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Damascus Gate

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Story

Summary: The prophecy, as most prophecies are, was incomplete.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Buffy-CenteredThethuthinnangFR15719,7912915230,06329 Feb 0815 Dec 08No

Chapter One

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling.

Author's Warning: major AU.

Author's Note: I wrote this back in '04 and abandoned it when my hard drive exploded, taking with it all ten chapters I had written as well as my will to live. Recently, however, I've managed to recover enough off of a portable hard drive I didn't know I still had to make reconstructing the story not quite as painful as chewing glass. In the spirit of finishing everything I have going on before I start something new (and to stop running the risk of Gloriana murdering me in my sleep), I've come back to this project and am not quitting until it's done! (This doesn't mean I'll stop working on the other incomplete stories, just that I'm focusing on this one.)

P.S. Gloriana, I am totally kidding. You know I cower in abject fear of/worship you.



This is for WittyNinja, whom I beg not to hold against me the fact that I am seven months late.





September in London was dark, cold, and wet.

Buffy pulled at the front of her coat, tightening the damp leather against her body. Behind her, the glass-shattering screech of a train whistle briefly overwhelmed the thrum of the rain against the roof. Over the crowd and the rattling engines of trains trundling in and out of King’s Cross, she could hear each rolling boom and thunderpeal of the storm that had blown in with the plane that had carried her from New York, the howl of the wind that shook the windows. Electric lights flickered weakly again and again.

In front of her was a brick wall.

She stared at the wall. The few people who noticed her as they passed by, noticed the girl in the black duster, her hair slicked wetly against her face and neck, could see her fingers digging into the sleeve of one arm.

Frowning, Buffy unfolded her arms and reached for the large duffel lying at her feet, slinging it over a shoulder. Glancing behind her, to the left and the right, she turned to the wall again, and her heel lifted a quarter of an inch off of the floor before she hesitated, expression breaking, uncertainty filling her eyes. Three seconds, looking, mind beginning to change—

Gritting her teeth, Buffy took a deep breath and hit the wall.

For a heart-wrenching moment, everything was a black nothing. Then—cold air—she was walking out of a large, damp-smelling tunnel into a different light, the fainter, softer light of lanterns and open ceilings, and overhead there was a sign that said Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. She was passing through a metal archway, and nearly tripped over an orange tomcat. Buffy slowed, stopped, eyes widening and the tension easing from her jaw.

The smell was of wet brick and cement, the light a watery, eggshell blue. White steam sluiced off of what looked, at a distance and in the weak light, like a black train, wrapping everything and everyone in a low, muted gray, as if the people were drifting ghosts. Everybody seemed to know everyone else, and cries and murmurs she didn't try to make out washed over her like a cold shower, faceless, nameless shapes calling to each other in the gloom. A tiny girl clutching a cage with a ruffled brown owl in it rushed by, her black cloak fluttering behind her. Ten feet away, a heavily-built man with thinning black hair was giving his son what sounded like last minute advice, warning him to not “give your teachers any trouble, I don’t want any more owls from your Head of House.” He wore flowing red robes, his son black.

Buffy stood there, thinking It can’t be this easy…

“Gives us a look, then…”

“…was at the Cup, bloody brilliant win—”

“—see what happened after—”

“—you, Mick, get that ruddy owl under—”

“…not this time, got my Potions right here—”

“—who’s that?” A boy in a black robe was pointing at her, pulling on the sleeve of a much taller young man to get his attention. The man turned, looking straight at Buffy, blue eyes meeting hers. Buffy moved forward, turning her head as if she had not seen, edging closer to the rails.

Nearer, the train was red, not black, still gushing cloudy smoke and dripping as if it had just pulled in from the downpour. Beneath the washed-out light of a morning filled with wind and lightening, the red bled and darkened to blood. She stared at it, this sudden normalcy.

A tall man in immaculate black robes and cloak was walking up the length of the train. Where he went, the crowd opened up as if pushed aside, the people moving easily and without complaint as if by happenstance. Their eyes seemed to slide away from him as if he weren't even there, their voices roiling around him.

