Sacrifice Par Amarth: Chapter 19
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
With slow, measured steps the lean, dark-haired wizard slowly moved up the carved stone stairs, one hand trailing heavily upon the stone railing beside him as the other traced along the inside wall for balance, two voices echoing down the circular staircase from above. It had been a week since Harry had been shot by Bertrone. A week of foul smelling and even worse tasting potions, complicated spells, and the very slow healing that worked to mend the extensive damage that a single bullet had wrought. When he had awoken for the first time only a few days ago, Madam Pomfrey was still raging against the crude and barbaric muggle device that was capable of causing such damage - damage that had nearly cost Harry his life. Not that such a thing seemed to matter when everything had come rushing back, and when Harry realized for the first time what he had lost. What they had all lost, from allies, to friends, to loved ones. In the course of one hour, their world had been turned upside down as eighteen people were injured, six critically so, twenty-two were killed, and three more were lost to them forever. All of them martyrs for a cause that hadn't been theirs because of the betrayal of one of their own.
Forty-three martyrs and victims.
Forty-three friends and allies.
Ron's mind was damaged beyond repair and Buffy was gone, both taken from him when he had been struck down without mercy and leaving him alone when surrounded by so many. In the days since he had awoken, his visitors had been many and he had never truly been alone with his grief and failure until now - and it was an opportunity that he wasn't going to look past. Thus, with Madam Pomfrey occupied with the many other patients that filled her wing - all professors from years past - Harry had quickly dressed and made his escape to the one place where he could hopefully find the answers to which he had been previously denied.
"Harry! What are you doing out of bed?"
Startled, the young wizard was forced from his musings as he belatedly realized that he had already reached the stair's end, Dumbledore's heavy oak door standing open before him and revealing his godfather and the aged headmaster within the large office. Groaning silently about his luck, Harry hastily withdrew his hand from the banister and cautiously stepped forward. It would figure that the one person that he had been trying to avoid - the one that had been all too willing to enforce the medi-witch's strict ban on leaving his hospital bed - would be the person that had been embroiled in a conversation with the headmaster. "I'm getting answers," Harry replied, his voice holding a strength that his body didn't share as one hand strayed to the healing wound that was violently protesting his long climb up the stone staircase. It wasn't his
fault that the stairs were already in place. It wasn't as though he had particularly enjoyed
"Harry, Poppy said that you aren't to be out of bed," Sirius quickly admonished as his long strides ate up the distance between them, one strong hand wrapping around his godson's upper arm as he steered him towards a nearby chair.
"Yes, well Madam Pomfrey is an overbearing-"
"Harry!" Sirius cut in before his godson could finish his angry retort, a small, disapproving frown pulling at his lips. It didn't matter if Sirius himself had called the medi-witch things much worse than whatever colorful adjective his godson had been about to use. All that mattered was that Harry, a notoriously poor patient as it was, had been grievously injured and had hovered on the brink of death for days. In his eyes, Poppy had performed a miracle when she had saved his godson's life, and if she declared that bed rest was needed, he was going to do everything in his power to ensure that bed rest was indeed what Harry received. Not that such a thing had been easy, as was evidenced by the teen that sat before him, not looking repentant in the least.
"Sirius, I'm wounded, not incompetent," Harry returned as he scowled at his godfather. "And I think that I deserve to know what's going on. For example, where is
everyone?" he continued, turning so that his glare encompassed the headmaster as well.
Blue eyes twinkling mischievously, Dumbledore slowly nodded his head. "Then answers you shall have," he stated, his moustache twitching as Sirius leveled a fierce glare at him, and as Harry sagged back against the plump cushions of his chair. And while the headmaster wanted nothing more than to benignly ask to which everyone Harry was referring, he decided that a much safer response would be to simply tell the boy as to the current location of the everyone that referred to him. "Of those from Sunnydale, Miss Evans has not yet woken, which has left Miss Rosenberg, Miss MacClay, and Mister Harris with the duty of controlling the Hellmouth until the fourth slayer clears Customs with her watcher. In Los Angeles, Mister Wyndham-Price and Mister Gunn are reportedly suffering from a similar problem while also trying to find a way to restore Angelus to his souled state - a problem that has been magnified by the fact that without their Seer, they have been unable to receive their usual guidance from their Powers That Be. Meanwhile, Miss Granger and the rest of the Weasley family have temporarily relocated to the Centre to be with young Mister Weasley... which should account for everyone, outside of those who are teaching in the places of our absent faculty," he finished as he smiled gently at the recent Hogwarts graduate.
