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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl
Chapter 60 : The Thawing of the Winter Prince
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 24

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Hearing the syllables of dark magic flow from his sons' lips made Severus shudder and grow pale, disbelief mingling with fury at how the Winter prince had corrupted his innocent children. He wanted to blast Jarillion off the face of the earth. Never had he been so hard pressed to control his temper. It was his worst nightmare, the scenario he had hoped he would never have to face, that he had contemplated occurring only in the darkest part of the night. He felt his guts twist at the mere thought of dueling or harming his children. But he looked into the eyes of his sons and saw the dull blank stare of those under a compulsion spell, their free will enslaved to that of the dark fae, and he tasted the sharp bitter tang of despair, even as he prepared to defend himself. My boys! How can I fight them? Then again, how can I not? I am no sacrificial lamb. Heaven help us all.

Jarillion felt the familiar swirls of dark magic coalescing into a portal, from whence the fire imps would come through, and he gloated, laughing mockingly at the black-clad sorcerer. "What shall you do now, Severus Snape? 'Twould seem to me you have two choices—either to die by your sons' hands, or to destroy them. Which shall you choose?"

Severus glared at him fit to kill, and made no reply. He couldn't afford to waste his strength exchanging infantile insults. He had to be prepared to counter whatever Harry or Draco summoned. The Staff of the Magi glowed white hot in his hands. Behind him, he could hear the clash of steel and cries of pain as Sarai dealt with the last of the troublesome orcs and redcaps that had guarded the main hall of the keep. She had bade him continue onward while she mopped up, and Cafall assisted her.

Nesmay felt her heart turn over as she saw Severus prepare to face his sons in combat. No! This could not be happening. "Don't!" she shouted, pitching her voice to carry over the sounds of battle from the corridor. "Harry! Draco! Don't do this! He's your father! Remember? He loves you . . .you can't fight your own father!" She infused her words with the age-old Seelie gift of persuasion, that all fae possessed in greater or lesser degree, half-blood or not. Nesmay had never had cause to use it before, though the royal house had inherited the gift at its strongest. Titania could hold an entire room captive on the strength of her voice alone. But Nesmay was no Titania. Still, the gift worked very well upon mortals, though less so on fae.

Her words struck the two boys like arrows, causing them to hesitate in their casting, to halt for a moment, and allow their wills a chance to battle the insidious hold Jarillion had on their minds.

It all happened in the fraction of an instant.

In the next instant, Jarillion whirled upon his traitorous young betrothed, and snarled, "Spawn of bitches! You dare subvert my orders?" His fist lashed out, knocking her to the floor, but that was not the worst consequence of her disobedience.

The collar activated and she began to gasp and writhe upon the floor, as red hot pain seared her, causing her breath to rasp in her throat as the agony drove all thought of further rebellion from her mind. She screamed once, then saw spots dance before her eyes, and as the pain mounted, she felt herself fading away.

"Bastard!" Severus shouted, and unleashed a meteor swarm upon the Unseelie prince. "Leave her be!"

Jarillion backstepped hastily, trying to both avoid and counter the fiery projectiles at the same time. "Attack!" he yelled at the two apprentices.

But neither of them responded, as both were caught up in their own titanic struggle, as the commands of their dark master warred with the desires of their own hearts.

Jarillion flung an ice bolt at Severus, who brought up his staff and absorbed the magical bolt. Incensed at the other's prowess, the prince shouted, "Skrymer! Rid me of this black nuisance! Crush him and stomp on his brains and use his bones for a toothpick."

"With pleasure, Lord Jarillion," boomed the frost giant, and he unslung the axe from his back and started forward, smiling in grim delight. "Another wizard to add to my collection. Har!"

Severus started to turn to face this new threat, when a slender figure wielding a shining sword interposed herself between them. "If you want a piece of Sev, you'll have to go through me first, Skrymer!"

