The Black Unicorn
She sat bolt upright. Orlaunda huffed and her ribcage heaved fitfully at the sudden movement of Esmeralda waking so quickly. It was the dead of night, the last week in June. She looked around the den. Nothing was out of sorts; she made out the groups of dragons, sleeping, dreaming around her. Steam curled in a low haze over the family. She could see the cold starlight from the dark sky streaming into the cave. She ran a hand through her hair; she was drenched in sweat…her back and arms. Someone had called her; the cry had been wracked with such sadness and desperation that she was shaken. She sat up and threw the covers off of herself, trying to dry off. Her hand ran over Orlaunda’s back; the feel of her fine scales and the regular heave of her deep breathing helped Esmeralda settle down. Where had that come from? Her father? It felt…male. Her father was fine, as far as she knew. Her mother had died 2 years ago; not her mother. Not a relative, all of the relatives were distant. Another keeper? There had been the affair last year….but no….that cry didn’t feel like him. There was something utterly familiar, yet indistinct in its familiarity. Something….she hadn’t touched or thought of in a long while.
She stood up, and stretched. The sweat was drying; she walked over, carefully, through the ragged path of the slumbering dragons towards the opening of the den. There was a very wide, open ledge at the mouth of the cave, and she stood here, looking out at the night sky. She was naked, as she usually was when she slept, and the night air carried a chill, even for late June, even for someone acclimated to the cold. She crossed her arms in front of her, shivering slightly, and watched the stars’ unblinking light. She fetched back into her past, and then she knew. She remembered the young man, too quiet, too still. His voice, his feel. That was it; Hogwarts. She remembered the night before she had left for the dark creatures.
Lily had thrown her the party. It had been April, several weeks before the end of the school year, the end of their time at Hogwarts. Lily was getting married and Esmeralda was heading for Norway and the dragon herd. She remembered that night; the yellow and red tulips in the cutting beds; the subtle smell of hyacinth on the evening breeze; the candles lining the walkway out to the rose gardens where Lily had gotten permission to have the party. She remembered Remus and James sneaking off for the firewhiskey. She smiled to herself in the dark chill. She smelled the night air around her. A wind was blowing tonight, steady, bringing no rain.
She had invited him. But he had not come.
She remembered that evening so clearly. Lily had come up to her. ‘Well?’ her eyes had said. Her cheeks were flushed from the whiskey, and from James.
‘No.’ her eyes had said back. He wasn’t here. He wasn’t coming. She must have been entirely wrong about him. She raised her eyebrows and shoulders to Lily in the “oh well” gesture. But she knew that wasn’t true. She could not tell Lily, but she knew her intuition was never wrong. It was simply the way she was made. Even at the age of 18, she knew that about herself.
They had both done up their hair, had gotten together that afternoon before the party and had created magnificent coiffures for themselves, laughing and talking. The same color of hair, gold-red; the same color of eyes, green; but very different young women. Esmeralda, much taller, more willowy; Lily, shorter, and very graceful. Esmeralda’s throaty laugh, Lily’s lighter, more musical voice.
Someone had talked a couple of musicians into coming, and many of the young people had been dancing in the clear spaces between the roses. 10:00 pm came and went, and Esmeralda had sipped her drink, but no sign of the young man she had invited. Lily had swooped by in the arms of James; she had smiled at them both. She was very happy for Lily. Mildly jealous, but only because she knew they would start moving apart. These things happened. Longbottom came up and asked her to dance, and smiling, she had taken his arm.
At midnight, she left the party quietly. It had been late; Lily had gotten silly-drunk; most of the candles had snuffed themselves. There was a thick dew on the grass. She could hear giggling and the rustle of clothing from amongst the border hedges. She lifted up the hem of her evening gown and moved silently back towards the castle. She had gotten the password from a drunk Slytherin, and had gone up to his dormitory. She had moved up the stairwell, very quietly. Laundry was scattered everywhere; the smell was dense, the smell of young men, unwashed clothing, and parchment. It was a rank smell, but alluring, too.
He was alone in the room, over in the corner. His back was hunched over a small student’s desk. The candle by his left arm burned steadily. She could hear the scratch of the quill over the paper, the shuffle of the pages as he had turned and read, engrossed. One long, white hand ran through his greasy hair without thinking. She watched as he looked up and out, hesitantly, through the window that overlooked the grounds to his left, where the party was going on. But he did not linger long. The young man had stirred himself, and gone back to the parchment doggedly. She had spoken quietly from the stairwell.
“I invited you to the party. It’s too bad you could not have come.” He whirled in his chair, his long black hair whipping around his face. He moved his hand through his hair in distraction, his eyes were so dark she could not read them from this distance.
