Author's Note: Wow! Thanks for the positive response, guys! As promised, here's more.
Disclaimer: Thank You Joss and J.K., for the worlds and the characters that populate them. I claim nothing, save the sound of Dawn's amazingly shrieky voice when she shrieks.
23 days ago
"Hecate hear my plea! Bar the path of my enemy! Turn the unholy from this door! Preserve thy daughter in her hour of need!"
Willow's voice was breathless, and heavy with desperation as she flung magic with both hands, making the air crackle with power.
Hovering in the air before her, the open gateway yawned slightly wider, blasts of wind and dank salt-spray whipping through into the California night. On this side there was a grassy meadow, just over the hill from the site of Sunnydale's newest mini-mall, all glass and steel and convenient parking. On the far side was a sky tinted the dull purple of an old bruise, looming over a wildly thrashing sea the color of rotting blood.
"Close it close it, pleasepleaseplease close it--" Tara chanted in a thin, strained voice. It wasn't any sort of spell, however; it was a litany driven by pure terror. She crouched awkwardly on the sea-splashed grass, just behind Willow, cradling a semi-conscious Dawn in her arms. "Please, Dawnie, please, Dawnie, close it close it close it--"
The tiny girl twisted her head back and forth, the deep crimson of the blood trickling from her nose and ears showing starkly against her chalk-white skin. An aura of pale gold surrounded her, blazing bright in the near-darkness.
“No,” she mumbled, the word nearly lost in the wind howling through the gate. “She’s there
, Buffy’s in there, I felt
“Hecate! Give me strength!”
Willow’s scream was followed by a silent detonation as she threw a massive bolt of argent lightning through into the other world. As if in answer, a long, mournful sound throbbed in their ears--so low in pitch that it was hardly a sound at all, yet so powerful that every bone in their bodies ached in sympathetic vibration.
“It’s not, Dawnie,” Tara whispered in the girl’s ear, even as she rocked forward and back, forward and back, concentrating with all her might on not
looking up at the thing that was approaching the far side of the Gate. “It’s not her, it’s not, it’s not, you were wrong, you felt it wrong, it’s not her, it’s something else, and you have to close the door because it’s coming for us!
Giles stood helplessly, a few feet further back from the open portal, all unflinching even when a wave from that awful sea broke full upon the Gate, drenching them all in rank, blood-warm water. There was simply nothing he could do to help. Whatever minor magicks he might attempt all required lengthy preparations, and merely physical weapons would make not the slightest bit of difference. In point of fact, in the face of what was approaching, it was all he could do to cling to his own sanity. It
was there, in the other world. It knew of the Gate, it knew of their presence, and it knew there was absolutely nothing they could do to prevent it coming through and laying waste to the entire world.
Or was there, perhaps... something, that might be...done?
He felt a twisting coldness in the core of his being, and it had nothing to do with the ancient evil that dwelled in that place beyond the Gate.
“No!” Willow threw more lightning into the raging storm, over and over, as fast as her arms could hurl it. “No! My world, our world, not yours! Never, ever
The bolts crackled and spat, walking up and down the vast, mountainous bulk of the creature. One of the lesser tentacles, itself larger than the largest redwood that had ever lived, was half-severed in a series of flicker-swift, eye-searing discharges. That left only a thousand or so, of which the nearest were reaching out for the Gate.
there, she is
!” Dawn was insisting, thrashing in Tara’s arms, trying to see past and into the world she had opened. “Let me go! Come with me! She might be lost somewhere in there! Come with me and help me find
The golden aura that surrounded the girl was flickering in time with the faint pulsations of the gate itself, as her very life poured out of her to maintain the portal.
“Please, Dawnie, pleaseplease listen,” Tara whispered, her head tucked down into Dawn’s shoulder even as she held the girl’s head against her own. “I know you miss her, we all
miss her too, but if you don’t stop now we’re going to die, and I know you don’t want that, you can’t
want that, so please, please, please
close it, please make it close, please, please, pleasepleaseplease--”
Giles saw that it wasn’t going to work. Dawn’s eyes were squeezed shut against the tears that Tara’s words had torn free, but even now the girl was shouting wordlessly, and trying to strike at the young woman with her tiny fists. Only her girlish strength kept her from doing real harm, but that wouldn’t save them from the entity that was nearly at the gate.
“Won’t... let... you....”
Willow was weakening, the bolts crackling from her hands were thinner now, and dimmer with every successive casting.
you... have us....”
Giles stepped forward. He turned his eyes from the vast tentacles that were reaching for them all from that alien sea, and shut away any awareness of Willow and Tara. He knelt beside Dawn, still wrapped in the witch’s arms, and gently brushed the silver-gold hair back from her face.
