Emerald eyes opened and blinked at the sea blue curtains that immediately captured his attention. The curtains were used to close off the large wide balcony a little bit away from the bed he lay on. A smile graced his face as he watched the curtains lazily fluttering from the soft wind outside. He was amazed by this place. The buildings amazed him. The décor, the scenery, the fantastical aura about the place. And he was most certainly amazed by the magic. The blue drapes he was staring at, for example. They were curtains and yet to anyone standing outside on the balcony- anyone who wasn't Harry or Draco- those curtains were as hard as stone and impossible to penetrate. But should Harry go over and touch them, they would feel as soft as silk and part like water for him.
Caellum's happy squeal had Harry's smile growing and after a moment of stretching and finding himself alone in bed, realized his husband must be in the nursery with their son. As it was in Malfoy Manor, the nursery was connected to the Emperors' private living quarters. Connected directly to the bedchamber. There were several nurseries throughout the palace, but as it was in the mortal world, Harry would not abide Caellum being more than one room away during the night. But because there were multiple nurseries, the nursery off the bedchamber wasn't as large as the one in Malfoy Manor. This one was simply for Caellum's nap and bedtimes. The little prince also had a bedroom down the hall from his parents' bedroom and Harry thought they'd start using that room for bedtime in a few months.
Harry stretched again before sitting and grabbing up the robe left for him on Draco's side of the bed. As he moved to don the robe, also made from the best Ukatae material, he heard Draco's voice. Low and warm as it floated in from the nursery. Draco's soft tone changed into laughter and was mixed along with Caellum's bubbly squeals. Harry walked in and stood in the doorway, staring across the room to where his husband was once again lying on the floor on his back. His arms stretched out into the air, holding Caellum over him. Caellum laughed as his arms and legs moved around sporadically and Harry's breath caught at the look of pride and love on Draco's face as he gazed up at their son. Three years ago if someone had captured this moment in a picture and showed it to him, Harry would have definitely called it a fabrication. Three years ago he would never have believed the blond aristocrat was capable of showing such emotion.
"You'd like to fly, wouldn't you?" Draco was saying. "With your genes, you could easily fly on a broom. And be spectacular at it. Maybe Mommy will take you flying later if we ask him nicely. And persuade really well because he's a bit anal about keeping you on the ground and away from anything that could be fun or exciting."
Draco chuckled and lowered Caellum to his chest, lightly wrapping his arms around his infant as he turned to watch Harry finally enter the room, laughter dancing in his eyes. Caellum shifted a bit to get comfortable under his father's arms, but otherwise seemed content to lay on Draco's chest and drop into a nap.
"Have you two been up long?" Harry asked as he moved in.
"Couple of hours," Draco responded, watching his lover move across the room to throw back the curtains, allowing sunlight to drown the nursery; watching that robe move and mould against his lover's body like a second skin. As if sensing appreciating eyes on his back, Harry's wings rose and stretched out, fluttering lazily. Draco easily stood without jostling his son. "Caellum's about ready for a nap now," he murmured as he placed the prince in his crib before moving over to his husband and wrapping around him.
Harry allowed himself to be swept away by Draco's hungry kisses and worshiping hands. Relishing the feel of their bare chests pressed together; lips connected, sliding against the other in practiced thrilling precision, each knowing how to drive the other on. But as it always was, they had to pull apart with regret once breathing became necessary. But Draco didn't release Harry and the brunet rested his head on his husband's shoulder.
"We should dress for breakfast," he murmured as they both let their eyes drift to the window they stood beside, staring out across their capital city. Even now the damage done by old and recent battles was being repaired. Harry thought he could stare out at this fantastical place for hours, feeling a sense of awe that all this belonged to him and Draco. Everything he could see and beyond. Everything he would fight bone, tooth, and nail to protect.
And yet… hand in hand with those thoughts came others. Harry felt the weight of that responsibility press heavily on him. More heavily now than it had when he'd been in the mortal world. It was real now. Not just words and promises anymore and as he looked out across Borsteria, he wondered how he could ever become what everyone expected. Oh, he would do his best, but he was very much afraid his best wouldn't be enough. Nothing he ever did would be enough.
Draco moved his finger under Harry's chin and lifted until their eyes met. "I know we've only been back for two days and have hardly left the palace, but… are you happy here, Harry?"
Harry hid his fear and nearly crushed the blond in an embrace. "Yes. Very." It wasn't a lie. Despite his fears, he was happy to finally be living in the realm. And because of this he was able to smile at his mate. "There's no need for me to ask you that."
Draco's eyes narrowed on Harry's face even as he nodded. That was true. He'd always believed he was mightier than thou, and now he was living in a massive luxurious palace, the Emperor of an entire world. "You've brought me everything I've ever wanted," he replied, trying to see through the layers of Harry's expression. His mate was certainly hiding something from him.
The sound of gagging drew their attentions to the doorway where Tom stood, looking severely put off. "Why is it I always walk in on you two being Hufflepuffs? It's disgusting."
"Stop sneaking up on us then. Prat," Draco muttered, annoyed that Tom could do that. "Need to tell Vendyl and Hoihm to block you until you've been announced."
"I'm only here to make sure the two of you haven't forgotten we're all taking breakfast together this morning."
Harry refrained from showing it on his face, but he suspected his brother was already missing Luna and therefore starting to feel lonely. Since the eight had arrived, none of them had actually interacted. They had been using the last two days to move into their personal apartments, settling in and having meals within their own quarters. Today though they'd all decided to have breakfast in one of the family dining rooms.
"We were about to get ready just now," Harry told him, moving to pull Draco's arms away from his back. "Don't want to be late for breakfast. Otherwise we'll be late for the meeting with Falde and the generals."
Tom nodded as he walked to the crib. "May I dress Caellum while you two dress?"
Draco's annoyed look vanished and Harry nodded to their brother as he returned to the bedroom. Draco approached Tom. "Do you know where his bedroom is?"
"Yes, I remember the tour," Tom murmured.
"Draco, have you seen Lovely? Can't find her anywhere!"
The blond cleared his throat and shifted in awkwardness before pointing into the crib. Harry strode over and his frown evaporated at seeing Lovely curled up in the corner of the crib.
Lovely! Harry laughed, stroking his snake's head. You traitor. Lovely shifted slightly and her head appeared from beneath part of her coiled up body revealing annoyed green orbs and a forked tongue. She was obviously cranky and still tired, though when seeing Caellum was being lifted, Lovely quickly unfurled and latched onto the babe's leg, dangling for a moment until she could slither up and wrap loosely around the Dark Lord's forearm beside Caellum. Traitor, hissed Harry again, nothing but fondness coloring his tone.
Your babe is soft and warm and I don't need to worry about being squished in between as I often am with you and your mate.
Tom smirked while Harry burst out laughing as he turned to head back to the bedroom. Draco frowned and demanded a translation, which Tom readily gave.
"She's right. She's much safer with Caellum."
"Shall we meet you two at breakfast?" Tom inquired of Draco.
"Yes. You can bring him there."
Tom departed with Caellum and Lovely, and Draco watched them go, shaking his head. Tom really adored Caellum, and it was so strange to see his brother showing this publicly. The Dark Lord had no problem showing off the fact he doted on his nephew. And Draco half suspected Tom wasn't even aware he did it most times. But then again, Tom embraced this second chance he'd been given. And that meant he embraced his family and friends as well. Tom had become used to the emotions and he thrived knowing he had a family with never ending support.
Draco finally returned to the bedroom, finding Harry standing within the wardrobe. A room nearly half the size of their bedroom within Malfoy Manor. It was filled to bursting with all sorts of outfits and material. Robes and wraps, coats of ranks; informal and formal wear. Boots of all designs and slipper type footwear that looked too feminine in Draco's opinion. And amongst all this Harry stood and was looking around in a sort of daze, still not used to such wealth even after living with Draco and Lucius for so long. "Err…"
Draco laughed and pushed by him. "Formal today, lover. We have that meeting with the Generals. This calls for formality," the blond explained as he went to the left side of the room where most of the formal robes and coats of rank hung. "But we can wear those informal trousers and vests underneath the formal coats… or do you want a caleindh robe?"
Harry's brow furrowed as he thought about it a moment. "Let's do the coats. I like those. With all the shiny buttons and embroidering around the collars and hems stating our rank."
Draco shook his head in amusement. "Who knew? Harry Potter-Malfoy loves the military style."
They spent a few minutes arguing over colors until they settled on the dark blue coats. Both would wear the same color since they wanted to express unity. They wanted it to be known everywhere that they were equal in all things; in everything they did and everything they thought (at least in public). Their strength came from being together. When one Emperor was thought of, they wanted to make sure the other was thought of as well. The plan was to make that abundantly clear before they had to be separated on their different campaigns.
Draco was sitting on the bed, fixing the cuffs of his coat when Harry came out of the wardrobe, hopping on one foot, trying to shove on a knee-high black boot. He would have toppled over if Draco hadn't moved quickly and caught him. "Really, Harry. There are half a dozen chairs around, not including this very nice huge bed here."
