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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl
Chapter 58 : The Darkness Within
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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"Attend me," Jarillion order sternly, as he took a small sharp knife and began to cut away the skin on the stomach of the dead white rat, which was three times the size of an ordinary rat, though just as dead when Jarillion hit it with a Heart Failure Curse. That curse, and a few others, killed swiftly, though that was not why the prince used it. He told them quite plainly he enjoyed watching creatures writhe beneath his power, and the only reason he used that curse was because he needed the body intact for his anatomy lesson. "I would have used a redcap, but I need to keep their numbers strong, so an albino giant rat shall do for now. Until something better comes along."

He continued opening up the rat, quickly and efficiently, while Harry, Draco, and Nesmay observed.

Harry's nose wrinkled at the foul stench of dead rat and blood, but knew better than to show his revulsion. The first time he had grimaced when Jarillion had killed a harmless cat resulted in the dark fae locking him in a room with a dozen freshly killed corpses of cats until he stopped flinching and retching. That had been a day ago, and Harry swore it had seemed longer than this. Draco had to fight not to puke also, but he had been raised with Lucius' unsentimental attitude towards dead animals, and so learned to hide it better.

Nesmay was sickened also by the wanton destruction, Summer fae did not kill without cause, but after seeing poor Harry's fate, managed to fight back her gorge until she was alone in her room, and then she vomited off and on all night.

When Harry had mentioned the odd slowing down feeling, as if time had begun creeping along, she feared Jarillion had pulled one of the oldest tricks of the fae, and altered how time ran, slowing it down till minutes became hours and hours days. This could only be done if the fortress was taken outside of the timestream, and that was only possible if the fortress was built next to a portal leading into the astral realm, or the Realm of Unbeing.

"Can he really do that?" Draco had queried under his breath the night before.

Nesmay shot him a don't-be-so-dense look. "Of course he can. Don't you remember all those stories about how a wandering minstrel or hero joins in the Midsummer revels for a night and when he wakes the next morning in his world, he's lost a hundred years? Those stories are mostly true."

"But we've been back and forth from the fae realm loadsof times and that's never happened," Draco objected, while Harry nodded.

Nesmay shrugged. "That's because my grandmother chose to keep time running the same between the two realms. She could have just as easily altered it. Jarillion has the power to do the same, as master over his own fortress."

"Do you think he has?" Harry asked warily.

"I'm not sure," Nesmay bit her lip. "I thought . . . I thought I heard some strange noises last night, of gears grinding and squeaking and felt an odd shift in the aura of this place, but the only way to be sure would be of one of us left and then returned."

"Fat chance of that happening," Harry sighed. Hopefully Nesmay was wrong. Harry did not want to lose a hundred years as a slave to Jarillion's depraved ways.

In any case there was little they could do about it now, determined as Jarillion was to teach his new apprentices the ways of the dark. The corrupt fae began by explaining that the dark magic was many times stronger than its light counterpart and that unlike "good" magic, the dark kind carried less of a cost, since the cost of a major working could be shared among a dark mage's victims or rivals using a simple Steal Essence spell.

Jarillion had demonstrated the spell, using two redcaps and an orc, draining them nearly dry of their magical essence. No sooner had he done so, then his pale skin became flushed with energy and he seemed to glow from within. He loHHH He looked, if it were possible, even more strikingly handsome than ever, though Nesmay did not seem the least affected by his more appealing looks. She could see through the Glamour he cast and little by little so could Harry and Draco.

Jarillion taught them the incantation, and all three repeated it. But mindful of their oath, they deliberately botched the pronunciation, getting it wrong again and again. Finally, Jarillion grew frustrated, and smacked them about the head, then ordered them to keep on practicing, and left the room.

"That went better than I expected," Harry said, gingerly rubbing his head.

"What an awful spell," Nesmay whimpered. "I could feel it start to coil within me, like a shadowy mist, seeking to draw someone's magic away." She shivered. And that had been with a botched attempt. How much worse would it be with a spell that worked?

