Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 17
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
With a soft pop of displaced air, Ron felt the insistent tug at his navel finally lessen and then disappear altogether, the world settling dizzyingly around him as he staggered in between the two gods. Frowning in confusion, the red-haired teen's eyes swept over Serantine's head as he took in the old, aging machinery and the dilapidated structures that surrounded them - and even more importantly, the weak sun that was currently trying to struggle over the hazy horizon. "A portkey?" he murmured, more to himself than to the gods that surrounded him as he fought the panic that threatened to consume him. He was alone now. Alone and very far away from his friends and anyone to help him. Alone with the gods that he had just tricked in order to save Hermione. And somehow.. somehow he knew that things were not about to go his way. "How did you get a portkey?" he asked, pushing past the fear and focusing on the obvious problem that he was faced with. The only way to get a portkey was from an experienced-
"What is he doing here? What happened to you?"
Startled, Ron quickly turned from his place between the two gods, his hazel eyes falling on a familiar figure who was slowly emerging from one of the abandoned muggle buildings. "The watcher?" he asked, struggling to remember the French man's name as his mind vaguely tried to process what was happening.
"He claimed that they were using something called the Fidelius charm," Serantine shrugged as she stepped around the boy and stretched her long, pale arms above her head. "He said that he was the only one who knew their location."
"Their secret keeper?" Bertrone returned, his gray eyes falling on the boy before quickly shaking his head. "While I don't doubt that they've decided to use the Fidelius charm, I'm quite sure that he's not their secret keeper," he stated, his voice flat as he turned away from the boy that was staring at him with incredulous and increasingly accusing hazel eyes. Sighing, he frowned as he took in the blood splattered garments that robed the duo and began to voice his concerns before quickly biting his lip. He decided that he didn't want to know. Even as he had betrayed those that he had worked alongside for the past few months, he had known that the gods would never keep their promises to leave them uninjured. Yet even those fears hadn't been enough to stay his lips as he had told the gods everything that they had wanted to know. If he should survive this battle, and should Celeste be restored to him, he doubted that she would ever be willing to look at him again once she had learned of what he had done... but not even that mattered as long as Celeste was indeed saved.
Bertrone shook away his troubling thoughts as he gazed at the boy once more - this time, sadly. "The real secret-keeper is most likely the boy's godfather or the girl's watcher," he admitted, even as he realized that the boy whose face was slowly darkening in anger, had most likely just sealed his own fate by lying to the Hell Gods.
"Traitor!" Ron hissed, his anger exploding in an outward rush as he finally realized how the gods knew about Hogwarts and who had supplied them with the portkey they had needed in order to make their escape. They had been betrayed, and their betrayer stood before them, his gray eyes revealing nothing as he refused to look the young wizard in the eye.
Sighing in vexed frustration, Serantine turned narrowed eyes upon the young wizard that was so busy glaring at the watcher that he didn't even notice her growing ire. All that time and energy wasted
on a boy who knew nothing. They had had the godfather and
the watcher right before them, and if the boy had only spoken the truth, they would have had both men with them now. And this time, she was sure that she would have been able to make the wizard talk. Within minutes she could of had him singing like a canary as he told her everything that she needed to know. Instead, they were left with nothing but a simple boy who had the gall to lie
to her. Frowning, Serantine crossed her bare arms across her blood-splattered chest, her eyes narrowing even further - and beneath the immense heat of her fiery gaze, the red-haired boy finally ceased in his fruitless anger, fear returning to his hazel eyes as he turned towards her. "Then I see no need to keep this one," she murmured, her words a silky soft breath of air as she advanced on the youth that was more boy than man, his bright freckles standing out on his pale cheeks.
Heart hammering against its cage in his chest, Ron felt as though he was facing a horde of dementors as a deep feeling of cold swept through his long limbs, stealing away every remembrance of hope and happiness as he felt the full weight of icy fear consume him. His mum had always warned him that lying would get him into trouble, yet somehow, Ron doubted that the plump, matronly woman had ever guessed how true her words would be. Yet at the thought of his mother, Ron felt some of the fear melt away to be replaced by an aching burn in his chest. This was going to hurt his family very much... too much. After loosing Fred and George, to lose another son - another brother... it was going to be more than his family could handle. His mum, dad.... Bill and Charlie... Ginny... and even Percy... their numbers had already dropped from seven to five. How could he allow them to lose another? And who would help his brothers with the shop? Who would help Harry and keep him from getting into trouble all alone? And most importantly, who would be there to hold Hermione as she cried? Who would be there to bait her into an argument so that her pain and worries would be forgotten? Who would be there to kiss the past away?
