seemed to be looking to her and not objecting, "you, me, Lupin and Jason are the search party. There's no point in more than that, it'll just frighten the snake."
Melanie had made it very clear that the snake was wild and not fond of humans, or anything that didn't speak its language actually. A small party could move faster and not frighten the damn thing away. She knew that Micah would insist on going as would Lupin and having a wizard on hand would be an extremely good idea. Since Jason and Lupin were all but joined at the hip, or should that be groin, she was not about to try and futilely protect the younger werewolf.
"Everyone else gets to be backup when we find the bastards who ..." she faltered as alarm shot through her.
A fear that was not her own leapt at her and she was no longer looking at Jean-Claude's living room. Stupid, stupid, she'd been so stupid! Only it wasn't her who had been stupid, it was Richard and all around him there were figures, their faces in shadow. Her lover's regret and fear swamped her as he berated himself for leaving the safety of his house without bodyguards when there were madmen on the loose with an unspecified goal.
Richard's beast was rising, Anita could feel it; he would not go down without a fight, but Anita felt so helpless as all she could do was watch. Her body and mind opened to her Ulfric and she could feel a tinge of Jean-Claude's power in the mix as well. She offered Richard everything she had if it would save him, but she did not know what to do.
Her own beast rose with that of Richard and she was peripherally aware of it pressing against her skin trying to break bonds with nowhere to go. It hurt, but it cut nowhere near as deep as the fear coming from her lover. Anita knew he was about to attack, she could feel it, and then there was a sharp stabbing pain. It was in Richard's chest and yet it almost felt like her own; then another and another.
Almost instantly Anita became more aware of herself, as if the link to Richard was fading. Her last glimpse was of her Ulfric looking down at himself and seeing three silver darts sticking out of his body, and then blackness reached up to engulf Richard. The connection was severed like a piece of elastic and she slammed back into her own body, her legs going weak as the overwhelming experience ended. If Micah had not been there she would have fallen, but strong arms held her up.
She glanced over to where Asher was hovering next to a stricken looking Jean-Claude. Obviously her vampire lover had been just as affected by the experience, but even as she watched his usual mask of vampire calm slipped back into place and he waved off Asher's helping hand.
"Oh god," Anita said as the reality of the situation span round her mind, "they've taken Richard."
Consequences piled into her head and all the facts began to make sense.
"Ma petite," Jean-Claude said, walking towards her and taking her from Micah's safe embrace, "we will find him."
But Anita's mind was moving to fast to accept any comfort, even if it was sincerely meant.
"Don't you get it?" she asked as the whole thing began to become clear. "The ritual used the elements of a triumvirate, Harry's blood had the power of all three in it and they used it to create some sort of potion. They were never going after just you, they want all of us."
The implications of such a move were enormous and she began to realise that this whole case was not about a vendetta, or small ideas. If someone could control the triumvirate that was Jean-Claude, Richard and herself, they would have the whole preternatural community of St Louis at their beck and call.
"We have to find Harry and Richard," she said resolutely as she realised that this was a covert war, "and we have to find them now."
Following a snake was not as bad as Anita had feared. They were using a car, climbing out every now and then and following directions from Melanie. The snake had taken a straight line, and it was more difficult using roads, but they were making headway far more quickly than Anita had expected. They weren't there yet, but they were definitely making good progress. As soon as they were close she would phone back for support and Jean-Claude would contact the police.
Jason was driving, which turned out to be a very good plan when Anita felt her world lurch for the second time that evening. This one was not so sudden, but she felt Richard waking up and he seemed to be instinctively reaching through the marks. He was groggy and uncomfortable and at first that was all Anita could make out since there was no clarity from her lover at all.
Her skin felt like it was hot and burning slightly, as if out in the sun too long and it took her a while to realise that Richard was chained to something, and she had no doubt that the chains were silver. She had never experienced a lycanthrope's allergy to silver from the inside before and she could not understand why some of her cats insisted on wearing it if it felt like this.