This was the second day of instruction, and Jarillion wished to teach them about battle magic, using the dissected rat as a model of where to aim the dark magic and how to control it. The fae carefully peeled back the layer of skin and muscle, revealing the rat's innards.

"Look here, my students!" he called, indicating the spleen and heart, which were a mottled grayish white color. "See where the heart is! And here, the liver . . .here the spleen . . .here the stomach . . ." He carefully pointed each part out with the tip of his knife. "You must aim carefully and know where you wish the spell to hit before you release it. A wizard bolt is chaos unleashed and should be aimed with the utmost care. Observe."

He pointed a finger and spoke a word, a black sphere shot out and struck the rat's liver, disintegrating it. Jarillion laughed. "Child's play."

Harry felt his gorge rise. Though the rat was dead and could feel nothing, he was reminded of a cruel child pulling the wings off butterflies and sprinkling salt upon slugs to watch them die. I cannot do this. I am not like them. He gripped his wand hard and determined to play the dunce yet again, as per Draco's instructions. He was sure Jarillion suspected nothing, after all, he believed mortals were an inferior species.

But the fae prince surprised him, he spun on him and hissed, "Apprentice Snape, your turn. Show me what you have learned thus far."

"Yes, Master," Harry whispered through gritted teeth. He waved his wand at the spread-eagled rat and mispronounced the words to the incantation. The ball of negative energy sputtered and fizzled.

"Idiot!" snarled the Winter prince.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw him lift his hand and braced for a blow.

Instead he heard the sharp crack of flesh and heard Nesmay whimper. Then he heard Draco gasp as well, as Jarillion smacked him across the shoulders with a cane he had summoned. Harry whirled and cried out in protest. "Master, don't! Why are you punishing them? I am to blame for my failure. Punish me instead."

Jarillion grabbed him hard by the chin. "You do not dictate to me on punishments, apprentice! Clearly they are at fault for distracting you during your studies and therefore shall be punished. You see, whenever I did poorly at my studies, my lady mother made sure I did not transgress again in that manner. The lesson stuck, as this will. You see, I have noticed you still bear . . .compassion for your brother and cousin, Snape. And so, whenever you fail, they shall bear the brunt of punishment, until you succeed. A good incentive, no?" Jarillion bared his teeth and chuckled mercilessly. "But don't worry. Soon you shall learn that there is no one more important than yourself . . . and the only other person you need to please is . . .me."

He then shoved Harry into the wall and knocked Nesmay to the ground with one backhanded blow, causing her lip to bleed.

Harry almost cried out in protest, but stopped himself. That was what Jarillion wanted. He forced himself to look away. Nesmay, I'm sorry. I'll make the bastard pay for this.

Draco too remained stoically silent, his jaw clenched. He recalled sessions like this at Malfoy Manor, when Lucius would punish the house elves and make him watch, to ensure that he knew how to discipline an underling properly. He longed to attack the Winter prince and make him cry out, but he knew the time for rebellion was not yet. He needed to find a weakness first. Then he would strike.

"Get up, princess!" growled Jarillion. "It is not meet that you grovel in the dirt. Up!"

Nesmay rose to her feet, her whole face ached but she did not show it. Instead she bowed her head briefly, seemingly cowed. "Your Highness."

Harry forced himself to go down on one knee, humbling himself to the tyrant fae. "Forgive me, Master. I shall try and do better."

"Let us see it then," sneered the other.

Harry rose, swallowing back his scorn and revulsion. It left a bitter taste in his mouth, and for the first time he understood utterly how Severus must have felt when he had to pretend to serve Voldemort for all those years. Dad, how did you stand it? How did you bear his foul presence and act like it was normal? This time he pointed his wand and spoke the spell correctly and the black energy sizzled from the end of his wand and struck the dead rat's spleen, blasting it to ash.

"Not bad. Mr. Malfoy, you're next." Jarillion waved at Draco.