Sarai caught the downward strike of the giant's axe and turned it aside with a casual snap of both wrists, letting the impact slide down her sword and be deflected into the ground. She then lunged forward, slipping beneath the frost giant's guard and stabbing the vain creature in the kneecap.

Skrymer bellowed and swiped at her again, but again Sarai was too quick, and danced away. It was like watching a bumblebee fighting an elephant, as the Blade used her superior skill and speed to inflict many cuts upon the frost giant's hide, though none were serious enough to be fatal. Yet.

The giant raised his hobnailed boot and attempted to squash Sarai into the floor, much the way she would have squashed a bug. "Run, little fae!" Skrymer taunted. "Run and hide, before I carve off your ears and add them to the rest!" He chortled and patted the rawhide thing where shriveled ears hung, all the victims he had killed in his service to the Unseelie.

"That's what you said last time you and I fought," Sarai snorted, jumping over the giant's massive boot and spinning about. She kicked him hard behind the knee, a kin-sa-dor move that would have crippled a lesser opponent. Her strike was accurate, but Skrymer did not crumple under the assault as would have a normal sized adversary. But he did howl as the tendons in the back of his knee tore and his leg began to cave slightly. "Remember, Skrymer? I met you years ago, when you still served Maeve as her bodyguard and I was her hostage. You threatened then to cut off my ears. But, like all your kind, you've naught between your ears, and all you blow is hot air."

Skrymer groaned and turned, bringing his axe down in a short chopping motion. It barely missed the lithe Blade. "I remember you, Captain Valinek. And I swore one day I'd get even for you humiliating me in front of my Queen. It was you who caused me to be banished from court!" he accused, his eyes hard as glacier ice. He began to hack and slash at the slender warrior, going into a blood frenzy, his silveron axe a blur.

The Blade dodged each strike as best she could, using her centuries of experience to anticipate where Skrymer was going to strike before he actually did it, a form of heightened mental awareness that was a hallmark of a kin-sa-dor master. Even with his bloodlust upon him, Skrymer was not quite as fast as Sarai, and though he was stronger, larger, and had more endurance, he had yet to land a single blow upon his smaller opponent.

Sarai, knowing full well that a single well-placed strike could cripple or kill her, intended to keep it that way. But her continual game of evade and stab was wearing on her, and she knew she needed to land a fatal blow soon, before her strength failed.

As she danced the waltz of death with the blue-skinned monster, Cafall attacked the giant from behind, leaping up to slash at the thick tendons in the back of Skrymer's calves. The misthound's teeth managed to puncture the giant's thick skin, but Skrymer's hide was tough and Cafall's teeth did not penetrate too far below the surface. The frost giant barely felt the hound's bite.

Undaunted, Cafall attacked again, this time springing up and getting a grip upon the giant's calf, using his razor sharp incisors to gnaw and tear at the giant's flesh, until his teeth encountered the ropy tendon.

Skrymer snarled a curse word in the fae tongue, and reached around behind him, trying to swat the pesky hound.

In doing so, however, he left himself vulnerable.


From far away, through a red choking mist and a smothering iron grip upon his conscious mind, Harry heard Nesmay's voice, calling to him. "Harry! Draco! Don't do this! He's your father! Remember? He loves you . . .you can't fight your own father!"

The fae girl's voice was filled with urgency and anxiety, it made him try once again to brush off the Unseelie's cold grip and recall that the tall wizard standing in front of him, battered and bloodied, was not the enemy Jarillion would make him.

He's your father!

Harry squinted, trying to concentrate and ignore Jarillion's sadistic urgings to finish casting the spell to summon the fire imps. My father. My father is here. He's finally here. That thought filled him with joy and relief, yet also shame. He did not want Severus to see him this way, all twisted up and bent to the will of his dark master. He did not want his father to know what he had become—corrupted by the dark, no longer Severus' good son. He's going to be so disappointed in me . . . I'm no longer worthy to be the Heir to Prince Manor, he'll disown me now . . . or the manor will . . . He felt a terrible ache deep within him at the thought of losing the manor, of losing the sacred trust that was a bond between the wizard and the land.