The man’s hair was long and white.

The crowd was thickening, the fog beginning to clear. The man turned, looked toward the entrance.

Cold gray eyes rested on her face.

A strange, sick feeling filled Buffy's body. She turned away as nonchalantly as she could, ignoring the cold sweat that had broken out on her skin, and started to walk off down the length of the wall, ignoring the rising bile, ignoring the people she was shoving, ignoring the fact that the white-haired man had changed his course, was coming straight for her, the people shifting unasked and patiently out of his way without so much as looking at him where she had to push.

The archway was near enough. She’d go back through, she’d get out of the station, she would—

An elbow struck her in the arm. Her chin hit the end of a shoulder-bone. The duffel swung from her shoulder, pulling her off balance, and thumped to the floor.

“Whoa!”

Someone grabbed her arm.

“Bit of a hurry?” a male voice asked, shaken with repressed laughter. The fingers on her arm were rough and callused, the skin abraded in places as if there had once been burns.

Buffy looked up.

Blue eyes widened. A look of cheerful good humor slipped into something more disbelieving, something on the edge of shock. His fingers tightened, the touch a grip, for no more than a split second before he let go, the hand lowering.

Buffy took her hand off of the hilt of her knife.

“All right, then?” the man asked, abruptly gruff. His hair, Buffy saw, was red, the same red as—

No.

“What is it, Charlie?” a woman’s voice asked impatiently. “We haven’t got all—”

Behind the man, Charlie, stood a middle-aged red-haired woman, who herself was staring at Buffy. Two boys, identical, also red-haired, stood beside her, next to a much smaller girl about Buffy’s height. Another man, even taller than Charlie, his long red hair pulled back, was leaning against the wall.

“Who’re you, dear?” the woman asked, clearly taken aback.

Buffy didn’t answer, but turned to look behind her.

The crowd moved and shifted toward the train, children and young people beginning to climb aboard in groups. The platform was a turmoil of trunks, cages, animals, people, robes, and loose ties. The whistle shrilled again, and pewter smoke filled the air.

The white-haired man was gone.

Buffy stood still, trying to slow her breathing. She swallowed a mouthful of air and drying saliva. Were her hands trembling?

“Oy,” someone said. It was one of the look-alikes, the one wearing a large sweater with the letter F on the front. “You all right?”

They were still watching her, the woman’s eyes concerned.

“Uh, yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I’m fine, thanks.”

The other boy, who’d just picked up her suitcase, raised an eyebrow. “A Yank?”

“Fred!” the woman—his mother, Buffy guessed—warned, but eyed Buffy just as curiously. “Are you here with someone?”

“No,” said Buffy. “No, I…uh…”

The tallest man, the one with long hair, had picked up her suitcase, was holding it out. Feeling slightly embarrassed to be standing there holding a handle but no suitcase, she took it hurriedly back.

“Thank you,” she said awkwardly. “I…thank you. Um...” Buffy hesitated, couldn’t think of anything else to say.

Charlie was looking at her. They were all looking at her.

“Bye,” she said finally, ineptly, and walked away, hurrying, before anyone could say anything else, losing herself in the crowd.

It was getting colder. High on the roof, the rain came down in sheets. The whistle blew a third, more urgent time, and the last few stragglers were getting on, struggling through hugs and last minute news.

Buffy stood where she found herself, in the far, darker corner of the station, barely inside out of the rain. Indecision made her pause. Should she get on the train, even if no one was there for her? Should she just stay there, waiting for whatever? Or maybe she should just forget about it, just get out while she still could, to hell with what the old man had said, check into the nearest and cheapest motel and—

“Buffy Summers?”

Buffy stopped almost mid-step to the exit and looked up.

The man standing there in front of her was breathing heavily, as if he’d been running. His face was drawn with exhaustion, pale and thin. He looked maybe as bad as Buffy felt, and his gray robes were clean but tattered, much-mended. In the white haze, he was gaunt, hollows beneath his cheekbones and the skin beneath his eyes smudged purple. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“I don’t know you,” said Buffy. At that, the man straightened, breath regained, and stepped forward, closer, into the light of a nearby lantern.

