April 24, 2005 4:00PM
Andromeda had picked her up. She had not asked to see Giles, but had asked Willow how he was doing. Willow had explained that he'd hired on Moody and had been busy. Andromeda had began speaking animatedly at Moody working for them. She was full of questions that Willow had no answers for. Willow suggested with a sly grin that Andromeda invite Giles out for dinner so that they could discuss the matter.
They arrived at Irulan Purecraft's home in Stygion for their coven meeting just as Irulan's daughter was finishing her dance lessons. Brindelle had recently moved back home with her mother and had joined the coven. She was a private dance instructor. Draco had mentioned that he and Blaise had had lessons of the same sort when they were young.
The cottage the Purecrafts lived in was on the edge of the village. It was larger than most of the homes and had a sprawling back garden. That's where Brindelle was giving her lessons. Willow thought she looked out of another time. Her wild curly hair had small braids dropped in it, and she was wearing jeans and a cotton top with embroidery on it that could have placed her at Woodstock easily. Her feet were bare and Willow could see she had a red henna stain on them.
Her mother Irulan had bleached blonde hair. Willow imagined that when not bleached, Irulan's hair was the strawberry blonde color Brindelle's was. Willow could see her sitting at one of the outside tables with Nessa MacDougal and who had to be her daughter Branwyn MacAren. She looked a lot like Mac, but with dark eyes instead of blue.
There were others that she did not recognize. It seemed their coven was growing. Who Willow did not see was Astoria. Or Augusta Longbottom or Griselda Marchbanks.
Someone put an arm around Willow's shoulders.
"Looking for me," Astoria whispered.
"Astoria, hello," Andromeda said.
Astoria was all smiles and usually that meant she was plotting. Never a good thing.
Irulan began gesturing everyone to join them at the tables. A house elf tending to a rather large spread for afternoon tea. Astoria hooked her arm in Willow's and made certain they were sitting next to one another. Willow said her hellos to Irulan and Nessa.
Willow learned the names of the people she did not recognize. The one she thought was Nessa's daughter Branwyn was, and she seemed to be good friends with Andromeda. Darby Penshaw was also there, looking wary. Another was Lyra Blackwood. Willow knew that name from Oz. She knew Lyra's son was a werewolf like his father had been and said son was now working at Neville's shop.
There were two more ladies she had never heard of - Margaret Edgecombe and Mafalda Hopkirk. Astoria told her that both worked for the Ministry. Edgecombe worked for the Floo Network Office, and Hopkirk was the head of the Improper Use of Magic office.
"Augusta and Griselda had other matters to attend to today, and Minerva has the school to look after."
"And Fin?" Andromeda asked.
"Dimension hopping as usual," Nessa replied.
Willow tried to hide her smile. Esme Weatherwax and Fin Raziel were two coven members who sort of came and went as they pleased.
"The Owens women are keeping watch across the pond. I spoke with Jet this morning," Nessa continued, adjusting the grip on her cane.
She always had one hand on that thing, and knew how to hurt you with it.
"They've noticed nothing, so whatever is going on with the marks is here, not global, not yet."
"The Ministry thinks it's me," Willow said
"Well, Merlin and Mab love them," Nessa said. "But most of the Ministry officials and Aurors are deeply stupid."
"I resent that," Mafalda Hopkirk said frostily.
"Watch yourself, Scotswoman," Brindelle warned.
"Brin," Irulan said.
"Oh the wee one thinks she's all ready to go toe to toe wit me."
"Stop it," Andromeda said. "The both of you. I am good friends with Kingsley and Harry Potter, and even I know they can be a bit shortsighted about things. I would not go as far as saying all Ministry officials are deeply stupid, but the Ministry did arrest Willow without cause."
"Why did that upset Brin?" Willow whispered to Astoria.
"She's seeing Kingsley's nephew Maxwell. He's also an Auror."
Astoria turned suddenly and addressed the group. "All right, ladies, Willow didn't do this. She wouldn't do this. There's some spiritual turmoil, but she would not do this. Moreover, she could not. Maybe if she sucked all of us here dry magically, but I've seen things. What's causing this isn't human."
Several people started talking at once.
"Look," Willow said. "The energy is disjointed, and it's got a demon flavor, but someone is pulling strings here. Draco Malfoy has been doing research."
"Malfoy?" Hopkirk asked.
"Careful," Andromeda replied. "That is my nephew."
"And he's likely just as bad as his father is," Hopkirk continued.
"Draco is nothing like Lucius," Astoria said with venom. "He can be good and kind. He's in the right place."
"Says the woman who is seeing Marcus Flint," Edgecombe added.
"You know what?" Astoria said, getting up and gathering her things. "I am seeing him. I'm seeing Marcus Flint. I like seeing him. He makes me happy. I'm seeing him. I will continue to see him despite snide comments. Seeing him tonight, in fact, so I am going home to get ready. I want to look pretty for my Death Eater."
Andromeda sighed. "Astoria..."
"No. You lot judge me because of who I date. Marcus has layers, and Draco isn't Lucius, and I won't sit here and listen to anyone belittle either of them. Draco's smart. If he's researching this problem, then there's a good chance of it being solved soon."
With that, she stormed out.
Irulan sighed and put her head in her hands. "Well done, Margaret. I told you Astoria was sensitive."
"Well, how can she be that sensitive when she's seeing Flint of all people?"
"Draco saved me," Willow began quietly. "He's my friend, and he helped pull me out of the dark. He's a watcher, and trust me when I say we would not have him in the job if he wasn't a good guy. You should see him with his slayer. They are a team. She protected him with her life at stake, and evil doesn't get that sort of love and devotion."
Nessa MacDougal was smiling at her. "And besides that, Alastor Moody is working for the Council now, so iffen young Malfoy strays too far, I think we won't have to worry, but I dinna see him straying. Wee Tori is right. He is no' his father. If Willow trusts him so well, I think we should as well. My Mac hasna problems with him. I trust her as well."
Willow could tell Nessa was angry because her brogue was coming out.
"Willow," Darby said, finally speaking up. "You mentioned demons making the mark burn. How many?"
Willow was glad Darby had gotten the conversation back on track. She did not want anyone else to get upset and storm off. She hoped Astoria's date went well tonight.