kaikudou 发表于 2011-7-16 09:06:06

Viper (part 2 of the Two Hunter Series)

Author: Lomonaaeren
Hi kaikudou

Thanks so much for contacting me! I'm glad you like the series, as it's one of my own favorites.

Yes, I give you permission. I only ask that you include a link to the original story when you put the translation up, and send me a link to the translation.


Title: Viper
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Rating: R (for violence, not sex)
Pairing: Harry/Draco (eventually), past Harry/Ginny
Warnings: Creature!fic,(vampire Draco), angst, violence, profanity, OC character deaths, dark Harry. DH spoilers, but ignores epilogue.
Summary: Sequel to 'Mongoose.' Draco is more convinced than ever that Harry's blood and magic are perfect for him, and, as a developing master vampire, he'll have the power soon to enforce his will. But Harry has other problems—namely, a series of mysterious murders and thefts that he suspects vampires are at the bottom of. If there are any vampires capable of resisting their instincts, that is. And if there are, then the wizarding population of Britain's in more trouble than they can imagine.
Author's Notes: This is a dark story. It does not feature a nice Draco. It does not feature a nice Harry. Also, you should really read 'Mongoose' to understand why Harry and Draco are the way they are. With those warnings, on with the show.


Draco hung upside-down from the ceiling of what had been his home when he was mortal, his fingers driven into minor cracks in the stone and his mouth shut to keep the light from gleaming on his fangs. He had hooked his legs around a rafter and chosen a corner shadowy even as this time of day, the early dusk, to keep his hair from shining.

It worked perfectly. The humans below hadn't detected him with their spells; those spells focused on such traits of mortals as moving blood and possession of wands. And of course they assumed that no one could possibly be clinging to the ceiling above them. The ceiling was mostly smooth stone.

Draco hissed without opening his mouth as he listened to them. Only the thought of what they would say if they knew a nightmare hung above their heads kept him from attacking immediately.

Chapter 2

Chapter 1
"And you're sure there'll be no complication from the previous owners?"

"The Malfoys? No." The second human, a man with dark hair that clung to his head as if oiled, had a barking laugh. Draco told himself he would remember it. "Lucius Malfoy is in prison, and never getting out of it. The son disappeared years ago. And they found the old woman dead. Murdered. Throat torn out, like she'd met some wild animal."

Draco stirred, but soundlessly.

"Really?" The first man, a heavyset bloke with red hair that brought back a number of Draco's mortal memories, sounded fascinated. "Did they ever figure out what killed her?"

"Who knows?" The indifference in Oil-Hair's voice was perhaps the greatest insult. "A werewolf that made it through the wards, or something like. I know the wards weren't as strong without her husband's presence here."

"Then is the house safe?" The red-haired man stared around apprehensively, as if he might surprise a werewolf hiding in a shadowed corner. He didn't look up, of course. Draco had noticed that humans rarely did.

"Oh, completely." Oil-Hair smiled at him, and if the red-haired man believed that smile was sincere, he was a greater fool than Voldemort. "It's been extensively re-warded, and it's ready to become the home of a new bloodline."

No, it's not, Draco thought.

"All right." The red-haired man reached out to accept the key from Oil-Hair.

They couldn't have timed it better if they had been trying to attend to Draco's special needs. The sun had moved far enough from the window that the light wouldn't burn Draco as he descended, and sunk far enough below the earth that power surged through him.

He unhooked his fingers from the ceiling and fell. Vampire muscles did what their owner told them to, so his legs coiled easily, supporting his weight, and his much tougher bones refused to break. He moved towards the men, the motion attracting their attention where the slight thump of his landing hadn't.

"I thought you said the house was empty," the red-haired man muttered. He backed away a step, and then hesitated, as if he weren't quite certain whether Draco was a threat. Draco had met his eyes and begun to project his thrall.

"It is." Oil-Hair stepped forwards. Draco could feel his mind fighting like a fish hooked on a line. He was made of sterner stuff than the red-haired man. "No one is supposed to be here." His tongue stumbled over the words, but he managed a glare at Draco nonetheless.

Draco paused with one foot lifted from the floor. Perhaps the thrall can fail. He had never heard of such a thing, but then, as he had told Potter, Caspar had not told Draco or any of his nest everything about being vampires, for fear they would rebel against his control.

But when he "leaned" forwards and pushed the thrall towards the two humans like a man laying his shoulder to a heavy wheel, their expressions became soft and confused, and they stepped eagerly towards him, their own movements as smooth as his.

I'm stronger, now that I'm free, Draco thought as he opened his mouth and his fangs folded down to touch his bottom lip. I simply need to learn how to use it.

The men provided the blood he'd been craving, but it was like a diet of gruel and fruit compared to what Draco knew he could have. He stepped back from them when he was done feeding and flicked the thrall like a lash through their minds, ordering them to leave and Obliviate themselves. Both stood and stalked out the door, never looking back at him.

I could have Potter.

The memory of blood thick with adrenaline and alive with magic flowed through Draco, and his fangs promptly folded down from the roof of his mouth again, though he had just fed.

He is still my Long-Desired.

And now that I know what happened to my mother and no strangers are moving into my house for the present, I think I will find him again.

Harry opened his eyes and sat straight up in bed. He stared ahead of him for a few moments, concentrating desperately. The scattered tendrils of a dream trailed through his mind, and he wanted to hold them still. They contained an answer to a problem he'd been trying to solve.

And then he knew, and he leaped from bed, grabbed his lighted wand, and raced across the room towards the stack of files he'd brought home from the office last night. He shivered absently, which reminded him that he was naked, but that didn't bother him; he had stopped caring about being naked when Ginny died.

He tore into the files, finally locating one in a battered folder stained with Ron's coffee and then another in a garish purple folder that he wanted. He sat back and read through the papers again, looking for the phrase he remembered.

Yes, there it was. Both the dead victims had had similar wounds on their bodies, and the investigating Aurors had even used the exact same words to describe them.

Round and purple, with punctures in the middle.

Both had assumed that they were snakebites, but no snake venom had been found in the victims' bodies. Neither had any other poison, or Dark magic for that matter. Somehow, both victims had been slaughtered without putting up any magical resistance—although both were powerful wizards—and their valuable collections of portraits and silver statuettes made away with. The only evidence was these wounds, and how had they killed if they were so small and contained no poison?

But Harry knew. The problem had connected with his years-long obsession in his dream, which wasn't a surprise. He often dreamed about vampires, since he hunted them.

He Summoned a book from a nearby shelf and flipped through it feverishly until he revealed a sketch of two puncture wounds. He lit his wand and bent near it, nodding and smiling before he'd looked for a full minute. He'd known what he would find, and not only because of his obsession. He'd acquired a much better memory since Ginny died and he discovered that he'd need a good memory to take revenge on the creatures who killed her.

Yes. A vampire's punctures looked like a snakebite. Harry smiled and brushed his fingers over the page, glad that the book had vindicated him.

But, of course, someone would have reported if the bodies had been drained entirely of blood, and rogue vampires would have been suspected immediately. So something had been done to make the suspicion harder to verify.

Harry read the first file again, carefully. And there it was, a few sentences that he hadn't paid much attention to at first, because, well, not every crime was a vampire's fault, and he did sometimes try to ignore his obsession.

I noted a faint trace of a charm on the room, rather like a glamour. I cast a Finite, on the theory that perhaps the "stolen" goods were concealed in their original places with a powerful illusion, but this revealed nothing.

Harry leaned back against the bed, tapping his fingers restlessly on his knee. Glamour charms might have been used to hide stolen goods, but not in this case. He did think that the vampires had stolen the collections they had come for.

But other spells could leave glamour-like traces. They might not be used very often, given the magical strength needed to power them, but they existed.

Harry felt his face crack into a smile. It split his lip when that happened, and he rubbed absently at his mouth.

A Replacement Charm—such an innocent name—might leave a trace like a glamour. And Harry knew, from studies he had made in magic associated with wizarding vampires, that someone could use it to replace the blood in a drained body, provided enough blood was available in another source. A sufficiently skilled wizard or witch might even replace the sense of a vampire's presence with the victim's magical signature. It would take finesse, but vampires had no lack of power to hire finesse or time to find it. Harry knew that, none better.

He might be wrong. He might be allowing his general grief against vampires to lead him into seeing plots where there were none.

But, thinking of the description in the reports of the murders and the image in the books he'd consulted, Harry didn't think he was.

Potter lived in a small house on the moors. It was inconveniently far from any wizarding town, and had a lack of small dark places where Draco could have sheltered from the sun, so he had to approach it at night. And then he paused five miles away, because Potter had more anti-vampire precautions surrounding his house than he'd ever seen.

It was understandable, Draco admitted to himself, pacing back and forth and staring towards the house that held the wizard whose blood and magic tasted the best to him. Potter was a vampire hunter who specifically targeted nests. If any of the get ever survived after he killed their sire, they would have no trouble figuring out who Potter was and coming after him.

But he didn't think Potter would leave anyone alive when he attacked a nest. He was too careful and clever for that, as his expertise in destroying Caspar had shown. And Draco was the only vampire around at the moment.

These wards were doing nothing but holding him away from his Long-Desired.

He opened his mouth and showed his fangs to empty air, then hissed in exasperation. It was only eleven-o'clock, and he still had the rest of the night, but he doubted that was enough time to find a way around those wards. Besides, he was hungry, and had used up a lot of strength running to Potter's house. He would have to go away and come back with a plan.

He turned, and a painful light flared in front of him, throwing him back. He clapped his hands over his eyes, moaning in discomfort.

"What are you doing here, Malfoy?"

The scent. The scent filled his nostrils and draped over his body like a cloak. Draco's fangs ached as though they had just emerged from his gums, and he wanted to shake himself like a cat escaping from water. His mind sharpened, and suddenly he had dozens of new thoughts leaping through his head. He gasped twice and became himself again, far more fully himself than he had been since they defeated Caspar and he and Potter went their separate ways.

This is the reason vampires have Long-Desired, he thought, as his mind steadied. Not just for the power. Not just for the blood. It's the combination that makes us such successful predators. Our minds are faster and our bodies stronger in their presence.

He opened his eyes, which had fallen shut, and studied Potter. Potter stood cautiously a hundred feet away from him, his eyes narrowed and his nostrils flaring with dislike. Draco licked his lips and shifted closer.

Potter touched something around his throat. Draco didn't know what it was, except that it made a painful golden flash explode in front of his eyes, and he had to retreat a moment later, hand over his face and voice raised in a hissing protest. Potter showed no remorse as he repeated, "What are you doing here?"

Draco took several deep breaths—not that he needed to, but one of the master vampires who had made him, Thalia, had recommended that as a course for calming down, and that he could use. When he opened his eyes again, he struggled to see Potter through hazy sunset-colored afterimages. "You're not stupid," he said. "I don't care how often you have to play at it in your job or in front of a nest to keep them from realizing what you are. You know why I'm here."

"You want me." Potter spoke the words in a perfectly neutral, empty tone, as though he were talking of the weather on Mars.

"Of course. You're my Long-Desired." Draco thought it best to keep to simple, straightforward truths that no Gryffindor could deny. He was starting to see again, but he had no desire to experience Potter's weapon closer at hand. He dropped to a crouch on the heather and extended his hands, palm-upwards and empty.

Potter barked with laughter at him. "A vampire is never unarmed, Malfoy, so don't expect me to believe you are unless you wrench your fangs out of your mouth. And a crouch like that just means that you can come up at me faster."

Draco hissed aloud this time. It wouldn't avail to conceal his exasperation. Potter already knew he was exasperated, and exactly why. "What would convince you to become mine?" he asked. "I would gain so much from you—blood and power and companionship. It's not fair that you not receive as much as I do." The afterimages were clearing now, and he could see Potter's defiant stance and head-tilt. Even that just made Draco want him more, because he could smell the sharp tang of adrenaline driving Potter's pumping blood. "Only tell me what it is, and I'll make every effort to get it for you."

"Every vampire in Great Britain dead," Potter drawled.

Draco wasn't surprised. He had already seen how much Potter hated his kind. But he nodded and said, "I might be able to accomplish that. Most other vampires are tied down by a loyalty to their get or their sires that I have no reason to feel. It would take me years, but I could kill them. Or help you kill them."

There was a long, incredulous silence. Then Potter whispered, "Has it occurred to you that the deaths of all those vampires would have to include your own death?"

Draco stood, never taking his eyes from Potter's face. He could see in shadows or moonlight or pure darkness, and he would have seen the expression of pure disgust that made Potter's mouth bulge unattractively and widened his eyes in any of them. But he was no nearer to understanding it. "But I would be the one who helped you achieve these deaths. The weapon in your hand—"

"You forget how long I've hunted vampires," Potter said, his voice calm and ringing and deadly, "how well I know them. Trying to use a vampire as a weapon is like trying to use a viper as a whip. No."

Draco spent a few moments studying Potter, looking for some sign of yielding in his features. But there was none. In fact, he kept his chin stubbornly uplifted and his eyes deliberately haughty, as if he assumed that such an expression would put Draco off.

"I see that you don't understand," Draco said. "Then I must make you understand." He crouched and leaped at Potter. He didn't intend to hurt him; he simply wanted to show off his strength and humiliate the arrogant poseur a bit.

But Potter stepped easily to the side and twitched the thing at his throat again. Draco tried to cover his eyes. He wasn't in time, and the golden light seared his vision out. He landed safely and turned his head towards Potter, identifying his scent easily, but he wouldn't dare attack so impaired. Last time they met, Potter had been sick and weak from a long battle against Caspar and his nest, and Draco had been surging with new power and freedom, having emerged from Caspar's dominion. This time, they were too close to equal for Draco to be sure he would win.

"I understand," Potter said. "Vampires are greed, Malfoy—bred to be hunters and nothing else. That doesn't mean I have to surrender when one wants me. That kind of hunger isn't assuaged by surrender. You would demand more and more of me until I lost every ounce of my free will and self-respect." His voice held a peculiar loathing; Draco wondered if it was for Draco, or Potter himself, or perhaps Potter's imagined version of himself. "You can only get rid of it by ripping it out by the roots."

"It would be a bargain," said Draco, wondering if different words would make Potter see the matter differently. He licked around his fangs and wished he could see the expression on Potter's face. Then he would know whether he was getting through. "I don't want to destroy your free will and your self-respect."

"You might even believe that, in the depths of that scarred brain of yours." Potter's voice was tolerant, which made Draco's shoulders hunch and his skin prickle. He didn't want Potter to sound that way. Tolerance was the neighbor to indifference. He should be infatuated, enchanted, horrified, lured. Draco knew instinctively that he could work with any strong emotion. "It doesn't matter. What matters is that I know what would happen to me if I yielded to you."

A scrape. Draco knew it for a footstep. Potter had come closer. He tensed, ready to snatch him by the throat and drink again if he came close enough.

"Do you know what you are to me, Malfoy?" Potter whispered. "An enemy. An irritant. A predator. An alien. Another species." His voice sank and became a hiss that would have done Caspar credit. "Never, ever, a temptation."

The smell of the blood was driving Draco mad. Potter's adrenaline was high, his breath coming in short pants, and his heart was pounding so fast that Draco had trouble distinguishing one beat from another. There was so much passion in his voice, in his sheer presence, that Draco succumbed to temptation himself and made another grab.

He couldn't see the weapon Potter used—his vision had returned only in the form of drifting shadows against a gray background—but he felt it. It coiled around his fingers, a sting that quickly built to a fire, and then it yanked his thumb off. Draco cried out in protest and cradled his maimed hand close.

It infuriated him that, competing with the pain, came the feeling of Potter's magic, as contemptuously alive and strong as the heartbeat of an elephant, and it made his blood travel to his cock.

"Take easier prey, Malfoy," Potter said, and then his heartbeat vanished, indicating that he'd Apparated.

Draco eased back into the shelter of a small hillock and curled up, there to wait for his vision to return and his instincts to tell him what would heal his severed finger.

This may be harder than I thought.

But the scent of blood and magic lingered, and he knew whatever risk he had to run was worth it.


Harry paused. Then he laid the files he'd been holding carefully down and pushed them forwards until the people sitting across the table from him could see the description of the wounds on the bodies, which he'd underlined.

"With all due respect, Madam Stone, Mr. Austin," he said, "I think you can see that the attacks must have been committed by rogue vampires. That, in common with a Replacement Charm, accounts for every oddity of the cases."

"Many other things could, as well." Kevin Austin, the Head Auror, shook his head slowly from side to side. He had a thin moustache, sandy in color, which curled out into vague traces of hair above his lips. Harry focused on that to keep himself from hurling a torrent of abuse at Austin that would only get him reprimanded. "Experts have already assured us that the magic used at the scene comes from a living wizard, not from an undead one. We have developed new spells that will sense the difference between a wand and magic forced through the core itself."

Harry paused again. Whilst he thought the Ministry dangerously lax in many respects when it came to regulating vampires, he had to admit that they were good about gathering up their wands and ensuring that the vampires couldn't become even more dangerous. Any wizard or witch who was turned could not legally possess a wand. And most of them, as Harry had learned after intensively studying them, didn't want to in any case. They disdained such petty mortal possessions. They preferred to use their bare hands, their wandless magic, and their fangs to demonstrate that they were, in every respect, superior to humans.

"Vampires could still have got hold of a wand," he said. "You can't rule that possibility out."

"We already have," Madam Diana Stone said. She was Austin's second-in-command, a tall woman with a permanent harassed look on her face rather than the exhausted one most Aurors got. "We've checked all the records of every wand produced in Great Britain in the last ten years. Ollivander's given us a charm that permits us to check whether that wand is still with its original owner or not. In the case of the ones that aren't, they've been destroyed or are in Ministry custody." She leaned forwards and fixed him with eagle-like blue eyes that had the ability to make Harry squirm, though he tried not to show that. "Your 'theory' is less a theory than the product of your own obsession, Auror Potter."

Harry held his temper in check again. They do good work, he reminded himself. And you want to keep your job. It's not your fault that they won't take vampires seriously enough as a danger. They're too used to the ones who meekly come to the Ministry for their ration of blood every month. "I will admit that I'm prone to seeing vampires where there are none," he said, "but in this case, I think there are vampires here. Even the thefts make sense that way. Neither McFadden nor Gowan had particularly famous collections, but they were expensive and pretty. It doesn't make sense for mortal thieves to go to extreme lengths to steal those things, when they couldn't sell them for good prices on the black market. But vampires are greedy for greed's sake alone. They would steal them to admire them—"

"And so could mortals," said Stone, in a voice as heavy as her name.

Austin nodded. "There's simply too much here that the vampire theory does not explain," he said, "and too much that a theory of mortal thieves collaborating with each other does."

"Even the bites?" Harry demanded. "How do you explain the presence of no Dark magic or poison in the body, and yet those bites being there?"

"Some species of magical serpents in India leave similar wounds," said Stone. "We are investigating that angle." She gave him a pitying smile, which drove Harry closer to expressing his anger than anything else could have at the moment. "Auror Potter, you've captured plenty of dangerous criminals for us in the past, and I know that you're devoted to your work. But you should remember that an obsession sets limits on one's vision that the person with the obsession doesn't even notice. Not everything can be vampires. The use of a wand points to human wizards. That's what we'll continue to investigate." Her voice shifted subtly, and hardened. "And we have already arranged for you to be removed from both the McFadden and the Gowan cases."

Harry closed his eyes and gave a short nod. He could feel Austin and Stone watching him as he left the meeting room, but he kept his head held high. He wouldn't show them any trace of discouragement.

That was because he felt none.

As with every other time that rogue vampires had been causing trouble and the Ministry refused to admit it, Harry would have to go out and hunt the nest on his own. No one would appreciate what he did, because he could hardly tell them; the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures was supposed to deal with rogues, and usually they tried to bring them in and convince them to register instead of killing them. Harry could be tried for murder if the right people got hold of him.

He didn't care. He understood vampires. They were as dangerous as any other beasts, hunting by instinct, but others were inclined to judge them less harshly because they looked human. And Harry had even heard some people who believed in vampiric instincts say that they couldn't help it, and should be excused their crimes.

Harry knew better. It was instincts, all right—instincts for greed, and cruelty, and delight in human suffering.

You don't reason with monsters like that. You destroy them.

Chapter 2

Lightly. It had to be lightly.

Draco turned sideways and stepped carefully between the lines of wards that crisscrossed this particular entrance to the Ministry. An ordinary wizard would not have been able to see the lines. Nor would he have been able to manage the weird contortions required to negotiate the maze. Twice, Draco had to dislocate a shoulder; once, he wound a leg out of joint; then he dropped to the floor and crept along with his fangs scraping on it.

His fangs had elongated at the mere thought that he would see Potter soon.

He wanted to laugh when he stood up on the other side of the wards and found himself safely in the Ministry. Why don't they have wards specifically to keep vampires out? he wondered, as he dusted the sleeve of his coat. He'd chosen new clothes from the Manor before he left, from a hidden storage space the family kept safe in case anything drastic ever happened to the main parts of the house. He turned and looked down to be sure that no dust clung to the back. The object was to impress Potter, not to inspire him to grin that sardonic grin. Such a stupid oversight.

Of course, most humans in the Ministry weren't like Potter, obsessed with vampires to the point of desperation. Draco, as he trotted silently up the stairs and did combat with wards one more time near the entrance to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, reckoned he should be grateful for that.

He'd expected to have some trouble navigating once he got into the upper corridors. He hadn't been around so many humans at once since he was turned. The scents of blood would overlay each other—

Not so. The other scents might have been so many dusty ribbons crisscrossing the corridor. Draco had no interest in them, in their soft rustling and their muted colors. What made his fangs lengthen was the single brilliant scarlet ribbon, quivering and pulsing with an intenser life, that ran straight to the door five steps ahead of him.

Draco danced along the ribbon of the scent. He imagined blood. He hadn't fed tonight, and his body ached like a werewolf's belly. He imagined the parting of Potter's skin, the way he would tilt his head to the side in abject surrender, the parting of his lips as he gasped—

He had learned something when he tried to confront Potter in his home, however, and so, by dint of much squinting, he made out the thin black spiderweb of wards strung across his office door. Draco didn't know what exactly they did, but they stank of death to undeath. He paused and folded his arms, frowning.

Must Potter be so difficult? Draco knew almost nothing about the Long-Desired except what Thalia had told him—the perfection of power and blood, the vampire's ability to use the wizard's magic if they drank from him or her, the need for willing consent—but he knew that seeking Potter out was far more interesting than anything else he could do. It made the nights as bright and warm as a fresh kill. This was what he was meant to be doing, the best thing for any vampire.

Certainly Potter must have the human equivalent of that. There must be a human equivalent of that, or not many vampires would have their Long-Desired.