His eyes burned yellow.

“My name is Remus Lupin,” he said, very quiet, very English, only slightly breathless. “I am here on behalf of Albus Dumbledore to see you to Hogwarts.”

Buffy looked at him.

He met her eyes. They stood there, looking at each other.

After a moment, he offered a smile. “Please, allow me,” he said, and reached for the suitcase she was carrying in both arms.

Buffy took one step back.

He stopped, arm in the air, watching her, and then took back his hand.

“I’ve already got seats,” he said, as if nothing had happened. “Behind the prefects. Some friends of mine are waiting for us there.” Remus nodded toward the front of the train. “We should hurry.”

Buffy didn’t say or do anything. He only turned to go.

He hurried, and Buffy had to be quick to keep up with his longer-legged frame. He was pushing people aside as he rushed, muttering apologies over his shoulder, but no one got angry and most stepped aside for them, several urging them to Hurry up, hurry up! A flash of red caught Buffy’s eye, and she saw three of the red-haired family standing at the edge of the platform. The woman was smiling and talking at a window of the train where several heads, three of which were red, were leaning out, and so was the guy named Charlie, but the tallest one, the one with the earring and the long hair, had turned and was looking straight at her.

Buffy jerked her eyes away and nearly collided with Remus where he’d stopped.

“Here we are,” he said, and stepped heavily up onto the carriage he was standing next to, the first one in the line.

The corridor of the train was lit by iron lanterns hanging at intervals on the walls. It smelled of wood and damp, of smoke, and a whole other, living smell that Buffy couldn’t recognize but thought she could guess at. It crawled over her skin as if she were walking through a slow, lazy spring rain, the wind catching her in the face and cooling her skin, but when she opened her eyes there was no rain and no wind, only the back of Remus’s head in front of her and the glow of the lamplight around them.

“This is it,” said Remus, stopping at a particular compartment. He knocked, and then slid the door open, motioning for her to go in first.

Buffy stepped across the threshold with the fingers of one hand touching the hilt of her knife.

The light streaming through the window was weak and watery, glimmering through runnels of rainwater. A break of lightening turned everything in the compartment, including the girl already sitting there, momentarily black and white.

Buffy stopped.

The girl smiled. Her hair was short and improbably pink.

“You must be Buffy Summers,” she said cheerfully. Getting to her feet, she stuck out a hand. “I’m Tonks. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Buffy stared at the proffered hand.

Tonks’s smile faltered. The hand pulled slowly back.

“Please sit,” said Remus, motioning to the window seat on the right. Buffy edged by Tonks, taking the seat with something like bone-weary relief. Her suitcase she put down at her feet.

Both her hands were free now.

“Heard lots about you from Dumbledore,” Tonks was saying, recovering quickly. “Is it really true that you lived on the Boca del Inferno?”

The train was beginning to move. With a shriek of whistles, it lurched into motion, the noise of people shouting last goodbyes trickling through the closed door from outside and down the train. The rain against the windows made it hard to see anything, and Buffy fixed her look on it. The muscles between her neck and shoulders ached, and the flesh beneath her eyes throbbed.

“Yes,” she said.

Remus took the seat nearest the door with a quiet sigh. Tonks took the one facing him, and that left Buffy in the window seat on the same side as Remus.

Tonks was eyeing her leather jacket. So was Remus, actually, but neither said anything. Buffy watched the window.

“Looking forward to it, then?” asked Tonks.

Buffy turned her head. “Looking forward to what?”

“Hogwarts, of course,” said Tonks, put off. “Dumbledore didn’t tell us much, but weren’t you—”

Remus cleared his throat.

Tonks shut up.

Buffy turned back to the window.

They sat, Tonks looking at Buffy, Buffy looking out the window, and Remus trying to seem casual and relaxed despite the two of them. Tonks opened her mouth several times, but always stopped just on the verge of speaking. The light now was wan and whitish, Buffy’s hand sallow and skeletal in it. The seat rumbled ominously beneath her. From the corridor and through the walls came voices, laughing and talking.

