Even when stranded in a strange world, Harry continues to make waves. Friends are scarce, but there is no shortage of those who would like to see him drown in the swell of his own making. And what ...
By Random Shinobi
Summary: Even when stranded in a strange world, Harry continues to make waves. Friends are scarce, but there is no shortage of those who would like to see him drown in the swell of his own making. And what are the true motives of the beautiful Summer Lady? [HP/Dresden Files crossover. Not Deathly Hallows compliant. Starts before Grave Peril.]
Rating: R (M)
Disclaimer: If you recognise it, then it might well belong to Ms. Rowling or Mr. Butcher. I only claim my OCs and plot.
Special thanks to snuggle the muggle for her help.
Chapter Nine: Legacy That Spans Worlds
The room was cloaked in darkness and the shadows cast by the single flickering candle danced merrily on the walls. It was the comfortable kind of darkness, familial and decidedly non-hostile. Then the soothing silence was broken by a single whispered word, followed by a rather lacklustre flash of light.
“Lumos,” Harry repeated, this time much more insistently. Still, only a few pale sparks escaped the wand tip and spewed toward the floor, burning out far before reaching it.
“This won't do either,” the wizard said with a little sigh. He lowered the wand on the table and picked up the next on the row, idly giving it a negligent wave and clearly not expecting it to flare up in bright golden-white light ‒ which it did. The room was suddenly bathed in searing light and Harry yelped as the brilliant nimbus burned his sensitive eyes. His surprise was enough to cancel the spell and the invasive light receded, giving way to the shadows again.
“Excellent,” the Summer Lady murmured lazily from the settee she languorously lounged on. She stretched a little, a movement almost ridiculously sensual and feminine, and twisted to look better at him, resting her head on her palm. She really was beautiful. Harry would be lying through his teeth if he said he wasn't attracted to her. There wasn't any singular attribute that especially caught his eye; rather it was the little things that added up to perfection. The youngest Queen of Summer was lean, but not to the degree of those anorectic models. She looked young, but not young enough to make a man feel uncomfortable for having less than pure thoughts. She had all the delicious womanly curves, but couldn't be called voluptuous. And although her skin was spotless and unnaturally smooth, she was neither pale nor especially tanned. Discounting her pure white hair, Aurora was what a girl-next-door would look like if she was a supermodel; Not ordinary but extraordinary. “I was starting to fear that none of them would suffice.”
“I'm actually amazed that you somehow whipped out this many wands in a few measly hours,” Harry said and lifted the wand in his hand, gesturing towards the table. Outwardly it was identical to his old one, but while his previous wand had felt warm and alive, this was simply...hot. It was a dead thing; just a spiritless funnel for his power. He didn't know what that meant or even if it affected his magic. Hopefully the wand would still live up to the old standards... “Do you know what this is made of?”
She took a single glance at the wand. “Rowan and a single hair from a High Sidhe.”
“Witch Wood, eh... And a fae hair. I guess it's fitting.”
Aurora rose up to a sitting position and crossed her legs, her short dress hiking up a few tantalizing extra inches of smooth thigh and letting Harry catch a brief glimpse of the white panties. It served as an ample distraction and the teenage wizard almost missed her next words. “Now, destroy the rest.”
Harry snapped out of his lecherous trance and it actually took him a second to comprehend what she had said. Then he blinked. It was unfair that she could manage that Veela-like effect without even trying... “Why?”
The Summer Lady looked at him for a moment before speaking, “You might practice only evocation, but others will not be similarly limited. Those wands contain pieces from my servants and, as such, could be used in sympathetic magic.”
“Sympathetic magic?” Harry echoed doubtfully, but nevertheless flicked his wand above the table. A hazy cloud of green light washed over the massive piece of furniture and silently reduced the gathered foci into piles of fine dust. “You mean voodoo dolls and stuff?”
“And that actually works? Well, crap. Perhaps I should be more careful with what I leave behind...”
Aurora's sweet laughter took him by surprise. “I don't think that will be problem for you, Harry.” After noticing his questioning look, she clarified, “Displaced parts of your assumed vessel quickly dissipate when separated from your essence and you haven't owned the things I have given to you long enough for a significant bond to form.”