Harry growled lowly and was finally able to get his foot inside before shoving his pants into the boots. He scowled when he noticed his hands were shaking. Though it was to be expected. Nerves were starting to build. He was so nervous and was surprised to feel he wasn't ready for this at all. The elves out there were going to see right through him. He was a baby compared to them. This was crazy!
Unaware of his rising terror, Draco asked if he were ready. Harry nodded and stood. He avoided Draco's gaze by staring down at his coat, occupying his shaking hands by tugging the hem of his coat where it ended center of his thighs. He took long deep breaths and finally was able to control the shaking in the nick of time before Draco grabbed his hand, pulling him to the door.
They entered the Family dining room, smiling when they saw most of their family already there, with the exception of Pansy and Ozemir. The room wasn't too extravagant, which suited Harry fine since it was private and they would never hold any formal meals in there. There was a long warm gleaming wooden table set dead center of the room and two large windows on the two walls running the length of the table. A garden was located off the room in the back by way of double doors, which was nice for outdoor meals if they chose.
Harry went to Tom to pick up Caellum before rounding the table to sit next to Neville. Beside the Mar'raeh sat Hermione, and then beside her, Ginny. Draco thought it funny. All the winged elves took up one side, while the dominants took up the other. Directly across from their mates. All with the exception of Hermione and Tom. And the blond wondered if that was done unconsciously. Though really, it was probably a good thing. This way he, Blaise, and Dudley wouldn't be tempted to grope their mates during the meal. Harry had probably heard that last part because he looked at him and nodded, a small flirty smile lifting his lips.
Harry turned away from his grinning husband and studied Neville's profile. "How long were you going to try and hide it, Nev?"
Neville's eyes widened in surprise and they flashed across the table to Dudley, who'd grown still. "I- I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh please," Harry waved that away. "It's obvious you've glamoured the markings on your wings. Took me a couple of days to figure it out…"
Ginny and Hermione gasped as they stared hard at Neville, smiles slowly growing on their faces. Neville shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "We were trying to keep it a secret," he mumbled.
Harry's smile faded as he watched Tom and Blaise slap Dudley's back in congratulations. "Why?" he asked flatly.
"I want to go with you. I'm still going with you," Neville replied firmly. "I didn't want you changing your mind and ordering me to remain here."
Harry relaxed and bumped shoulders with him. "That will only happen when you're too far along, Nev. You shouldn't have been afraid to tell me. We could have talked about it."
Hermione frowned then. "I don't think you should be chastising him, Harry. If they wanted to keep it a secret, what business is it of yours? In fact, what gives you the right to out them in front of everybody like this?"
"Hermione, why are you snapping at him?" Draco asked tightly. "Harry was only worried, and then he was ecstatic when he figured it out."
"Still. They might have been keeping it to themselves for other reasons. Reasons that are none of our business."
Neville cleared his throat. "Actually that was the only rea-"
"That doesn't give you the right to bitch at him," Draco growled.
The loud clapping of hands at the door drew everyone's attention to find Ozemir standing there with Brumek at his side holding Zohrek. Ozemir was frowning slightly as his gaze traveled back and forth between Draco and Hermione.
"Young ones," Ozemir began, crossing his arms and tapping his long fingers against the sleeve of his tunic, "is there a reason why you've decided to quarrel this fine morning?" his tone light and yet heavy as if chastising children. And he was.
"She was jumping down Harry's throat! I have a right to stick up for my mate," the blond responded and then looked back at his sister who stuck her tongue out at him. Draco sneered. "Must be one of those times of the month."
The blond flinched back against the disappointment shining in Ozemir's eyes. "Sorry."
"Hirsha," Brumek muttered. "I've forgotten they are a bunch of young ones. Young ones with babes. A frightening reality."
"I certainly hope you do not intend to carry yourselves like this out in public," Ozemir went on to everyone, taking the empty seat beside Harry and then accepting Zohrek from his mate. Brumek gave his mate a tight-lipped smile before departing. Quickly. "What were you fighting about?"
"Harry admonished me for keeping my pregnancy a secret,” Neville went on to explain. “Hermione told him it was none of his business. Draco told her to stop pestering Harry about pestering me."
"Ah… you are all right." The three involved perked up and grinned smugly at each other, causing the others to snicker. "Now on to breakfast… where is Pansy?"
"Still waiting for her," Ginny said between her giggles. "Hey, how come you're not surprised about Neville?"
"Nothing passes my attention. I knew before we left the mortal world," the Scholar answered with a smile.
"That figures," Harry muttered.
"Why did Brumek take off so fast?"
"He doesn't like children who quarrel. You've given him a headache." Ozemir smiled brightly at his young ones. "He's taking me and Zohrek to bring Zynfrae to the city today. And he's taking us to meet his clan later in the week!"
Harry's eyes rounded. "He's introducing you to his family? Are you nervous?"
With Harry's last question, Ozemir pulled in a deep breath and the trepidation in his eyes answered for him even before he spoke. "Yes. Very much so. I know his father. Or at least I know of him. He's known to be a rough elf. Very cold since his mate's passing. Brumek lost his mother a long time ago. It was an accident. Happened years before the royal massacres. Since then Brumek's father has been…"
"He's like Brumek?" Tom inquired.
"Oh much worse. I don't think he'll like me at all," Ozemir mourned. There were several murmured apologies. Ozemir laughed then. "But at least Brumek's brothers and sisters aren't so bad. From what I've learned anyway."
There was silence a few moments and then Harry shook his head. "It's so strange. I never once thought to ask about Brumek's family, or yours. Guess I was afraid… to bring up bad things. But it's nice to know Brumek still has his family, even if he doesn't have his mother anymore."
Ozemir smiled. "He has three brothers and two sisters."
Blaise shook his head. "Always imagined he was an only child."
Draco smirked. "How can any elf be an only child? Since its taboo to use contraceptives and we're eternally young and immortal."
"Well, Draco. The best thing to do is avoid your mate when they are violent and you know they are ready to receive--"
"We are not having this discussion right now!" Tom bit out quickly.
"Besides, submissives stop carrying after a certain age," Ozemir went on. "And no Ukatae has ever had more than a dozen children before. I think that's the limit."
Harry's mouth dropped. "A dozen?!"
Draco cleared his throat, his eyes widened in horror at the prospect of having a dozen children. "I think it's time we moved on from this subject."
"What about your parents, Ozemir?" asked Ginny. "Are they…"
"Yes, they are alive," the Scholar spoke softly, avoiding everyone's gaze to look at his slumbering son. "But I haven't met them. Once a babe is given over to the Kibosh, there is no more contact between the assassin and the family. Ever." Then he smiled, "but at least I have my cousins. We're an exception. Though meeting one was an accident you brought to me."
"Falde and Vendyl are Ozemir's cousins," Harry told the others who were looking curious. "Though I always forget you and Vendyl are related."
Ozemir giggled. "Yes sometimes I forget as well."
"Vendyl is nothing more than a statue most times so it's easy to forget that."
"Draco, that's rude," Ginny murmured.
Ozemir's eyes twinkled merrily. "Actually Vendyl would find that a highly decorated compliment. It means he does his duty well. And he and I haven't really had the chance to become close. To form familial bonds of any sort."
"You know…that explains so much," Dudley murmured. "Falde being your cousin."
"How so?" Ozemir asked.
Dudley shrugged. Blaise answered for him. "Falde is very soft with you, Ozemir."
Ozemir smiled. "I suppose he's the closest thing I've had to a father all these years… and Zynfrae. Both knew about Dagon right from the start, though I don't know how Falde found out about it."
"Falde knows many things that seem impossible for him to know about," Tom murmured. "And he always manages to get away with changing the subject when we ask him about it."
"Well of course you all are forgetting Falde is the Commander of your Imperial Forces. Not much gets by him. My cousin is a very old being. He's been around and seen many things… You all really know nothing about him. He's very complex and he would need to be after everything he has had to endure."
Neville bowed his head. "And now he has to endure the loss of Talyn as well."
"Why do Falde and Vendyl hate each other?" Harry asked after everyone spent a moment in silence. "It seems strange to me. You're always saying how important family is to our race…"
Ozemir nodded. "I had hoped they might reconcile after Vendyl found his mate, but I'm not sure anything can reconcile them."
Harry frowned. Still the exact reason for the hate had not been explained. Ozemir bumped shoulders with him, knowing Harry wanted details. But Ozemir knew that wasn't his place. "So then, young ones. How have you found your living quarters here?"
That set off excited babbling from all at the table. "It's bloody brilliant!" Ginny exclaimed. "It's like we have our own house inside of the palace! Exquisite lavish town homes! Three stories of rooms to do with what we choose!"
"It's amazing how we can all have that amount of space and still there are loads more room all over the palace for other things," Dudley put in.
"My living quarters are beyond acceptable," Tom drawled. "I'm especially fond of the hot springs room."
This was also met with a round of agreements.
Neville turned to Harry. "So it's safe to say you and Draco are different. Your housing must be massive."
Draco smirked. "We shouldn't say. You'll all become severely jealous and I'm not in the mood to hear complaining."
Harry laughed. Such a git.
"I like the lighting here," Hermione put in. "Not all fire. There’s glowing orbs and glowing vines wrapped around windows sills and the stair banisters."
