Grazhir :: Crossover :: Kalpa :: 29

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29

After dinner Harry found the enchanted “pocket” he had stowed the loot from Apocrypha in and brought it to the library. He spilled out the contents onto a large table and tucked the “pocket” away. Glancing over the mess he could see that some of the books were things he had already read, so he now had duplicates. The scrolls, however, he wasn’t sure about. Valdis had told him about scroll-form spells, a one-use form of casting, so they could be those.

Tom reached over and snagged one, unrolling it and giving it a long look. “Spell scroll,” he said. “No idea if they’ll work for the uninitiated.”

He nodded and started setting aside the books he recognized as duplicates, not sure what to do with them. Those remaining may or may not be useful. It seemed Tom was correct in thinking that the danger of Apocrypha was not in the reading material he had looted, but in delving into the bounty of knowledge there in every structure to the point of becoming lost to it. If Hermaeus Mora was the Daedric Lord of Knowledge it only made sense that his Plane of Oblivion would be bursting at the seams with knowledge mortals might no longer hold. Odds were, staying long enough to try to assimilate all of it would turn you into a Seeker.

He wished Serana was back, but she had a number of clans to speak with. He had the list of shrines from Yuki; would his family accept that information? It might seem awfully convenient that the stranger who danced into and out of their lives would just so happen to have the list handy to give to him. Then again, they were so blasé about their appearances that perhaps it would be no different. How Yuki had managed that result. . . . Perhaps it was best he didn’t know, and there seemed to be absolutely no harm done to either of them; and maybe he was crazy after all to just be letting it go.

Having come to a decision he poked around in his pocket for the list and pulled it out, then slid it across the table to Tom. Tom scanned the contents, his head tilting curiously. “Why am I not surprised that there are shrines to all of them here in Norway?”

Maybe Tom assumed it came from Apocrypha?

“I will, at the least, check the one for Lord Malacath,” Tom continued. “If it looks fine the three of us can go.”

Viktor looked pensive for a moment, then said, “You do realize we could all end up marked.”

Tom’s upper lip curled into a snarl as he nodded. “Yes. The ultimate irony of a dark lord being marked by a higher power.”

He brought a hand up to rub his mouth, and incidentally hide the smile forming. It wasn’t good enough, for Tom aimed a murderous glare at him. “Hey, at least then I wouldn’t be the only one prancing around with godly tattoos!” he said, grinning openly and toothily at Tom.

While Tom was off checking into the shrine Harry and Viktor were reading any and all books regarding Malacath. If the Prince required an offering the preference was for troll fat, sometimes a daedra heart. Somehow he thought Tom could acquire troll fat easily enough if necessary, and there was a summoning spell he could use. All of the Daedric Lords were like that. Sometimes they wanted something, sometimes nothing, and sometimes you just stumbled over something connected to them and risked getting sucked into doing their bidding.

In this case they were deliberately investigating. When the three of them arrived at the shrine—for Tom’s check showed nothing in particular to be wary of—he looked up to see a well-muscled male figure. It wore a loincloth-type covering that reached down to and pooled on the pedestal the figure posed on, wielded a sword (which Harry found to be a bit odd given the artifacts he was aware of), and bore what he assumed was an Orsimer face, with pointed ears, severe underbite with oversized canines, and a snarling expression.

Viktor was looking around the clearing, into the trees. Harry saw the additional bracelet on his wrist and realized his husband was checking for others, living or dead. That being seen to he looked back at the statue and nearly fell over when it began moving, the figure straightening up from its threatening pose to an upright position, the back edge of the sword’s blade resting against the figure’s shoulder.

He quickly grabbed Viktor’s hand (for his husband had been facing away from the statue) and pulled him around. Viktor sucked in a sharp breath on seeing the change, and Tom was already both wary and fascinated.

“Lord Malacath?” Tom said quietly.

Aye.” The figure’s mouth did not move, yet it was obvious from whence the voice came. “You seek to aid my goblin-ken in exchange for their help.” It was undeniably a statement, not a question.

“That is correct,” Tom said.

Go, fetch the crown,” was the response. “I will call them to this place. You will negotiate, here, under my watchful eye.”