No one would. No one could. Unless...
Feeling as though someone had dumped a bucket of icy water over his head, Ron blinked stupidly at the advancing goddess before his hand tunneled through the deep fabric of his cloak. His wand. How could he have forgotten his wand? How could he have-
As the shiny wood smacked painfully against his reaching hand, Ron found his stunned eyes lifting towards the gray-haired wizard that stared at him with such pity, one hand holding his own wand as the other waited, open and outstretched, for Ron's wand to sail into the man's waiting grip. Unconsciously cradling his injured digits against the scratchy material of his heavy sweater, his traveling cloak swirling around his long legs, Ron couldn't hide the betrayal that seemed to want to bury him beneath its choking gasp. He no longer had the desire to watch his fate unfold before him, and as he felt the goddess' hand fall upon one broad shoulder, another larger hand latching onto the other, he merely closed his eyes and waited for the end to take him.
"Wait," Bertrone cautioned, stopping the gods with his words as he stared at the boy with undisguised pity. "We can use him yet," he murmured as the boy's sad hazel eyes slowly opened and fixed on him once more. Gone was the self-righteous anger and the agonizing betrayal. In its place merely stood a resigned weariness that tore at the French watcher's heart. Forcing his eyes away, Bertrone lifted shaking hands and pulled at a square, thinly wrapped object that was hidden in an inner coat pocket. "I stopped at the godfather's home while you were-"
"No," Ron interrupted, the spark once more returning to his eyes as he took in the small, square mirror that Bertrone held in his aged hands. The mirror that he recognized all too easily as the brother of the one that Sirius had given Harry at Christmas - a gift that was given before the French watcher. "No," he repeated, knowing instantly what the turncoat wanted of him.
"Explain yourself, Watcher," Dahmascus intoned as he silenced the boy with a none-too-gentle squeeze of the young man's shoulder.
"You're holding the best friend of your Key's companion," Bertrone explained as he slowly admired the ancient mirror. "He can contact him using this mirror and convince him to come-"
"I won't," Ron insisted, interrupting the man as he tried to twist free of the god's painful hold. Putting his Gryffindor courage to the test by selflessly sacrificing himself to save Hermione was one thing. But to willingly trick his best friend into leaving whatever sanctuary he and Buffy had found in order to step into a trap? That was an entirely different story and one that Ron knew he would never do. He and Harry had been through far too much over the past seven years. A game of deadly wizarding chess, venturing into the Chamber of Secrets with a defunct wand, being kidnapped by Harry's apparently deranged godfather and standing up against Snape, standing by him (albeit rather towards the end) of the Triwizard Tournament, and then facing down a war by his best friend's side - facing unknown demons and creatures of the night... to think that Bertrone would believe that he had done all of that only to betray Harry in the end was the stupidest thing that he had ever heard. An opinion that he wasn't against voicing, no matter what it brought upon him. "You're crackers," he stated, his voice flat as he glared at the aging watcher. "I wouldn't touch that bloody mirror with a ten foot pole."
"If you want to live you will," Dahm countered, his expression turning stormy as he released the teen. Instantly, the red-headed boy turned to him with incredulous eyes, his fear forgotten as he stared at the god, slowly shaking his head.
"Do you really think I'm that daft?" he asked, his gaze sweeping back and forth between the two gods that Hermione had researched so thoroughly. "I'm dead one way or the other, we both know that," he stated, his words blunt as he took a step away from the duo.
"Then think of your cooperation as a ticket to a quicker, more painless demise," Serantine promised, her eyes narrowing into thin, gray slits as she slowly began advancing on the teen.
"Oh gee, when you put it that
way," Ron muttered before backtracking even further. "Forget it. Next time talk to Snape if you want to find someone to betray Harry. I won't-" he began, his promises silenced by the sharp crack of the fist that pounded against his chin and sent him tumbling to the cracked pavement. Biting back the groan that threatened to break free, Ron grimaced at the coppery taste of blood that flooded his mouth, staining his teeth pink as he turned and spit the gooey mess from his split lips.
