For all his talk of wanting to get out of his clothes, it became Harry's sole mission on the trip to the clinic to keep Severus from doing the job for him. He worried that if he let Severus have his way, he'd be walking bare-arsed into the clinic with only his white stockings and the long, brown wig as covering.
[As if I'd let anyone else see you naked,] Severus grumbled, though his hands told a different story as they tried for the fifth time to pull Harry's skirt up around his waist.
Harry shoved his hands away and smoothed down the skirt. Walking in the void felt like marching in place, unable to mark distance or speed as they travelled through the black expanse, so he could understand Severus's impatience. He recalled Aiya telling him once that the shadows could whisk a Mori from one continent to the next faster than apparition, or they could stretch what would have been a quick hop from one side of a city to another into a leisurely stroll. An older, stronger Mori like Rauko could manipulate the void to his heart's content, but the majority of the race were left at the mercy of their formless companions whose haste or caution seemed to fluctuate with their masters' emotions. Harry, whose feelings were perpetually in chaos due to his pregnancy and the war and just plain exhaustion, decided it was probably his fault that the shadows were dragging their heels.
[Look, I'm not having it off with you in the void,] Harry said with an air of calm refusal that shocked them both. His typical response in a situation like this would be more heated, but he sounded perfectly rational and even a bit amused.
I must be tired, he thought, holding his silence for a few steps in case it all had been a fluke, then adding in that same quiet tone, [Wait a little longer and I'll let you do whatever you want.]
Severus prodded at his mind, confused by Harry's reaction but sufficiently distracted by the return of the earlier promise that he didn't let it bother him for long. He accepted the compromise and followed a few steps behind Harry, as if being too close to Harry threatened his willpower.
[This feels equally ridiculous,] Harry objected to the distance with a return of his usual fire. These personality switches were really starting to worry him. Severus's laughter rumbled in his brain.
[Just a little longer,] he taunted, throwing Harry's words back at him.
You two sound like you're having fun, Vala broke in. Listen, I should probably warn you about the broom closet ...
The broom closet? Harry echoed with a puzzled frown, but then he was stumbling out of the void through a sudden threshold, tripping over a bucket and nearly running face first into a closed door. Severus yanked him back just in time, pulling Harry securely into his arms as they both readjusted to the sights and sounds of the world after the vacuum of the void.
“A warning would have been nice,” Severus growled, causing his shadows to cower at his feet, like puppies who had misbehaved and were now trying to get back into their owner's good graces.
“Vala tried,” Harry reluctantly admitted, “but his timing could have been better.”
It landed you back in Severus's arms, didn't it? Vala said, as if this had been his plan all along. He sank deeper and deeper into Harry's thoughts, his voice trailing off as he idly commented, Ahh, a broom closet. Now there's a place to make memories. Not good during breeding cycles – doors tend to get broken or, worse, splintered – but always a handy spot if you're desperate and in a pinch ...
“What is this Mori obsession with broom closets?”
“I rather like them,” Severus said as he wrapped his arms around Harry's waist, hugging him back against his body and presenting Harry with evidence of his 'fondness' for their current setting. “Dark and quiet and just enough room to ...”
Harry had no intention of christening the clinic's broom closet. He wriggled free of Severus's embrace and opened the door.
The hallway he found himself in was long and painted a pale shade of green. The floors were white tile, clean and shiny from a recent mopping, and the overhead lights, though few and far between, cast a soft glow on the hallway, giving off only enough light to keep the human patients at the clinic from stumbling over their own feet while preventing any discomfort for the Mori patients. A sign had been placed on the wall directly across from the broom closet that read Admissions Desk To The Right, followed by a line of Elvish that Harry assumed was a translation of the English.
“If they have so many Mori coming through this closet that they need to post directions, why keep the bucket in there?” Severus asked with a frown as he steered Harry to the right.
“Maybe it wasn't a Mori who put it there. I remember Lisette saying she employed more humans than she did Mori because having too many Mori in one place tends to overwhelm humans. Over half of her patients are human, too.”
The end of the hallway opened up into a spacious waiting room filled with sniffling, sneezing and otherwise sickly patients waiting for their turn to be called. The admissions desk occupied a central position in the room, currently governed by a single, frizzy-haired receptionist who fielded phone calls with a crisp, professional air. Harry wished he'd had time to change into some normal clothes as he let Severus lead him over to the large desk, aware that they were attracting a lot of attention from the other people in the room – Severus, in his dark robes and barely-there dimming, and Harry in his skirt and stockings, his blouse sloppily untucked from the skirt thanks to Severus, the ends sticking out untidily from under the green jumper. He held the sides of his coat closed to hide the mussed condition of his clothing, but he drew many stares all the same.
Severus waited until the receptionist ended the phone call before informing her coolly, “We're here for an appointment.”
The woman regarded them with a critical stare, her eyes a decided shade of brown. Harry knew right away that she didn't have a single drop of Mori blood in her body, yet the way she studied their faces made him believe that she had plenty of experience dealing with the magical creatures.
“Yes, Potter, wasn't it? Dr. Fairholm is with another patient at the moment but I've been instructed to have the nurse take you to exam room six straight away.”
Harry blinked. “Wait, did you say Fairholm?”
“Dr. Fairholm, yes.” The receptionist frowned. “You are here to see her, aren't you? You fit the description ...”
Severus nudged Harry and pointed to a stack of white business cards on the desk, all emblazoned with the name Elspeth Fairholm followed by a list of abbreviated medical credentials. [Perhaps it's an alias?]
“Yes, yes, I just ... I'm so used to calling her by her first name,” Harry said. His explanation seemed to mollify the receptionist because she sent them off in the care of a nurse who led them through another long hallway to exam room six.
On the way, Harry confided his new findings to Severus. [Lisette was the one in my head earlier. When Lucius asked me who I was, it was Lisette who made me say Elspeth Fairholm. She was controlling me through that entire conversation – which, now that I look back on it, was probably for the best. Who knows what I might have said if I'd been left on my own?]
The room that the nurse showed them to looked more like a luxurious suite in a private hospital than an ordinary exam room in a local clinic. It was large, holding a typical examination table with the stirrups at ready, but there was also a soft-looking chair, partially reclined, that was flanked by some rather impressive but unidentified medical equipment. A desk had been built into the wall on the far right side of the room with a couple of elegant white armchairs arranged next to it, turning it into a cosy little consultation area. Harry prayed he only had to sit in the reclining chair during his exam. Something about being a male with his feet in stirrups just didn't sit right with him.
The nurse had Harry remove his coat before she measured his height and weight, then had him sit on the examination table while she checked his blood pressure, all the while talking cheerfully to him about mundane things like the unusual snowfall they were having and the high price of petrol. Harry might have mistaken her for human had it not been for the fact that she removed her glamours and dimming the instant she closed the door behind them. Harry followed suit, recalling Aiya's teachings that the Mori dropped their glamours around each other as a gesture of politeness as well as a show of trust. He also took off the wig, though it took the cooperation of Severus removing the sticking spell for him to get it off without taking some of his real hair with it. He would have removed the spell himself if he hadn’t worried he’d overdo it and end up as bald as Voldemort.
“Just make yourself comfortable in that chair over there. Dr. Fairholm will be in to see you soon,” the nurse said after she'd written down some numbers on Harry's chart. She gave them both a short bow, hand held over her heart, before leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
“Alone at last,” Severus said, trapping Harry on the exam table with his arms on each side of his body, leaning in to nibble at Harry's lips, teasing him with the softest of kisses before the need to really taste Harry proved too much to resist. He plundered Harry's mouth with his clever tongue while helping him all the way out of his outer clothes, breaking their kiss long enough to toss the woollen coat and Harry's scarf onto one of the armchairs before diving back in again with a throaty groan, sliding his hands up Harry's thighs and under the hem of his skirt.
[We can't do this here,] Harry said, though the eager way he wrapped his arms around Severus's neck spoke volumes of his true feelings on the subject. [Lisette could come in.]
[Lisette knows when her presence is wanted ...] Severus brushed his thumbs up the sides of the green knickers, smiling into their kiss as Harry shivered and spread his legs. [... and when it is not.]