"Not everyone," Harry sighed, his eyes slipping shut as he ran a hand over his pale features. "So who's looking for Buffy?" he asked, his green eyes opening to stare at the man who was supposed to have all of the answers.
"We all are in our every available moment," Dumbledore returned as he gently opened his hands to encase him and everyone who couldn't be with them now. "The Hell Gods dealt us a terrible, terrible blow, and our efforts have been hindered by how divided we have become."
"But we are
looking," Sirius added as he timidly smiled down at his godson, wishing to somehow bring a smile back to Harry's long features. To somehow be able to return the sparkle to his emerald eyes. But he couldn't do that anymore than he could promise that everything was going to be alright. How could he when that was something that not even Dumbledore could promise?
"And how do you know that we're not already too late?" Harry asked, his voice a mere whisper as he stared dejectedly down at the hands that were clenched in his lap before him.
"Because, quite simply, the world has not yet ended."
Startled, Harry turned as fast as his injury allowed him as he looked to the stranger that stood in Dumbledore's open doorway. A stranger that was, oddly enough, dressed in long breeches, a strange tunic, and leather armor - a strange tattoo adorning his high forehead. "Who are you?" he asked, forgetting the manners that had been drilled into him by his aunt from a very young age.
"This is General Gregor," Giles stated as he slipped into the room behind the middle-aged man. "Of the Knights of Byzantium," he added, a small smile lifting his lips as everyone straightened, eyes locked on the new man. "Apparently, the Knights of Byzantium have been aware of our actions for quite a while now. They had been tracking the Gods all along in hopes of being led to the monks."
"Unfortunately, the hell spawn reached the Brotherhood before we did," Gregor admitted with a hard frown, his voice a deep baritone. "We have since been watching those located on the Hellmouth where... recent 'actions' have led us to step forward," he continued, his frown becoming even more pronounced. "For the abominations are truly becoming desperate if they no longer worry about the attention that they have garnered."
"Yes, well," Giles continued as he awkwardly reached for his glasses, "they, uh, contacted Willow, who in turn referred them to me."
Nodding slowly, Dumbledore took in the stranger that stood before him, the proud man returning his thoughtful inspection, before waving his hand towards an empty armchair. "And General Gregor," he began, his words unusually soft, "what did you want, exactly, with the brotherhood?"
"Not the brotherhood," Gregor corrected as he accepted the invitation and sank into the surprising depths of the strange chair, "the Key." And as a heavy silence fell upon the room, he lifted his eyes from the chair and nodded back towards the men that gathered around him. "The Key is the link; the link must be severed; such is the will of God," he recited, the familiar chant falling from his lips as the dark-haired youth straightened in his chair beside him.
"You want to kill Buffy," Harry stated, his words soft as his eyes narrowed upon the man.
"No," Gregor countered, his cold eyes meeting those of the youth, "we wanted to destroy the Key."
"Well in case no one has told you yet, the Slayer is
the Key," Harry snapped, trying to rise from the chair as Sirius pushed him back.
Frowning at the boy's tone, Gregor shook his head. "Of that we are certainly aware. However, if what Mr. Giles has said is correct, then it seems that we are already too late as the abominations are already in possession of their Key. And time is running out."
Shaking his head, long black hair slapping at his unshaven cheeks, Sirius lowered himself into a vacant chair with an exaggerated sigh. "Okay, but what is
the key? What does it do?" he pointedly asked the stranger.
For a moment, it looked as though the man wasn't going to answer as he shrewdly eyed his companions. Four men, all very different and yet all conveying some kind of power. Yet the strangest part was that it was the youngest of them all that seemed to possess the most - as well as the one that seemed to be restraining himself from doing something very violent if he didn't get his answers soon enough. Sighing, he wearily nodded his acceptance. If answers were what they wanted, then it was answers that they would receive. "The Key is living energy that was created to open the doorways between dimensions," the general returned as he slowly reclined in his chair. "When activated and channeled at a specific time and place, the walls between all dimensions, hell and otherwise, will break down."
"Good lord," Giles breathed, his face draining of color as he heavily lowered himself into a vacant chair, his eyes growing wide. While they had always speculated that the Key had to be powerful and capable of something
, he had never truly imagined this
"Yes," Gregor agreed, his smile grim. "It will create hell on Earth as dimensions will pour into one another with no barriers to stop them. Reality as we know it will be destroyed and chaos will reign on earth."
"Oh," Sirius muttered, his face blank.