Harry stepped back, feeling ill and tainted. Though he had not killed any living thing with the spell, he felt as if he were soiled, that he had given the black magic access to his soul and his mind and it was slowly taking over.

Draco performed well, the spell was not a difficult one and he had learned worse at Lucius' own hand.

Satisfied, Jarillion dismissed them a few minutes later.

Harry stepped forward after the door had shut behind them. "Nesmay, I'm sorry—"

She held up a hand. "Don't be. It's not your fault. I've had worse." She glanced away. Then she said quickly, "It's better if we don't talk to each other. He might see." She spun on her heel and hurried away, heading towards the stairs and her tower suite.

Harry stared after her in dismay. "But . . ." He looked at Draco helplessly. "I thought we promised not to let him come between us."

Draco sighed. "He's not. She's just being cautious. Best not to provoke him. He's our master now, he can make things very unpleasant for us if he wants." His brother reminded him grimly.

"I won't let him make us enemies."

"Of course not, Snape. Calm that Gryffindor pride. Nothing will ever make us enemies. But he doesn't know that, and if he thinks we're starting to become rivals, he might relax a bit around us. Get it?"

"Oh. Yeah."

Draco clapped him on the back. "Play the game, Snape. Just remember, none of it's real. Except the truth here." He tapped his heart, then shrugged and sauntered off to the dining hall to beg lunch from the invisible servants.

Harry followed, deeply troubled. How could he protect himself and his family from the chasm that loomed before them? He caught up to the blond just before their newly furnished quarters in the keep. "Draco? Do you think . . . Dad and Sarai are looking for us?" he whispered into the other's ear.

Draco gave him an incredulous glance, then opened the door to their room and pulled his brother inside, closing the door behind them and casting a Muffliato Charm. "Phoenix, what's gotten into you? I'd bet Malfoy Manor they're hunting for us right now. They'd never let us disappear like that without tearing apart both the fae realm and ours to find us. Don't give up hope that way, Harry. Or else the bastard prince wins."

Harry gave Draco a wan smile. "I . . . I wasn't, really. I just . . .I've been afraid that Dad might not find us, or that when he did find us we'd be . . . changed. Dark servants." Harry's eyes were filled with trepidation. "I don't trust myself, Dragon. Back when I lived with the Dursleys, I had it rough but . . . at least I knew what to expect, and how to avoid Vernon's belt, most times. I was hungry and all, but at least I knew it would end for a little when I went to school. And I could trick Dudley in my sleep, so it wasn't too bad. But this . . . the dark magic . . .I can feel it tugging at me, calling me . . . was this how Dad felt, all those years when he pretended to serve Voldemort?"

Draco nodded. "This and some worse, I'd imagine. Listen, he told me once, when Lucius was teaching me dark spells, that if you face the darkness within, then it can't hurt you. He said that the worst thing dark magic does is it takes away your hope and makes you afraid to stop using it. So don't let it do that, Harry. You've faced your darkness, last summer with Smidgen. Just like I faced mine when I rejected Lucius and Narcissa in the courtroom. The dark magic can only seduce when you let it."

Harry nodded. What Draco said made sense. He just hoped that his father would come soon, before something dreadful happened to all of them. For all he had faced monsters and dark wizards, he felt he was out of his depth here, and the darkness within coiling inside, biding its time to strike.

Above, in her rooms, Nesmay paced, recalling over and over Harry's hurt face as she had run from him. She had hated hurting her cousin, who was sweet and good and would have been her champion if she had asked for it, or even if she hadn't. Forgive me, Harry. But it's the only way to keep you safe. She nearly laughed aloud at that thought. Safety was not to be found among these walls. If only the boys had not come with her. If only they had run when Jarillion had come. But no, they had stayed and fought, they were no cowards, and so had doomed themselves. She felt terribly guilty for that, and yet at the same time selfishly glad that they were here with her. At least she was not alone.

