Saturday, July 1, 2006

Harry Potter and the Prince of Nightmares

Chapter One: Ascension

"The young Prince cannot ascend to the throne," Damien Typhulus objected.

Lucius Malfoy narrowed his gray eyes. Typhulus was a Death-Eater, but unlike Lucius, who joined the Death-Eaters to know the wizarding power balance better, Typhulus spied on the Nightmares for his Dark Lord. Honestly, Lucius didn't know why Typhulus was still on the High Council.

"Draco Malfoy is of age," Lucius argued.

"Young Prince may have the years," Typhulus countered readily. "But he does not have the power."

It was true that in dire circumstances, the High Council could choose a substitute Prince if the prophesized one lacked either the power or the maturity to lead. It was an obscure law, though, and Lucius couldn't remember the last time the law had been invoked.

Lucius asked calmly, his voice betraying none of his cold anger, "What would you consider adequate for the current circumstances, Typhulus?"

Typhulus drew himself taller under his High Councilor robe, pristine with elaborate gold ornamentation at the edges. "Draco Malfoy needs to take a mate," he declared boldly.

The shocked silence that followed lasted only a moment before the council room buzzed with murmurs and whispers. Their last Prince had chosen to descend recently, and Draco Malfoy had been prophesized as their next Prince since hundreds of years ago. While it was true that taking a mate could augment Draco's magical abilities, Draco was already very powerful in his own right at age sixteen.

After a while, one High Councilor finally asked from the shadows of the hood of his robe, "Why?" Andé Cray was a thorough thinker, well known for his slow but logical mind.

"It's obvious," Typhulus answered. Lucius saw Cray tighten his pale lips under the shadows of his white and gold hood, offended. "If He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named chooses to attack our Prince, our Prince should have—needs to have enough power to defend himself."

"Why?" Cray asked again.

"Because," Typhulus answered with a note of irritation creeping into his voice. "The very stability of our society depends on our Prince."

Cray shook his head slowly. "I mean why would He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named attack us?"

"Because..." Cray's question gave Typhulus pause, as if he needed to prepare what to say next. "If we do not cooperate with him, of course he would attack us."

Cray frowned thoughtfully. "Do you know that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is going to ask for our cooperation?"

"Of course I don't know any more than you do," Typhulus answered quickly. Too quickly, Lucius thought. "I can only assume."

"You know what they say about assuming..." Cray trailed off as the High Council waited to hear how he would continue. Even if roundabout was fair play, few people would side with Lucius just to make an enemy of Typhulus. On the other hand, it would have been even more unusual if Cray had taken Typhulus's insult silently. Nightmares were known for their penchant for revenge, even rivaling that of Veela's. "Then why does our new Prince need to have so much power?"

"Just in case!" Typhulus shouted, his face red from agitation. He seemed to realize the inappropriateness of his outburst then and said, in a quieter voice, "We would do well to be prepared. These are turbulent times."

This gained some nods from around the High Council, Lucius saw as he scanned the room. As soon as his gray gaze landed on the High Councilors, though, they stopped nodding. At least they still feared him, Lucius thought in grim satisfaction.

"Oh, I see," Cray said, finally appearing to understand.

Lucius looked at Typhulus from under his own gold and white hood, "What do you propose then?"

"I propose," Typhulus began. Lucius swore Typhulus smacked his papery lips together in eagerness. "That we elect a substitute Prince until the young Prince chooses a mate."

"La loi ancienne," Lucius stated blandly.

Typhulus only hesitated for a second before nodding.

This time, Lucius smiled, showing all his aristocratic teeth. "Then, Draco Malfoy has ninety days from today to comply with your requirement before a substitute Prince is chosen to ascend to the throne."

Typhulus opened his mouth to object, but he realized the futility of denial. If Typhulus were to use an ancient law, he couldn't use only parts of it. It would make his traitorous plans too obvious. Instead, he croaked, "Yes." His Lord was not going to be happy at this development.