“Oh...” While he hadn't really thought much about it, his mind being consumed by other matters, Harry did distinctly remember the odd incidents of his blood and bile turning into transparent goo and his sudden inability to use a mirror. Was Aurora right? Did that really mean his body was a fake? If the spell that had brought him here created a new body for him, it would indeed explain many things. Then the Summer Lady leaned back on the sofa and his thoughts went off tangent. She lifted her elbows on top of the back and arched her back so that her full breasts strained against the thin fabric of her dress, the tips pointing visibly at him. While she could be doing all that simply to acquire a more comfortable position, Harry seriously doubted it.
“You are doing that on purpose,” he accused her.
Had he expected vehement denials, he would have left sorely disappointed. She just laughed again – her chest heaving most alluringly – and tapped the free cushion next to her. “You would like to join me here, hmm? Well then, feel free to do so.”
While the war had forced some maturity on him and he wasn't about to blush and stammer, he wasn't quite sure how to react. Oh, he certainly knew what he wanted to do – it was something ingrained in the male psyche, but he seriously doubted that giving in to his baser instincts would be a smart thing. Still, by just standing there, undecided and hesitating, he was practically admitting defeat. Harry had never been one to concede anything without a fight, and so he decided to act ‒ no matter how rash it might be.
He walked to the white leather settee and settled next to Aurora, being careful to leave a gap of few inches between them. She grinned, ignored his attempts to avoid contact and promptly threw her legs over him. They were a nice pair of legs, Harry had to admit. Especially now when they were covered just by thin stockings that only served to accentuate their sleek form.
“I hope I'm not making things too hard for you, Harry.”
She sounded terribly amused and her playful smile was almost dazzling in its beauty. The wizard, on the other hand, grimaced; partly because her words hit home, and partly because the pun was just so bad. “You are enjoying this way too much.”
“Mmmm... And you are not?” A pair of delicate arms snaked around him and Aurora's twin peaks pressed softly against his shoulder. He breathed in her flowery fragrance and her steady breathing fell wet and hot against the crook of his neck. She was practically snuggling him, warm and soft, and Merlin if it wasn't the best thing he had felt for ages. “Does this not please thee?”
The wizard took a calming breath, which only resulted in him inhaling more of her sweet scent ‒ pretty much having the opposite effect. He didn't bother to deny Aurora's words. It would be pointless and just embarrass him further as the Summer Lady undoubtedly felt the proof to contrary pressing against her. Doubly so because Harry suddenly realised that his own fingers were idly playing with the hem of her short dress and slowly inching up. The velvet softness of her skin made the silken linen feel coarse and harsh. He yanked his hands back as if burned. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why not?” Aurora whispered into his ear, her voice thick with sex and sensuality. Why not, indeed. At that particular moment, Harry was finding fewer and fewer reasons to resist her. In fact, not resisting at all was progressively getting more and more tempting as instinct slowly eroded reason. The wizard's eyes widened in alarm when the Summer Lady leaned forward, but he could muster no resistance. She nibbled his ear and a shudder ran through his spine. “I shall‒”
Then someone knocked on the door.
Aurora let out a cat-like growl of displeasure, but stood up almost immediately. The sudden loss of warmth came almost as a shock and he shivered a little. Harry watched with mixed emotions as the Summer Lady straightened her dress and walk to the door. The wizard had no idea if he should feel disappointed or relieved. He settled for a mixture of both.
The Summer Lady opened the door and a small group of servants in their yellow liveries burst in, bowing or curtsying slightly as they passed her, carrying piles of clothing and...matte-black pieces of faerie armour.
“What is this?” Harry asked as the faerie servants carefully lowered their burdens to his bed in neat piles.
“I think we both would appreciate if you got hurt a bit less frequently,” Aurora said lightly and waved her hand slightly at the servants, as if shooing them away. They hurriedly obeyed the unspoken command and left him alone with the Summer Lady again. “For that effect I took the liberty to commission a suit of armour to be made for you. Shall we try it on?”
Harry quickly weighed pros and cons in his mind. If he accepted the gift, he would get a nifty faerie mail, but end up in even more debt. Still, it would be just a drop in the ocean compared to what he already owed and he wasn't even sure if the debt really affected him in any magical way... “Sure.”
He ran his fingers over the mail folded on the bed and it didn't feel nearly as coarse as he had expected. The links were unusually small and fine, but that was not what caught his attention. The surprising part was that they were not left open nor were they riveted ‒ every single black ring was perfectly solid, lacking any visible seams.