In the next instant he felt rage flood him in a red hot tide, and suddenly he heard Jarillion in his mind, ordering him to attack Severus Snape.

He is the enemy, now finish him! Do it!

Harry felt himself lift his wand, point it at the other, who was now under assault from the frost giant as well, and he heard his lips saying the incantation to call the capricious imps and set them upon the Potions Master.

But another part of his mind, the part that was not under Jarillion's influence, was screaming and sobbing frantically. No! You can't do this! He's your father! He'd never harm you. Stop! You don't hate him . . .you love him.

Jarillion's command pounded him relentlessly, making his head throb, and stabbing pain slammed him behind his eyes. Finish the spell. Finish it. You are the dark apprentice and must obey.

Against the other's iron will he had only his own memories . . .memories of Severus rescuing him from his hellish life under Vernon Dursley, memories of Snape teaching him how to write with a quill, brew a decent potion, telling him stories of Lily . . .she was the best thing in my life then, and you are the best thing now, a part of her lives on in you, my son, and thus she shall never be forgotten . . .more memories, of Snape holding him and rocking him after those dreadful anxiety attacks brought on by his terrible nightmares, playing Dragon's Wild with him and Draco, Severus teaching him kin-sa-dor . . .block high, like this, and never forget to watch your enemy . . .always clear your mind before you begin . . .clear your mind . . clear your mind . . .Severus hugging him before he boarded the Hogwarts Express . . .no man could ask for better sons. I love you . . .

And Severus truly did love him, without reservations, loved him the way he had always wished a father to love him, when he was growing up at Privet Drive. In spite of all the aggravating and foolish things Harry did, Severus' love had never faltered.

How then could he destroy the one who loved him best of all?


No! I won't! he yelled back, ignoring the splitting pain in his head. I won't hurt my father. Not now, not ever. I'd rather die first!

With that, he made one last desperate effort to break the compulsion, throwing everything he had against the barrier of red pain and cold icy darkness. He had learned from Smidgen how to face his fears and conquer them, and this was no different.

I am nobody's pawn! I am my own person and I . . .will . . . be . . . free . . . of you!

He felt the wall shudder and begin to crumble as his determination and iron will broke it down. From his Snape ancestors he had inherited a legendary stubbornness and indomitable will and it was this that saved him now. Jarillion might be a master of compulsion, and his love of discord second to none, but one thing he had never understood—and that was how the ties of blood and love bound one another, a love so powerful that even the best spell of obedience could not compel Harry to destroy Severus.

Harry turned, tears of pain blurring his vision, to see Draco still casting, and he screamed, "Stop! Draco, it's Dad. He's not the enemy! Draco . . .it's Dad!"

The blond Slytherin turned to him, and Harry could see a similar struggle being waged in the other's mind as well. "Harry . . .help me . . .can't seem to break . . .away . . ."

Draco was gasping and sweat dribbled down his forehead. He was fighting the compulsion with everything he had, yet it wasn't enough. It wasn't that he lacked the power to break the spell's hold, but he had been conditioned since a small child by Lucius to obey the dark compulsion the magic engendered. Lucius had wanted the perfect dark son, tutored in spells of darkness since before he attended Hogwarts, and taught that nothing mattered as much as pleasing his father, living up to the prestige of the Malfoy Name, and using whatever means necessary to achieve his goals. Draco, ever the obedient child, had followed Lucius down the dark path.

It had been Severus who had shown the young boy that there was another way, that tradition and honor did not have to be mingled with blood and death and darkness. That being a good son did not mean learning dark magic. That he did not have to bind himself to a mad wizard as had the rest of his family. That he could refuse the legacy of shadow and walk out into the light, a free man.