Tom took a deep breath and exhaled, his mouth tightening at the command, then nodded. “I will return shortly,” he murmured, then disappeared.

Your friend is proud,” Malacath stated.

He smiled nervously, with no idea how he should respond, if at all. Viktor squeezed his hand and remained just as silent.

Tom returned, a silk bag in his hand; bare seconds later a party of goblins appeared, looking wary and somewhat confused. That changed when they saw the statue. Each of them bowed deeply to the figure of their god.

It seems you have some allies,” Malacath stated.

The goblins all gave off an aura of confusion, shock, and disbelief, though none of them outright displayed their reaction or spoke of it. The one who looked to be in charge eyed the three humans, but its gaze came to a rest on Harry’s left hand after a lingering look at the right. “Blessed of Akatosh and Champion of Hermaeus Mora,” it said in a harsh whisper.

Harry released Viktor’s hand and took a step forward. “Yes,” he said. “Bormahi allowed Hermaeus Mora to test me.”

“Your father?” the goblin said. “You, a human?”

“Yes, my father,” he replied, frowning. Just how many beings understood even a portion of the dragon language? “I am dovahkiin. My human father is of little importance.”

A look bounced around between the goblins before the leader spoke again. “I have my doubts.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” he said. “Why should you show trust when you have been shown so little? Would you like a demonstration, assuming you can even recognize the truth of it?”

The goblin sneered at the mild taunt, then nodded.

He contemplated that for a moment, trying to decide which Shout would make the best impact, then looked up at the sky and Shouted, “Strun Bah Qo!” The clouds overhead immediately thickened and boiled up, darkening the sky, then released a fury of rain and thunder and lightning, bolts striking the ground a reasonably safe distance away from their gathering. It lasted only a minute, but it was obvious that had enemies been in range they would have been skewered and fried by those jagged arcs of electricity. He looked back at the goblins to see their reactions.

The leader’s expression had smoothed out, at least as much as was possible for a being of his type, and the goblin was eyeing him intently. “Proof enough,” it said, nodding decisively. “Why are we here?”

Tom held up the bag and allowed the sides to fall down, revealing the crown. The goblins were good in that they allowed very little of what they were feeling or thinking to show through at the sight of the relic, but more than one had hands which twitched forward. The leader glanced at Malacath and back to Tom. “I see.”

“We had come to realize that you and yours may still follow the old ways,” Tom said, “and that the government of the British faction of my species, wizard-kind, had done a typically evil deed when it comes to others—and even, at times, their own. That being said, we went looking for information and came across references to this.” He twitched the crown. “Being in the midst of yet another war we were, naturally, looking for information at the very least, assistance if possible. Our foray to one of the banks proved to some extent that your people are aware enough of the gods to recognize their symbols, and indeed that you display those of Lord Malacath openly.”

The leader raised a brow. “So you retrieved the crown as a bargaining point. I must wonder if the type of information you’d be interested in involves the money flow for Grindelwald and his people, and if the assistance might include Nurmengard.”

Tom smiled faintly. “Of that nature, yes. We believe that he has regained control of the fortress and is using it for himself and his minions. Infiltration is a strong possibility. The money flow might be of use in terms of finding and removing his people, but if he’s not using one of your branches, and instead has his funds stored somewhere in Nurmengard. . . .”

Harry almost nodded to himself. Make it a point to show that the money might be a black hole and instead push for Nurmengard as being far more important. Even if they could track Grindelwald’s minions that way—well, discover who they were, more likely—what sort of actions would Tom advocate? Kidnapping, interrogation, and killing? A dead enemy couldn’t come back to cause more trouble, after all. A part of him recognized that as being hilariously hypocritical should it come from Tom considering the war he had sparked more than twenty years ago, with his minions spreading mayhem and death.

But for himself? If he ran across a bunch of Grindelwald’s non-draugr allies he most likely would not hesitate to shoot to kill. Or wound badly enough that they might be captured for interrogation. Still, killing during a battle was one thing; killing outside of that was something else. Could they even trust the various ministries to incarcerate anyone captured? He shot a sidelong glance at Viktor, wondering what was running through his mind, then looked back to the goblins.