“Revela,” Harry murmured, flicking his wand, and the scattered pieces of armour suddenly came alight in swirling colours. Contrary to what he had expected, there was no bright blazes ‒ only the hazy glow of natural magic. “They are not enchanted...”
“No,” she agreed. “I don't know how our magic would mix with yours and decided to take no risks. You can enchant them how you see fit.”
He nodded in acceptance, but as she continued to look at him expectantly, he quickly grew uncomfortable under her unwavering gaze. “What?”
“Are you going to take off your clothes?” Aurora asked, tilting her slender and shapely neck. A faint smile crept to her lips. “Or do I have to strip you myself?”
“You want to watch?” Harry teased.
The wizard blinked and then snorted, amusement curving his lips a little. He really should have expected a laconic reply like that... Wordlessly, he slid the black robe off his shoulders and then let the piece of clothing fall on the floor. Harry casually kicked it away and started unbuttoning his shirt. It was quickly discarded onto the same pile, and so were his trousers and socks. Opening the clasps holding the wand holster to the underside of his arm took only a few seconds and tossing it to the bed, even less.
He turned to face the Summer Lady, standing there just in his underwear. “Satisfied?”
“Very.” Aurora chuckled. “Don't feel too smug, though. I've seen better.” She then thrust a folded piece of cloth and a pair of knee-length boots at his chest. “Put these on, and I will help you with the rest.”
The dark green pants she gave fit him rather snugly; they were much more close-fitting than what Harry was used to. He was willing to overlook the potential fashion faux pas, however, as the trousers weren't nearly tight enough to be called long johns and because the thick, silky fabric felt cool and smooth against his skin. A second later he grimaced at how gay his thoughts sounded and quickly focused his attention to the boots.
They were made of leather of some kind and when he peered closely enough he could see thousands tiny scales. Reptilian skin, then. Tightening the shoelaces that went all the way up was an annoyingly long process but once finished, he was positively surprised; the boots were very soft and amazingly comfortable.
He was still admiring his new footwear when Aurora slipped his hand into a shirtsleeve. The vaguely oriental shirt was made of same silky fabric as the pants. She leaned on him, pressing her ample chest tightly against Harry's back, and he could feel her warmth even through all the layers of clothing. Her slender arms wrapped around him from under his arms and she practically drew him into her gentle embrace. It felt nice enough so that he barely noticed her wrapping the right side of the shirt over his body and overlapping it with the left side. Then she receded and her warmth vanished, only to return a second later when she had retrieved the next piece of clothing. The shirt was tied with a wide, black sash that went twice around his waist before Aurora knotted it on his back.
She knelt behind him to put on the greaves. They were of the same matte-black metal as the mail and heavily decorated with gold. The veins of the noble metal seemed to flicker in the candlelight. When the Summer Lady straightened herself, her hand slid up the side of his tight and her chest brushed softly against Harry's shoulder. The touches were feather-light but they still sent a shiver running through the young wizard's back.
The gold and black vambraces were of similar style and design as the greaves. They extended to cover the back of his hands, but not his fingers. They were practically a pieces of art and he probably would have studied them further had he not noticed something even more worthy of his attention. As Aurora was busy tightening the leather straps, it gave him an ideal opportunity to look directly down her impressive cleavage, only a few errant locks of luscious white hair obstructing his viewing pleasure. Harry wasn't stupid enough to believe it was unintentional for even a second ‒ he just couldn't figure out why she did it. It was positively puzzling, but due his teenage hormones' urging, he was determined to enjoy it as long at it lasted.
Unfortunately, like most good things, it was over quickly. And no, that was not a pun.
The next came the hauberk; the padded and reinforced jacket that was worn under the mail to provide protection against blunt trauma. It was surprisingly form-fitting and thin, weighting barely more than a thick woollen shirt. Aurora circled Harry as she adjusted all the straps and strings, her hips, shoulders, and breasts occasionally brushing against him as she worked. That too had no chance of being incidental, because if it was, then she was the greatest accidental cock-tease in all creation since the dawn of time. He was seriously getting frustrated here, and Harry wasn't quite sure whether it was the good kind of frustration or not. He was betting on 'not.'
“I don't think anyone has ever found an elegant way of putting a mail on,” Aurora said as she lifted up the armour. It dangled from her hands and scraped against the floor. “Just crouch down, raise your hands, and I will drop it on you.”