He eased Harry down onto the padded table, turning him so he was laying along the length of it, his feet dangling off the end. Severus pulled away, his breathing only slightly laboured, a restrained version of Harry's breathless panting. Sizing Harry up with a predator's calculating stare, he moved to the end of the table and grabbed Harry's hips, yanking him forward so his bottom rested on the very edge. Ignoring Harry's embarrassed protests, he put Harry's feet into the stirrups, spreading Harry's legs wide so that he could have an unhindered view up Harry's skirt.
[How did Granger talk you into putting on this ridiculous outfit? Not that I'm complaining. It certainly has its advantages ... ease of access, for starters.] He snapped one of the garters, making Harry gasp. [These are pretty enough, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing ... but they're also in my way. Mind if I do away with them?] He didn't wait for an answer, banishing the garters and their matching belt with a silent spell.
Harry felt grateful to be free of them but he wasn't going to put that gratitude into words. Instead, he said with a calmness that didn't suit the situation, [I don't care if you do away with every last stitch of clothing I've got on, so long as you let me out of this humiliating position.]
[What? You don't want to play doctor with me?] Severus tried to sound hurt by Harry's resistance, but the low, growling way he said the words 'play doctor' destroyed any illusion of wounded feelings he might have projected. He stroked his hands up and down Harry's stocking-clad calves. [Didn't you promise me that I could do whatever I wanted?]
[I knew I would regret saying that ...]
Severus roughly shoved Harry's skirt up around his waist, a feat he'd been attempting since they parted ways with Julian in the void. He hooked his arms around Harry's thighs to keep him from trying to close them, then he bent down to press his mouth over the growing bulge in Harry's knickers, resuming his seduction of Harry as if they'd never left the bedroom in Grimmauld Place. Harry's hips arched of their own volition as Severus sucked hard on the bulge. [Mmm, I don't think that's regret you're feeling.]
He used his tongue to trace the outline of Harry's cock through the damp material, chuckling when the stiff organ twitched against his lips. He relaxed his firm grip on Harry's thighs and pushed his legs up, giving Harry only a moment's blessed relief as he tugged the green knickers off before placing his feet back in the stirrups. Severus tossed the knickers onto the same chair that held Harry's coat. [Green looks good on you, Potter. You should wear it more often.]
[And just how long would I be wearing it before you stripped it off of me?]
[How annoying that you should have a steady reply for everything I say.] Severus pushed the stirrups out to spread Harry's legs open once more, but he made no move to touch him. [Since when have you been so level-headed during sex?]
Harry, too, found it odd that he'd managed to keep a clear head under Severus's expert ministrations. Maybe Lisette had imprinted more of her personality onto Harry than she'd intended, so that his body responded just as eagerly to Severus as it always had while his brain tried to keep it business as usual, aware of his desire but not overwhelmed by it. He knew Lisette wasn't controlling him anymore, but in a way, she was still with him, influencing him.
“That is ... disturbing,” Severus said in response to what he'd gleaned from Harry's inner debate, “yet plausible.”
[Or maybe you're just not trying hard enough.] Harry couldn't help but throw out a second theory, one that he knew would set Severus off. [You should put in a little effort.]
“That sounds more like the Potter I know,” Severus said with a snort, but there was now a devilish glint in his beetle-black eyes. He walked around the table until he was at Harry’s side, the swish of his robes against Harry’s arm the only physical contact he made. [But why should I do all the work? Self-reliance is a key component in any wizard’s education … and you’re at half-mast already. Surely you don’t need my help?]
Harry huffed and tried to sit up, but Severus stopped him cold when he reminded him, positively smug, “Whatever I wanted, remember?”
I really, really have to stop promising him things, Harry thought, somewhat depressed to know that the odds were against him sticking to his own good advice. When it came to Severus, Harry found himself ready to agree to anything.
He began stroking his half-hard cock with his right hand, slow and tentative at first, but knowing Severus was watching sent an illicit thrill through him. He refused to look at his face but he imagined he could picture the cold, unreadable expression he wore, looking bored or bothered, except for his eyes, those black eyes that burned with the same desire that coursed through Harry's body. Harry felt Severus's hot gaze like a second caress on his cock, as tangible as his long fingers or his mouth would be, and Harry knew he didn't want to make himself come. It was so much better when it was Severus wringing that release out of him.
“Severus ... Severus, I want ...”
[Did you need something? You look as if you're doing fine on your own.]
“I need you – Severus, please,” Harry rasped, reaching out with his free hand for Severus's robes to pull him closer, but the infuriating man backed away.
[You make a good point,] he said with a mildness that irritated Harry – how could he act so cool and unaffected? He moved away from Harry as he went searching for something on the counter near the exam table. [Self-reliance has its limits.]
Harry pushed himself up onto his elbows, watching Severus suspiciously as he examined the array of medical tools and supplies arranged on the counter-top. [Wait, wait ... don't go getting any ideas. I don't want you sticking something weird inside of me.]
Severus turned to look at him with an arched brow, as if to say, 'I wasn't thinking anything of the sort, but now that you mention it ...' He picked up a white plastic tube of some unknown substance and flipped open the top. [Surgical lubricant. I don't want to hurt you, now do I?]
[Oh.] Harry laid back, crossing his arms over his face. The jumper's sleeves effectively hid the tomato red of his cheeks and muffled the quick, ragged breaths he took while waiting for Severus to finally touch him. Several seconds went by without even a sound from Severus; Harry peeked out from under his arms. Severus had placed himself between Harry's legs, but he just stood there, staring. Harry scowled, asking crossly, [What are you waiting for?]
“That's my boy,” Severus purred, pleased by Harry's outburst, and he rewarded him with a warm, slippery finger, slowly easing it inside of him. Harry kept his face covered as Severus loosened him up, each added finger sending a tingle up his spine. It seemed to Harry that Severus was taking an awfully long time getting him ready when all he wanted was to have Severus inside him, deep and hard and fast, and the grind of his hips against Severus's fingers made his feelings quite clear.
[Always so impatient,] Severus chided him. He slid his fingers out of Harry's body and opened his robes, unzipping his trousers so he could free his own straining erection from the confines of his boxers. [Lucky for you, I'm in no mood to wait, either.] He wasted no time in nudging the head of his cock against the slicked ring of muscle, a low moan humming in his throat as he pressed his way inside.
Harry grunted and braced his feet against the stirrups, his hands clutching the sides of the exam table as Severus filled him. The time for teasing and restraint was gone. Whatever Darkness had possessed Severus earlier in the day returned now, his actions more frenzy than finesse as he gazed down at Harry with a fierce hunger in his black-on-black eyes. He shoved up Harry's jumper and blouse as he started to thrust in and out, leaning down to suck and bite at his nipples before yanking the jumper's collar to the side and turning his attention to the base of Harry's throat, where neck and shoulder joined. In the same spot, over and over, Severus would bite down with restrained force, never breaking the skin, then soothe the skin with his tongue, attempting but not succeeding to keep his actions timed to each frantic jerk of his hips against Harry's arse. Harry wasn't even sure Severus knew what he was doing, perhaps driven by instinct, perhaps driven by something even deeper, but the pleasure it sent shooting to his groin mattered more to him than the questions it raised.
It was rough and quick, Harry coming first, his hips lifting clear off the table to meet the last of Severus's spearing thrusts. Severus groaned as Harry clenched around him, pulling away from Harry's neck as he gritted his teeth against the urge to come inside that tight, warm passage. Instead, he swiftly pulled out and finished himself off with a few strokes of his hand, spattering Harry's thighs and crotch with his hot, sticky seed.
Harry stared dazedly at the ceiling, thighs trembling, a soft whimper torn from his lips when Severus began to lick the come from his cock. He cleaned Harry thoroughly, using his wand to remove the stains on Harry's clothes but determined to use his tongue to remove the rest, especially since Harry had implemented his 'don't use magic on me' rule. It only made sense to Severus to take advantage of such a rule whenever he could.
When he decided Harry was presentable again, he eased his feet out of the stirrups and helped him sit up. He cleaned himself and fixed his own clothes disinterestedly, not as concerned about his own appearance as long as he was decent, then he picked Harry up and carried him over to the reclining chair. He set him down with a gentleness that was almost laughable after the way he'd pounded into Harry's body only minutes ago. The blouse and jumper were pulled back into place but he left the skirt bunched up around Harry's waist, unable to resist a last feather-light brush of his fingers over Harry's limp cock, nuzzling his neck at the same time.
