Disclaimer: *checks* Nope, still not mine.
Nods: Thanks again to everyone who reviewed, and since I can't remember which of my recs I've already aknowledged, I'm thanking everyone by name with this one. They are: alynambered, AmeliaSylver, Angelfirenze, borgrabbit, christytrekkie, Deltorek, DurhamRed, Earthmage, echosrevenge, ecsnorway, FanFictionDreamer, GleekSam, ibleeddrama, KHealy, Krimie, Kristen, LiastraLee, Loatroll, LordSchmodder, Malu, MedievalDreamer, MrAANVIK, Panaka, pinkhairedharry, RingofHeart, Runewolf, Shadowman, staryman, SwimmieTeam, tchizek, tealruby, valdimarian, Winterhart, and Wolfkin
A/N: Apologies to everyone for this taking so horribly long to get out. To say I've been distracted from fic would be a gross understatement, considering that since I last posted, I planned a wedding, got married, and have been dealing with all kinds of interesting things that nobody tells you is part and parcel to being a newlywed, like dealing with name changes on every kind of personal information in existence. Also, I feel like I've been running a private taxi service for my friends and family lately.
Eh. I'm happy. I just wish I had the time to write more often.
Oh well. Enjoy. Let me know what you think.
Severus smiled slightly to himself as he walked away from the Master’s Library at Malboral. Of all his daughters, it seemed that Dawn had inherited her mother’s irrepressible curiosity, and willingness to push the rules to their absolute limit. She had found the library remarkably quickly. Briefly, he wondered if she’d suss out the location of the Unplottable Library at the Manor as quickly. Old Abraxas had kept a copy of every book in his possession in that one, while using the Malboral Library to conduct his personal business and do his own research into whatever took his fancy during the summer holidays.
Hastening to his and Joyce’s bedroom, he changed out of his heavy black potioneer’s robes and into something more appropriate to summertime in the south of France, rather than late spring in the Scottish Highlands. That was a lesson he’d learned long ago. The robe he donned was lightweight, with the best permanent cooling charms on it, a rich forest green, with silver piping. Jocelyn had bought it for him years before, and it still fit perfectly. He quickly ran a comb through his hair, and clubbed it in the back with a silver ribbon. A glance in the mirror showed him that he was at least presentable, and the formidable old French witch should have no objections to his appearance. Lady Hélène was a stickler for propriety, and showing up badly dressed would be certain to raise her ire. She was sure to remember the robe itself, and notice that it fit him as well as it had when it was new, which would please her. The Dowager approved of men who kept in shape. To be honest, it felt good to get out of the unrelieved black of his professional attire, and wear something that showed off what looks he had, which should meet with Elisabeth’s fashion-conscious approval, as well. Then, he snorted at his vanity, and turned to go.
As he reached the doorway of the suite, he paused, then turned back to retrieve a piece of jewellery he hadn’t worn in years. He’d left it here, at Malboral Keep, when he’d sent Jocelyn and the girls into hiding. He twisted the platinum band over his knuckle as he strode toward the front door. When it was seated against the base of his finger, he flexed his hand, settling his wedding ring comfortably into place. It felt good to be wearing it again. He took a moment to consider the emerald cut green diamond, flanked by smaller white diamonds. Engraved with the crests of the Malfoy and Prince families, the ring was part of a bridal set that had been commissioned by Jocelyn’s parents before they died, and she insisted on using them. He hadn’t argued.
While the weather wasn’t quite hot enough to warrant the cooling charms at Malboral, he walked quickly enough to the gate that he didn’t get cold and, once beyond them, Disapparated immediately. The midday sun when he appeared on the road outside Dame Hélène’s home made him grateful he’d thought to change. Pulling his wand out of its holster, he laid it flat on his hand, and thought of his daughter, as he intoned, “Point me.” The wand turned a lazy circle, and settled with its tip aimed at the path to the vineyards. Severus smirked. Of course the old Lady would be teaching the children about viniculture... she treated grape growing and wine-making as though it was the key to discovering the secrets of the universe, and love in particular. She would observe the young suitors of her great-granddaughters closely, taking careful notice of how they handled the vine. He still remembered his own induction into that aspect of the Malfoy family vividly. He began walking in the direction of the winery, keeping a careful eye on the wand to ensure he didn’t stray from his course.