As the head of the High Council, Saybran rang the bell quickly. "The High Council will re-adjourn in ninety days to agree on this matter," he announced.

Like most of the High Council, Saybran had left the discussion between Malfoy and Typhulus, knowing that most likely, any additional arguments would be futile. Besides, even if Cray was courageous enough to brave the anger of Typhulus, the rest of the High Councilor thought it would be more prudent to simply leave the argument to Typhulus and Malfoy.

Typhulus shot Lucius a very dirty look as they both left the High Council Chamber.

Draco jumped up from the plush chair in his father's study. His un-gelled hair flew in every direction as his pale eyes widened.

"What?" he asked, incredulous. "I have to mate within ninety days?"

Lucius only nodded grimly.

Draco paced his father's study, from the door to his father's desk and back to the door. They were fifteen steps apart. "But there are only so many people out there who are powerful enough that my own power would be augmented by mating with them. I can't find one whom I like in ninety days. I start school in a week!"

"You won't have to look for a mate elsewhere," Lucius corrected evenly. "There are only three people powerful enough for you: Dumbledore, Riddle, and Potter."

"We've talked about this before, father." Draco paused in his pacing and made a face of disgust. He ticked off his choices on his fingers as he summarized, "Dumbledore is too old and too willing to sacrifice me to the war. Riddle is too grotesque and too willing to sacrifice me to the war. Potter is the one person who hates me and too willing to get rid of me in any way possible."

"I suppose you must mate with Potter, then," Lucius stated simply.

Draco glared at his father and resumed his pacing. "Didn't you just hear what I said?"

"I don't think you understand," Lucius rebuked sharply. "As Prince, you are meant to lead all of us. But if you give up your place just because of a petty grudge, all of us are going to be used by Riddle."

Draco stopped again and looked at his father. "Potter would never agree anyways."

Lucius raised one pale, elegant eyebrow and smirked. "This is where that old fool Dumbledore becomes useful."

Harry stared at the ceiling of Dudley's second bedroom. Although he had given up trying to know the news—Voldemort now attacked once or twice a week—he was still anxious about the war.

He was wasting time, Harry thought furiously, as the cloud outside cast shadows on the walls. At least the window wasn't barred this summer.

Harry could be training his spell-casting skills... learning occlumency... practicing hand to hand combat... But all he really could do was sitting there and staring at the pasty, peeling ceiling as Voldemort gathered more and more followers.

Harry turned to look out the window, but there were no owls. Of course, Hermione and Ron had just owled yesterday, and they would be busy at Diagon Alley today.

Dumbledore had owled Harry a few days ago, telling Harry that Dumbledore would acquire all the necessary school supplies for Harry. Harry understood Dumbledore wanting to keep Harry safe, but really, must Dumbledore deprive him of even the small joy of a day away from the Dursleys?

Harry wished Dumbledore would say more about Voldemort, too. He knew that Voldemort had become allies with Dementors and Vampires last year, but Harry didn't know much more than that. Had Voldemort acquired even more allies over the summer? He certainly hoped not.

On the Order's side, though, there were no allies of other species. Harry thought grimly that at least centaurs were too proud and aloof to join Voldemort and the werewolves were too disorganized. But he still worried that the Order was mostly humans who fought against immoral, deadly, and sometimes rather inhuman beings.

Harry heard a tap on the window and focused his gaze on the meticulous backyard. He had weeded it just this morning. On the windowsill, an owl caught his eye. It wasn't an owl Harry recognized and looked rather like the indistinguishable school owls, but he thought he would be glad to hear from anybody in the magical community.

Eagerly, Harry took the message and fed the owl one of Hedwig's treats before closing the window again behind the owl.

The note read:


Something has come up. I'm afraid I need you to come to Hogwarts immediately. Included is a portkey to see me whenever you are ready.


Albus Dumbledore

For a moment, Harry just stared at the message in incomprehension. Then, a box of chocolate frogs fell out from the message somehow. This was the portkey, Harry thought, and was prompted into action.