"Are you still so sure in your beliefs?" Dahmascus asked as he drew before the downed teenager, blocking the weak winter sunlight and casting the boy into shadow.
"Positive," Ron muttered, ignoring the flare of pain that the small movement caused as he was bodily lifted to his feet by the front of his traveling cloak, only to receive another fist in response - this one catching him in the side over his kidney as bone shattered and dug into tissue, spreading a wave of fiery agony up and down his side. But within minutes, that small pain became lost amongst a much larger host of agonies as the gods released their frustration upon his lean form, delivering their vengeance upon him with a sadistic mirth that would have disgusted him if he hadn't been receiving the beating of his life. Occasionally they would stop to ask if he had changed his mind, but as the time passed, those pauses became more infrequent as they seemed to lose themselves in their twisted game.
Countless hours later... or perhaps merely minutes, the rain of abuse seemed to slowly die away until his body was left trembling upon the blood-stained ground - his blood. Dimly, Ron realized that it had
to be his blood that splattered the black pavement and his blood that seemed to soak through his thick sweater and old trousers. There was so much blood that Ron vaguely found himself wondering how he could possibly bleed that much, yet still maintain his tenuous grip on consciousness. Where was the blissful promise of release that came with the darkness of unconsciousness? Why was he stuck in this hell and most importantly, why had they stopped?
Grimacing, Ron weakly lifted his head, his dark eyes trying vainly to focus his blurry sight on the shapes that seemed to drift around him. And then, with a sudden shift everything came into momentary clarity as his hazel eyes locked on the stoic form of Bertrone as the French watcher stood tall and imposing before his battered body. As though from a great distance, the man's heavily accented words filtered through his foggy brain, his muttered imperio
sounding so vaguely familiar as his consciousness was thrust back into a further corner of his mind.Take the mirror
Sighing softly, Ron weakly pulled himself forward until he was slumped against something hard and unyielding. The pain was gone, as though taken away by magic, and all that remained was a blissful peace that was only interrupted by the commanding voice that echoed around him. Take the mirror? Well that certainly didn't seem so difficult or too much to ask, and without further thought, Ron took the small, square mirror in his blood-stained hands.Call Harry's name into the mirror. Call for Harry
Frowning idly, Ron tried to puzzle as to why such a simple request should be met with such unease. After all, Harry was his friend. His best mate. Why shouldn't he want to contact him? "Harry Potter," he stated, his voice slightly slurred and wet-sounding through his bloody lips. Yet as the name was uttered, the feeling of unease deepened as his mind struggled with something.
"Ron? Ron!" Harry frantically cried as his image wavered into view before Ron, his black hair a stark contrast to his pale features as his green eyes frantically took in his bloody and beaten friend. Within seconds the mirror seemed to shift until both Harry and Buffy were staring back at him, both of their features fixed in mirroring expressions of stunned horror.
"Ron, what happened?" Buffy demanded, her eyes beginning to narrow into twin slits of fire.Tell them that the school was attacked and that the you took a portkey to escape.
Frowning through his pain, Ron struggled with this request, knowing instinctively that this voice that thundered through his mind was not a voice to be trusted. It wanted to hurt Harry and Buffy. It wanted to hurt him. Yet even as he realized this, he found himself unable to prevent the words that fell from his mouth as his features twisted into something that grotesquely resembled fright. "H-Hogwarts was attacked by the Hell Gods. We took a portkey to get away."
"Hogwarts... attacked? Where are you now?" Harry demanded, his face paling even more as Buffy cursed vehemently beside him, her expression torn between anger and despair.Tell him that you are located in a town in the States that is called Cleveland.NO!
that he didn't want to tell them that. He knew
it with every fiber of his being. He knew that he should fight and should throw off whatever was holding him down, no matter the peace that it promised. Then again, Ron had never quite mastered the art of throwing off the Imperius Curse. It didn't matter how long he and Harry had worked on it, or how easily Harry always managed to throw the curse, for Ron, it was near impossible. And with his body as battered and broken as it was, with his spirit so weak and tired... how could he refuse? "W-We're in some Yank muggle town. Cleveland," he responded, his bloody spittle spraying the old mirror.