And Potter was behind those wards. That meant Draco had to figure out a way to conquer them.

He sank back on his haunches and commanded his brain to operate the way he did his muscles. His hunger couldn't distract him. He didn't fancy trying to court Potter as a small pile of ashes on the threshold of his office.

The web would cause death to undeath. Draco licked thoughtfully at the back of his left fang. But it couldn't harm humans, or Weasley, whom Draco had learned from reading the papers was Potter's partner, couldn't go in and out each day. Potter might have some special items on him to facilitate his own passage, of course, but he was still Potter. He wouldn't want to cause inconvenience to a friend.

Draco cocked his head. Could I enthrall someone and have her lead the way into the office? One of the dim scents layered across the corridor led to a dull, thudding heartbeat still at work in an office further on. Draco knew without any more than a sniff that she was young, female, and either exhausted or in despair. It would be the work of less than a moment to glance into her eyes and seduce her to his will. Potter, most irritatingly, was immune to the thrall, or Draco would simply have waited outside the Ministry.

Then he glanced back at the door and narrowed his eyes, and identified an ember-colored pattern behind the black one. Draco smiled with reluctant admiration. Potter also had a ward up that would alert him if someone under a vampire's thrall tried to enter.

He has learned subtlety and cunning. Brave, too, and magically powerful, from the way he attacked Caspar.

It was hard to sit still, with his hunger and his impatience and his longing. Draco rose to his feet. He could see no way past the wards at the moment. It was possible that the Manor contained books that could help him. He would peruse them and return tomorrow night.

He had the time. That was what he had to realize. Vampires were immortal, and no matter how much he wanted Potter to yield to him now now now, that was only a remnant of human impatience. He would diminish his own chances if he tried to go too fast and too far at once.

The thought of losing Potter made an involuntary growl bubble up from his chest.

A loud curse came from within the office, and Draco started. Then he crouched back down, though in a shadow, so he would be less immediately visible if the door opened. He was an idiot for not thinking of this plan before, and the only excuse he could give was his unfamiliarity with vampire powers in general.

He might not be able to see Potter tonight. But he could hear him, and that would give him some much-needed information.

He shut his eyes, effortlessly filtering out the sounds of Potter from the others in the corridor now that he was concentrating, and listened.

Potter was sitting behind his desk, his feet tapping. Draco heard the rustle of cloth against wood; he could see in his brain, as though someone had painted the image for him, Potter's knee brushing against the bottom of a drawer as it juddered up and down. Potter's heartbeat increased as Draco sat there, and his fingers tapped, too, but otherwise Draco could hear only the sound of paper rustling.

Something in the papers irritates him. He's here late because of paperwork? Perhaps he won't have finished it by tomorrow night, either. I would have a long wait for him near his house, but he might be more weary and less wary when he Apparated in—

Then Potter cursed again and stood up from behind the desk. His shoes squeaked as he paced back and forth. Draco frowned. Does he take those shoes along when he goes out hunting nests? It's a wonder someone hasn't killed him before now.

The thought of a nest gave him the memory of a strong body trapped beneath his own, living warmth, crinkling curly hair, hands fluttering with Potter's weakness—

The intensity of the image, and the rush of hunger up his throat from his belly, nearly made Draco fling himself against the door. It was better for everyone involved that Potter started speaking again just then.

"I know it's vampires." He muttered the words, but they came easily to Draco's ears, which would have heard his Long-Desired's cock stirring to erection beneath three layers of fabric. "Nothing else could enter the houses so neatly, and replace the blood in the body even whilst they caused those bites, and get hold of wizarding magic at the same time. But both McFadden and Gowan had anti-vampire wards, and not common ones either. They left those out of the first reports they made, of course," he added to his invisible audience. "Didn't think they were important. Bloody idiots. Most wizards would have had trouble taking them down. But grant that the nest hired or allied themselves with wizards who could. All right, granted.

"Some of those wards were ones that only the wizard who cast them could remove. And Gowan's were ones he cast himself. A vampire could have come to his window and enthralled him into removing them that way—except that the wards would have prevented a vampire from getting within a mile of the house in the first place." There was a pause here as Potter kicked his desk. "Or should have. But I know it was vampires. But how do I prove it?"

Draco licked his lips and flowed backwards. He had everything he needed. Names, confusions, specific magic. The books at the Manor would contain more information on vampires than simple notes on the wards that kept them out.

Including, Draco was certain, the information he required to offer Potter in exchange for a trade. Names for blood.

Potter would do it, he was certain. He was obsessed with killing nests. He had let Draco live once. A single rogue vampire wasn't as much of a threat as someone like Caspar, backed up by dozens of willing servants who would die for him and consider it an honor, and especially not a nest that could somehow force its way past anti-vampire wards. Potter was probably worried for his own safety as well.

At least, he should be, Draco thought, licking his fangs, if he is wise.

Everything he needed, except Potter's blood in his belly. But that would come in a smattering of nights at worst.

Harry swore under his breath and hurled another book at the wall. It was useless. He had the greatest library about vampires in Great Britain, he was certain, and it was all so fucking useless.

He dropped onto his couch and put his head in his hands. His breathing echoed back from every corner of the room, dark except for the single lamp he had turned on to read. He didn't see any reason to spend a lot of time in the light since Ginny died. He trained and thought and moved best in the dark, where his prey lived.

There'll be a third murder soon, I know it. And the Ministry isn't any closer to stopping it because they're looking in the wrong bloody direction, and I'm not any closer to stopping it because I can't tell how they get past the wards.

He took a slow, deep breath, and then continued doing so, forced away the hopelessness clouding his mind beat by beat. There were things he could do. There were always things he could do. He'd trained himself out of simply giving up, or giving in, the night that Ginny died and he realized what kind of commitment would rule the rest of his life.

He knew who fit the victim profile now: collectors of particularly pretty things, not greatly expensive but unique, who lived behind anti-vampire wards. He was certain that last was an important part of the cases, though Austin and Stone might not think so. The nest probably took a great deal of delight in killing the victims who believed they could relax, that no harm would ever come to them from rogue vampires. They were like that. Cruel, calculating predators. Like cats. Like Voldemort had been.

He could discover people like that by looking through the Auror files and by interviewing McFadden's and Gowan's friends. It would take time, and there might be more murders in the meantime, which he would be unable to prevent, but he would do some good. And keeping blood in bodies was just as important as taking beating vampire hearts out of them.

He would have to be careful. He would have to be watchful.

Especially because, if he was right, he was dealing with no ordinary nest, any more than Malfoy's nest had been ordinary. Vampires—didn't conduct thefts like this. They delighted in leaving open traces of their passing, and challenging the authorities to discover them. But they were usually solicitous about leaving clues that the authorities could discover, if it came to that. They considered themselves the rightful dominant species on Earth, never mind their weakness to sunlight and all the rest of it, They would want to confront someone who was so arrogant as to hunt them down, and to destroy him, because of their own insuperable arrogance.

To go to such lengths to hide their crimes didn't match what Harry knew of them.

Maybe the wizard working with them counseled caution, Harry thought wearily, and rubbed his forehead. He'd been up for almost forty-eight hours, now, since he'd spent last night researching vampires as well. But I don't know any vampire who would follow such cautions. The wizard would practically have to be the leader of the nest, and that wouldn't happen. Nest members would go on fighting until one of them was in charge. And anyway, if a vampire wasn't already leading them, the control would break and the get would go off to become master vampires on their own. No nest to commit the murders in the first place, or for the wizard to command.

It was possible that the thefts and murders were the work of a single rogue vampire and wizard, of course, which would dispense with the objections about nest behavior. But that still left the problem of the wards that McFadden and Gowan had put up themselves.

Harry could, of course, use the same magic that had drawn Malfoy's nest to hunt him, and these vampires would come seeking him, unaware of the call. But he hated to go into battle unprepared, particularly in this case, where his enemies were so unusual. He made every effort to keep his life when he fought. He needed the life to kill more vampires, after all.

What can I do, other than search for victims and try my best to be first on the scene of any new murders, so as to study them for myself?

A sharp clank rang through him then, and he started and sat up. There was a vampire leaning on his wards, near the white boulder that marked one edge of his territory.

Hope surged through him, but Harry told himself brutally that it was unlikely to be one of the thieving nest, given that he had no collections to interest them. Still, it was a chance to act, he thought, as he reached for his throat medallion and the nearest group of convenient weapons on the table next to his chair.

And, perhaps, a chance to kill.

Draco straightened when he heard the crack of Apparition. Potter appeared not far from him, his eyes wide, his hair mussed, his right hand clutching his wand and his left hand at his throat, probably to trigger the same devastating weapon that he'd used to blind Draco two nights ago.

And, to Draco's delight, there were circles around those wide eyes that hinted he hadn't been to bed yet.

He stiffened like a sword when he saw Draco, and his left hand clenched around the thing at his throat. To Draco's gratitude, though, he didn't immediately aim the weapon. And after what he had read about vampires and their Long-Desired in the books at the Manor, Draco thought he even knew why.

Not that it will do to tell him about that, of course.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" Potter asked. His voice was a rush, like wind in leafless trees on a winter night. "I've already told you that I have no intention of yielding to you like a slave."

Is that still true? Draco wanted to ask, but he knew taunting and riddling, as much as he thought them appropriate when Potter didn't have the advantages he had, would only get him blinded again. He conquered his instincts after a short, sharp battle, and said, "I have the information that you will need to defeat the vampires you hunt. The ones who killed McFadden and Gowan. How they got past the wards, and why they're using wizarding magic instead of their own."

Potter went silent. Had Draco been mortal, the deadly calm of his posture would have been impressive. But Draco was superior to mortals now, and he could hear the wildly beating heart and the gradually quickening breath. He licked his fangs.

"How did you know I'm hunting them?" Potter hissed almost under his breath. He seemed confident Draco would hear him. Really, then, it was careless of him to forget how his body would reveal his mood, Draco thought.

Draco couldn't hold back the urge to taunt any longer. "Because I have ears, Potter, and I listen, and the wards on the Ministry are pitiful."

Potter, with a snarl, started to tilt his left hand. But Draco had been watching, and this time he was thinking about something else than the satisfaction of his hunger, and Potter was tired and thus a hair slower.

Not much slower. But it was enough.

Draco sprang, going twenty feet straight up in the air and coming down again effortlessly. He landed beside Potter when he descended and grabbed his wrist, ducking his head and hiding his eyes against Potter's back as the flash went off. The next moment, he wrapped one arm around Potter's waist, pinning his right hand in place, and the other arm around his throat, holding the left.

And, incidentally, tilting his head to the side so that the place where he'd bitten Potter the last time was exposed.

The scent of blood came up like the steam off a meat pie.

Draco struggled madly not to simply bite and have done. It would win him the blood, but it would not win him the power. And neither would he have the control of Potter that he was coming to need, in the way that the books had said he would. The need for the Long-Desired was a potential weakness, which was why many vampires did not have them; they would proudly reject the notion of leaning on a mortal. But meet the right one, said the books, and pride did not matter. Or rather, the vampires had to satisfy their pride by establishing ownership over that one particular mortal.

Potter managed to shift his right wrist. Indulgently, Draco allowed it, knowing that Potter still could not escape. He had discovered in the books at the Manor how to rearrange his flesh and muscle so that the finger Potter had taken would grow back; he was still the more powerful and knowledgeable one in this situation.

And then he shrieked as something like a snake of fire ran across his hand and up his wrist to his shoulder, horribly hot and horribly quick. He tried to pull back, but his fingers stayed in place, unwilling to release their prize when he had gone through so much effort to capture Potter.

So the snake seared him again, and again, and again. Draco shrieked again, but this time turned so that his voice traveled directly into Potter's ear. At least he would share some of the misery. Potter flinched and jerked in Draco's arms.

The pain faded quickly. Draco decided it had been meant to make him back away, so Potter could reach a stronger weapon, and so was not very powerful. He lowered his mouth back to Potter's ear and shot out his tongue to lick the lobe. The way Potter flinched did his pride no good at all. He wanted Potter to loll his head back and groan.

"Listen to me," he whispered. "I have the information. I will give it to you, and I will assist you in the hunt. In return, I will have your blood—" He wanted to continue the sentence, And your body, as he'd planned, but his pride went into a violent clash with the instincts that made him keep the Long-Desired, then, and he had to pause. Demanding too much at once would only cause Potter to reject him.

"One drink of blood," he finished at last. "That's all I want."

Harry trembled with the need to fight. He wanted to break out of Malfoy's arms, turn, and destroy him. The bracelet of garlic-infused rope around his wrist hadn't worked, but it had hurt him. Malfoy was still young, unprotected by age-hardened skin the way that some of the master vampires were later in unlife. Harry knew that the medallion could kill him if used long enough, or the medallion and the spear in combination.

But Malfoy had said he could lead Harry to the nest.

He hated the feel of the cold tongue touching him, and the cold lips behind that. So far, Malfoy hadn't laid a fang on him, but Harry knew they weren't far away. He could feel Malfoy's trembling eagerness to bite down and drain. Of course, he would have a nasty surprise if he tried, since Harry, immune to the thrall, could fight in a way normal victims couldn't, but the very notion of his trying and succeeding made Harry shake with revulsion.

But if he gave in mindlessly to such emotions and did only what his body wanted him to, he was no better than a vampire surrendering to its instincts because it felt right, and good, and never matter what was right and good.

Malfoy wanted to court him. Malfoy wanted him to agree to a deeper partnership of his own free will. That gave Harry a unique hold over him that he couldn't have over any other vampire. And certainly no other vampire would seek so eagerly to betray its own kind for a mortal.

Harry could trust Malfoy as far as the blood would hold him. That meant he could taunt and tease and tempt, too. And that was a tactic he had used before with nest leaders, like Caspar, to convince them he was under their thrall, and with great success.

Malfoy would know that he wasn't under the thrall, of course, unlike Caspar, but that shouldn't matter. In the end, he was a vampire, and arrogance was his downfall.

And Harry's own disgust about what he had to do mattered less than a speck of dust next to the chance to save innocent lives.

"Very well," he said. "You can have your drink when we face the nest."

"No," Malfoy whispered, and his voice was the grave's voice. His arms tightened suggestively around Harry, as if he would either spill him to his back or break his neck. More arrogance, Harry thought. None of them can resist the chance to remind you of their power, even when it would be more to their advantage to keep it concealed. "Now." And this time the point of a fang pressed like a needle against Harry's neck.

"Later, or I give up the bargain," Harry said flatly. "You're more likely to need it when we're hunting the nest, given how powerful it seems they are. And you don't get more than one."

Malfoy paused. Then the hold around him slackened. Harry stepped away at once, wrapped his fingers around the sun medallion, and turned about, more than ready this time to use it if Malfoy should prove uncooperative.

"Tell me why they're so strong," he said.

Malfoy stared at him in silence, face inhumanly still. Then he smiled, and, given that his fangs had folded down from the roof of his mouth, that was worse. It looked as though a lash had split his face, and the fangs shone in the moonlight like blood dripping down from the cut.

"The books I read agree that only one explanation is possible," Malfoy said calmly. "A master vampire and his or her fully tamed Long-Desired are working together, and they must have a bond of mutual love and trust. Doing that, they can shatter the strongest spells and batter down any magical protection." He flashed his fangs and waited for Harry to draw the obvious conclusion.

And Harry did draw it.

I have no choice but to give him my blood and my power, if we're to defeat them.

Draco was glad that Potter had turned around, despite the possible danger from his weapons, if only so that Draco could laugh aloud at the look of mingled disgust, horror, and self-loathing on his face.

He could wait for Potter's blood, even more, even now. He was hungry, yes, but Potter would have to give in, and that would give Draco the chance to establish dominion over him as the books had said he could once he had one willing surrender, and then…

And then I shall never go hungry again.

Chapter 3

The office door shut softly behind Ron. Harry looked up, smiling, and then dropped the smile when he realized that Ron had a deep frown on his face. The only time he ever wore that frown was when he thought Harry had done something wrong. Harry slowly sat back in his chair, watching his friend as Ron cast a number of strong locking charms on the door. Luckily, none of the ones he chose would conflict with Harry's anti-vampire wards.

"What's the matter?" Harry asked quietly.

Ron stood facing the door for a moment, as if he had to consider what he wanted to say. Then he whirled around and slammed his hands on his desk with a swiftness that actually did make Harry jump. Vampires moved faster, but he hadn't expected a burst of motion like that right at this moment.

You should, he reminded himself. You never know when they might attack. If anything, given this nest or rogue vampire who can apparently resist their instincts to leave clear signs behind, you're not paranoid enough.

"You are, Harry," Ron said, effectively hauling his attention back to the present conversation. "You are." He was breathing fast, and a tiny bubble of saliva stood out at the corner of his mouth. Harry thought it wouldn't be diplomatic to point that out. "You and your bloody belief in vampires. Austin and Stone told me what you said about McFadden and Gowan, and then Rogers confirmed you were working late last night. On what, Harry? None of our cases are outstanding."

Harry stayed silent for a few minutes, studying Ron. Of course he could tell the truth, but Ron wasn't likely to accept that any more than he had accepted it when Harry told him about other hunts. He'd never been this angry before, though.

And he's never made up his mind so quickly. I don't think he'd believe a lie, anyway.

"There are things in the McFadden and Gowan cases that don't add up," Harry said carefully. "Wards they could only take down themselves were removed. By who? And both of them had anti-vampire wards. Doesn't that at least suggest that they thought they had something to fear from nests?"

"If so," Ron said shortly, leaning forwards, "that's something for the Ministry authorities to research and discover. Not you. Not when Austin specifically removed you from the cases."

Harry said nothing, but looked down at his paperwork and traced an absent hand across it. The words blurred for a moment, and he reminded himself that he should have a nap this afternoon. Tonight, he and Malfoy would begin the hunt. He would need every scrap of alertness for dealing with both Malfoy and the apparent vampire-Long-Desired couple who had been causing the trouble.

"Your obsession is taking over your life." Ron sounded as if he'd been preparing these words for a long time. He spoke with quiet force that Harry admired, from a distance. Ron was eloquent. But nothing he said could make a difference to Harry, and he should have known that by now. "You're wasting your time searching for vampires where there are none. You're jumping at shadows. You prefer to spend your time on your 'hunting' instead of with me and Hermione." He took a deep breath. Maybe he found the next words as difficult to speak as Harry did to hear. "Harry, Ginny is dead. I know that you were the one who had to destroy her body so she wouldn't rise as a vampire, and that's hard, but you need to realize that you did enough by doing that. Don't stop living because she did."

Harry clenched his hands into fists on the desk in front of him, and said nothing.

"God." Ron's voice soared, and Harry saw his hands clench into fists, too. "That doesn't matter to you, does it? You don't care about anything as long as you get to kill nests."

Harry looked up. He thought his friendship with Ron might be lost if he didn't. "I still care about you," he said steadily. "I still care about Hermione. I still care about bringing Dark wizards to justice."

"You'd never know it, from the way you behave." Ron stepped towards him. "I want you to promise me that you won't do anything further on the McFadden and Gowan cases, Harry."

Harry sat still and looked at him.

"Harry." Ron's voice cracked. He came up to him this time and put a hand on his shoulder, shaking it hard. "You have to—you have to realize that you aren't just a weapon aimed at vampires. For God's sake, Harry. We love you. Stop acting as though that vampire murdered your whole heart when he murdered Ginny. Come back to us."

Harry reached up and squeezed Ron's hand. Then he said, "I was a weapon my whole life, when I went after Voldemort." He felt an amusement, as distant as his admiration, when the name still made Ron flinch. "Why should it be so strange that I'm a weapon now? It seems that I'm doomed to lose the people I love. At least I won't let them go unavenged."

Ron turned away from him and buried his face in his hands. Harry watched him. He wished he could say something else, something that would let Ron know how important this was to him, and why.

But there was nothing that came to mind, so Harry turned back to his paperwork, and tried to pretend it didn't bother him when Ron moved his desk and chair so that he could sit facing away from Harry.

Compared to the prospect of killing more murderers, it didn't bother him at all. And Harry set his mind coldly to work, this time not on what he would do when he faced the rogue vampire and his or her Long-Desired—that was fairly set—but on how he could resist giving any of his blood to Malfoy. He would not be a vampire's slave, or his lover.

But that is saying the same thing twice.

Draco waited near the white stone at the edge of Potter's wards. It seemed to have become their regular meeting place.

Draco didn't mind. The open moors were a fascinating place, now that he had time to notice the advantages of his vampire senses. He could smell scents on the wind that had come hundreds of miles: the sea, clumps of tropical plants, exotic animals. His favorite was a musky scent he didn't know, but he sniffed often in hopes of catching it. He only seemed to sense it when the wind blew from the west, however.

But strongest of all was blood.

Draco was glad for one thing that the books had said when they confirmed the pull of a Long-Desired for a vampire. His fascination with others' blood would lessen when he had Potter under his sway. At the moment, he couldn't help staring at an open wound, and he had almost made a fool of himself earlier tonight, stepping out into the middle of Diagon Alley when a young woman cut her arm on a wineglass she'd dropped.

That was how many master vampires died, he knew now, and one reason they lived in nests. The presence of others acted as a grounding force; together, the nest was more intelligent than any single predator could be. They would attack only certain targets.

The ones their sire determines. No, disadvantages and all, Draco was glad that he was not living in a nest, where he would be made to share his kills, and even surrender them to the nest leader if he or she demanded it.

Including the prize that he could least comprehend sharing.

And here came that prize, moving over the ground with a long stride that he didn't even seem to realize bespoke pride and power. Draco straightened slowly from his position of leaning on the boulder, eating Potter with his eyes as he would eat him with his fangs later tonight. So beautiful, from the contemptuous line of his shoulders to the magical power that bloomed in his body like a flame. Even the weapons he carried about him, and which Draco could see as slight bulges here and there and smell as wicked, stinging scents, only increased his beauty, because they added to his predatory edge. Draco would not want a Long-Desired who lay down tamely and let him do whatever he wanted.

Well, he amended, as his belly leaped and contracted with Potter's scent, it's possible my body does, but not my mind. And it's my mind that Potter must be a companion to.

Potter halted five feet away from him, which he perhaps foolishly imagined was a distance Draco could not cross before he managed to reach his weapons and defend himself. His nostrils flared and his arms were crossed, his eyes distant. He was doing his best to seem unimpressed. Draco might have believed him if not for the tinge of nervousness in his scent.

"Well, Malfoy?" Potter said. "Have you brought me the information you promised?"

"Yes." Draco started for a moment at how soft his own voice was, but then remembered how close he was to gaining what he wanted. He could afford a little gentleness. Already, his fangs had folded down, and he showed them to Potter as he spoke the next words. No sense in hiding from him what the price would be. "And I will give it to you."