“What are you doing here?” he had hissed at her. He had gotten up quickly and started stuffing clothing underneath the bed coverings.
“Well, obviously you weren’t coming down, and so I thought I would come up and…say goodbye. You know, I am leaving tomorrow, Severus. I did….at least want to say goodbye to you.” She had been nervous, as well; suddenly. Too unexpectedly. She had made up her mind, however. She walked up the rest of the staircase and stood now, in the middle of his room. His other roommates were either outside at the party or studying elsewhere. He was standing, frozen, by the chair.
“I’m sorry….for not attending. I just…I needed to study.” His voice was too formal. He was lying very badly. She could smell him. The anxiety. The clenched fear. The other, maddening scent. It was why she had come.
“Severus. I wanted…to give something to you. Before I left. Just so that you might remember me.” He had swallowed; his adam’s apple had bobbed on his throat, the only thing on him that moved.
“Why?” He tried to keep his voice calm. She clucked at him quietly.
“You know why. Here.” She had taken off her necklace. “This is…a muggle Chinese word, a pictograph. It was my grandmother’s. I want you to have it.” She had handed him the necklace carefully. She placed the gold metal symbol in his palm; his hand was warm.
“What…does it mean.” He was watching her, his dark eyes softer than she remembered them being.
“It’s the symbol, Long. One of the character’s meanings, well, its strongest meaning, is dragon. It will protect you. I want you to have it.” His hand had curled around the necklace, but he was immobile where he stood. Only his eyes watched her.
“I have nothing for you.” His eyes widened.
“Severus! That’s not the point.” She made an exasperated noise. The concentrated smell of young men, the closeness and the heat of the room…. suddenly she began to feel pushed in on, and she turned to go.
“Wait. Wait. I do have something…I’d like to give you.”
“It’s not a contest, Snape.” She had started to perspire. She really wanted to get back out into the fresh air.
“No. It’s important. Just…hang on.” He had strode over to a chest of drawers. He had taken out a small wooden box hidden in the rumpled clothing and pawed through it. He had found what he was looking for; he strode over to her, but stopped before he got too close. He had wiped his hands on his trousers. The candlelight had cast dark shadows under his angular features.
There was something about him that called to her so strongly and so insistently that she herself could not move. It was his stillness that whispered to her; his quiet, his watchfulness. What was unspoken between them was the most riveting entity in the room, and the shadowlike ghosts of their desire entwined with each other, unseen, but felt; gently, like energy without form, like the softest of caresses. She knew that both of them could feel this. But there are no words for this being. And so Severus held out his hand in the only gesture he was physically capable of, and handed her his mother’s emerald hairpin.
“Here. Please…take this. It will protect you, as well. I mean it. I’m not just giving it to you because you gave me something.” His hand curled over her fingers, forcing her fist to close, very softly. “Please. I…just couldn’t come to the party.” His eyes searched her face. His intensity suddenly undid her, and she dropped her gaze from his, and nodded. She had said nothing more to him, but took the hairpin, and had left the room quickly.
That’s where the cry had come from. She had not heard from him in years, but the feel of the cry was unmistakable. She turned, ruminating, and walked back into the sultry quiet of the den.
His appetite was returning slowly; he had eaten a couple of eggs and some toast that afternoon and it had actually tasted like food, not like the usual sawdust of the last six months. The protection Dumbledore had placed over him and the events of the day had conspired to ease the black weight of his despondency.
Dumbledore had come into the bedroom to ask him if he was ready to discuss the ritual. He had responded positively, and found his clothing. Now he was seated on the sofa in the library outside Albus’ bedroom.
“Severus. I know…this is going to be very arduous, but we must get through this.” Snape nodded. He was feeling stronger, more grounded, but the idea of talking about the ritual made his stomach and intestines convulse; his breakfast shifted uneasily. He pulled his hair back from his eyes.
“Here. I had Sigmund retrieve this from your private apothecary.” Dumbledore proffered a tumbler of murky, thick liquid to Snape. “Do take it, my child. It will do nothing but help. What we have to discuss…is delicate, indeed.”
“What is this. I apologize, Albus, but….I am understandably wary of potions these days.” He tilted his head towards Dumbledore slightly.
“Yes, of course. It’s one of your own; in it is bezoar, to clear the poisons. There is Oyster shell and dragon bones to clear your depression; and Floss Albizzae and Semen Zisyphi Spinoza to sedate and calm the heart, and of course, black licorice to bind the potion and penetrate the blood. I also added some chocolate. It’s very gentle; your own formula. It should only help, Severus.” Snape gave a curt nod, and took the offered tumbler. He drank it down, and settled back into the couch, running long fingers over the smooth glass. It was mid-afternoon now; there must be a storm coming. The room had grown slightly dimmer.
