Eltanin is abruptly awake, opening his eyes to a full moon, his room silvered in moonlight. His heart is pounding a deep drumbeat in the still, queer silence, his thoughts slipping out of his grasp.
Something has changed in the night.
He tastes a jagged metallic edge, as if before has been cleaved off and he has landed in after where the land trembles beneath his feet. Mother, he thinks, his fear giving icy clarity.
He scrambles to his feet, pulling on his robes, and is running on cold flagstones before he realises that he has not put any shoes. Never mind, the cuts will heal by morning. The corridors streak past his wild eyes, pitch-dark and empty. Where is everyone?
Noise: the low hum of voices and horses whickering, the shuffle of heavy boots and clinking of weapons. Eltanin rounds the corner to behold the central courtyard alive with firelight—and occupied by Gryffindors, barking orders.
His hand goes automatically to his hilt, but he is naked beneath his robes and his blonde hair flows unbound around his face: like a child roused from bed by his mother.
Soldiers, armed and armoured, are moving towards him, when the wind changes and the stench of iron and blood thickens in the air. It is the smell of the sea before a storm, the waves white-capped and implacable; of lightning and low dark clouds glowering with violence. It is a spear to the middle of Eltanin's chest, a blunt pounding awareness that something is here.
Eltanin looks to the right.
A soldier is standing beside his horse, in the midst of unloading a saddle bag. He is still, staring straight at Eltanin, green eyes bright in the darkness. There is a lightning-bolt scar white against the man's dark skin, splitting his forehead, creasing his cheek, lifting his upper lip into a permanent sneer.
The sneer deepens as Eltanin watches, and realises with violent, terrified exhilaration that this omega is the thing that has come.
There was a war that lasted twenty years: the kingdom of Slytherin marched to establish their dominance over the other kingdoms and principalities in the realm. "We must lift them out of their misery, the poor creatures," Voldemort said sympathetically. "Don't you see, my lords? It is our duty as fellow alphas to rescue them from their oppression by filthy omegas."
But he's dead, Eltanin thinks dizzily. The madman is dead, the war is over, and the kingdom of Slytherin has shattered, but the victors have come to claim the debt owed by the House of Malfoy, rulers of Slytherin.
The Gryffindors think to threaten him with this omega—mate, mate, mate beating in time with his heart—they found this creature somehow, and would hurt him, use him against Eltanin, these enemies to Slytherin. He needs to protect him.
His thoughts are scattered—his thoughts are a lightning storm—he thinks he might burst into flames, the blood pounding hot in his veins, the rushing heat beneath his skin. He is running, but too slow, there are soldiers moving between them, swords shining silver. He snarls, fangs descending, his muscles tightening.
"Stop! Don't touch him, he's mine!" the omega shouts, deep voice ringing in the charged metallic air, pushing aside men, stepping towards Eltanin.
Eltanin closes a hand around a strong wrist, the skin warm to the touch, and his palm tingles, a sense of rightness sizzling through him, lodging in his chest. He chokes on the omega's storm-washed scent: water running clean and cool. They crash together, arms pulling, hands grappling, ships colliding in the night, buoyed by the fervour of a storm.
"Mine," the omega breathes, hands on either side of Eltanin's neck, eyes jewel-bright. He is speaking Parseltongue, language of Slytherin. "I have found you, alpha."
Eltanin whines, quivering with a desire he is barely able to comprehend, digging his fingers into the back of the other man's tunic, pressing his body closer. He feels delirious, heat pooling in his belly, his groin stirring. He lowers his head, lips brushing the omega's neck, and is about to bite when a hand grabs him by the hair and yanks.
He yells in pain, whirling around to see Blaise, wide-eyed with fear and bewilderment, his familiar honey-sweet scent bitter and burnt. He sees too, his mother looking frantic, face ashen. Confusion stabs through his clouded mind. "Eltanin, stop," Blaise hisses, wrapping his arms around him, pulling him backwards.
The omega growls, grabbing Blaise's arm tightly. "Don't touch him!"
Eltanin jerks back, releasing the stranger and falling against Blaise. He twists away, alarmed, some of the fog lifting from his mind. Was he about to mark the omega?
"Alpha—" the omega whines, a hand brushing Eltanin's shoulder.