[We'll save the rest for later.]
Harry's eyes flew open. “The rest? What do you mean the – ”
Severus hushed him with a slow, sensual kiss, gently biting Harry's lower lip before murmuring, “Later.”
“Right, later,” Harry echoed stupidly, easily cowed by the kiss.
[Is it safe to come in?] Lisette's soft question penetrated the haze of Harry's mind and he sat up quickly, pushing down his skirt so he wouldn't give Lisette an eye-full when she came into the room.
“Want these back?” Severus drawled with a sly smile as he retrieved the green knickers, holding them up by one finger to wave them in front of Harry's face.
“Just get rid of them,” Harry hissed. At least the matching garters and garter belt had been magicked away already.
Severus eyed the garment, pondering which course of action to take, but in the end he slipped the pair of knickers into a pocket in his robes, much to Harry's dismay. He'd planned on burning those at the end of the day, after all. Maybe he could sneak them away from Severus later ...
“Don't count on it,” Severus whispered into his ear right before the door swung open and Lisette walked in.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said with a knowing smile that told Harry she'd really stayed away on purpose, just like Severus had said she would. “So many cold and flu patients! This unexpected weather has been sending them to the clinic in droves. No one knows quite what to make of it. The weathermen are tearing their hair out trying to make sense of it. Sure, it's perfect weather if you're a Mori, but with most of us in the Underground now, who's left to enjoy it?”
“This weather isn't natural. I've seen something similar before, as I'm sure you have as well.” Severus dragged over an empty chair so he could sit next to Harry. He'd gone from sultry to serious in a matter of seconds. The abrupt change always disoriented Harry, who took longer to recover from their more heated moments. “It seems to me that someone is going to a lot of trouble to make conditions favourable for the Mori to come out and play.”
“Then you, too, suspect a wizard is behind this. Do you think it could be Voldemort?”
“After what I've seen today, I have my doubts that Voldemort is the wizard we need to worry about, unbelievable as that may be. He is still a danger, but we would be foolish to think he is our only threat.”
“Can't we save this discussion for tonight?” Harry asked with a sigh. The sooner Lisette examined him, the sooner he could go home and relax. Voldemort, or whoever else was competing with him for biggest-pain-in-Harry's-arse, was the last thing he wanted to talk about right then.
Lisette nodded. “Of course, Harry, you're right. Let's get started on your exam, shall we?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Physically, everything looks good.” Lisette said as she wiped the gel off of Harry's belly and pulled his blouse and jumper back in place. She'd conducted the ultrasound herself, giving them a detailed explanation of what they were seeing and the importance of the measurements she took. “He's far more developed than is usual at this stage, but there are no set standards for male pregnancy.”
Harry hung on her every word while Severus merely nodded absently, too preoccupied with pouring over his son's 'first pictures' to give Lisette his full attention. He'd squeezed Harry's hand so tightly when they first listened to the baby's heartbeat, overcome by the enormity of what he was hearing, and he'd interrogated Lisette throughout the ultrasound, wanting to get the most he could out of the experience. Harry enjoyed seeing him so wrapped up in the process; he got a real kick out of watching Severus in the role of doting father.
“Now, Harry, I want to test the baby's reaction to concentrated light. I'll only be using a weak lumos spell, but you might feel some discomfort since I'll be casting it so close to you. If you feel any pain, let me know immediately.”
She picked up her wand and held it over Harry's stomach. As soon as the spell left her lips, conjuring a dim glow over his belly, Harry felt an acute flash of fear from the baby that sent him scrambling away from Lisette's wand, shouting at her to stop. Severus caught him before he could tumble out of the chair, rubbing soothing circles on Harry's back as he held him close, reassuring him that Lisette had put her wand away and nothing was going to happen to the baby.
Lisette waited for Harry to calm down before saying softly, “This worries me, Harry. An unborn Mori is accustomed to the darkness of the womb, and in most cases he or she is not affected by light until birth. Your son's fear of light is violent and instinctual, and it's grown worse since I last examined you. From now on you must avoid all direct sunlight. If you have to go anywhere during the day, you go through the void or you don't go at all. Let's cut back on your exposure to firelight as well. I understand this will be inconvenient when you want to be around your friends, so a lumos spell is acceptable from time to time as long as you keep your distance from its source, but pure, natural light is forbidden. If you keep to the darkness for the rest of your pregnancy, I see no reason why you can't have a perfectly healthy baby.”
Harry nodded, grateful for Severus's grounding presence. He knew Lisette was doing her best not to frighten him, but even her gentle voice would not have calmed him if Severus had not been there for support. Why was the baby so afraid of light, having never experienced it directly?
“Other than that, just do what you've been doing. Eat more. I want you nice and plump by Christmas. I'd ask you to cut back on any stressful activities, but we're not exactly living in peaceful times these days. You'll have to pick your battles from now on.”
“I'll make sure he avoids any unpleasant situations,” Severus said in a tone both soft and resolute, his hand a warm weight on Harry's shoulder, his fingers massaging Harry's tense muscles.
“I'm sure you will.” Lisette's eyes brightened, her lips curling upward in a smile, a hint of something suggestive in her voice, but her professionalism won over and she went on briskly, “I anticipate this baby will be ready to make his debut in early Spring. I wish I could give you a more definite date, but male pregnancies are notoriously unpredictable. I have a feeling that Nature hasn't quite worked out the kinks in that area .. it may be another century or two before it all goes smoothly. Adaptation takes time to perfect itself.”
She stood up, walking to the small desk built into the wall where she made a few notes on Harry's chart. “I don't believe we'll need to schedule another ultrasound unless there are complications. Normally, I wouldn't advise a magical examination until the baby is sixteen weeks along, but he's a bit of an overachiever – perhaps twelve weeks is a better estimate? We can test his reaction when the time comes ... late January, early February.”
[Hear that, Potter? Overachiever, she says.] Severus placed his hand over the small bump beneath Harry's jumper, smiling proudly.
[He must take after you,] Harry said with a wry smile.
“Here, I brought these with me when I left the house this morning. I thought you might want to change into your own clothes after the exam.” Lisette handed Harry a bundle of clothing that was blessedly free of lace and frills: a pair of jeans, a warm, green and blue flannel shirt, and a pair of boxers. There weren't any socks, so he'd have to keep the stockings on, but Harry didn't care since the jeans would cover them.
The phone on the desk rang and Lisette picked it up, cradling it between her ear and her shoulder as she continued writing notes on the chart spread out in front of her. “Yes, Dr. Fairholm here.” A long pause followed, during which Harry could hear the breathy voice of the frizzy-haired receptionist sounding harried and a touch uneasy. He couldn't quite tell what she was saying, too tired to make an effort at eavesdropping, but he caught the gist of the conversation from what Lisette said in return. “Hmmm ... yes .... by name, you say? Did you tell him I'm not taking appointments at this time? No, no, I understand. I'll be right out. Please tell him to take a seat ...,” another pause, then Lisette laughed and said, “No, I think I can spare a few minutes ... just a brief chat, not a consultation. If he requires immediate medical attention, I'll refer him to Dr. Lytton.”
After hanging up the phone, she closed the folder containing Harry's chart and slowly, gingerly stood up, as if her true age had suddenly caught up with her. It seemed the energy she'd expended on Harry that afternoon had taken more of a toll on Lisette than even she had expected. “Go ahead and get changed. I have a few instructions to leave with the nurses and a visitor in the waiting room, so if I'm not back in fifteen minutes, leave without me. I'll follow you just as soon as I'm finished here.”
Harry watched her leave the room with a sympathetic smile. He, too, felt battered and worn down from the events of the day; even his instincts felt blunt and useless, each stressful moment scraping away another layer of awareness, filing away all the sharpness of his mind until nothing but an eerie numbness remained.
“Consider yourself on house arrest from this point forward,” Severus said briskly as he took off Harry's left shoe.
"That's hardly fair,” Harry grumbled in protest.
“Don't complain to me about fairness. If you want a sympathetic ear on that subject, you'll have to make do with your no-good godfather. He does more than his share of whining about what's fair and what isn't. I'm sure that miserable mutt will love having a fellow inmate who can't escape his tedious company.”