The leader was giving Tom an assessing look. The goblin stepped backward into the center of his companions and a low-voiced discussion ensued—in Gobbledegook, naturally. He glanced at Viktor again, wanting to smirk or smile; were they expecting them to not understand what they were saying? Viktor took that opportunity to step forward, even with him, and brush his hand with his own.

When the leader stepped forward again he and Tom began a spirited round of negotiations, which eventually resulted in exactly what Tom wanted. Primarily, any and all information regarding Nurmengard, plus the potential of the goblins being called upon to help dig their way close, or even inside. Aside from that they had the promise that the goblin nation would otherwise not interfere with Tom’s group in a negative way—not unless provoked to it, anyway. A table was conjured, and chairs, and the written documentation of the agreement was scribed right then. Harry, being dovahkiin, signed first of the humans.

He sighed unhappily when he realized another tattoo had appeared. It shared space with the one from Hermaeus Mora, that one having reduced itself in size to accommodate the addition. Viktor and Tom also sported the tattoo on their left hands, and Tom was scowling something fierce over it. But then, he had been the one to do the negotiating, so it only made sense he had been marked. Viktor, however, was somewhat of a mystery, but considering he had been there and contributing occasionally. . . .

Multiple copies of the resulting treaty were made. Most of them would go with the goblins, mainly so that every one of their locations would receive the news, to be presumably held by the local leaders. They carried back several copies themselves, with a verbal agreement to liaise through the Trondheim bank.

Over the next few days some interesting things were featured in the Daily Prophet, but the most important was a report regarding the British Ministry. Harry read that one with anticipation, hoping that Yuki’s promised meddling had come to light. And indeed, it had, or so he assumed.

Apparently, some sort of magical termite-like insects had infested the Wizengamot meeting room, the one they did all their non-public work in. They had weakened the supports so badly that a number of Wizengamot members had crashed through the seating and ended up bleeding out due to the sheer number of splinters driven into their bodies.

The Quibbler, Luna’s father’s paper, reported that the termite-like insects were attracted to a number of things besides wood, those being people of dark intent, cruelty, and hypocrisy, amongst other things. Harry snickered after getting through both articles. Amongst the dead were Minister Fudge, Senior Undersecretary Umbridge, Auror Dawlish, and various Wizengamot members. Neither paper had the full list of the deceased, but still.

Some time later on a message was picked up by a house-elf from the bank in Trondheim. The goblins had little to say about anything, but indicated that they were looking, both for a money trail and at the specifics of Nurmengard where they could find them.

Eventually, however, summer came to and end—at least for Luna and Bisera. They were packed off to Durmstrang for the school year, equipped with several versions of blood-bonded portkeys back to Skyrim. They even promised to keep an eye out on each other.

The next few months were punctuated by various events. Lily was getting larger by the day and was joyous over the life growing inside her, even as she became increasingly cranky and snappish. Gellert was having fun by finally going after the military installations. His people were everywhere according to the reports, either co-opting muggle missiles to bomb settlements, or rendering those same missiles inoperable or vanished, such as in the case of nuclear weaponry.

Gellert’s people were also reportedly vanishing the remains of those same bombings, trying to eradicate the trappings of muggle society. He seemed to be leaving villages and small towns alone, but anything larger, or with a high population density, he was targeting. Truly, Harry wondered just how the reporters were managing to get information like that, but chalked it up to creative use of disillusionment, invisibility cloaks, or possibly animagus forms.

The greenhouse and the animals at Skyrim were doing well, and Harry and the others often went on hunting trips to try to whittle down the draugr population preying on the muggles. How Grindelwald was managing to find so many of them—? ‘Or,’ he thought, not for the first time, ‘should we be asking, how is he creating them?’ There were certainly enough mostly-whole muggle corpses around to be used as disposable soldiers and terror weapons.

Luna and Bisera arrived back for the Yule holiday and preparations geared up for the usual festivities, despite the sheer number of people dying around the world. It was not long after that that Serana reappeared, on the twenty-fourth. The adults were all moving to be seated at the dining table—as it was big enough to hold everyone for her report—when the sound of malicious laughter rang out, filling the room and thickening the air.