"And while the brotherhood sought to prevent this from happening by harboring and protecting the key," he continued, "my brethren and I have sought to destroy it." For a moment more, he paused in his explanation as he once more regarded his companions, as though sizing up how they were receiving his news. And, apparently deciding that he liked what he saw, he nodded his head once more before continuing. "Originally the Brotherhood of Dagon and the Knights of Byzantium were one and the same. Our founders were the sons of the Earl of Devon of England, Richard and Edward Courtenay, and both were there the day that Dahmascus and Serantine first entered our world, born as they were into the bodies of their twin brother and sister. They were also present on the day, two months later, when Dahmascus and Serantine broke free of their mortal prison by stealing from the brothers' mother and father, taking that from them which can never be returned," he said, his words solemn as Harry blanched at his description - at his confirmation of what had been done to his best friend. "Three years later the brothers went their separate ways. Our founder, Edward Courtenay, believed that the Key should be destroyed, while his brother, Richard Courtenay, believed that it was to be protected and somehow used to undo all that had been done. Obviously, Richard was able to find the Key before Edward or the gods, and he and his descendents, his brethren and followers, have guarded it ever since."
"Until they poured it into Buffy," Harry corrected, his expression grim.
"Yes," Gregor agreed, his eyes falling upon the youth once more. "You see, Dahmascus and Serantine hate only one thing more than they hate each other, and that's Glorificus, the Goddess that banished them to our world. As a result, for centuries they have worked independently of one another, continually learning about our world as they searched for the Key that had been entrusted to the Brotherhood of Dagon. Yet separated as they were, their arrogance was their undoing as the Brotherhood was able to avoid them both. After all, Dahmascus and Serantine believed that they had centuries to find the Key and thus it was centuries that they wasted in their lackadaisical pursuit of that which they required. In recent times, however, desperation has driven them to form an uneasy alliance as they united under the banner of their hatred for Glorificus - which is what drove the Brotherhood to a final act of desperation."
"Buffy," Harry sighed, his eyes slipping shut as he felt his heart clench painfully at the man's words.
Sending the young wizard a sympathetic glance, Giles slowly rose from his chair and began to absently pace along the large chamber, his footsteps echoing hollowly off of the stone floor. While his heart ached with the thought that his slayer was missing and in the hands of the two beings that had brought so much destruction down upon their heads, his mind was already whirling with the possibilities and implications behind General Gregor's words. To think that they had gone so many months with so little information, each text revealing little about their opponents when the Knights of Byzantium had watched their struggles from afar, all the while withholding the very information that they sought. All of it was enough to make his hand itch for his hidden wand as he struggled to put the information in the proper place so that he could ask the important questions. The really important ones. "So how do we defeat them?" he murmured, pausing long enough to send the older man a searching glance.
"Defeat them?" General Gregor repeated, his eyes growing wide with disbelief. "You can't," he stated, his words so very simple and yet so damning at the same time. "In their true forms they are immortal, invincible, and quite unstoppable."
"Their true forms?" Giles quickly returned, his eyes narrowing as he slowly advanced on the man. "As opposed to what?"
Gregor slowly shook his head. "As I've already stated, when they were first banished to this world, their essence was pushed into the bodies of twin children who were born in the moment that they entered this world. In those first few months, while trapped within the mortal coil and housed beneath the souls of the two innocent children, they were as mortal as any of us," he stated, his expression turning wistful at such an amazing opportunity, lost to them centuries before his birth. "However, all too soon Serantine and Dahmascus learned that by drinking of our essence, they are able to strengthen their bodies so that the mortal personae is shoved to the side. It is a lesson that they have never forgotten, and in the past five hundred years they have never allowed themselves to become so weak again.
Frowning thoughtfully, the man's words washrf over Harry as something nagged at the back of his mind; a puzzling fact that had been pushed to the side in the face of learning of all that had befallen his friends and family in his absence. Yet it was something of importance... something that... "I felt them," he finally murmured, his eyes growing wide as he recalled the strange power that he felt in front of the snowy warehouse in Cleveland - the incredible power that had emanated from the Hell Gods. A power that had been so strong, and yet so separate.
"Harry?" Sirius asked cautiously as he gently scooted forward in his chair, one hand falling heavily upon his godson's shoulder.
"I felt them - in Cleveland," Harry explained, his eyes vague and unfocused as he sorted through the memories. "After Buffy had been stunned I had stretched out my senses, trying to find her... and I had felt them. I felt those that they had taken. They were so powerful and there were so many," he murmured, his words dying as he silently withdrew into himself, a puzzled frown pulling at his features.