But now the darkness had hold of his soul again, and once more it was whispering to him, sweet seductive poison, to the damned part of his psyche. Surrender and all shall be well. You have missed this, the feeling of domination, of sheer power. The strong shall crush the weak and helpless, remember how it felt? The sweet rush, the pleasure, power for power's sake alone . . .with no one to tell you what to do ever again. . .

Draco felt the old craving beginning again, woken from slumber by Jarillion's compulsion. The old selfish longing to use the dark magic, and to keep using it, for that was the trap of the Lefthand path, once you began using steadily, you craved more and more, like an addict, and soon you couldn't stop.

Draco had not been far along the path when Severus had intervened, but even the short time he had been exposed to it had caused him to become slightly addicted. He had thought he had buried the craving too deep to ever be a problem, repudiating utterly the Malfoy legacy. He had thought he could handle the small doses of dark magic Jarillion exposed him to, escaping unscathed.

He had forgotten just how insidious the black arts were, how they corrupted one gradually, like gangrene in a wound.

The words to the dark summoning slipped off his tongue like an oft-remembered favorite verse, effortless, and as the dark magic washed through him, he felt the last of his resistance crumbling.

Nesmay's cry had reached him, snapping him out of his complacency, of the instinctive need to obey, and now he realized what he had almost done.

He had almost attacked his adopted father, the one man who had treated Draco like a child instead of a pawn, who had loved the lonely boy for himself alone, and who had shown him the path to redemption.

Kill him! urged the dark prince.

Draco felt himself cringe at the thought, but he could not seem to escape the dark snare. Whichever way he turned, he could not get away from the terrible need to heed the commands of the Winter Prince. His eyes darted about the room, finally fixing upon his brother. He managed to speak a few words. "Help . . .me . . ."

He stared into the other's emerald green eyes . . .the color of life . . .of renewal . . .and then he felt a hand clasp his . . . and a fresh surge of strength entered him.

The power flowing from Harry filled Draco with hope, he gathered it to him like a warm cloak and used it to banish the icy dark forever from his soul.

"Draco, remember what Dad taught us? To fight and never give up? That way the dark can never win?" Harry asked. "So fight!"

"It's . . . so . . .hard . . ."

All he wanted right then was to surrender to the siren call of the dark, so then the migraine he had developed retreated and he could feel the rush of darkness in his blood once more.

"I'll help you," Harry promised, then he began talking to Draco, recalling anecdotes and incidents, both in school and out, and how much Severus loved him.

Suddenly Draco recalled the time Pansy had cursed him, and the way Snape had taken care of him, had always taken care of him, even before Draco was his ward. Snape had been there, as Head, mentor, and godfather, giving him loving discipline and proving that the son of a Malfoy could become a decent member of the human race. He recalled the words Severus had spoken after the Malfoy trial, after his mother had so cruelly rejected him and his decision.

You have me and Harry, we're you're family now, and we'll never cast you out, no matter what. You're my son, not hers.

I'm Snape's son, not Lucius'. He thought, gritting his teeth.

"You're my brother, and I won't let him turn you to the dark," Harry encouraged. "Fight him, Draco! Together . . . we . . . can . . . win."

Harry's touch acted as a catalyst, firming Draco's resolve and letting him cast off the specter of the dark magician, shutting away the addictive force of the dark magic. Then something happened that was unprecedented and unforeseen. Draco's magic entwined with Harry's and doubled, giving both the strength they needed to shatter Jarillion's hold upon them.

Draco felt the compulsion crumble just as Severus pointed his wand and disarmed them.


Severus was worried that Sarai would need his help to defeat the frost giant, but just then he knew he had to concentrate upon Jarillion, and the foul compulsion he had laid upon his sons. He hoped that by keeping the Winter prince busy fighting him, it would lessen the hold the fae had upon the two boys, enabling them to free themselves of the spell. He was well aware that Harry had inherited the Prince resistance to mind control, and he prayed that Draco could endure long enough to outlast the spell as well.