Buffy looked at Remus. “Hey.”

Tonks flinched. Remus looked at her mildly. “Yes?”

“Tell him to stop staring at me.”

They just sat there, looking at her, Tonks with widening eyes.

In one movement, Buffy pulled the knife from beneath her jacket, leaned through the space between the seats, and jammed the blade three inches deep into the wood of the backrest.

“I said,” breathed Buffy, each word knifing through her teeth, eyes fixed on the empty space in front of her, “stop. Staring. At. Me.”

Tonks had stilled mid-motion, her hand beneath her robe. Remus was halfway upright.

No one moved.

“Put it away, girl,” growled a low, harsh, male voice.

Buffy wrenched the knife free and sat back.

There was a flicker, a kind of folding in the light from the window, and then a heavily scarred chin appeared in midair, followed by a gash of a mouth, and a nose missing most of the tip.

Those bits of him that she could now see, those disfigured pieces of a man’s face, hung there before her.

“It’s not nice to spy on people,” said Buffy. “It gets you stabbed.”

The mouth didn’t move and no one said anything, but the Eye that had been fixed on her wasn’t there.

Buffy slumped back down and closed her eyes. Exhaustion dragged at her with raw fingers.

They were looking at her, she could feel it, but suddenly she didn’t care anymore. She squeezed her eyes shut and turned into the corner, pressing her cheek against the window. The hilt of her knife was digging into her side, a heavy, comforting coldness on her hip, and she hadn’t been able to relax in so long—

—can’t sleep can’t sleep can’t sleep—

Her eyes opened. Tonks was poised as if getting up, eyes wide. Buffy closed her eyes again.

She drifted. Remus was a warm presence next to her, giving off body heat like a furnace. She hadn’t been warm since…since before. Since Los Angeles. It made her want to lean the other way, to press her cheek against his arm, wrap him around her like a coat.

Except that beneath the exhaustion, beneath the sleep, he smelled like blood.

The window darkened. The rain got heavier and the cold went deeper and the compartment was damper and damper until it was almost unbearable. Her blood was congealing in the miserable humidity, her skin was grafting onto the seat. Minutes passed in excruciating seconds, or maybe hours. The glass of the window became rimed with white.

The Tonks person was humming under her breath. Remus was dozing, each breath a low, hungry growl…

The Mouth-and-Nose hadn’t moved at all.

“Think she’s sleeping,” Tonks whispered to Remus, who woke with a flinch. “Poor girl, she looks knackered.” Pause. “Did Dumbledore tell either of you anything? Because he didn’t tell me why—”

“She’s not sleeping, Tonks,” said Remus quietly.

Tonks shut up.

When Buffy opened her eyes, it was to find Remus looking straight at her.

“Are we there yet?” asked Buffy.

He gave her a half-smile. “Not quite,” he said. “Bit of a ways to go.”

“Hungry?” Tonks elbowed Mr. Mouth-and-Nose in what Buffy guessed would be his ribs. “Haven’t got anything with us, but I’m sure Mad-Eye would be happy to run out and nick something from the cart—”

“You’d bet on that, would you?” a stranger’s hoarse voice growled, the voice of a smoker.

Buffy turned and stared out the window. The rain had become a deluge, round drops that made noises like pebbles hitting the glass. The lantern’s glow was golden and hot.

“Moody?” she heard Remus say. She heard someone moving, heard the brush of cloth on cloth.

There was something moving at the window.

“Going for a look,” the same voice growled. “Got a feeling.”

A white face pressed to the fogged glass.

“Well, try not to—”

“Look out,” said Buffy, and took a firm grip on her knife.