For a moment more, Giles stared at the teen before slowly shaking his head. He had too many other thoughts and worries occupying his thoughts that one more mystery just seemed to get caught up in the flow. Samuel dead. Faith in a coma. Ron and Miss Parker gone. Angelus returned. Buffy missing. How had their world become so backwards in the spacing of one hour? Now the Gods had their Key and it seemed that there was no way to defeat them. The only thing they could do was hope to delay the event until the time had passed. The event. "How long do we have?" he asked as he turned towards the grim-faced General, his voice betraying his weariness in the face of their seemingly hopeless task.
"One week," the man returned, his grave words once more casting the room into silence.O o O o O o O
Monsieur Robert Bertrone slowly made his way through the battered metal door with a soft sigh, his steel gray eyes seemingly cold and unfathomable as they impassively swept over the room before him. Seemingly being the key word, for as his eyes fell upon the bloody, battered, and beaten body of the first slayer as she lay in a pool of her own blood and filth, he felt his heart constrict and his gaze soften. He had done this. He had brought this fate upon the broken girl that lay before him... no, not broken, he realized as the girl stirred at his entrance, her blonde head slowly tilting to the side enough so that she could glare weakly at him from her prostrate position.
The spell that had restricted her movements and allowed the gods their play had faded long ago, yet as he slowly drew closer to the young woman, he saw that it was the injuries that now prevented the fiery girl from making her escape. Over the course of the past week of her internment, Dahmascus and Serantine had learned that there was nothing that they could do to activate the Key that had become a part of the slayer. Blood-letting, ancient rituals and rites, whispered prayers - none of these practices would serve to release that which the slayer now housed - and as such, the vengeance of the gods had been delivered upon the helpless slayer with a fury that knew no bounds.
Shaking his head, Bertrone felt every single one of his fifty odd years, and then some, as he quietly knelt beside the slayer, her green eyes never leaving his own level gaze. Reaching forward, he gently gathered the girl in his arms, ignorant of the blood and filth that rubbed against his immaculate suit as a soft cry of pain escaped her clenched lips. "I am sorry, ma petite," he whispered, his words soft as he delicately lifted the petite girl and crossed the short distance to the old cot that sat against the far wall. As though he carried his own Celeste in his arms, he then gently lowered her to the molding mattress.
Without a word being spoken between them, he then left the small slayer as he retrieved a small bowl of warm water, a clean cloth, and a small bag that contained a very limited array of bottled potions and salves. As her mistrustful green gaze remained locked on his stern countenance, he then set to the gruesome task of cleaning away the blood and dirt that marred the girl's bruised cheeks, cleaning and bandaging cuts and abrasions and binding the wounds that were more serious. Gently, he uncorked potion after potion, carefully lifting the girl's head and helping her to drink the different magical concoctions that went to work on healing her battered body.
"Why are you doing this?" Buffy finally whispered, feeling the strength begin to return to her aching body as the pain began to lessen, her eyes remaining locked on the man that sat beside her.
For a moment, Bertrone paused in his ministrations as he thought over the girl's guarded question. He could have told her that he merely did it to ensure that the key was still living when it needed to be used, or because the god's let him... but instead, he found himself giving her the truth. "Because I never meant for any of this to happen. None of it," he stated, his voice grim as he resolutely met her unblinking emerald gaze. "They promised to return Celeste to me, and being the fool that I am... I believed them," he added simply as he shrugged his shoulders - all the while ignoring the pain that burned in his heart. He had been a fool and he had been deceived. He knew this now, for the Gods had their Key, and he had yet to have his Celeste returned to him. And she would never be returned to him. If the Gods could not keep their vow to not harm any of those that he had named, or to leave intact any of the locations he had given, how could he trust them to hold to their bargain? "I was a fool," he continued, his voice falling to a whisper as he gently reached forward to rub at a cut that marred the skin above the girl's bleak gaze, "and my error has cost us all."
Bertrone turned away from his ministrations and deftly washed the blood from the small cloth before returning to his tasks. His tasks.. the thought made him want to laugh, yet he knew the laughter was merely a front to keep the tears at bay. He had never been a gambler, yet he had gambled everything when he betrayed everything he had ever known - a gamble that he had sorely lost and a loss for which his allies had paid the heavy toll. "I can only hope that somehow, wherever my slayer now rests, she will understand why I did what I have," he murmured, unable to bear the thought of Celeste's disappointment. Giles had talked about a slayer's legacy, and the duty of a watcher to make his slayer proud once she finally left the circles of their world... he had failed his slayer in that. "I did it all for her, and for that, I can only pray that she will forgive me when I see her next, beyond this world," he murmured, his forehead creased in pain.