Her hands went to the circlet of metal about her neck. Her collar of shame, which she longed to remove but could never manage to do so with the magic left to her. Jarillion would have rued the day he set a hand on her if her mortal magic was free. At first she had hoped to learn enough of Jarillion's cold Art to use against him, but soon realized it was a fool's hope. The Winter prince taught them nothing he could not counter and he had been studying the Dark Arts for longer than she had been alive. Her fae magic was useless against him. It was her wild mortal magic he feared, and thus had bound.

Worse, the collar could only be removed by Jarillion or Maeve, the Winter Queen. Nesmay knew that would happen when the stars fell from the sky, and gave up trying to remove it a few days ago. All it had gotten her were bleeding fingernails and headaches.

So she had turned her thoughts to something else, trying to meditate and keep calm enough to block away the traitorous longing in her mind, the whispers of dark magic that pleaded with her to use them. They frightened her, making her think that perhaps Oberon had been right, and she was bad luck and a bad seed.

Her hair fell in front of her eyes, a soft honey colored curtain. They all said she looked much like her mother. But what if her father was inside her as well? What if she truly had his spirit, and the dark magic overwhelmed her? That was what she feared most of all, and it was something no one could protect her against.

Go away, Father. Back into the hell from whence you came. Just go away and take the bloody Winter Prince along with you.

Jarillion smirked, pleased with how the session had gone. He had expected some resistance at first to his teachings, because these were mere mortals and mortals nearly always had scruples at first. But soon they would come to realize the power the darkness held, and once they did, they would seek it out eagerly, and forget the ties of blood, and lust after the magic alone and what it could give them. He looked forward to the day when the Seelie princess would give into her dark inheritance and then become a truly fit bride. Together they could rule the Waste, and who knew, perhaps even Winter itself, should Maeve's power falter. But right now he would concentrate on winning them over to the shadow side.

Day 4 (altered time):

"Today we are going to practice summoning an ally to assist you in battle," Jarillion stated. "I have noticed that this is a dying branch of the Art among humans. "Twould seem you wizards believe yourself "too proud" or "too strong" to need allies as you once did." As always, when he spoke of mortals, the Unseelie's pefect mouth curled into a perfect sneer. "We of faerie, however, have long known the usefulness of this spell, and a well-timed summoning can turn the tide of battle in your favor."

"What will we be summoning, Master?" asked Nesmay, half-curious and half-fearful. "A cold drake? Some lurks? Perhaps a wyvern?"

"Nothing so advanced yet, little princess," chuckled Jarillion, reaching out to run his fingers through her hair. "For the sorceress must be able to control what she calls, or else risk being eaten. For now, we shall start with something easy—fire imps from Tartarus. They are easily called and easily controlled, as they have very little brains and exist to feast upon sweet mortal flesh."

They were in Jarillion's workroom, a huge circular stone room with ancient diagrams of spells upon the walls and more runes and a pentagram upon the floor. Jarillion had shown them how to activate the pentagram and some of the other circle wards, ensuring that they were protected from what their spells called up. "One slip, one wrong word, and you could be food for a demon or other creature. So . . .memorize your incantations correctly."

He had a large iron cage off to the side of the room, which was currently empty. Harry and Draco both eyed it uneasily, wondering who or what was going to appear in it. Last time Jarillion was demonstrating how to cast a fireball correctly, there had been a mountain troll within it, and the Unseelie had burnt it to a crisp. He had then summoned another for each of them, and watched to see how well they killed it. Though the troll was a vicious monster that would have crushed him had it been loose, still Harry felt sorry for it, trapped and used for target practice, but he forced himself to cast the spell anyway. The smell of burnt troll made his stomach heave, but there was a dark part of him that rejoiced at killing the monster, and made him shudder.

"Watch!" the Winter Prince ordered, and began casting, after stepping inside the pentagram. Across from his pentagram was another concentric triple circle and it was there that a gate was summoned and fiery creatures with bat wings and dragon tails the size of Harry's hand emerged, hissing and giggling like insane inmates appeared from a clot of shadow. They hovered and swooped, clawing at the invisible barrier that kept them penned in the circle.