It broke his heart anew, seeing how much of Buffy was there in those features. The monks, having made this body from a stolen sample of Buffy’s blood, had been forced to alter the result, in order to keep the girl from being the Slayer’s identical twin. Now, with every aspect of her being having been reshuffled and reformed thanks to her assimilation of Glory’s power, her form was a much closer match to her dead sister’s. Still not identical, not quite, but very, very similar.
“Please, Dawnie, close it, close it, close it, please, oh Willow I love you I love you I love you so much oh please goddess please I don‘t want to die....”
“M-mother Hecate, give m-me peace and welcome your daughter... home....”
Dawn’s eyes opened suddenly, startlingly blue-green and enormous in that pale face. Giles gave a silent prayer of thanks. Those were Dawn’s eyes still, not Buffy’s jade green. Having to look into Buffy’s eyes would have made this all the harder, and it was already likely to cost him his very soul.
“Giles?” Dawn whispered, confused.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, even as he shifted his hand towards her mouth, and her nose. Her eyes widened, and he tried to ignore the part of him that couldn’t help but note the symmetry of the thing; how he had done this to Glory herself, in her ‘Ben’ avatar, as now he had no choice but to do the same to--”
Face drawn with pure, unadulterated terror, she screamed, recoiling from him as much as she could while still held tight in Tara’s arms. Her aura flared sun-bright, then flickered and faded entirely, all in a moment.
In the same instant that the shimmering halo around the girl died, the Gate faded too, leaving nothing behind but a grassy clearing tainted with the stench of a dying world.
Giles pulled back, then stood, expressionless as he watched Tara lay the girl aside just in time to receive the flying embrace of her red-haired lover. Their whispered endearments were a background murmur as he leaned over Dawn. He was looking for some sign of artifice, for some indication that this was a trick prompted by some fragment of Glory that was re-integrating itself within the girl’s mind.
There was nothing. When he touched her throat, her pulse was slow and weak; her breathing was shallow, but steady.
So far as he could tell, Dawn Summers, Accidental (almost) Destroyer of Worlds... had fainted.
He couldn’t help a little sigh of relief, glad beyond measure that he had not, in fact, been forced to act.
Still, the question remained: what were
they going to do with Dawn?
* * * * *
The girl was beautiful.
Not that he was particularly interested in girls, not in that
way, as of yet; he was only eleven, after all. Still, his education to date had included a basic grounding in various forms of art, and he could certainly appreciate beauty in its many diverse forms.
And this girl, this ‘Aurora’, was by any measure, exquisite
“Draco... Malfoy?” she was asking now, her head tilted slightly to one side as she considered him. “Oh! I met your father, I guess; Lucius, right?” He nodded, and was treated to a dazzling smile. “I liked him a lot. He kissed my hand too, just like you, and told me I was pretty.”
“You’re more than just ‘pretty’,” he told her honestly. “I’m sure my father said something more like ‘lovely’, or ‘exquisite’.” He decided not to mention that he’d thought the very same thing just moments earlier. “We’re a little old-fashioned, when it comes to compliments. Besides, it’s always better to overdo it than to fall short.” He smiled. “And we get a lot
of practice at giving compliments, with all of the Pureblood ladies we run into at parties and events. It’s kind of a necessary survival skill, actually.”
That made her laugh, which was a little too loud and shrill for his liking, with definite overtones of the ear-piercing shriek he’d heard as he first approached. Even so, the way it made her eyes sparkle left her looking even more glorious, so he was willing to call it even.
“Ahem,” said the bespectacled man who had accompanied her. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I’m Rupert Giles.” He offered his hand for a handshake, and Draco drew upon his lessons in etiquette to ignore the hand utterly while still maintaining a perfectly neutral expression.
After all, more than a few duels had begun with an especially ill-timed smirk.
“Yes, you are, aren’t you?” he replied blandly, then pointedly turned back to the girl.
have been polite, of course. There was no need to be unnecessarily nasty, even to someone who was one step short of being a Squib
. On the other hand, it was obvious that Aurora was upset with the man, perhaps even to the point of actively disliking him. That being the case, there was actually good reason
to be dismissive, and sure enough he was rewarded by a flurry of giggles from the girl, at the man’s expense.
“Ha, ha, yes, you’re quite the young comedian, I’m sure,” Giles said, sourly. “However, I was given to understand that we would be met by Professor McGonagall.” He paused, frowned at the girl, then went on. “Or perhaps that Hagrid fellow, if the Professor hasn’t yet forgiven certain comments....”
Aurora successfully stifled her giggles beneath the man’s glare, but those huge, blue-green eyes of hers sparkled with wicked glee.