“No!” Serana cried desperately, her gaze darting around. “No! It’s his summoning day! No! It was never offered! You can’t do this!”

He would have asked, but—Harry found himself being ripped away. It felt like his skin was being clawed off, his insides shredded, his eyes boiled until they burst. And when he arrived—well, Viktor was also present, there in that bleak, blue-tinted, ruinous place with dead trees and architecture that reminded him strongly of the Daedric gear Valdis had stored away. What happened next was not something he ever wanted to remember. He retreated into his mind as best he could as his body was ravaged and violated, and to block out the frantic cries of his husband. When he came back to himself again it was dark. Someone was nearby and he couldn’t stop himself from flinching away.

“Oh, Harry.” It was Serana. Her voice was quiet; she sounded heartbroken. “I’m so sorry.”

It was dark, and yet he could see her clearly. How? “Who—?”

“Molag Bal,” she said.

That was all she needed to say, really. “Does that mean—am I—?”

“Yes. I’m afraid so. Viktor, too. You—you won’t dream, Harry. We don’t dream.”

He laughed, and the sound of it to his own ears was high and thin and brittle. “Why!?” he shouted.

Serana stiffened for a moment. She sighed and said, “Because of me. He told me—none of the others heard it—that it was because of me. Because I’d hung around all of you for so long. He probably would have done the same to Valdis had she lived. I’m one of his ‘special ones’ and he thought that deserved some . . . meddling.”

“And the others?” he asked, his voice bleak and wintry. “Down the road? Will my mother be hauled off? Someone else?”

“I don’t think so,” she said slowly. “I think . . . Akatosh got involved.”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then pushed himself up into a seated position.

“He couldn’t . . . entirely undo what happened,” she said, “but you’re not quite like I am. For one thing, your eyes are still green, but—”

He might no longer be able to dream, to have nightmares, but he would never, ever forget, not with the effects Occlumency training had when mastered. He suffered a full body shudder before his mind shied away from his ordeal. “Where is Viktor?”

“Here, in the same room. Different bed. I expect he’ll wake up soon.”

He had never tried locking any memories away. Tom might know best how to handle what he had not been able to retreat from. If nothing else, Occlumency was right at that moment helping him to flatten his emotions, squash them down so he did not have to feel the fear, anger, and despair over what he could not forget. Partial denial sounded really good just then. “Still green, huh?”

“Yes. But the pupils look slitted now, which is odd.” Serana seemed to understand that he was shying away from certain things and her tone had become less sorrowful. “Maybe it’s the Dragonborn thing.”

He could not recall Paarthurnax having eyes like that, but there was a metallic sheen to them which made seeing the details problematical in the first place. “What about the other form?”

“Hm. I have no idea,” she said thoughtfully. “I can only hope it’s not like mine. It is pretty damn ugly, after all.”

Valdis had not been very complimentary while describing when Harkon had changed forms in front of her. The flying part would be nice, though. He became aware that he could hear something, a thumping, and realized he was hearing not only his own heartbeat, but those of Serana and Viktor. He could also discern their scents.

“As far as powers go, though, those take a long time to develop, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with anything of that nature.”

“And is there a cure?” he asked, though he figured he already knew the answer to that.

“If there is, I don’t know it. Or rather, I once knew of someone who knew how to cure vampires back on Nirn, but he’s long since dead, and I’m not sure it would have worked on one of us anyway.”

And if Akatosh had gotten involved, to mitigate some of the effects of the transformation to Vampire Lord, but had not removed it, well. That said something. Being a vampire was not the upsetting aspect, it was—‘Don’t think about that, Harry,’ he admonished himself sternly. “Is there even a point in transforming?” he asked, vaguely aware that Viktor’s heartbeat was speeding up, as was his rate of breathing.

Serana snickered. “Sure, if you want to be able to cross water without swimming. But there’s a water-walking spell for that. Even an enchantment. The wings weren’t meant for flying, just hovering and gliding. You’re a lot stronger, faster, and can take a lot more damage, but if you’re any good at fighting in the first place, no, not really.”