Potter waited a moment, staring at him expectantly.

"When you give me your blood," Draco said, and he snapped despite himself. Potter was not stupid, and Draco had told him the price. Why would he stand there staring like a prize ox, when the ox would not taste nearly as good as he would?

"No," Potter countered calmly. "Give me the information first."

Draco laughed and edged nearer, wondering if Potter would try to bolt and deny Draco. Rage swept through him like a brushfire, and he had to keep his hands behind his back. Potter would notice how his nails were scoring his skin otherwise, his fingers bending into strange shapes. Draco was learning the depth of his control over his own body, but sometimes that control still escaped him when anger arrived and wanted to express itself. The deep, powerful voice of instinct told him that his anger was natural, and should be shown any way he would like to show it.

"Do you really think," he said, and charged his voice with the rage, seeing it bring Potter to his toes, "that I am that stupid? I would never get my drink if you had your way. No. Stop delaying, so that we may begin the hunt."

Potter gave him a slow smile, coated with arrogance. It made Draco burn. "I know enough to go on," he said. "A rogue vampire and a Long-Desired. I can make my plans accordingly. If you will give me nothing else without a price that I am unwilling to pay, especially when the information might be worthless…" He shrugged and turned his back.

Draco charged. His legs moved without his will, and his fangs aimed for Potter's neck without his conscious decision. No prey animal ignored him.

Potter spun around, faster than anything mortal should have been able to move, and snapped his left hand up. Draco had time to see a slender cylinder of metal between his fingers before a whip of fire coiled out from his palm and aimed straight at Draco. Draco came to a staggering stop as the fire lit the heather around him in a precise circle.

Does he think that will hold me? Draco crouched to leap over the flames—

And another line of fire created a sealed ceiling, crisscrossing itself with other whips until Draco knew he couldn't pass through those gaps even by contorting his body to the utmost limit of his ability. He sank back to his heels with a huff and aimed his glare and his lowered fangs at Potter through the gap in the flames. He could tell, from their heat and brightness, that these were flames born of sunlight, or at least of a spell that mimicked sunlight. Already he was fighting his eyes' tendency to water.

His Long-Desired indeed knew how to fight Draco's kind.

Potter stalked towards him, his face cool and disinterested. Draco recalled a suddenly distinct Hogwarts memory of Potter with his face flushed, chasing the Snitch, and how his human self had doubted that Potter would ever look emotionless about anything. Now he did, and Draco wondered for a moment what had changed him.

Then he had something else to think about, as Potter slowly tightened the circle of flame around him, the fire pushing closer and closer until Draco could feel the teasing singes against his hair. He stood with his arms straight at his sides. He knew that the fire, if it once got a good hold on his flesh as opposed to his clothing, would turn him into a torch.

Potter offered him a small, nasty smile. Draco stared back at him and was glad that he no longer had a need to breathe, unless he wished to speak.

"What will it be?" Potter whispered. "Do I destroy you? Or will you agree to wait for your precious drink of blood and give me the information now?" His eyes shone suddenly with a dark joy that would have made Draco want to retreat if he had anywhere to retreat to. "I can destroy you, you know."

But you won't, Draco wanted to say. The Long-Desired, at least when he or she was bitten once, had a reluctance to harm the vampire who was meant for them. And Draco had bitten Potter in Caspar's nest.

But it would not do to reveal that now. Potter despised vampires for being at the mercy of their instincts; he would hate himself for being at their mercy, too, because he was consistent like that, and that self-loathing might give him the strength to resist the reluctance and force the fire onto Draco.

"I will wait," he said.

"Give me your word," Potter said quietly.

Draco had to laugh, despite the fact that that brought both his cheek and chest dangerously near the flames. "And I can give you an oath that you would depend on? Why would you think that vampires are any better than Dark wizards in that respect?"

Potter's face cleared of all expression. He studied Draco in intent silence for a moment. Draco let his nostrils flare, but he couldn't tell anything useful from Potter's scent. He spent an irritated moment wishing that vampire powers were infallible, as some ancient wizards, if he could trust the books, apparently believed.

Then Potter twitched his fingers around the metal cylinder that he'd used to start the fire in the first place, and the flames vanished. Draco stepped back and smoothed his shirt, sniffing for the scent of burned flesh this time.

"No need to do that," he said amiably. "I would have listened to what you said."

"There was every need to do that." The dark joy was back in Potter's voice and eyes. "The only time that vampires ever obey is when they recognize a superior power. That's the only thing that keeps nests together, I'll have you know. I've studied the subject extensively." His voice lowered into what Draco would have categorized as a seductive tone, if not for the words it contained. "And I look forwards to the day when I no longer need you and I can kill you. So much." He whispered the last words with the softness he might have used to a lover.

Then he stepped back and cocked his head as though nothing had happened. "What information do you have for me?"

For some reason, Malfoy breathed out, which vampires didn't ordinarily do, before he focused his gaze on Harry again. And this time he was actually looking at Harry's face and not his neck. Harry smiled, glad that he had managed to impress some sense of the situation's seriousness on Malfoy.

"A vampire and a Long-Desired who trust each other can achieve enough power to knock down any wards or other spells, based on the symbolism of light and dark, and life and death," Malfoy began, in a voice that reminded Harry rather of the way that Hermione sounded when she recited from a book. "The vampire is vulnerable to the sun, but unparalleled in the darkness, whilst the wizard can walk abroad by day but is blind in the night. And so on. Each embodies a weakness that the other does not. Each has a strength that the other does not. Together, they create a united façade of pure strength."

Harry concealed a snort. This sounded rather like the rubbish in the romance novels Ginny used to read, when the hero and heroine babbled to each other about their perfect union. He had gone through and read all those romance novels when she was dead, because he had wanted to remember her as she was.

Not screaming, not dying.

"The magic around them recognizes that strength and responds to it," Malfoy was explaining now. His voice had gone soft and yearning, his eyes distant. Harry blinked. He had no idea why Malfoy would be so affected by this. He hoped that Malfoy wouldn't break down into tears or something when they confronted this vampire-human couple because of their perfection. "Wizard magic is channeled through a vampire's body, and in doing so, that changes it into a form that ordinary magic can't cope with."

Harry nodded. That sounded far more likely to him than any of that rot about perfectly matched strengths and weaknesses. "That would explain how they got through the wards, but not why they attacked McFadden and Gowan in the first place. Or why they took the collections that they did."

"Collections?" Malfoy moved a step closer, but paused when Harry rubbed his fingers up and down the flame-holder warningly. "What did they steal?"

"Portraits," Harry said, shrugging. "Silver statuettes. The kind of shiny things that would attract a vampire, I reckon, though they could have got them with less trouble elsewhere. Perhaps they only wanted to see who would notice that there had been vampires there at all. But then, it's natural to your kind to reveal their tracks instead of covering them."

Malfoy stood very still for a moment. Then he whispered, "Describe the portraits for me, Potter."

Harry frowned at him, and then struggled to remember the McFadden case report. He kept his eyes on Malfoy all the time, of course. It wouldn't do to surrender to the bastard's fangs because a befuddling question had taken him off-guard. "Mostly pale people," he said at last. "Men and women dressed in fashions hundreds of years old. All in crimson frames, for some reason. McFadden and Gowan used to be friends, and it was assumed that one of them got the idea from the other."

"Anything else?" Malfoy insisted. "What about the statuettes?"

"Silver, like I said." Harry thought carefully. Once he had realized it was vampires who had slaughtered the two men, he hadn't thought to check on the things stolen, assuming that the thefts were covers for the murders. And that bothered him, because, once, remembering such details would have been as easy as breathing.

Maybe Ron is right, and I am letting my obsession get the better of me.

On the other hand, Ron isn't the one out here in the darkness with a vampire who wants to bite through his neck.

"And they showed men and women, mostly," Harry said. "Dressed in older fashions, like the portraits." He shrugged again. "The similarity was noticed, but the Aurors simply assumed that the thieves who appreciated that form in one kind of art would appreciate it in the other."

"More than that," Malfoy said. "Oh, more than that." He sounded as though he were on the edge of crooning for knowing something that Harry didn't know, but he also sounded apprehensive.

"Don't tell me that your books said something about Long-Desired couples wanting portraits in crimson frames?" Harry asked.

"I think McFadden and Gowan were vampire hunters," Malfoy said quietly. "The books said it was once the custom of hunters to immortalize their victims—if you will forgive the pun—in frames the color of blood, and dressed as they would have looked when they were alive, depending on the century they were sired in. Some who were more superstitious also believed that would keep a vampire who might not have been completely destroyed from coming back to life, because their place in the world would have been taken by the portrait." Malfoy dropped to a crouch on the ground, which had Harry aiming his wand at him on reflex, but it seemed he simply wished to change position. "And they went far enough to use statues as well," he added. "Fancy that."

"You think this vampire and Long-Desired killed them because McFadden and Gowan might have tried to kill them in turn?" Harry asked. "Self-defense?" It certainly made more sense than most of his theories.

"No," said Malfoy. "They're too powerful to have to fear them—and you know better than any human alive what we are like when we feel powerful." His voice grated, but Harry heard truth rather than anger in it. "I think they killed them out of vengeance. Probably the vampires that McFadden and Gowan destroyed were nestmates of this vampire, perhaps his or her sire or get."

Harry blinked. "There's resisting one's instincts, and there's bypassing them," he said. "You're happy to see others of your kind go. It means less competition for food. Yes, a sire might be upset in the short term about losing one of his or her get, because it means a lessening of power, but not in the long term. And McFadden and Gowan can't have hunted for years. We would have heard something about it if they had."

Malfoy hissed at him, his fangs folded down so far they looked to be popping out of his mouth. "Vampires bound to a Long-Desired are different, Potter," he said. Harry controlled the temptation to bristle and snap that it was not as if he could have known that. What did he care if Malfoy was condescending to him? That would only make him easier to defeat, in the end. "For one thing, they only drink from their Long-Desired, and so have no need to compete for food. For another, the tie they enact creates a few overriding, powerful instincts, yes—to protect the Long-Desired, for example—but largely negates the others. This vampire might have remembered those killings long ago and waited until the Long-Desired made his or her power certain before they chose to go after their killers."

Harry nodded. It made sense (though he still intended to confirm Malfoy's information independently, if he could). And it would answer all the questions that had been puzzling him about the murders, even the reasons for taking the portraits and the statuettes. The vampire might well have wanted those memorials as reminders of its companions.

He didn't like the new information, however. It made vampires more human than he was used to.

"And that," Malfoy said, rising to his feet in a single graceful motion that nearly earned him a plucked-out eye, "is why you need to let me drink from you and accept this tie. We can't kill them unless we have strength equal to theirs. And they have experience fighting hunters. Like you."

Harry shook his head. "This is all just speculation. But your biting into my neck isn't."

Malfoy hooded his eyes. He looked more human now than at any time since Harry had first seen him in the nest. "But well-justified speculation. Speculation you believe."

"Perhaps," Harry said.

"Your scent does not lie to me," Malfoy said softly.

Harry laughed. "But the olfactory glamours I put on it do."

Malfoy stared at him. Harry smiled back. He was lying about the olfactory glamours, but it was not as if Malfoy would know that.

"Very well," Malfoy said at last. "But you will give me your blood in the end."

"I've promised, haven't I?" Harry raised his eyebrows. "And tomorrow night we'll set out to hunt the rogue and his Long-Desired, so that you're one night closer to your drink." Let us see if you are fool enough to believe that, instead of one night closer to your death.

"Why not tonight?" Malfoy edged closer.

Harry stepped back and smiled sweetly, pulling a flask from his robe sleeve and tossing it to him. Malfoy caught it without hardly moving, of course. Vampires were like that. "So that you have time to drink the Ministry-approved blood I found for you," Harry said, "and so that I have time to sleep and to plan."

And he Apparated back behind his wards whilst Malfoy was still staring after him.

Draco grimaced as he finished drinking the blood. It was cold, for one thing, not fresh from the living vein, and it didn't have the taste of Harry's magic and meat, for another.

But he was more occupied with greater matters, strange though he would have thought it an hour ago to believe anything was greater than blood.

His mind sharpened around Harry, that was certain. And Harry was doing things he would not have done for any other vampire, such as fetching the blood. So far, their reactions to the instincts the Long-Desired tie would instill into them were proceeding on schedule.

But seeing how much Harry longed to inflict death on his kind, Draco had to wonder if any vampire had ever tried to claim a Long-Desired so…unstable.

Of course, if you manage it, that makes yours the more wonderful triumph.

It did, but Draco was still uneasy. Rather than rejoicing in the thought of his inevitable victory, he was more inclined to believe that he had the advantage because he could accept these instincts, whilst Harry would fight them and refuse to believe the truth about his own behavior.

And that is only a slight advantage.

He turned and leaped thoughtfully into the night.

Chapter 4

A loud banging at his front door woke Harry. He groaned into his pillow and sat up slowly, blinking. He'd already told Austin and Stone that he was taking a personal day, and they'd even looked pleased about it, because they thought it meant he was "relaxing" and giving up on the McFadden and Gowan cases. That was exactly the sort of thing they deserved to think, and Harry had been careful to act more subdued than usual around them when he told them he wouldn't be in to work.

Then he remembered the wards he had added to the house last week, and nodded as he stood. There were only two people who could penetrate so far into the mazes and nests of defensive spells, and neither of them was likely to be running Austin and Stone's errands.

He flung a shirt on—he'd slept in trousers, with spells that mimicked the good effects of shoes wrapped around his feet, in case he had to run from vampires—and padded through the bedroom and the large central room to the front door. Everywhere he looked, he could see traces of hard angles that Ginny would have softened, sharp corners that she would have hung muffling counterspells around, and empty spaces that she would have filled. She was more interested in that than he was. Harry suspected that his childhood with the Dursleys had whittled away any interest he might have had in knickknacks and photographs hung on the walls and the like.

Besides, he liked his house this way. That way, Ginny was present for him in what wasn't there as much as what was.

He opened the door, and Hermione stormed in and whirled around to face him, her robes floating around her. Harry shut the door and opened his mouth to invite her to sit down, then looked at her expression and closed it again.

"We're losing you," Hermione said, low and precise. "Or it would be more accurate to say that you're losing us, since you're certainly not just drifting away from us. You're actively forcing yourself away." Her hands clenched into fists. "You're an idiot, Harry, and this way of mourning Ginny isn't doing anyone any good."

Well. Harry scrubbed thoughtfully at his face with one hand. Hermione had been less forthright around him in the past; she seemed to take the point of view that he needed to grieve in his own way and it would do no good to talk him out of it. That had certainly changed.

"It's not only about mourning her," he said, meeting Hermione's eyes. "It's about preventing more innocent people from losing their lives."

"You're subsuming every other interest, every other passion, and every bit of normal life in this obsession." Hermione's voice grated. "If it was just about saving innocent lives, then you would put in as much time as you do for your Auror work, and no more. I know you, Harry Potter, and you can't fool me. This is about misplaced grief and hatred."

"So what if it is?" Harry regarded her curiously. "I still don't see why it hurts you and Ron so much."

"Because you could be killed." Hermione's voice snapped on the last word, sounding like a tree in the middle of winter. "Because it's not healthy. Because we want to see you moving on and doing something else with your life, and you aren't." She folded her arms and moved a step back from him. "That you could even ask that question shows how lost you are."

"This is what I'm doing with my life now," Harry said. "And about the McFadden and Gowan cases, I know I'm not wrong. They were both vampire hunters, did you know that? And the statues and portraits that were stolen were memorials of their victims."

Hermione's eyes widened. "How did you learn that?"

"I researched more deeply than the Aurors who first took up the cases, that's all." Harry shrugged modestly. He knew he could count on Hermione's interest in finding information to distract her. "And then I noticed that all the portraits stolen were in crimson frames, and I remembered how vampire hunters in other centuries sometimes used those frames—because they're the color of blood—to mark their victims, and—"

"Give that information to the Auror Department, then," Hermione said. "You should. You've been removed from the cases, Harry. Do that, and then come to dinner with Ron and me. Do you know how long it's been since you did something normal like that?"

Harry took a deep breath. "I need to sleep today, Hermione."

He hoped she would accept that as a normal statement, the way that Ron certainly would have, but she only folded her arms more tightly and squinted at him. "Because you're going hunting tonight, right?" Her voice was shrill.


"This is worse than I thought," Hermione said. "And Ron was right, and it won't do any good to argue with you. You didn't even see that you might be hurting us, for God's sake." She walked past him and stood with a hand on the door for a moment, as though gathering her strength. Then she turned around and shook her head. Her face looked weary, drained.

"I've done everything I can," she said. "Talked to you, talked to other people about you, tried to get you interested in other things than hunting vampires, tried to introduce you to people, tried to tell you that Ginny wouldn't want you to live this way. And everything, you resist." A tear shone at the corner of her eye, but she blinked hard and it went away. "I reckon I'll have to wait until you come back to us on your own."

Harry opened his mouth to argue that he had never gone anywhere, he'd just become a different person—and who wouldn't, when the woman he loved was murdered in front of him?—but Hermione opened the door, slipped out, and quietly shut it behind her.

Harry hesitated. For the first time in a long time, he had the strangest urge to go after someone mortal walking away from him.

But practicality won out. He couldn't convince Hermione, except by abandoning the hunt, which would be to abandon his principles. And he hadn't told either her or Ron about Malfoy, because that would mean admitting he'd been weak enough to let a vampire go, so that would involve more explanation and more argument. Meanwhile, he'd be losing the hours of sleep that he needed to be fresh when night came.

And with a vampire like Malfoy, so intent on not being bilked of Harry's blood, specifically, rather than just any blood, it could be deadly.

Harry turned back to bed, and took a vial of Calming Draught with him, so that he could be sure he would fall asleep.

The difference in Potter's mood and demeanor when he'd had a little rest was astonishing. Draco smiled thinly as he watched Potter lope up to the white boulder. He couldn't compare the experience of Potter's rest with his own; during the day, he simply died again, surrendering to a dreamless void, and regaining consciousness when the sunlight began to fail. But he appreciated sleep for the beauty it increased and empowered in his Long-Desired.

"You realize," he remarked when Potter stepped up to his usual cautious distance of five feet, "that we have no idea where to go."

Potter's lips twisted up into their own smile that showed more of his teeth than necessary. Draco wondered who he was trying to impress by showing them. Not a single one of them was sharp enough to cut skin. "I do," he said. "But the nest, or the vampire, will come to us. I can call them, and I did, last night after I left you. It's natural to think that they would come after me eventually, since I'm a vampire hunter, but if they're only searching out and killing hunters who took their spawn or sires, then maybe not. I can't be sure that I've ever slaughtered vampires who belong to them." He tilted his head back and scanned the darkness of the sky for a moment, as if he believed the first attack would come from above.

Draco narrowed his eyes. "How can you call vampires to you?"

Potter looked sidelong at him with eyes full of malice and laughter. "It's a gift."

Draco started to argue further, but then the wind shifted to the west, and the strange, enticing musky scent that had filled his nostrils the other night filled them again. He took a step forwards in spite of himself, his nostrils fluttering. His hands reached out. He noted absently that his fingers had curled into claw shape, as if that was the natural position for them to be in when the scent came.

"What's wrong with you, Malfoy?" By the sound of the voice, Potter had backed away from him and was readying his wand.

"Something wonderful," Draco whispered. His voice was throaty, and he wondered if he should be alarmed at that. The only time he had sounded like that was when he was under Caspar's dominion and anticipating the favor of his sire's attention. He took another step, and then crouched. The scent was further away than he had anticipated. Clearly, he would have to run to it.

Potter muttered an incantation, but Draco didn't care what it was. He shivered and trembled. He had to get to the scent, and fast.

The charm Harry had cast to sharpen his own sense of smell didn't reveal anything interesting. Either it was meant as a vampire lure only, or the charm couldn't render his senses anywhere near as delicate as a vampire's.

Or both, he thought, and watched Malfoy. He was still creeping forwards, straining as if against an invisible tether, his hands spread wide. He would leap in a moment, or run, and then Harry would lose track of him.

And loathe as he was to admit it, a vampire whose first "loyalty"—if any vampire could be said to have that quality—was to him could be of wonderful help in defeating other vampires.

He considered for a few moments whether he could do anything else, and then regretfully shook his head and held his wand over his palm, murmuring, "Diffindo." The spell created a cut stretching from the base of his thumb to the far side of the hand. Harry grimaced at the pain, but made no sound. He'd had far worse.

Malfoy's head snapped around the moment the cut opened. His nostrils flared far wider this time, and Harry was staring into miniature graves in his face. He held back his own revulsion and extended his hand.

As Harry had hoped, the blood of his Long-Desired was more potent bait than whatever Malfoy smelled. He advanced with delicate dancing steps, eyes locked on Harry's hand. Harry thought he knew what a man feeding sharks must feel like.

He waited until Malfoy was reaching for his arm, and then twitched his wand sideways, casting two spells in rapid succession. One forced a gout of blood out of his hand, spraying it in fine droplets towards Malfoy. The other erected the most powerful Shield Charm he knew, one which had stood him in good stead with vampires before.

Malfoy leaned in with a primordial groan like an epicure's on spotting a French dish, and lapped at the air with an extended tongue. He shuddered, and his head rolled back. Harry spotted a motion down the line of his body, and his eyes followed for a moment before he realized what it must be and shuddered himself, turning away. Malfoy was painting a brutal enough picture of sexual ecstasy. Harry didn't see any need to watch him harden.

Malfoy panted and whined. Harry strengthened the shield and waited patiently.

"It tastes so good," said Malfoy, like that was a revelation. Then his voice sank. "Harry. Let me have some more."

"If you're a good boy," Harry said, and drew his wand along the line of the cut. He didn't dare just bandage it, because then the blood would continue to emerge for a short time before it clotted and constantly draw Malfoy's attention. That scent would distract him enough. Harry would need to heal the cut and make it seem as if it had never existed.

"Let me suck it."

Harry glared furiously at Malfoy. His voice in need sounded like Ginny's when she got exceptionally husky, and he didn't need the image that the words briefly brought him before reality reasserted itself.

She's dead, he told himself. She's always going to be dead, and if you'd had enough wits to have studied vampires before she died, like the threats they were, then she would have lived. Don't forget that.

"No," Harry said. "Did you really think I would?" he added contemptuously. Then he reconsidered. The expression on Malfoy's face was comical: his lips slightly open, the tips of his fangs showing like a child trying to hide a sweet in his mouth, and his eyes overly bright. Harry's blood had probably affected him so deeply that he wasn't in control of his actions at the moment.