Harry did as asked and after a short fight his hands found the right holes and his head emerged from the depths of the armour. It was light, wondrously so ‒ it couldn't weight much more than a dozen pounds. The black faerie mail, like the hauberk, was long enough to cover his thighs.
Her hands reached into his neck and straightened the collar. The she zipped it up in one swift movement, and Harry blinked. A chainmail with a zip fastener in the collar? It was certainly practical, though, as the mail now snugly covered his neck.
His new sword belt was like the old one, just dark green instead of burgundy.
The final article was a robe. It too was black with the barest traces of green, but with yellow trim. On the right shoulder glittered Aurora's personal symbol: the yellowish-white Sun Circle. On the left side was sewed the coiling Summer Flame.
Aurora let the robe hang open and once she had finished the final adjustments, her hands still remained on his shoulders. She looked up to him and her lips hovered a few inches from his. So close but so far...
“You actually do look handsome,” Aurora murmured appreciatively and for some reason Harry felt terribly proud, even if he would have preferred her not sounding so amazed. But before he could contemplate the Summer Lady's words any further, his mouth was covered by a pair of plump lips.
Unthinkingly, Harry kissed back as soft hands cupped his face. His own arms twined tightly around her waist and pulled her delectable body against his. She moulded to him and the only thing he could think about was the feel, the taste, and the scent of her. The tip of her tongue slipped between his lips and gently touched his. His mouth opened slightly, allowing her access. Their tongues began to play, first gently, and then more insistently. The kiss deepened, their mingled breath becoming heavy.
Then it was over and she leaned back, leaving a wide-eyed Harry gasping breath. The Summer Lady looked over her shoulder and, following her gaze, the wizard realised that his hands were fondling her perfectly round ass.
“Naughty boy,” she whispered, smiling, and took a step back, his hands falling to his side. “I'll see you tomorrow.” Then she just turned around and walked out of the room, casting him one final look and w aving her fingers over her shoulder as she opened the door.
“Evil witch...” Harry mumbled fondly to the dark room.
His smug smile didn't fade for minutes, but when it finally did, he was left with a lot more questions than answers.
The most prevalent of these questions was how he was supposed to take off the armour...
Aurora's heels clapped loudly against the white stone with every step. Harry's gait, on the other hand, was unnaturally silent. The only sound to accompany his passing was the soft swish of his black robe. He wasn't exactly sneaking or anything, rather the Silencing Charms applied on his boots made making audible footsteps almost impossible.
Two rows of tall Sidhe knights lined the walls as the pair walked the hallway leading to the throne room. They were predominantly male, but that was to be expected of such martial calling. Dressed in their gleaming, spell-resistant faerie armour, the twin lines of seasoned, elite warriors surrounding him made an impressive sight. Even though their faces were impassive enough that they could have been carved of stone, their cat-like eyes were hard and full of suspicion. The Summer Fireblades witnessed the wizard's passing with silent vigil, their hands never straying far from the sword handles. Some of them actually went so far as to rest their gauntlets on a sword pommel. Despite all this posturing going on, the knights made no move to intercept him or Aurora.
The Summer Lady paid absolutely no attention to the armed retainers of her mother, her mind clearly on the upcoming meeting. Her face too, was perfectly calm and serene, lacking any traces of human emotion and giving no clue of what she was actually thinking and feeling. It was probably a good thing, Harry surmised; he was certainly feeling nervous enough for both of them.
As they neared the end of the long corridor, a pair of Fireblades opened the massive double doors leading to the innermost sanctum of the Summer Palace. A blast of hot air surged into the hallway, billowing his robe and fluttering his hair. Harry blinked. For the briefest moment he had actually felt the heat even through the powerful insulating magic.
“Once we pass those doors, bow,” Aurora murmured, her voice barely above whisper. “Then thirty steps and bow again. Follow my lead and do not speak until she addresses you.”
The Summer Throne Room was a circular chamber. It wasn't nearly as large as the Ballroom, but it was twice as impressive. The floor was polished, green stone, with beautiful solid gold engravings of impeccable craftsmanship ‒ possibly a runic construct of some kind. It was not like he could tell. The walls were covered with colourful, life-sized paintings of Sidhe lords and ladies, each of them exquisite enough to make Michelangelo weep. The two dozen pillars holding up the luminous golden ceiling were blanketed with thick webbing of ivy. The vines were in total bloom, each of them covered in incalculable number of colourful flowers, and the air was heavy with the spicy scent.