“What about feeding?”

“I can go for several days without needing blood, but it’s best to feed daily,” she advised. “I always take the time to make up blood potions—I’ll show you how—so that I have food wherever I am. Regular food tastes nice and all, but it doesn’t do much in terms of that hunger. You can feed from animals, but it doesn’t taste as nice. The nutritional value is almost the same though. Blood is blood, for the most part. Would you like to try a blood potion?”

As soon as she said it he could feel the hunger lurking in the back of his mind. “Can they be made from donated blood? And yes, please.”

Serana moved slowly when she reached into a pack at her feet to retrieve an oddly-shaped bottle; it looked about the same volume of a muggle can of soda. She moved just as slowly offering it to him. Once he took it she said, “Yes, actually. There’s no reason why you can’t get donations and make the potions that way.”

He pulled the cork out and sniffed. It smelled like blood, yet not. It still had that coppery tang to it, but—something about it was different. A change in perspective, perhaps? Or other ingredients necessary to make the potion and not have the blood go bad? He took a cautious sip and hummed as it rolled around on his tongue. It was very nearly the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. He swallowed it and had more, until the bottle was drained. He set it aside on the table, along with the cork.

“We don’t dream?” he asked, and realized his voice had cracked.

Serana made an abortive gesture toward him, then shook her head. “No dreams. You’ll want to be careful of healing spells. But Necromantic Healing will more than suffice.”

He nodded and glanced at the pack. “Could I have another?”

As he was drinking that one he was grateful Serana had not asked a stupid question such as, “Are you all right?” It did make him wonder just how badly off he had been once returned to Skyrim, and what they had gone through—“My mother?” he asked quickly. “Is she—?”

“Ah.” Serana nodded. “You have a sister now. Clover. She’s in fine health, and your mother is also fine. She was pretty close to delivering anyway, as you know.”

He relaxed and nodded. “Is it—when is it?”

“The first. You were . . . gone for a while.”

Flames burst into being and Harry flinched before whipping his head around to stare at his husband. Viktor had ignited a Flame Cloak around himself on waking. “Viktor,” he called softly. “We’re home.”

Viktor sat up abruptly and looked toward him, his eyes wide and staring.

“We’re home,” he repeated. “Serana has been explaining some—” He broke off when Viktor slid off the bed and stood up, then immediately moved over to get into the same bed he was in. He flinched again, but Viktor paid that no mind.

The next thing he knew he was being planted between his husband’s legs and held closely. He could feel fine tremors being transmitted from Viktor’s hands to him through the thin shirt he was dressed in. The Flame Cloak felt kind of nice, actually, even if it was playing havoc with his vision. He offered the bottle to him, saying, “You hungry?”

Viktor apparently had no intention of letting him go anytime soon, so Harry continued to sip. “So, um, what day was she born, then?”

“The twenty-fifth,” she said wryly.

“A lifetime of not getting two sets of presents, then,” he said with a sigh. The more he sat there wrapped in Viktor’s arms the more he relaxed. They were actually in their room, he realized; it was just that a second bed had been added. “Ah. . . .” He glanced at the bottle in his hand. “Can you . . . go let everyone know we’re awake? But no visitors. Not yet. Viktor can send a patronus or I can use my bracelet. Uh—” He looked around, wondering where all his gear was.

“Everything was returned,” she assured him. “It’s all in here, in your room. I’ll leave the pack. It’s got a number of blood potions in it. And I’ll let them know.”

“Thank you,” he said softly. “For being here when we woke up.”

She gave him a sad smile, nodded, and slowly departed.

As soon as he heard the door to the main hall close he set the potion aside and burst into desperate, harsh, gut-wrenching sobs, knowing the wards would keep the sound from anyone outside the suite.

After his breakdown—and Viktor had joined him in it—they had drifted off to sleep, worn out by the emotional storm. On waking up, however, he only just barely prevented himself from a full-on attack against the person binding him.