"There! Fire imps live to destroy everything, but especially living organisms." Jarillion gestured with one hand and suddenly the iron cage was filled with blue Cornish pixies.

Draco swallowed hard, knowing what was coming. Harry blinked, and his mind whispered that surely Jarillion wasn't going to do what he suspected. Nesmay suppressed a wince but remained stony-faced, even though the pixies were subjects of the Summer court. She knew she could do nothing to save them.

"Focus your will upon the imps and then command them to destroy your enemies and afterwards disperse. Never forget to tell them to leave once they have done your bidding, else you shall have a problem on your hands," cautioned the prince.

He abruptly released the imps from the warded circle and bid them slay the pixies.

The imps rushed over to the iron cage and began gleefully roasting and ripping apart the pixies, and soon the room was filled with the stink of burning flesh, brimstone, and the screams of the pixies as died, unable to escape their iron prison. And over the screams came the laughter of the imps.

Harry totally lost it then, and vomited onto the floor.

Before Draco could remove the evidence, Jarillion saw and stalked over to them. He jerked Harry up by the hair and snarled, "I'll have no weak-stomached apprentices here, Snape!" He casually backhanded Harry across the face, knocking his glasses off. "Pick them up. You're first this lesson."

Harry bent to pick them up, his face throbbing. "Sorry, Master," he whispered, though he wished he had thrown up on Jarillion's boots. The last thing he wanted was to call up more of the infernal creatures, but he had no choice. He stepped into the pentagram, wand in hand.

He could see how the spell could be useful, if he weren't summoning dark creatures, and he vowed to learn how to summon other creatures with it, like bears or even wolves, which could help him. For now, though . . .

He managed to summon up four imps, though the spell left a rotten taste in his mouth, as if slime coated his tongue. As before, Jarillion conjured pixies in the cage and Harry ordered the imps to feed and then return to their home.

They obeyed, and Harry was both relieved and sickened.

Draco was next, and he did not display any of his disgust openly, but shuddered inwardly at how the dark magic coiled within him, whispering sweet seduction in his ear. Don't listen to it. Don't. But it was hard.

When Nesmay's turn came, however, Jarillion called up redcaps from somewhere and put them in a cage. "There, my love! A new target for you!"

Nesmay nodded and cast, summoning more imps than either Harry or Draco had. This alarmed Draco, who looked over at the purple-haired half-blood and shook his head.

Nesmay's bright eyes were dull and hard and she did not seem to see her cousins there. There was a strange expression on her face. "My lord, would you release them from the cage?" she asked, indicating the redcaps, who were screaming and struggling to get out. "Let us have a bit of . . .sport."

Jarillion laughed. "Why not?" He waved a hand and the iron cage vanished.

The redcaps began to try and find a way out, but there was no escape.

Nesmay freed the imps and then the fiery things hunted down the redcaps and killed them.

The redcaps never stood a chance and both wizards watched in horror as Nesmay threw back her head and laughed quietly, filled with savage satisfaction.

Jarillion applauded, his smile one of cold triumph.

Later that night, Harry said to Draco, "We have to talk to her. I think she might be . . .starting to turn." He bit his lip. "Or maybe it's an act?"

Draco looked uncertain. "I don't know. Her face . . . it seemed too spontaneous to be an act."

"What do we do?"

"Try and talk to her."

But when they crept up to Nesmay's room, they found the door locked and no answer to their knocks.

Draco cast an Unlocking Charm, and turned the handle, only to find Nesmay's room empty. At a loss, he said, "I wonder where she is?"

"I don't know, but . . ." Harry trailed off, upset.

"We'll try again later," Draco said, then they departed.