Wearily closing her eyes, Buffy sagged back against the thin mattress as the watcher continued to bind her many hurts. "Celeste would have never wanted any of this," she murmured, her tired eyes opening once more.
"I know," Bertrone admitted as he paused in his ministrations. "But somehow.. somehow that didn't matter so much. I was willing to do anything to get my slayer back... including offering another slayer in her place," he continued as he gravely met the young girl's gaze. "For that I am sorry."
Closing her eyes once more, Buffy slowly turned away from the man that had been the cause of so much pain and destruction. While it had been the hands of Dahmascus and Serantine that had beaten at her friends, it had been Bertrone that had led them there. The man had led their enemies to strike at the places in which Buffy would hurt the most. "They said that they're dead," she whispered, hating the tears that even now burned at her tightly closed lids - the tears that she had dared only shed when she was finally alone with her pain.
"Some," Bertrone admitted, his words causing his heart to ache as the guilt nearly overwhelmed him. "And while I know little, I can tell you this: a group of unnamed individuals abducted young Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley from the hospital that they had been taken to - individuals whose descriptions bear an uncanny resemblance to your Watcher and his friends."
A soft sob escaping her lips, Buffy turned her glimmering green eyes to the man that sat beside her, reading the truth of his statement in his softened gray eyes. Giles and the others came for Harry, which meant that he could still be alive. The thought alone was enough for some of Buffy's grief to leave her as hope once more blossomed in her heart. If the gods had been wrong on one account, it was possible that they were misspoken on the fate of the others as well. And even if the hope was naive, Buffy found herself clinging to it with a tenacity that would have normally surprised her... then again, as she had learned during her brutal captivity within the thick walls of the Centre, some kind of hope - any kind of hope was necessary in order to survive such brutality. And if she had been able to survive such cruelty before, Buffy knew that she could survive it again. Too many people were counting on her to do otherwise and she wouldn't disappoint them. There seemed to be far too much disappointment this day - and for some, the disappointment and the guilt would never go away.
Buffy shrewdly eyed the stern man that sat beside her, his face impassive as he worked to ease her pain - pain that he himself had played a role in inflicting. She knew that this man loved his slayer, and it was evident that he had done so many things that he so obviously regretted - all in some twisted way to save his slayer. She couldn't help but wonder if Giles would have done the same. If someone had come to him, offering him a chance to save her in exchange for evil deeds, would he choose the same path? Did he love her so much as to turn his back on everything that he believed? Shifting uncomfortably on the thin mattress, Buffy was honest enough with herself to admit that she didn't know the answer to that question. What would she do? How far would she go to save a loved one? What would she be willing to sacrifice in order to keep Giles, Harry, Willow and Xander and everyone else that she loved safe?
"I see the way that you look at me and I know the questions that you ask yourself," Bertrone murmured, his words drawing her from her thoughts as she narrowed her gaze upon him. "They are good questions to be asking yourself - questions that will soon come into play."
"How so?" Buffy returned, a small frown pulling at her lips.
"Because while I regret the consequences of my actions, I still believe that I made the best choice," Bertrone responded, his voice grave as he levelly met her incredulous gaze.
"What choice?" the small slayer snapped as she jerked away from his touch. "Because while the hell bitch and Dumb-ass Dahm may have me, it's obvious that they don't know how to use me."
"Which is because, as we both know, they cannot use you," he returned, unperturbed by her heated outburst. "Only you have the power to activate that which is inside of you," he stated, watching as the girl's frown only deepened at his words. Sighing softly, he stood and began to clear away his soiled supplies. "Have the others figured out yet what happens when the Key is activated?" he asked, quickly changing tracks as he made a point to avoid her suspicious gaze.
"And without that information, they are making uninformed decisions," Bertrone cut in, stilling long enough to meet her calculating gaze.
"And you do know what happens," Buffy surmised as she slowly and painfully pushed herself away from the stained mattress until she was leaning back against the corrugated metal of the wall behind her.
"I do," he affirmed, his eyes shadowed.
"And you're going to just believe what they told you?" the small blonde challenged as she stubbornly crossed her bruised arms over her thin tank, as much to attempt to heat her chilled skin as a show of her incredulity.
"They have no reason to lie about this," Bertrone countered, his voice soft as he slowly made his way back towards the girl until he was kneeling before her. "When the Key is activated, all barriers between dimensions will fall, and for that time, hell will reign on Earth."