Richard's beast was stirring lethargically, but there was little fight that Anita could feel in him. Whatever his captors had shot into Richard was wearing off, but not enough to give him any clarity of thought and Anita tried to send him some of her strength to speed up the process.
[Together, ma petite,] Jean-Claude's voice filled her mind and she could feel him through the marks.
It was very close to dawn and Jean-Claude's strength was beginning to wane, but Anita did not argue and together they fed their power to their third. Anita could feel Richard beginning to come back to himself, but he was still weak and there was not much more they could do. It was possible that there might be some clue to his whereabouts in his immediate surroundings so Anita tried to keep Richard as mentally close as possible as he began to recover.
"Take his head," she heard through Richard's ears and she could see a blurry person in front of her as her lover's presence washed over her, but she could not tell what was going on.
Mild pain of someone viciously pulling Richard's hair made it to her and then she could feel him struggling. Something hard hit him across the face and Anita felt as if she had been slapped and she felt as trapped as Richard. Hands were holding his head and then he was choking as something was poured down his throat. It burned and filled his senses with the smell of blood and death and Anita had to hold on to her beast as it rose in recognition, wanting to know what was going on.
As Richard screamed so did she and there was an answering cry from Jean-Claude, but it was not the physical pain the noxious liquid caused that made them cry out, it was what the potion was doing on a metaphysical level. Anita could feel the tendrils of magic worming their way into Richard from the blood-laced liquid, seeking out the werewolf's power and the marks. Part of it reached for her, shrinking away only at the last moment and winding around the connection between her and Richard. It was evil and insidious and it squeezed at the power connecting them, throttling it and insinuating itself into her place.
She found herself aware of only herself and for a moment it terrified her. All that was left was the tiniest link between her and Richard so that she could tell he was still there, but could not touch him. She felt bewildered and lost and so very alone, and she did the only thing she could; desperately she reached out for Jean-Claude.
The marks between them opened wide and she clung to him as she felt his own sense of loss and despair.
[They've taken him,] she all but wailed; [Jean-Claude they've taken our Richard.]
She was almost hysterical. Once she would have done anything to be able to break the marks, to end the pain that Jean-Claude and Richard caused in her life, but now that someone had almost taken one of them away from her she could not cope. Jean-Claude's mental presence held her as they shared their pain at the separation.
[You will return him to us, ma petite,] Jean-Claude said, his mental voice sure and full of confidence that Anita did not feel. [I have seen you overcome more than this. We are stronger than they, and they shall feel the depth of our anger.]
They held to each other for a few moments more and then Anita slowly began to pull back.
[He will be ours again,] she said simply, her will hardening again and then she withdrew back into herself.
She found that she was hunched up between the seat and the window of the jeep and her face was wet. Three worried men were surrounding her and they had obviously been trying to get her attention since all looked relieved as she blinked at them. This was no time for hysterics and no time to fall apart and taking a deep breath she slowly sat up properly.
"Are you alright?" it was Jason who voiced the question that the others were obviously all thinking.
"They used the potion on Richard," Anita said, her voice far less strong than she had hoped, "but now we're going to get him back."
"The small one indicated north," was the only reply she received and it came from Melanie where the lamia was sitting calming in the back of the car.
All the lycanthropes still looked worried, but when Anita glared they all took their seats again. As Jason gunned the engine Anita looked out into the predawn city and sent up a quiet prayer that it was possible to retrieve Richard's mind once they had his body.
Waiting for the Mobile reserve unit would have seemed like a sensible idea, but Anita was far beyond sensible. Fear and loss had morphed into silent fury and she had never been good at sitting still when there was work to be done. She was also one hundred percent certain that her companions were not about to wait around either; the look in Lupin's eyes was a scary thing to behold. The police had been called and they would arrive when they arrived, but Anita was not about to let Harry or Richard die while the rescue party hung around and talked about tactics.
The old warehouse was the epitome of clichéd venues for the black magic that Anita could feel in the air, and she crept through the door slowly with her gun drawn. Lupin was directly behind her with his wand in hand and they were followed by Jason and Micah, both of whom had chosen to shift into their half and half forms. They were not a huge rescue party, but they were a very talented one.