Viktor was appreciative of the fact that Harry had not nailed him in the face with fire. If nothing else, Viktor’s insistence on keeping hold of him was going to break him of his unthinking fight-or-flight reaction. He also got his husband to finally drink one of the blood potions.

“This is quite good,” Viktor said after taking a sip, then he drained the bottle and reached for another.

Harry smiled faintly and looked down at his bracelet. After waking up they had showered—a bit warily—and gotten dressed properly. None of it had been of any use against a Daedric Lord, but it still made him feel safer. A message had come in from Tom: Status? “Tom wants to know how we’re doing.”

Viktor laughed. It was not as crazed as Harry’s had been, but it still wasn’t pleasant.

He sent back: Still alive. No visitors yet. “Your eyes are still black,” he ventured, having noticed that Viktor, like himself, had avoided looking into the mirror.

Viktor started to say something, paused, and took another sip instead. Then he said, “I am glad for that. You like my eyes.”

“I do,” he affirmed. “How do we get past this?”

Viktor snorted. “I don’t let you go until you stop flinching away from me and until I stop wanting to break everything in sight and watch it all burn. Then we move on to being around other people. And then. . . .” He had another sip.

He looked down. The thought of sex was just unbearable at the moment. He let out a long, shuddering sigh and nodded. “We’re going to have to get a resupply on the blood at some point.”

“True. But Serana or a house-elf can leave more just inside the front door. At least Serana knows what we went through, even if it’s been millennia for her.”

“I think that’s why she was the one waiting.”

“Yes.”

In the week that followed there were a number of additional breakdowns, stern self-lectures about how it was Viktor holding him and that he had to stop reacting so pathetically every time he was touched—he noticed that his husband was not entirely steady himself when he unthinkingly reached out to him for comfort at times—and hesitant, halting talks about what had happened. It was like readying oneself to shove an arm into a vat of acid every time.

He learned that his eyesight automatically adjusted when it got dark to have exceptional night vision, and that very bright sunlight, while not harmful (though he did not plan to test that while “starving”), was very hard on his eyes. Blood once a day was all he needed to survive, but mere survival was not attractive. His hearing was enhanced, his sense of smell, and tactile feedback.

And that Viktor’s stubborn perseverance was desensitizing him. It had the effect of slightly dulling the memory simply by virtue of repeatedly prodding one of its triggers. He assumed without asking that Viktor’s tactics were having the same effect on him, just from the opposite side of the equation.

The girls had returned to Durmstrang by the time they came out; it was simply easier that way. Luna would most likely have refrained from crowding them, but he wasn’t too sure about Bisera. So he and Viktor emerged from their suite one morning for breakfast, arriving at the table first, and sitting at one end together where Lily usually sat.

The house-elves had obviously learned from Serana how to make blood potions as some appeared on the table as soon as they sat down. In addition to those was a more normal breakfast, and Harry amused himself with seeing how things differed from before in terms of taste. He could hear and tracked the sound of Tom coming down the hallway and wandering in, and kept an eye on the man as he noticed them, paused, then slowly moved to sit down in the seat to Harry’s left. “Morning,” he said quietly. Viktor simply nodded.

“Morning,” Tom said, also leaving off the “good” part. “You’ll be interested to know that we have received a report from Merry Olde England from Lucius via one of his contacts. It seems that Edward has been inflicted with some sort of cursed magical item.”

His brow arched up as he piled some eggs onto a piece of buttered toast.

“It’s a fork. Apparently, he cannot set it down. It has drained and stunted his magic, so he’s unable to cast anything.”

Harry absorbed that, taking a bite of his food, then started snickering madly at the thought of his twin trying to do anything while having a fork stuck to his hand. Dressing and undressing, relieving himself, showering. One wrong move in an expression of exasperation and he could put an eye out.

“Serana went off into gales of laughter when she heard,” Tom continued. “Apparently, it bears a striking similarity to an artifact of Lord Sheogorath, and may in fact be it. The Fork of Horripilation, or ‘Forky’. It was once used by a champion to kill a large creature called a netch in order to earn Sheogorath’s favor.”

‘I wonder if Yuki had something to do with this,’ he wondered, though it was a long shot of an idea. It had been months since the incident at the British Ministry, after all.