Eltanin trips backwards, shrinking behind Blaise's protective arms, shaking his head vehemently; not so much a rejection, but an attempt to clear the haze. He is unable to hear beyond the roar in his head demanding to claim this omega for his own.
The omega stares, face wrecked with longing and outrage, his scar stretched grotesquely with his snarl. He lunges forwards, but two other soldiers—red-headed alphas—grab his arms, hauling him back. Eltanin finds himself lurching, hands aching to rip the alphas for touching my mate, I will kill them, I will kill them, I will TEAR THEM APART—
'Eltanin, no! Take him away, you idiots!" Blaise is shouting, arms locked around Eltanin like iron bands. "Eltanin, stop!"
Another man—a Gryffindor beta—seizes Eltanin by the shoulders, helping Blaise pull him back. Together, they drag him back into the corridor, even as he growls and struggles every step of the way, desperate to get back to his omega. "Mate," he croaks, voice strangled. "Mine."
The scent—the scent of waves crashing upon rocky shores, a greenhouse of lilies and lavender lit by blue lightning—suffuses his senses, and he cannot think beyond omega-claim-mate-mine.
"ALPHA!" the omega roars.
It is a voice that echoes through the pitch-dark corridors as the Gryffindor and Blaise drag Eltanin away, his kicking heels scraping against the ground. Eltanin is shouting—garbled nonsense—when his mother is abruptly there, her palm a sharp pain against his cheek. He gasps, head knocking backwards against someone's chin, causing both of them to swear.
Blinking away tears of pain, Eltanin breathes in his mother's familiar omega-mother scent of milk and blankets and freshly-brewed tea, and some of that suffocating yearning abates.
"Eltanin," she says, her hands on his cheeks, holding his head in place. "Eltanin, listen to me— listen, control yourself. You can do this, son."
"Do you know whom you almost marked, you fucking twat?" Blaise hisses into his ear, still clinging onto his arms.
"What—" Eltanin is trying to break his grip, although confusion and fear are rising rapidly to the surface.
Blaise's fingers tighten on his arms. "The fucking king of Gryffindor— Harry Potter."
Fear slams into Eltanin: icy water rushing through his chest, hollowed out. He slackens, knees weakening, as he meets his mother's eyes, wide and afraid.
The king of Gryffindor. Conqueror of kingdoms. Killer of Voldemort.
Fuck, oh fuck, he thinks, the first clear thought since he woke up. What did I do?
Salazar, capital city of Slytherin, was by the sea: white-walled, blue dome-roofed houses terraced into the rolling brown hills, clustered around mosaic-floored courtyards with fountains glittering in the sun. Eltanin watched the city—and the palace built by his ancestors rising like gilded clouds at the top of the hill—burn down at the hands of Gryffindor soldiers.
He stares at the hands of the soldiers sitting across the badly warped dining table, and sees the ashes on their hands. His own hands are clenched beneath the table, fingernails digging hard into his palms. Mother places her hand over his right fist, her touch soothing at least part of his mind. He focusses on her scent, and Blaise's on his other side: reminders of what is at stake here, what the Gryffindors would be destroying here.
He continues to shake his left leg, up and down, a physical manifestation of his agitation drawing taut in his chest. He refuses to meet the green-eyed gaze boring into him from the grim-faced row of Gryffindors, their judgement searing.
He knows he does not look like their typical alpha. With his long blonde hair and pale grey eyes, and tall lean figure, he takes after his mother more than his alpha progenitor. Of course, you must not go to war with us, liege, Voldemort said, surprised that Eltanin even asked. I am expendable as regent, but you carry in your veins the blood of Malfoys and Blacks—we cannot risk you.
Because Eltanin is poor at fighting. Because Eltanin prefers book and studying. Because Eltanin is so pretty, drunk betas and alphas with deadened senses have propositioned him at balls. Well, he has never taken an omega, no, not Zabini, that wanton slut would not shut up if they had, the court chattered. Could he be …
He never had, because he has not felt the desire or the need. He tried, once, with Lady Pansy Parkinson: she never forgave him for leaving her in the middle of it, and got her revenge three months ago, abandoning him unconscious in the burning palace.