"Ohio?" Buffy murmured, a perplexed frown spreading across her tight features.Yes... the portkey went awry. You need their help. Your girlfriend is hurt, you can't wake her - you don't know what to do. They could be coming for you.Bloody hell she is!
- Ron wanted to curse, wanted to scream his anger and vexation to the Heavens. But instead of words and phrases that would cause his mother to blanch and wash his mouth out, no matter his age, Ron found the lies continue to slip from his lips. "That's it," he agreed, nodding his head mutely. "The portkey - I don't know," he stammered. "Harry, I need your help," he murmured, his voice falling softly. "H-Hermione is hurt and I-I-I can't wake her. I don't know what to do. They could be coming for me...."
"We're on our way," Harry promised as Buffy nodded her head vehemently beside him. "Where are you? Exactly?"Warehouses... Adams Storage... hurry
"I-I don't know," Ron stammered, his teeth beginning to chatter. "There are warehouses all over... Adams Storage," he mumbled. "Hurry," he added before something caused his hand to loosen on the mirror, the ancient magical object falling the few feet to the ground where it shattered in a spray of flying glass.
Confused, Ron felt the peace begin to fade away as his mind once more became his own. For a moment, he could only sit and stare stupidly at the shards of the broken mirror as the pain once more returned, burning through his body with a fierce vengeance that brought tears to his eyes. Yet as the realization of what he had just done filtered through his mind, the tears no longer burned from the pain.
He had betrayed his best friend and invited him into a trap.
Oh, he knew that Harry wasn't stupid. He was sure that even as he sat there, wallowing in his misery, his best friend would be attempting to fire call Sirius and the others... but he wouldn't reach anybody. He couldn't. Everyone had been left behind at Hogwarts on a snow-covered field of blood. There was no one to reach. No one to warn them. And instead of doing the sensible thing and waiting for the others, Harry and Buffy would use the power that was uniquely theirs and allow it to take them to where they were needed. They would come to Cleveland and then they would come to him. And then the Hell Gods would have what they most desired. They would have their Key.
"Shh... shh my sweet, sweet boy," Serantine cooed as she settled lightly beside the boy's battered form as he leaned against the side of the old warehouse. "You did well," she soothed as she gently swept away stray strands of fine, fiery red hair - hair that was clotted with the blood that coated most of his battered form. "You did very well," she urged as he continued to stare at the broken shards with pain-glazed eyes. "Now rest," she murmured as she slowly, almost gently moved her hands until her fingers were sliding into his head, a serene smile lifting her lips as she drank deeply and gave the boy the rest that he deserved.O o O o O o O
"Anything?" Buffy asked as she hurried into the small, rustic living room of the cabin that they had been living in for the past week, her arms ladened with their heavy winter jackets and a few weapons.
"No, nothing," Harry stated grimly as he abandoned his efforts before the roaring flames in their small hearth, his green eyes darkening as he returned the small pouch of floo powder to the wooden mantle. "I couldn't see anyone at Sirius or Giles' flats, nor in Remus or Dumbledore's offices. Not even a house elf!" he admitted as he quickly accepted his heavy, black leather jacket from Buffy's small hands and slid into the warm sleeves, his eyes skipping to the snow-covered world that was sparkling beneath the bright morning sunshine. Buffy had said that they were in the Smokey Mountains, but that might as well have been Siberia for all he knew. The only thing he ever saw outside of the magically sealed windows was trees, trees, and more trees - not to mention the feet of snow that seemed to be constantly falling from the gray, February skies.
Sighing, Harry turned his eyes away from the bright light that filtered through the window and froze as he incredulously watched as Buffy began stashing various knives and other weapons amongst the folds of her cargo pants and thick, turtleneck sweater. "What are you doing?" he asked as she quickly slid into her plump, white feather-down coat.
"Hey, Slayer motto: never go anywhere unarmed," she muttered as she zipped up the heavy coat - and then frowned as she noticed Harry's slowly shaking head. "What?"
"You're not coming with," Harry returned, working on tuning her out as he focused on the magical barriers and wards that surrounded their small cabin - and then shattered with the slightest strain of his power. At least Voldemort had been good for something, as the magic that he had inherited from the Dark Lord when he was nothing more than a baby, after combining with his own, really did come in handy every now and again.