But right then Severus knew that he had to make sure the boys couldn't flank him and send dark creatures to attack him. So he disarmed them with a swift "Expelliarmus!" Then he spun and began to rain bolt after bolt of destructive magic down upon the Unseelie who had been stupid enough to dare harm his children.

Jarillion soon realized that even though he was skilled in combat magic and at his strongest in the walls of his own keep, he was no match for the furious Severus wielding the Staff of the Magi. The Staff gave the black-robed sorcerer a distinct advantage in combat, since it could absorb negative magical energy thrown at its wielder and then transmute it into magic of the holder's choosing.

The Winter Prince found himself ducking spell after spell, fireballs and wind gusts that singed and burnt him and slammed him against the far wall of his hall. For every spell he countered, Severus had another that left him bleeding and breathless. He had never encountered quite so formidable a foe before, unless it was his mother or his two aunts, both of whom were ancient matriarchs and wielded magic no ordinary fae could.

He summoned ice furies, lesser demons from the Outer planes, and sent them against the half-blood, hoping they would tear the dark-haired wizard to pieces. It was inconceivable that he be defeated by a mere mortal wizard and his half-breed lover, on his own ground, no less!

Severus dodged as a shimmering winged crystalline wasp appeared before him, and tried to sting him with its poisoned proboscis. He was unsure what Jarillion had summoned, but could tell that it was both deadly and born in the heart of the frozen northland. More of them came at him until a full two dozen surrounded him.

He used the staff and knocked several of them down, each time the black wood connected with one, it incinerated the fury with a sharp sizzling hiss. But he knew there were too many for him to fight in that manner, and so he summoned the sirocco—the burning fiery desert wind that scoured flesh and stone alike—and flung it at the wasp-like creatures.

Then he conjured a quick Extra-Strength Shield Charm and watched in satisfaction as the wicked wasps were destroyed. He banished the sirocco, not wanting it to run amok and harm the children. That done, he paused for breath, he was far from reaching his limit thanks to the staff, but even he was not able to cast continuously for fifteen minutes using such advanced magic.

He glared daggers at Jarillion, who was leaning against a wall, also trying to regain his equilibrium. The Unseelie was pale as snow, and looked like he wanted to pass out. Snape wished he would oblige them and do just that.

A few feet away, Nesmay lay still on the floor, her body wracked by nauseating pain as the collar disciplined her for her rash decision to defy her lord and master. The pain was so great that she fled her body, projecting herself astrally into the Place Between Worlds, where spirits both light, dark, and gray roamed at will.

At last the grinding burning pain ceased and she could breathe again. Only to discover she didn't need to. She looked about and saw nothing but a gray swirling mist. Mist and shadows. Sun, moon, and stars, am I dead?

She glanced down at her feet and saw a silvery shining cord, falling back down to . . . somewhere else. What's happened to me? Where am I? Panicked and scared, she tugged upon the silvery cord and felt herself floating back down its length.

Soon she found herself hovering over the hall, watching the battle raging between Severus and Jarillion, Sarai and Skrymer, and Harry and Draco as they fought to throw off the compulsion Jarillion had set. She saw her body, lying limp and still, like a thrown away ragdoll. Tears prickled her eyes.

She had failed everyone. Her cousins, herself, Severus, her grandmother. She had proven Oberon right after all. She was a mere half-blood bastard, too weak to stand up to an Unseelie, too stupid to brew a proper Draft of Command. Her uncle was right, she brought nothing but sorrow and destruction wherever she went.

More tears followed, proving the legend false that ghosts could not weep. Or perhaps she was not yet a ghost? She looked down at herself, her form was transparent and misty, but strangely she felt almost . . .solid.

She peered again at the battle unfolding before her, saw both Severus and Jarillion pause in their furious duel. She focused upon the Unseelie prince, wondering for the thousandth time why the perfect draft she had thought she had brewed had failed so spectacularly.

Jarillion mopped his brow, which glistened with sweat. Odd, she had never seen him sweat before this. Was it stress? Fear? Or something else?

