Chapter: 1 of 35 - Holiday Trouble
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 1 Holiday Trouble
Harry stepped out of the taxi and stretched his back, looking up at the tall townhouses which lined the road. It was a strangely eerie place in the dark, lit by orange street lights, but he was really too tired to think about it much. He still hadn't regained all of his strength after the final battle, even six months later, which was one of the reasons Draco had given him the keys to the house the Malfoys owned in St Louis, organised an international portkey, and literally made him leave.
The clear up was taking time, and the Ministry of Magic wanted Harry travelling all over the place promoting peace, now that he had finally finished school. The Boy Who Lived had become The Defeater of He Who Must Not Be Named and the Ministry wanted to make sure no one decided to take the place of the late Dark Lord. Draco had put his foot down and told Harry to take a holiday first. So here he was, seventeen years old, his first time in the States, in the middle of St Louis with one ambition: to sleep for at least a couple of days.
It was nice of Draco to lend him the house, and it had amused Hermione and Ron no end that the Slytherin had taken to looking after Harry now that the war was over. They had become friends shortly after Draco had taken the Dark Mark in sixth year, which was kind of ironic. Being forced into following the Dark Lord by his father and having Voldemort order him to sacrifice himself by killing all the Muggleborns at Hogwarts in one foul swoop, had rather opened Draco's eyes to the madman his Dark Lord actually was.
Draco had run to Dumbledore and asked asylum from the headmaster of Hogwarts, given his fugitive father over to the Ministry, and loudly proclaimed that anyone who joined Voldemort was more of an idiot than Crabbe or Goyle. Since Crabbe and Goyle could still barely tie their own shoe laces, let alone think for themselves, this had put off quite a few of Draco's year mates in Slytherin. It had been a regular coup for the side of the light when the one house at Hogwarts supposedly full of dark wizards and witches had turned around and decided they'd rather not be evil after all.
Sixth year had been a very interesting time and Harry banished the memories with a shake of his head. He was here to forget and relax and enjoy himself. Draco was going to be visiting him in a week to show him the sights of St Louis, or at least the Wizarding sights anyway, and until then his friend had instructed him to rest and relax, which he intended to do to the best of his ability. Picking up his bag he went to walk towards the impressive town house, at which point something struck him hard on the back of the head.
Waking up was unpleasant; his head hurt, his chest felt as if someone had had a go at it with a shredding charm and his arms were complaining because he was suspended from them. Opening his eyes he didn't like what he saw either. Everything was blurred because he had lost his glasses, but he could see enough to be afraid.
He was in the centre of a circle drawn on the floor in red, and the room was lit by black candles. There were symbols all around the circle's edge that he could not quite make out and there was a faint smell in the air that he really didn't want to recognise: blood.
Looking down at himself he realised that he was naked, someone had seen fit to strip him completely. He could partially see why his chest felt so bad as well; someone appeared to have carved some sort of design into it with a sharp object. Harry had a very bad feeling about this.
Almost as soon as he opened his eyes a low chanting began from the darkness outside the circle and he felt a magical shift in the room. It did not feel like the spells he was used to, or the magic charged atmosphere at places like Hogwarts or the Ministry, but it was still magical energy.
"What the hell," he managed to say as two figures walked from the darkness into the ring of light.
One was a tall, pale man in some sort of robe; the other was a large leopard. Both stood completely still, just looking at him, and there was emptiness in both human and animal eyes that scared him. Pale blue and dark brown gazes watched him, but really didn't seem to see him. His heart beat pounded in his ears as the chanting began to grow in volume. This was not a good situation and in fact he felt as if facing Voldemort again might have been a better idea.
His two companions remained perfectly still, as if they weren't real, and he pulled at the chains holding him in a vain hope that they might give. The feeling of the magic in the room was not nice and he knew without a doubt that this was a dark ritual. He could only guess what they wanted with him.
With Voldemort it had been about gloating and making him remember his dead parents, but this was entirely different. This magic was faceless and it felt old. This was not what he was used to at all.