"I don't have time to argue this," Harry curtly stated, cutting her off mid-complaint as he leveled his gaze upon her stiff form, her arms crossed stubbornly over her chest.
"And how do you expect to get there without me?" Buffy returned as she arched a brow patiently at her boyfriend. "We don't have any portkeys, what with the apparent lack of trust that we wouldn't use them to escape our prison," she continued, obviously bitter about this point.
"I'll apparate," Harry returned as he brushed past her and strode towards their small kitchen.
"Which might be kind of hard seeing as how you don't know where Cincinnati is, let alone Ohio," Buffy cut in as she stormed after him. And as Harry froze mid-step, Buffy knew that she had him. "You don't know where it is, do you?" she asked, her frown deepening as he stiffened, his back turned towards her. "Well it doesn't matter, because I do," she stated, her voice becoming gentle as she wrapped her arms around him from behind. "And you're right, you don't have time for this. And from the sounds of it, neither do Ron or Hermione. So why don't you let me drive for once and we can get there all the quicker?" she asked as she nuzzled her face against the soft leather that covered Harry's back. And as the tension drained out of Harry's body a moment later, Buffy knew that she had won.
Sighing, the small slayer closed her eyes as she felt Harry's magic brush against her before going within her, touching and pulling at the very thing that made up her slayerness, and she supposed, her keyness now as well. Arching her back, Buffy closed her eyes and pictured the Kenwood Towne Center in her mind, a luxurious mega-mall that she had visited with her mom a few years before being called as slayer. Back then she had been spoiled and fashion-obsessed, completely caught up in being a southern California girl... and oh how times had changed since that visit.
Within seconds Buffy felt the freezing cold bite of the early February wind, and as she slowly opened her eyes, she was faced with a multitude of stunned pedestrians, all crowded on the walk around them. "Um... good morning?" Buffy ventured weakly as Harry spun around, his hand wrapping around her arm as he steered her through the thong of people and towards the sidewalk beyond.
"Gee, couldn't you think of anyplace any more
public?" Harry muttered beneath his breath as he opened a taxi door and shoved Buffy in before him, ignoring the weakness that plagued his body from the long joint apparition.
"Now, now, Mister Potter," Buffy evenly returned as she attempted to straighten herself on the large backseat, all the while trying to figure out what the strange tinglings at the back of her mind were trying to tell her. "Sarcasm is hardly becoming of-"
"Adams Storage," Harry directed, cutting off Buffy's mild scolding as he slid in beside her, his eyes frantically taking in the world outside.
Muttering something about rude tourists, the driver took a moment to glare at his passengers before slowly pulling into traffic, his hand reaching for his handset before he began asking dispatch for directions. Meanwhile, Harry had no choice but to settle back against the cold leather seat, his troubled eyes sliding over the slow-moving traffic as the minutes slowly slipped by.
Sighing softly, Buffy bit back her baseless reassurances and instead slipped her small hand in his, her blonde head cradling against his chest while her eyes slid tiredly shut. They couldn't be too late. Not for Ron and not for Hermione. If so... she didn't know what she would do. What Harry would do. Stiffening, Buffy allowed the image of the tall red-head and his bushy-haired girlfriend to float before her mind's eye. If something had happened to either of them, then it was her fault. All of it. She was the Key and... how had they even known about Hogwarts? She had almost come to expect an attack against Sunnydale, or even the Watcher's Council, but Hogwarts? Such a thing was impossible!
Buffy's thumb traced meaningless patterns on the back of Harry's hand as her mind whirled with the implications. Something was wrong. Something was really
wrong and whatever it was, it was making her slayer sense begin to tingle. But then even those thoughts were pushed to the side as Harry stiffened beneath her cheek. Glancing up, Buffy watched a frown play over his handsome features before she twisted, her own eyes taking in the dilapidated area of town that ran against one bank of a wide, icy river. "Where are we?" she muttered, not quite realizing that she had spoken the question aloud until the driver met her eyes through his cracked rearview mirror.
"Warehouse district, Adams Storage," the man returned, his voice dry as the taxi drew to a stop before a large warehouse that stretched back to the river beyond, just as the gray skies finally opened up and began releasing the thick, heavy flakes that they had been holding.