“Severus. There are certain things I specifically need to know about this binding ritual. But…it would help if you just walked through it, from the very beginning. It’s very important; you must not leave out anything, no detail can be overlooked. Do you understand?” Snape nodded mutely. The potion was spreading through him, his legs relaxed, his worry and anxiety left him slowly. The kinks of pain were dissipating from his neck and shoulders.
“Tell me about the ritual.” Albus’ voice was hushed. Snape was quiet for a long while. His tongue seemed too thick, too relaxed. It became hard to keep his head erect, and he laid back in the sofa, his eyes not quite focused. He remembered…the room. There had been a sofa, bigger than the one he was on. Candelabras in the corners of the room. Lit. Shadows had danced against the walls like laughing, bodiless ghosts. It had been so cold. The start of January…..the cruelest month.
“He…we were both wearing robes. But nothing underneath. There were candelabras in the room, lit. There was a bed, a couch. A bottle of…almond oil. A chalice. A ritual knife. A decanter of…a potion. Another silver decanter of wine with a potion mixed into it. Ah….he sat down, on the couch. The table was next to the couch, behind it. He poured some of the potion. It was…a sexual stimulant. I was not…the most responsive of men when I was….with him.”
Voldemort had led him by the hand over to the couch, had poured the liquid into the vessel. Severus remembered the heavy, fine cloth of the robe’s garnet sleeve over the man’s more muscular arm; the shadows moving over his pale torso. The dark hair at his groin. The proferred cup. The shadows taunting him, wraiths of the dead. He had drunk of the sweet, viscuous liquid. The wider, taller man had not drunk, smiling knowingly at Snape. ‘I don’t need it like you do, you know.’ The look had said. Malevolently smug.
“He…took off my robes.” He had pulled the robes off of Snape as he stood behind him, running his hands over his neck, his shoulders, his mouth hot behind his ear, the cut of his jaw. He had felt the hardness of the madman’s erection on the back of his buttocks. Voldemort had pulled him around to face him. He had been terrified. Voldemort’s mouth, greedy and voracious, had worked on his own. Severus remembered being frozen with fear, trying to work up the courage to respond but barely being able to move his lips.
“He….kissed me, fondled me. He led me over to the couch. He sat down in the corner of the couch.” Snape closed his eyes. Despite the sedative Dumbledore had given him, the muscles around his hips and belly had clenched up and he bent over on himself, his hands between his knees. Voldemort had pulled him onto his lap; Severus’ own erection had throbbed painfully. The potion had made him flushed and hot, as if he had a steel rod, unnaturally rigid and painfully swollen, in place of his genitals. “He….had me sit between his legs, on the couch….” Snape swallowed, and turned from Dumbledore. “He used his hand on me. The almond oil.” Voldemort had pulled him into his chest; his hand had wrapped around his erection like a well-greased vise. The man had teased him, too slow on him for too long, knowing what the potion was doing to him. Severus had pushed back hard into Voldemort, unable to stop himself, his fingers clutching at his thighs, anything to get rid of the horrible, needy throbbing. When he finally did come, he had convulsed against the chuckling man in relief but the orgasm had been jagged and uneven. Voldemort had reached for the chalice. “He…when I…finished….he gathered some of my semen…and put it in the chalice.” Severus was pale; he had broken out into a fine sweat. Snape remembered his erection had not subsided after orgasm, as usual; the pain got worse, and he had been sweating profusely in the cold room, his palms weeping with damp. Voldemort had pushed him off of the couch, forcing him on his knees in front of the aroused man; he had gathered bunches of Snape’s hair in his large right hand and had pulled him over to his crotch. His voice had been imperious, lazy.
“He had me….perform oral sex on him.” Snape had pulled his knees up to his chest on the couch. “Right before he…came…he had me use my hand on him; he put his semen in the chalice….with mine. After we….finished, he kissed me, and laughed. Then we put our robes back on, and stood, over by the table, with the chalice, the potion, the silver decanter, and the knife. He took the knife and cut me….here.” He moved his right forefinger to a spot on his left chest, near his heart. “That’s where he took the blood. I pledged an oath of bondage to him.” Snape relaxed a little on the couch. He looked exhausted. “He took some of the blood, and mixed it with the semen. He poured some of the wine into the chalice. I pledged my heart, my soul, to his.”
“Do you remember the exact wording.” Dumbledore was watching him intently.