He put a hand to his head, as if it ached. There was an odd expression in his eyes. Confusion . . .pain . . .puzzlement . . .almost as if . . .the potion were starting to take effect . . .

Nesmay's heart leapt. Perhaps the potion's effects had only been delayed. If that were so . . .then she needed to go back to her body. She shuddered. The pain that had driven her from her physical self had been awful, worse than anything she had ever experienced. I have to go back . . . but I'm so afraid! I don't want to feel that horrible pain again. It hurt so much . . . she whimpered. But she knew she would have to endure it, for if the potion were active, only she could command Jarillion to remove the collar. Or to remove the spell upon the boys. Coward! She rebuked herself stingingly. Are you Aislinn's daughter or aren't you?

She drew in a deep breath. Her family was down there, fighting for their lives and their sanity. She could do no less. But she was terrified of experiencing the dreadful agony again. She trembled, shutting her eyes. I must be brave. I must be brave. Grandmother, help me. She recalled Titania's face, cool and serene, as beautiful as a marble statue carved by a master artist. Child, one day I fear you shall be tested harshly, and this you should remember when your darkest hour has come—the worst harm anyone can do is to watch and do nothing while evil prevails. You must act, for even the smallest action has a consequence, and in doing so you shall thwart the greatest evil of all.

She must act. For herself, for Severus, and for Harry and Draco. She swallowed the bitter taste of fear and slid down the silvery cord which connected her spirit to her body.

She gasped for breath, her throat raw from screaming. She felt as if ten hundred giants had stomped her flat. Every muscle in her body screamed, as she slowly lifted her head. Jarillion, where was Jarillion? She turned her head and saw her nemesis shaking his head as if to clear it. Then she felt a strange sensation within her, a connection to the fae lord. She could sense what he felt—tired, confused, angry, filled with a burning desire to kill Severus and Sarai, to crush his enemies beneath his boots for daring to invade his home. She gritted her teeth and sent a thought down the strand of silver binding her to the fae prince.

Jarillion! Heed me!

Slowly, the prince turned his head. "My lady? I am yours to command."

Nesmay felt a smile of triumph creep over her face. She opened her mouth to speak the words that would free the boys, when she heard Harry shout, "Take this, Jarillion!"

A crackling bolt of blue force exploded from his outstretched hands and struck the prince full on.

Jarillion screamed, his tunic smoking, and slumped to the ground.

Nesmay gaped, realizing only then that the two were free of the compulsion. Which meant she could demand her own release. Jarillion, I command thee to free me from the Collar of Obedience. Release me!

Jarillion fought her then, but he was in too much pain to truly concentrate on shaking off her command, and he spoke the word to unfasten the collar before he knew what he was about.

The collar unlocked and Nesmay tugged it off, flinging it upon the ground in distaste.

Her neck was raw and red from where the collar had rubbed her skin. But she was free! At last, she was free!

She felt her wild magic surge up from the core of her being. She climbed to her feet, ignoring the sharp cramps that raced through her legs. Then she turned to face the Winter prince, her teeth bared in a parody of a smile. "Jarillion, my sweet," she purred in a voice that was high and shrill, like a child's, but carrying all the menace of a virago. "I have a score to settle with you."

The magic of her wizard father came at her beckon, in a rush of wind and fire, crackling about her like chained lightning.

Jarillion knew then that he was a dead man.


Sarai saw the opening Skrymer had left an instant before her feet hit the ground. Using her left foot as a pivot, she snapped her body about in a half-turn and sprang upwards, running halfway up the giant's side. Her sword found its mark beneath the massive behemoth's arm, stabbing straight through and cutting a major artery.

Blood spurted and Skrymer let out a deathly howl and went to one knee. Sarai threw herself backwards, twisting her body lithely to land on her feet some five feet away. She whistled for Cafall, so the hound would not be crushed by the mighty giant's death throes.