“You're the only one who finds him tedious.”
“I'm the only one with any taste.” Severus paused and looked over his shoulder, as if he'd been distracted by a noise or an unwelcome presence. He stood silent and alert, head cocked to one side. “Did you feel that?”
“No, I didn't feel anything. Why are you so jumpy? We're safe at the clinic.”
Severus waited a few more seconds before turning back to the task at hand. He reached for Harry's other shoe but Harry stopped him.
“Wait. Let me do it.” He took off the cramped black shoe and flexed his toes in relief. He'd walk home barefoot through the void before he put those torture devices back on. Maybe he could get Severus to carry him on his back for the return trip. The shrunken photograph remained safely in the toe of Harry's shoe, and he plucked it out before tossing the offending shoe aside. “I kept this with me in case Rauko rummaged through my things while we were gone.”
He held the picture up so Severus could see it, waiting for a sign of recognition, but Severus just stared at it quizzically. Harry felt something close to happiness swell up inside of him before he quickly squelched it and held the picture closer to Severus's face. “It's the picture you gave me in my inheritance, remember? The one that tells me where Aiya is.”
“Ah, that picture.” Severus didn't seem inclined to elaborate on the picture's history, and Harry couldn't bring himself to ask about it in case he learned more than he wanted to about his mother's past relationship with his mate.
Suddenly, Severus grabbed his wrist and brought Harry's hand up to his nose, sniffing the miniature photo with an almost Padfoot-like concentration.
“Are you sure you want to be smelling something that's been in my shoe all day?”
“Quiet, Potter.” Severus took out his wand and restored the photo to its original size, examining the writing on the back before smelling it again, his expression hardening. “This isn't the photograph I gave you. The spell on this photograph was cast recently, not decades ago.”
“That can't be right.” Harry took the photo back so he could judge for himself. If he simply looked at the picture, everything appeared to be exactly the same: his mother's beaming face, the vivid yellow sundress, and of course the elegant scrawl on the back that continued to read: Stuttgart, Germany. It was only when Harry brought the photo closer to identify its magical scent that he realized he couldn't smell even a trace of his sister. From what he could tell, the spell on the photo was only a few days old and devoid of Aiya's scent, but it smelled familiar all the same ...
He held the photo away from him as if it was something rotten, his stomach turning as he guessed at the scent's origin. “I think this spell was cast by Lyr ... or Aleksei ... or whoever he is. He must have switched the photos on our last day at Hogwarts, when I left the original behind in his classroom.”
“He's a clever one, alright,” Severus said as he took the photo from Harry. “Geminio to duplicate the photo, and then a simple but efficient tracking spell to let him know where you are. He knew it was something you'd keep close to you, something you wouldn’t part with easily. You remained hidden while you were at Grimmauld Place, but the instant you ventured into the wizarding world, he hunted you down …”
Hunted … hunted … the word struck a nerve in Harry, and he thought he could hear his sister whispering in his ear, ‘The hawk is a fierce predator …’
“… a sharp-eyed hunter,” Harry finished the thought aloud.
“Just something Aiya said. We have to warn her, Severus. If they have that photograph then they know where she is.” Which would put Lucius and Aleksei a step ahead of Harry. It was anyone’s guess how long it had been since Aiya and Draco left Stuttgart. They could be miles and miles away by now. He automatically fumbled for his connection to his sister, forgetting in his panic that it remained broken, finding only emptiness where once he'd found love and security. The pain of that loss felt as fresh to Harry as it had felt on the night Aiya disappeared, made all the more terrible by their current situation: Aiya was in danger and Harry was helpless to save her. Would it be Halloween all over again?
He wouldn't let himself consider the possibility, but the guilt seeped in all the same, tormenting him. “It’s my fault. If I had put the photograph somewhere safe instead of carrying it around with me …”
“Aiya means a lot to you, Harry. It’s only natural you’d want to keep that photo close to you, and then there's your mother …” Severus trailed off, clearly uncomfortable talking about Lily Potter. He stared at the photograph for a long moment, his lips pressed into a thin line, but a ripple of alarm disturbed his stoic expression as he looked up at Harry. “If they tracked you to Gringotts ...”
“... they could track me here,” Harry said as he shimmied out of the skirt then quickly pulled on his boxers and jeans. Severus decided he was taking too long and freed him from the jumper and blouse with a wand-less spell, dressing him in the long-sleeved flannel shirt but only getting half the buttons buttoned before being interrupted by a wordless cry for help, a silent appeal that only a Mori would hear.
A muffled crash could be heard from beyond the door, followed by a scream and a clatter of footfalls, as if the loud noise had set off a stampede. Harry only had time to think, Lisette, only a thought, only a stricken gasp of his own mind, too soft for even Severus to hear, and then he heard the crack of apparition behind him, sharp as a bone snapping, a sound that went straight to his gut and plunged deep. He didn't have to look over his shoulder to know who it was. The hate that flashed in Severus's eyes coupled with the fear that gripped him out of nowhere told him all he needed to know. Thinking fast, he reapplied his glamours and dimmed down his appearance before he turned to face the wizard standing behind him, not wanting to give his secrets away so easily.
“A wizard without his wand?” Lucius pointed his own wand straight at Harry's chest, a gleam of triumph in his grey eyes. “Your recent exploits have made you careless, Potter. Or are you depending on the Mori to protect you?” He glanced at Severus before looking back at Harry, giving no sign of recognizing Severus except for identifying him as a morion.
[We can't fight him here. I don't think we'd lose, but ...] Harry could tell that Severus was seconds away from attacking, and for once he would have to be the voice of reason in their relationship. Like Lisette said, he had to pick his battles from now on. For the baby's sake, it was imperative that he choose wisely. His exhaustion and Severus's high-strung, hair-trigger instincts were huge disadvantages should they choose to turn this into a confrontation. In many ways, they would be fighting themselves as much as they would be fighting Lucius if they engaged him now.
Severus seemed determined to take Lucius on, no doubt seeing this as an opportunity to end one of their biggest problems once and for all. [You should run. Let me take care of him.]
Harry saw Severus try to move forward only to be frozen in place, held fast by invisible hands, his anger turning to confusion then to fear, but Harry, who had experienced just such a paralysis when first meeting Rauko in the Shrieking Shack, took Severus's immobility as a sign that help had arrived, and he only needed to be patient ... and talkative ... to get them both out of this situation unharmed. Perhaps his instincts had grown duller than he originally thought; those murderous impulses that usually took hold of him every time he crossed paths with the elder Malfoy were quieter now. He felt as if he'd stolen all of Severus's self-control for himself – yes, control. He felt it within his grasp: control over Lucius, control over the entire situation.
“I don't need a wand,” he said coolly, channelling the last remnants of Lisette's influence into an unflappable smile that threw Lucius off guard. “I don't believe you've come here to harm me, Lucius. What would be the sport in that? Killing me just so you could cart off my corpse as a trophy for Voldemort?” Lucius winced at the name. “That isn't really why you're here, is it? Why would you be his errand boy, when you could have me all for yourself?”
[What are you doing, Harry? Get out of here!] Severus's threatening snarl almost made Harry lose his nerve, but he was certain this was the right tactic. Lucius wanted him, there could be no doubt, and what better way to distract him than to dangle the carrot right in front of his nose?
[... powerful wards surrounding the clinic. Travelling in or out through the void is impossible. Seven, maybe eight wizards ... all entrances and exits are being watched ... there have been sun-spells cast here ...]
[Stick to the shadows until you find a way to get inside unnoticed. Wen, soora utinuamin. Khiasa, vakha verne'amin. I want the head of the wizard who dared attack her.]
[... two casualties in the waiting room ... both human ... ]
[Heruamin, I have found her. There is no sign of the wizard who attempted to take her ... she is unconscious but breathing, minor burns on her right arm and her back ... there is blood, but it is not hers ...]
[Manke naa Julian? He was right beside me ... ]
[... helping a family evacuate ... I'll catch up to you as soon as they're safe ...]
Mori voices drifted in and out of his mind like police dispatches, giving him a good overview of what had happened and where they stood. Disappearing into a shadow wouldn't work this time unless they could find someone to disable the wards, and as luck would have it, the best man for the job was right there in the room with Harry. If they worked together, they just might be able to pull it off.