"And this is a good thing, how?" Buffy snapped back as she unconsciously tightened her arms around her shivering form. They were no longer just talking about some mystical thing that had no substance. No. After the monks got through with her, they were talking about her
"Because once the gods are through the doorway, they are returned to their home and then the doorway can be closed," the ex-watcher patiently explained, his gray eyes hard and unflinching. "It will be a moment of hell on Earth in return for ridding this world of their evil forever."
Frowning, Buffy slowly mulled over his words. While she hated to admit it, there was a certain bit of logic to what he was saying. She had been in the hands of the Hell Gods for over a week now and had certainly come to appreciate what it meant to be a Hell God - and one of those perks seemed to be a daunting invincibility that was combined with a nasty side of longevity. She couldn't beat these Hell Gods. She couldn't destroy them. And if a slayer couldn't destroy them, and if magic was no threat to them... then there was truly nothing that she or the others could do to stop them. And while the thought of acceding to the wishes of Evil truly did make her skin crawl, even Buffy had to admit that there was a certain bit of logic to just sending the damn gods back to wherever they belonged.
Then again, Buffy didn't survive as a slayer for over five years by being overly optimistic and if she had learned anything, it was that nothing was ever easy. She slowly shook her head as she met the watcher's gray eyes. "I sense a big 'but' coming on here," she murmured, inviting the man to give the downside to this grand scheme - for after all, there was always
"Once activated, you will not be able to control the doorway, and thus, the Key must be silenced."
Sighing dramatically, Buffy wearily shook her head. "I knew there was a but," she muttered as she frowned at the man. "So you want to put me in the lock, turn me, and then throw a grenade at me," she summed up as she ticked the points off the fingers of one small hand. "I'm really failing to see how this is a good thing."
Ignoring her glib words, Bertrone slowly inclined his head towards her. "You need to sacrifice yourself," he stated, his voice solemn and dark.
Scowling darkly, Buffy tightened her arms around her small middle. "Sacrifice," she returned bitterly, her eyes narrowing on her battered face, "there's that word again."
"It's a part of your destiny. A part of being the Slayer-"
"Yeah, well I'm really beginning to hate that word," Buffy cut in as she pointedly turned away from the tall watcher. "Haven't I sacrificed enough already?" she asked as she threw him a dark glare before frowning furiously at her tightly clenched hands, feeling far more bitter at her lot in life than any other time in her life. When told about her destiny, she had fought it tooth and nail at first. When she had been told that her own death had been foretold at the hands of the Master, she had openly balked. She hadn't wanted to die. She was only fifteen years old. She was supposed to have her whole life in front of her. But she did it. She gave into destiny and she stepped up to take one for the team... but how much could the Fates possibly ask her to sacrifice in the course of her young life? "I've sacrificed friends, lovers, and have even lost my mom to being the-"
"And I've lost my slayer!" Bertrone angrily cut in, his gray eyes flashing as Buffy recoiled from the dark swirl of his emotions. Sighing, the watcher felt the tension leave his body as he heavily settled himself on the small cot beside the tiny slayer, one hand pinching the bridge of his nose as his emotions battered against his frayed hold. He was tired. So damn tired and the end didn't seem to be in sight. "And the world will lose thousands if the gods aren't returned to their world," he murmured, his words softer as he turned towards the small slayer, her shoulders stooped beneath the weight that she carried.
Refusing to allow the tears to fall, Buffy wrapped her arms around her waist as she tried in vain to ward off the chill of his words. So much... so much lying on her. On her sacrifice. "So I have to die to see the Hell Bitch and her Ho Bag Boy get gone?" she murmured, her words hollow.
"Yes," Bertrone agreed as he slowly pushed himself from the worn mattress and began to tiredly make his way towards the far door. "And by doing so, you will spare hundreds of thousands the fate that has been put upon my Celeste and those you hold dear," he murmured, knowing that the small girl had heard every word as he slowly slipped through, leaving her to her thoughts.O o O o O o O
By the flickering light of a waning candle, Harry slowly poured through the ancient text, his sore, watery eyes skimming over the small words as he searched in vain for the answers that he was seeking. Answers, so it seemed, that this book would fail to reveal, same as all of the others. Cursing quietly beneath his breath, the young wizard slammed the book shut with a force that sent clouds of dust flying from the brittle pages, his hand already reaching for the next text as someone cleared their throat pointedly behind him. Swiveling in the old, creaking chair, Harry's green eyes fell on Dumbledore's bent form, the aged headmaster slowly moving through the shadows to stand before him.
"So this is where you have secreted yourself away for the past few days," his old mentor commented as his blue eyes impassively swept over the large pile of books that ladened the scarred table.