"I can make it so good for you," Malfoy crooned, and his fangs slid all the way out as he opened his mouth fully.

"No, you can't," Harry said. "Immune to the thrall, remember? And to the poison on your fangs that sometimes soothes the bite, too." He could see the poison, which was normally invisible, so close was he to Malfoy. It looked like a slight translucent shimmer against the lower points. "It would just be a painful pulling sensation that I have no desire ever to experience." He strengthened the shield again. Malfoy had crouched, the way he might if he intended to tear through to Harry and force him to yield his blood. "Now, are you ready to go hunting again or should we give up this night, too?" He let his impatience show in his voice.

I want to make him feel so good.

Draco's head was reeling. He had fantasized about the taste of Harry's blood, yearned after it, and tucked every memory of the previous bite into the crannies of his mind, but that was nothing compared to drinking it again. Every muscle was separately alive; every thought in his head leaped up new tracks and spawned new thoughts, ideas for research and pleasure that would entertain him through the endless nights.

It was only right that he do something to reward his Long-Desired for the amount of joy even a few drops of that nourishment, the food Draco was meant to eat, could afford him.

But Harry's words had reminded him of the problem. A normal vampire could use the Long-Desired's willing permission to charm and enchant him, and create indescribable feelings. But Harry had never really given permission, and he could resist all the normal tools of giving pleasure.

Draco studied Harry thoughtfully, ignoring his question for the moment. They had more nights to hunt the Long-Desired couple, and if Harry was right and he had magic that could lead them straight to Harry and Draco, they wouldn't have to spend much time seeking them out, either. They could hunt from ambush, Draco's favorite tactic.

The question of how to reward Harry was much more important.

Harry rolled his eyes as Draco studied him, though, unaware of how assiduously Draco was thinking about pampering him, and said, "Are we doing this or not, Malfoy?" He jerked his head to the west. Draco didn't like the abrupt gesture. He wanted to see Harry languid, dripping with so many things, sweat and blood and venom and wine, his eyes half-lidded and his smile sleepy. Even when he'd been tired the previous night, he hadn't been sleepy in the way that Draco would have liked to see him.


"It's obvious there's something to the west that attracts vampires," Harry continued. "I've never heard of a nest leader with the power to compel vampires they didn't sire to join the nest, but it's possible that a Long-Desired couple would use their magic for exactly that. So we should search to the west first."

He was a Gryffindor. They appreciate honesty, don't they? Honesty and sweet words. Draco edged a little nearer, trying to appear as human as he could, but proudly conscious that he couldn't get rid of all the grace in his movements. "I want you," he said. "I wouldn't do anything bad to you. Simply hold you."

"'Hold' is an interesting word," Harry remarked, apparently to the air. "It can begin a lot of phrases. Like 'hold you prisoner' and 'hold you captive,' just to name two." His eyes rested on Draco, and they shone with distrust that made Draco reach out instinctively to soothe it, only to recoil when he brushed the edge of the magical shield and something like fire stung him.

"I don't—don't look at me like that, Harry," he said, and his voice cracked in spite of himself.

Harry stared at him, then snorted with laughter. "This is rich, Malfoy," he said. "Don't tell me that I'm hurting your feelings."

Draco snarled at him, showing his fangs again. It felt good to have instincts he could do something about, in this case to display his natural pride. But the other instincts, the ones he had told Harry would override a vampire's normal ones in the formation of a Long-Desired bond, clamored in his head, making it hurt. Protect him, possess him, pleasure him. Get him to trust you.

There was no way he could fulfill them, and it was making him angry.

"Stop this nonsense," Harry said, and his voice was as sharp as Draco's fangs, but with disgust and not arousal or remorse or any of the other emotions Draco had hoped to hear. "Let's go hunting."

Hunting. Draco's attention focused on the word. That was the boundary keeping him away from Harry, far more so than this stupid shield charm. Harry only cared about destroying his own kind; none of his heart was left free to appreciate Draco's virtues. Get rid of the desire to hunt, and Harry would be his.

In that case, gratifying his longing to destroy the other Long-Desired and his or her vampire was a stupid thing to do.

But maybe, when Draco had helped Harry do that and Harry exulted over the corpses…maybe, then, if Draco spoke gently and came close before Harry could throw up his guard, maybe then he would listen…

Draco was willing to risk anything for another taste of that blood, and he had already told himself to be patient since he was immortal. He inclined his head now and turned to face the west. The scent was no longer so tempting compared with the blood in his nostrils, so he could evaluate it from a distance.

"It is vampire magic," he said, after a moment of studying it and sniffing out the separate components. "That's the only magic I know of that can embody pure emotions in scent, whether or not the person involved is feeling those emotions. And this promises protection, safety, comfort, and excitement. And fresh blood," he added, because Harry watched him expectantly, as if to say that he knew that wasn't all, and Harry appreciated honesty.

"Good," Harry said, and his voice unfolded into new registers that Draco hadn't been able to hear before, because he had been without the blood. He banished the shield at last, and came up to stand beside Draco. "Then I'm going to Apparate along the path of the scent. You follow, and tell me when it starts leading in a different direction than straight west."

Draco looked at him—it could only be a brief glimpse, because Harry was so tempting now that he knew he would attack if he looked much longer—and then turned back to the west. "You can't smell it?" It made him feel absurdly warm, far more so than the circulating blood could have possibly done for him. Harry needed him. Harry required his guidance to solve a problem.

"No," Harry said. "But it leads straight west, doesn't it?"

Draco nodded.


Harry was another creature altogether when he grinned like that, the passion brilliant in his eyes, his hands twitching in front of his body before slowing down to grip his wand, his teeth slowly appearing from behind tightly closed lips. Draco wondered if he knew how much he looked like a vampire, how many qualities of his nemeses he had adopted.

And then Harry Apparated, and Draco turned and began to run along the path of the scent. It would be no trouble to keep up. The night was warm and young, and he was full of blood, and beside his Long-Desired.

It made sense, Harry had to admit, as he crouched behind a stone and examined the tower in front of him, for the Long-Desired and the vampire to take over an abandoned wizarding area, especially one under an Unplottable Charm. The abandoned areas had either been given up by their owners as too expensive, or lost even by those owners. Harry doubted they would have found it themselves if the scent hadn't led Malfoy there.

And, of course, with wizard magic among them, it would be no trouble for a nest of vampires to renew old wards and charms that would keep them comfortable.

The tower itself was the last remnant of a manor house that appeared to have gone utterly to wrack and ruin, and was little more than a tumbled heap of old stones. The tower itself had stones around the foot, but stood straight for the most part, very thick and very round, like a medieval donjon. There were few windows, but a door at the bottom, facing the rock Harry and Malfoy crouched behind.

And Harry could see no sign of vampires, despite Malfoy's insistence—and his belief—that this was where the scent came from. They had hidden themselves well.

They're resisting their instincts. They could act as intelligent as normal humans, and maybe more intelligent, with that cold intelligence unscarred by emotion or frantic need for blood. Harry bared his teeth in a hiss. It's practically my duty to kill them.

Malfoy edged closer to him from the other side. Harry absently keyed an Impervious Charm that would turn his skin too hard to bite through and went on studying the tower. He could dismantle the wards; that was not the problem. But there was no way to do it quietly. He wondered if one impressive, shattering burst was really the way that he wanted to introduce himself to this nest. Every nest was different, and he had to think on his feet at least as much as he needed to plan.

Malfoy's tongue licked the air beside him. Harry shifted away and focused hard to keep his heartbeat from getting too fast. In his eagerness to destroy the vampires in front of him, he shouldn't forget the one beside him.

"What now?" Malfoy whispered. His voice sounded odd, but Harry suspected that was another side-effect of drinking his Long-Desired's blood.

Harry opened his mouth to explain their options, but just then, the door at the base of the tower opened. A young woman crept out; Harry could tell from the way her chest heaved, even before he saw the color in her cheeks, that she was mortal. He had a modified Lumos Charm on the tip of his wand that allowed him to see without showing to anyone else, like the light in a shielded lantern, and that was enough for him to make out blonde curls and terrified blue eyes, too. She swallowed and stood looking back at the tower for long moments.

Then she broke into a run, towards their stone.

"Escaping prey," Malfoy said. Harry nodded and moved to the side. He wanted to catch her, to ask for information about the nest or the vampire, but he didn't want to do it in such a way that she would scream and awaken the silent tower.

He arose smartly behind her as she sprinted past, and clasped one arm around her waist whilst he clamped his wand hand over her mouth. The woman tried to scream anyway, but Harry nudged the air out of her with his tight clasp on her waist. Malfoy sauntered up on the other side of him, and the woman's eyes widened even more.

"Vampire," Harry was sure she said against his palm, even though he couldn't make out the word.

"I know," Harry said into her ear. "But we're here to destroy the vampires, not join them. I'm a hunter. I need to know anything you can tell us about the vampires in there."

For a moment, her eyelids fluttered fast, and he thought she was about to faint. But then she gulped and nodded, and when Harry whispered to her, "Can you be quiet?" she nodded again. He pulled his hand back.

"What's your name?" he demanded.

"Lucy Moore." The girl stared at them with yet wider eyes, and Harry saw that she was younger than he'd thought, probably sixteen. Well, then, she's entitled to be a little silly.

"And the vampires took you to feed on?" Another nod. "Then how did you escape?" Harry demanded. Beside him, Malfoy cocked his head and sniffed hard, and Harry knew he would be sniffing for the scent of a lie. Harry approved. An enchanted victim, which most of those under a vampire's thrall could be counted as, usually didn't tell the truth, or at best told some garbled version of it.

"I was lucky," Lucy said. Her hands twisted together, but her words came tumbling out all at once. "There's another hunter in there. He came just after nightfall. He did something that baffled them all, and half the nest fell asleep and the rest attacked him. I think he killed most of them." Lucy shivered. "The enchantment on me fell off, but for a lot of the time I couldn't do anything. I just tried to stand up and fell. But then he cornered the nest leader in a room up the stairs and did something to her that made her scream horribly, and I could run."

Harry grinned, especially when he looked sideways and Malfoy gave him a slight nod to show that he could smell no lie. "We're lucky," he said. "Is the door you came out by the only way out of the tower?"

Lucy shook her head. "There's another around the corner, opposite that rock." She indicated a huge, angled black boulder that sprawled on the ground. "But don't ask me to take you there." She shivered, and touched the two puncture wounds on her neck. "I only just escaped, and—and—"

Tears were trembling on her eyelids, and Harry said quickly, "That's all right, we won't ask you to. Just tell us about the layout of the tower."

"A big—a big round central room on the ground floor, and then stairs, and then a bunch of rooms on the first floor in a star pattern, and then more stairs, and a single room upstairs." Lucy began to back away from the tower, staring at it. Harry could see her heart beating with fear. "I have to—I have to go." And she ran off, her hair and the thin, pale gown she wore whipping behind her.

Malfoy snorted. "Idiot."

"At least she gave us some information," Harry said, and checked that his weapons were in place with a quick sweep of his hands up and down the sides of his body. "Let's go."

Draco relaxed when they found the second door exactly where the silly girl had told them it would be. He had wondered if she had been confused from the venom he could smell in her system, a great amount of it, but perhaps enough of that had faded when the other hunter killed the nest leader, as it seemed likely had happened.

Harry stood contemplating the door, a small, wretched gate with a twisted iron handle, in silence. Then he gave a small nod and moved a step forwards.

The door swung open.

Draco snarled and tried to leap, but he was too slow. A tall vampire stood framed in the doorway, clad in black, her hair a shining weave of blonde and brown and her eyes sharp blue. Draco knew without testing the matter that she was a master vampire—the will in her face was too obviously her own—and that she was already weaving magic around them with a speed and skill Caspar had never displayed. That magic caught Draco and held him upside-down, and then it caught Harry and wrenched his arms behind his back harshly enough to make him cry out.

Draco screamed himself, a hunting bird's cry, and nearly broke free of the web. But the vampire renewed it, and arched an eyebrow. "An incipient Long-Desired bond," she said. "She did not tell me that, the naughty girl." Then her voice turned indulgent. "Well, she does know how much I enjoy learning new things for myself." Her voice rose. "Lucy!"

And the girl who had "escaped" from the tower stepped out from behind the black boulder, and strode towards the vampire, who put a hand beneath her chin and smiled adoringly into her eyes. Lucy smiled back.

The Long-Desired and her vampire. Draco wanted to close his eyes for the sheer depth of his foolishness.

The vampire turned Lucy around so she stood with her back to the vampire's chest, and then sank her fangs into her throat. Lucy responded with an eager hum and a sigh that made something in Draco's chest wrench with jealousy, because he could not imagine Harry doing that. And, yes, there was that expression of rapture and trust on her face that he had so longed to see on Harry's.

The vampire looked up, blood glittering on her fangs, and smiled. "Lucy you have met already, of course," she said. "I am the Collector. Welcome to my collection.

Chapter 5

"What shall I do with you?"

Harry, spinning slowly upside-down in a net he couldn't see or feel that somehow still held him, knew what the Collector meant when she used that tone. It was the same thing any vampire would have meant when they used it. She'd already decided to torture them, to hurt them, but she wanted to make them focus on her and breathlessly await her every word. She wanted attention, adoration when she paused in her infliction of pain, fear when she resumed.

Like any vampire.

Harry had already discovered that simply hurling wandless magic against his bonds didn't work. Nor did struggling against them with the small movements that Auror training had taught him when he wanted to slip out of ropes without his captor noticing. So he would have to give some attention to his surroundings, but at least he didn't need to look at the Collector. Instead he directed his gaze past her, to the far wall.

They were in the upper room of the tower; Lucy's description of the inside had been faithful, of course. Harry could see a slice of night sky through narrow windows, stained with starlight. He couldn't count on sunrise releasing them any time soon, since there were still hours of darkness left. He wondered if he could weaken the bonds between the stones. It would depend on how old they were and how they'd been laid. Yes, Lucy might have renewed the wards and charms on the tower for the Collector, but that didn't mean her magic would be as strong as the original foundation spells.

A slap hit his cheek, hard enough to snap his head to the side and almost break his neck. Harry controlled his immediate reaction to cry out by breathing slowly and steadily, and biting his lip. He let his lip go before he felt ready to face the vampire, but that was necessary. If he bit it too hard, it would bleed, and that wasn't a wise idea.

The Collector loomed in front of him, her eyes fastened on his. "Look at me when I ask you a question," she said coldly.

Harry could practically sense Malfoy's outrage, even though he was hanging upside-down behind him in another net and Harry couldn't see him. Malfoy would, of course, hate that someone else was abusing his Long-Desired, when that should be his exclusive province. Harry met the Collector's gaze without fear and felt her thrall reach out and slide over him like a tide of slimy water.

To no effect, of course. It simply drained out of his mind as though his mind were a sieve.

Hermione would probably say that was true, Harry mused, and twisted his wrists again. Still the invisible bonds didn't yield. He sighed. He had hoped that the Collector's shock at not being able to enchant him might translate to a momentary weakening of the magic.

"Immune to the thrall," breathed the Collector. Oddly, her anger had vanished. She clapped her hands like a delighted child instead, and looked back and forth between Harry and Malfoy. "I see now why the Long-Desired bond has not been completed. You can't take his mind, can you? And you probably can't give him pleasure when you bite, either. He would be immune to the venom, as well." She nodded wisely. "I see why you have chosen to play vampire hunter," she said to Harry, something like admiration in her voice.

Harry didn't respond the way he knew she would have liked him to, with anger that his profession was being turned into play. Of course she would see it that way, since she considered herself all-powerful. And that was a weakness he should exploit, not draw her attention to. It was invaluable sometimes to be human, without a vampire's arrogance.

"Yes, I have," he said, and then cleared his throat roughly and glanced away from her. "Though I never expected to be captured like this." He would have to tell the truth, since she could smell lies. And they had taken most of his weapons away from him the moment they brought him into the tower, so he would have to use the very few that were embedded in his body. He didn't want to reveal them before it was time.

The Collector firmed her grasp on his chin and turned his face back to her. "You must never look away from me," she chided gently. "I don't like it." For a moment, she ran her fingernails along his jawline, gazing at him, absorbed; then she nodded. "Yes. I will break you and take you as my own slave. Perhaps even spawn. Would you like that?"

Harry didn't have to hide his disgust and revulsion. If she did what he suspected she would now, that would even be an advantage.

"No, you wouldn't," the Collector said. "But I have a mind to start a new collection, that of former vampire hunters. Killing McFadden and Gowan may have been a mistake." Harry exulted silently, since, if he ever managed to return to the Aurors alive, his Pensieve memory would serve as evidence that he had been right. The Collector moved away from him, and abruptly Harry's bonds loosened and dropped him to the floor.

He landed badly, though he'd twisted so that at least he didn't crack his skull open. His shoulder wrenched, and he caught his breath before he stood up and limped after the Collector into a tiny alcove across the room. The Collector lifted an absent hand as they stepped between its walls, and the shimmering curtain of a smoke-like spell obscured them from view behind.

Malfoy must be going mad about now, he thought, and then focused on the Collector's blazing blue eyes, and the Collector's fangs.

A sharp itch had broken out across Draco's shoulders the moment the Collector laid her hand on Harry. He wanted to hiss and twist and fight much more than he had so far, but Harry's calmness had paralyzed him. Harry didn't appear to think that the wrong touch was wrong, so for the moment Draco had to pretend that it wasn't, either. He was restricted to protesting as much as his Long-Desired protested.

But then they went into the alcove, and he couldn't see his Long-Desired any more, and the itching surged all down his arms and chest. He knew that the Collector was touching Harry, stroking him, perhaps draining him of the blood that was Draco's alone. He bared his fangs, but the smokescreen obscuring the alcove didn't notice or move. Draco howled silently and resumed his struggle.

The itch spread to his fangs and made them ache in a different way. Draco stopped moving so he could figure out what was wrong with them.

"You're both very stubborn. I assume that's why you haven't completed the bond yet. You're so pretty that I don't think he could resist you if you were less stubborn. You want everything, and he won't let you have anything."

Draco snapped his head around. He had forgotten about Lucy, who drew near him, smiling the dazed smile Draco had occasionally seen Caspar's human victims smile right before he turned them. Draco wanted to snarl at himself now. Yes, there were immense amounts of venom in her system—amounts that none of his kind would have bothered to waste on a mere prisoner. He should have sensed something wrong from the beginning.

"You can't compromise, either of you," Lucy continued in a low voice. "I've never seen a Long-Desired and his vampire at odds before." She shook her head in wonder. "Why haven't his instincts begun to urge him to accept you? My instincts told me to accept the Collector the moment she revealed herself to me."

Draco kept his thoughts, that that must have been something other than instinct, to himself. His books had reassured him that Long-Desired humans did not react so quickly. "He is too new to the bond. He—"

"No," said Lucy. "That's not it. I can feel bonds, you know. It was one of my talents even before I became hers." Draco ached with jealousy at the adoration in her voice, because he couldn't imagine Harry ever speaking that way. "He should have yielded by now. You bit him months ago. And he still hasn't given in?" She clucked her tongue and looked at Draco with pity. "You must be doing something wrong."

Draco threw himself against his bonds before he thought about it. Her throat was so temptingly close and he was so hungry. Harry's blood had been enough to whet his appetite, not to satisfy him.

Lucy skipped out of the way and looked at him with mild satisfaction. Draco hissed as he understood her tactic. They wanted him to weaken himself so that, if the moment came when they did something careless, he would not be able to take advantage of the situation.

Draco deliberately froze his muscles into cramped postures and let his eyes unfocus, staring past Lucy at the far wall. His ears still strained for some sound of Harry in pain, though he knew he probably wouldn't be able to hear it. He was utterly helpless to control that particular instinct. Harry was his.

"Yes," Lucy continued in a dreamy fashion, "something wrong. There are vampires who ruin any chance for a bond with their Long-Desired, you know. They push them too fast, or they bite them without their consent, or only with their grudging consent…" She trailed off teasingly, watching Draco with half-lidded eyes.

Draco remembered—he could not help but remember—how Harry had only agreed to the first bite because they needed the magic that would result from it to defeat Caspar. He had not bared his neck for Draco eagerly.

Could that be the source of all the conflicts and all the problems in their bond since?

"That was it, wasn't it?" Lucy clucked her tongue again. "Well, I am sorry for you. But what's the incentive for him to agree to it if he can't feel good from it? I know that I would have distrusted my Collector if there was no pleasure in her bite. Vampires would go hungry much more often than they do, for that matter. But it's especially important for a Long-Desired, who is your food source. Imagine him, even if he yields, grimacing every night and baring his throat for you only because he feels sorry for you, or because he needs the power to succeed in other vampire hunts. You might benefit, but he won't." Her voice sank. "What's the temptation for him?"

Draco's fangs itched again. He wanted to deny what Lucy was saying, but he didn't think he could. He didn't want to think of Harry in pain for the rest of his life. He wanted to think of him gasping and eager to be taken—

The way he never will be. Even if he did not have a particular reason to hate vampires, you know he is too stubborn for that. You saw the way he refused to yield to his tears when he broke his arm in second year, though it would have been the rational thing to do.

"You know I'm right." Lucy sighed the way she might if she was taking care of a petulant child, and stepped closer to Draco, until she stood sideways in front of him, showing her neck provocatively. "You'll never be comfortable biting anyone else, not compared to the way you feel when you take his blood, but at the same time, you know he'll never willingly yield to you, and that means that you—"

A shrill scream cut through the smokescreen. Draco bunched all his muscles in different positions again, to keep himself from trying uselessly to burst out and rescue Harry.

But then he noticed that Lucy had spun around and was staring apprehensively towards the spell, her face paler than loss of blood could account for.

Something's gone wrong for her, too, Draco thought, and his predator's confidence surged back in waves. If handling Harry is difficult for me, when I have a right to him legitimated by instinct, what made her think it was going to be easy for her mistress?

"Do scream," the Collector urged Harry, as she used a spell that moved down his body, pinching and biting large flaps of skin in uncomfortable places. "This is for science." She leaned back in a chair, a notebook and pen on her lap, her eyes bright and attentive.

Harry clenched his jaw and refused to give her the satisfaction. He had endured worse pain than this. In fact, the penetration of vampire fangs into his body was worse in one way. There, his disgust at the thought of giving up his blood to the beasts was so strong that it enhanced the pain.

"I am disappointed so far," the Collector said, and stood, prowling around him in a circle. Harry hung upright this time, presumably because the Collector was worried about him fainting if his head pointed at the ground, but still in an invisible net. The pinches and bites intensified as she drew nearer, and Harry squirmed in pure reaction. The Collector paused and wrote something down in her notebook, then regarded him with a disapproving gaze. "The greatest vampire hunters have empathy for us. They can imagine themselves in our position. They have something of a liking for causing pain. And they retain a fondness for their victims, a wish to remember them. You have none of those traits. I cannot fathom how you became so successful."