[Trust me,] he pleaded with Severus before focusing on Lucius, forcing himself to take a small step forward, trying not to flinch when he felt Severus clawing at his mind, intent on stopping him. The wall behind Lucius began to bleed black with shadows, signalling the arrival of another Mori and giving Harry the confidence boost he needed to take another step closer. He schooled his expression into a reasonable imitation of Julian's signature seductive grin, playing the part of teenage wizard gone bad as he said, “I'm right, aren't I? Voldemort simply wants to see me dead, but you ... you have plans for me. Maybe a little torture ... a little pain to let me know my place ...” Harry gave a small shiver, appearing to enjoy the idea of pain at Lucius's hands when in reality the idea repulsed him; Lucius, he noticed, had lowered his wand a few inches. “... but you're smarter than him. You know how much power I hold ... and by controlling me, you could control that power ...”
Lucius tightened his grip on his wand but did not raise it any higher. “And the Mori?”
“Ahh, I'm afraid they don't like you very much.” Harry's head tilted to the side, a playful smile on his lips. He really surprised himself with how well he could pretend while his instincts were weakly but endlessly urging him to attack, Severus barking at him to run, and the baby's unnerving silence on the matter scaring him more than anything. “Not that such an insignificant detail would matter to someone like you ... but you really should be careful, Lucius.” As he spoke Lucius's name he let a fraction of his dimming slip, only the barest glimpse of his true face but enough to lower that wand another inch. Soon, they could make their move. Harry brushed his mind against Severus's but found only a brick wall of fury and frustration. He pushed harder. “A Mori's bite is much, much worse than his bark.”
“What are you up to, Potter?” Lucius regarded Harry with a feverish but suspicious gaze, beguiled by Harry's manner and words but rightfully distrusting their sincerity. “You were hardly this cordial to me when we met at Hogwarts.”
[Trust me,] Harry hissed at Severus, not only irritated that he had to ask that of him, but that he had to ask it twice. [Let me get closer to him and when I've got him distracted, apparate out of here and get to work on those wards! I won't be alone – there's a Mori shadowing us.] To Lucius, he merely smirked and said, “What can I say? You bring out the worst in me.”
[You don't realize what you're asking of me,] Severus said in a dangerously low voice, but his grudging tone told Harry that he had resigned himself to the necessity of separation, cold intellect replacing rage, and whoever had been holding Severus back released him with a shudder of dark energy. The wall behind Lucius was pitch black now, the shadows seething like dark flames, but Lucius remained oblivious to the danger lurking behind him. Harry glimpsed a pair of glimmering blue eyes within the darkness before they vanished again.
“Your worst is infinitely more appealing than your best,” Lucius murmured. “What a pity I couldn't bring it out of you sooner ...”
“No time like the present.” Harry stopped just short of Lucius's wand, his palms itching with a sudden influx of energy, his body responding defensively to the close proximity of his enemy even though his emotions remained detached. His boldness knew no bounds as he reached out with his left hand and ran his fingertips down the length of Lucius's wand, taking his deception a step further with the sensual gesture. “I can show you the real Harry Potter – no Imperius Curse necessary.”
[Harry.] There was real anguish as well as anger in Severus's voice, his territorial instincts pushed to the breaking point. Harry could feel magic, dark and powerful, come crashing against his back – Severus's magic searching him out, grasping wildly for a hold on him, desperate to pull him back from what appeared to be the brink of disaster. This charade couldn't go on for much longer ...
“Wouldn't you like that?” Harry's fingers coasted from Lucius's wand to his hand, applying gentle pressure as he tried to get Lucius to lower his wand all the way. “Don't mind my guard. He likes to watch.”
All this time Lucius had been too captivated by Harry to give Severus a second look, but he glanced at him now, his fingers clenching around his wand briefly before he relaxed and looked back at Harry, clearly taken in by this seductive new side of the Boy Who Lived.
“He looks like he wants to kill me. Are you sure he's willing to let you get this close to me?”
“He's as willing as I am,” Harry said with utmost sincerity, masking the true meaning of his words with an inviting smile as he closed the distance between them. He slid his hands up Lucius's arms to his shoulders, half-embracing him, and he felt rather than saw Lucius drop his own arm back to his side, his wand no longer a threat. Lucius bent his head to kiss Harry, resting his left hand lightly on his hip, but in those few seconds before their lips could touch, Harry signalled Severus.
The crack of apparition startled Lucius into looking up. “That was – ”
Harry wasted no time in shoving Lucius away from him, pushing hard enough to send him stumbling back against the shadow-covered wall. A pair of arms reached out of the darkness and locked around Lucius's body, holding him prisoner against the wall. His wand clattered to the floor, useless, but Harry knew better than to count Lucius out. No doubt he was well versed in wand-less magic.
But he's been subdued. I can kill him, Harry thought, cradling the idea so peacefully in his mind that he might as well have been contemplating an everyday decision like what to wear or when to eat. His hands throbbed with restless energy, his instincts growing sharper and more insistent as Lisette's enforced tranquillity ebbed away, his exhaustion diminished by the euphoria of victory. He'd already squandered his first opportunity to get rid of Lucius. He couldn't bring himself to let another perfect chance pass by and not do anything. Whatever risk to the baby, could it really be worse than letting Lucius live and having Harry's vision of capture and torture come true?
This won't be an act of self defence, Harry. This will be murder. Can you live with that? Can you justify exposing your child to such a cold-blooded act?
Harry shrugged off Vala's intrusion into his thoughts. He resented the spirit's ability to make him doubt himself. The sense of control he'd been savouring was slipping away. [This is a man with no respect for life. Why should I show him mercy? If I kill him, I'll be protecting my son, not harming him ...]
Then why do you hesitate?
The Mori hidden in the shadows spoke a quiet warning into Harry's mind. [I can't hold him forever, taren en amin.] Several shadowy limbs, extensions of the unseen captor, emerged from the darkness and wrapped around Lucius's mouth, legs and torso in an effort to keep the wizard from breaking free.
Harry, don't become the thing you hate ... it didn't work for Rauko, and it certainly won't work for you.
But Harry couldn't bring himself to just walk away. He raised his hand, the Killing Curse forming on his lips, but a flash of white light grazed his cheek and robbed him of his attack. He spun around to see an unfamiliar black-haired wizard behind him, wand at the ready. The sun-spell that had struck Harry's face had left only a scratch but it burned like hell – he supposed he should be grateful that whoever this was, he had cast one too many dark spells in his lifetime for his Solis Invictus to be deadly. Shadows darkened Harry's face as they rushed to soothe their master's pain and prevent the spell's damage from spreading, but Harry's thoughts had already leapt ahead to what he could do to disarm the wizard without risking a second sun-spell. The attack had forced him to drop his dimming entirely, a purely instinctive reaction, but it put to rest any doubts his opponent might have had about whether he was a Mori or not. He expected any minute for the exam room to fill with debilitating light – why hadn't that been the wizards' first method of attack? Why did the clinic remain as dimly lit as when Harry and Severus first arrived there?
You'll have Lisette to thank for that, Vala said, his voice harsher and more intense than Harry had ever heard it, which made its similarity to Severus's voice even stronger. Her final act before she fell unconscious was to prevent them from illuminating the rooms with magic. I told her she was too weak to cast a spell of that magnitude, but she went and did it anyway. The light they create fades almost immediately. Their sun-spells seem unaffected, however, so be careful.
“Release him,” the man said as he gestured with his head at a struggling, red-faced Lucius. He kept his wand trained on Harry. “I'd hate to add another scar to such a pretty face.”
[There's a breach in the wards ... don't know how it happened but I can feel it ... I want everyone evacuated ... no one gets left behind ...]
[ ... someone get in here and help me ... I've got my arms full of blond bastard and the Heir is in trouble ... Julian, manke naa lle?]
“Did you hear me? I said release him.” The wizard took a step forward, not noticing the solitary shadow that crept up over his left shoulder and curled around his neck until it was too late, his body yanked backwards into Severus's grasp.
“You will regret harming him,” he hissed into the wizard's ear. That single tendril of darkness tightened around the wizard's neck, choking him until he was writhing in panic before Severus tired of him, tossing him across the room like a child abandoning an old toy. The wizard crashed headfirst into Lisette's desk then fell to the floor, unmoving.