Buffy grinned at the sight of the giant open barrels. Exchanging a knowing look with Calypso, she asked, “Bonne Maman, do you still hire young men and women from the village to come help with the pigeage?”
Hélène smiled, “Mais oui, ma petite.
Why would I put an end to such a pleasant tradition? But perhaps you would wish to come and dance with them this year? You’re both old enough now, and I know how desperately you wished to help when you were small.”
Harry tilted his head curiously. “Dance?”
Calypso smiled at him. “It’s a centuries old method of extracting the juice from the grapes. Young women climb barefoot into those open barrels, and harvesters, mostly young men, bring baskets full of grapes to dump in. The girls stamp out the juice as they dance to the offerings of local musicians. The whole affair has the air of a festival, and the music and dancing doesn’t stop until the entire harvest has been processed, though the musicians, harvesters, and dancers switch often so that no one becomes overly fatigued. It’s said that the best girls for the dancing are young women who are in love, and unmarried, and the best harvesters are the young men who wish for those maidens’ favour.” She smirked, and added, “Bonne Maman once told us that a young witch who treads the juice from the grapes offered by her beloved infuses the juice with the essence of her love, and that if her beloved should then drink of the wine she made, he will be hers forever. I thought it was horribly mushy girl nonsense at the time, of course.” The smirk turned mischievous, and then she looked at Dame Hélène and commented, “I hope we can return for the Harvest Festival, Bonne Maman. It would do Harry good to learn to harvest, sort, and destem the grapes.”
“And of course, you would not be at all averse to the opportunity to dance upon the grapes for your own wedding wine, would you, ma petite?”
Calypso gave Harry a thoughtful look. “That would mean at least three years for the vintage to settle. I don’t know if we’ll be waiting that long, Bonne Maman.”
Hélène gave them an arch look. “What is the problem with a proper courtship, may I ask? Your father may have rushed into his marriage with your mother, but when he met your mother he was emotionally devastated and reeling with grief. He needed the stability. You have no such need. Or is there another reason to hurry?” she asked sharply, looking at Calypso’s waist.
Harry blanched, and Calypso blushed, replying hurriedly, “No, no, Bonne Maman, Aunt Joyce had Uncle Severus brew me a potion. We’re being very careful, it’s just, with everything that’s happening, Harry thinks he might have to call for the Council to convene, and... er...”
Harry placed a possessive hand on Calypso’s arm. “I want there to be no doubt that Calypso will be the Black Queen, should I not survive. I know that’s a morbid thought, but Voldemort is the Slytherin King, and if I have to call the Council into session, it’s likely that one of us will die while we sit Council.”
Hélène gave Harry a considering look. “Laudable as your intention may be, there is no reason to marry in haste. You have clearly not discovered everything about the Twelve Kings if you believe there will be violence in the Chamber. My Octavius explained the wards in place in the ancient seat of power of the British Kings. His grandmere
was the last known Queen, you see.”
Harry blinked. “Queen?”
Hélène cocked an amused eyebrow at both boys, who were in their turn looking dubious. “You had not come across any references to the Queen in your studies? What is the British body politic coming to?” Sighing, she explained, “Unlike the Twelve Kings, who inherit their titles through Succession, the Queen is Chosen. No-“ she shook her head at Buffy, who was just about to speak, “she is not Chosen in the manner of the Vampire Slayer – normal from birth, until she is suddenly empowered when the previous member of the line dies. The Queen is Chose in utero, when the previous Queen passes. The magic of the Queen is unique. She has skills unlike other witches, and she is naturally gifted with magic outside the realm of normal Witches and Wizards. Her role in the Council is not that of a Ruler, but of a Mediator. She makes the Council thirteen, and she is responsible for preventing violence between the Kings, as well as maintaining the link between the Kings, The Chief Warlock, and the Other in the interest of maintaining certain failsafes set in place by the first Council.”
“The Other?” Harry asked, confusion creasing his brow.
Hélène waved a dismissive hand. “In good time, cher.
For now, it is enough for you to know that the Other exists. I was explaining the Queen non?