The window exploded. Glass shattered everywhere, and Tonks gasped and pressed her hand to the long line of blood on her cheek. At the ragged hole that had been the window, a black thing—no, not a black thing, a woman—a pale, gaunt woman with unnaturally long arms and legs and neck, something greenish to her face—

Black, shining eyes, a huge, nightmare mouth of white, broken teeth—

A hand, nothing but skin stretched over bone, the fingers as long and jointed as a spider’s legs, swiped viciously at Buffy. She jerked, legs pulling just out of reach as she slid backward on the slick seat and into Remus’s lap. The compartment made an awful noise, a groan and shriek of tortured metal, and leaned dangerously to one side, throwing them all onto the floor in a tangle of limbs. Rain poured through the broken window, dripped from filthy hanks of black hair. The lantern’s light went out and everything was suddenly pitch black. The broken pieces of the window glowed red and orange from the sparks flying from the wheels of the train scraping against the rail.

“Moody,” Remus shouted in her ear. A light appeared at Tonks’s hand, from her wand.

The thing at the window pulled its lips back into a snarl. It joggled its head back and forth and then lunged, almost completely inside now, emaciated arms flailing for a grip, black hair everywhere. The compartment rocked and groaned again. Buffy, struggling out of the tangle of Remus’s arms, saw that face coming at them, mouth stretched wide to sink its teeth into Tonks’s leg.

Buffy’s foot lashed out. The heel of her boot sank to the sole in the creature’s left eye.

A shriek, a howl, a terrible, heart-stopping wail, and the woman-thing tore its face free, falling back toward the window, the gaping wound where its eye should have been dribbling white jelly. Buffy shook off Tonks’s arm and was on her feet, a hand on the overhead, a foot in each seat, body hung low, eyes on the thing’s face, hyperaware of where its hands were, its teeth. The thing hissed, baring its teeth but not opening its mouth, and there was the moment, there was where Buffy could bring up her knife and—

“No!” A hand, large and large-knuckled, came down on her shoulder, practically picked her up as it yanked her back. “Get out—”

Remus grabbed her by the arm, pulled. He had the door open, was shoving her through it. “Go, go—”

Let go of me, was what Buffy wanted to yell, to snarl, all her exhaustion swept away by the adrenaline of battle, but then the compartment pitched nearly onto its side and both she and Remus toppled out into the corridor, slamming up against the opposite wall hard enough to make Buffy gasp.

Remus had gone limp. The door shuddered in its frame. Everything was suddenly, horribly quiet.

Buffy sat up. Her heartbeat was a cannon firing in her ears. At first, her brain just couldn’t process. Everything was so—no—normal. The lantern-light was steady; the quiet was punctuated by faint voices behind closed compartment doors. No other noise. Buffy quickly looked up and down the corridor—no one. The door to their part of the train clattered as if a heavy wind was behind it.

Abruptly, it slammed open, spraying water. Buffy was on her feet and between it and Remus before the door’s handle could hit the edge of the frame.

Tonks stumbled out, eyes wide. Her cheek was still bleeding, but her wand was firmly in her hand. Otherwise, she looked whole. Her hair clung to her scalp.

“Bloody hell,” she said weakly, and then saw Remus. “Bloody hell.”

“He’s fine,” said Buffy. “He just hit his head. What happened?”

Before Tonks could answer, Remus groaned and sat up. His eyes were slightly unfocused. “What happened?” he asked, his voice low and guttural.

“Mad-Eye got it,” said Tonks. She was fingering the blood on her face. “All right, Remus? Yeah, was a banshee—I think? Would’ve had it myself, but couldn’t see a thing—” She stopped, threw a look at the closed door just next to theirs. “Let’s get inside, then, before one of the prefects come nosing. I'd rather not explain this to a Head.”

Buffy took Remus’s arm, helped him up. When her fingers touched his wrist, brushing the skin as she gripped his arm, she thought she felt him flinch, the muscles of his arm tensing, and she let go.

His skin was very hot.

Inside, the compartment was a complete mess. The floor was flooded and broken glass glittered through the film. Where the window had been there was now a gaping hole of jagged wood and metal, and the walls were scraped and—Buffy noticed—scorched. The lantern had been relit, but the panes were missing. The cushions of the seat had been ripped and blackened with char.

In the middle of it all stood a man in a brown coat. He turned to glare at them as they came in, and Buffy didn’t even pretend not to stare.

“Think I killed it,” the man growled. “Not sure—have to look for the, hm, body, later.”