[Ahh, never mind helping me now, Julian ... your ai'toror just handled my problem ... ]
[... I could use some help myself, Wen ... this wizard just won't take no for an answer, he --- ]
Julian's voice abruptly cut off.
Severus cursed under his breath and reached for Harry. “We have to go.”
Harry glanced back at Lucius and raised his hand, altering his original intentions and uttering a clear, firm, “Stupefy!” The force of the spell caused Lucius's head to snap back and strike the wall before his body went completely limp. Harry watched dispassionately as the Mori holding Lucius immediately dropped him to the floor, eager to get away from him. The pair of arms disappeared back into the shadows as Severus pulled Harry out of the exam room.
The clinic's corridors looked as if they'd gone through a battle of their own: large cracks and dents in the plaster, ceiling lights broken or flickering erratically, smears of blood on the tile floor. Occasional shouts punctuated the sounds of fighting occurring in other parts of the building, the loudest coming from the direction of the waiting room. Severus drew his wand out of his robes and took out the few working lights in the hallway, giving them the cover of darkness as he led Harry past exam rooms and offices to a storage closet near the back of the building.
[Get inside,] he said, opening the door and pushing Harry forward. [I dismantled the wards in this area so you should have no problem using the void to escape. I have to go help Julian.]
[But I - ] Harry didn't get a chance to protest as, for the second time that day, a pair of hands shot out of the darkness and dragged him into the void, though this time it was Rauko who embraced him, not Severus.
[You are safe, utinuamin.] Rauko smoothed Harry's hair back from his face and pressed a kiss to his forehead, then reached down to place a hand on Harry's belly, smiling as the baby weakly responded, showing signs of awareness for the first time since the attack began. Harry shared in his son's strange, visual language, a pale star-burst of violet against the black backdrop of his mind that he deciphered as a greeting meant specifically for Rauko, and even that half-hearted attempt at communication from the baby provided him with a measure of relief after the previous stretch of silence.
Rauko kept one arm around Harry's shoulders as he led him through the void, more protective and affectionate towards Harry than he'd ever been in the past, and even more unusual was that Harry allowed this closeness between them – welcomed it, really, since having Rauko's strong presence beside him provided him with a deep sense of security and quieted the baby's fears, too.
[Do not worry,] Rauko said, calming Harry even more with his smooth, hypnotic voice, [Severus has found Julian. They will join us back at your godfather's house.]
[Is Julian hurt?]
Rauko didn't answer, but the shadows seemed to tug harder at Harry's body, acting on some unspoken command to hurry their journey along, and suddenly he was stepping out of a threshold into one of the many bedrooms at Grimmauld Place. The smoky scent that greeted Harry reminded him of the Lennox house, where the smells of burnt flesh and sun-spell had been thick enough to taste, like a mouthful of ashes. Hermione stood next to the bed, wringing water from a cloth, blocking Harry's view of the person she was nursing.
“You're back! Oh, Harry, I've been so worried!” Hermione forgot about the wet cloth in her hand as she threw her arms around Harry, accidentally slapping the back of his neck with the cold cloth. She misinterpreted his gasp of shock as a sound of pain, and she quickly pulled back, her face etched with worry. She gently touched her fingertips to the cut on Harry's cheek. “What happened? Did they attack you, too?”
“One little scratch is the extent of my war wounds,” Harry said dryly. He peered over Hermione's shoulders to see that it was Lisette who lay in the bed. She'd been placed on her stomach so Hermione could tend to the burns on her back, her right arm heavily bandaged and a faint purplish discolouration around her eyes and her mouth. Rauko left Harry's side to claim a seat on the bed next to his wife, tenderly stroking his hand over her unbound hair. Lisette stirred but did not wake up.
“She's suffering some kind of magical drain,” Hermione whispered to Harry, though a look from Rauko reminded her that no amount of whispering would prevent him from hearing her. She bit her lip nervously before continuing in a normal tone of voice, “I think the energy she expended to fight off the damage of the sun-spell was too much of a strain on her. She won't wake up until her magical levels are balanced again. It's the same thing that happened to you on Halloween. See the bruising on her face? That's a clear sign that she's used a dangerous amount of magic. You wouldn't see that in a human, of course, but the Mori are purely magical creatures. Any magical imbalance can have consequences to their health. She doesn't react to spells the same way you do, so we can't cure her with dark magic like I did with you. We just have to wait for her to wake up on her own.”
Harry nodded but he wasn't really listening. Lisette, already so petite, looked heartbreakingly fragile as she lay still and silent on the large bed, dwarfed by her husband's imposing frame, the creamy, pale skin of her back marred with angry red burns. The fingers of her right hand twitched violently every now and then, as if Lisette continued to fight even in her sleep. Harry knew that it wasn't just the sun-spell that had drained Lisette – hadn't Vala said as much back at the clinic? Whatever spell she had cast to prevent their attackers from using light against the Mori must have been a powerful one, strong enough to cover the entire clinic and lasting long enough to allow the survivors to reach safety.
[I want to know how this happened,] Rauko spoke to Harry without looking at him, his eyes only for Lisette as he continued to touch her hair and her face, absorbed by the sight of her. [How did they find you?]
Harry turned his head away, ashamed to admit that he was indirectly responsible for leading Lucius and his followers to the clinic, but he was saved from explaining everything to Rauko by the arrival of Severus.
“Miss Granger, I need you in the other room,” he said as he poked his head into the doorway.
[When did you get back?] Harry asked, surprised that he hadn't sensed it, though he was having trouble feeling anything but his own guilt now that he'd seen Lisette's condition. How many others were injured? Hadn't one of the Mori mentioned human casualties? Harry could feel the weight of those deaths settle squarely on his shoulders.
[Less than a minute ago. Julian is wounded and I need Miss Granger to examine him to confirm something for me.]
Harry hesitated, wanting to follow Hermione and Severus to the room where Julian had been taken but well aware of Rauko's continued hold over him. He looked back at him, silently asking for a reprieve from any further questions.
[You may go,] Rauko said softly, then added sharply, [but you will tell me everything, Harry, and soon. There will be no secrets between us any longer.]
Harry sighed and nodded, trailing behind Hermione and Severus as they walked down the hallway to Julian's bedroom. Severus felt cold and distant, withdrawing from Harry's attempt to touch his mind and barricading himself away behind his barriers. Harry felt that rejection like a slap to the face. Was Severus blaming him as well? He was too afraid of the answer to ask.
The rooms they passed were full of Mori, their faces unfamiliar to Harry but their energies gliding over his skin with the familiarity of old friends, silently saying hello to him while they tended to their injured friends and family. From the endless rumble of voices in the back of his mind, Harry concluded there were four or five injured Mori at Grimmauld Place, not including Lisette and Julian. He tried not to think about where the bodies of those who didn't survive were being kept.
“Harry, are you sure you're okay? You're so pale ...” Hermione took hold of his hand as they neared Julian's room. “Maybe you should go and rest.”
Severus glanced back at Harry over his shoulder, his lips parting as if he were about to echo Hermione's sentiments, but then his expression hardened and he stalked into Julian's room, barking at Harry and Hermione to keep up.
“He must be really worried about Julian,” Hermione said under her breath, but Harry could neither confirm or deny Severus's state of mind. He felt lost with that barrier between them. He just shook his head and urged Hermione to go into the room ahead of him. The smell of sun-spell had receded entirely, to Harry's relief, but another scent, fresh and pungent, struck him as he edged into Julian's room. It was the scent of a spell, yes, but a spell so rare that he'd only experienced it from one person, and that had been years after the spell was initially cast, so the scent wasn't as fresh. Though his rational mind knew it couldn't be true, for a few seconds Harry's heart pounded with the belief that Aiya had come home and was waiting at Julian's bedside. His delusion lasted only long enough for him to look around the room and realize his sister was nowhere in sight. The only Mori in the room apart from Severus and Julian were a stone-faced Khiasa standing watch at the foot of Julian's bed and a shorter, spiky-haired morion with a heart-shaped face and large, limpid eyes that were a shade of ocean blue similar to Dorian's eyes. If Aiya wasn't there, that could only mean ...