The first Kings approached a very powerful Druid sorceress and asked her to be part of their Council. She bound herself to the Council, so that after her death, her gifts began to be passed on from witch to witch, though the essence of the Queen is masked until she is needed to sit Council. The magics imbued in the masking effect are deliberate, and have endured for centuries, designed to prevent any possibly corrupt King from subverting the power of the Council for his own purposes.”
With a Gallic shrug, Hélène stated firmly, “It is of no consequence for the moment. The Queen will be revealed when the Council is convened. Until that time, it is best not to dwell upon it. Even she may not know what she is. Eh bien,
my point affirms itself. There is no need to rush through your courtship. Enjoy it, mes enfants.
Experience all the romantic adventures of courting before you worry about wedding. It will enrich your marriage to take some time and properly court.”
Calypso and Harry exchanged a look, and smiled. Then, both turned their eyes on Dame Hélène again, and Calypso bowed her head slightly. “Yes, Bonne Maman.”
“Yes, Lady Hélène,” Harry agreed.
Hélène snorted softly. “When the time comes, I hope you will call me Bonne Maman, as domes filles, Harry. You as well, Blaise. I’m far too old to be addressed so stiffly.”
“Y-yes, Ma’am. Someday,” Harry stammered, blushing and smiling a bit nervously.
Blaise smiled, and inclined his head, though he didn’t speak. He had been rather quiet since the girls had thoroughly flattened his confidence in his grasp of French. He’d been sifting through all the different memories he had of his mother speaking French, and what the woman had told him the interplays had meant. That she’d lied to him about them didn’t surprise him, but there was a difference between knowing his mother was usually less than forthright with him, and knowing that she’d been openly propositioning her guests in front of him. When he returned home, he was going to have much to say to her. As he was ruminating on his mother’s shocking behaviour, he let his eyes drift around the winery, and his attention was caught by a flash of green near the bottling shed. He blinked, and touched Buffy’s arm, “I believe your parents are here, my dear.”
Buffy startled, looking in the direction he was indicating. Her father was walking up the path to the winery, his wand balanced on his hand, pointing to the extraction barrels. She hurried toward him. “Dad! Where’s Mom? Is everything okay?” Then, her eyes ran over his attire, and she grinned. “You look nice, Dad. I was starting to think you forgot what colours were.”
Severus returned the grin, and deadpanned, “Better to forget your... unique approach to humour, Elisabeth.” Giving her a gentle hug, he looked past her, directly at Dame Hélène. “My Lady. Jocelyn sends her regards, and asked me to come collect the children, and you as well, if you wouldn’t mind coming to Malboral. She would not have disturbed your reunion with the children, but she’s made a discovery that she thinks might be important.”
“I see. Ah well, two days is sufficient introduction, I think. Though I will want to spend more time with you all to really get to know you,” Hélène smiled at her great-granddaughters and their swains. “We will return to the house, and I shall have Miri prepare the coach for our departure. We will enjoy our midday meal first, no need to go hungry on our way n’est-ce pas?
“Of course.” Severus smiled at his wife’s grandmother. She was every bit the practical, sharp-eyed old Lady he remembered. He bowed and formally offered her his arm, ignoring the looks of surprise on the young generation’s faces. “I noticed the vines are looking well. Might I inquire what the tannin content of this year’s crop is? I did not take the liberty to taste...”
Hélène sighed in contentment. “Ah, Severus. I have missed you. I was worried for you, after... there was no need to shut yourself off from all of us when you and Jocelyn decided to make everyone believe she had died.” She slapped him lightly on the arm. “We will talk further about that later, but for now, there is the harvest to consider. Try, taste,” she urged, picking a grape and handing it to him. “Tell me what you think. Your nose and palate have few equals in the world.”
Buffy blinked in shock, as did Harry. Hélène smiled at Harry. “Dear Severus can distinguish the variations between every wine he has ever tasted. Even amid the excellence of our wines, few vintages could match the ones we produced during the years in which Severus was interesting himself in the production.”
“Dad?” Buffy seemed stunned by the notion. Calypso was actually gaping, as was Blaise.