Harry didn't own much and unpacked even less at his cousin's home. Quickly, he stuffed it all haphazardly into his trunk. The immediacy of Dumbledore's message had left him worrying about what could be so important. Did the Order just figure out a plan of Voldemort's and wanted to put Harry in a more secure place? They always seemed to want Harry out of the picture when they fought Harry's mortal enemy.

Did Dumbledore want Harry at Hogwarts for some extra training? Harry thought that even if it was only a week early, Harry would still be glad for the training, but it seemed unlikely that Dumbledore would have such a sudden change of mind.

Or worse, did someone from the Order get seriously hurt while Harry was busy staring at the ceiling? Well, the Order shouldn't be fighting Voldemort without Harry. Harry didn't want to fight in the war, but he thought that it had all been prophesized. There was little point for them to try to exclude Harry from the war, since his fate seemed to have already been decided.

Finally, Harry let Hedwig out the window. He held onto his trunk and Hedwig's cage awkwardly in one hand and grabbed the box of chocolate frogs with the other hand.

Uncle Vernon would be mad after he found out about him leaving, Harry thought gleefully as he felt the ground drop from beneath his feet. It was too bad Harry wouldn't be there to see Vernon's expression of outrage.

When Dumbledore had said that the portkey would take Harry to see Dumbledore, Dumbledore was absolutely serious. Harry found himself stumbling in Dumbledore's office, Hedwig's empty cage falling off his trunk and tumbling loudly onto the floor.

Harry glanced around the office momentarily, completely disoriented. He recognized the bright red bird, Fawkes, and saw Dumbledore next, watching Harry from behind half-moon glasses.

"Headmaster," Harry remembered to say and realized that he was in the headmaster's office.

"Harry," Dumbledore said kindly. "I wasn't sure how long you would need to pack, so I thought to portkey you straight to my office."

Harry nodded along. Then, he asked suddenly, "What's wrong?"

Dumbledore tilted his head a little, looking puzzled. Then, his gaze cleared and he chuckled. "Nothing's wrong, Harry, but you need to make a decision in"—Dumbledore glanced at the clock—"about ten hours."

Harry frowned. "What decision?" Decisions that were Harry's to make were few and far between. At least, it felt that way to Harry.

"A very important decision." Dumbledore took out a package of lemon drops. "Would you care for one?"

When Harry shook his head, Dumbledore took one yellow candy himself and put away the package carefully before continuing. "The Prince of Nightmares needs something from you to ascend to the throne. In return, he has promised to help the Order against Voldemort."

Harry frowned again, this time in puzzlement. "Have we covered Nightmares in our DADA class?"

"No, you have not," Dumbledore answered gravely. "Nor will you."

"Oh." Harry kept his puzzled frown, but decided that any studying he would do in the future would not help him now anyhow. He decided not to ask the obvious question as to why Nightmares wouldn't even be mentioned in DADA class. What he needed now was practical information. "How can they help us?"

Dumbledore steeped his hands and leaned back in his plush chair. "They can probably share their spies," Dumbledore began. "They are a very tight-knit community, and are incredible reserves of energy since they can all pull on each other's."

At Harry's nod of understanding, Dumbledore continued, "Their most unique ability, though, is their ability to heal all those who are not dead, including mental imbalances. They have agreed to heal as many of the order members as they can, as long as the injury was sustained because of a Death-Eater."

Harry bit his lip. "That seems impossible."

"But it is not." Dumbledore focused his gaze on something far away. "Magic is slow and draining, but it can be quite powerful. And Nightmares are powerful. I'm not sure of exactly how to explain it to you, but their magic compared to ours is like our magic compared to muggles'."

"But muggles have no magic."

Dumbledore nodded. "Exactly."

"Then why would they want an alliance with wizards in the first place?" Then, Harry added almost bitterly, "Or ally themselves with Voldemort?"

Dumbledore only shook his head. "I don't know. It's Nightmare politics."