Dudley nodded. "And everything is intricately carved. I love how the fireplace has elaborate carvings around it."
"The walls are warm to the touch and crème colored all over which gives the place a serene aura," Ginny said as she fingered the pretty floral piece placed at the center of the table.
"The marble and wood is warm too."
"Your powers flow through the palace young ones," Ozemir explained. "Please remember, our powers come from the land itself. It is you that make the lights come on. It's you that makes the walls warm. You all give life to this place. Without you, the palace would go back to being cold and lifeless."
Hermione sighed. "At the battle, before you two came," she said to her younger brothers, "this place looked and felt dead. It was really painful to look at. It was shrouded in darkness." Then she turned to Ozemir. "How could the people continue to live here for so long with the palace looking and feeling like that?"
"Where else would they go that was any better? This is their home. And after a time I'm sure the citizens of Borsteria became used to it."
No more could be said on the matter before the Emperors were suddenly drenched by a depressive aura approaching the dining room. And then the door opened and Pansy stepped inside. She moved inside without greeting. Moved around the table to sit at the end beside Ginny and her eyes never rose above the height of the table. Draco was dismayed to see her eyes were red and puffy and surrounded by prominent dark circles.
Ozemir quickly passed Zohrek over to Neville and was up before Draco, and they both rounded the table to her. The Scholar immediately drew her from the chair and wrapped arms around her, lifting a finger to Draco as he did so to. Pansy would not appreciate another dominant's arms around her that wasn't her mate at the moment, even if it were one of her best friends.
"Shhh, young one," Ozemir murmured softly when Pansy broke down without any more prompting; sobbing against Ozemir's chest and grabbing at his tunic. Ozemir rubbed circles over her back, against the black cape that she always wore to conceal her wings from everyone's view. "Take deep breaths… that's right."
Pansy pulled back after a moment, rubbing her eyes before facing Draco. "Pans…"
"Draco, please let me come with you and Harry," she whispered. Her voice was low and hoarse, as if she'd spent the entire night crying. "Please. I promise not to give anything away. I… I need to see Charlie. Please," she begged.
"Pansy, of course! Why didn't you say anything before?"
"There was nothing you could do! He needs to be out there, doesn't he? It's his job! This kind of just crept up on me, last night…"
"It's been nearly two months," Ozemir explained. "I did warn you this would happen."
Pansy nodded and sniffed. "I never thought it would. But I haven't been sleeping and all I can do is worry even though you've told me he's alright."
"You were barely mated before he left on the mission," Draco whispered, feeling awful for putting someone so close to him in this pain.
Ozemir smiled softly at Pansy and rubbed her shoulders. "You'll see him soon. And being the conniving girl that you are, I'm sure you'll find some way to have moments with him without anyone knowing."
Pansy's lips lifted in a watery smile before she turned to everyone. "I'm sorry."
"Pansy, really. Don't be ridiculous! We're the ones who should be sorry!" Hermione replied. "After everything that has gone on recently, it was easy to forget you were the only one whose mate was gone from you. You are very good at pretending nothing is wrong."
Pansy looked decidedly uncomfortable after displaying so much emotion and went back to avoiding everyone's gazes. Harry perked up, knowing how to bring her out of this funk she was in. "Neville's pregnant!"
That worked. Pansy took to congratulating Neville, while Hermione started in on Harry again for announcing it without permission, which started Draco on her. Ozemir rolled his eyes before clapping his hands once again. Both for order and to call out to the attendants standing behind a closed door near the main doors. The door opened and four servants filed out, all pushing carts holding covered trays of food and bottles of milk for the babies.
It wasn't as odd to Harry to have these personal attendants come in with nothing but respectful smiles and wordlessly serving the new blood. Bowing as they backed away after depositing the trays in front of those sitting at the table. He'd grown used to it. Always having the Saen around being silent watchful statues had probably helped out with that. But he still watched them, whereas his brother and Draco acted as if nothing but air had placed their food in front of them.
"Ah, the little prince smells food and instantly he's awake," Ozemir giggled when Caellum began to wake in Harry's arms.
"Glutton," Harry whispered fondly as he summoned a bottle of milk from where it was left in the middle of the table. "You haven't even been asleep that long."
Draco smiled and looked down the table, starting with Ozemir and Zohrek, then on to Harry and Caellum, Neville, Hermione, Ginny, and Pansy. "According to my funny intuition. You're next, Hermione."
The blond smirked when those next to him immediately understood and snickered. And laughed outright when Hermione instantly extended her wings for a quick look, her face paling at the implications.
"That's not funny, Draco Malfoy!"
"It rather is," Harry laughed. "Especially since the thought terrifies you."
Neville, Harry, and Draco stood in front of tall massive double doors. Standing outside of what was informally called The War Room. Harry had been inside once before, but only to step in two feet for a quick look. It was a large square room full of pillars, statues, and one large stone table in the center. The top of that table was made of wood and carved into the top was a large very detailed map of the realm.
"There are six Generals including Brumek as Second in Command, and then there's Falde who's the Commander… what were the Generals' names again?" Harry muttered.
"Err…" Neville stared at the ground, trying to remember. "Tihac, Laoln, Wysfran… I've forgotten the others."
"Nylae," Harry added as he remembered.
"And Maedlyn," Draco finished.
Harry huffed. "Everyone has wicked names here. I want a wicked name. Harry is so… dull."
Neville nodded in agreement. He thought the same about his name.
"Stop complaining," Draco replied with an eye roll. "At least your name is not Dudley."
Draco snickered at Neville's glare.
"But really!" Harry went on. "What kind of name is Harry for an Emperor? People are going to laugh at me. My name doesn't strike fear at all!"
"Of course you'd tell us to stop complaining," Neville muttered to the blond. "Even your name is cool."
"You make it strike fear, young one."
The three spun around to find Falde there. He leaned forward to press his palms against Harry and Neville's chest. "It's what is in here and what you accomplish. Not your names. It is the deeds you do that will be recognized." Falde's attention turned to Neville then and he grasped the Mar'raeh's chin in hand, turning his face this way and that. A small smile touched the Commander's lips. "You are with child."
"He won't need to hide it, will he?"
"No. But you will be sent back here as soon as your energy starts slipping, so prepare for that. This is what happens to all warriors who find they are with child. You return home without argument. Is this understood?"
"Yes. I have no problems with that. Dudley will like that rule too."
"Good. Now then, are you three ready? Much to do today."
The three nodded and stepped aside so that Falde could lead them in. The Commander pushed open the doors and strode inside, the heels of his boots clicking against the black marble floor as he went along. Draco pressed a hand against the small of Harry's back and followed the brunet inside with Neville coming in at the end. Harry knew Draco had thought about bringing Blaise, but Falde advised against it at this time, since Blaise wasn't the blond's Mar'raeh. And Draco was in the process of deciding whether or not he wanted or needed a Mar'raeh, which is why he hadn't already made Blaise so. Not to mention he'd have Pansy mad at him for a century if he did do that. Harry always laughed when the blond mentioned that part.
The Generals were already there, Harry saw. Standing at attention in front of the table. Harry took a deep calming breath as they neared. He and Draco had met them all before. Right after the battle two weeks back, but it hadn't been a formal meeting like this and not much had been said in between them. Aside from Brumek, there were three other males and two females. Harry allowed his gaze to drift away from the five and to observe the room more closely.
Harry noted with an indrawn breath that the room itself was more intimidating than the Generals lined up in front of them. Tall black marble pillars lined every wall and in between each pillar a statue of a hardened long dead warrior resided. Harry felt small under the stares of the stone statues. As if they were really alive and judging him harshly; their eyes indicating they thought he would always be small to them and never live up to the expectations of a strong warrior. A worthy Emperor. Even when he, Draco, and Neville stopped and the Generals and Falde dropped to one knee and pressed fists over hearts to pledge forever allegiance to the new blood, Harry couldn't shake the feeling. He didn't think he deserved this allegiance.
What have I done to deserve it, he thought as Falde and the Generals finally moved from the ground to take their seats around the table that was lit up by the softly glowing orbs hanging from gleaming metal poles around it. As he sat, Harry stared blankly at the carved wooden map that covered the entire length and width of the table. He was one boy amidst an Empire of elves that were centuries old. What could he possibly accomplish that they couldn't and in a better way? Harry would have gone on and on with the disparaging thoughts if he hadn't been interrupted by a tone stressed with fury.
You are not doing this right now.
Harry managed to keep from grimacing in the face of the Generals, but he did shift a bit to sit up straighter. And he thought he'd been doing a good job of keeping the anxiety off his face, which was a relief. The Generals weren't looking at him as if he'd been showing the fear he felt. He knew Draco was fuming because he doubted himself. Draco believed in him and when he had said right now, he actually meant ever again. Harry softly cleared his throat and pushed the insecurities away. Draco was right. Now was not the time.
As Falde shifted forward, he pretended to look at the map before him while actually studying the young ones. Mainly Harry and Draco. Neville he wasn't worried about. The Mar'raeh looked enthralled with the discussions. But Falde had caught the faint change on Draco's face. The blond's lips had thinned until they were nearly white from the pressure, which meant he was furious with something. And Falde knew nothing that had just been said could have angered the young Emperor in such a way.
