But for the Grace of God
Willow, who'd been the recipient of a far more detailed phone call than Giles - although most of the details she'd been given were due to Dawn's take-no-prisoners appropriation of the phone mid-call - arrived with as little fanfare as usual, right in the middle of the living room.
Buffy, who'd expected some kind of reaction from Black to this, was horribly disappointed when he looked at her friend as though arriving in a flash of light was common-place. She felt insulted on Willow's behalf, dammit!
Judging by the tight muscles in his right arm and by the way his hand was hidden under the open flannel shirt, he was horribly tense and, Buffy would have been willing to bet, clutching his wand like a talisman.
She'd assured him several times that Willow, despite being a witch, was not part of the society of wand-wizards and would neither attack nor arrest him, and that she trusted her all the way.
Willow's cuteness factor as well as the immediately resulting hugging contest with Dawn - as though they hadn't already seen each other this week! - further relaxed the atmosphere and prevented Witchy High Noon in Risinghurst (tm), much to Buffy's relief.
Once Willow had disentangled herself from Dawn, blowing a strand of Dawn's long hair out of her face (did there have
to be quite so much tangling involved, because: inappropriate much? Willow had Kennedy. And Dawn--Dawn... sometimes Buffy wanted to bleach her own brain
), she turned towards Black and beamed at him.
"Hi!" she chirped. "I'm Willow Rosenberg, Buffy and Dawn's friend. I heard you were Buffy's dog, and judging by the photo she sent me, four-legged you is quite the cutie, not that two-legged you isn't, because, hello
, lesbian here, but not blind at all. Can I say you already look much, much
better than the moving photo on the poster Buffy snatched in that really cool wizarding pub in London - the 'Leaky Cauldron'; I'm still uncertain whether I like the name or think it's too stereotypical, because: stereotyping, always a bad thing when you're a witch or wizard, and--"
"Slow down, Will," Buffy interrupted, and Willow's mouth closed with a snap while she turned a light rose in embarrassment.
"I babble, Buffy, you know
I babble. Why did you let me go on and on and..."
Black was looking more than a bit shell-shocked, but thankfully also far, far less tense and worried. Buffy suppressed a smirk. Goal achieved. She dared anyone to face Willow in full-on babble mode and suspect her of nefariousness.
He got up and shook her hand, firmly but briefly. Good. For a second there Buffy, who'd pegged him for a flirt under normal circumstances, had been afraid he'd try to be charming, but apparently, he'd registered the 'lesbian' part. He shot a quick look over to Buffy before he again turned to Willow, a fond, reminiscent little smile curling in the corners of his mouth. "Sirius Black. But then again, you already know that. You remind me of a friend of mine. She didn't talk quite that much, but you look a lot
like her. Are you in any way related to a Lily," He paused and had to swallow, "A Lily Evans?"
"Sorry, no Lilys or Evans in my family that I know of," Willow replied with an apologetic frown. "Just generations after generations of Rosenbergs, Hartmanns and whatnot."
Buffy, remembering that the married couple last killed by the wizarding world's big bad, that Lord Voldemort guy, had been named James and Lily Potter, thought they needed a change of topic, stat.
"Well, good," she threw out, "now that we're all introduced, there's an unconscious, tied-up wizard hogging our bathtub. He and two compatriots, all dressed like extras from the 'Scream' franchise, have used me as target practice tonight. I need to know why, and Willow, I was thinking truth spell."
"Yup. You said. I brought the motherwort and the incense sticks," Willow added brightly.
"Truth spell?" Black asked, intrigued. "There's no such spell I know of. We use a potion called 'veritaserum', but it takes a bit of time to brew correctly."
"Oh, there is. It's not even complicated, but a bit--ethically questionable. You effectively have to overpower the resistance of the spell's target, and the better you manage that, the more cooperative they become," Dawn spoke up.