On the other side of the room was an elevated dais and on this dais was a throne, and on the throne...
The Summer Queen was a stern-looking woman. Had she not appeared to be in her early thirties, the way she carried herself would have reminded Harry of late Professor McGonagal. While she was physically an older copy of her daughter, she displayed none of Aurora's softness and openness. Queen Titania of the Summer Court was an incarnate of power and authority, and she certainly didn't give the appearance of being hesitant to use either. Barely a few seconds into their meeting, Harry knew beyond doubt that she was the most dangerous person he had ever met.
She leaned back on the living throne of twisting vines and quietly regarded them, the oppressive silence broken only by the soft drumming of her fingers clashing rhythmically against the armrest.
Click, click, click, click.
Harry straightened his back and stood as tall as he could, crossing his arms behind him. He tried to keep his face neutral and his breathing steady, but it was surprisingly hard under the Summer Queen's cold, heavy gaze.
Click, click, click, click.
If she was trying to make them nervous, she was succeeding. Well, at least partly. Cold sweat ran down his back, but Aurora didn't look like she was very impressed or awed. In fact she looked vaguely bored.
Click, click, click, click.
Harry's eyes snapped back at the Summer Queen.
Click, click, click, click.
“I gave you no permission to act against the White Court, daughter,” Titania's voice suddenly boomed, reverberating through the massive throne room like it was a physical thing and shaking the very stone beneath Harry's feet. She did not scream, she did not rage, she didn't even raise her voice, still her words hit him like a tsunami ‒ strong and pervasive, inevitable. “Yet you arranged the death of the White King himself... You have wittingly and brazenly violated my commands and possibly brought a war upon us. What do you have to say in your defence?”
“As you well know, mother, my geas remains unbroken. I have disobeyed no order of yours,” Aurora said smoothly, not at all perturbed by her mother's anger. “What happened was an accident. Lord Raith attacked my Emissary, who then rightfully defended himself. No violence was initiated by Lord Potter, nor did he go there seeking the vampire lord's death.”
Harry glanced at Aurora. While, technically, every word she said was true, it didn't quite happen like she implied. He hadn't started any fights simply because the other side was faster on the draw ‒ it wasn't exactly due a lack of trying. Not that he would ever admit that little fact to the monarch of the Summer Court...
Queen Titania didn't seem very convinced ‒ nobody with a shred of common sense would, but at least her voice lacked the hostile edge when she spoke again, “Then, may I ask, what was your Emissary's reason for visiting the Raith Manor?”
“He sought the Seal of Solomon.”
“You sent him to steal the ring?” Titania murmured dangerously. “I never thought avarice as one of your vices.”
“I did not send him to steal the Seal, mother,” Aurora countered swiftly and for a moment Harry felt cold dread clench his heart. Luckily she wasn't about to throw him to wolves... “Besides, he didn't steal it as much as he is returning it to its rightful owners.
He released a breath he didn't know he was holding. Aurora hadn't betrayed him...yet. That they were going to give the Seal away was news to him though. But then again, once they had used it to summon the demon lord, it would be only be a fancy magical trinket.
“Very well then,” The Summer Queen said with a careless wave of her hand. “You are dismissed.”
Aurora curtsied again, and Harry quickly followed her example, bowing deeply. They turned to leave when Queen Titania spoke again, “Not you, Lord Potter. We have a few things to discuss. Alone.”
The Summer Lady gave him a brief, inscrutable look before walking away, leaving him alone with the strongest fae in whole Summer. Harry watched her retreating back, and the nicely swaying hips, for a moment before turning to face Queen Titania.
“Your presence here complicates things, Exile,” she said once the doors closed behind Aurora, her voice no longer laced with the supernatural power. A small blessing. “Your return after so many years is not appreciated. Yet I dare not to strike you down where you stand ‒ doing so might incur retribution from the rest of your kind. I was just a young girl then, but I can still remember the days of your dreadful dominion and the horror of the Iron Grove.”