Burning heat rushing to his cheeks, Harry flushed as he realized who exactly had been privy to his uncharacteristic outburst. Wincing, he threw a guarded gaze to the ancient book that had taken the brunt of his wrath, his shame deepening as he took in the bits of scattered pages that had blown free of the book's old bindings. "Sir, I-" he began, his haphazard apology waved away as Dumbledore smiled wryly at the young man.
"No, don't bother," the older man returned as he slowly lowered his aged limbs into a chair opposite of Harry, a wry smile pulling at the corners of his beard. "I am simply the headmaster at this school, and not
the library. As such, we shall keep this between you, me, and the books," he added as he winked at Harry - and then frowned as his gaze fell upon the titles of the various books that littered the scarred table. "Although I was certain that Madam Pince kept these texts in the Restricted Section, which should have been locked..."
"She does, and it was," Harry agreed, his flush deepening as he sheepishly shrugged his broad shoulders. "Yet Hermione taught Ron and I the alohomora
charm during our... first year," Harry finished, his words dying away as his smile faltered at the mention of his friends. Seven years was a long time to pass in a friendship. Seven years of being connected at the hip, facing adventure, danger, and too many boring lectures to remember. Seven years, and yet he had barely seen either of them in the past seven months. And now.. now it would seem that he would never again have the chance to be with his two best friends as one had been taken away from him while the other was lost in her grief.
Eyes narrowing shrewdly, Dumbledore took the silence for what it was as he quietly cleared his throat, drawing Harry from his distracted thoughts. "You haven't visited young Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger then, have you?" he asked, his face suddenly seeming far older than his many years. "A visit may do you good," he prodded when the silence stretched.
For a moment more, Harry thought of his dear friends before his eyes fell upon the scarred wood before him. "I can't," he returned, his expression grim as he reached for another book. "Not until I can give Hermione some hope... not until I can give us all some," he corrected as his hands began to absently turn the pages.
Curious despite himself, Dumbledore watched as Harry paged through the ancient text that outlined the very darkest of dark magicks, long since forbidden from their world. Yet when Harry didn't seem willing to share his thoughts, the aged wizard nimbly jumped from one topic to another with the skill that he had perfected over the many years. "We have been able to convince General Gregor to forgo destroying the Key in place of your godfather's plan of action: to arrive at the point of ritual moments before it is to take place in hopes of distracting the Hell Gods long enough to miss their window."
"Hope," Harry muttered as he abandoned his latest book to openly scoff at the headmaster. "I've seen what these Hell Gods can do and I can promise you that there is little hope in that plan."
"Yet it is the only plan... the only hope
that we have," Dumbledore returned, casually leaning back in his chair as his blue eyes narrowed upon the youth that sat before him.
"Then there's no hope at all," Harry muttered, oblivious to the headmaster's appraising gaze as his eyes narrowed upon his hands as he balled them into fists before him. "I've seen what they're capable of," he continued as the screams of the dying council members echoed hauntingly in his mind. "There's no hope of everyone coming away from this, and your plan holds absolutely no hope for Hermione."
"We cannot undo what the Hell Gods have-"
"Can't we?" Harry interrupted, his whispered question causing the headmaster to straighten as the young wizard lifted his eyes once more
Intrigued, Dumbledore felt the wheels in his mind slowly begin to turn as he nodded at the boy before him. "Explain."
Nodding, Harry silently went over the strange, nagging thoughts that had been haunting him ever since the impromptu meeting with Gregor almost two days before. "When I was in Cleveland," he began, his gaze growing vague as he stared absently at the pale hands clasped before him, "I opened my senses as Buffy had taught me to, and... and I'm almost positive that what I sensed from the gods were the individual parts that they had stolen from everyone for who knows how long," he continued, his head lifting as he searched Dumbledore's guarded gaze, searching for any sign that his former headmaster found him mad. Sighing, he quickly tore his eyes away as he once more thought back to the swirling vortex of power that had emanated from each of the Hell Gods. Stolen power. Stolen from their victims. "I don't think that they're lost forever," he continued, his words slow and halting, "but rather collected within them, strengthening them."
"Which is much what General Gregor has already stated," Dumbledore offered, curious as to where Harry was heading with his musings. "Yet the fact remains that there is nothing-"
"When Buffy and I apparate together," Harry broke in, rudely interrupting the older wizard as he stubbornly pushed on, "it's as though I need her permission to pull what I need from what's inside of her."
"But the gods would never give you permission," Dumbledore murmured, beginning to see the direction of the younger wizard's thoughts.