Buffy saw Willow's eyes fill with doubt and wanted to shake her sister. Wonderful. Poking at Willow's conscience? Such a great
"Willow? The man in the bathtub: Bad guy who tried to murder me. He most likely also raised the zombies who attacked me. That means he used magic to drag three innocent people out of their graves." She barely bit back the addition that the whole zombifying thing might very well have screwed up wherever their souls had gone - were zombies soulless? They'd acted quite intelligently, but she hadn't seen any real awareness in their dead, disgusting eyes either. And anyway, confronting Willow with moral dilemmas featuring resurrection and souls torn from their proper resting place? Not of the good.
"Miss Rosenberg, if the wizard we captured is who he looks like, then he's a deluded zealot who helped torture two good people to insanity," Black threw in unexpectedly. "Frank and Alice Longbottom were Aurors who stood firm against Voldemort. They left behind a toddler who would have had to grow up without his parents, just like Harry--" He broke off when his voice gave out and turned his head away, but not before Buffy saw the sheen of tears in his eyes.
Willow sat up, resolve straightening her spine. "You're right. I'm being a big-time scaredy-cat. After all, 'all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing'. Someone has
to do something
"Weeellll," Buffy said slowly, "Mr. Evil Wizard isn't Spike, and you're not Giles. You think you can do your spell thingy without being distracted by, say, an overwhelming urge to marry me off?"
She shared a bittersweet smile with Willow who remembered Buffy and Spike's 'engagement' under the influence of Willow's 'my will be done' spell just as well as she did... the first and, now in retrospect, rather funny attempt of Willow's at advanced magic that had gone drastically wrong, botching, among other things, Giles' try at making Spike tell him more about the layout of the Initiative complex.
"I can but try," Willow said snootily, and the two girls giggled, ignoring Dawn and Black looking confused.
Five minutes later, Buffy and Willow jostled into the bathroom, Dawn leaned against the door-jamb, and Black remained out of sight, but not out of consulting range in the hallway.
A cold dash of water from the shower-head had no effect, but a well-aimed wand and whispered counter-spell from the hallway did.
The no longer unconscious wizard opened his eyes and stared first in confusion, then in hatred up at the young 'muggle' women daring to hold him prisoner. However, the magical ropes held firm, and Buffy's addition of a gag ensured that the vitriolic words gathering behind his teeth stayed unspoken. She sent him a hard-edged smile.
Then Willow was up. She lit a combination of incense, motherwort, and various other herbs in a small bowl whose smell reminded Buffy somehow of peppermint tea. She breathed in lightly while Willow intoned: "Enemy, enemy, be now quiet. Let your deceitful tongue be broken. Let no untruths be spoken."
"Thank you for-- stupefying him? Stunning him? Making him just as unconscious as stupid?" Buffy said to Black afterwards. "I was leery of knocking him over the head with something heavy; I didn't want to do him any permanent damage." A pause. "Although he so
would have deserved it." She shook herself, feeling unclean after listening to almost half an hour of what essentially amounted to a racist rant on the superiority of 'purebloods'.
Black was breathing deeply and rhythmically, hunched over in one of the easy chairs. At her words, his head came up and he stared at her, but most of him seemed to be far, far away. She wanted to shake him to bring him back to the present.
"I had to," he said almost unintelligibly. "If I hadn't, I'm not sure I wouldn't have killed him."
She met his gaze. "I wouldn't have let you."
Dawn and Willow came back from the kitchen with mugs of hot chocolate for everyone. Buffy looked down at the marshmallows bopping in the hot liquid and felt tears prickle in her eyes.
Dawn sank down into the couch next to her and hugged her. "Willow, would you mind telling Giles everything we've found out today once we've all had some sleep," her sister asked, sounding very much like their mother for a second.
Willow nodded, then turned to Black with an almost comical expression of regret. "Sure. However, I'm afraid I don't quite get everything magic-related that Mr. Crouch - Crouch," she amended, "was sprouting. Yet. Especially in regard to that 'imperion' spell thingy."