Harry stayed silent and kept his gaze fixed on the Collector's neck and shoulder, without looking into her eyes. There was the chance she would be able to read his mind if he did that, even though he was immune to the thrall. It would be just his luck that the blending of vampire and human magic gave her some kind of instinctive Legilimency.

Then the Collector smiled and shook her head. "Ah, well. Since I cannot fathom it on my first guess, I shall simply have to conduct more detailed tests."

She waved her hand, and the pinching and biting stopped. Harry had time to draw exactly one breath of relief before a searing pain began to cross his shoulder blades.

It was like being pressed against a heated iron. Harry closed his eyes and tried to squirm away from it. That didn't work. He tried to keep his screams inside. That didn't work. A moment later he cried out and bowed his head.

The pain stopped at once. Harry heard the busy scribbling of the Collector's pen in her notebook. "Not only does he not like causing pain to us, he doesn't have a very high pain threshold," she remarked to her invisible audience. "More and more unusual. I find myself highly intrigued by this subject."

Harry did his best to soothe the trembling in his muscles and bury his instinctive flinch away from the Collector when she prowled closer again. His brain literally ached with the longing to use one of his body-buried weapons, but there was a reason he had never used one of them against a vampire. They should be saved for the last extremity, and he was not sure this was it.

The Collector's hand slid along his face, nails so sharp that Harry did not realize they had opened cuts until he felt the soft trickle of his blood down the side of his neck. The Collector groaned and then leaned in, snaking her tongue out. Harry shuddered. This was pure greed, since of course Lucy would taste best to her and she had drunk enough from Lucy to hold both Harry and Malfoy prisoner effortlessly.

And then he realized, as her tongue licked along his neck and her fangs brushed against his cheek like the caress of a lover, that there might be other reasons to use his long-buried weapons than the last extremity. When he had a high chance of killing a dangerous vampire, for instance, perhaps the most dangerous he had ever faced.

He concentrated and murmured the command word. Then he waited. The Collector was snuffling and licking and making grumbling noises. By now, one hand had locked in his hair, though with the magical net she had no need of that to hold his head still. She was moving closer. Her fangs slid into one of the cuts. Harry held his breath. Her absorbing his blood through one of her hollow fangs would be the most effective method, as the fangs were adapted for the most direct carrying of liquid.

Then the Collector screamed and spasmed. Her hands dug into his hair and body instead of flinging her away, however, and Harry knew his weapon was working. He laughed without sound, and swayed in the net as the Collector convulsed again.

He'd gone to a Healer who'd been turned away from St. Mungo's to receive this weapon. The Healer had worked with the Death Eaters, and he was nervous enough about the threat of exposure—and greedy enough for Harry's money—to do exactly as Harry asked. When he willed, Harry could make his blood become poisonous to vampires in the same way that strychnine was poisonous to humans. And strychnine death was debilitating and painful.

He'd never used it before, because he'd mostly fought nests, and there was no point in killing only the vampire drinking from him when he would have another dozen or sixty to deal with in moments. But he thought the Collector was alone except for Lucy, and the sharp cries emerging from her lips were worth all the pain he had suffered so far.

She's going to die, he thought as her fangs pulled at his blood again, and then she can't threaten anyone else. It would be worth it to die of blood loss just to watch that happen. She's the most dangerous vampire I've ever met, even if she doesn't lead a nest.

Then the spell that had been protecting the alcove blew apart like the smoke that it resembled, and Lucy dashed in, her eyes frantic. She grabbed the Collector and pulled her fangs free of Harry with a strength that no human should possess. Harry blinked dazedly, a vague memory from the first time he had met Malfoy as a vampire coming back to him. He had said that he and Harry could be as gods. Presumably that meant some of the vampire powers would be granted to Harry, as well as some of the wizard magic granted to Malfoy.

But then Lucy had steered the Collector's fangs into place against her neck, and the Collector was sucking hungrily, and already her convulsions had stopped and her limbs had coiled of their own free will around Lucy's waist. Lucy ran her hands down the Collector's hair and murmured endearments.

Harry concentrated hard, and murmured the other command word, the one that rendered his blood non-venomous again. Too much of the poison circulating through his veins, and he could grow as sick as a vampire. And the blood wouldn't clot until he spoke the second command word, either, because it was meant to flow freely and temptingly for any predator in the room. Harry had no intention of dying if his death wouldn't kill a vampire.

The Collector gave a deep sigh several minutes later and stepped away from Lucy, wiping her mouth. Her face had grown sharper and more alive than it had been since Harry first saw her. He curled his lip. There's another excellent reason not to give Malfoy any of my blood. I have no desire to improve his looks.

Lucy, meanwhile, drooped in her arms, a drizzle of red down the front of her white dress. The Collector stroked her hair the way Lucy had stroked hers and nuzzled gently into the corner of her neck. It was a disgusting parody of a perfect lovers' embrace. Harry rolled his eyes.

The Collector looked up then, and her mouth and fangs were vivid with the blood, and she unhinged her jaw like a snake so that Harry could see further down her throat. Her voice was deep, relentless, rasping.

"I find myself uninterested in starting a collection of vampire hunters," said the monstrous thing that had replaced a human-looking woman. Harry gazed back as calmly as he could. He had expected this. It was one reason he had never allowed himself to be fooled by a vampire's exterior appearance in the way that so many people in the Ministry were. They seemed to assume it must be human if it looked human. "I shall introduce you to one of my other collections instead."

Draco caught his breath with relief when Harry floated out of the alcove unharmed, but then he saw the bloody claw marks on his neck and shrieked with rage. The tingling ache spread through his fangs again, and he wondered if the Collector or Lucy had cast a spell on him that would render his prime ability—to suck blood from Harry and gain strength that way—useless if he did escape.

Harry gave him a scornful glance. Draco quieted. He did not want to look weak in front of his Long-Desired.

"Now," said the Collector, and halted in the middle of the room, turning so that her robe flared behind her and she could stare at both of them. Her voice was deeper than Draco had ever made his in imitation of Caspar's. "I will introduce you to another of my collections. Your Long-Desired—" and here she glared at Draco "—had the temerity to hurt me. I would have expected you to control him better."

Draco let a faint smile play over his lips. "And why should I wish to do that?" he asked. "You were trying to hurt him. I'm extremely pleased that he fought back, in fact." If only to keep you from taking the blood that's mine.

The Collector's eyes widened, and went on widening. Draco looked back, and showed his fangs when the eyes looked as if they would fall out of her head. For a moment, an exquisite tension hummed between them, the kind of tension that Draco only ever felt with another master vampire. He waited for her to cast aside the drooping girl she held in her arms and attack. His fangs lengthened and his fingers curved into claws as he waited. At the moment, it hardly seemed to matter that he was held in a net. He was still angry enough to defeat her.

But then the Collector shook her head and said, "I was wrong to treat you so cavalierly, I see that now." A sharp wag of her wrist made Draco's net float after her as well.

Draco took the opportunity to examine Harry. He could smell burned human flesh, and see bruises, though besides the scratches on his jaw, already clotting, he couldn't see any open wounds. He growled nonetheless, and turned his head towards Harry, darting his tongue out to lap at the scent of the blood. "Where else are you hurt?" he asked.

Harry looked at him with a blank expression. "I fail to see how that can be of interest to you."

Draco started to respond, but then their nets jerked to a stop and left them swaying sharply. The Collector laughed, but Draco couldn't be sure if it was at them or in response to something that the faintly stirring Lucy had said. Then she gestured, and one of the windows in the tower spiraled wide. A silvery portal shimmered into being beyond that. Draco recognized it as modified wizardspace. The Collector was opening a door that hadn't existed a moment before into a place that had existed, but was unreachable until then.

I want to be able to do that. And I will, if only Harry is not so stubborn.

"Enjoy yourselves," said the Collector, and then gestured again. The nets containing both Draco and Harry soared forwards, through the door.

And they were falling through space, and Draco could hear nothing save the soft, hoarse breathing of his Long-Desired, and the beating of his heart.

Chapter 6

Harry twisted in his net, trying to soften the blow. He knew they were falling, and though so far they had plummeted through darkness for what felt like ten minutes with no interruption, he knew there must eventually be a landing. He had no idea if the landing would be stone, or water, or something else. But he was determined to prepare for if he could.

"Potter," Malfoy whispered.

Harry didn't bother listening, because he knew the words would begin another plea for his blood. He opened his eyes instead and peered down into the darkness beneath them. There was no light, though, and he couldn't make anything out. He hissed beneath his breath in frustration and muttered a Relaxing Charm that he hoped he had mastered enough to perform wandlessly. If he hit the floor limp instead of tense, he stood less chance of shattering his bones.


Harry ignored that, too. Malfoy was a vampire. If he hit and broke a limb, then he could will it to knit back together. Maybe not before morning, but Harry doubted that the Collector wanted to kill Malfoy, anyway. Another vampire would be useful to her in a way that a merely mortal vampire hunter wouldn't.

"I hear hissing, Potter," Malfoy snapped, "and I'll say that even if I you continue to act as if I'm not here."

"Too bad," Harry mocked him lightly, though he did open his eyes and peer into the darkness to try and find the source of the hissing. "I was about to let you have some of my blood until you interrupted my meditation."

A deep sniff, and then Malfoy's voice came again, full of confident superiority. "You're lying, Potter."

"So you want to believe," Harry murmured, "when in reality this wind we're traveling through is blowing away any trace of a scent you can smell on me."

A hesitation, and then the sound of another deep sniff. Harry heard the first hissing in that moment, so he didn't see any need to pay attention to an obsessed vampire's conversation.

The hissing made patterns over and around itself, and Harry wondered for a moment if the Collector did have her own nest, but imprisoned in wizardspace. Perhaps she intended for them to kill Harry. Then he would be a slave to every one of her spawn, a mindless creature fit only for death. Harry grimaced. He hated the idea that he might have to rely on Malfoy to save him in such a situation.

But then he realized exactly what patterns the hissing made, and he could have laughed in relief—except that they were still falling, and there was no guarantee they would survive the fall even if they survived the collection that was awaiting them at the bottom.

Still, it would be best to reassure Malfoy so that he wouldn't strike out blindly when they landed. "Malfoy," he said, "that's—"

And then they landed.

Harry knew, intellectually, that the jolt that ran through all his bones should have been much stronger, enough to smash his skull and penetrate his lungs with fragments of his ribs. But, bodily, all he knew was that he wasn't in pain. He lay on a moving bed, a rising and heaving and hissing and living bed. Something traveled across his cheek, a light tickle that Harry recognized as a forked tongue. Other people might have recoiled in disgust, but he was only relieved that it wasn't a vampire's tongue.

"Hello, my brothers," he said in Parseltongue. "It has been a long time since I have spoken to one of you, but I have not forgotten the language that binds us together."

There was an electric silence, and then a convulsive movement ran through the snakes. Harry felt them writhe across his limbs, holding them down and still as the magical net could no longer do; the net had vanished the moment the snakes' scales touched their bodies. The snakes were small, slim, with none of the crushing power that Harry would expect of a constrictor. Venomous, then. He couldn't see them, and he didn't know if he would have been able to tell what kind they were even if he could, but he doubted that the Collector would make it her business to set them in the middle of a pit of harmless snakes.

It was a better chance of survival than Harry had believed they had half a minute ago. He hissed again. "Will you not tell me what you are? What is your proud name? And why are you here, serving a predator who is inferior in killing power to you?"

Draco shivered as the Parseltongue crept over him. It didn't have the inherent strangeness for him that it had possessed when he was human; he could make noises that sounded exactly like that if he wanted, or worse. But he still couldn't understand what Harry was saying, and that infuriated him. He had the right to hear his Long-Desired's every word, to absorb the pulse of his breath and the pounding of his heart, if that was what he wanted.

And he could see in the dark, as Harry could not.

He wondered what Harry would say if he knew that they were in a pit full of kraits.

Draco had studied the snakes extensively when he was still mortal; their venom was an ingredient in all sorts of poisons, up to sixteen times more potent than a cobra's. And like vampires, they had hollow fangs through which venom could travel—though their bites would hardly soothe their victims.

Kraits were temperamental, Professor Snape had taught him. Draco was not entirely sure that Harry could persuade them not to bite him.

And Draco didn't know what exactly Harry was saying, whether he might accidentally give insult or not, and that maddened him further.

Once again, he had the instinct to help his Long-Desired, and he was being balked. He growled and threw his muscle force against the magical net—

Only to find out that the magical net had vanished, and it was snakes who were holding him now. They coiled around his wrists and ankles, achieving by the sheer weight of numbers what strength would not have allowed them to. Draco hissed at them threateningly, and received a number of hisses back, which might have meant anything. But they didn't sink their fangs into him, proving that they could at least smell the difference between a vampire and a human.

"Do you mind, Malfoy?" Harry demanded, sounding haughty. Draco burned to hold Harry trapped against him and see that haughtiness turn into acceptance of his physical power. Thalia, one of the master vampires who had made him, had taught him once that the bite was not the only means of soothing a victim; many humans had an innate longing to be taken care of and looked after. When they found they couldn't escape, they decided they might as well lie back and enjoy it. It would be my misfortune to have chosen a Long-Desired without a trace of that longing. "I'm trying to negotiate our release here."

"But you might insult them!" Draco snapped. "They're kraits. Famous for being quick to bite, and deadly when they do."

"Then that proves I ought not to ignore them," Harry said, and returned to his hissing. Draco sagged in the grip of his captors, warned, as a lithe body twisted past his ear, that they might take out their anger on Harry instead of him. And it was true that, whilst he was immune to many kinds of poison now, having their fangs enter his bloodstream could still be extremely unpleasant.

So he had to lie there, helpless and dependent on someone he didn't trust.

It was horrible.

And no, he told a traitorous thought of his, Harry has never felt this way.

Kraits. Well, yes, that does explain some things.

These were the snakes with the worst case of pride Harry had ever encountered. When he called them vipers, they corrected him and told him they were higher than that. "Cobras" produced only a scornful hiss. And then he insisted that they were brothers, predators traveling the same path, and they brought one that felt about six feet long to coil about his neck and hiss directly into his ear.

"Foolish leg-owner. We are the kings of pain, the kings of cruelty and death. None can survive our bite. It is more than mere protection for ourselves; it lays even those who might crush us with their bodies, like you, out suffering. And you wish to claim that you are our brother? You smell male, and that is the only seed of your claim that can be admitted as truth. Retract the statement, or we will bite you."

"I hunt vampires," Harry said, "like the one who threw us here." He had been about to say "like the one who confined you here," but the kraits might take it badly if he implied they were prisoners. He was probably lucky they had ignored his earlier comment about them serving someone else. "Beasts with fangs, who also cause cruelty and death because they make leg-owners serve them." The kraits knew about service; he heard a single hiss surge from one end of the pit to the other. "I have killed over a hundred of them. Perhaps I am not your brother, but I am a cousin, at least."

The hissing calmed a bit, and the snake around his neck tightened thoughtfully. Harry could still breathe, however, and in fact he was getting more air than he had when some vampires clutched him by the throat in the past. He lay still and waited for them to consider whatever it was they were thinking about.

"Give us details of your kills," said the krait around his neck at last, in a bloodthirsty tone.

Harry smiled. The battle with Caspar's nest was still fresh in his mind, if only because of all the problems he'd been having with Malfoy. "The last battle was against sixty vampires," he said. "The most powerful nest leader I'd ever faced. I let him believe that he had conquered me, because nothing is better than lying in wait and forcing your enemy to trip over his own pride."

A chorus of rustling laughter answered him. The kraits were exchanging tales, so fast that Harry was having trouble understanding their "dialect" of Parseltongue, which remembered times they had struck from ambush. Some of them under Harry shifted closer, still binding his wrists, but altering their position so that they could listen more easily.

"He began to drink my blood, thinking that he had enthralled me. The vampires can often hypnotize humans the way that you can hypnotize a bird," he added. The snake around his neck licked approval up the side of his throat. "And then I summoned a river that rushed through the cavern and obeyed my will to drown them."

"What happens when a vampire is drowned?" asked a small krait who was lying on the left side of his arm. Harry could feel its body along one of his major veins, and his eyelids fluttered in response. He had never felt so drugged by danger, so isolated on the crest of a roaring wave of adrenaline.

"Their body literally tears apart and shreds," Harry said, "the way a mouse's body would if you bit into it and tore it apart with your fangs."

"Delicious detail," sighed the small krait.

"The nest leader survived the onslaught of the water," Harry continued, "and that meant I had to…"

Draco bared his fangs in agitation. He hated lying here whilst Harry hissed in satisfaction to the kraits. He still couldn't understand a single word, and Harry still hadn't offered to turn to him and translate.

And worse, he was getting hungry.

The scent of Harry's body and blood called to him across such a small space that Draco's fingers were already twitching and his fangs had lengthened in reaction. He was afraid that he would be unable to prevent himself from lunging, against the increased pressure of the snakes' hold, and biting soon, no matter what.

Perhaps there's a small chance I can persuade him rationally, Draco thought, and waited until he heard a pause in the hissing. Maybe the negotiations were over.

"Harry," he said quietly. "I might be able to climb out of here, lifting you on my back, if you grant me some blood."

"I knew you were going to say that, Malfoy," Harry said, not even bothering to look at him. He was glancing at the snakes around his neck and wrists instead, as if they were human and deserved the blessing of his eye contact. "And the answer is no. You've already had far more of me than you should."

Draco shut his eyes. The rage, the pride, the refusal to accept that his Long-Desired wanted so little to do with him…all of them were encouraging him to simply hurl himself against the snakes and scatter them. He could do that, his pride whispered. He was a vampire, stronger and faster and more magical than any mere wizard. He could do that, and then his fangs would be in Harry's neck, and everything would be all right.

But the weight of the snakes pressing down on him argued otherwise, and, when he thought about it, so did one of the new instincts that had come to him when he realized that Harry was his Long-Desired.

Is it worth it to permanently alienate him, the way you will if you bite him without his permission? You want to protect him. That means protecting him even from the less important things you do. You want his blood, but it will ensure that he goes mad in his efforts to escape you. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Draco took a deep breath, feeling as if he were choking on patience, and waited until there was another break in the hissing. Harry seemed to have paused in the story or negotiations, whichever it was, that he was offering to the snakes. The kraits shifted rapidly back and forth, and then the bonds on Draco's limbs abruptly collapsed. Harry sat up, too, rubbing his neck where the snake had squeezed and smiling triumphantly.

"Harry," Draco said.

A tilt of his head showed he was listening, but that was all. Still, Draco took heart. Harry had his own instincts. If he didn't, then he would have no reason to listen to Draco at all, or not try to kill him right here and now.

"You have wandless magic strong enough to hurt me if I hurt you," Draco said. "I know that. Did you know that it's much easier to shatter a vampire's fangs than they'd have you believe? Direct the magic against the place where the fangs join the roof of my mouth. That's all you have to do. Do that if you believe I've taken too much blood. I'm only asking for enough to climb out of this pit, and nothing more."

Harry turned his head and stared at him. Draco felt as if he were growing a bit stronger under his Long-Desired's attention—and the stare taught him something else. He'd spoken in a hurried manner, trying desperately to get all the words out before Harry could interrupt him. That seemed to impress Harry more than the low, compelling, seductive tone Draco had first thought to use.

"You could be lying, Malfoy," he said. The distrust leaking away from him made Draco want to sneeze.

"I could be, but I'm not," he said. He had felt the fragility in his fangs for himself, and he had seen Caspar break someone's fangs that way, when the vampire had tried to steal his kill.

"Then let me have some proof," snarled Harry, and raised his hand. The kraits immediately writhed around him in agitation.

"No," Draco said, and ducked his head out of the way. "I need both my fangs, now and for the future. There's a limit to how far I'm willing to compromise when I haven't hurt you."

A tense silence stretched between them. Draco stared into the darkness, studying the walls of the pit, hoping that he could prove his claims if Harry decided to grant him the blood after all. To his relief, they were old and crumbling stone, probably built at the same time as the rest of the tower. He was convinced this was part of the tower that the Collector had managed to isolate from the rest, at the bottom of an enormously long wizardspace.

"All right," Harry said at last, his words sounding as if he'd forced them through an enormous block of phlegm behind his teeth.

Draco turned to him, his heart contracting faster than it needed to simply to keep his blood from stagnating. "What made you agree?" he whispered, and began to crawl towards Harry across the kraits. They shifted uneasily, but refrained from attacking him.

"Because I want to hurt you." Harry's eyes were wide, exquisite, full of that dark joy Draco had been before. "Because I live for nothing but causing vampires pain, in an attempt to make up for the pain they've caused me." He laughed, and there was nothing sane about the sound. "You must have realized that by now."

"I've realized it," Draco said quietly, and arranged himself behind Harry, drawing Harry backwards so that his head rested on Draco's shoulder. "And I wish there was something I could do to relieve your suffering."

Harry snorted and rolled his eyes. "Turn back time and give Ginny to me alive. And since all the Time-Turners in Britain were destroyed, and I saw it happen…" He shrugged flippantly.

"I know," Draco whispered, stroking his hair away from his neck. He saw the puncture marks he'd caused before; they would always draw his gaze, the same way Harry's form would have in a room crowded with a hundred mortals. He felt very slow at the moment, very much the opposite of the bright, sharp self that he usually was around Harry. It took him a moment to realize that it was compassion that made the difference. "I know."

He sank his fangs into the puncture, and shivered all over as the blood flooded them. Then the blood rose into his body, and he was lost. He circled Harry's shoulders with his arm, tugging him sideways by instinct, trying to make him as comfortable as possible so that he would have less incentive to break free.

Almost at once, however, Harry stiffened and gasped. Draco paused in his sucking; the blood pooled beneath his fangs and flowed down onto Harry's shoulder in consequence. Don't tell me that I have to keep the bargain and pull out immediately.

"You—you did something." Harry's voice was high and shrill, with fear, Draco realized incredulously. "What did you do? You must have done something!"

Draco blinked, the sheer strangeness of the declaration bringing him back to rationality. "What's wrong? If you need me to pull out—"

And Harry suddenly hissed and straightened, as if he were flinging off a friendly hand that Draco had tried to lay on him. "No," he said. "I can take whatever you can give me. And I don't care what you did to your fangs, I'll continue."

Draco might have remained still and tried to question him further, but the permission was too much for him. He moaned and bit down, his free hand cradling Harry's head and stroking through his hair.