Harry paused at this, not knowing what to say. The mere fact that Dumbledore admitted to not knowing—not even guessing at—something made these Nightmares sound huge and frightening and larger than life.

Reluctantly, Harry admitted, "They sound like they could really help." Even if he had his reservations, he was impressed. Although the Aveda Kadevra curse cannot be undone, Harry was not ignorant of the rescued Order members who had often been tortured for information. Neville's parents were some whom these Nightmares could help.

Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "But they are not asking for a mere pittance, either."

"Just give it to them," Harry said easily. He couldn't imagine owning anything worth more than the lives, health, and sanity of people, even if it was something as precious as Hedwig. "You're talking about possibly saving tens—or even hundreds of lives."

"Harry..." Dumbledore frowned at Harry's easy agreement to half of a contract. Of course, most would explain it as a Gryffindor tendency, but Dumbledore worried that Harry's recklessness would lead him to ruin. "You don't know what they ask for yet."

"Something from me, right?" Harry confirmed.

"Not exactly," Dumbledore hedged, even if that was what he had told Harry just minutes ago.

Harry scrunched up his browns, confused again. "If I can give it, I would, but if they ask me to hurt other people..."

"No, no," Dumbledore interjected quickly. Then, he said in a quiet voice, "They ask for you."

There was a moment of silence.

Then, "What?" Harry's green eyes revealed his complete incomprehension.

"Each Nightmare takes a wizard or a witch as a mate. This way, the Nightmare can draw on the wizard's or witch's magical powers," Dumbledore tried to explain. He sighed. Even Dumbledore had been taught that Nightmares were extinct, but at least he had been taught. Although he didn't agree with it, Dumbledore still had to abide by the Ministry's ridiculous ban of all materials concerning Nightmares. "The prince needs to mate with somebody powerful enough for him to ascend the throne."

"Mate?" Harry repeated stupidly. "Magical powers? Prince?"

Dumbledore sighed. Despite how much this alliance would help the Order, Dumbledore refused to pressure Harry into a decision. In this case, the decision really wasn't Dumbledore's to make at all. "Don't say yes unless you are positive about it."

"They want me for my magical abilities?" Harry reiterated.

"Not 'they,'" Dumbledore corrected. "But yes, the Prince is interested in your magical abilities."

Harry thought about that for a moment. Since he had arrived in the magical community, everybody had always known him and recognized him for his magical abilities. Why should this 'Prince' person be any different?

Finally, Harry asked, "Do I know this 'Prince'?"

Dumbledore shook his head slowly. "I'm afraid the prince has asked me to keep him anonymous before you make your decision."

"Anonymous?" Harry exclaimed, the question clear in his voice.

"Maybe he wants you to decide on principle," Dumbledore tried to explain.

"'Principle.'" Harry laughed bitterly. He was supposed decide if he would mate with some non-human being, and all they wanted was for Harry to decide on principle.

Harry had thought that once he came to the wizarding world, people would see beyond just the surface. At the Dursley's, all he was a 'freak cousin' and here, he was just the 'great celebrity.' The impersonal feelings remained impersonal.

Harry interpreted for Dumbledore, "He wants to know if I'm willing to sacrifice myself to save countless others."

"It's only my conjecture," Dumbledore said in a failed attempt to soothe Harry.

"Well..." Harry's face seemed determined. "Of course—"

"Don't say anything until you are sure," Dumbledore interrupted. "The magical contract hears everything said in this room."

Harry looked at the innocuous-looking paper sitting on the desk, to which Dumbledore was referring to. "It's a contract, right?" At Dumbledore's nod, he continued, "And they have to abide by it too, right?"

Dumbledore nodded again. "Of course."

Harry took a deep breath before saying quickly and quietly, "I'll do it."

Both Harry and Dumbledore felt the air change subtly in the room, a sort of whirlpool of energy coalescing at the piece of paper. Almost as soon as it started, it stopped.

Instead of being happy or relieved, though, Dumbledore sighed. He looked at Harry carefully. "I hope you are making the right decision, especially for yourself."