A quick look at Harry completed the tale. The brunet's hands were attached to his armrests and his fingers were stark white. Falde knew them both very well by now and immediately recognized what was going on. He was relieved Harry would be going on the recruiting campaign. There would be more battles, more hands on training. Meeting people. Many opportunities to help his people. Harry needed that type of work. It would help him see that he was capable of the responsibility he was to bare for the rest of his immortal life.
The abuse he was subjected to as a child has not been completely forgotten, Falde thought with a silent growl. Without that abuse, Harry would have grown up with the subconscious knowledge that he was destined for great things; he would have felt this even when he was still a human. And with this unconscious belief, the prospect of ruling an entire race of ancient beings wouldn't have been so daunting when this time finally came. But the extent of the young one's abuse had carved huge holes, leaving room for too much insecurity. However, Falde knew Harry only needed to prove to himself and he needed more than just a battleground. Falde drew away from these thoughts when he heard Draco speaking and was pleased to see Harry had relaxed and was listening to his mate while his brow was furrowed in thought.
"I agree we need to see the entire legions. Take a census, find out what the troops need; clothes, food, weapons, basic supplies…" Draco murmured with a frown seconds after Laoln suggested such a meeting.
Harry leaned forward, scanning the map. This time his green eyes actually taking in the places. "It would be a mistake to gather and camp everyone in one location. That would leave us vulnerable."
Draco nodded and scanned the faces around him. "Don't you agree?"
Tihac, the dark skinned General, gave a small nod but when no one else responded, verbally or otherwise, Neville voiced his thoughts. "It would take time to gather the troops for such a meeting and we shouldn't pretend to think Demai'Tah will not hear of it within that time. He will."
"And use it to his advantage," Falde said, nodding at the young ones.
"Half your legions are already here within walking distance of Borsteria, Highness." This was said by Maedlyn. A female warrior with black hair and dark slanted eyes. Her ancestors had surely come from the Orient. "You could start the census with those troops."
Draco narrowed his eyes on her. "What have they been doing here in that time?" when Maedlyn didn't answer quickly enough, Draco sneered at her. "Surely they've recuperated already from the battle that took place two weeks ago. Surely they've already picked up enough supplies to last them until a run could be made? What have they been doing here, General?"
Maedlyn didn't answer him, though it looked like she shrank back a bit in her chair and turned her gaze onto Falde.
"They should have been sent out by now," Harry said, his voice as cold as Draco's gaze. "The city is protected. There is no need for that amount of force to be here. But what of the rest of the realm? While the legions are here, what protects the realm from Demai'Tah's backlash?"
Falde sat back, in no way prepared to save Maedlyn and Wysfran from reprimand from the Emperors. He had instructed them to send out their troops last week. They were not quick enough following that order and now would pay for it. And he was very impressed with the young ones for pointing out the disadvantages of keeping legions here and in one spot, and more than annoyed with his Generals for not seeing the folly in their plans. "You should answer your Emperors," he intoned flatly. "I would also like to know why your troops are still so close to the protected city. I gave you both the order to move out."
Wysfran took a breath that was barely visible and then addressed Falde. "We did not think making haste was necessary."
"It is understood that before, saving one's self was the priority in the realm. But that was understood about the citizens. Not the legions," Draco began, eyeing the General and making it plain he did not appreciate it that Wysfran had given his explanation to Falde instead of his rulers. "Order will be returned to the legions. You are supposed to fight for the Empire. That means protecting the people. I was under the impression warriors of the realm fought selflessly."
Laoln nodded. "Of course, Highness."
"Of course Highness, what? From Falde's reports, it doesn't seem like you've been doing much to protect the realm in the months that he has been out of the realm. In fact I see nothing but your own homes and lands protected. That screams selfishness."
Brumek narrowed his eyes on the young ones and was prepared to say something, but Falde signaled his Second for silence. This chastisement was needed. And the young one's accusations were true. While Brumek and Falde had been in the mortal world protecting and training the new blood, the Empire's legions had become lax in their purpose. Falde knew only Tihac had been doing what he was supposed to have been doing all these years.
Harry swept his gaze around the table. "Did you think small villages and private homelands-besides your own- were not important enough to protect?" he wondered, voice going soft. The calm before the storm, Draco knew. "You do understand that is why we have so many rebels and outcasts hiding away from the realm. They were left to fend for themselves when they shouldn't have had to. Have you any idea how many elves have been left without homes, without occupations? Their livelihoods were taken from them right under your noses and you could have stopped it!" Four of the Generals suddenly sat back in their chairs when Harry shot to his feet and slammed the tip of his dagger straight into the map in fury. "So many have died! You could have stopped that too!"
Nylae, the second female General, straightened and was brave enough to speak under Harry's obvious fury. "The number of our forces has diminished, Highness. We couldn't--"
A low feral growl cut her words off and Harry's glowing green eyes encompassed her. "If you weren’t such a skilled warrior, I would kill you where you sit."
Draco shifted in his chair and dropped a hand on his mate's forearm. "Now is not the time for excuses. Now is the time for action." Draco stood and pointed a finger towards the Qylacae mountain range. "We want forces sent here. There are several villages needing to be rebuilt." As he spoke, a small bright yellow glowing ball left his finger and attached to the section of the map he pointed to. "And the protections around the citadel need to be strengthened."
The blond paused and turned his gaze to his seething mate. They said nothing, but those who knew of their unique bond understood the two were talking telepathically.
"That should be done immediately," Harry responded aloud after taking a long calming breath. "We will go there after we've gone to the rebel crater."
Draco nodded and then pointed to the Darannae mountain range and another golden light marked the location. "Wysfran. You will take your troops there. Within the hour. We will meet you later in the day. Prepare for an assault. Demai'Tah may have lost his power as a clan master, but the Kibosh still stands. We will destroy it. Turn its foundations to dust." Draco's lips curved into a malicious smile, his fangs bared for all to see. "Hopefully we'll run into many raiders and Mindless. I'm eager to start the extermination."
Harry and Neville nodded eagerly at this. A moment later, Draco's eyes were narrowed on Wysfran. "You are dismissed. Within the hour, Wysfran."
Wysfran gracefully rose from his chair and bowed stiffly to the new blood before turning and striding away. Harry's eyes swept around the table, landing on the one General who had sat silent for the most part. General Tihac. He was a dark skinned elf. Very dark. Falde once said Tihac had been an African tribal prince in ancient times. A great warrior when he'd been human. Now Tihac sat in a relaxed state within his chair, leaning over slightly to rest his arm on the armrest with his chin cupped in hand.
"You've been silent," Harry said to him. "What do you think?"
Tihac opened his closed palm and began to finger the thing that was within. A long curved tooth from some creature. After a moment he raised dark eyes to Harry. "My thoughts agree with everything you have said, Highness," he spoke firmly, his tone low and smooth. And then his gaze narrowed as his eyes went to his fellow Generals. "Some of us have become weak. Some have lost the purpose."
Harry didn't need Draco's mental note to tell him the General meant what he said. Suddenly Harry was grinning at the dark General. "Can we join your legions, Tihac?" he asked with childlike exuberance, motioning between himself and Neville. "I think we could learn much from you."
Tihac inclined his head with a slow fluid smile. "It would be an honor, Highness."
Harry looked at Falde to see what he thought about him joining Tihac's troops, and the Commander nodded that he agreed and accepted Harry's choice.
The remainder of the meeting went on, with different locations chosen to post troops. Locations that would do good for the residents of the realm. When all but one General and Falde were left, Brumek leaned forward, glaring at his charges. "You call us selfish?!"
"Obviously not you, Brumek."
Brumek turned to Falde. His face the picture of stone. As harsh as the faces of the statues around them. "You've kept things from me."
"Our troops came as called when we visited sporadically. I had no reason to believe the legions were falling under the discord of the realm as so many others did. But it should have been obvious… even if our forces had been cut down, Demai'Tah should not have been able to cause so much damage in the months since his reappearance."
"No worries, Brumek," Harry murmured. "We'll whip the legions into shape in no time."
The stoic warrior was silent a moment, before he relaxed and sent a rare smile at the young ones across from him. "I'm proud of you three."
Falde nodded as he stood. "You conducted yourselves splendidly. Even managed to make them fear," he added with a grin to Harry. "Wonderfully done, young ones. And you joining with Tihac on your campaign is a smart move. He will teach you discipline and patience."
Harry began to smile brightly, but stopped when a hand wrapped around his wrist almost painfully. "Falde, we'll meet you in fifteen minutes."
"As you wish," he murmured, watching as the blond dragged his mate away and knowing exactly what Draco's problem was.
Harry allowed Draco to drag him through the palace to a small private courtyard near their private rooms.
"Harry… I just don't get you sometimes!" Draco exclaimed as he paced. "But you're absolutely brilliant! You do know that right?"
"I…" Harry didn't know what to say. That had certainly not been what he expected his husband to say.