“I don’t think she likes
me very much,” she confided to Draco in a stage whisper. “She’s the one who took me to that weird alley place, to get my stuff for school?” He nodded to show he followed, and she went on. “Well, I was being a little
snarky, okay? Not a lot,” she hurried to assure him. “It’s just that, oh my god, she is so stuffy, and proper, and dull
, and she wouldn’t let me buy anything
that wasn’t on that stupid list
Draco nodded again. He knew McGonagall slightly, and could well imagine her lack of patience with this girl. Likewise, he had a fair idea of how a girl like this, who was obviously more than a little spoiled, would handle (or fail to handle) being shown an entire street of shiny, magical objects, only to be told that everything except books and potion ingredients were off-limits.
“She’s deathly dull, I’ll grant you,” was what he said aloud. “And any woman as old and shriveled as her is going to be extra-strict with someone like you. After all, you’re young and beautiful, and therefore deserve every awful, hateful thing she does to you, right?”
!” she exclaimed, giving a little hop of excited agreement and clapping her hands together for emphasis. “That’s it exactly
, and that’s just what I told her, right after she went crazy and tried to make me cut off all my hair!”
He blinked, momentarily confused, but then he realized precisely what had prompted that particular situation.
. Well, don’t worry about it. There’s this sort of unwritten rule, but they can’t actually make
me,” Giles said, speaking over what he had been about to say. “Forgive me if I’m interrupting anything especially
important you children
might wish to discuss, but as I was saying--”
“You are not
excused,” the girl muttered under her breath, so that Draco just barely heard her. “Not excused, not important, not anything I care about, blahblahblah and he was talking, talking to me
, and nothing you have to say matters at all
“--As I was saying,” the man continued, either unaware of her words or simply ignoring them. “Either Professor McGonagall, or Hagrid, were supposed to meet us here, and see Dawn safely to the school.”
He looked expectantly at Draco, but the boy’s attention was drawn irresistibly back to Aurora when she leaned forward and whispered loudly to him again.
“She got so mad at what I said to her that she couldn’t even stay to the end of the shopping trip thing,” she told him proudly, eyes shining. “She sent a message with an owl, and we sat in this nasty, dark, dirty little bar until the big dumb one showed up.” The girl scrunched up her cute little nose in a most fetching manner to show what she thought of that particular individual, then hurried on with her story.
“She casted a spell
on me, so that nothing I said made a sound, and then she drank
the whole time we waited!” Looking at him expectantly, she waited for his response to that, and he wasted no time in providing the proper answer.
“Shameful. Truly. Especially the part where she casted--er, I mean, cast a spell on you. That’s not even legal; not when you’re not on school grounds, and classes haven’t even started.” Giles cleared his throat warningly, which served to pull Draco’s gaze away from the girl’s face.
Really, it was amazing how easy it was to lose one’s self in those eyes....
“About the Professor, though,” he told the older man. “And the... groundskeeper....” It was a disgrace, and frankly very sad, the sorts of people who were allowed to hang about the school grounds at Hogwart’s. “Don’t worry, it’s just some bureaucratic infighting happening, is all.”
The man’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Really? Over what? Dawn?”
Draco smiled easily, choosing now to hide his distaste of the muggle, at least for the moment.
“Very much over Aurora
All right, so his false pleasantry had lasted roughly two and a half seconds.
“You see,” he went on, very much aware of the wide, delightfully wicked
smile he received from her as a gift for his snarkiness towards the man. “For whatever reason, everyone
in the faculty is wild to claim credit for Ms. Summers being at the school. I don’t know the particulars....” Which was mostly true, much to his frustration. His father had not seen fit to share more information than was necessary, though he had promised a full disclosure in due course. “But obviously there are special circumstances. I know they’re already planning some sort of special curriculum for her, and the Professors are all fighting over the details of that
, plus there’s the whole thing of which House she’ll end up being sorted into. I imagine everyone thought that meeting you here, and riding along with her on the train, would give them time to plant a few seeds, and maybe persuade her to try for their House instead of the others.”
Personally, Draco was of the opinion that Aurora was a long-lost member of a Pureblooded family who had emigrated to America at some point in the distant past, and only recently been located. She was obviously unfamiliar with the Wizarding World, but her appearance made it nearly unthinkable that she was just some random, Muggle-born mudblood. She looked, every inch of her, like the daughter of some Highborn family, and one with a magnificent bloodline at that. Her delicate build, pale skin and hair, and fey beauty were all the hallmarks of certain Families. True, more than a few of the Pureblood lineages had degenerated over time, as part of the slow, inexorable fading that was occurring throughout the Wizarding World, but anyone who saw this girl would know in an instant that she was of the old bloodlines. That
, as much as anything else, was likely the source of McGonagall’s reaction to her.
Giles, having taken a few moments to digest his words, was now looking slightly more relaxed.
“Ah, departmental infighting. That
I am somewhat familiar with.” He looked down at Draco, still seeming decidedly on edge about something. “And somehow it transpires that every single teacher or faculty member of Hogwart’s is indisposed, or unavoidably detained just now, and unable to meet us here?”