He fights the urge to laugh, hysteria rising shrill in his tight throat. I was not aroused by you, because I'm meant for the fucking king of Gryffindor, you fucking pug-faced twat! He could scream at the smirking Slytherin courtiers, tittering at him behind fans and handkerchiefs. The king of Gryffindor is my fucking MATE, you pricks. Yes, I was born to fuck the most powerful man in the realm now, mount and knot him like a common whore.
He wonders if it will be easier to slit his throat himself before Potter rejects him for a mate, condemning him to that wretched half-life unwanted soulmates would lead.
The Gryffindors are first to break the tensed silence.
"The circumstances are not ideal," says the frazzled, brown-haired alpha to the king's left, speaking fluent Parseltongue. Potter snorts. She shoots him a warning glare. "We should have written before we came, of course," she continues, looking at Eltanin. "We do apologise for alarming you."
"Alarming us? Is that what you call storming into one's home fully armed and unannounced?" Blaise replies in growly Leon, his scent layered with the char of anger.
She grimaces, tilting her head apologetically. "That was—"
"Do you often let your omega speak for you?" Potter interrupts, looking straight at Eltanin.
"I might if he were mine to influence, but Blaise is his own person, and I am certainly not in possession of any omega," Eltanin retorts.
Potter sneers, his scar cleaving his cheek deeply. Eltanin is momentarily arrested: he imagines the knife that sank into his omega's skin, slicing him open, the flesh parting beneath the blade—a time before Eltanin understood he could have an omega for his own.
Mother's hand tightens on his forearm, and Blaise has a hold of his shoulder. He inhales sharply, realising that he is half out of his seat, leaning across the table. Potter leans back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, face impassive. The Gryffindors on either side of him exchange uneasy looks.
Eltanin sinks back into his chair, his fingernails drawing blood in his palms.
"Well, you're wrong, your highness," an alpha female further along the table says glibly, tossing a thick red braid over a shoulder. "Harry is your omega, and that's why we're here, aren't we? Oh, come on, shall we move this along? I don't feel safe in these parts—why the bloody hell did you choose Blackmoor for your bolthole?"
"Ginny," another redhead—clearly her brother, also an alpha; Eltanin suspects them to be the infamous Weasleys—snaps. "Some tact would be nice."
"Oh, like you have any, Ron," she mutters. Definitely the younger sister, Eltanin thinks with faint amusement. The other Gryffindors roll their eyes, clearly used to such banter.
The first alpha looks irritated with the whole group of them for derailing her. She leans forward now, addressing Eltanin directly. "I'm afraid that while she is absurdly indelicate, Lady Weasley is right, your highness. It is not safe in these parts for you and your mother: the borderlands have become increasingly unstable with Voldemort's death. So, in the interest of time, I do hope you will excuse my own lack of delicacy."
She takes a deep breath, glancing at her king, who has not looked away from Eltanin. Eltanin does not know her to be able to read anything in her scent beyond the musk of old books and autumn leaves, but he reads her uneasiness on her face clearly enough.
"We are here to ask for your hand in marriage," she says to Eltanin.
Eltanin meets Potter's gaze now. The omega is inscrutable, mouth pressed into a flat line, and all Eltanin smells is the storm, the wind scattering loose black leaves. Blood pools in the lines of his palms.
"We?" he echoes, and makes a show of glancing up and down the line of Gryffindors. "I have never fucked alphas before, but I suppose if that is the price you demand for us to keep our lives, I would pay it."
The Weasleys make noises of disgust, as the brown-haired female looks exasperated, nearly identical to Mother's next to him. Blaise half-turns towards him, a furious look on his face, mouth opening, but Potter cuts through the rising chatter: "If you fuck anyone else," he says pleasantly, "I will cut your knot off and choke you with it."
The entire table chokes, his people gawping at him in horrified astonishment. Mother and Blaise are frozen. Eltanin is the only one who bursts into startled laughter.
"Careful, Potter," he smirks. "Is this impression you would like to make with your future mother-in-law? Look how you have scandalised us! But I suppose this is the best way the barbarians of Gryffindor can think to propose to princes of non-existent kingdoms. It is not very becoming to gloat, you know."
"We both know there are nastier things you can think to do with your knot," Potter replies calmly. "And I don't think you can afford to be picky with the kings you lay with now, my dear prince. There is nothing left for you here, like you said. Your place has always been with me."