“I…..told him: “my heart is yours to command; my soul and spirit are bound to you always. Your will becomes my will; your desire is my bidding. I submit….to you forever.” Snape whispered the last words. He could not lift his head for several minutes.
“Did he repeat any of this back to you? Did he say anything in return?”
“He pledged nothing back. The ritual bound only myself to him. His own fluid was his physical, controlling bind to me.” Snape laid back in the sofa, and closed his eyes. He was shaking slightly. Dumbledore handed him another tumbler of the sedative.
“Here.” Severus took it, and drank carefully, trying not to spill the drink.
“Do you remember what was in the stimulant.”
“Yes. It was a standard sexual stimulant; nothing out of the ordinary, the goatherd’s formula.” Dumbledore nodded; he knew the potion. “But the other one was more subtle. It had…..a variety of elements…” Snape’s brow furrowed, remembering the tastes, the smells. “Licorice, as usual; a poison, aconite, but trace, barely there; red wine as the base; and…other tastes.” He paused; his mouth moved in a frown. “I’m having trouble remembering. Something happened after that. I remember…that….I drank the potion. He had cut me, I drank the fluids with the wine-based potion mixed in….” he began to worry. He could not remember what happened afterwards. “Something….hard…..” did he lose consciousness? “I remember the chalice….” He remembered shadows flashing on the wall…laughter welling up from the other man, his eyes, gluttonous, possessive, moving across his face…. “I remember slipping….Dumbledore….” Snape looked up at Albus, panic slowly starting to move across his features. “I…can’t remember…I can’t remember the taste, it was so subtle, very rare….I think I remember the chalice slipping….but that would mean I was losing consciousness….” Snape’s eyes grew wide with fear. “What…what did he give me?” He laid back in the sofa, his arms clutching himself tightly. And the laughter, the knowing, spiteful laughter. All this had started back in late September when Dumbledore had first sent him to spy. He had not gone through with the ritual until late December, early January…but….after the ritual, that’s when things began to shift out of time, out of mind…..what had he done? What had Voldemort given him?
Albus leaned forward in the chair across from the couch. “Try not to worry, Severus. It will come to you. And if it doesn’t, you’ve already given me enough information to be of help to us.” He patted the man’s knee gently, and sat back. Severus looked petrified with anxiety, despite the sedative.
“I….don’t remember….what did I do? What did he give me?” Snape looked away, his gaze on the library but his eyes far away.
“Severus. You need to rest. Do go lie down, and try not to exhaust yourself. You have a lengthy recovery ahead of you, but the ritual we will need to perform ourselves must be done as soon as possible. The curse on you is the ritual’s bind of Voldemort. Soon, I won’t be able to stop it. Another 48 hours we may have, but that’s all. We don’t have much time.” Snape acknowledged Albus’ words mutely. Dumbledore stood up, and offered a hand up to Snape. He took it, but he was still lost, trying to remember the potion. His worry was growing deeper. He was remembering Sirius, Esmeralda. Sirius was thankfully out of danger, but Esmeralda….it was not beyond the madman’s motives that he might have drugged Snape for information after the ritual was over. Feverishly, walking back into the bedroom, he searched his mind for truth serums and tranquilizers, the memories of tastes, his catalogue of smells and flavors. Dumbledore’s palm was warm on his shoulder. He sat down heavily on the bed, his hands on his head.
“Albus, I need my potions compendium. I need it here, now.” Snape looked up at Dumbledore, stricken.
“I’ll have Siggy retrieve it from your rooms. Severus. Rest.” Albus looked at him, marking the fatigue and the worry, and moved to leave. But Snape reached over and grabbed him around the wrist before he could go.
Albus. There’s something I need to tell you. About Voldemort.” Snape’s eyes were riveted on Dumbledore. Albus sat down next to him on the bed.
“What is it, Severus.”
“While…I was drugged, I hallucinated and moved in and out of consciousness. I must have….mentioned certain people’s names during certain times while I was with him. Sirius was one of the names. He is, mercifully, dead; but the other name he took note of was Esmeralda Admantia’s.” Severus looked at Dumbledore with meaning. “Albus, he….was jealous. I know this seems petty, but….I worry that he might have sedated me heavily, and then gotten exact names and places out of me. He is insane, Albus; he probably didn’t follow up on tracking Esmeralda, but….what if he did? I worked so hard to prevent him from finding out, but…..he is an evil, crafty man. Albus, this is very important!” Snape’s grip clenched around Dumbledore’s wrist.