Hélène smirked while Severus looked bland, and a bit smug at his grandmother-in-law’s obvious approval. “Ah, but winemaking is much like potions,” Hélène explained loftily. “As I’ve explained to every apprentice vintner to come under my tutelage, foolish wand waving and silly incantations have no place in the vineyards. As such, I don’t expect many of them to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is wine-making...”
Harry, Calypso, and Blaise gasped, and looked at Severus, while Buffy looked amused, if a little confused. Severus’ smirk was very obvious, though the amused sparkle in his dark eyes softened the look somewhat.
Hélène laughed, and patted Severus’ arm. “Ah, Severus, I did tell you that was an excellent introduction. I’m so glad that you decided to take my advice and keep it. I was very impressed by it. It’s gratifying to see that I wasn’t the only one.”
Jess was humming quietly to herself as she worked, unaware of anything but the flow of her own special magic, and the feel of the burn damage under her fingers fading bit by bit, her skin still tingling ever so slightly as she felt her healing magic take hold and interact with her patient. It had bothered her at first, the persistent sensation... almost but not quite a stinging feeling, neither an itch, but a sensation not unlike she’d felt when she’d had her wisdom teeth extracted and had to rinse with hydrogen peroxide... a fizzy, slightly tingling feeling, prickling. Not exactly unpleasant, but a bit strange. Like there was some kind of previously unnoticeable reaction happening with her magic, any time it came into contact with this particular patient’s. She’d made a mental note to write out all her observations throughout the process once she was finished, knowing that Master Brown would expect a thorough report. He was so very much like what she remembered of her father from when she was younger that she thought the meticulous attention to detail might be a family trait. Therefore, she was paying special attention to the feel of her magic, and she wondered, fleetingly, if that was why she was noticing the tingle... because she was ‘watching’ for anything unusual.
The only times her peace and concentration were interrupted were when a House elf, who introduced herself as Teela – and was evidently the child of her Aunt’s elf, Talla - brought her meals, and by the time she was ready to fall into the cot Teela had brought in for her, the reconstruction of Charlie’s face, scalp, and neck was finished, and the burns on his shoulder were nearly gone. By her estimate, he would be ready to be released from her care the following day sometime around noon, pending Master Brown’s final approval, of course. She smirked slightly. She was quite sure that the old Master Healer hadn’t actually expected results this fast or this good. From what she’d read, potions of spells would have taken several weeks at least to completely heal ‘Dragon wrangler Weasley’. On impulse, she brushed a light kiss to her patient’s brow before she turned to settle on the cot, and lay down to rest. Her last waking thought was that he reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t place just who.
The neighbourhood was utterly ordinary, and yet, a sinister pall hung in the air, causing gooseflesh to rise on her arms as she wrapped them around herself in a protective hug and shivered. Nervously, she tucked a stray lock of hair that had been in her eyes behind her ear, and looked around. Her eyes fell on a shiny black car, and widened in disconcerted surprise. She had no voice, but she knew she’d called his name. His head turned, and he met her eyes for just a moment, deep grief shadowing his gaze before he turned away from her again.
It was dark, and she had no idea where she was, but she could hear. The darkness receded gradually as she began hearing them. Angry male voices. It sounded like they were arguing, but at first their words didn’t make sense, though one of the voices seemed familiar. Then, suddenly, the more strident of the two became clear just as she got a look at the face of the other one. She gasped in recognition.“Dammit, Sam, I need to know you’re with me in this. She’s been gone for months, and we have a job to do. Dad’s still missing, and it’s on us to ice these witch bitches before they kill anybody else!”
*What in Merlin’s name was Sam doing hunting witches? The last I knew, he was back at Sanford, prepping to sit his exams.*
She frowned as she heard her former fiancé’s response. “I know that, Dean. This isn’t about... Her. I just...”
“You just nothin’, Sammy. Your head hasn’t been in the game ever since you started having those weird ass nightmares.”
Sam huffed in aggravation. “See this? This right here, it’s why I didn’t tell you about the dreams in the first place. Every time I disagree with you, you blame them. Jess wasn’t a witch, and this has nothing to do with her, or with the dreams. But yeah, I’m worried. I keep seeing her, Dean. She’s in trouble.”