“Eh...” Harry blurted out. He honestly had no idea how to respond to that. He was still thinking up a proper answer when the gravity suddenly increased manifold and he found himself kissing the polished floor, an irresistible force pressing down on his back. Tingling coldness spread all over him as his innate magic fought against the invisible shackles binding him, but Harry knew it was pointless. The woman in front of him was more than strong enough to hold the spell for all eternity if she so wished. Lifting his head a little he managed to look at the Summer Queen.
She glowered down on him from the elevated dais and her grimace was downright ugly on her otherwise pretty face. “Once you have acquired the Arthame and given it to my daughter, only half of your debt remains... The half that you owe to Summer and not to the Summer Lady personally. You will steal the Arthame again, without harming Aurora, and then bring it to me. At that point you shall be free of all debt and obligation to the Summer Court. At that point you shall vanish and never show your face again. Do we have an understanding?”
The way she said that implied that there was only one right answer. Wisely, he chose just that. “I understand,” Harry wheezed out. “Perfectly.”
After hearing the chocked words, she waved her hand slightly and the constricting pressure vanished, letting him to breath once more. “Then begone.”
Harry scampered back on his feet and was gone in a flash of golden sparks.
A cool spring breeze blew his messy black hair as he admired the sky that was a beautiful starry blanket of dark blue.
Of course, it didn't mean that he wouldn't have rather been sleeping in his own bed. Harry knew he had done many exceedingly stupid things in his life, but what was about to happen might very well top everything he had done before.
How often did one get to Summon an ancient Daemon Lord capable of casually wiping the floor with angels, and try to bargain with it?
Harry snorted. Apparently too often. He already missed the silk linens...
Aurora sat against a large column of reddish stone, hugging a knee but keeping the other leg straight. She was seemingly deep in her thoughts. Her calmness, however, was only ostensible as she did have a bared sword resting on her lap, her fingers idly stroking the handle. The pillar the Summer Lady was leaning on and twelve other similar stones formed a loose circle that marked the boundary of the small clearing. The construction reminded him of Stonehenge...even if this was smaller and in the middle of an ancient pine forest.
He turned around to take a look at Elaine who was kneeling next to the flat slab of granite that occupied the centre of the ring of pillars. The large stone table she was studying was painstakingly engraved with multiple circles inside each other and hundreds complicated arcane symbols. Harry was sure Hermione would have been exhilarated to see something like this, and even Ron should have found it cool.
“I'm ready,” she told them and stood up, stretching he legs a little after all the crouching and kneeling.
“Good,” Aurora said softly, and the sudden gale almost drowned her voice. It made her hair sway nicely, however. “We better get started then. But before we do, remember that Lord Sakhr's foul wisdom is the proverbial forbidden fruit; listen at your own peril. His words have corrupted and destroyed far stronger and older beings than us, you understand?”
“Crystal,” Elaine said and Harry nodded. Even he wasn't about to take anything said by a demon lord nicknamed 'the Deceiver' at face value.
The witch picked up her staff and closed her eyes in concentration, her lips moving but no sound coming out. She was obviously doing final rehearsals of the Summoning ritual. Then she started for real and drew on the power gathered in the pillars fed by the two ley-lines crossing underneath. Some of the energy spilled around, tickling his skin and causing the air to hum with ambient magic. Almost as a nervous reaction, Harry begun twirling the wand in his fingers.
“Hear me, Sakhr the Deceiver, the White Serpent of the Immaculate Order!” Elaine intoned with a strong voice and slammed her heavy staff against the stone, the Summoning Circle flaring into life with a pure white light. “I summon the Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge, the False Philosopher!”
The light intensified and Harry could see motes of red light swirl within the Circle, rising from the stone like rose petals whipped up by a sudden gale. They started faint and few but quickly grew in number and luminescence, turning the Circle into a scarlet pillar of light. He could feel a vast and terrible presence gathering and he gripped his wand tighter.
“Come to me, Accursed One, the Corrupter of Eden!”
In a single heartbeat all the motes of light erupted in reddish-orange flames. Hellish fire conjured from the deepest pits of Downbelow exploded against the Circle, roaring with unimaginable fury and burning with such brilliance that Harry had to avert his eyes. Not having another direction to expand but upwards, the demonic flames rose into a huge spear swirling fire, reaching high into the heavens. The few thin lines inscribed on the stone seemed to be a far too frail cage to withstand such massive unholy power, but somehow the Circle held strong.