Nesmay quickly cancelled the glamour that had kept her from being seen by Draco and Harry. She felt awful about deceiving them that way, but she knew the only way she had of getting free of Jarillion's hold was to make him think she was changing and becoming more like he was. The only problem was, she feared that eventually it might not be an act, for this afternoon she had felt flutters of satisfaction when the fire imps had pursued the red caps across the room. More, she had not felt badly when they had died, as she ought to have, even though they too were vicious killers.

Does that make me a monster too? she wondered bleakly. I don't want to become like any of them and yet . . .no matter what I do, the darkness is claiming me, little by little. Tears slid down her cheeks and she wondered how long she had before she surrendered totally to the whispers and became Jarillion's dark bride in truth?

She wept silently, wishing she dared go to talk to her cousins, who had now become something like brothers if she admitted the truth, but she didn't want to involve them any more than necessary in her gambit. Shaking and sick, she rose and exited her room, heading towards the library, where she hoped to do some research upon the collars, maybe there was a way to trick Jarillion into removing it?

Draco lay awake in his bed long after Harry had fallen asleep and started to snore. Normally he would have poked his brother till he turned over and quit being annoying, but not on this night. He was too agitated. His plan was spiraling out of control and he did not know how to salvage it. He had hoped that Severus and Sarai would have arrived before now to free them and kick Jarillion's icy ass, but they were late. Draco refused to contemplate the other option that might have occurred, that they had died beneath the claws or fangs of some monster.

No, he had to remain firm in his belief that his father and Sarai were not only alive, but coming to find them. As he had told Harry, lose hope and you lose all. He trusted Severus and knew that nothing, not even death would prevent the Potions Master from seeking them. He just hadn't counted on Jarillion being able to manipulate time and hoped it was only a very temporary thing.

He turned on his side, shivering, for the keep was always a few degrees cooler than was comfortable for him, yet he didn't want to waste a Warming Charm. He had to conserve his magic and his will to keep from succumbing to the siren song of the dark magic. Though he didn't dare admit it to either Harry or Nesmay, he too felt the subtle beckon of the shadow road, and unlike them, he had once walked a bit down it. It gave him a little knowledge in how far he could go before he reached a point of no return, and what signs to look for in the others.

Harry was still holding out but Nesmay concerned him greatly. The fact that she was avoiding them frightened him badly, for most dark practitioners tended to be solitary, unwilling to share power or company with others. The dark magic encouraged such a lifestyle and Nesmay was displaying all the signs of listening to the darkness.

Please, he prayed silently with his eyes shut tight. Don't go there, Nesmay. Don't make me keep that promise, for the love of Merlin. Please. I don't want to be your executioner.

Troubled and anxious, it took him a very long time to fall asleep.

Days passed, and all the children felt the dark magic slowly increasing its hold over their minds and spirit. It was difficult to be cheerful and maintain hope in Jarillion's home, which was cold, stark, and full of the miasma of evil. Jarillion had taught them spells of frost and ice, showed them how to cast killing frost bolts and to freeze the blood in someone's veins. At first they used cadavers, but soon he progressed them into attacking living targets, such as woodkin and butterfly fairies which he had caught on forays into the Summer country and held prisoner for just such experiments.

By then, all the apprentices had learned to mask their distaste of killing, though Nesmay appeared to revel in it more than Draco or Harry, which pleased Jarillion to no end.

He also taught them how to brew poisons and tested them on more magical beings to show how quickly they killed.

Meanwhile, Nesmay continued her research, and finally found a clue in a very old book of potions, so old that the pages nearly crumbled beneath her fingers at her touch. She had to cast a preserving charm on the pages in order to ensure she could read it. There was an ancient solution that would render the drinker subservient and obedient to the brewer for six hours. Her only problem, when she could get into the lab to brew it and getting a hair or fingernail clipping from the canny prince.

Traditionally, the fae were resistant to spells of charm or command, but this potion was something invented by one of them, and it apparently worked, because this was an ancient potions journal, and this potion must have been tested several times for efficacy. She felt a thrill go through her. At last, a way out!