"No, it's true." Draco stopped and turned to face his sitting husband. "You were losing yourself to those insecurities and then bam! You're being you! Assertive and energetic; angry in a murderous kind of way on behalf of all those who have suffered!" Draco sighed and turned his dazed eyes to the sky, "such a turn on, Harry. You have no idea."
Harry couldn't stop the giggle that escaped him.
Draco smiled as he looked back at him. "Anyway, that is exactly what's going to make you a great Emperor! Haven't you realized it yet? You being you is what is great!"
"Did you see the statues?" Harry asked, averting his gaze.
"They're dead. They can't judge you."
"I was just… overwhelmed." And then he met Draco's gaze and glared. "Why aren't you? Don't you find this place and our situation the least bit intimidating?"
"Harry, of course. But I…" Draco trailed off, not really wanting to say his trepidations weren't so bad as Harry's because he hadn't grown up constantly being belittled. He'd been raised to think… No. He'd been raised to know he was better than everyone else. To prepare for outrageous situations in life. He didn't want to say this and he didn't want to mention Harry's horrid life with the Dursleys either.
Harry looked away from him then and Draco watched his lover's hands as they balled into tight white knuckled fists upon his knees. "I'm scared. That makes me weak."
Draco knew he had to do something that would jar Harry out of this. And he knew just the thing that would do it quickly. With purpose he strode forward and straddled Harry's lap and ghosted his lips over the long pointed shell of his lover's ear. "Being scared is what will drive you. That's how you work, lover. Pull them down," he whispered. "The restrains, vanish them. Let me feel your power, lover. You know how much I love to see the power swimming in your eyes. How much I love to feel it washing over me; drowning me. I want to feel it."
Harry's hand clutched the material at the back of Draco's coat, eyes sliding closed in response to the dulcet tone of his husband's voice. Words spoken in a way that hypnotized him and he was doing what Draco wanted before he realized. Letting his power rise up from the depths. Releasing the power so that it surrounded them like a blanket. As he usually did, Harry gasped at the addicting rush of that immense power. It was a delightful burn.
"Does that feel like weakness to you?" Draco whispered, his voice gone hoarse.
Harry shook his head, eyes still closed. "No," he whispered.
"Do you really think you're weak?"
Harry pulled back and bared his fangs. "No," he growled.
After a moment Harry pulled the power under control and dropped his head against Draco's chest. "Draco?"
"You straddling me like this is very odd. I don't like it. Can we switch positions?"
They vacated the small courtyard soon after, Draco entwining their fingers tightly together. He knew they hadn't even scratched the surface, or really taken care of the problem. But he was certain Harry's campaign would accomplish what no words would.
"Did you lie?" Falde asked Tihac.
"What do you speak of, Commander?" the General asked, his gaze moving slowly between Falde and Brumek. They were the only three in the War Room; Tihac having been summoned back by Falde.
"When you said it would be an honor for the young one and his right-hand to join your troops," Brumek explained. "Do you have a problem with joining their campaign?"
"I'm eagerly anticipating it, Brumek. I'll find it more challenging and productive to move around, hunting and assisting the realm instead of taking up a post. Though I do have one concern."
"Speak of it."
"The Highness and his Mar'raeh… do they expect special treatment? More than what will naturally be given?"
"I'm inclined to believe they won't want special treatment of any kind. Though it will go on regardless."
"Of course," Tihac said with a small nod. "They will always have the respect and privileges due their positions and I have no concerns about giving such things to them."
Brumek smirked. "It's the privileges part that his Highness and the Mar'raeh will feel uncomfortable with."
"They will have it regardless," Tihac said firmly.
Falde nodded. "You'll find both are exceptional students to have, Tihac. Eager to learn anything. And I must say I'm pleased they will be with you. The other Generals…"
Tihac hissed an agreement to the Commander's unspoken words, the first of any exuberant emotions he'd portrayed since the meeting began. Tihac was an elf with very few words, and usually very few visible emotions to those who did not know him incredibly well.
Brumek scowled. "Should have known when it was always your troops that came first whenever called."
"They became lazy under the late councils frivolous orders. The honor of the Empire's legions has been severely tarnished."
Falde balled his fists. "No longer."
"What did you think of them?" Brumek asked Tihac curiously.
"Truthfully, they are babes. But they are well informed, they think things through, have an eye for strategy and it is obvious they want what is best for the Empire. They do seem eager. The dark haired ones especially."
Falde nodded. Before he could jump into the next line of discussion, the reason why he had called Tihac back, the doors opened and a white haired elf came bounding in. Brumek sighed.
Ozemir skidded to a halt in front of his mate, bouncing lightly on his toes. "Can we go now, Brumek?"
"Ozemir…" the warrior warned.
"But the young ones said the meeting was over! You promised when the meeting was over you would take me to see Zynfrae. I want to go now! Zohrek too!" Ozemir exclaimed all this with a bubbly excitement that had Brumek groaning aloud.
A smooth amused chuckle sounded around them. And everyone turned to Tihac. "It was rumored you caught a mate--"
Ozemir spun around with a gasp. "I was not caught!"
Falde chuckled at Ozemir's affronted tone.
"But I did not think it was true," Tihac went on.
"I did not go around announcing it. It wasn't anyone's business."
"We have a son too, Tihac," Ozemir supplied happily. "He looks just like Brumek. Sweeter though."
"Yes. I imagine he is. Congratulations."
"Thank you!" Ozemir chirped.
Tihac studied Ozemir before he laughed, surprising his comrades. "He is the exact opposite of you, is he not? Truly amusing, especially knowing your disposition, Second."
Brumek turned to Falde. "Weren't you about to tell the General something?" he asked roughly while tugging the Scholar behind him by the long white ponytail.
Falde nodded. "I am not sure if you've heard this, Tihac, but the Emperors are soul mates."
An eyebrow lifted. "A rare bond."
"I've read a soul mate bond is stronger than our destined mate bonds."
"They are severely bothered when separated."
Tihac dropped his chin slightly as he thought. Finally after a moment he spoke. "So am I to assume that this is one of the special treatments our young Emperor will need when he is out in the field with me?"
Falde cleared his throat and shifted awkwardly. Brumek found this amusing. For he knew what needed to be said next. So he said it for him. "The Mar'raeh and his mate are also soul mates."
"Will this be a problem?" Falde inquired.
Ozemir poked his head around Brumek's large muscled arm and narrowed his eyes on the General.
"I do not see how unless it affects the rest of the troops or their mission performances."
"They wouldn't let it affect the orders they are given," Ozemir supplied before Falde or his mate could. "It would be bottled tightly inside until they could have time and privacy to deal with it."
"Then there is no problem."
"One more thing."
Tihac nodded before anything could be said. "Yes. The Mar'raeh is with child. He will be sent back here on the third month."
"Good. We have nothing left to discuss. I will send the young ones to you at the end of the month."
A pleased smile crossed the General's. "Very well, Commander."
The three warriors saluted each other and then Tihac departed.
"Now we can leave," Brumek responded to his bubbly mate. "Honestly, Ozemir. Could you not have waited?"
Ozemir laughed. "Of course not! Now let's get our son and go!"
Brumek turned to Falde as they followed the Scholar to the door. "His cheerfulness has skyrocketed since our return," the warrior growled.
"Ozemir is home and he is free," was Falde's simple explanation.
"You must do something! He's driving me insane!"
Falde did not do anything to help. Instead he laughed good and hard.
Charlie was wrestled from a nice dream involving himself and a particular Slytherin whom he was missing desperately when someone kicked the leg of his cot. "Oi!" someone hissed. "Wake up! Something's happening outside the crater."
Charlie recognized the voice belonging to Richard. He groaned as he sat up. "Again?"
"This is good for us."
Ah, that was Theo's voice.
"What's going on?" Bill asked as Charlie stood and stretched.
"Warriors approach," Theo explained as the Weasleys strapped on their weapons. "The rebel leaders have erected a shield though. Over the cavern like a bubble."
"Why do that?" Charlie wondered. "Why try to have a standoff with realm warriors? And more importantly why are we still here if they wanted to keep off the Empire's scopes. If they didn't want to be found we should have moved out a week ago."
"She's a stupid stubborn tw--"
"I want to know how the warriors found us," Theo remarked.
"It's not like this crater is hidden… suppose we might find out. Let's go see who's come."
The four stepped out into the bright morning light and immediately spotted the warriors. They weren't approaching anymore. They were already there. Lined around the jagged rock atop the crater staring down.
"It's Draco and Harry," Theodore hissed to them, looking off at the north side of the crater where the blond stood, staring down into the crater. Theo could see his friend smirking and at once knew Draco found hilarity in the barrier blocking the warriors from entering. At the opposite end of the crater stood Harry with Neville and Falde beside him.
While the other rebels were running around, seeking orders from their superiors, who had no idea how to get out of this situation, the four infiltrators stood silent and watched as Pansy turned to Draco. She dropped a fist onto her hip and motioned to the barrier with the other hand, clearly tapping her foot with impatience.
"Control yourself," Bill murmured to his brother, who was staring fixedly at his mate.
"Fuck off," was the reply, hissed in English.