He pauses, the first glimmer of uncertainty on his stony façade, but he plunges on in the same stubborn manner that won him a second kingdom and the realm, his eyes flashing defiance and certainty. "You are mine … Draco."
Eltanin has slept with an omega only once.
He was sixteen, and those were the days before the war, when the king and queen of Slytherin loved hosting balls and parties, and they would have guests from the other kingdoms. The Hufflepuffs sent their crown prince and princess, the Ravenclaws three of their eldest princesses. Gryffindor had dispatched Dumbledore, the regent appointed after King James and Queen Lily perished out at sea.
Eltanin was bored: the prince and princesses were older than him, and like Dumbledore, more interested in political manoeuvres. He was making his escape to his favourite greenhouse, the one perched on the edge of cliffs overlooking the harbour, when he caught the scent of storm clouds.
The omega was peering into the darkened greenhouse, his back to Eltanin. He turned, hearing or sensing Eltanin's approach, and his mouth opened, perhaps to explain why he was here, but there was no time for speaking, because Eltanin had pushed him against the glass wall, hands on his shoulders, mouth on his mouth.
There was a gasp from either of them—Eltanin could not tell; their breaths were one—and Eltanin was drowning in rainwater, their faces pressed against each other, chest to chest. His skin, beneath the fancy robes Mother forced him into, was on fire, struck by lightning.
They parted, chests heaving, hands intertwined, for the omega was also clinging to Eltanin. The other boy was trembling. He saw by faint light from the palace behind him green eyes, wide and guileless, and a mouth shining wet from Eltanin's lips, and dark curls tumbling wild around a handsome, masculine face. The golden-brown skin was flawless: a Gryffindor.
"Alpha," he gasped in clumsy Parseltongue.
"You," Eltanin growled in Leon, sinking a hand in the other boy's thick curls, "are mine."
And the omega whispered: "Yes."
They were kissing again, lips sliding against each other, tongues meeting, hot and wet. The omega had his arms locked around Eltanin's waist, his hands cupping Eltanin's arse, pressing his groin hard against Eltanin's. His hips jerked, the bulge in the front of the tight trousers of Gryffindor fashion meeting Eltanin's growing hard-on.
They both inhaled sharply.
Eltanin does not like to remember what happened after that, because there is no coming back from that: they tore their clothes off, having barely presence of mind to lay them on the wet grass, and pressed their young, eager, naked bodies together. That first touch of the omega's bare skin felt like a revelation, a secret language only he needed to know.
Shaking, a slave to the compulsion, he drove his cock, leaking pre-come, into the stranger's wet heat. He still hears the omega's voice: a scream of ecstasy, hands clawing his bare back, hips bucking up, strong legs closing around Eltanin's waist. "Fuck! Oh yes, yes, yesyesyes — fuck, more."
So, Eltanin did, desperate to please his omega, thrusting in deep, the scent of the sea and the storm-lashed waves everywhere around him. Heat was coiling deep in his belly, pulling taut. The omega was crying out, babbling nonsense in Parseltongue, his eyes squeezed shut, when suddenly—he tightened around Eltanin, hot like a glove, and he wailed, his cock shooting pearly strings onto his stomach. He opened his eyes the colour of deep green leaves in spring, molten with pleasure. "Alpha," he whispered in a voice wrecked.
The heat snapped in Eltanin's belly, and he gave a strangled shout, shoving in close, and he was knotting the omega, his cock pulsing deep in the other boy's wet tightness. His mind whited out with the bright heat of bliss.
All he remembers of after is crashing to the ground next to the omega, cuddling the other boy in close, babbling about the Draco constellation and the star within it he was named for, and Draco's destined companion Hercules wheeling in the starry skies above their naked bodies. He said he would name his omega Hercules.
The next morning, Eltanin's robes were wrapped around him, and he lay alone.
He was inconsolable, but he did not tell his mother or Blaise: Voldemort was rising at court, and three months after the ball, Father fell from his horse on a hunting trip, and died in the hunting lodge leagues away from the palace. Voldemort and his Death Eaters bore home his body wrapped in linen and stinking of rotting flesh and dead flowers.