The other man, Dean, scrubbed his face with his hand and groaned. “Okay Sam, after we take out these demon humping witches, we’ll try to look up your ex again, and find out why you keep seeing her die.”
*Die!* Jess squealed, and clapped her hands over her mouth, as Sam turned his head and looked right at her. He whitened, and called her name, his voice suddenly drowned out by the roar of a fiery wind that blew up out of nowhere, and swept her away from the scene.
Jess woke with a cry, her hand pressed to her pounding heart, wild eyes darting everywhere as she tore herself free of the dream. “Sam!” She gasped a few more frightened breaths before her gaze fell on her patient, and the restful solidity of him as he slept gave her a point of reference and reality asserted itself in the dark surgery. “Just a dream.” Shaking her head slightly, Jess stood, and walked to the table by the door, grateful to the House elves for providing a ewer of cold water and a couple of glasses as she poured herself a drink. As her hands stopped shaking and she reasserted control over her emotions, she chided herself for reacting so strongly to a dream. She drained the glass, checked on Charlie, and gratefully stretched out on her cot once more, falling asleep almost before she finished pulling the blanket over herself again.
Blue eyes opened and studied the blonde carefully. Charlie Weasley remembered calling the lovely young woman an angel, and he was half convinced that he had actually died and she really was a divine creature, because he’d never healed from third degree burns this quickly. Even magic had its limits, and if the injuries happened too close together, as was common when handling dragons, it often took much longer still before recovery was noticeable, let alone complete. He wasn’t entirely sure, since he thought he’d been sedated a lot of the time, but he didn’t think it had been more than two days since the accident, and the pain was almost completely gone. His forehead tingled where she’d kissed it earlier, and he touched the spot gingerly with his fingers, stunned to find that not only had she healed all of his burns, and most of his old burn scars, but the knot where his head had met the edge of a table at a full run when he was six was gone as well.
He wondered who she’d been having nightmares about, and was struck with the compulsive desire to protect her from her nightmares. As exhaustion started to claim his mind once more, he hoped he would have the chance to find out more about his Healer. She really was a beautiful woman... more beautiful than a Spanish Gold in flight...
Faith shivered, a chill of foreboding washing down her spine. Rolling her shoulders to dispel the sensation, she looked around warily. She might not be as sensitive to the Slayer Dreams as Buffy, but from what she knew from hunting with the other Slayer, her mystical sixth sense was much more developed. Something was watching her. Not a demon, but something that she could definitely feel. Something... malevolent.
Her senses on high alert, the Slayer continued her patrol, scanning everything in her vicinity for threats. The chills kept racing up and down her spine, and eventually, she plucked the cover from one of the many maintenance manholes into the city’s underground utility grid. Almost casually, she dropped into the darkness, and slipped into a small alcove, effectively vanishing against the wall, while keeping her eyes on the opening above her head. Faith waited for several heartbeats, but nothing appeared to block the circle of starlight shining down into the sewers. The disquieting prickle was still there, but it eased as long moments passed without sight or sound of pursuit.
Taking a fortifying breath, Faith stepped out of the alcove, and began her nightly sweep of the tunnels beneath the city. The feeling of being watched dispersed as she hunted, taking down a handful of nesting vampires, and making her way back to the house. After reporting to the Watcher, she went into the bathroom and showered. By the time she was clean and dry, the first fingers of sunrise were shining in through the window, and she pulled on a loose fitting tee shirt and short shorts and made her way to bed.
Within moments, she was asleep.The interior of the house was dark, dank, and grim. Looking around, Faith realized that she was somewhere she couldn’t remember ever having been before. The only sources of light were the small lamps on the dark, squat wooden tables in tow of the corners. The furniture looked positively ancient, although she thought it might have been very nice, once. On a large, sturdy table in the middle of the room, a weird, monstrous head lay. The thing was scaly and mottled black and brown, with large spines coming out of a crest along the back, and long, wickedly sharp looking fangs.
A harsh, sibilant voice sent shivers up her spine – although she couldn’t make out any words, and she looked in the direction from which it had come, trying to see what kind of a man could have such a voice. As she caught sight of the tall, cadaverously thin man a chill of recognition shot through her, though she’d never seen him in person before. He was the Dark Wizard she’d seen in Lucius’ mind. His words were muffled and distorted, but the uncontrolled rage and hate in his eyes was perfectly evident. A rough, growling voice answered him, and she looked at his companion. The man was huge, and ugly. Something about him brought to mind a rabid dog, and in a way of Oz, and she frowned.