Buffy's eyes trailed suspiciously over the building, her unease deepening as she noticed the sorry state of the buildings around it, and even more importantly, the fact that the place seemed absolutely deserted. "Harry-" she began, her question dying as Harry frantically scrambled for his wallet, his fingers flailing and coming up empty as he realized that he had left it at the cabin in the rush to get going.
Scowling, he quickly snagged an old dirty wrapper from the car floor and transfigured it into a few large bills before thrusting the money at the old, grizzled driver. Then, without even waiting for Buffy he was scooting out the door, his long legs quickly eating up the distance to the old storage facility. While barely fifteen minutes had passed since Ron had contacted him using his godfather's mirror, to Harry, it felt as though a lifetime had already come and gone.
"Thank you," Buffy murmured, flashing a weak smile at the startled man as he stared incredulously at the ridiculously large tip Harry had just left him. She quickly slid across the seat and through the open door, her black boots crunching on a thin layer of freshly fallen snow as she closed the car door behind her - and frowned as the car sped away without even asking if he should wait. Rolling her eyes, Buffy turned and scanned the warehouse, looking for whatever was causing her senses to thrum with barely concealed danger - and freezing as they fell upon Harry's lanky form as he raced towards a familiar figure that was reclining against the building's outer wall.
"Ron!" Harry cried, his feet sliding across the thin layer of snow as he stumbled toward his friend. Yet the closer that he got, the slower that Harry found himself moving as his eyes took in his friend's bruised and bloody face, dark lashes resting against pale cheeks, the dark sweater that was obviously a creation of Mrs. Weasley - yet which looked sodden beneath the heavy flakes - and the red blood that soaked up the snow that fell from the heavens. "Ron?" he tried again, his voice a heartbroken croak as he fell numbly to his knees beside his best friend, one hand tentatively reaching forward to cup his friend's warm cheek in hand.
With a soft sigh, Ron stirred beneath the soft touch as the dark lashes slowly lifted to reveal glazed, hazel eyes. For a moment, they merely looked at Harry, his expression blank before slipping down to gaze, transfixed at the blood that stained his large hands. "All gone," he whispered, his voice a dry husk of its former rich tones. "All gone and run to play with the brooms. All gone now."
Feeling a sob choke in his throat, Harry felt the tears burn the corners of his eyes as he gently gathered his friend to him, cradling him against his chest as he bowed his head and rocked his oldest friend against him. As a soft hand fell upon his shoulder, he lifted tear-filled eyes to the small slayer that stood beside him, her horrified eyes locked on Ron's battered form as the red-head continued to prattle in his inane mumblings. "We were too late," Harry supplied simply, his words a hoarse whisper that were torn from a throat that was far too tight. Closing his eyes, he ignored the agony that was trying to consume him, instead trying to focus on how he was going to give the news to the Weasleys or... "Hermione," he quickly stated, his voice growing panicked as he looked wildly about them.
"I'll find her," Buffy promised, only too glad to be given a task - to be given something
to do. Straightening, she went to turn away - only to freeze as her senses alerted her to another's presence, just as a slender silhouette stepped out from behind the other side of the building. Hand instinctively reaching for one of her weapons, Buffy took a slow, measured step forward as she placed herself between the stranger and Harry and Ron - and then stilled her hand, suddenly unsure as she vaguely tried to make out the stranger through the thickly falling snow. The person was too short to be Dahmascus, yet he was undeniably male, which ruled out Serantine. However he was- "Bertrone?" Buffy murmured, Harry's head jerking up and looking past her as the French watcher finally came into view. "What are you doing here? Are the others-" she began, stepping towards him as he slowly drew his wand from his pocket.
," the man murmured, his voice hard and flat as the slayer collapsed into an unmoving heap before him. Sighing, he looked down at her small body, her golden hair haloed around her slender form that was all but engulfed by the large jacket that she wore. Shaking his head, he lifted his eyes to the dark-haired boy that had been too stunned to move from his red-haired friend's side. "Didn't anyone ever tell you that there is more than one Hellmouth?" he finally asked as he placed his wand back in his coat pocket. "This one opened two years ago," he explained as the boy's shock was quickly replaced by anger and fear.