Cafall came, his muzzle tinted with blood, still snarling. "Good dog," Sarai praised, stroking the dog's ears. Cafall wagged his tail, then turned to see where Severus was. He immediately stiffened and all the hair stood up along his back. He gave a curious half-growl, half-whine.

Sarai glanced back to see what had prompted the hound's reaction and her breath caught in her throat.

Nesmay stood, swaying slightly, one hand outstretched, pointed at Jarillion, her face a mask of terrible hatred, her magic crackling wildly about her.

Oh, bloody damn hell! Sarai swore. Much as she wished Jarillion consigned to the Abyss for his crimes, she could not let Nesmay have her revenge, however justified. In order to fulfill the bargain made with Baba Yaga, they had to bring Jarillion back alive.

"Nesmayallindra Highstar! Hold your hand!" Sarai shouted, using her drill sergeant voice, the same tone she used on new recruits who had been insubordinate.

It had the same effect upon Titania's granddaughter as it did on any of her recruits.

Nesmay froze.

Then she turned her head to shoot a death glare at the Blade. "What for, Captain? He deserves death after what he's done to us!"

"You're right," Sarai answered calmly, sheathing her sword and coming to stand beside Severus, who had his own staff leveled at the Winter Prince's throat. "But it's not your place to mete out justice, however much it is deserved. That belongs to the Queen alone. He has trespassed against both Titania and Maeve, broken all the Accords, and they shall decide his fate."

Nesmay blinked. Then her jaw firmed and she said coldly, "Why not save them the trouble? Let it end here."

"That is not justice, Nesmay. Only revenge. His crimes are such that he deserves to face the judgment of the Courts." Sarai persuaded.

"I don't care!" the girl shouted, and her magic crackled and snapped in response to her distress. "I want him dead, don't you understand? You don't know what he did to us . . .he made us practice dark magic . . .he tried to make me become my father! And when I refused . . . he hurt me . . .and hurt Draco and Harry too." Tears were trickling down her cheeks. "He hurt all of us so bad, Sarai! I just want him to die! I want to turn him inside out, the rotten bastard!"

"I know, child." Severus spoke up then, sympathy coloring his tone. "Believe me, I want the same as you. He deserves to be crucioed and then killed. But Sarai is right. However much we long to take the law into our own hands, we must exercise restraint and let the courts decide his fate, for good or ill. Otherwise we're no better than vigilantes. Also, Sarai and I made a bargain with the Witch of the North that we would bring Jarillion to justice, for she too has a bone to pick with him. Stand down, Nesmay."

The girl defiantly remained where she was, a pulsing ball of magic cupped in her palm. With a single flick of her wrist she could throw it at Jarillion and burn him to ash. It would be so easy. . .so very easy . . . she hated the Unseelie prince as she had hated no one ever, not even her dwarven tutor. And yet . . . what Severus had said made sense. Jarillion had crossed all lines when he had kidnapped them. And the justice of the courts was never lenient. Still . . .

"Listen to me," Severus tried again, sensing the girl was at crossroads. "I understand you want him dead. But his blood should not be on your hands, child. You're too young to have that burden to bear."

"I can kill him, Severus!" she snapped. The ball of energy flickered and danced upon her palm.

"I know you can. But if you do, what will that make you, Nesmayallindra? A murderer at twelve years old. No matter how you justify it, you will have used your power to take a life. Do you really want to taint yourself that way? Do you want to follow the path of blood and death that your father walked? For he too killed young—killed his own father and grandfather for revenge, as they rejected his witch mother and left her to die alone in the orphanage where he was raised. He too thought he was justified. But he was wrong. And his act of murder tainted his magic and stained his soul, he found it easy to kill, and kill he did—anyone who disagreed with him or stood in his way. You told me once you would never become like him. But if you kill Jarillion, Nesmayallindra, you certainly shall be Lord Voldemort's trueborn daughter. Is that what you wish?"