"Exactly," Harry agreed. "Which means that if I can find a way to override that necessity, I may be able to take back what they've taken from Ron, Miss Parker, Celeste, and even Angel and everyone else that they've ever hurt," he continued, his words falling from his lips faster and faster. "If we take away their barriers, they won't be strong enough to stay in their immortal forms and will be forced back into their mortal prisons - at least for a little while," he quickly amended. "But-"
"They'll be mortal," Dumbledore finished, his blue eyes narrowed in thought.
Nodding quickly, Harry brushed an unruly raven lock from his forehead as he pushed on with what was beginning to feel like a sales pitch. "If we can only find a way to make this work, then not only will we stop them from using Buffy to bring down the barriers, but we'll also get rid of them forever. We can beat them!"
Frowning, Dumbledore slowly leaned back in his chair, one hand lifting to take the gnarled end of his long beard and twisting it up until he was thoughtfully chewing on the frayed end. "This skill that you possess to draw from Miss Summers," he began, his sharp mind whirling over all of the possible angles and implications, "is not something that has ever been seen in wizarding magic. It's not natural for our kind," he clarified, his blue eyes serious as he lifted the wet ends of his beard and flicked them in Harry's direction, as though to stress his point. "As you are well aware, the key behind our magic is to draw upon the magic that rests within oneself. Not another."
"Which would explain why I can't find the answers that I need in any of these books," Harry sighed, frowning as he shoved the old text to the side. A frown that quickly melted into a bright grin as he pushed his chair back so fast that it screeched loudly across the stone floor. "But I know where I can," he stated as he grabbed the thin leather jacket that was draped over the chair's back.
"Where?" Dumbledore returned, his eyes never straying from Harry's large grin.
"I've been doing this all backwards," he stated, more to himself as he looked at his former headmaster. "You're right," he stated, his grin stretching until it lightened his entire appearance. "What I've been doing isn't wizarding magic. It's Wiccan, and I know just the two Wiccas to help me find the answers that I'm looking for."
"You're going to the Hellmouth," Dumbledore stated, a slow frown pulling at the ends of his long beard as he took in the boy's unfounded hope. A hope that he feared would never see fruition.
Nodding quickly, Harry began to gather the large pile of books that had been stacked on the corner of the table. "Today is Monday, and the ritual is to take place on Friday night. That gives me four days to try and make this work," he stated as he lifted the large pile into his arms - and then nearly slapped himself as he quickly dropped his heavy burden and used a small bit of wandless magic to send the heavy texts back to their appropriate places.
"And what if you cannot make it work?" Dumbledore returned, forcing the practical question as Harry's expression tightened.
"Then I'll be counting on you, Giles, and Sirius to follow through with your plan to keep the gods busy long enough for their window to pass," he stated, catching Dumbledore's eyes briefly before striding past him - only to pause as an old, wrinkled hand fell upon his shoulder. Surprised, he turned to see Dumbledore standing tall behind him, his expression twisted into an uncharacteristic look of pity. Pity that, Harry realized with a slumping of his proud shoulders, could only mean that Dumbledore didn't think that he could do it. For the first time ever, the headmaster didn't believe that he would find a way. "I have to try this," Harry murmured, trying to gather the edges of his elusive hope once more. "Ron's my best friend," he added, his voice faltering as tears began to burn at the corners of his eyes. "I won't just sit there and do nothing."
Dumbledore slowly released his hold on Harry's shoulder. After everything that Harry had done in his short lifetime - after everything that he had sacrificed and worked at and achieved
for their world, this small hope was one thing that Dumbledore didn't have the heart to deny. "Just stop by the infirmary on your way and pick up some potions from Poppy," he instructed, his hand falling back to the soft folds of his long robes. "I'm sure that those in Sunnydale would appreciate any help in their healing that they can get - especially since they have taken on the duties of the Slayer."
"I will," Harry promised, turning to leave once more, only to have his feet falter beneath him. "And will you... will you just tell Sirius that-"
"I will handle Sirius," Dumbledore promised, a wan smile hidden behind his voluminous beard as Harry grinned weakly at him before turning and hurrying from the room, leaving the headmaster alone in the cavernous library - alone with his fears, his doubts, and the slow burgeoning of an unforeseen hope.
Hope... such a fickle emotion. To be delivered so easily, offering promise of release and comfort, only to be stolen away just as easily - so quickly and viciously. Yet in the situation that they faced, there seemed to be little room for anything outside of hope - for to live without hope was truly not to live at all. And besides - outside of Buffy herself, there was no one who had more to gain and so much more to lose in the coming battle than Harry himself. He would find a way. He had to.