Suddenly the chanting stopped and all at once the stillness of the circle was shattered. The man shrugged off his robe, revealing naked, pale flesh. There was a red design on the man's chest as well, but Harry had little time to look at it as the leopard dragged away his attention by launching itself straight at him. Claws raked down his leg and he screamed as long teeth sank into the flesh of his thigh.
It hurt and Harry tried to pull away, but he was chained and virtually helpless. Then he felt his head being yanked backwards by the hair and he could see the pale man up close and personal, only he realised very quickly it wasn't a man, his second assailant was a vampire. Long fangs glistened in the candle light and then Harry could do nothing to resist as his head was pushed sideways and those incredibly sharp teeth pieced his neck.
His head swam with the pain in his leg and the light headedness caused by the vampire's bite as power invaded him, and Harry knew he was going to die. These creatures were there to kill him, he was sure of it. Yet as quickly as the attack had started, it was over and he looked through pain fogged eyes to see his assailants standing away from him with a robed and hooded figure behind each.
He was fearfully reminded of the Death Eaters in their black robes, but these people had no silver masks, merely dark hoods which hid their faces. These were not those that were left of Voldemort's followers, Harry knew it instinctively, but he had no idea who they were or why they had chosen him.
The chanting began again and as he watched Harry saw the leopard change. It was slower than an Animagus transformation, but in only a few moments there was a part man, part cat standing where the animal had been. Then, as one, the two robed figures moved in close to the vampire and the leopard man.
There was still the same emptiness in both sets of eyes and Harry could hardly believe it when his assailants allowed there heads to be pulled back. Sharp knives glinted in the hands of both robed men and Harry knew what was going to happen a fraction of a second before it did.
"No," he screamed at the top of his lungs, but it did no good.
The blades were drawn across both throats and blood sprayed straight at Harry from the veins of his assailants. He closed his eyes and tried to pull away, but it was useless. The liquid covered him, stinging his wounds and making his chest burn even more. He could feel the power in that blood as it seeped into his system; feel the magic that was wound into it searching out his magic and it took the last of his strength away.
He did not understand what was happening, or why it was happening to him, and he could not stop it. All he could do was endure as he hung from his wrists, barely able to keep his feet. Eventually the macabre shower stopped and there were two wet thumps. He did not want to open his eyes, really he didn't, but it was as if something made him and the vision that greeted him made him scream.
Only a few inches from his face were the decapitated heads of his assailants, held up by the hair, and they were still staring at him, but now their eyes were glowing. Harry could not take it anymore and in self defence his system shut down. Slumping forward everything disappeared in blackness.
Total despair engulfed him as consciousness swam back in and the first thing he heard was the chanting. The nightmare was not over and he only had strength to moan. Something cold was resting against the inside of his thigh and he opened his eyes, his survival instincts needing to know even if the rest of him wanted nothing to do with it. Kneeling in front of him was one of the robed people and the cold thing was one of the still bloodied knives. Almost before he had had time to take this in, the steel bit into his flesh and he grunted in pain. Something hard was pushed against his leg and rather absently he realised that the robed person was collecting his blood in a goblet.
Part of his mind tried to understand what was going on, but he had already lost a lot of blood and reality was very blurry on the edges. He was being bled dry and it did not take long before his vision began to fade out. It was a welcome relief when he finally succumbed and passed out completely.
"Oh, hell," Anita was used to some nasty scenes, but this was up there near the top.
There was blood everywhere and the signs of ritual were obvious. It had been one of Jean-Claude's people who found the scene and hence they had called her before the police. RPIT would be here soon, but as it was, Anita had herself a pristine murder site. As a Federal Marshal she was entitled to secure a scene herself, but she knew the police were not going to like it. Looking at all the blood she was very glad she had had her overalls in the jeep.
Two bodies were lying on the floor and what appeared to be their heads were a few feet from them. At first glance they looked like ordinary men, but something was off and she hoped she was wrong, but the furthest from her made her think vampire. What really made her stomach try and rebel was the third body; it looked like a kid. A teenager if she did not miss her guess and it did not look as if he had been treated kindly.