Harry had finished up his food and was savoring a bottle of blood when Serana wandered in and took a seat next to Tom. She reached out for the blood potion that appeared in response and uncorked it, humming happily after she had a swig.

“So,” he said, “the Fork of Horripilation?”

She laughed and nodded. “It’s a two-pronged metal fork with a wooden handle. Sheogorath keeps ‘misplacing’ the thing or forcing people to complete quests using only that as a weapon. Every time I fantasize about one of my fellow Nords being forced to use it I laugh myself silly.”

“Does that mean Edward will have to go questing?” ‘With complete incompetence,’ he added privately. So far as he knew his twin had never learned anything about non-magical fighting.

“Depends on who inflicted him with it,” she replied. “If it was Sheogorath, I’d assume so. But Mephala likes to meddle in mortal affairs. Edward is thought to be the Boy-Who-Lived, so messing up his day. . . .”

Viktor snorted softly. “He could do with some humbling. They can just wrap him in cotton wool and pack him away for the time being. That’s assuming he was of any use in the first place.”

“Oh, word has filtered in that Edward has been joining the battle against the draugr,” Tom said, “and being quite the hero. At least, that’s what people have been assuming he is. The attacks have been just as prevalent in the UK as anywhere else. Most of London is gone. Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Cardiff. . . . It’s all being reclaimed to nature and placed behind wards to keep the muggles away.”

“What did the vam—the vampire clans have to say?” He closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head.

“Well,” Serana said, “plenty of them have been around for a long time, so they know things normal humans don’t. One clan in particular claims that Grindelwald built Nurmengard atop a very old, extensive ruin. From the descriptions it sounds a lot like a place such as Saarthal, which was an ancient Atmoran city. Even when Valdis and I went through there it was packed with draugr. I’d liken it to one of the Ayleid ruins, but they were one of the elven races, and draugr are a Nord thing.”

“So it’s possible he learned how to create them because of that?” Viktor asked.

She hummed. “I don’t see why not. It would depend on the ruin. If it had been a Dragon Priest’s domain there may well have been writings on the subject. Or if there was still a Dragon Priest hidden down there, waiting, it’s possible he could have managed to immobilize it and read its mind? I don’t know. They would’ve had to have known the process. I wouldn’t doubt there are other ruins scattered around that he could have plundered for Deathlords and the like. Most of the ones we’ve seen are all the baser types, simply able to wave a weapon around, so it would make sense that he’s conscripting the muggles into his army.”

Iskra and the remainder of the Krums arrived at that point, and Iskra rushed forward before stopping dead. She let out a wavering sigh and slowly walked over to take a seat next to Viktor, the others slotting into seats to her right.

“Hello,” Viktor said, sending a nod their way. “We are as well as can be expected.” His tone was repressive.

Iskra’s eyes welled up with tears she did not shed. Plates of food appeared for the newcomers so they turned their immediate attention to that.

“And he’s probably—maybe—taught that process to his generals?” Harry asked, just to get the conversation going again and the focus off the two of them specifically.

Tom looked thoughtful. “I think he would have had to. There are too many draugr in too many countries. Even if the ruin was a city of immense size, there would still be a finite limit to space.”

“All right,” Viktor said. “So in addition to Gellert himself, we have to track down his people. Unlike your Death Eaters, who mostly melted back into society, I’m having trouble believing Grindelwald’s minions would let the momentum stop even if Gellert were to be captured and dealt with.”

“More than likely,” Serana said. “I’m still waiting on information, though, about Nurmengard in more detail.”

“Any additional information about Britain while we were—”

“. . .Rufus Scrimgeour has taken over as minister,” Tom said. “He’s mostly talk, propaganda, and looking good.”

“But not doing anything,” Harry said.

“Essentially. He’s been holding Edward up as a symbol.”

Viktor snorted again. “Not much use right now, is he.”

‘The anger and bitterness will dull,’ he told himself. ‘Honestly, I think he’s done me more good than I him.’ “Can we go on a hunting trip?” he said suddenly.

Tom blinked at him. “I don’t see why not.”

“Good.”