Harry held himself stiff against the bite, though doing so made it hurt more. But that was the problem; he wanted it to hurt. He didn't want to experience what he first had when Malfoy bit into him.

Against all his experience, against everything that he knew about himself and believed possible, the bite had injected pleasure.

It wasn't the extreme sensation Harry had seen roll through the minds of enthralled humans. It was more like the minor twitches he'd seen when someone naturally immune to the thrall reacted to the venom on the fangs.

But it was there, a sharp burn that ran down his arms and made him squirm in reaction, his cheeks flushing. He could feel his cock stiffening, which was the first time it'd done so since Ginny's death without his thinking of her.

It was—it was—

He could see why some humans existed who would trade the whole world for a vampire bite. Because the sucking increased in pleasure as Malfoy went on, and Harry felt more and more tense and coiled all the time, as if he were on the verge of an orgasm. But better. Because this feeling simply went on rising and rising, with no crest.

Malfoy's hand slid up and down his back, probably trying to soothe him. Heat dragged everywhere he touched, and a perilous twitch, like a gentle brush of a hand that threatened to turn into a tickle.

"Stop," Harry whispered at last. He couldn't take more of this, because he wanted more. He'd already let it go on longer than he should have, lulled away by the warmth in his body from thinking about the monster sucking on his neck.

Malfoy let him go with a long lick. Harry shuddered, and cried out before he could stop himself. Malfoy paused, and then lowered his head and sniffed close to Harry's skin, as if he couldn't believe what he was smelling.

"That wasn't a cry of pain," he said. His voice was deep, rustling like the scales of the snakes around them. He turned Harry to face him, tracing the half-clotted puncture wounds with a finger. Harry had to shut his eyes.

"You did something to your fangs," he said when he could talk. "You had to have smeared something on them—performed some spell—"

"Don't you think, if that was possible, someone would have done it long ago, to drain you?" whispered Malfoy. "No one else could have you as a Long-Desired, but they could try to spare their lives." He sounded stunned, and smug, and pleased. "No, I felt an itching in my fangs earlier. I thought the Collector had cast some spell. But now I think it was the venom altering on its own."

Harry forced his eyes open. He'd endured seeing Ginny torn apart in front of him. He could endure the betrayal of his own body. "Don't be ridiculous, Malfoy. That doesn't happen."

"It might." Malfoy's voice was echoing from the pit in a new way, which made Harry wish he'd reached out already to break one of the bastard's fangs with his magic. "I read about this. The Long-Desired bond asserts itself with new instincts, and it will do anything to come to fruition. Anything, Harry. Including, perhaps, altering my venom to make it acceptable to you. I don't know if it could do anything about the thrall, but—"

Harry cut him off brutally. Malfoy's voice was thick with excitement, and it disgusted him. "The single most effective way for the bond to happen would be if it gave me instincts, too," he said. "And obviously that hasn't happened. So the other things can't be real."

Malfoy paused. Then he said gently, "The instincts are in your head, too. The books said that. Why do you think you haven't killed me yet? Why did you agree to give me your blood when it would have been anathema to you with any other vampire? Why—"

"You're lying," Harry said. Desperation blew through him like a winter wind. "You're lying."

"I'm not." Malfoy didn't sound offended, just calm and reasonable, and that was as impossible as the venom changing and the fact that he had pulled back when Harry asked him to and—and all the rest of it, Harry thought, shaking with reaction. "I admit I didn't tell you about the instincts at first because I wanted them to have a chance to work, to make you easier to seduce. But—"

"Then I can't trust you now," Harry said, and surged to his feet, backing away. The kraits shifted away from his heels. "You're lying about my having those instincts."

"Why would you believe that I'm telling the truth about concealing the truth, but not about this?" Malfoy clucked his tongue, with a hollow sound where it tapped against the fangs. "Why trust me at all?"

Harry wrapped his arms around his body and turned away. He no longer had an erection, but the fact that he'd had one at all shocked and sickened him. "We won't speak of this again," he said.

"I want you to live," Malfoy said. "And not only to produce life for me. Because you're strong—stronger than you think you are. You don't have to stop living because your lover did." There was more thickness in his voice for a moment, which sounded like jealousy, but he paused, and it wasn't there when he went on. "I want to see you laughing again, and about something else other than death. I want to see you in the company of your friends without feeling you have to desert them for a hunt. I want to see you relaxed. I want to see you still employed as an Auror. I—"

"You don't," Harry said. "Beasts don't want things like that. Vampires can't want things like that."

"I told you," Malfoy said, and his voice was still soft and gentle, "the bond will do whatever it must to happen. Including softening me towards you. Including making me capable of love."

Harry shook his head. "We're not going to discuss this," he said, so flatly that Malfoy caught his breath. "Take me up the wall."

Malfoy said nothing, but simply crouched like a beast of burden—which is all he's fit for, Harry thought savagely—and let Harry scramble onto his back. Harry linked his arms together around the vampire's neck and said, "Climb."

"We'll have to talk about this," Malfoy said. His voice had too many echoes, of need and happiness and comfort and other things Harry had left behind.

"Not now," Harry snapped.

"Then we should talk about how we'll defeat the Collector."

"Not now."

Malfoy climbed in silence. Harry let his head dangle against Malfoy's back and heard his own heart beating, roaring, filling his ears like the thump of it during the moments of pleasure at Malfoy's fangs.

Never had he wished so strongly that that heartbeat had stopped when Ginny's did.

Chapter 7

Perhaps Harry didn't intend to think about what had changed in the bond between them. But as Draco climbed, in the intense silence that Harry seemed to prefer, and because it took much longer to climb the distance than it had taken them to fall, he thought of little else.

He was, mainly, full of wonder. The bond had acted in a way that he never thought it could, and that was a clearer signal than any simple attraction that Harry was his Long-Desired. It had surmounted the problem Draco had considered most intractable: the fact that he could not give pleasure. Pleasure was so much of what held Lucy and the Collector together, evidently, that Draco had begun to despair.

But now…

Now, I am willing to follow my instincts. If my instincts tell me to do something counter-productive, then it might still be good if I do it after careful consideration. I'll ask more often for Harry to let me bite him. He'll rationalize the choice however he likes, but he'll do it, and slowly he'll come to crave that pleasure and to like the bite for its own sake and not because of the power that it gives him.

The power.

Draco licked his fangs. He could feel the magic sizzling through him like a tame lightning bolt, crackling up and down inside his muscles. He didn't know yet what he wanted to do with it; one image dissolved almost as soon as it began, giving the magic nowhere to travel. But he would know when they began to fight the Collector.

They were near the top now; Draco could tell by the silently surging power that battered him like waves near the seashore, which he'd noticed when the Collector sent them through the portal into wizardspace. To get out, they would need to use a small amount of the magic that spread through his body. Finite doses, Draco reminded himself. And you need to consult with Harry, or he's likely to resist when he feels you dragging on his magic.

"Harry," he said gently, trying to imagine the tone that his girlfriend would have used to console him after a hard Auror case.

Harry's arms started to tighten around his neck, and then stopped. Draco approved. Even in the midst of the sulks, Harry remembered that it was impossible for a human with merely mortal strength to strangle a vampire, who could contort his muscles into protective postures. "What, Malfoy?" he asked.

"There's a gate here we need to open," Draco said. "We can't do it without using up all the magic that I have access to right now. So I'll need to know what you know about portals, and their weak points."

He paused so that Harry could appreciate what he hadn't said: that Harry would have to give him more magic with more blood.

Harry did nothing but breathe for long, silent moments. Draco continued to wait. His internal sense of time told him it was about three in the morning, and that he still had a few hours before the sun rose. He was confident he was more patient than Harry.

"Gates usually have a weak point on the left or right side," Harry whispered at last. Draco had the sense that he was trying to keep all emotion out of his voice—foolish when Draco could smell him and knew that he was worried and hated himself for the way he'd responded. "I don't know which side it's more likely to be on, and it's small. I can't tell you anything more than that."

Draco nodded and looked up in the direction of the waves. "I'll spread the magic as a detecting mist across the gate," he said. "Then I'll tell it to coalesce into a ball and shine when it finds a weak point."

Harry shifted, the sharp smell of incredulity entering his scent before he spoke again, his voice as willfully blank as before. "There's no spell like that, Malfoy."

"The good thing about the magic shared between vampire and wizard," Draco said, matching his tone, "is that it's only limited by the imagination. Of course, a wizard's imagination could be confined to traditional spells. Mine isn't, in part because of the life I've led since you saw me last."

"It's not life," Harry muttered, but he kept quiet as Draco released the magic above them and told it what he wanted.

The magic spread invisible tendrils that Draco could feel in much the same way he would have felt a wind blowing through his hair. Draco half-closed his eyes and did his best to force them to be ready and adjust to light. He didn't want to be blinded when the spell began to shine.

A moment later, it did, concentrated on the left side of the gate. Draco clucked his tongue against his fangs in appreciation, and suffered a momentary urge to use the magic to blast the gate open. After all, there was more blood where what he drank came from, and the Collector was more likely to be overwhelmed by a powerful—

Draco shook his head and smiled wryly. Harry would say that I couldn't change my nature. I still want to impress. And if impressing my Long-Desired would assist me in courting him, maybe I'd even try. But he's more likely to be suspicious if I do something spectacular, because then he'll think I had strength I was keeping back.

"All right," he whispered, and turned his head in the golden glow to look at Harry. "I have the weak point. Do you want to strike it?"

Harry stared at him in silence, his jaw set and his expression so hostile that Draco would have been offended two nights ago. But now he stared calmly back, because he understood Harry too well. Harry was disgusted by his body's betrayal, as he saw it, and that outweighed anything a vampire could do to him.

Finally, Harry gave his head a tense little nod and unwound one arm from Draco's neck to hold a hand towards the gate. Draco held back the words that he wanted to say: that Harry was still limited by conventional spellcasting and could have used the magic without the gesture. Instead, he focused on Harry's weight and the erratic sound of his heart. The mere closeness of his Long-Desired could lull him into a trance, and of course he could not let that continue for long minutes, but it was relaxing if he permitted himself a moment of it.

Harry muttered something under his breath that Draco didn't try to hear, and the gate shuddered above them and then broke like a piece of rotten cloth, letting down starlight that seemed pale against the shine of the magic—

And then the Collector's hand struck through the opening and seized Harry's hair, hauling him upwards. Draco didn't have the time or the chance to think before he followed, lithe as a krait.

Harry let himself lie limp and coiled as the Collector hauled him around like a sack of potatoes. He probably couldn't lie to her with his scent, but he pushed his fear to the forefront of his mind.

She wasn't in the pit. She won't know that I'm afraid of Draco and myself, not her. And she's arrogant enough to assume that every emotion I feel must have some reference to her.

"So wonderful," the Collector cooed near his ear. If he hadn't been listening hard for every sound in the room, Harry wouldn't have heard Draco's growl. He probably doesn't like someone else's fangs so near his source of food, Harry thought sarcastically. "You survived. I will know how that happened. Perhaps you are unique after all, and deserve to become part of a collection, though not a collection of vampire hunters."

She thrust him into the air above her head. Harry held himself limp still, though it was harder when he thought she might fling him into something. But instead, a cold link of chain slithered over his wrist.

No! They had little chance against the Collector, but a smaller one still if he allowed her to imprison him.

Without even thinking, he shoved out violently against her grip, and scolded himself for a fool in the next moment. Of course he wouldn't be able to break a vampire's hold—

And then her hands vanished, and Harry rolled on the floor, no more hurt by that than he had been by their landing on the kraits. He understood as he scrambled to his feet and called for his wand. He must have used some of the magic that flowed between him and Malfoy to cushion himself.

Damn it! We meant to use that for something else. And if I've already wielded most of it, then—

Then I need to use another of my body-based weapons, that's all. Harry had no intention of letting Malfoy bite him for the rest of eternity.

"Better and better," said the Collector, stalking towards him. Her eyes were bright enough to look like pieces of stars detached and shoved into her head. Harry backed up, not daring to take his gaze off her, but wondering where Lucy was. He hadn't had the chance to look around the room, either. "Not only have you managed to survive my kraits, but you have managed to renew the bond with one another. Or else would you have that strength? I think not." In the middle of her words, she suddenly shot out an arm, which lengthened as it grew towards Harry. Her nails curved into shining claws, and Harry could see with perfect clarity the damage she intended to inflict on him in his mind.

He had no intention of letting that happen, of course. He took a neat step forwards and murmured the command word for another weapon.

His skin shimmered and then parted painlessly in several places. Out came glittering spikes that matched the Collector's fingernails in length and glassiness. And they were better weapons in at least one way. Harry smiled serenely at her and waited.

The Collector tried to retract her arm, but it suddenly vibrated and shot forwards instead. The spikes had been enchanted to act like magnets with vampire flesh only.

Harry laughed as he whirled; it was more effective to catch her hand between several spikes than simply to impale it. The Collector shrieked as her fingers shredded off and flew in different directions. The claws, still momentarily under her control after coming loose, tried to scramble towards Harry's throat, but he whispered a second word, and the spikes rose higher and bristled more sharply. The claws ripped apart.

The Collector's eyes, if anything, grew brighter. "I shall have to keep you," she said. "And there is no better fate to inflict on you than to turn you." She tapped one of her remaining fingers on the other hand against her lips. "Now, I wonder, what is the source of your antipathy to vampires?"

Harry snarled in spite of himself, and the Collector nodded. "I thought so," she murmured. "It was one incident. Vampires destroyed someone you love? That is the case with most hunters. Few become our enemies by chance, and fewer still by choice."

She desecrates Ginny's memory simply by mentioning her. Harry moved a few steps forwards, calling out for his wand in his mind, trying to think of what the most painful spell would be for destroying the Collector—

And then he realized again that he had forgotten how smart this pair was, as Lucy stepped in front of him and said clearly, "Legilimens inter nos."

Draco snarled as he watched the spikes pass through Harry's body. Was there ever going to be any end to the surprises about his Long-Desired?

But he tore his gaze away from Harry and leaped to a higher position on the ceiling when Lucy passed in front of him. For the moment, both the Collector and her Long-Desired were focused on Harry, as the "unique" one. That left a bit of time open for Draco to use the magic that he'd gained from Harry on them.

If he had enough magic left after Harry's stunt. It pulsed in him like the blood of an anemic patient.

Think, think. He had only a short time to do something small and powerful, and he could think of nothing. He found it hard to do anything but listen as Harry's breathing became rapid and his heartbeat ragged when Lucy cast her spell.

A heartbeat. I wonder if the magic is strong enough to influence Lucy's heart? It would be easier if she were older, or if I knew that she had some weakness there already, but—

And then a thin tendril of mist curled away from Harry's head and began to form an image in the air between Lucy and Harry, and Draco found himself as caught as Harry seemed to be, because visible in the mist was a flash of red hair.

It was Harry's She-Weasel, and she was laughing as she ran across a green field, glancing over her shoulder and calling Harry's name. Harry tore after her, so young that Draco's breath caught.

But no, he couldn't be that much younger than he was now, if the angles of his face and the brightness of his eyes were so similar to the ones he now possessed. It was more that he was innocent. The Harry who delighted in killing vampires, who had told Draco in a thick voice that he would take pleasure in hurting him, didn't yet exist.

But I think I'm about to watch the moment when he came into existence. It was dusk in the memory, red fingers of sunlight sprawling across the green grass. Draco knew he could be up and abroad at that time if he tried hard enough, and he knew that the She-Weasel had died at the fangs of one of his kind.

Harry yelled something that was lost in the wind of his running; Draco didn't think this memory was as clear as the moment when it had happened, or as it would have been if Lucy had used Legilimency on Harry to keep the memory between them. The She-Weasel came to a stop, rolled her eyes, and darted into a thicket of briars. Draco winced in spite of himself. That would be a perfect hiding place for a vampire to rest during the day, the plants thick enough to hold off sun and rain alike, and he could imagine—

Then the She-Weasel shrieked, and there was no need to imagine any longer.

Harry's face changed so abruptly that Draco would have staggered if he were still mortal. He yelled, "Ginny?" and stepped forwards.

And out came the vampire, a strong, powerful, pale master vampire, cradling Harry's Ginny in the crook of his arm. His fangs were already fastened in her throat, in her jugular vein, Draco judged expertly, in the position vampires used when they wanted to drain and so turn. Ginny was moaning, her head fallen back to give him full access, her face slack with pleasure.

Harry yelled and fumbled for his wand. The vampire grinned at him and turned lazily back in the direction of the briar patch, tearing sideways with his head. Too much skin of Ginny's throat parted, leaving a gaping wound. Draco shook his head. Even if Harry had somehow managed to rescue her from the vampire right then, she wouldn't have survived. The wound was too wide, and the blood spilled down the front of her blue dress as if she were a slaughtered pig.

Draco licked his fangs in reflexive hunger, but he had never admired butchers. It was in his heritage; Caspar and Thalia had both been delicate, careful drinkers.

Harry was screaming now, his voice so tattered it was once again impossible to tell what he was saying. He cast a fire spell; the vampire moved easily aside. And then he sighed and gave a long final suck, and dropped Ginny Weasley's unmoving, drained body at his feet.

Harry stood there looking at her. His eyes were frozen, his face was frozen, and Draco could pinpoint this as the moment that the emotions inside Harry had frozen.

He looked up. And that was the moment, as his eyes burned and flared, when a predator was born. Harry understood the vampire was a killer, someone who fed on humans. He would make himself the opposite, a human who fed on vampires.

The butcher yawned, his teeth already folding back against the roof of his mouth. His face was covered in blood, bathed in it, smeared in it. He shook his head when Harry aimed a shaking wand at him, and then turned and leaped into the air, landing hundreds of feet away, with the same grace that Draco could muster when he had fed well enough.

Harry knelt beside Ginny and stared down at her. Then he reached out and laid a hand in the sticky mess on her throat, and closed his eyes.

The mist blurred and wavered suddenly, and then Harry was standing outside in another green field, this time at noon. He had a book in the grass beside him, and Ginny's body lying on a blue blanket to match the color of her dress. Her hands had been folded on her chest, and Draco knew Harry must have done that, as she had not died that peacefully.

Unless she has risen once, and did that herself when she lay down? But Draco saw that her cheeks still held death's pallor, without the faint flush of life that would have filled them if she'd drunk.

Harry looked down at her, and Draco expected to see an expression of tenderness, but there was nothing on his face except the ashes of old grief, as if Ginny had died years ago. Then he nodded slightly and reached into a bag sitting on the grass near him that Draco had barely noticed, so focused was he on the two bodies.

Out came a stake, and Harry knelt beside Ginny's body and pressed it into place above her heart. Draco reckoned the book must have told him where to look, and warned him about the danger of the stake getting caught in the ribs. He whispered something under his breath that not even the spell was strong enough to pick up, and then began to push.

Draco watched in silence as Harry staked the woman he loved so she wouldn't rise again as a vampire, and did it less than three days after she died, or she would have risen already. There was no blood, of course, only a faint pulping sound as the stake passed through her. Then Harry raised the body and looked around it to make sure the stake had emerged from her back. It must have. He nodded and placed Ginny back on the blanket.

And then he drew a knife from the bag, and began to slice across her throat, using the wound the butcher vampire had made to begin his way. Back and forth sawed the knife, waggling up and down. Harry's face held no expression, even when he turned away to vomit into the grass. Perhaps ten minutes later, he took off her head and laid it carefully aside from the body. Draco had to admit that he'd done well for his first decapitation.

Harry stood up, backed away, and aimed his wand at the body and the blanket, away from the stake and the cleaver and the books. No matter how bitter he was, Draco thought, he was not one to waste good tools. "Cremo," he whispered.

Intense gouts of fire leaped up from the earth, wrapping the blanket and the corpse in flames. Harry shut his eyes. He flinched only once, when a thin shriek, the death cry of the new vampire which would have woken in Ginny, cut across the air.

The fire faded at last, and a large patch of ashes was left. Harry put his wand away and gathered them up by hand, though surely Levitating them would have been both cleaner and easier. But Draco was beginning to think, after watching this memory, that Harry had deliberately eschewed the easy path.

He Apparated, and reappeared next to a stream Draco didn't know. Harry whirled in place, and cast the ashes over the river. With a conjured wind, he blew them far enough apart that there was no chance of anyone gathering them, even by accident, and resurrecting his beloved as a vampire. A second, smaller shriek crossed the air. Harry closed his eyes, but if he was still capable of tears, Draco didn't see a sign of them.

The memory blurred again, and then Harry was standing over the vampire who had killed Ginny. The vampire was already half-burned and had been immersed in running water, if the black splotches covering his skin and the melted fingers were indicative. He screamed hoarsely and bucked against magical bonds Draco couldn't see.

Harry stood watching him with no expression on his face at all. Then he moved forwards, and began to burn the vampire with concentrated blasts of sunlight-flame, the same kind he'd used to cage Draco. There was nothing of the sophistication he had shown when facing Draco and Caspar and the Collector here, though. It was sheer, straightforward, brutal infliction of pain.

And the longer it went on, the more the vampire begged and pleaded for his life—and that told Draco how far gone the butcher must be, to allow his pain to overcome his arrogance—the more life and animation returned to Harry's face.

At the end, he conjured a fireball that burned the vampire to death in one long, agonizing current like lightning. And then he lay down and began to roll himself deliberately in the ashes that were left, laughing as he did so. The ashes clung like snow to his skin, and some of them began to work their way beneath it.

Draco nodded. I would not be surprised if that was the origin of his power to sense vampires and draw us to him.

Harry stood back up and tilted his head to the sky, baring his teeth like a wolf. His eyes were more alien than the starlight.

The memory faded. Both Lucy and the Collector were staring at Harry, the present-day Harry, in silence. Harry stared back at them, his face blank and his body coiled. But Draco knew the Collector could hardly have smelled more keenly than he did the pain Harry was in.

"I was wrong," the Collector said, slowly. She turned to Lucy, disregarding her missing hand entirely. "He is unique, yes, but far too dangerous to keep in any collection. I want him and his vampire taken to the Glass Room."

Lucy bowed. "My lady." Then she hesitated. "But should they not be kept separately? There is still the chance that they might break free, as they did from the kraits."

Draco crouched down and drew hard on the magic that burned between them. He was going to strike at Lucy first, and then—

But the Collector looked up, and gestured, and another invisible net snapped Draco off the wall and trapped him upside-down.

"He hates vampires," the Collector said. "No; that is too small a word for what he feels for us." She laughed aloud. "Cooperate, Lucy? I think the mortal will be rather glad when the inevitable fate for prisoners in the Glass Room comes about. The only thing he hates more than us is himself, for not being able to save her."