Elaine's eyes were closed in concentration and her hand was extended towards the Summoning Circle, the Seal blazing with reddish light on her finger. She was breathing hard and sweat had formed pearls on her forehead. Then the witch's eyes snapped open and she screamed the actual incantation that would hopefully force the demon lord to materialize, “Appare! Appare! Appare!”
The blazing vortex of soul-burning Hellfire collapsed upon itself, shrinking into a human shape as Lord Sakhr stepped fully into the mortal world. The profane energy finished its condensation and the reddish-orange light died, showing the demon's form to the onlookers.
The demon lord's gold-trimmed glossy-white robe hung wide open, revealing a high-necked blood-red frock coat and an Ascot-knotted cravat with a golden pin. He wore full, crimson breaches that disappeared in gleaming, black knee-length boots. A black belt circled the demon's waist and Harry could see a polished wooden sword-handle peaking under the white robe.
Hazy coils of red energy swirled and writhed at his feet like a mass of epileptic snakes, occasionally rising in miasmic tides and crashing against the Circle. The demon lord just stood there, motionless discounting the faint, rhythmic movements of his fingers. Bright strands of magic flickered in and out of existence around his hands as the nimble fingers continued their play. Then Lord Sakhr lifted his head and Harry could see under the demon's white cowl.
The White Serpent's face belied his true nature; a perfectly neutral expression adorned the demon's handsomely boyish features. His wild hair was sandy-blonde and his blue eyes twinkled in a way that reminiscent him of his late headmaster. Harry blinked. Sakhr certainly looked nothing like he had expected and the lack of evil red eyes, curled horns, scaly skin, and shark-like teeth was plain disconcerting – in a world that was just and right, ancient soul-eating demons wouldn't wear white nor would they look deceptively young and innocent.
“And I do hear you, Elaine Lilian Mallory,” the demon lord said, speaking her Name like a caress. The witch shivered and her face went white.
“B-but how...” she stammered.
“I have heard you since the first gasp of air... I bare witness to your birth cry, listened to your first words. I'm confidant to all your secrets; every little dirty deed and desire. I know everything that has ever passed mortal lips since the dawn of time. That is the power of my Intellectus.”
“No, it is not,” Sakh said softly, almost dejectedly. Almost. “Your denial does not earn you forgiveness, wizard, nor does it justify your arrogance.”
Lord Sakhr turned to look at Harry, seemingly not deeming Elaine worthy of any further attention. The demon lord's unnerving gaze was sharp and inquisitive, inhumanly so. But it was also clinical, detached. On further observation, his face was similarly inhuman. Even though physically indistinguishable from human, it held no trace of any recognisable human emotion. And he never blinked. Not even once.
“Now, Exile, I hope you allow me a question. Why are you serving the Lady of the Dawn? She's the most humane of the Sidhe Queens...and thus the worst of them all.”
Harry snorted. “You are saying that she's the worst because she's the nicest of the bunch. That's some backwards logic worthy of the Dark Lord.”
“Those who fear darkness have never seen what the light can do,” Lord Sakhr said evenly and without emotion. It was almost creepy, the way he spoke. Then he glanced at Elaine, and delivered the rest of his psycho-babble, “Her mercy shall destroy your kind.”
“Lies,” Aurora hissed. “He speaks nothing but words of deceit and manipulation.”
“Lies?” Sakhr repeated. “Falsehoods are for those who are unable to handle the unabridged truth. I have never spared words just because the White God prefers ignorance and powerlessness from his subjects. It does you no service to blame me for your own inadequateness and ignorance.”
“Lord Sakhr,” Harry interjected, deciding to bring the conversation on the right track. “Do you have the Arthame?”
The demon was silent for a moment, as if appraising him, before speaking in soft tones. “I do. But do you really know why you are here?”
“That should be obvious,” the young wizard said, his eyes narrowing. “I'm here to get the Sorcerer-King's old ritual dagger from you.”
“No, you were tricked here to die,” Lord Sakhr countered. “I, like all Hellbound except the Fallen, am obliged to kill each and every of my Summoners. And trust me, I'm becoming exceedingly good at it.”
“Really?” Harry drawled with a healthy amount of disbelief in his voice. “And why would Aurora want my death? She's standing right there anyway.”