Bill sighed and turned away from the top of the crater, searching out Raelu. It was hard pinpointing anyone over the heads of all the rebels, so he hurried over to a barrel placed outside one of the tents and jumped on top of it to scan the crowds. Soon Bill found the elf he sought, jumped from the barrel and sprinted through the crowds to where the female stood with the other rebel leaders.
"What are you doing?" he demanded. "Do you think this is an intelligent move? Responsible? You realize you are putting all those who follow you into danger by trying to block out the new blood. They may see this as treason and react as such."
The other rebels with her seemed to think the same, for their expressions showed wariness and uncertainty as they looked around at the top of the crater.
Raelu rounded on Bill with a look of fury. "Who are you to question me?" she growled.
"When logic isn't sound, I will question."
"We are protecting those here against any foe," she hissed. "That is my responsibility." And with that she departed. Bill clenched fists at his side.
"Stupid," he hissed.
The elf beside him cleared his throat. "Raelu is stubborn, but she means well." When Bill looked at him, the elf bowed his head slightly in greeting and announced himself as Teku.
"She may mean well, but it's a mistake," Bill murmured as his attention returned to the Emperors.
"Are you a soldier?"
The sudden question had Bill turning back to Teku. "No. Are you? Any of you?"
Teku shook his head. And Bill frowned. There was no telling how old Teku was, but the expressions on his face and his mannerisms spoke volumes about his inexperience. Though it also said much that his group of rebels had chosen him as a leader and that he’d been able to lead them through Taeneen without many casualties. "What did you do before?"
"I'm a farmer. Juelar here is a miner." Teku motioned to the elf beside him, who'd been listening in on the conversation raptly.
"I was a miner," Juelar corrected, "until Demai'Tah's forces took over the mines. I barely escaped."
Both shrugged gracelessly. "I've known Raelu for some time," Teku murmured, "but she keeps her past a mystery to everyone."
Bill refrained from spewing the negative comments swelling his head about Raelu and turned back to what was happening outside the barrier.
"She says you and your friends are spies," Teku murmured, his gaze going to the Emperors as well.
"We are not against you," was the only answer Bill thought to give them. He'd leave it up to Teku and Juelar to form their own opinions about what that meant.
Draco and Harry stepped back a bit and drew swords from opposite positions around the mile wide crater. Those below noticed the two were the only ones at the moment who wielded weapons. Draco twirled the sword in his hand for a moment before raising it and holding it with both fists with Harry mirroring his actions. And then they stepped forward and stabbed the swords into the air, directly into the barrier and through it. The blades gleamed brightly from the light of the sun, though it could also have been a glow as the two Emperors spoke silent words.
An audible crack sounded throughout the crater. A sound like glass shattering and the barrier exploded without delay, showering the rebels below in glittering silver dust. It was a testament to their strength that they were able to break that barrier in seconds. Draco had adorned a smirk as he sheathed his sword and then lifted a hand to motion the warriors down. But even as he motioned, it was the new blood who took the first steps down, and Bill knew it was done on purpose. They wouldn't let anyone have the wrong idea. The Royals were no cowards. They would not send people to do things that they themselves would not face first. Bill thought it was also smart of Harry and Draco to send the rebels a message by only allowing a quarter of the troops they brought to descend down into the crater, leaving most of the warriors up at the top.
Harry scanned the faces filling the bowl, at once spotting Bill and Charlie. Curiously there was also a dragon within the crater. A large beautiful scarlet dragon who stood up high, craning its head left and right, watching with what Harry felt was excitement. Do you see the dragon? he asked Draco.
It's kind of hard to miss.
Do you think it's the one that helped us at Borsteria?
Draco took a moment to answer, waiting until he reached flat ground. Possibly.
I want to thank it. Do you think we can?
Draco snorted. I'll leave that to you, he murmured, imperceptibly nodding at a bored looking brunet and a spiked blond. Not missing how tightly the two had their fingers entwined. And in public no less, Draco thought in awe of Theo. Harry, hurry up and fly over here!
Fine, fine. Coming. A moment later, Harry and Neville jumped into the air and spread their wings, quickly soaring across heads to meet Draco, Blaise, and Pansy. Falde took the easy route and Shadowed over.
"WHO LEADS HERE?" Harry called out, scanning the faces around them. Someone passed behind him mumbling, "some stupid bint," and Draco nearly choked on his laughter.
Harry turned slightly, pretending to scan the crowds in order to see Bill walk off to stand some feet away, crossing his arms and scowling at something between he and Draco.
"Are you the leader?" Draco asked, drawing Harry's attention back to in front of them where a female stood. Arms crossed over her chest and chin raised in defiance.
"Why have you invaded our camp?" she questioned.
Beside them, Neville growled and made to jump forward, his axe suddenly in hand. "Do you know who you speak to?"
Blaise stepped forward, bracing a hand on Neville's shoulder in order to keep the female alive. Though his icy glare went to Raelu. "You bow with respect and never question the Emperors in such a way."
"We are here to recruit. This isn't an invasion. And we've also come with thanks."
Draco turned angry eyes to his mate. What do you mean? She's completely disrespectful! I will not thank her!
"We've come to thank each and every one of you for your work against Demai'Tah," Harry went on without answering Draco. "However, as much as we appreciate your efforts, you should remember who you speak to. We demand your loyalty and respect. Do not pretend you have no idea who we are."
"Bow," Falde demanded in a clear firm voice.
There were those who may not have been pleased with the new blood or pleased to see them, but no one wanted to show signs of treason. No one wanted to be traitors of the Empire. And the new blood was the Empire. Because of this, only seconds went by before everyone followed the Commander's order and the crater was full of bowing elves. All bowing respectfully. All except Raelu, that is. The she-elf's eyes widened and then narrowed, looking upon her bowed comrades as if they'd committed personal treason against her.
Bill cursed lowly under his breath when he saw her defiant posture; when he saw Harry and Draco stiffen against her defiance and Draco's hand shifted to cover the hilt of his sword. Bill knew if another minute went by without her compliance then the blond would not hesitate to kill her in order to set an example.
Bill stood and weaved his way through the bowed crowds until he stood beside her and grabbed her arm, roughly. "Do you wish to die?" he whispered softly. "What is the point of showing defiance like this? Bow, for Hirsha's sake!"
"Do not touch me!" she hissed, ripping her arm free.
"Be sensible! Alright, I understand you don't like the new blood. But whether you do or not, they are our rulers. They are the Emperors. You cannot change that anymore than you can stop the sun from rising each day." Bill took her arm again and began to kneel, firmly tugging her down with him. "Bow, Raelu. What good can you do for others if you are dead?"
Raelu glared balefully at him, but after only a moment she did kneel. Bloody insufferable woman, Bill thought fiercely.
"You will pay," she hissed at him from the corner of her mouth.
"For what? Saving your pathetic life?" he hissed back.
"I will make you live to regret this!"
"Believe me, lady… already I regret meeting you!"
"We will duel one day!" she hissed.
"Bring it on," Bill growled. "Like I said before, you need to be taught a lesson!"
Harry and Draco watched them, their eyes on the two bent heads, listening in with amusement at the quiet hissed argument and threats being thrown back and forth.
After that Harry and Draco jumped into what they'd planned. Recruiting. Urging the rebels to join the legions in the fight against Demai'Tah, and then telling those who had no wish to fight to return to their homes and to take up their occupations. It was encouraged, as they wanted the realm back in order. And for that to happen, they needed elves to go back to work outside of the army. Half the rebels eagerly volunteered to join the legions. The number of rebels surprised Harry, but he supposed their victory in Borsteria had changed a lot of minds about whether or not he and Draco were worthy.
Many rebels demanded to know how they expected those to return home and take up life once again when Demai'Tah was still out there. When the raiders and Mindless would probably destroy what they rebuilt. Harry swore that as of now there would be warriors posted near every city and village. Alarms would be set. Frequent patrols of warriors would sweep around the realm. Providing support, reports, messengers and whatever else the citizens of the Empire needed.
"We're here now and we'll not stand by and watch our people suffer," Harry stated for all to hear.
"Where were you when it really mattered?"
Harry turned to find that same rebel leader standing a few feet away. Her gaze was full of such loathing. But Harry could feel mountains of pain as well and realized her resistance to them stemmed from something very painful that had happened to her in the past.
"Raelu is it?" Harry asked, approaching her. Silently warning Draco to remain silent. "We didn't know we were the new blood until this year and then we stayed away to protect our unborn son from Demai'Tah. And when he was born we could not bring the little prince here until Borsteria's protections had been set. I don't care what you think… protecting our son was my top priority. Do you understand?"
Raelu's harsh look didn't dampen. If anything it grew and she stormed away. But apparently the other rebels who still had been wary and unimpressed with them took this announcement to heart. Harry had forgotten the realm did not know of Caellum yet and as Falde promised those months ago, the rebels accepted this excuse for them staying away.
Nearly two hours later, Harry and Draco and the other new blood were sequestered off in a tent. It was shielded for complete privacy. "That went tremendously well!" Harry exclaimed.
Draco grunted something from his seat, but his eyes continued to glare at the closed tent flap.
"You're not still angry about that female?"
"Bill's right. She is a stupid bint."