“The dragon-keeper. Yes, I know her.” Dumbledore’s eyes looked out the window, pondering. “Severus.” He looked back at Snape. “I will keep this in mind. I will send her a post to warn her and check on her; meanwhile, really Severus, you *must* rest.” Snape relaxed his grip and nodded, relieved. Dumbledore patted his hand, and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
Voldemort paced. He could not concentrate on the idiots and their political meanderings within the Ministry. His spies had brought him valuable information concerning his other interests, but he was maddeningly distracted. Dumbledore continued to allude his grasp.
He had sent the spy back to Dumbledore; the bond was still complete, and Dumbledore would be thankfully dead in one to two days. But he had pressed the boundaries of Hogwarts, he had probed carefully with his own magical methods, and he could still feel the presence of that older wizard’s energy; grounded, stable, like a fine mesh dome covering the entire expanse of the acreage of Hogwarts.
He was fuming quietly to himself. He knew that his two most trusted Death Eaters were growing nervous at his developing distraction. Morton and Thwip, his two closest spies, had come in to ask him if he wanted supper, and they scattered like mice when they saw his face.
No, it was the Black Unicorn. His unease was growing; he knew something had gone wrong. Had Dumbledore protected the greasy bastard? He knew the bond could not be broken, of that he was sure. Had the unicorn missed his opportunity, and was simply waiting to return to Voldemort? Was he biding his time waiting for another chance to murder the old meddling fool? Voldemort smiled thickly. The curse was on the unicorn, compelling him to act; it surely would not be long now. Perhaps he was fretting for nothing, like a silly girl. His smile grew broader. The unicorn would fulfill his duty, of this he felt sure. No man would take on the ritual’s bonds the way he did unless he were truly Voldemort’s willing slave. But….in the back of his mind, Voldemort accepted that the unicorn might have been hiding…..something. The madman was arrogant, to be sure, but shrewd as well. He would wait, he would wait. It was not yet time to sound the alarm. Besides, he had grown sated with the spy. It had become monotonous to fuck a man so dead inside of himself, despite the drugs. Nothing he had done had touched the Slytherin’s frozen interior. And there was an entire stable of young men willing to bed Voldemort; he would go pick another, as soon as this annoying episode was over.
Mentally, he tugged at the leash that connected him to the spy. Still there; he ran over the link in his mind that he had made for the unicorn; a silken, tenuous link forged in blood, semen, and the man’s own oath of allegiance. Still snug, still binding. Voldemort smiled grimly.
And he had the ace in his hand. He had waited until the unicorn thought he had forgotten about his little fuck, then he had sedated him thoroughly after the ritual. He had gotten the right name from him. They had murdered the dragon bitch’s lead reptile. That was good enough for now. His Death Eaters had missed the main target, but in a way, this was even better. That would show the pitiful rebels how powerful he was…….dragons. Ha. Too easy, sometimes. He yawned. Perhaps it was time for dinner. And another young man.
It was dusk, the third week of July. Dumbledore stood at the long rectangular window and looked out at the early summer evening. The last rays of light from the sun spread over the grounds of Hogwarts. He could see the soft hazy mist rising from the warm grass as the cool of the evening came on. It looked so peaceful.
Esmeralda. He remembered the young woman from school; he remembered what she was. Rare, one of the last of her kind. She had graduated from Hogwarts, and left to join the dragon herds in Norway. Norwegian Ridgebacks. She had always been so fond of that breed, and some people were born with an affinity towards certain animals. He had known horse people, dog people, dragon people. Esmeralda was one of the latter. Dumbledore watched the evening settle over the Enchanted Forest; he watched the speck of Hagrid tending his evening bonfire. Dumbledore knew of Esmeralda’s fame in a smaller battle in Scotland. She and a group of dragon-keepers had successfully fought off a band of Voldemort’s Death-Eaters, but at high cost. Regretfully, the woman had lost the queen of the herd. Losing a dragon was a very sorrowful thing, magically and otherwise; a heavy loss for the community. Dumbledore paced a bit. He had sent her owl post 2 weeks ago. He had needed a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor; he knew her experience would be invaluable as a professor, he knew the loss she had suffered and he thought she might need a change of pace. And….he had remembered her from those years ago at school, and Snape. How Snape’s eyes had followed the young woman. Had he surmised correctly? Well. Time would bear these things out. But the woman had responded positively, accepting the offer, and he had urged her to arrive as soon as possible, and to be careful. Something had warned him that all was not right where she was concerned, and he had obeyed his intuition, and passed on the warning to her. Something was not right there, and now, hearing his intuition’s whispers repeated by Snape’s very real anxiety, he was relieved that he had listened carefully to his own voice.
She would be here any day. But until he went through his and Severus’ own ritual, he would keep this information to himself.
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