She sketched a little bow to Harry. "I admire your determination, especially because you rid our world of a messy feeder who would have exposed more of our kind, but your debt to your beloved was fulfilled when you found and murdered her killer, and when you prevented her from becoming a creature she loathed. Perhaps you will thank me for granting you death."

She turned away. Lucy gestured in turn, and Draco's net, and the one now holding Harry, floated after her. Draco looked at Harry.

He was silent, his face locked up tight again, and looked as if he would prefer to die that way.

I don't care, Draco thought, and settled down to wait. I must convince him otherwise. I will do whatever it takes to do so.

He bared his fangs.

Chapter 8

Harry remained kneeling on the floor of their new prison for a moment after the Collector and Lucy had dumped them there, not sure that he wanted to look up and see what awaited them. The image of Ginny dying, and dying again at his hands, resonated through his mind. Others had seen it. Others had looked at it.

The mockery he would see in Malfoy's eyes when he looked up again was not what troubled him. Others had looked at the images he had carried in his head as private memorials of Ginny. It was as bad as vampires digging up her grave and biting into her bloodless corpse, seeking another means of making her one of them.

If she had a grave.

The grief and the guilt cut at him like knives steadily sawing through his inner organs. Harry longed for death as he rarely had. He had failed her once, but he had been proud of only doing it the once. He had ensured that she was not condemned to a life of darkness, and he had done his best to prevent others from falling to her fate.

And now he had failed again. Harry shuddered. Ginny had always been a private person, with secrets from the members of her family and from Harry. Most people knew a lot about her, but no one person knew everything. How would she feel to know she had been pawed over, if not in the flesh, by vampires?


From his annoyed tone, Malfoy had already called Harry's name several times. Harry unwound himself from his curl and took a deep breath. He had to forget about the way he had failed Ginny, at least for the moment. It was possible that the vampires, with their alien mindsets and focus on food that would have done credit to a starving dog, wouldn't understand the humiliation they had inflicted on him, and on her. It wouldn't do to give them clues.

"What?" Harry snapped, and struggled to his feet. He was standing on slick glass, he realized then, and when he looked up, he realized that every wall around them was glass. He put out a hand and watched his fingers obscure some of the stars. High in the air, too. They were probably in another wizardspace, or else a section of the tower that the Collector had worked a peculiar Transfiguration on.

"I want to know the purpose of this prison." Malfoy's voice was haughty, but his eyes intense. Harry could all too easily imagine that was the way they had looked in the pit of kraits, when Malfoy—

But no, he would not think of that, either.

Harry turned his attention back to the glass, all too glad to forget about his other failure, his other crime against Ginny's memory. Thick glass, not completely transparent, on the floor, but the walls were translucent, and the ceiling so clear that Harry wouldn't have thought it was there at all except for the lack of a wind blowing in on them. And, of course, the fact that the Collector wouldn't have been stupid enough to leave them in a cage without a roof. There was always the chance that Malfoy could jump out the top and climb down the sides, even if he had to leave Harry behind.

Maybe he won't. Maybe that's why she imprisoned us together, because she knows that the Long-Desired bond is enough to keep him with me, but too weak to force me to yield to him.

Harry didn't want to think about that, either, so he stamped a few times, meditatively, on the glass floor, wondering if it would crack open and let them fall to their deaths. Was the purpose of this prison to keep them in a constant state of heightened alertness, wondering when they would die? That seemed rather simple for a vampire of the Collector's intelligence, especially when she couldn't guarantee that her prisoners would be of such a delicate temperament—

And then Harry understood, and chuckled appreciatively. He turned in the direction that he thought was east and narrowed his eyes, searching. Yes, there was a faint golden glow in the distance. When he looked above his head and let his eyes trace the angles of the room instead of simply looking at the material it was made from, he became certain. He chuckled again.

"What is it?" Malfoy demanded. He had moved closer. Harry casually stepped backwards. He would prefer to die free, on his feet, not in a vampire's embrace.

"This whole room is made of glass, Malfoy," Harry said, with a gesture around and above his head. "No shadows. And it's round, with no corners to hide in. And there are enough angles that I reckon they can act as mirrors and lenses."

"I'm aware of that." Malfoy's eyes had narrowed, too, but in suspicion rather than alertness. Harry experienced a fleeting annoyance that he couldn't die in the company of a person who was more like-minded about their surroundings, and thought the work of the Collector's brain interesting.

"Imagine what will happen when the sun rises," Harry said quietly. "No place for you to hide. No shadows to protect you. You'll be burned to death almost at once. And then, in a few hours, probably at noon, the angles of the roof will concentrate enough sunlight to fry me like an ant under a magnifying glass." He smiled a little at Malfoy's horrified expression. He hadn't known Malfoy was capable of looking at him with genuine horror. "Clever, isn't it?" he added, and sat down against a wall. "I'm glad that, if I'm going to die, it's at the hands of a vampire who's more intelligent than most of them, instead of just luckier."

Draco could imagine the death all too well, having felt a foretaste of it in the cage of sunlight fire Harry had used on him. And he could imagine what would happen a few hours later, with Harry closing his eyes as the burning beam consumed him.

The imagination of the latter hurt more.

But there is a way to avoid this.

If I can only convince him, stubborn human that he is!

Draco crouched down. That would bring him to Harry's level and perhaps make him a little less threatening. He tried to make his voice sound as sympathetic as possible. "Death isn't inevitable, you know. Do you really want to die like this, with other victims out there going unavenged? The Collector might not stop at vampire hunters. What if she decides that she wants a collection of Aurors, or your friends? What if you're interesting enough for her to follow up your life story? You're recognizable, with that scar."

Harry opened an eye and gave him an uninterested stare. "I know what you're trying to do, Malfoy. It won't work. I'm not allowing you to die with a full stomach just because you're a little hungry right now."

In actual fact, Draco was ravenous, his fangs burning against the roof of his mouth and aching to unfold. He had managed to prevent them from doing it so far only because he thought they would prejudice Harry against him.

He took a deep breath now, and filled his nostrils with Harry's scent. And that once again reminded him that he had other powers, other advantages, and he should use them. Being young as a vampire and new to his powers as a free one was no excuse.

"You're still frightened," he whispered. "You're still regretful. You wish that you could live and continue your work of killing my kind. And there is a way of doing that. You know that. I am astounded that you would refuse it." He hesitated, then played his card. What do I have to lose if he grows angry? I'll be dead in a few hours, anyway. And he's weaker than I am at the moment. "What would your Ginny say, if she knew that you gave up the chance to help more people like her?"

"You're not fit to mention her name," Harry breathed. He hadn't moved, but his scent burned with rage like bitterness set on fire. "So—you can't. And I can't help people like her except by staking them and giving them peace. If you think about it, every vampire I've killed was one more person like her who was turned and allowed to murder for a while before I ended it." He closed his eyes and relaxed against the wall as if pretending to fall asleep, as if he really thought that would fool Draco. "I've done enough. I should be able to rest now."

"It all comes back to her," Draco said. What he was doing was dangerous, but he still didn't care .His own anger had risen to match Harry's. All this survival, and I am to die at last? No. "And what kind of person was she? Bright, from the memories I saw of her. Happy. Someone committed to life."

"Malfoy." Harry meant it for a warning, but his voice was fragile.

"Would she be happy that you gave up your life for her?" Draco cocked his head to the side, a deliberately snake-like and inhuman movement that he knew Harry would find strange. He didn't care. He wouldn't let Harry ignore many things any longer, and his vampiric nature was one of them. "Not only just now, when you've said that you're content to commit suicide, but all along? You stopped living when she died. You dedicated yourself to vengeance. You've pushed away your friends. You don't care about anything but murder, and the infliction of pain. I saw that in the last memory. Would she be happy that you're a sadist now? Is that what she would have wanted to achieve with her death?"

Harry drew back his lips, once again baring his teeth as if they were fangs, and scrambled to his feet. Draco rose to match him, his eyes never wavering from Harry's face .This was the last fight. It had to be, because of time constraints if nothing else. He was going to have his Long-Desired or perish.

"No one else," Harry whispered, his voice shaking, "has ever dared to say anything like that to me—"

"They fucking should have," Draco snarled, his anger swinging for a moment against all the people who had allowed Harry to go along as he had been doing. They probably lied to themselves about "respecting" his grief. But Harry's grief had twisted and grown inwards like a disgusting toenail, and it had to be removed. "And I think I'll dare some more. If Ginny Weasley came back to earth today, could you face her with a smile and tell her that you'd been happy in the years since her death?"

Harry drew himself up and grinned, and Draco saw this was one of his barbs that would not have the effect he wanted. "Being happy would be a betrayal of her memory."

Draco narrowed his eyes. "And has her family been happy since her death?"

Harry clenched his fists. "That's different," he said, and began to shuffle to the side, head ducked to guard his throat, as if he imagined that would make Draco want him less. Draco followed, his eyes on Harry's face rather than his neck. He would look at that in a bit, when he determined that he would make Harry yield to him.

"Different in what way?" Draco asked softly. "Tell me, Harry."

"They didn't cause her death!" Harry's voice echoed off the glass walls. "They didn't let her walk straight into a vampire's arms!"

"You couldn't have known." Draco made his reply, and his next question, both so swift that Harry would have no time to think. "And I think it's pathetic that you let her death destroy you, that you're blaming yourself for something no one could have prevented, and especially when you already took all the vengeance anyone could reasonably demand of you."

"Look at how many kills I've achieved," Harry growled back, "and tell me again that I'm pathetic."

Oh, perfect. Draco paused in his circling and raked him up and down with a merciless gaze. "You're asking me to admire you for how much death you've caused?" he asked casually. "I thought that was something only vampires did."

Harry's flinch looked as if it went straight to the center of his being. Draco laughed softly at the murderous glare he got a moment later. It was no worse than some of the looks Harry had already given him.

"I'm mortal." Harry breathed the words like they were a prayer. "I'm protecting people, innocents who can't defend themselves."

"And you do it by hunting in the darkness," Draco said, "and bragging about your kills, and obsessing to the point of pushing away your friends about whether some random murders are the work of my kind."

"I was right, and the Collector was behind them!"Harry sounded as if he were on the verge of hysteria. Draco wondered idly if he even realized it.

"Yes," Draco said. "This time. But you dug when you weren't supposed to, when you had no reason to. That's obsession." He paused. Harry's breathing was loud and desperate, and echoed off the walls more than his earlier shout had. "Tell me what it's like to be the human in Britain who understands vampires best," he said, "who best gets into our skin and walks with us, because you obsess about death as my kind obsesses about blood."

Harry sprang at him.

Draco caught and held him in an unbreakable grip. Harry thrashed, spitting obscenities at him. Draco calmly let him wear himself out. He wondered as he did why no one else had done this for Harry. True, no other vampire would have cared as much, but there were spells that could accomplish much the same thing.

"Listen to me," he said, when Harry's yelling had subsided to broken muttering. He twisted Harry around so that his ear rested near Draco's mouth. The temptation was great to scrape his fangs down the shell of Harry's ear and taste what his blood was like there, whether it would have a different flavor from the blood taken at the throat, but he resisted. And that I can resist is a sign of how much he has affected me.

"You're broken. You allowed her death to break you. You're a sadist, someone who relishes causing pain. You're blinded by your obsession. You're friendless, or you will be soon. And you're suicidal, or you would be fighting harder to get out of this room, snatching with greedy hands at the one chance offered to you—the way you did when Caspar confronted us. Is there so much difference in merely knowing that someone else has seen your memories that you have to give up now?"

Harry gave a weak thrash, but Draco had the advantage, and most of Harry's strength had been used up in that frankly stupid display of his earlier. "That's not it!" he hissed. "Someone else saw her die. It violates her privacy—"

"She no longer has privacy to violate." Draco decided to cut straight to the point. Nothing other than bluntness would get through to Harry, it seemed. "She's dead. Not alive. Not a vampire. Not someone you need to protect like a knight in shining armor. She can't make love to you. She can't rescue you. She can't be violated again. You set her beyond all violation, and that was the right thing to do, given what had happened to her." Draco turned his head and nicked the side of Harry's neck, so that a drop of blood welled up. He stuck out his tongue to lap at it, and Harry caught his breath. "But you can't follow her. If you really had the desperate love of her that you're acting like you have, you would have committed suicide when you'd disposed of her killer."

Harry shut his eyes and shook.

"What you are," Draco repeated remorselessly, "is broken. Not wanting to admit your wounds. Battling on until they're exposed, and then curling up like a bug so someone else can crush you.

"By no virtue of your own, you have a chance to change that. Because of me, one of the kind you most despise." Draco sniffed at the blood on Harry's neck, and sighed. It didn't smell as good as the blood he took when he had Harry's permission. Yes, the bond goes to great lengths to make sure it happens in just the way it wants to. "And I want to know if you're going to take that chance, or if I should kill you now and at least spare you an agonizing death by sunlight."

Harry swallowed. "She would be so ashamed of me," he whispered.

"For the way you're acting now? Yes. For the way you've acted in the years since her death? Yes, I think so." Draco drew his fangs down again, making a shallow parallel cut beside the one he'd already caused. "But for living? No."

"It would be turning my back on everything I've achieved since she died," Harry said next.

"So you would somehow magically stop being an Auror?" Draco snorted. "I don't have the power to make you do that. And you won't stop breathing and your heart won't stop beating, either. I have a special interest in seeing that it doesn't," he added, as a purr directly into Harry's ear. Harry swallowed again. "And what else, besides your Auror career and your physical survival, do you have to turn your back on? Because there isn't much else that you have achieved."

Harry went still in his arms. Draco tightened them, because he'd seen Harry react like that before, and it usually indicated he was about to strike out.

Instead, Harry said, his voice slow and reluctant, "Maybe you're right. I felt—" He shook his head a little, his hair brushing against Draco's nose and making him moan. Harry didn't seem to notice the sound, thanks be to Merlin. "I felt as if I wanted to die when Lucy put us in here," he finished in low tones, "and I wanted to die when you were climbing out of the kraits' tower, too. And that is—when I was waiting for the sun to roast me to death, that is passive. I should have killed myself if I had any courage at all."

That wasn't a line of thinking that Draco particularly wanted to encourage, but it might lead to one he did.

"And now that you've concluded that you've lost your courage and have acted like a broken little bitch for the last few years," he drawled, "what are you going to do about it?"

Harry went more still than before, and Draco saw the shadow of his eyelids close. It was difficult to tell what he was feeling even from his scent. Draco had no choice but to wait, and try not to look too obviously at the growing line of light in the east.

You have a choice to make.

Harry felt as if he were poised above needle-sharp rocks, clinging to a crumbling bridge. No matter what he decided, he would fall and die.

Unless he accepted the help of the monster above him, who would give him a hand up—in exchange for his becoming a slave.

But Malfoy was right about at least one thing. Ginny would have hated to see him like this, too frightened to live, too puling and whinging to die.

There was only one choice, and Harry made it. Accept the help for the moment, and then ensure that I can't become a slave.

One way or the other. It'll depend on how much power we need to defeat Lucy and the Collector.

He sucked in one last, free breath, and then nodded. "I haven't lived, only survived," he said, because he knew Malfoy would expect to hear that. "But I want to. Bite me, so that I can."

Malfoy's snarl of victory was awful, and so was the pain of the fangs sliding into his throat a moment later, but Harry had borne worse, like the self-examination Malfoy had forced him to undergo. He would bear this stoically.

Or so he thought until the burning pleasure began to work its way through him again, and his cock stiffened against the material of his pants.

Harry managed to reduce the urge to moan to a little hitch in his breath, and to let his eyes shut naturally instead of fluttering the way they wanted to. He set himself to bear the pleasure, too, although the pain remained at the same level and the pleasure was soaring past that on wings of fire, obliterating even the stick of the fangs.

But it was impossible. His body reacted as if this were food he'd been starved of for years, although he'd wanked plenty of times since Ginny died. He whimpered at last, and Malfoy licked his throat in response and crowded closer to him, hands sliding up and down his body, stroking his belly, cupping his arse.

Harry drove his fingernails into his palms, regularly, over and over. If he could only muster another source of pain to distract himself from the one that no longer worked—

And again it didn't work. God, he'd never experienced anything like this, this fire that subsided into a shining, warm sea all around him and made him feel as if he drifted cradled in a pair of loving arms. Then the sensation sharpened, and Harry cried out softly as the pleasure made his balls draw up against his body. He craned his head far enough to bite at his arm, hissing under his breath.

"It's all right," Malfoy whispered into his ear, too close, too intimate. He must have taken his fangs out of flesh to speak, and Harry was aware of a dim astonishment at that. "She wouldn't begrudge this. It's not a betrayal. It's fine."

Bastard! With every word, the pulse of the pleasure grew worse, and Harry was bucking and twisting as if he were under torture now. Malfoy wrapped his arms around him to hold him in place, and the fangs slid back into place, whilst Malfoy's elbow brushed against Harry's cock.

A light touch, no more than that.

It didn't need more than that.

Harry's eyes snapped open and his body snapped straight, and he wailed. He came hard enough that his heart was a thunder in his ears and he couldn't even hear the smug chuckle he was sure Malfoy was uttering. He came hard enough to daze and confuse himself, and then, when he fell limp, the pleasure was still there, burning softly at his throat, not like the oversensitivity that Harry would have felt if someone were stroking his cock after orgasm.

"Oh," Malfoy said, and his voice was too gentle for Harry to think that the vampire was mocking him, "that was very nice."

Harry turned his head, inch by inch, to face him. He knew he would see horrid laughter behind his eyes, but he didn't care; he needed to face up to that laughter and get beyond it.

He didn't see amusement or hatred. He saw something worse. Malfoy was staring at him as if Harry were more than a meal to him, and the next moment he pushed Harry flat to the floor and climbed on top of him. Harry was vaguely, distantly aware that Malfoy had indeed pulled his fangs from the wounds, and that those wounds were no longer bleeding.

"Mine to protect," Malfoy said, the words bursting out of him as if the urge to say them were a physical necessity. Harry couldn't move, his soul as well as his body apparently captured by blazing grey eyes. "Mine to feed from. Mine to share with." He lowered himself so that he was wrapped firmly around Harry and lapped gently at his neck.

He came in the next moment, with a groan that got into Harry's body through his ear and rattled his bones around. Harry swallowed and held still. Maybe Malfoy would move now, back to normal, and rip his throat out because Harry had witnessed his weakness.

Instead, Malfoy lifted his head and languidly stroked Harry's cheek with the back of his hand. On his face was deep satisfaction, with no trace of smugness at all. He looked rather astonished, in fact, as if he had dug up a golden treasure where he'd expected to find only dirt and bones.

"I would lie down on you," Malfoy said, his voice hypnotic, "and shelter you with my body, to keep you from the sun. I would burn for you."

Harry shivered and, because he couldn't look away, shut his eyes.

That caressing hand returned, fingers feathering across his forehead, through his hair, down his eyelids. "Mine," Malfoy said, his voice dark again, full of a predator's claim mingled with a kind of reverence that Harry had last heard in Ron and Hermione's voices when they talked about celebrating their wedding anniversary. It was an emotion that he knew was foreign to vampires.

Then what does it mean that he's experiencing it?

And what does it mean that I only want to lie here under him and feel him experience it?

"I will bring you back to life," Malfoy breathed, "and not by feeding you my blood."

That was by far the most terrifying, alien thing he had said, and Harry pushed at his chest and struggled out from beneath him. "We should decide what we're going to do to fight the Collector," he said. Magic pulsed beneath them now, more powerful than the weak sunrise in the distance.

Malfoy lay still for a minute longer, then rose to his feet with a tiger's slow, dangerous grace. "Yes, we should," he said.

But his attention was fixed and his body oriented on Harry, and Harry began to understand how much of an effort it would be to get rid of him, this viper who had adopted him as its own.

He swallowed down the dread, too, and began to do what he was good at: plot murder.

He tried to ignore the way Malfoy's eyes, never wavering from his face, shone.

Chapter 9

Draco had never felt so connected.

It was an odd word to describe what he felt, but the right one, he was certain. The connection with Harry throbbed and trembled. He knew—without having to glance at Harry, or sniff, or trust any of his other senses—when something changed in his Long-Desired's body. His breathing speeding up, his blood pumping faster as adrenaline entered the bloodstream, the way he shifted or a new direction his eyes took, all traveled to Draco like a series of echoes, and he could easily tell the difference between those echoes.

Harry himself seemed entirely unaware of the connection. At least, he glanced at Draco no more than normal and asked no questions about a strangeness in what he was feeling.

But then, would he even if he felt it? Draco wondered, as he strengthened his fist with magic and punched through one of the glass walls. Tinkling shards cascaded away from the tower and crashed to the ground far below. The smell of high, cold stone blew into Draco's nose, and he sneezed. He much preferred the scent of Harry's blood, and not only because it came from his Long-Desired. He might be ashamed to think he was exposing such weakness in front of me.

Draco knew he would need to change that. He should be able to play any role in Harry's life, from protector to confidant to lover, and hear all his secrets.

"What are you waiting for, Malfoy?" Harry's words were meant to be harsh, to scrape pieces off his being, but Draco didn't mind them. He could feel that Harry wanted to use the magic; he knew the whip-like fluctuations in the power itself meant that Harry was coming up with scheme after scheme and then discarding it. At least he could control himself well enough to stay with their original plan.

"For you to climb onto my back," Draco said evenly, facing Harry for the first time since they had come up with the plan. Harry stiffened at once, and clenched his jaw in particular, as if he imagined that making the veins on his neck stand out would make him less attractive. Draco stifled an indulgent chuckle. Let Harry have his fantasies, so long as they do no harm in the short term.

"I was going to use the magic to fly down," Harry began.

"A new plan," Draco replied, without raising his voice or spitting in anger or doing any of the other things that Harry probably expected him to do. "There's no reason to waste the magic by doing that. Cling to my neck. It got us out of the kraits' tower. It should do the same here."

"I told you that I don't think the Collector can take much more blood from Lucy," Harry began. "Lucy already fainted from blood loss once. We forced her to expend so much power—"

"And that means almost nothing if we weaken ourselves as well." Draco flattened his hand and extended it to Harry across the tower. "We wasted our magic once already, given your instinctive reactions against her hold. I don't want it to happen again."

Harry said, "I couldn't let her hold me—"

"I know," Draco soothed him. "But now that we know how quickly the magic is spent, and now that we have more of it—" he waved his hand, and the magic pulsed up and down like a wave between them, a wave carrying a thousand possible changes in its crest—"how can we do anything unnecessary?"

Harry's nostrils flared once. Then he nodded, lowering his eyes, and walked towards Draco. Draco narrowed his own eyes thoughtfully. He didn't trust Harry's sudden surrender, especially since the atmosphere between them still swam with undercurrents.