“That’s Mad-Eye,” Tonks explained to Buffy. “He was supposed to be lookout—until you caught him at it, anyway.”

“I’d like to hear how, too,” growled Mad-Eye. Maybe all he did was growl. “Not so many who can see through an Invisibility Cloak.”

Buffy didn’t answer that, just moved to stand next to him, looking out through the gaping hole at the rain blowing by. “How did that thing get here?”

She didn’t have to see it happen to know that the three were exchanging looks. “We’re not sure,” Remus said finally. Neither Tonks nor Moody said anything. They obviously didn’t want to talk about it with Buffy still standing there.

Not that it mattered—she had just noticed something more important. “Where’s my suitcase?”

“Wherever the banshee is,” said Mad-Eye shortly. His Eye was staring directly up into his brain.

Buffy closed her eyes. “All my stuff is in there.” Everything.

“Don’t worry,” said Tonks. “I’m sure we can, erm, find it—”

From ahead, of them, through the lashing rain, the air whistle shrilled, long and almost unbearably loudly. With a squeal and grating of wheels, the train began to slow.

“Hogwarts,” said Remus, peering out into the dark. “We’re here.”

Buffy closed her eyes. Her hands clenched into fists.

“Come on,” said Remus. He nodded to Tonks. “Take care of this, please? I have to get Mad-Eye and Miss Summers up to Hogwarts.”

“We’ll wait,” growled Mad-Eye. The train was slowing down. “I want the other students off before we go.”

“Reparo,” Tonks was saying.

Buffy watched. The water stains were removing themselves from the wall, the pieces of glass on the floor picking themselves up, the water receding like a tide going out. She watched as the cushions straightened and unscorched, as the wall began rebuilding as if a crew of carpenters were laboring away.

Her hair was probably a mess. There probably wasn’t time for a shower, either.

Buffy sat down.

No one spoke for the next ten minutes or so, during which the train slowly emptied of students. Mad-Eye stood at the door, glancing out, and Remus had a quiet argument with Tonks over whether or not he should let her look at the bump on his head.

Everything smelled of damp and mold. Tonks was trying not to stare at the white jell that still smeared Buffy’s boot heel. Mad-Eye couldn’t seem to look anywhere else.

“Let’s go,” growled Mad-Eye. He put on a hat he’d pulled from his pocket, as brown and worn as his coat. Remus followed Buffy out, and Tonks smiled at Buffy as they left. Buffy didn’t look back.

The storm had gotten worse, as they discovered getting off of the train, the downpour like a million needles in the skin, drenching everything within seconds. The platform on which they emerged was already empty. Mad-Eye squinted into the darkness, stumping right up to the edge, his clawed metal foot ringing against the concrete. Remus sneezed, head and hair twitching in a way that reminded Buffy nonsensically of a puppy. Buffy, somewhat refreshed by the bracing wind, was the first to see what was waiting for them.

“What are those?” she asked, her voice low.

Remus looked at her. “You can see them?”

Buffy didn’t answer. Mad-Eye’s Eye was spinning madly.

“Those are thestrals,” said Remus. Then, with only the slightest hesitation, “Only people who have seen death can see them.”

Buffy felt a shiver die somewhere on her spine, and irony was cold in her throat. Buffy smiled, had it occur to her only a beat too late that smiling was probably not appropriate, and for the life of her couldn’t manage anything but, “Oh.”

Dead white eyes were fixed on her. Wings of articulated bone and stretched membrane twitched up and down in the wind. Their coats were glossy black, matted with the wet, and there was something vaguely horse-like about all of them, with long noses and horse-like shapes. One opened and closed its mouth, though it made no noise, and it had sharp, carnivorous teeth.

There were two of them, these thestrals, hitched to the black carriage standing at the edge of the platform. The wings were still but for how the wind moved them, and both were staring directly at Buffy. No movement, no sound, no anything, but there they were, immobile, attention fixed very much on her. She could see drops of rain trickling over the whites of the eyes, the faint, rising mist of the rain striking their flesh.

“Stop it,” she said without thinking.

Both bony, black heads swiveled away.