The loss of his mate is inconsequential, compared to Voldemort ripping the throne from under him; Voldemort marching Slytherin to war, first against their traditional enemies the Gryffindors, and then to the rest of the realm; Voldemort wasting lives in the war, laying the kingdom to waste.
After ten years, Eltanin is used to loss.
All he has left is this dilapidated manor tucked in a forsaken corner of the former kingdom, the seat of a branch of the Black family that died out, half torn down by storms and thieves. He is no longer the alpha prince who took an omega stranger fervently in the darkness like a wretched animal—he has no desire to be.
Is it so hard for them to just leave us alone? he wonders in despair.
Stupid question; he knows the answer to that. In the rise and fall of kingdoms, the only certainty is the eradication of all threats, hinted or otherwise. In his panic, he thought the Gryffindors were here to use his omega against him. He wants to laugh at how wrong he was: the omega is here to use his army against him. Gryffindor is an unforgiving nemesis.
"You have the wrong Slytherin prince," he says airily.
"Eltanin," Blaise hisses, grabbing his arm.
"If you don't stop touching him, I'll have to punch you," the king growls.
"If you threaten my brother, I'll have to challenge you to a duel," Eltanin shoots back.
Potter looks wounded. "You don't smell like family."
"So, should I be worried about the alphas you're surrounded by?" Eltanin raises his eyebrows.
"No," the omega mutters, glaring at him. "You don't have to worry about me being unfaithful— you are a different matter."
"What," Eltanin asks sweetly, "does that mean?"
Next to the king, the brown-haired alpha—the only bright one in the group, it seems—opens her mouth, eyes wide with alarm, but Potter, looking only at Eltanin, barrels on.
"You know how you look," he says irritably. "You're the most fucking beautiful creature in the realm."
"Am I?" Eltanin muses. "Tell me, your majesty, which do you prefer? That I look like I knot every omega around me—virile, always good for producing an heir for the throne—or that I look like I get pounded by meathead alphas on a daily basis? Because I've often been told I look like both."
Potter gapes, absolutely aghast. Eltanin smiles winsomely. Once again, everyone else at the table is struck dumb; the Weasley male and a dark-haired beta, the same one who held Eltanin back last night, are goggling with morbid fascination.
"Doesn't matter," Potter finally snarls. "I will hurt all of them—and you for daring to betray me."
"Well, this is the start of a healthy relationship," Eltanin announces with mocking gaiety.
"I think we should give my son and his majesty some time alone," Mother breaks in, her smile sharp as daggers when Eltanin opens his mouth to protest. "We have settled that they are soulmates, but there are clearly some … matters they must discuss before we come to the betrothal." She ignores Eltanin's glare.
"Yes, that is a brilliant idea, your majesty," the brown-haired alpha says with utmost relief. "Is there perhaps an antechamber …"
"Eltanin, you can take his majesty on a tour of our gardens, show him how you have been providing for us here," Mother suggests with all the force of a command.
He swallows his dissent, and shoves his chair back with a scowl. Blaise mutters under his breath: "Behave, you little twat." Eltanin makes a face at him, mouthing traitor. He does not wait before striding out of the dining room, ignoring the guards he startles on the other side of the door.
He hears them salute— "Your majesty!" —and the footsteps stomping after him. He smells the ire, like bitter herbs, on the omega's scent, but they do not speak, as they march through the ruined corridors, holes in the crumbling walls revealing the blurry purple moors surrounding the estate.
The “gardens” are a small patch in the kitchen gardens Eltanin managed to carve out of the overgrown mess. They provide the family and their two faithful servants, old Katy and Norman, barely enough to subsist on, together with the occasional milk and flour they can buy from the closest farm.
"I apologise that this is not quite the gardens we first met in," Eltanin says with a mocking gesture at the scraggly brown patch. "Did you manage to get your tour of the greenhouses?"
Potter is staring at the neat rows of tomato plants, arms crossed over his chest. "Yes, what was left of them, after we burned the palace down."
Eltanin laughs. "That sounds nice."
"I much prefer this anyway. This is impressive, what you have managed to achieve," Potter looks at him, expression sincere. "This only looks like a bunch of weeds to me."
"Well, aren't you lucky I'm the one harvesting the vegetables for dinner tonight, your majesty," Eltanin smirks. "There are poisonous herbs amongst these weeds."