He's lived by the logic of survival for so long. Draco turned his back, and thrilled as Harry's arms wound about his neck. The closer the contact with his Long-Desired, the better. He could see now why so many vampires became lovers with those whose blood and magic suited them. To lie skin-to-skin and chest-to-chest would lead naturally to contact between parts of the body that felt even better. I don't understand why he resists it now.

But remember that he also lived by a different kind of logic, that of vengeance—though he would probably deny it. That twisted him. It said that he couldn't surrender to a vampire no matter what happened, even if survival was at stake.

If a piece of that remains in him, that means he has not surrendered to me. I must be prepared for an assault from the side or behind after we have defeated the Collector.

If we can.

Draco began to climb down the glass tower, turning his senses outwards, since he no longer needed them to keep track of Harry, and doing his best to locate the stone tower where the Collector had kept them. He and Harry still did not know if this was wizardspace or not. Draco had been reluctant to waste the magic that would let them determine that.

"There," Harry said suddenly. Draco halted and turned his head to the left, not needing Harry's pointing finger to guide him; a strand of the invisible web that surrounded them had stretched out in the proper direction the moment his hand moved.

To the left, or at least to their left as they were positioned on the tower at the moment, glowed a faint silver line of light, rather like the one that might be visible beneath a tent flap. Draco sniffed, but smelled no particularly strong scent of magic from it.

"You are certain?" he asked.

"Certain." Harry's voice had shaded into the absent tone that meant he had forgotten he was talking with a vampire. "One of the Auror training classes I took was on learning to recognize the effects of magic from the intensity of the light they caused. Yes, that light isn't large, but it's intense enough…" His voice trailed off. He had remembered that Draco wasn't his true partner in hunting again.

"Yes, you're right," Draco said, and felt the way Harry's surprised attention reoriented itself on him. He hid a smile without difficulty, since his face was turned away from Harry's. Praise was something Harry had earned little of in the last years, perhaps because he insisted on not hearing it. It was an easy way to make him acknowledge Draco and consider what he said instead of immediately dismissing it.

He lifted a hand and summoned the magic that rippled between them with it, so that a steady stream flowed away from them towards the light. Draco waited until he was sure no eddy would destroy the stream, then murmured, "What is it? A gate, like the one we broke through from the kraits' tower? Or—"

"No," Harry said, with a sneer in the back of his voice that made Draco roll his eyes. Excuse me for not having Auror training. "This isn't wizardspace. It's a different place cloaked with an illusion. We have to attack the line of light to make the illusion fall."

Draco nodded and relaxed his body, then envisioned one of his own eyes with a beam of sunlight shining from it. The light would cut through the illusion and see the world as it really was. He only needed to transform the stream into a beam—

And it happened. Suddenly the line of light vanished, the expanse of empty stars and empty land peeled away like a curtain, and they could see the stone tower less than a mile away, within reach of a few good leaps powered only by Draco's muscles.

"You're wise." Draco scrambled down the last few feet of the glass tower, and kept his voice low. Perhaps the Collector and Lucy weren't listening at the moment, but he didn't want to take the chance.

"Stop it." Harry hissed the words directly into his ear, and Draco had to keep himself from drifting into a fantasy about other occasions when he might speak of different things in much the same tone.

"Stop what?" Draco reached the ground, stood adjusting his body and lowering the magic down to a reasonable level for a moment, and then leaped. Harry gasped and hung on tighter. Draco was just as glad. He didn't see the point of arguing with him about their method of travel to the Collector's tower.

"Speaking sweet words to me." Harry sounded as savage as he might if Draco had told him it was wrong to kill his Weasley. "It won't get you what you want."

"I begin to think that nothing will," Draco said. A lie might be diplomatic at this point. He leaped a second time, and then they stood among the litter of stones at the base of the tower. He waited patiently for Harry to climb to the ground, which Harry did a moment later. A change in his blood said that he was flushing for clinging to Draco a minute longer than was necessary. Draco hid his smile again and sniffed. If the Collector was using that smell that had hypnotized him before, he wanted to know about it.

He determined the smell had vanished at the same time as Harry said, "I only yielded to you because there was no choice, Malfoy."

Draco turned a mildly impatient glance on him. "I know that," he said. "And I must say, I feel that you lay more stress on the fact than the matter is worth. Can I ask you to consider something else for a moment? Such as our plan to kill the Collector? I'm now virtually certain she has no nest with her."

Harry swallowed, and his flush grew worse. But he moved forwards and concentrated on the tower, and Draco knew he would be following the plan. He leaned back on air, the muscles in his back stiffening to support him. This part of the plan didn't require him to contribute any magic, so he simply watched his Long-Desired with the pride of possession. Everything about him was interesting, from the way his hair fell over his forehead to how his pulse beat in his throat.

Mine. The word whispered through him on levels hardly accessible to Draco himself. This was as fundamental as blood.

Harry let his mind wander for a moment more. He could envision Malfoy dying and the slavery he had placed Harry under evaporating, as he would once Harry had killed the Collector and Lucy and turned on him—

But that is not important now.

He fixed his eyes on the tower and let his breathing slow and his sense of himself drift. He could come unhinged from his body by making the magic the most important part of that body. He envisioned the magic turning into an invisible powder, floating up and then falling on the Collector and Lucy. Where they were in the tower, or what they were doing at the moment, didn't matter; the powder would still reach them.

And the powder carried fear.

Paranoia. Terror. The need for intense alertness, because there might always be an enemy around the corner, or hiding in the shadows. The knowledge that one could never be alert enough, and the torment that that would unleash in the brain of any predator sufficiently clever to think of some strategies for survival.

Harry took the emotions that he knew so well, that he had been forced to know because he had taken up hunting vampires, and gave them to the Collector and Lucy.

The magic filled him and flowed out of him, spectacularly obedient, doing exactly what he wanted. Harry panted softly and had to close his eyes, because the vision beckoning him in the darkness of his own mind was more compelling than the sight of the tower before him.

He could see why the sharing of magic between vampire and wizard was so addictive. Perfection, the sudden explosion of imagination into reality without the tedious playing about with wood and the constraints of Latin spells, and all it took to fuel it was a little blood.

But remember what it costs.

A burning white shape appeared in his mind. It was shaped like an infinity symbol—no, like many infinity symbols piled on top of each other. It shone with such intensity, such fervor, that it took Harry less time than it should have to understand what he was seeing: the Long-Desired bond between the Collector and Lucy.

Harry bared his teeth. He had not known something like this was possible, and so he and Malfoy had not planned for the contingency. But now that he could see the bond, he intended to destroy it if at all possible.

The only thing that need set the limits on his destruction was his imagination.

And the amount of blood Malfoy has drawn from you.

But for the moment, Harry chose to ignore that limitation. He still had plenty of magic flowing and eddying through him, waiting impatiently to be put to use. Since his paranoia was drawn so strongly from his own mind, and since the Collector and Lucy had their own version of it in their predatory natures, he had not had to spend a lot of effort creating the dust.

I want the Collector to fear Lucy. Or fear for her. After what he had seen from Malfoy, Harry didn't really know if hacking at the roots of the trust between the Collector and Lucy would work. To want to protect her from the creeping terror that is us, or whatever other enemies she thinks of.

The magic surged around him, and hurled itself out of him in a long stream like blood flowing from a wound. Harry gasped and opened his eyes as the white image behind his eyes flared with searing intensity.

"What did you do?" Malfoy was close behind him, snarling. Harry smiled in spite of himself. Thank you for the reminder about your true nature, Malfoy. Of course you would be jealous of the magic when you want to use it yourself.

"Weakened the Long-Desired bond between Lucy and the Collector," Harry said, and watched the tower, leaning on a stone. "We ought to be seeing some consequences of that about—"

A pained shriek broke from the highest windows.

"Now," Harry said. "In the Collector's anxiety to protect Lucy from their enemies, I made her do something stupid." He flashed a superior smile at Draco and began to walk towards the tower, his wand drawn. See how well I can kill?

The question Draco had asked him earlier, if he defined himself by his rate of predation, the way vampires did, echoed in his mind. Harry stopped smiling, but he refused to stop moving, and he refused to consider the question further.

He asked that to gain control of my mind, to weaken my confidence in myself, to make me trust him. I know he did.

Draco could smell the distress in the air even before they got through the tower's door.

The air stank of fear like cold sweat, though most of the time Draco's kind did not sweat, unless they wanted to deliberately imitate humans. Draco could hear a faint moaning and murmuring sound, as if someone were protesting against being stuffed into a tight blanket.

He looked sideways at Harry, admiring his control of the magic whilst at the same time wondering how he had managed to live among these emotions for so long and not go insane. Or perhaps he is mad in the situation of hunting vampires and sane outside it. I shall have to ensure that he is sane more of the time than he has so far managed to achieve.

They walked to the first floor of the tower unopposed. Draco sniffed at each step for some sign of the wards and warning spells the Collector must surely have established, but they had vanished. Perhaps she had drawn all the magic to herself in a desperate attempt to protect her Long-Desired. It was what Draco would have done under the influence of magical fear, if he wished to protect Harry.

And that may yet be necessary, he thought, dropping to walk behind Harry's shoulder and shaping some of the magic into a small shield that he could throw at once in front of any charging threat.

Harry let out a deep, satisfied breath as they stepped into one of the rooms on the first floor. The Collector stood there with her arms around Lucy, who was pale and struggling for breath. She was murmuring over and over, words that Draco could hear and understand, although he doubted that was the case with Harry.

"I have to save you. I have to keep you from them. What if they took you from me?" The Collector's single hand—she had not managed to regrow a second one from where Harry had taken it off—caressed Lucy's hair and her throat. "I couldn't bear it. I love you. I must keep you safe."

Draco sniffed. He could appreciate some of the advantages of having a paranoid partner, looking at the two of them. Harry would reject such overwhelming "care" and insist on looking for an outside threat if Draco tried that on him.

Harry closed his eyes, and the balance of the magic in the air shifted. The Collector whirled towards them and snarled when she saw them. Her fangs were extended so much that the translucent tops of them were clearly visible, and the skin on her jaw seemed to have pulled away from her face.

"They are here!" she shrieked, and drove her arms down. Lucy gave a single, despairing cry, and then stopped struggling.

Harry took a single step forwards, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. Draco understood what he was doing as if Harry had whispered in his ear. He was turning the strength of the Long-Desired bond against itself, making the Collector so afraid for Lucy that she would not even notice she was killing her.

"They must not hurt you." The Collector spoke the words calmly, but they were not calm when combined with her mad and staring eyes. She ducked her head, covering Lucy completely from sight with her neck and her hair, her snarl primal enough to make Draco show his fangs and step forwards to stand at Harry's side.

"We can hurt her," Draco said, and put a sneer into his voice, judging that it would be the perfect thing to push the Collector over the edge.


Her voice was a growl that reverberated through the room, and made the walls quiver, but it wasn't loud enough to muffle the snap of breaking bones.

The Collector froze. Draco had seen Caspar sit still when he wanted to avoid alarming their prey, but compared to this, that was nothing. The Collector stared at them, and Draco knew she would have moved against them if they had been fools enough to attack her in that moment, but her attention was fixed on the suddenly still bundle in her arms.

Then she turned and opened her arms. Lucy tumbled to the floor, her eyes wide and her neck limp. It had broken when the Collector embraced her too tightly.

The Collector tilted her head back and gave voice to a howl of grief that made Harry clap his hands over his ears in instinctive, futile protection. Draco moved in the meanwhile. The shriek did not hurt him, and he knew that, the moment her initial grieving was over, the Collector would attack them. They might not be able to stand against her charge. Draco could envision what he would have done if Harry had died because of him, and it involved the wasteful splashing of much blood.

Draco used most of what remained of the magic to coil around the Collector, tying her to the floor with invisible bonds. Unlike the nets that she had used to contain them, however, these bonds drew on her own strength, forcing her to make them stronger every time she moved. Draco vaguely remembered hearing Flitwick describe the energy behind some charms that functioned that way. It made a clever adaptation here.

By the time the Collector was looking at them again, she lay on the floor of the tower room, and Harry stood over her, gazing down with an expression of deep satisfaction on his face.

"You will die," he said. He spoke as if it was a prophecy, his voice cold and strong and echoing from the stones much as the Collector's had. "Your victims will be avenged, and future victims safe from your crimes."

The Collector's fangs retracted and her eyes became less mad as she stared at him. Draco bristled protectively and moved up beside Harry. He had expected her insanity to last longer. That it had not meant she might do something to hurt his Long-Desired.

Then the Collector smiled, and Draco was certain of it.

"You still do not realize the implications of the Long-Desired bond," the Collector whispered. "I can sense them, you know. I congratulate you on your fine manipulation of mine. But though you have managed to exploit the connection between you in order to achieve temporary goals, you do not know what will happen when it becomes permanent. Shall I enlighten you?"

"I only require that you die," Harry said calmly, and then flames sprang into being all over the Collector's body. Draco jumped, wondering why he hadn't felt Harry change the magic to do that.

Then he saw the wand in Harry's hand, and felt like a fool. The intense awareness that had come from the sharing of blood and magic was fading. He doubted they would be able to maintain it for more than a few seconds until their bond was permanent.

"But I require more than that." The Collector's voice went on speaking calmly from the middle of the fire. She had not even screamed. "I want you to know about the Long-Desired bond from someone who has lived through it.

"The vampire is in charge. That is a given. We are more powerful than mortals, longer-lived than they are, closer to the form the shared magic takes. We can command our muscles to support us in impossible leaps and positions, and it happens. You, meanwhile, must channel your magic through spells. Our way is more intuitive. We learn how to control the shared power more quickly and easily, and then we take over the minds of our Long-Desired."

Only a long huff from Harry showed that he was listening. Draco edged closer to him, giving him a concerned look. The Collector went on talking, even as Harry conjured a blade that floated up to her head.

"And instincts form in both members of the bond that draw them closer to each other. Once again, we cope better with those instincts. They are near to the greed and the hunger that make up the heart of us. But they are alien to humans. They operate at a subconscious level, to have a better chance of succeeding at all.

"Lucy submitted to me. She had no choice, and not only because she was so young when I caught her. Her instincts urged that."

"No," Harry whispered.

"But yes." The Collector's voice was a bit muffled, because the blade Harry had conjured was sawing her head off. "You may fight. You may think you have conquered your instincts. But you are being drawn to your vampire at this moment, and granting him knowledge of you that will let him win in the end. Tell me. You kill every vampire that you come across. Why have you let him live?"

Harry flashed Draco a furious, desperate glance. Draco tensed and showed his teeth.

"You need his help in the hunt?" The Collector laughed, her voice gentle and musical. "But why is that? You always managed to succeed on your own before. You carried weapons in your body that surprised even me. You could not know before you faced me and Lucy that we would prove to be a Long-Desired pair, too hard for you to survive on your own. Why do you need him now?

"You do not. But your instincts urge you to accept his presence. And soon they will urge you to do far more than that."

"No!" Harry shrieked, moving so close to the Collector that Draco reached out to touch him, certain the flames would consume him after a moment. Harry whirled away from his touch and stared at Draco, his mouth open with the force of his fury, his hands ripping at themselves. "Don't touch me! I know that you only want to control me!"

"Harry." Draco stepped towards him, making his voice as soft as possible. "She's wrong. Not all Long-Desired bonds need be like that. She controlled Lucy, but I don't want to devour your mind like she did hers. I want to have your companionship—"

"And you don't want me to hunt." Harry's eyes were the maddened ones now, and he shook, perfectly poised between taking a step closer to Draco and backing away. "You said that. You think my life since Ginny died has been wasted."

"The first thing I did," whispered the Collector from her grave of fire, "was prevent Lucy from doing what she had always done."

"She's wrong," Draco repeated, feeling unaccountably helpless. All the magic coiling in him wouldn't help him now, any more than seizing Harry and draining him would. He needed permission, willing compliance.

"What do you know about it?" Harry spat, backing away this time. "The Collector is the one who's actually lived with the bond—"

"And she's the enemy," Draco snapped, nearly cutting his lips; his fangs had folded down from the roof of his mouth in his irritation. "Why would you believe anything she said, over what I say?"

"I changed Lucy," the Collector whispered. Her voice was thick with blood, blood flowing, and not simply the desire for it. Her head must be almost off, Draco thought, and hoped that it might be so. "I stopped her aging, so that she could always live with me—until you made me kill her. I overwhelmed her with possessive love that severed every human connection. I made her little more than a walking producer of magic and blood, and warmth and sex in my bed. That was all I needed her to be. That is all any vampire in the Long-Desired bond wants from her Long-Desired."

"Untrue," Draco said, glad that she had finally said something he knew for certain was a lie. "Thalia, who sired me, told me that a Long-Desired is important as an equal, a companion—"

The Collector laughed. "Was Lucy my equal?" Then her voice sank. "Lucy. Ah, my love."

The flames closed in with a snap, and Draco heard the dull thump that was her head rolling off her body. His nose twitched automatically at the smell of blood, but it was no longer half as tempting, now that he had tasted what Harry had freely given him.

The fire damped at a wave of Harry's hand, and Draco gazed on the thick mat of ashes left behind with a satisfaction he hadn't felt even after they defeated Caspar.

"We must—" he started to say. His next words would have been "scatter them."

But Harry turned towards him and flung all the rest of the gathered magic into a concentrated hammer-blow. Draco knew, even as he dodged up the wall and left the magic to smash several stones in, that it had been meant to break enough bones to leave him helpless. Then Harry would have come after him and used his wand to kill Draco.

He hung from the ceiling and stared into the eyes of the mortal who was his, and saw that the madness had not faded.

"Why?" he whispered.

I won't be a slave. The words sang in his head over and over again, mingling with the Collector's words about Lucy. I changed her. She submitted to me.

"I won't be your slave," he told Malfoy. It was as much as he could say without screaming. And once he began to scream, he wouldn't stop. He lifted his wand. If he couldn't use the magic gathered between them to kill Malfoy, he would just have to do it some other way.

"I don't intend to make you one," Malfoy said. "I want you. I'll hold you safe. I'll teach you how to live again. I thought you understood how much of your time and energy and effort you'd wasted since Ginny died—"

Harry laughed, the laughter tearing up his throat, making him feel as if he'd vomit his lungs any moment. "Yes, oh yes, of course," he said. "You'll alter me into the image you want to make of me. You'll change me." He used a nonverbal Blasting Curse, and Malfoy tumbled from the wall like a spider. Unfortunately, like most spiders did, he scuttled into a different corner and faced Harry with his fangs showing. Harry moved forwards a step, swaying, not understanding why he suddenly felt so weak. "I'll kill you first."

Malfoy glided towards him. "Harry," he whispered. "You've lost a lot of blood—"

"And whose fault is that?" Harry let his eyelids droop over his eyes and made his wobble look worse than it really was. When Malfoy came close enough, then Harry could at least cave his chest in.

Malfoy went on talking calmly, sensibly. It was the way Hermione or Ron would talk, Harry thought, the way anyone would talk who didn't want him to hunt vampires, to do his life's work. "I'll take care of you. Come with me. You can rest. I'll steal food for you, and when the night comes again—"

He was close enough. Harry whirled and flung all the power he could command behind the Blasting Curse this time.

The spell made Malfoy stumble backwards, but didn't break a single bone, didn't even take him from his feet. Harry stared, and then reached out a hand to catch himself against the wall. It turned out to be the floor, as he fell.

Malfoy was there in instants, arms winding securely around Harry's body. "You can't hurt me," he whispered. "No Long-Desired can hurt their vampire for long, at least as long as they've been bitten once."

All Harry's rage and revulsion coalesced into a shining ball, and he managed to rip himself free of Malfoy's grip somehow, which shouldn't have been possible. He found himself by the tower entrance, and Malfoy wringing his arms as if Harry had hurt them when he pulled free.

Harry cast a spell that scattered the Collector's ashes. It wasn't as good as scattering them over water, but as long as they were put far enough apart not to come back together, that was good enough. Malfoy watched him through the drifting black flakes, his eyes half-lidded.

"Don't touch me," Harry whispered when he was done with the spell. "We go our separate ways from this night. Come after me again and I will kill you." He had ideas about how to do that already, or at least about how to do something that would kill Malfoy's interest in him.

"I can't do that," Malfoy said gently, and took a step forwards. "It's abundantly clear that you need to be protected from yourself by now, Harry."

Harry screamed in rage and spun. The protections on the tower had dissipated with the Collector's death, perhaps even with Lucy's. He Apparated home, and landed with a stagger near the white boulder where their adventure had begun earlier that night.

Almost sunrise, he saw when he lifted his head. Malfoy would have to seek out his hidden lair soon.

Stay away from me. Merlin, stay away from me. What do I have that you want?

But he knew the answer to that question all too well.

If he won't stay away from me, I must make it happen.

Draco licked his lips, eyes fastened on the spot where Harry had stood before he disappeared. The expression on his face had told Draco this would be a long and hard fight, not the simple offer of protection and love, followed by acceptance, that he had hoped for.

But he could deal with that.

It is inevitable. He is my Long-Desired.

Draco looked up as his brain twitched then. The dawn was coming. He smiled slightly and leaped out of the tower towards the base. From there, he would retreat to Malfoy Manor.

He did halt briefly, and look to the east and north, where Harry's home lay.

You will live again, and not only to fill my mouth with blood. I will make it so.


phoebedsrkness 发表于 2011-7-18 15:45:16


Vedial 发表于 2011-7-21 12:24:32

It's good! Their love lets me feel very touched 。Wish they are happy 。
写的不错哦! 让我觉得很感动 加油!

lilithe 发表于 2011-7-21 15:16:13

I love the story!!I love when Draco is set to be a vampire as i always reckon it is a prefect character for him.真的寫的很好,而且我很喜歡DRACO是吸血鬼的設定

loll 发表于 2012-5-7 10:34:24

because I don't know this is the 2nd part of one series, I felt I'm cheated after finish reading this...The end looks so disllusionary. No love, unfinished hatred.
the court is time-consuming. Harry is diehard and unreasonable, Draco is patient and gentle, little gain in his hand when it come to an end.
whatever, I must read all 3 episodes now...

雪泠风 发表于 2013-2-7 16:20:01

【fill my mouth with blood】好喜欢这个描写!

一只腐女 发表于 2015-5-17 08:35:52

Like this set, Decola was a vampire. What, like good.

style 发表于 2015-5-23 22:35:14

看的有点吃力 少爷吸血鬼的设定是我最爱的 很符合少爷的形象

甜甜圈和苦咖啡 发表于 2017-5-17 00:53:23

I love the story!!I love when Draco is set to be a vampire as i always reckon it is a prefect character for him.

浮光潋滟 发表于 2017-10-17 13:06:14

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