She slipped from the library and practically skipped back to her room, ignoring the suspicious glance from one of the redcap guards patrolling the corridor. She couldn't understand how they could serve a master like Jarillion, who slaughtered them in his experiments with his apprentices. Didn't they care? Or were they unfeeling monsters that cared only for themselves, as she had been taught?

For the first time since being brought here, Nesmay felt hope. It was a fragile small flicker in the smothering darkness, but it was there. Now she had to figure out a way to make her plan work.

She almost rammed headfirst into Draco in the hall, not expecting the Slytherin wizard to be waiting for her in front of her door. She gave a sharp squeak of surprise before Draco put a hand on her shoulder and whispered, "Nesmay, we need to talk. Now."

"All right. But not here." She set her hand to the door and it unlocked at her touch.

He followed her inside.

He glanced about sharply. "Is it safe to talk here?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure? Is it warded?"

She sighed and muttered something. "There! See? He won't be able to hear us. What did you want? I need some sleep, I've been up doing research for over six hours."

"Research? On what? How to better kill redcaps?" his tone was sarcastic.

She scowled. "No, on how to rid myself of this bloody thing about my neck."

"The collar? I thought only Jarillion could release you from it." He took a seat on her bed.

"Yes, but I think I've figured out a way to make him."

Draco eyed her suspiciously. "How? By joining him? Nesmay, you're skating on thin ice, you know that? The dark magic . . .it seems like it's . . .seducing you . . ."

"It's not." She snapped. "Don't you trust me?"

"Not when you're laughing when things die."

"It's fake, Draco. Besides, they're monsters. They'd as soon eat me as look at me. Why should I feel sorry for them?"

She had a point, even if he didn't want to admit it. "Damned if I know. Just be careful, okay? Try and remember you're Titania's granddaughter."

"As if I could forget."

"What did you find?"

"A potion recipe," she began eagerly, and showed him the book.

He read it through silently. "Looks a little complicated. Are you sure it'll work?"

"No, and I have no idea how to get him to drink it, but it's the only thing I've found that might help me get rid of this thing." She put a hand up and gripped the collar. "I have to try, Draco. Otherwise I might . . ." She shook her head. "If this works, we can force him to let us go."

"And if it doesn't, we're dragon bait," Draco pointed out grimly.

"Got a better idea?"

"No. Harry and I can help you. Either with the brewing or the getting ingredients or providing a distraction."

"You don't have to. If we get caught . . ."

"All of us will suffer anyway, so might as well make it worthwhile," he pointed out.

She stared at him, with his devil-may-care grin, and her eyes filled with sudden tears. "I really don't deserve—"

"Stop," he ordered, handing her a handkerchief. "You're my family, and family helps family. We all got into this together and we'll all come out of it together."

She went and hugged him. "Draco, you're the best."

"I knew that already," he smirked. He hugged her back, then said quickly, "Girls! So dramatic."

"I think we ought to start tomorrow evening. See if Harry can come up with a way to get Jarillion's hair. Or how to administer the potion once it's done. I'll start collecting the other ingredients."

"Right. Well, it's late, and I'm tired. Pleasant dreams, little cousin." He rose and strode towards the door.

Nesmay waved and bid him good night. Then she hid the potions text beneath her pillow and crawled into bed. For the first time since her arrival her dreams were not dark and full of blood and death and dread. For the first time she slept deeply, peacefully, and awoke feeling refreshed and calm. She dressed rapidly and ignored the collar in the mirror. Very soon she would be rid of it and then Jarillion would do well to run for his life indeed! For if she shared one thing in common with Tom Riddle besides her wild magic it was a thirst for vengeance. And the Winter Prince owed her.

Sorry for taking so long to update but I've been very sick with a bad Ear and throat infection and couldn't write as I could barely get out of bed. I'm slowly recovering and hope you enjoy this chapter and forgive any mistakes in it.

Will the kids manage to brew the potion before Jarillion discovers them? Or will Severus and his allies arrive first?

Find out next chapter, as things come to a head and the final showdown occurs!
 


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