Sending out tendrils of her power, Anita could tell that there had been death magic used in this place, but so far she felt no demon taint. Two shifted lycanthropes, one wizard and a federal marshal were easily a match for a bunch of human ritualists, it was the demonic involvement that was worrying Anita. It was possible they had only hired a sorcerer to help them catch Harry and they were back to their own brand of magic now, and that was what she was hoping. Very few, even the darkest witches, would use demon magic unless they absolutely had to. It was like a line human beings as a whole dreaded to cross.
Melanie had refused to do anything to help in the actual rescue and was waiting outside. For once Anita did not blame the lamia, Melanie might have been immortal, but demons were bad news even if you couldn't die. Having your soul eaten was likely to finish off even the hardiest creature.
As Anita paused to gather her bearings she heard Lupin whisper something behind her. When she turned the wizard had his wand flat on his hand and it was moving like a compass needle. Their eyes met and Lupin pointed in the direction the wand was indicating; no words were needed.
They were headed for the back of the building where there was an ominous looking door. Dawn was beginning to lighten the sky and Anita could just pick out the details of symbols on the wood as twilight turned darkness to grey through the big windows. She and Micah took one side of the door and Remus and Jason the other before she reached over and turned the waiting handle. A faint tingle of magic ran up her arm as she touched it, but it was nothing she had not been expecting.
There was no noise or indication that they had been seen from inside so she let her gun lead her into the room. What she saw stopped her dead. It wasn't the dark red walls that caught her attention or the altar to one end of the room, it was the four x-shaped racks with silver chains, and two were occupied.
Against one wall there were three of the racks, to one of which Richard was chained, spread-eagled and helpless. He had been stripped naked and his skin was red where the silver chains used to bind him were burning whatever they touched. His head was hanging forward, his medium length hair falling over his face making it impossible for Anita to tell anything about his expression. On his chest was an angry red brand of a sign of three - it looked fresh.
The fourth rack was in the centre of the room, nearly horizontal with the floor in the centre of a ritual circle. Harry was attached to this one in the same naked state as Richard, but with even more chains than were on her lover. It was obvious to Anita who the perpetrator of this crime feared the most, and it was not the Ulfric of the local pack. Harry's face was towards the door, his eyes were closed and there was tape over his mouth, but what made the bile rise in Anita's throat was not the fact that whoever was doing this had silenced Harry, it was that they had made very sure he could not cast any spells. They had nailed his hands to the rack with large, iron nails through the centre of both palms.
It was obvious these people knew about Harry's lycanthropy and magical skills, at least in part, but Anita could not see any precautions against the vampire in the young man's nature. She forced herself to concentrate on the good not the bad, or she would be useless for anything. Both men were alive and their injuries would heal and Anita repeated this to herself over and over again as she pushed her body into action.
There was a quiet growl from behind her and when she glanced back Lupin was surveying the room from the doorway. His usually blue eyes were wolf golden and Anita could tell he was holding himself from shifting by a huge feat of will. She could not really blame him, she felt the same, but she motioned for silence and began to move into the room.
There was another door on the other wall, near where Richard was restrained and she motioned Micah and Jason to go and check it out. What she did not want was a room full of black magic users popping in while she was trying to free either of the captives. Both lycanthropes moved to obey and skirted around either side of the room, alert for any traps under Anita's watchful eye. Once they reached their destination she turned her attention to the other problem at hand; extracting Harry and Richard from their bonds. From where she was standing Richard looked bad, but Harry looked worse, so she moved towards the unconscious wizard with Lupin only a step behind her.
The moment she set foot in the circle she knew she had been baited and the trap had just been sprung. Lupin was half in and half out of the circle being just behind her when the whole thing flared with power, and the unfortunate werewolf was thrown backwards like he was in an explosion. Anita saw all this out of the corner of her eye and when she turned Lupin was laying against the wall in a heap, very much unconscious from the impact. What was worse than the loss of a powerful ally was the feeling that crept over her skin; she sensed demon.