The king exhales, rolling his eyes. "Is it foolish that I doubt you mean truly to poison your omega?"
"Yes," Eltanin bites out. "You barely know me. We do not know each other."
"Beyond this overwhelming need to submit to you, completely and utterly?" Potter raises his eyebrows, stretching his scar. "Beyond this bone-deep awareness that you are made for me, and I for you? That our destiny was written in the stars, in the very foundation of our known world?"
"I did not figure you for a romantic, your majesty."
"You hate me, of course," Potter says with a flash of hurt. "I destroyed your kingdom. I knew Voldemort has taken your throne. I thought—I thought to return it to you, to march into your city victorious and to place the crown on your head where it belongs. I thought that would earn me your love. But … war never turns out the way we plan it."
"You're presumptuous, your majesty. You could not have single-handedly destroyed Slytherin, if my father had not started it by trusting that madman. I do appreciate the sentiment." Eltanin's heart is thudding in his chest, his mind a whirl of storm clouds. Love? Earn? "You speak of us as if we are a sure thing."
"Are we not?" Potter takes a step closer. "Our souls are made to match."
"You have me at a disadvantage. You knew whom you fucked"—Potter flinches— 'the night of the ball. I did not even have your name, beyond your scent on my lips. How did you expect me to find you? Did you not want to be found?" Eltanin only realises he is absolutely furious with each word he speaks, the fountain of rage simmering within him for a decade. "And your scar—how the fuck could you let yourself get hurt when I was not there to protect you?"
Potter's hand flies to his face. "Voldemort gave it to me, but I paid him back: I killed him. I … that night … I panicked. I close to the start of heat, and Dumbledore warned me not to leave the room, but I was so bored. I … I thought you might think I was … tricking you on purpose, to bed me. I'm sorry—I would have found you anyway."
He peers at Eltanin from under his lashes, and what he sees must have assured him, because he manages a small smile, before dropping his gaze. "You think me ugly, don't you? I am not pristine."
"Pristine?" Eltanin echoes. The flash of his anger shocks him: he feels his sanity and reason unravelling with fury, his control fraying at the edges. There is a fog drawing close around his mind; nearly the same from that night under the stars, except this time, he is misty with rage.
He takes a step towards the omega. Potter flicks a cautious gaze up—and blanches at the look on Eltanin's face. Eltanin is sure his face must be ugly, fixed in that rictus of demented anger.
"Ugly," he repeats, closing the distance, crowding Potter against the moss-covered stone wall fencing the garden in. There are bird twittering madly in the twisted woods beyond the wall. "Do you think I want pretty?" His voice is low, trembling. "Do you think I want pristine ? If my soul is yours, like you say, does it matter the flesh it comes with? Does your soul not matter more?"
"You wanted my flesh at sixteen," the omega reminds him.
"Yes, because your soul called to mine!" Eltanin shouts, grabbing the omega by the shoulders, barely resisting the urge to shake him. "I'm angry because you got hurt. I'm angry because I could not have protected you—perhaps if Voldemort never got to power, perhaps if I could have stopped the war. What kind of alpha do I make if I let you get hurt?"
He makes to twist away, snarling in disgust, but Potter grabs his wrists, forcing him to stay. "Mine—that's what you are," he whispers. "You could not have stopped Voldemort, you prick, just like I could not have stopped my parents from dying. The gods willed it, like they willed our match—and I don't think it's wise to defy the gods, do you?"
Eltanin stares at him, breathing in through his mouth, tasting the lightning crackling in the air. Potter shudders, eyes darkening. He licks his lips, placing his large hands on Eltanin's waist, the heat from his palms seeping through the satin robes. "You don't mind that I burned down your home either?"
"It depends—does your proposal include winning me back my crown?"
Harry grins, brilliant as the sunlight. Surely, Eltanin thinks faintly, this is a god.
"If it doesn't, will you run from me and make me chase after with a better offer?" the god asks.
"Hercules is doomed to forever chase after Draco. Didn't you know, your majesty?"
Harry pulls Draco in close, wrapping in the musky scent of storms and leather and steel, shivering with the promise of great, terrible violence. The green-eyed god smirks, hand cupping the back of Draco's head, the warmth bleeding into Draco's veins. "Is that a threat?"
"No," Draco breathes. "A promise."