She picked her way further into the room, careful not to disturb anything. It looked like it had been a complicated ritual and it was possible those involved had left unpleasant surprises behind. She did not want to step on anyone's toes, but there was a good reason Jean-Claude had made sure she was here first. If it had been a normal scene even the Master of the city would have called the police first, but the sheer amount of blood spoke of black magic.
There was a residue of power in the room that made her feel slightly ill. It was not demon magic, but it was evil and a lot of effort had been put into the ceremony. Anita did not enjoy the feeling of evil magic at all and if the expression on his face was anything to go by, Asher did not seem to like the place either. Her second vampire boyfriend was standing just outside the door as backup; a precaution Jean-Claude had insisted on. As Master of the city, Jean-Claude could not be here in person; it would cause too many questions, but he had refused to let Anita deal with this alone. She would have had lycanthrope backup as well if it hadn't been quite so close to the full moon and the fact that she was afraid all the blood might cause whoever came to shift.
Looking at the bodies there was little to link them except for the fact that they were all male, all naked and all had something carved into their chests. Anita had no idea what the designs were exactly, but she knew the signs of ritual spells when she saw them. The next best thing to marking out a ritual with the entrails of your victim was carving it into their skin; the spell was literally written on the sacrifices.
She did not have to touch anything to confirm her earlier suspicion since one of the severed heads had his mouth open. Vampire fangs were obvious, but she did not recognise the face. This was not a vamp she had met. The second decapitation victim looked human, but that was no guarantee in such circumstances. The head in this case appeared to have rolled and was facing away from her so she moved around the circle until she could have a proper look.
Through all the blood it was difficult to make out the features, but when she managed it, Anita stood up in shock; she recognised the man. She has seen his face only the previous week when Micah introduced him as a fellow wereleopard. He was an alpha from the Boston pard, in town to visit sick relatives, and was supposed to have been joining her pard for the full moon. Regretfully she realised she had forgotten his name, but she knew Micah would remember. Working for the Coalition for Better Understanding Between Lycanthrope and Human Communities gave her live in sweetie a knack for names.
Then there was the third victim; young, quite small, and reeking of most of the evil magic. Whatever had been done felt as if it had been done mostly through him. The vampire bite on the kid's neck was messy and frenzied, as was the animal bite on his leg. They were in stark contrast to the neat carving on the kid's chest and the slash across the inner thigh. Anita really did not want to imagine what the boy had been through before he died.
There was so much blood that it was difficult to see where one trail began and the next ended and it would take the forensic boys to figure out what happened in what order. When things showed up in threes and one was a vampire, another was a lycanthrope, and the third was unidentified, Anita wanted to go for human. They were the three types of power that made up a triumvirate and she was almost sure the kid was not preternatural.
Looking hard to see if she could verify this hunch without crossing into the evidence zone she noticed two things at the same time: the knife wound on the kid's leg looked strange round the edges, almost as if it had started healing and in the centre was the glisten of fresh blood. For a moment she hesitated, and then, heedless of how meticulous she had been to that point she stepped into the circle. There was no way to avoid the blood completely, and she knew she would upset at least a little of the evidence, but this was more important.
Reaching out she put two fingers on the boy's throat, just above the vampire bite. At first there was nothing, but then she felt it, a slow, thready pulse, that seemed to be about to stop at any moment.
"Asher, get in here," she said straight away, "this kid's still alive."
Anita was not sure who had called the paramedics, whether it had been the cops who had arrived to find Asher with the kid in his arms, just stepping out of the circle, or whether Asher had done it before he came to help. Whichever it had been, they had rushed the boy away to the nearest hospital with preternatural facilities. That the kid was not dead said that something weird was going on, but the healing on the chest wound appeared human rather than anything else. The leg wound was another matter which was why Anita was reserving judgement.
Dolph had not been happy that Anita had been there first and he had ordered her to wait outside once she had confirmed that there was no magic inside that would hurt anyone. When the big cop finally came out to see her she knew she was in trouble, federal marshal or no federal marshal.