It was a trap. They had been led to the one place where wizarding magic could work on a Slayer, aside from the one place that Buffy would have never willingly ventured to. And now, because he had allowed Buffy to join him, she lay at the mercy of the man standing before them both - the one that had obviously betrayed them both. Hands tightening around Ron's traveling cloak, Harry quickly focused on the magic that was thrumming through his body as he stretched his senses towards the bright core that was hidden within Buffy - and found himself almost painfully thrown back as, for the first time, he found himself denied entrance. Stunned, Harry merely blinked at her still form for a moment before understanding dawned with a sickening flash. After all, how could he expect Buffy to give him permission to pillage her slayer core, as she liked to call it, if she wasn't conscious to give it? And yet, without her help, it didn't matter if they were on the Hellmouth or not because there was no way to apparate them all out of there. He was going to be pushing it in the first place by trying to do so with Ron added along... but all three? It was impossible. Which meant that they were stuck, trapped and-
Head snapping around, Harry allowed his senses to fully open as the trickle of power he had felt slowly came closer. Confused, the dark-haired wizard first drew his senses towards the French watcher that stood quietly before him, and curtly shaking his head, went past him. There was something out there - something so powerful that even Buffy herself seemed to pale in comparison. The air around him was humming with this energy and he wondered how he could have missed it before. It was almost as though he could feel tiny pricks of so many different kinds of power, but all merged into one. It was baffling, confusing and... and it was a Hell God. No, not one, but two. Stunned, Harry slowly released Ron from his death lock as he stumbled to his feet, his eyes staring past Bertrone and locking on the two shadowed figures that were slowly, inexorably making their way through the heavy snow and towards them all.
Understanding what had captured the boy's attention, Bertrone slowly, sadly nodded his head as he reached into his coat pocket. "They are coming," he murmured, agreeing with the boy's unspoken thoughts and fears as the hero of his world stiffened, his face draining of color as he quickly closed his eyes, his face screwing up in concentration. A concentration that was hampered by the sharp click of the hammer on Bertrone's pistol as it was cocked into position, the small gun slipping free of its constraints. "And I am sorry," Bertrone added as he pulled the trigger, the sharp report of the gun echoing amongst the old buildings as the slug tore through the young wizard's abdomen and threw him back into the warehouse wall where he slowly slid to the snow-covered ground.
Gasping, Harry instinctively touched one hand against the fire that burned through his body, the hand coming away drenched in blood. Confused, he looked down and pressed his leather jacket against him, moaning softly as a stream of red poured from a small hole that marred the fine leather. Gasping as the thundering of his heart seemed to echo in the harsh stillness of the early morning, Harry slowly lifted his disbelieving eyes as the French watcher stepped over Buffy's prone form and knelt beside him.
"I never was much for dueling," he explained as the boy's confused eyes locked on him and then closed, his face lining with concentration - only to quickly stiffen as a harsh, ragged breath was torn from his lips, his green eyes growing wide with pain.
Biting back the agony that threatened to consume him, Harry leaned weakly against the building behind him. After already being weakened from apparating to their location, in addition to the shock and blood loss that now plagued him - even Harry's magic was beyond his reach. And without his magic, that meant that he was powerless. Powerless to help Buffy, to save Ron, or even to save himself. "Why?" he gasped, his eyes turning back to the man that they had counted as an ally. A man that had just recently lost someone just as Harry had lost Ron.
"It's quite simple, actually," Bertrone quietly returned, his saddened gray eyes never straying from the boy's face as the young man vainly tried to staunch the blood that was flowing from his wound. "It's truly amazing what a watcher would do for his slayer. Who'd they betray. And in the end, Dahmascus and Serantine said it best, for it truly is simple math: one slayer for another," he finished, a gentle hand falling on the boy's head before slowly turning back to where the Hell Gods now gathered over the slayer's prone form. "Your Key," he intoned, his voice dry as he waved at the girl's small figure.
"So it would seem," Serantine agreed as Dahmascus gathered the girl's limp body in his arms.
Standing, the god turned and threw one last glance to the dark-haired boy and the red-head that babbled incoherently beside him. While the wizard's heated gaze never once strayed from the girl's small figure, his green eyes were slowly losing their fierce edge, only to be replaced by a pained weariness. He was bleeding too heavily, his wound too severe, and the hell god found that he didn't really care what happened to the boy, one way or the other. They finally had what they had been looking for. Without a backward glance, Dahmascus moved until he was standing beside Serantine and allowed her hand to fall firmly upon his arm. And then, with the smallest tug behind his navel, they were gone.