The demon lord crossed his arms in front him and leaned back against the invisible barrier. Faint red ripples originated from where Sakhr touched the Circle and travelled across the invisible surface. A white-gloved hand rose and adjusted his gold-rimmed glasses, his expression never changing. “Not the Summer's Queen That Will Be, Exile. It was that traitorous whore Leanansidhe of Unseelie who sent you to die to advance her own cause. Truly, despite my profound dislike of her, casual disregard of other beings like that is...delicious. If the Winterborn had souls, they would surely all come to us.”
Lord Sakhr's piercing eyes focused on Harry. “But that fate can still be avoided ‒ the deadline has not yet caught with us. I will give you the Arthame to do as you wish if you agree to my demand.”
“I propose an equal trade,” the Summer lady spoke before Harry even managed open his mouth. “The Arthame is useless for a demon, even powerful ones such as you, but the Seal of Solomon certainly isn't. The ring has been the bane of your existence since its creation and‒”
The demon ignored her. “The divine power burns in you veins, Exile. You have it, but you barely use it. I can show you what you could be, what you could do...if you simply let yourself become what you are.”
“Just say what you want,” Harry snapped, annoyed. Everywhere he went, people seemed to have plans for him. Even in another dimension he got no bloody respite.
“A sidereal year of your time.”
“I don't think so,” Harry proclaimed quickly. The young wizard was just about continue his vehement disagreement when he saw a flash of silvery-white light through the trees. “I thought this place was supposed to be far from human settlement.”
“It is,” Aurora agreed, and flicked her hand, bright orange-gold sparks dancing around her fingers. Earth broke and belched with a wet hiss on half dozen places, while hay and grass grew in unbelievable speed, twisting to cover the emerging muddy figures. Then their eyes ignited with Summer Fire and the constructions came alive, snarling and barking. “Seems that we have unwanted quest.”
“Unwanted doesn't even begin to describe these misguided fools,” Lord Sakhr stated, his voice still perfectly flat. “May I present you the Knights of the Cross.”
The silvery glow was getting steadily closer and brighter, and it didn't take long for three figures to emerge from the woods; an old Japanese man, a Caucasian man, and a younger black man. They wore flowing white cloaks emblazoned with religious symbols, and each of them carried a sword blazing with pale silver fire.
“Are they Templars or something?”
His question was intended for the Summer Lady, but it was the demon lord who answered, “You are correct. They mindlessly serve a god who doesn't even care of them; both humanity's triumphs and failures are only entertainment for Him. Yet, like the good dogs they are, they are rewarded with the power to do His bidding.”
The oldest of the three knights spoke, “You speak but lies, Lord Sakhr. You are not welcome here. Crawl back to Hell where you belong, demon.”
“The White God is powerful, but he's just one of many. Do not presume that His patronage exalts you in any way. You are no way superior to me, little mortal. But if you really despise me so, why don't you strike me down, then?” the demon lord taunted. Or at least Harry assumed so ‒ it was really hard to tell as Sakhr's voice was still soft and bland and his face, expressionless. “Or are you, the one who carries the Sword of Faith, afraid to break the Circle? Have you really so little trust in your god's power to destroy me in a single strike?”
“I know it can,” the old man said confidently. “I merely don't know if it will.”
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the curse of that faith is to see what you believe,” Lord Sakhr stated. “Do not willingly blind yourself. I have slaughtered angels and Old Gods with my bare hands and fought archangels to a standstill. Are you actually arrogant enough to think that you can harm me with your pesky blessed swords?”
“He wouldn't give us a challenge for what we are not ready. And we would rather have the wizard there to simply banish you back than risk releasing you,” the Caucasian one said, looking at Elaine. “So how it is, Miss?”
“No! I absolutely forbid it,” Aurora said harshly, and the scrunts around her snarled and hissed, baring their root-like teeth. “You three Knights are to depart now. You don't know what you are interrupting. Please go.”
“Lady, you don't really think you can scare us with a bunch of chlorohounds?” That was the third knight, who had up to this point remained stoically silent.
“Perhaps I should endeavour to frighten you, then...” Lord Sakhr quipped and turned to look into the dark forest. “I accept your deal.”
Harry didn't know whom the White Serpent was speaking to, but it certainly meant nothing good. He was proved right when something black shot out from the darkness and flickered across the clearing, exploding the ground at the demon lord's feet and breaking the complex lines carved into the stone.
The Circle shattered a second later.