"Anita," Dolph said pointedly, "what exactly did you think you were doing?"
"Checking out a nasty scene for possible booby traps," she replied, matching his tone. "I hadn't touched anything until I realised the kid wasn't dead. The magic in there is nasty and I didn't want anyone falling foul of it. I am a Federal Marshal which does allow me to do that, Dolph."
Had it not been Jean-Claude that called her in, Dolph might have let it go there, but Dolph did not like Jean-Claude or anything preternatural for that matter, and to her regret it was because of the Master of the city that her one time friend no longer completely trusted her; that and the fact that one of Dolph's sons was married to a vampire who wanted to bring him across at some point. They were trying to be friends again, but they still had their rough moments.
"You know this looks like a vamp cover up," Dolph said and glanced at Asher.
There had almost been a misunderstanding of the bullet kind when the cops had shown up to find a vampire carrying one of the victims. Only Anita's badge and formidable lungs had prevented a rookie from doing something stupid. For his part, Asher did not looked particularly impressed with the accusation.
"Dolph, one of the vics is a vampire," Anita said without trying to hide her annoyance, "another is a wereleopard and the third is some poor kid. There was serious magic going on it there tonight, seriously black, human magic. If this had been the work of vampires do you really think you'd have been called at all? It isn't like there is a hoard of witnesses. The only thing this has to do with Jean-Claude is that he owns the property and his caretaker found the scene."
It was an open secret that what the preternatural community wanted to keep to itself never made it to the human authorities, but that didn't mean Dolph had to like it. Anita could tell that reminding him that she often worked outside the law was not earning her brownie points, but it had needed to be said.
"Was the cat one of yours?" Dolph's voice was actually softer when he spoke this time.
It warmed her heart a little to know that her one time friend still cared enough to try and ask gently.
"No," Anita told him openly and without hiding her relief, "he was from out of town. He was going to be here over full moon so he introduced himself to the pard, that's why I know his face. Micah will know his name."
"Any ID on the vampire?" Dolph asked next, looking at both Anita and Asher for the answer.
"His face is not known to me," Asher replied without batting an eyelid. "It is possible he may also be from out of town although no vampires have petitioned for asylum in St Louis in the past two weeks, or requested feeding rights."
Dolph frowned at the word feeding, and Anita hoped the cop would not make an issue out of it. Vampires needed to drink blood, it was a fact of being undead, but humans that weren't part of the scene didn't tend to like it.
"Would Jean-Claude have a better idea who he might be?" Dolph asked, hiding his distaste quite well as far as Anita was concerned.
"No," Asher replied very firmly.
Exposing Jean-Claude to the handling of the police was not something his second in command was likely to allow unless pushed and it showed in his tone of voice. Anita stepped in before there was an argument.
"Asher sees to asylum requests, passing them to Jean-Claude when necessary, so he's likely to know more than Jean-Claude about this," she said, glad that it was the complete truth. "However, I'm sure if we have a picture Jean-Claude would be happy to circulate it to find out who our dead vamp is."
That mollified Dolph in so much as the frown lessened a little. Walking the tightrope between cop and preternatural was not something Anita always enjoyed.
"Any details on the boy?" she asked in an attempt to move the conversation away from vampires.
"A lot, actually," was the surprising reply. "We found a bag in the next room with a passport and clothes. The kid only just arrived; he's British, by the name of Harry Potter; he'll be eighteen next month; his visa says he's here on vacation. Weirdest looking passport I've ever seen; I'm amazed he made it through customs."
Anita just shrugged; she didn't like flying and was anything but an expert on how people travelled from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
"So whoever did this really doesn't care if we identify the victims then," she concluded aloud. "This is going to do wonders for the tourist trade: come to St Louis and be kidnapped for attempted sacrifice."
"I'm more worried about us locals," Dolph said seriously. "I want to know who went to all this trouble and why. Forensics have cleared you to come back in when you're ready."
Anita nodded; she wanted to know the answers as well. This was a nasty crime and it could have even nastier consequences.
End of Chapter 1
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