The amount of shielding it must have taken to stop her sensing it before had to have been incredible, but it had fallen the moment she stepped into the circle and she could feel the power in the room. Both Jason and Micah tried to reach her, but there was a glow to the air around the circle and both lycanthrope's froze the moment they touched it. The mew that came from Micah told Anita that the experience was not pleasant at all.
The power in the circle was building and the other door opened as Anita tried to decide what to do. If she touched the barrier it was possible she would end up as helpless as Jason and Micah, or it could be even nastier from the inside, so to escape she had to break the magic first. Ignoring the six robed figures entering the room as something to deal with once she could be sure bullets would be useful she felt the magic around her. This was a combination of human and demon power, she could tell, and she had a nasty suspicion she was about to meet the demon.
A seventh figure entered the room as the robed ritualists took up positions around the circle and began to chant. The newcomer was not dressed like the others, in fact he looked like an ordinary business man unless you looked into his eyes. Where there should have been whites and irises there were black pools of nothing. Anita knew she was looking at the sorcerer.
"Good morning, Miss Blake," the stranger said in an aristocratic British accent and if Anita's hackles hadn't been fully risen already, the 'Miss' would have done it, "it is a pleasure to meet you. I have heard so much about your exploits and long wanted to meet you, but alas, my employers wish this finished as quickly as possible."
"Doing other's dirty work how you get your kicks?" Anita shot back, hoping to distract the man long enough to come up with a plan, but he simply smiled and then lifted his arms.
The stream of Latin that fell from his lips was unfamiliar to Anita, but she got the gist and was not surprised when a misty shape began to appear just in front of where Harry was laid out; terrified, yes, surprised no. Without even considering it she began to pray, speaking the words of the first prayer that came to her mind. The prayer of St Francis was not exactly appropriate to the situation, but it was the thought that counted, not the actual words.
"You can pray all you like, Miss Blake," the sorcerer said as if he was discussing the weather, "but it will not stop the Master of Pain for long. Perhaps I will feed your pets to him first."
Desperately Anita tried to think of some way out of this, but the feeling of evil as the demon slowly became real was almost overpowering. She scanned the room, and when she looked at Richard the words of the prayer faltered on her lips. He was no longer hanging limp from his chains and he was looking straight ahead, but his eyes were red pools that stared at nothing. She reached out for him through the marks, but the same barrier that she had felt before pushed her back. It was as if he was behind glass and she could see him, know he was there, but not touch or interact with him. It was worse than if he had been gone completely.
Tearing her eyes away, she shared a gaze with a terrified looking Jason and a stoic Micah before looking down at Harry. The kid was still out cold and the spell on his chest was shining slightly, but as she saw him she knew that they might have one chance. Harry was powerful, very powerful and he could wield magic in ways these people had probably never dreamed of. They had tried to bind him, but the vampire might just be a way to reach him. As the demon became whole she let her necromancy free and she called Harry to her.
At first there was nothing, after all it was dawn and they had found that Harry's vampire was as reluctant to show itself in the day as a normal vampire, but it was possible and she felt the cold spark awaken to her call. Harry's eyes opened, glowing softly and his skin went ghostly pale as the master vampire in him came to the surface. Their gazes met and for a moment Anita almost stopped breathing. There was so much pain and suffering in Harry's eyes and the prayer faltered on her lips again.
The demon lunged at her and she fell to her knees, gun grasped between both hands as she began to pray with everything she had. The power in the circle was soaking into every pore and she wanted to be physically ill, but she could not risk halting her prayer. At the moment the only thing between her and being demon bait was the power of her faith.
"Give in, Miss Blake," the sorcerer said, "he will not hurt you... much. My employers want you alive and he has been promised the boy once you are subdued."
It was the 'much' that was the most worrying bit. A demon's idea might be a lot different from a human's. Not that Anita would consider surrendering anyway; she'd rather die than give up to whatever these lunatics had in mind.
"Kill the wolf," only when the sorcerer spoke again did she risk looking up and the demon had looked away.
Jason's expression was a frozen as the rest of him, but his eyes held so much terror that Anita had to do something. Bullets might not kill demons, but Anita had nothing else and she might be able to distract it. Lifting her gun she stopped praying and fired, three times.