“Someone used the binding spell on Julian,” he said, his voice dulled with disbelief as he drew the stares of those assembled in the room. Hermione gasped and hurried to Julian's side, drawing back the tatters of his shirt to reveal several bloody runes carved into his chest. Julian was awake but unresponsive, his half-lidded eyes staring at the opposite wall without emotion or awareness.
“Coi'e'gurtha,” Hermione whispered, giving the spell its Elvish name. She turned back to Harry with a frown. “Harry, you can smell it?”
The other Mori were looking at Harry with puzzlement as well, except for Severus who was very careful not to look at Harry at all.
“I thought ... I thought I smelled Aiya,” he said, clutching his stomach now, certain he was going to be sick. Had he fallen into his nightmare without realizing it? In his dream, Julian had been trying to mask both the scent and the spell beneath heavy glamours but Harry had smelled it all the same, the stench of a spell so horrible that the Mori preferred death to living with its chains ... and Harry knew who had cast it, knew why the scent had reminded him of Professor Lyr. The room swam before his eyes as he flashed back to his dream, terrified by the images and sensations he was reliving, the sight of Julian's tortured body and the agonizing pain of his own sunburned skin.
“Aleksei ... Aleksei did this ... it isn't finished, it's incomplete ... but he won't stop until he has what he wants. He'll find us both, he'll take us ... he'll give me to Lucius and he'll finish what he started with Julian ... he ...”
Harry swayed on his feet, missing the startled look Severus gave him, but the spiky-haired morion saved him from falling and helped him over to a chair, supporting him only long enough for Harry to be settled comfortably before he put several feet between them, glancing covertly at Severus the whole time. Severus clenched his jaw but didn't approach Harry, appearing to fight his instincts as he turned back to Hermione.
“Then you and Harry agree that this spell is the same one Lucius used on Aiya.”
“Exactly the same, though some of the runes and symbols will naturally be different. The spell reflects the wizard who casts it, and there's always a mark of ownership. For the Malfoys, it would be an ouroboros. I'm not sure what family crest the attacker uses ... this unfinished symbol here,” she pointed to the middle of Julian's chest, “looks like wings, doesn't it? Maybe some kind of bird – ”
“A hawk,” Harry said, closing his eyes. He wanted nothing more than to sink back into the dark silence of the void and disappear altogether. The baby pressed Severus's image into his mind again and again, asking for the very thing that Harry couldn't give him.
Hermione squinted. “Yes, I suppose it could be a hawk, but - ”
A clatter of footsteps interrupted what she was going to say, the sounds originating from the direction of the stairs and growing louder. A wild-eyed Sirius appeared in the doorway, dragging along a frantic Ron who was hanging onto him by the waist.
“You're supposed to stay downstairs,” Ron was saying, though he might as well have been talking to himself. “Remember what Julian said before he left? He said not to reveal yourself to - ”
Sirius seemed to gain strength as he spotted Julian on the bed, and he shook Ron off as easily as brushing a speck of dust from his robes. Ignoring the two Mori who had never met him, he forced his way into the room and planted himself at Julian's side. He touched a trembling hand to Julian's face and Julian jolted as if he'd been electrocuted, his blank stare vanishing as he slowly turned his head to look up at Sirius, still not talking, but gaining colour in his cheeks as he drifted back towards true consciousness.
Sirius grew pale as he studied the intricate wounds carved into Julian's chest. “What happened to him?”
“You're only in the way, Black,” Severus said, deflecting his question with a glare. “Go to your room and I'll tell you everything once we're done here.”
Ron slowly backed out of the room, not wanting to be caught in the line of fire once the two longtime enemies started battling it out. Harry wished he could duck out as well, but he doubted it would be wise to leave Sirius alone in a room with both Severus and Khiasa.
“I'm not a child, Snivellus!
“Yet you imitate one so well ...”
“What if it was Harry lying in this bed? Would you be content to wait in another room while other people were taking care of him? Where were you, anyway? Or you?” Sirius lashed out at Khiasa. “Why weren't you protecting him? If only I weren't stuck here, if I'd been able to go with him ...”
The pain in Sirius's voice sent another stab of guilt into Harry's heart, but his immediate concern was Khiasa's reaction to meeting the real Sirius – not the dog, but the pureblood wizard who Julian had chosen as his mate. He could see Khiasa's stone-face cracking as he put two and two together. Without Lisette on hand to keep everyone calm and enforce civil behaviour, it was up to Harry to keep the peace.
“Everyone but Sirius, Severus and Hermione should leave,” he said, pushing himself to his feet despite his wobbly legs. The morion who'd helped him gave a quick bow and obediently departed, but Khiasa wasn't so easy to order around.
“Your name is Sirius.” He spoke in low, measured tones, but his poker face had been ripped away to reveal anger and disgust, his shadows gathering behind him like a large, black predator poised to strike.
Sirius met his gaze without flinching. “Yes.”
“Khiasa, I want you to leave,” Harry said more forcefully, holding on to the back of the chair as he prepared to intervene, though he wasn't sure what he could do to stop an instinct-driven morion like Khiasa.
Khiasa gritted his teeth against some inner impulse but refused to comply with Harry's order. “Are you Julian's mate?”
Sirius glared at Khiasa, his gray gaze as sharp as steel, but he gave no answer except to take one of Julian's hands in his own. Julian's mouth opened but the only sound he made was a sigh, his fingers curling around Sirius's hand.
“Answer me!” Khiasa's roar sent Hermione running out of the room, presumably to get help though Harry couldn't be sure it wasn't just fear that lit a fire under her. Khiasa lost focus, watching her go with a rueful expression, but then he turned back to Sirius and asked in a more temperate tone, “Are you his mate?”
Sirius held Julian's gaze for a long, lingering moment, then faced Khiasa with a small but determined smile. “Yes, I am.”
Your friend just sealed his fate ... and in turn, I believe he has prevented a great tragedy.
[I'm not in the mood for cryptic comments,] Harry said, closing his eyes against a wave of exhaustion, too weary to wonder what tragedy Vala referred to this time. The gloom and doom of the spirit world grated on his already strained nerves.
Yes, yes, forgive me. In any case, you might want to stop Khiasa before he kills your godfather.
[What?] Harry opened his eyes to see a blur of black lunge towards Sirius, Khiasa on the attack, but a shout of “Incarcerous!” from the doorway sent Khiasa tumbling to the floor, his limbs bound tightly against his body by several sturdy ropes as he thrashed about on the floor.
Hermione panted softly as she lowered her wand and slumped against the door frame, Rauko hovering just behind her, looking peeved that he'd been called away from Lisette's bedside.
“Khiasa,” he said sternly, and that was all it took for Khiasa to stop fighting his bonds, though Harry suspected Rauko was continuing to admonish Khiasa silently to avoid adding to his humiliation. Rauko looked around the room, taking special note of Sirius and Julian, and the now-conspicuous bandage on Sirius's neck.
“I want an explanation,” he said, fixing his violet gaze on Harry, “for everything ... but that can wait until tonight. Julian told us all about your meeting, Harry. We can discuss these matters then. I am sending Wen back in to collect Khiasa, and I want Severus to take Harry back to their room so he can get some rest. Miss Granger and Mr. Black can stay with Julian until a healer is able to tend to him. Is that understood?”
Harry nodded along with the others, too relieved that a crisis had been averted to care that Rauko was ordering them around. He didn't wait for Severus, repelled by the idea of Severus feeling obligated to help him due to Rauko's orders. He said a solemn goodbye to Sirius then squeezed past Hermione as he stepped out into the hallway.
But he kept walking, concentrating very hard on putting one foot in front of the other, this simple action made harder due to the baby's insistence on playing a Severus-centric slide-show in his brain. [You don't have to help me. I'm fine on my own.]
[I highly doubt that,] came the biting reply, snapping the slender thread of Harry's patience. What did Severus want from him?
He dropped the intimacy of mindspeak. “I'm leaving you alone, so why don't you return the favor? If you want to be useful, you can go check on Dorian. Better yet, I'll check on Dorian. You're going to be too busy finding yourself a new room to sleep in.”
“Damn it, Potter, listen to me!”
“Oh, so now you want to have a conversation? Funny, you weren't so keen on communicating with me a few minutes ago. Anyway, I'm too tired to talk.”