Blaise laughed. "Did you see the way he was baring his fangs at her? He hates her."
"I think you all are being a little harsh. You don't know anything about her," Harry murmured.
"She refused to show respect!" Draco shouted. "And then only did it because Bill made her."
"Obviously Bill doesn't hate her," Neville said quietly. When everyone looked at him, he shrugged. "Clearly Draco was going to kill her. So if Bill really hated her, why make her bow before Draco could make her an example?"
"He's a bloody Gryffindor."
Neville laughed and shook his head. "You know that doesn't count anymore once you're a dark elf."
"Anyway, we need to decide what to do about the elves who are going to continue to be rebels. Those that don't want to join the legions but still want to keep fighting Demai'Tah. We need to keep them under some kind of control."
Falde crossed his arms. "Offer to let them continue to do what they do. Offer to give them supplies when needed… make them unofficial hunters of raiders and Mindless. We also have the funds to pay them as well."
"Wait… you're talking guerilla warfare, aren't you?" Harry asked.
Falde nodded. "Yes, that is what the humans call it."
"I like it," Draco said. The others nodded in agreement.
"And what of the infiltrators?" Blaise inquired. "Do we pull them out?"
It was decided that their friends would remain. Leading the remaining rebels into becoming what was just discussed. Draco began to write a letter to Bill, somehow knowing the eldest Weasley would be able to lead the rebels into what they wanted.
Pansy huffed and jumped to her feet. "I want a look at that dragon."
"You want a look at Charlie," Blaise corrected with a grin.
"Yes, him too. There are too many rebels around to do anything but look at each other. IT'S FRUSTRATING!! Draco! As your bestest best friend I demand you blast some of these elves into Oblivion!"
Blaise and Draco shared a look before breaking down into snickers. It wasn't until Falde snorted in amusement did a look of rage cross Pansy's face
"Oh yes! Very funny! You won't be laughing long Draco when you and Harry spend months apart!"
With this enraged statement, she stormed out of the tent. Harry was quick to follow and was exceedingly relieved for Pansy to find Charlie by the dragon. The redhead sat on a boulder very close to the massive creature whose head was lying at his feet. Here there weren't so many rebels around and Harry figured that was because of the dragon.
As soon as he saw them approach, Charlie stumbled to his feet, stuttering out a formal greeting and bowing, acting all awestruck by them. Pansy and Harry thought he was a remarkable actor. And Pansy thought her mate was just the cutest thing trying to act so surprised and humbled by their near presence. She cocked her hip and sent a not so inconspicuous wink at the redhead. Charlie's eyes flashed hotly for a moment and they stared at each other until Harry loudly cleared his throat. At the moment Charlie didn't seem all that prudish anymore.
"How are you able to stand so close to the dragon?" Harry inquired, at the same time wondering why the dragon didn't seem to mind his and Pansy's near presence. The creature was looking right at them.
Charlie dragged his eyes away from Pansy to look at Harry. "She likes me I think, Highness. She saved my life when we fought the raiders here. There were three dragons, but two left days ago. No one knows why this one has remained. "
"Is she friendly?" Pansy asked, stepping closer to her mate, trying desperately not to show how relieved and happy she was to see him. And completely frustrated that it looked like there would be no way for them to find a moment or place alone.
"Not to most, my Lady. She killed three rebels two days ago when they tried taking scales from her. Apparently scales taken from a live dragon are worth triple the coin."
"Was this the dragon that attacked the enemy forces outside of Borsteria?"
"No, Highness. That was another of her clan."
The ground trembled beneath them and Harry's eyes widened as the dragon stood and lumbered over to them.
"Don't panic," Charlie murmured.
The scarlet stopped at Harry first, her nostrils flaring. Harry slowly bent at the waist. Showing respect to her regardless that she wasn't the one to have helped at the city. Surprisingly the dragon bowed back by curving her long neck and dipping down until her snout was pressed against the ground.
"She recognizes who you are," Charlie thought aloud. "She must smell the power on you, Highness."
And then he tensed when the scarlet moved over to Pansy and the sniffing intensified. "Stay calm, my Lady," Charlie urged to his mate when the scarlet pressed her snout against Pansy's front.
"Stay calm?" Pansy hissed. "Are you kidding?"
The scarlet pulled back from Pansy. She craned her neck and started to smell Charlie. After a moment the dragon started to weave her head back and forth between Pansy and Charlie until finally she raised up and peered down at both of them.
"Maybe you should back away now," Charlie suggested lowly. Pansy didn't have the chance to decide if she wanted to take that advice or not before the dragon moved again. She moved as fast as lightning. Softly hitting Pansy in the side with her snout and pushing the Slytherin into Charlie with a snort to send them both to the ground.
Harry covered a laugh with his hand. "She knows," he whispered.
"Excused me, my Lady," he said aloud for anyone who was listening though he wasn't making any effort to help Pansy off him. Then he whispered lowly. "I was afraid she might have become jealous. This dragon seems to have a thing for me."
"A thing?" Pansy said, raising a brow. Charlie shrugged. "You might want to get off me now, Pans."
"I don't want to," she whispered. "And I can feel you don't want me to either."
Charlie breathed in deeply. "You have your wings."
Pansy's smile was an affirmative and Harry thought he should do something as they both looked ready to blow Charlie's cover. Especially since their lips were drawing closer together as the seconds passed.
"You two can use this to your advantage," Harry whispered into Pansy's ear as he pulled the Slytherin off her mate, ignoring her hissed warning. "Hide behind the dragon and then Shadow into the tent we've commandeered."
They quickly did as he suggested- trying to look inconspicuous while walking around the dragon- and the next thing Harry knew, Draco and the others were tearing out of the tent. Draco and Blaise had disgusted looks on their faces. Neville was laughing and Falde just shook his head. Harry was sure the Commander was also rolling his eyes.
Soon they were on to the next order of business for the day and traveled to the Darannae mountains. Unfortunately when the compound was located- the wards having failed the moment Demai'Tah lost his power as a clan master- they found the Kibosh deserted. Every bit of it. In fact, when the Emperors and Wysfran's troops arrived at the location, the compound had already been destroyed. It looked like the underground lava had been released to run freely over the grounds.
"FUCKING SHIT!" Harry yelled in frustration, not caring one whit he'd just cursed in English. But it didn't matter as he was secured in a tent, along with Draco, Blaise, Neville, and Falde.
"Bastard took our fun away," Draco muttered. Blaise and Neville nodded. The only two had gone on with them to join Wysfran's troops at the base of the volatile mountain range.
"Of course he must have known we would eventually come here," Falde responded. "And he has other places to go in which to hide. He has others to hide him."
"But I wanted to turn this place to dust," Harry whined.
"Why would he have destroyed it though?" Blaise questioned Falde. "Was he trying to hide something?"
"Most likely," Falde replied with a growl.
"What do we do now?" Harry questioned.
Falde smiled at Harry's pout and dropped a hand to the young one's head. "Return to Borsteria and plan for your journey at the month's end. Spend as much time as you can with your son and mate. Your upcoming campaigns are going to be very difficult."
Lucius was within the nursery, carefully cradling all three of his babes within his arms. He had such a fierce protective look on his face that it had Sirius grinning uncontrollably when he walked in. In the wake of their children, the couple's transformations hadn't taken very long at all. And Lucius had taken to fiercely coveting his children. Growling lowly to anyone who wasn't Sirius. This included Kaego, the Lestrange brothers, and even the gang. None seemed to be insulted though. The babies were preemies and much too delicate at the moment, and Lucius' instincts demanded the violent animalistic reactions against anyone who was not the babies’ parents. And those who knew Lucius- Severus and the Lestrange brothers- were startled by his attitude and very amused by it.
Sirius only had time to stop beside Lucius and gaze down at his progeny before the blond started growling again. Sirius raised his head, eyes tilted to the ceiling as he felt the wards tingling and realized that was why Lucius was reacting as he was. They had visitors.
"I'll see to it," Sirius replied.
The visitors were in the Entrance Hall by the time he arrived. Four of them. Sirius grinned when he saw who it was and bounded down the stairs to them, though his smile slipped a bit when he saw one of the guests grimacing in pain, leaning heavily against one of the redheads. "You're back!" he exclaimed, dragging the Weasley twins into a bear hug. Fred and George returned the embrace, and then laughed when Similae growled and swatted at Sirius' arm, his claws catching lightly against the Animagus' robe.
"He's yours. Yes, I know," Sirius said, grinning at the small elf and dropping a friendly hand on Similae's shoulder before moving on to give Mila a hug, surprising her into speechlessness.
"Is Kaego here?" George asked. Sirius guessed it was George since he was the one holding Similae up against his side.
"Yes. What's wrong?" he asked, looking at Similae who managed a small smile before turning and pressing his face against George's chest and wrapping his arms around his George's waist
“Similae's wing sacks need to be cut free. And now."
"Come on then. He's upstairs. In his room. Doesn't really leave his room unless to check up on the babies or someone else needs his help."
"He's still torn up about Talyn and his brother," George said as he moved to stand in front of Similae and waited until his mate had jumped onto his back before following.
Sirius nodded as he led them up the stairs. "Doesn't help that Vendyl's away in the realm. Sure wish we had more Saen."