Suddenly, the snake-like man’s voice became clear, and she heard “...kill her!” She turned again, just in time to see him point a wand at her and hiss something that sounded like abracadabra, and then a violent green light struck her chest-
and she woke up, gasping. Her chest ached, and she rubbed the spot where the magic had hit her in her dream. There was a tender spot just between her breasts, and she looked down the front of her sleep shirt, her eyes widening when she saw a small red mark, like a burn, on her skin. Faith didn’t have many Slayer dreams, but Dr. Dormer had talked with her about them, explaining them carefully even before Faith was Called, in case she ever did have one... and this was something she’d never heard of, being physically affected by something that happened in a Slayer Dream. If it had ever happened to Buffy, she’d never said. She picked up her dream journal and wrote down every detail she could recall, although it seemed pretty straightforward. The big bad Dark Wizard was going to kill her if she gave him the chance. The dream could mean that the old freak was closing in on their location, or that she was going to end up in England when everything finally went down. Faith decided that worrying about it until the Watcher woke up would be an exercise in frustration, and weird as it had been, it didn’t feel like there was any imminent threat, so she closed her dream journal, and went back to sleep. Tomorrow would be soon enough to talk with the Watcher, and the rest of the gang.
Within the confines of Azkaban prison, the sounds of tormented souls echoed without cease. To one who had been there for more than a few days, life took on a sort of pattern that made sense only in the mind of the confined. New inmates were few and far between, but when they came, they followed a pattern. Screams of abject terror; wails of unmitigated grief as their most painful memories were forcibly replayed again and again in their minds due to the malevolent influence of the Dementors; eventually, uncontrollable weeping and finally broken silence as their minds gave in to the misery and simply shut down. The prisoners who had been there long enough made little sound, until the Dementors came near enough to affect them directly. Then they made various, often random, sounds as they experienced their nightmares. Sometimes, they spoke... mostly they didn’t.
The Aurors assigned to transport prisoners into the prison and, very rarely, out of it, saw all these behaviours, but never came to recognise the pattern. However, those attentive enough to the suffering of their charges took note of the reactions of one old man. Rather, it would be better to say that they took note of his utter lack of reaction. Beyond basic, necessary functions, the man never moved, never made a sound. Even before he reached the island fortress that housed the prison, he carried an air of incredible sadness... as though he’d lost something infinitely precious to him, and had no reason to believe he’d ever find it again. Even in the presence of the Dementors, he didn’t change. Not fear, not anger, not a single sound, gesture, or glance gave any indication that he’d even noticed the demonic creatures.
Entering the cell of Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore felt very much like walking into a crypt to his human jailors. One in which the occupant was the only mourner of his own death.
It was into this environment of utter depression that an Auror who had once followed Dumbledore as the leader of the Light made his way. Studying the one time Hero of Wizarding Britain with a mixture of pained disillusionment coupled with compassion, Kingsley Shacklebolt moved to lift the fragile looking old Wizard out of the pile of straw that had served as his bed for the last four months. When he touched the old man’s arm, Dumbledore turned blank eyes on him. When he wrapped his arm around the thin ribcage, a spark appeared in the blue eyes.
“Kingsley?” Dumbledore rasped, in a voice rough from disuse.
Kingsley nodded. “Yes, Albus, it’s me.” He lifted the ancient wizard to his feet and led him out of the cell.
The white head dropped, the weight of his grief weighing heavily on Albus Dumbledore.“I never meant for any of this to happen, Kingsley. How did everything spiral so far out of control?”
“I don’t know, sir. You must come with me, now. Madame Bones has agreed to let Aberforth look after you until your trial. You remember your trial, don’t you, Albus?”
“Yes. I remember.”
“It’s this Monday, Albus.”
“What day is it, Kingsley?”
“It’s Friday, Albus.”
Albus nodded. Three days. Just three more days, and he would be tried for High Treason.
He hoped they killed him quickly when they were through.