“You're not too tired to argue.”
“Arguing with you is as natural for me as breathing. I'm not sure why I ever stopped.”
“Harry, it isn't what you think. I wasn't shutting you out as a punishment.”
Harry spun around. “And why shouldn't I be punished? It's all my fault, right? Lisette and Julian .. they're hurt because of me! People died today because of me, Severus. I know it and you know it, so just let me deal with that alone.”
Severus grabbed Harry's wrist and pulled him down the hallway, deaf to Harry's numerous and often profane protests as he forced Harry into their room and slammed the door shut.
“If you've brought me here to yell at me, you might as well save your breath because – ”
Severus saved them both the trouble of talking as he pushed Harry back against the door and kissed him, hard and quick, pulling away almost immediately before groaning and claiming a second kiss, then a third, never allowing himself to linger, as if he were fighting some darker urge, but they were the sort of kisses that drove all thought, rational or irrational, from Harry's head and left him clinging to the front of Severus's robes, gasping for air – or was it for more of Severus's mouth? He couldn't be sure ...
[It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, leaving you alone in that room with Lucius, knowing his intentions, fearing the worst could happen and he might take you. I would rather go back to spying than ever do that again. It was unimaginably painful, Harry, and all I wanted was to have you back in my arms, but then Julian – ] He sighed, running his hands through Harry's hair, then down over his neck and shoulders, indulging his need to touch him. [I had to leave you for a second time – it was too dangerous to take you with me – and when I came back, I knew I had to focus on Julian, but all I could think about was you. It baffles me, the way you can shatter my control with a look, with a simple touch of your thoughts to mine. That's why I had to keep you at a distance ... but I couldn't bear to have you out of my sight, either, even after Granger pointed out how ill you looked. Selfishly, I wanted you with me, no matter how it affected you.]
Harry hadn't found his voice yet, struck dumb by Severus's passionate kisses, but the glint of jade in his eyes and the unrestrained flow of his thoughts spoke more of his guilt and self-loathing than he could have conveyed in mere words. As relieved as he was to know the reason behind Severus's coldness, there was still the matter of what had happened at the clinic ...
[None of this is your fault.] Severus cupped Harry's face in his hands, dark gaze intent as he stared into the ever-shifting green of Harry's eyes. [None of it. If it weren't for Rauko's meddling nature, you would have left that picture here and none of this would have happened. You were honouring Aiya's wish to remain hidden by keeping it a secret. There isn't any shame in that. If you want to blame someone, blame the wizards who attacked the clinic. Blame Lucius and his obsession with the Mori. That is where the true fault lies. You did nothing wrong.]
Harry wanted to believe him but old scars ran deep. [I should have realized the photograph was a fake. How many people were hurt today because of me? How many d – ] but he couldn't bring himself to say it. [I'm meant to be better than this ... I'm meant to help protect people, not lead them into traps.]
[You aren't 'meant' to be anything. Contrary to what Albus has programmed into that thick skull of yours, you are in no way responsible for the saving the world, Harry. Frankly, I would rather you didn't even try.]
[But – ]
[I know what you're thinking and I want you to stop. Do you for one moment believe your mother saved your life just so you could throw it away? Forget about Dumbledore's plans and Rauko's schemes. Your life is your own, Harry. It doesn't belong to the wizarding world or to the Mori or even to me, as much as it pains me to give you the freedom to be reckless. I want you to erase the word Saviour from your vocabulary. It doesn't exist. You are nobody's Saviour, Harry Potter, and if you ever try to be one, I will punish you. Thoroughly.]
Harry allowed Severus's words to sink in. To be free of everyone's expectations of him – to know that he could be just Harry, and that would be enough – had always seemed like a far-off dream, ephemeral and unattainable, but Severus made it sound possible. His troubled frown relaxed into a tired smile. [So my life doesn't belong to you, but every other part of me does?]
“Every other part,” Severus repeated in a whisper, stealing a longer, deeper kiss from Harry's lips as his territorial nature took over, [so no more seducing our enemies. I trust you, I do, but I can't take another sight like the one I saw today. You're mine, Harry, and I don't share. If I thought your body could handle it, I'd claim you as many times as it took to teach you who you belong to, but I'd rather not have you passing out in the middle of things. We'll leave that particular lesson for when you're feeling better, yes?]
Harry nodded sleepily, willing to agree to anything that Severus said in that black-velvet voice of his, quietly obedient as he let Severus strip him of his jeans and t-shirt, as well as the scandalous stockings, and help him into bed. He didn't want to let go of Severus's warmth, convinced that it would keep the nightmares at bay, but Severus had no intention of joining him in their bed. He pulled the covers up to Harry's chin and gave him one last kiss.
“I'll wake you up in time for the meeting.”
“Where are you going?”
“To tell Rauko about Aiya. I'm afraid that's one piece of information that can't wait until tonight.”
He stroked his fingers over Harry's cheek, reluctant to part from him, but he soon pulled away, hardening his expression into the cold indifference he once projected daily as a professor at Hogwarts. Knowing it was only a mask, Harry could look up at that expression with a feeling of nostalgia, recalling their many altercations with unexpected fondness. It felt like ages since they'd been merely teacher and student. If Aiya had never come to Grimmauld Place, had never taken Harry into her family, he and Severus might still be bickering in the halls of Hogwarts, Harry oblivious to their connection and Severus fighting it with all his might. He owed his sister so much ...
“Do you think Rauko will find her before Lucius and Aleksei do?”
Severus looked away. Harry could tell Severus didn't want to give him false hope, but neither did he want to say anything that would add more weight to Harry's sagging spirits.
“Don't answer that,” Harry said, letting him off the hook. He curled up under the covers and closed his eyes. He could feel Severus hovering above him, hesitating, concern giving way to growing tension, and suddenly Harry's body was responding to that unspoken desire, making the blankets unbearably hot, so hot that any second he would have to throw them off and then Severus would –
“Get some rest,” Severus growled, and then he was gone, perhaps sensing the limits of his own resolve in leaving Harry alone and choosing to act quickly before he could change his mind.
My sister could be Lucius's next victim and here I am safe in bed wishing Severus would fuck me. Harry burrowed underneath the covers, accepting the uncomfortable heat as a kind of penance. That rousing romp in the exam room should have satisfied him, right? And how could he even think of sex when people were hurt or dead and Aiya was next on Lucius's list of Mori to stalk and capture? He'd spent so much of the day in a daze, his nerves deadened, his instincts dulled, but now his body burned with a lust so strong that he couldn't think about anything else but being with his mate.
Now I know how Severus felt. Is it healthy to need someone this much?
Some say love is a sickness, Vala said, his low, rich voice throwing unintentional fuel on the fire as it inevitably reminded Harry of Severus. Rauko once called it a weapon, capable of dealing a fatal blow to anyone foolish enough to engage it. I believe he has come to think differently, though ...
Love as a weapon. Those words stuck in his brain, though Harry wasn't sure why he found them so captivating. He fell asleep to the sound of Vala's voice as the spirit told him tales of the days when the Mori lived freely in the world, and of two young morions who wanted nothing more than to spend every waking moment in each others' arms, only to realize too late that the Fate that brought them together would all-too-soon become the terrible force that tore them apart.
As he slept, Harry dreamed only of Severus.
GLOSSARY (all credit for the Elvish used here goes to Tolkien and grey-company.org)
Wen, soora utinuamin. Khiasa, vakha verne'amin – Wen, follow my son. Khiasa, guard my wife.
Heruamin – literally means 'my lord'; an interesting(?) tidbit: Khiasa is using an intimate form of 'my lord' when addressing Rauko – for other Mori, the correct term would be heru en amin which is the formal way of addressing a leader. You may notice that Rauko uses the same intimate forms when talking about Harry and Lisette. When the possessive pronoun is directly linked to the noun, it implies intimacy or closeness. To be formal, the possessive pronoun and the noun are separated by a preposition (en = of).
Manke naa Julian? - Where is Julian?
Teru en amin – my prince
Manke naa lle – where are you?
Ai'toror – little brother
utinuamin – my son
coi'e'gurtha – literally translates as “to live in death”; the name the Mori have given to the binding spell ancient wizards would use to enslave them