"We're going to go to the Nest for a bit," Fred called. "Want to see Mum."
"Alright," George called back.
"I think I'll stay here."
"No way, Mila! If I go without you, Mum'll kill me. She hasn't met you yet. Not in the 'welcome to the family' capacity."
"But I'm not--"
"Sure you are! Similae is George's mate. That automatically makes you both part of the family. Don't worry. It'll be fine!"
Mila had no choice but to follow and in an odd fashion. Fred instructed her to jump into the fireplace, into the fire he'd made green, and call out the Nest clearly. She nearly tumbled out onto the floor, but managed to catch herself at the last moment. She was glad of it when she saw she'd come out into a room that was occupied by four Ukatae ladies and six human children.
Everyone stopped what they were doing, eyeing her. Not in an unfriendly way. Just curious. The lady with red hair- the twins’ mother- jumped to her feet the moment she spotted Mila and a happy smile grew on her face. Mila blushed lightly and stepped aside when she heard the fire rumble behind her. And soon Fred popped out, grinning from ear to ear.
Mila soon found herself in a similar situation just as her brother had been the first time he traveled to the school with the twins. She hadn't any idea what to do or say. So she stood there by the fireplace and watched as Fred was nearly smothered by his extremely happy mother. A small smile crossed Mila's face. Fred's mother was crying happily at the return of her son.
"What's your name?"
Mila looked down to find a little girl looking up at her. "Mila. And your name?"
The little girl smiled, revealing that she was missing a tooth. Mila's smile grew. "I'm Mary."
"It's a pleasure to meet you."
"You're like one of them. Michael reads me stories about you and about princesses and princes and dragons. Did you know there are real dragons?"
Mila nodded. "Yes. Many dragons."
"And you have wings too!" Mary gushed, staring at the dark red feathers. "They look so soft."
"Would you like to touch?"
"Oh yes please! I wanted to touch Ozemir's wings, but that big big scary elf always growls when any of us try."
Mila lightly laughed as she drew one wing to curl around her arm for the small girl to caress. And Mila agreed. Ozemir's mate was a tad bit scary and he was big.
Fred finally pulled away from his mother, grinning at her. "Mum, you look great!" He turned, looking at the rest of the gang. "Have wings yet?" All four ladies blushed, causing Fred to snicker.
"Wing sacks should be molting any day now," Molly answered. "Kaego has been kept busy having to release all our wings…. and what brings you here? We weren't expecting to see you for some time?"
"Shorty's wings needed to be cut out," Fred replied with a grin. "And I brought Mila here for a proper meet. Mila!"
Mila turned away from Mary and the other human girl that had approached to touch her wings. Fred was waving her over.
"Don't be shy," Mary told her. "Auntie Molly is the nicest! Isn't she Catherine?" The dark haired girl nodded.
Mila stood and approached and braced herself for the hug Fred's mother pulled her into. It had been so long she'd been hugged so warmly like this and she was immediately reminded of her mother, though his embraces had been firmer, but no less warm and loving. Still the thoughts of him brought tears to her eyes.
"What's wrong, dear?"
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "You made me think of Mamma."
Molly turned her eyes to Fred, whose grave return gaze told her everything needing to be said. "Oh you poor dear!" And Mila was pulled into another hug. "Welcome to the family."
Fred, Mila, and Molly returned to Malfoy Manor soon after that having been invited over by Sirius for dinner. Severus was there as well and eventually Arthur Weasley dropped in at the end of his day.
During dinner, Molly caught this happy little look in her eyes as she peered between Fred and Mila. "Are you two…" she gestured between them.
"No, no, no, Mum. Don't go forcing mates!"
"We're only friends," Mila explained. "It would be weird to have a mate who looks just like Similae's mate. He'd get terribly annoyed too."
"We're both fine without mates at the moment," Fred murmured.
"And they play too many pranks on me!" Mila exclaimed. "It's horrible!"
"It's hilarious," Fred countered. "Since you fall for it time and again!"
"Why can't you three target someone else?"
"We're in the inventing and experimental stages, Mila. We need Ukatae test subjects. You and Curo are the only ones about. At least we hit Curo more than you."
"It'll be your own faults when she gets you back," Molly intoned with a frown at her son.
"She can't get the getters," a voice said from the doorway. Mila looked over her shoulder to find George walking in.
Mila furrowed her brows. "We'll see. How's Similae?"
"Good. Sleeping. Just came down to grab a quick bite to eat."
"So how has your mission gone on?" Arthur asked as George took an open seat beside his brother.
"Pretty good so far. Except the Amazon was a bit rough. Had to eliminate a few."
"Strange things happened there too," Mila mumbled.
"What sort of strange things?" Sirius inquired.
Since George was too busy trying to set the world's fastest record on eating food, Fred answered. "We were two days in and had lost the trail to the permanent settlement the elves made there. We were trying to decide which way we should go when a rock suddenly fell from the sky. Hit Curo in the head and knocked him out cold." Fred grinned when Mila giggled.
"A rock fell from the sky?" Lucius asked, seeking more details.
"It had a piece of paper wrapped around it," Mila elaborated. "I picked it up."
"She stepped right over Curo's body and completely ignored the fact he was bleeding," Fred put in. It wasn't a necessary detail, but he'd found that funny when it happened.
"Yes. Anyway," Mila went on, "it was a note with few words. It told us to go northwest and to beware of patrols."
"Did you follow it?" Arthur asked, leaning forward curiously.
"After a lot of debating, yes. We decided we'd follow for one day."
"But we didn't need to follow for a whole day," Fred put in. "After two hours we discovered the patrols."
"So. The note was truthful," Severus intoned.
"We thought maybe the Emperors had sent someone to spy on us, or to help…"
"They wouldn't have done that without telling you," Sirius replied.
"Right," George agreed. "That's what we said. And then we got another note from the sky when we'd stayed outside of the settlement borders for a few minutes discussing on how we should go about entering. This note told us to get a move on."
Sirius barked out a laugh. "Impatient much?"
Mila took a sip of wine before going on with the story. "We were very careful with observing our surroundings, but still we couldn't find anyone. There wasn't anyone visible, nor could we sense them. But they were obviously very very close. Similae demanded whoever it was to show themselves."
George smiled. "He was imposing in a very cute short sort of way with his demanding, but of course there was no answer. After that we went into the camp. Gained about fifty elves, killed another dozen, and we learned something interesting about the relationship between Mila and Similae."
Mila flushed. "You don't… that's not important."
"Apparently Mila is Similae's own personal assassin," Fred said with a laugh.
The silence stretched on until Severus leaned back with a sneer. "I see. So the whelp makes others do the dirty work for him."
George only had time enough to frown fiercely, but Mila immediately burst out with, "my brother can and will take care of business! Make no mistake! It just so happens that I like killing for him. So when he orders a kill, I will do it without question."
George looked at her, a knowing smirk on his face. "Just like you killed Aramel."
"Yes, exactly. She was invading his territory." Mila's gaze narrowed on the Potions Master. "I don't care what blood you have, I won't let you speak about my brother like that. You know nothing about him."
Lucius turned to his friend with an amused smirk. Seems Severus had done it again. "Can you not go through one day without making an enemy?"
"It was unintentional…. Back to this invisible helper of yours," he prodded to get the discussion moving.
George mumbled something under his breath before pushing back from the table and striding out of the room. Fred watched him leave before turning back to the others. "Not much else to tell."
"That's not true," Mila said. "What about the disappearing items?"
"Oh right!" Fred shivered. "Okay, so this part is kind of creepy… after we gained allegiance from the Amazon elves, we stayed in the settlement for the night. We were all sitting around the campfire eating, and all of a sudden I notice food is disappearing from my plate. And no, it didn't disappear down my throat," he said before Lucius or Severus could make a snarky comment. "Thought it was George at first, but then his food starts disappearing. And then Mila and Simi start missing food."
"So something was nipping your food…" Sirius murmured.
"The plates were right on our laps!" Fred went on. "And yet we never saw it happen! Never felt a presence and never felt any magic being used... Mila had these cool mini dagger sets that fit between each of her fingers. Looked like she had metal claws when she curled her fingers in--"
"And somebody stole them right off of me! I've had those claws for years! My favorite weapon! Father gave them to me. A year before he and Mamma were killed. Mamma taught me how to use them…"
Molly felt such sympathy for Mila. "Perhaps this mystery person might give them--"
The clanging of something hitting the table interrupted Molly's words. Metal falling onto a plate. Mila gasped when she saw what it was and gingerly picked up her metal claws, staring at them in awe. Unconcerned that bits of food stuck upon the sharp mini blades. While she was oblivious to everything but caressing her treasured weapons, the rest around the table jumped to their feet, eyes scanning every inch of the dining room. Those who had weapons had them out, clutched it hand. Lucius hissed and immediately Shadowed away. Most certainly having gone to his babies.
"This is actually starting to annoy me now," Fred murmured as he watched a scrap of parchment float down from the ceiling. The note softly landed on the table face up for all to see. It had but one word.
Fred crossed his arms and shook his head. "We are definitely being laughed at."