Nesmay's face twisted in an agony of indecision. She hated Jarillion, oh so much! But did she want to risk going dark by killing him? Was his death worth becoming Tom Riddle's dark daughter?

"Don't do it, Nessie," Draco said softly. "You're better than he is."

"Yeah, he's not worth it, the slimy turd," Harry added. "He'll get his in the end. Your grandmother will make sure of that."

Torn, Nesmay glanced away, fixing her gaze upon the prince once more, who was slumped against the wall, all the defiance and arrogance gone from him. He met her gaze and she saw then that he was afraid of her. She smiled scornfully. "Coward! Will you beg me for your life then?"

Jarillion spat at her. "Never, you little bitch! Kill me if you wish, but know this. I was not the only one involved in this. There were members of your own precious Court who convinced me to steal you away, that it was the only way I could have you. Kill me and you shall never know who they were. They shall go free, traitors in your golden court."

"What? You weren't the only one?"

"No, princess. Where do you think I came by the information as to your whereabouts? I was told, by one who knew certain details about Captain Valinek leaving for the mortal realm, that same one also knew you were a ward of Wizard Snape, and a few things about the places in the mortal realm where wizards frequented. Without that, it would have taken me much longer to find you and capture you." Jarillion laughed mockingly. "You were betrayed by one of your own, Nesmayallindra. But kill me, and you shall never know the traitor's identity."

Nesmay's free hand clenched into a fist. "Damn you! Damn you to hell!" The ball of magic flickered, flared violently, then she closed her hand and it went out. "Fine! You'll live . . .for now. But only until the Courts decide your fate and you name the traitor. After that, I pray they make you suffer just the way you did me and my cousins." She flashed him a look that could have incinerated him. "But know this, dark prince. You live only because I chose to be merciful . . .and because I'm not my father. I'm Aislinn Highstar's daughter, and I shall never be your dark queen!"

She cast him a haughty look that rivaled Titania at her most majestic.

An instant later she felt her knees wobble and she would have pitched forward on her face if Harry had not caught her right arm and Draco her left. She leaned on their shoulders, shaking with the realization of how close she had come to dooming herself.

"Incarcerous!" Severus growled, and Jarillion was bound with magical ropes and the collar he had placed upon Nesmay closed over his own neck.

He let out a muffled howl, which they all ignored.

"Severus? I want to go home now," Nesmay said, sounding then like the child she still was.

The Potions Master whispered, "And so you shall, my hedgehog princess. Are you all right?" That question was directed at his sons, who reassured him that they were fine. "We'll let a Healer look at you once we are back at the Summer court," their father stated firmly, knowing full well how his sons hated to admit any weakness. Then he swept Aislinn's daughter into his arms and strode out of the hall, Nesmay cradled closed.

Sarai manhandled Jarillion to his feet and prodded him to start walking at the tip of her sword. "Walk!" she ordered. "And if you try anything, your balls will regret it."

"You wouldn't!"

"You only have to be alive for the Courts to judge you, Jarillion. No one said anything about being whole," Sarai said, giving him a cold smile. "Come along, boys. And mind the blood by the entrance."

Draco and Harry followed close on her heels, with Cafall between them, giving their hands a token lick, their ordeal in the Winter kingdom ended at last.

Finally got this one up. Hope you all liked it, it was exhausting to write, especially while trying to take care of my mother, who fell twice as I was writing and I had to call 911 to help me pick her up off the floor. Thank fully, she wasn't injured seriously, but does have assorted bruises, she has Parkinsons and cannot really walk well, but insists on trying to do so anyway sometimes without waiting for me to help. So please excuse any mistakes I might have made, as I'm frazzled. And PLEASE REVIEW so i know whether or not you are still interested in what will happen next. Who do you think the traitor is and what should be done with him/her? Should he/she get the same punishment as Jarillion? If you have any idea, please tell me, as I'm having a hard time deciding what to do with him/her. Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me on this adventure.

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