It might only have been annoying to the demon, but it did the job and the creature turned back to her. It stopped still only a moment and then it swiped at her with long vicious claws. They froze millimetres from Anita's face and she found herself staring at a motionless demon only inches from her. It was the moan from Harry that finally dragged her eyes away from the creature as it loomed over her.
Harry's eyes were glued on the demon and Anita felt the power shift in the room. Something was happening, something she could not see, but could feel, and it had completely immobilised the demon. When she glanced at the sorcerer even he looked confused.
The spell on Harry's chest was beginning to glow now and Anita could sense the energy growing, but she dared not move. Anything could upset the balance of what was going on, and she knew that this was their only hope. It would of course have been that moment that the cops chose to arrive. The door she had used earlier smashed open and members of the Mobile Reserve crashed through, guns drawn.
"Police, nobody move," the command was strong and clear until the very end when it was clear to Anita that the speaker had seen the demon.
Cops trained to spot men with guns and knives tended to miss the supernatural on first glance as the human mind tried desperately to ignore it. No matter how well re-trained, the Mobile Reserve all came from backgrounds which were primarily dealing with human crimes.
At least the chanting stopped.
The creak of metal brought Anita's attention back to the scene in front of her and she looked at Harry. Cold flames were dancing on his chest and his head was back as his body tried to arch away from the rack even though it was held down from joint to end by chains on every limb. There was a moan from Richard; the design on his chest was glowing as well, and then she felt it, something coming from her Ulfric. It did not feel like Richard, but it was definitely coming through the barrier that stood between them. At first it was only a trickle, but like a damn bursting it went from virtually nothing to a complete flood and Anita sagged at the onslaught.
She attempted to protect herself as the hot energy forced its way into her body through Richard, but she could not stop it and she felt as if she was losing control. The magic burned as it curled into her very being and it was as if she might explode. It was possible she was going to lose anyway.
[Yours,] the word forced it's way into her mind and it was Richard, but not Richard, [use it.]
For a moment she did not understand and then she knew where she had felt this power before; it was Harry. Somehow Harry was channelling his magic through Richard the way he had briefly with Jean-Claude when they shared memories, and it was flooding into her. No longer afraid she stood tall and she reached out her hands to the frozen demon. Eyes the colour of deepest red looked at her and recognised their own destruction. In normal circumstances touching a demon would get a person killed, but this was anything but normal.
There was only one thing that a demon understood and that was power. As the magic continued to pour into her through the marks she felt as if she was glowing with it and the moment her flesh connected with the demon she let it free. She was nothing but a conduit and she opened herself completely to the power, letting it flow through Richard, into her and then into the demon. The creature screamed and the glowing barrier faltered, but the rest of the room seemed to be stuck in place, as if they were afraid to break whatever spell was happening.
"Die," Anita said in a voice so cold that it even chilled her to hear it, "there is no place for you here."
She felt alive and free and euphoric, even as the demon's scaled face began to burn from the inside, skin melting into itself as if it was nothing more than a plastic doll. As it's throat collapsed and it's cry died she could hear another one and she cast her eyes onto the sorcerer who had thought to destroy them. The man was on his knees, clutching his head as he bled from the eyes and nose and he was screaming. He reached out to her, seemingly begging to be released as black eyes danced with flame. The part of her that knew mercy stirred then, but at her core she was far more practical then that. Sorcerer and demon were connected and for it to be completely gone so did its summoner. Looking back at what was left of the demon she continued to pour magic into it. The energy burned through her and she let it flow until there was nothing between her hands but ash.
As if Harry knew the moment she knew it was over the power cut off and she staggered. She would have fallen, but Micah was there to catch her as what she had done hit her full force. She had just stood up to a demon and lived and what she wanted to do was lose it completely and melt into her Nimir-Raj's embrace. The sound of a gun cocking brought her back to her senses.
"Federal Marshall," she said just in case there were people on the team who did not know her by sight. "Everyone in a robe is a bad guy. Arrest them."
End of Chapter 31
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