“Uncanny, isn’t it?” Draco asked, fairly sure that his eyes were as empty of guile as it was possible for eyes to be. “I’ll admit to being quite impressed myself. By all accounts, there’s been a lot of... ’maneuvering’... going on for the last few days.” Which was an understatement if ever there was one. His father had described it as ‘A game of Speed Chess with twenty players, three boards, a prize no one knew the real value of, and a rulebook with several pages that had mysteriously gone missing’.
Draco shrugged elaborately, and went on.
“McGonagall would have been here, but some irregularities with the enrollment papers for several students on her precious Quidditch team came up unexpectedly, and she had to stay to straighten them out or risk not being able to field a team this year. Hagrid was set to take her place, but had to back out in order to help deal with a sudden outbreak of brush fires in the forbidden forest. Professor Quirrell offered to come and collect Ms. Summers, but somehow a Volitional Vapor (‘that’s a magical gas that can track and chase and suffocate you,’ he told Aurora in a low aside) accidentally got loose and by pure chance trapped him in his classroom. Professor Snape would have been the best suited to deal with that, of course, but he was already off the grounds, and headed here to meet you, when some people from the Ministry of Magic picked him up on an anonymous tip that he’d been Obliviating Muggles without Ministry permission. It‘s likely to be hours before they get that
straightened out.” He shrugged again, and decided to stop there. “And so on, and so on, and so on.”
Giles nodded slowly.
“And you, you out of everyone else, actually managed to make it here on time... how?”
“Because I’m the Scion of the most Honorable and Ancient House of Malfoy,” he answered promptly. “Also, since my father sits on the school’s Board of Directors, he has a certain advantage, when it comes to seeing how pieces are moving on the game board.”
“Speaking of bored, I’m
bored,” Aurora announced, which only served to remind Draco once more of her uncanny resemblance to the other Pureblooded, Highborn girls he knew. “If I have to go to this stupid place, can we just go
The older man gave her an annoyed look, clearly at the end of his patience with her.
“One moment more, and then we’ll see you to the train.” He returned his gaze to Draco, a peculiarly intent look on his face. “You’re sure, then--absolutely certain, that no one has divulged the specifics of Dawn’s... situation?” He removed his wire-framed glasses and began cleaning them with a white handkerchief, and the way he did so reminded Draco rather uncomfortably of the way his father would finger the silver serpent’s head of his cane while coolly deciding whether or not an underling’s failure merited a harsh punishment... or a quick death. “I was told by the Headmaster that the details would be held in strictest confidence, and it is essential
that no one discover the particulars of her--”
“I’m a Goddess.” Aurora said to Draco, her matter-of-fact announcement leaving both of the males present utterly words for several long seconds. Then, finally--
“Excuse me?” Draco said, more or less by reflex. Then, after his brain lurched back into action: “I mean, yes, I heard you say something about being a Goddess earlier--” And everyone else within a hundred-meter radius had heard her as well, probably. “--But I assumed you were being, well, facetious, or making a joke, or--” Or being like basically every other attractive Pureblood female, making it clear that yes, the entire world did
revolve around her, and her alone, and pity the male who dared argue the fact. Gods
, he thought to himself. I love my mother dearly, but she’s exactly the same. It’s obvious the gift of prophecy runs in her family, given that they named her ‘Narcissa’
. He regarded the beautiful girl before him, and gave an involuntary half-smile. Oh well, the view is nice, and like I told her earlier, I have lots of practice in dealing with Highborn girls.
“Um, no, I was not joking,” Aurora said, bringing his musings to a sudden stop with her utter seriousness. “I’m a Goddess. Well, I mean, I am now
, ‘cause before I was the Key, and that caused a whole big thing--”
!” Giles snapped, his entire posture changing in an instant. He looked ready to attack, even to kill, but there was no one there except a fragile, defiant little girl... along with a few hundred eyewitnesses who might just notice such a thing, if it were to actually take place.
“Aurora,” Draco and the girl both said, simultaneously; automatically, which made him smirk faintly and her giggle prettily. Giles was obviously beside himself with fury... and it mattered not one whit. Well. I... just....
Draco had been more than a little annoyed at the way his life had been summarily reordered a few days previous, without anyone bothering to ask him
about it first. He had been all set to begin his first year at Durmstrang, which by all accounts was a far better school than Hogwarts could ever hope to be. Instead, everything had been shifted about, and before he knew what was happening, he was on his way to Dumbledore’s madhouse, with instructions to ‘make firm alliances’ with some Muggle girl no one had ever heard of before now.
Yes, he had
been well and truly upset, despite the vague hints his father kept dropping about ‘important events’, and ‘something which could change everything
Now that he was learning just what was involved here, however, and now that he had met Aurora Summers....
That changed things. Indeed, his father had been exactly correct:
It really did change everything
* * * * *