Buffy took a deep, jarring breath. Remus was motionless.

Mad-Eye snorted.

“Come on,” said Remus, and held the door for Buffy. She got in, followed by Remus and Mad-Eye right behind him. The door creaked shut. A lurch, a shudder of the axles, and they were on their way.

Despite there being no driver, the carriage moved surely and quickly, bumping and swaying, springs squeaking along. Everything smelled sickly sweet, like rot and lichen, and it came to her, with a feeling of something like a rock in her stomach, that the reason everything felt and smelled so comfortably familiar was because she was reminded of what a grave smelled like.

“Nervous?” asked Remus.

No. “No,” said Buffy, and stared out the window. She felt him looking at her, felt his eyes on her face, but he didn’t try again.

They were going over a hill. Outside the window, a high stone wall had appeared, and they were following its curving line. The rain was getting worse. Lightening split the sky often enough to leave afterimages in even Buffy’s vision, and thunder crashed again and again behind thick, black clouds.

At some point they made a sharp right turn that nearly upset the whole rig. Then the sound of the rain on the carriage roof stopped altogether, and the wheels were rolling over not grass but some kind of pavement, the rattle echoing hollowly in all directions. The stone wall was still there, except now it was fixed in places with flickering lanterns, drifting past in floating wisps of pale light.

Mad-Eye was staring out the other window. Remus’s eyes were closed. Buffy felt the shape of her knife pressing into her skin, felt the cold weight of it.

Finally, just when Buffy was trying to decide whether she was going to be able to get up again, the carriage heaved to a stop.

No one moved. Mad-Eye’s Eye was rolling every which way. Remus looked carefully out the window.

“McGonagall,” he said, and some of the tension eased out of the air.

Mad-Eye thumped the door open, getting out first and with his wand in his hand. The rain had not slackened, and Buffy could see how his brown coat was soaked through before he’d taken two steps.

Remus swung out into the rain without hesitation, but then turned back to the door. With a movement that was only awkward by how careful he was in it, he stretched out his arm, making it and his cloak into a sort of makeshift covering, and offered his free hand.

Buffy stared at him. He met her eyes with a stare of his own, and she got the distinct feeling that he was testing her in some way. At the same time, there was something so shy and unfamiliar about his expression that her anger cooled before it could reach the surface.

“Miss Summers,” he said quietly.

They hurried up a small flight of slick stone steps to a pair of huge wooden doors, where Mad-Eye strode up to slam his fist into the right one, a single, booming knock. It opened without further prompting, offering a wedge of light, and the disfigured old man disappeared inside without another glance back.

“Here we are,” said Remus. “Hogwarts.” He moved toward the door.

Buffy didn’t. His arm pressed against her shoulders, the hand on her shoulder tightening reflexively as he realized she wasn’t moving with him.

He looked at her. “Miss Summers?”

His voice was soft now, and concerned. His smell was the smell of tea and damp wool, a wet, grown man who hadn’t slept and wore exhaustion like a coat, and, beneath that, something else, a strange, familiar smell that made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

The gap between the doors was brightly lit. Buffy stared at it, at the yellow light burning through the rain, and behind her she heard the carriage groan as it drove off into the howling darkness, leaving them standing there in the storm.

“I,” she whispered, “I…I don’t…”

His hand gripped her shoulder. She felt him pause, felt him brace himself as if against something about to hit him.

“I don’t know what you’re afraid of,” said Remus, “but I promise I will not let anything hurt you.”

Buffy…stopped. She looked up at Remus, wondering if he’d really just said what he’d said. Remus himself looked somewhat shocked, and very embarrassed. He took his arm from Buffy’s shoulders, leaving her cold, and she surprised herself by missing it.

“Er,” said Remus. “I mean, ah…which I would do. For, um. Anyone.”

He stopped. They stood there, mutually embarrassed, drenched from head to foot, the thrum of the rain on the stone and the wood the only sound.

“OK,” said Buffy.

He looked at her. She looked at him.

Resignation filled her head.

“OK,” she said again, and stepped forward through the doors.
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