Buffy, who didn't want anything more than to huddle in the warmth and comfort of her bed and just stop thinking
, bit back a growl. Willow was only being sensible, plus she'd agreed to face Giles in her stead, so she ought to be grateful. As long as Black managed to keep that British stiff upper lip, she could damn well deal, too.
How late was it by now? 2 or 3 a.m.? Later?
She sent Black an encouraging smile - more of a grimace, really, and Black's attempt of returning it was even less convincing. He was rubbing his temples, and his eyes were bloodshot and sunken-looking.
"Alright, for that you'll need some background. Let me start at the beginning. In Crouch Jr.'s case, that's-- Azkaban," he started haltingly, "He couldn't deal with that place and with the effect the dementors have on its prisoners. You see, they suck out all the feelings of happiness and leave behind only the bare bones of the memories. You remember the facts - barely -, but everything else gets taken. You know you had friends, family, joy in life - but how that felt
? That's gone. They don't touch regret, guilt, obsession, and hate." His hand around the mug was shaking so badly part of its contents were dripping onto his lap. He didn't even seem to notice.
"I--I remember I had a wonderful time at school, with my friends, with--"
They all looked away for a moment and allowed him to compose himself again. "But only like everything happened to another person, or like I read about it. The emotional context - it's just not there any longer."
"I--I was lucky, I suppose." His attempt at a smile made her want to scream. "I knew I was innocent, and since that wasn't a happy thought, I managed to hold onto it, and to my sanity along with it. Crouch Jr., however, actually loved and admired Voldemort, unbelievable as that might be to any sane person, and so the dementors were sucking him dry."
"His father, Bartemius Crouch Sr., used to be Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement back then. He was ruthless and power-hungry and liked to fight violence with violence. If suspected Voldemort supporters ended up dead or imprisoned without trial, then he was perfectly fine with it." He bared his teeth. "He saw no reason for leniency even in his son's case. I should have wondered when I saw old Crouch and his wife pass by my cell for a deathbed visit to their son; Crouch's someone who'd rather die himself than risk his reputation for anything
"Okay, then the rest isn't quite so surprising anymore, I guess," Willow said. "Crouch Sr.'s wife convinces him to help her switch places with their son. She loves the boy and she's dying anyway, so that's...that's understandable, really. Her husband doesn't quite know what to do with a fanatic Death Eater in the house, so he-- puts a spell on him? What did that 'imperion' thing mean?"
"The Imperius Curse is one of the three Unforgivables; three spells that are considered the most powerful and sinister spells known to the wizarding world. Avada Kedavra
or the Killing Curse kills without recourse; Crucio
or the Cruciatus Curse tortures without leaving a mark on the victim's body, and Imperio
or the Imperius Curse takes over somebody's mind and controls him like a marionette. Using any one of them means an automatic one-way ticket to Azkaban. Exceptions are only made if they're used under Ministry authorisation - say, on prisoners who refuse to confess," Black sneered, "or if the caster successfully claims to have been under the Imperius Curse himself. Once Voldemort fell, suddenly all the Death Eaters from influential families turned into poor, mind-controlled victims themselves who'd only followed their 'Dark Lord' because they'd been magically forced to. What a quality of convictions."
Dawn took over. "So Crouch Sr. imperio-curses his son, controls him like a puppet, and so keeps him prisoner in the family mansion. What, constantly? For - twelve years
?" The last was a shriek of indignation. "I'm surprised he was coherent enough to coordinate an attack on you. After twelve years of being mind-controlled I'd have thought his brains would have the consistency of boiled cabbage."
"Thank you for the graphic picture, Dawn," Buffy interjected, wrinkling her nose.
"As I said, Barty was a fanatic," Black said. "Somehow he kept enough of his sanity to overpower his father when Crouch Sr. bumbled the spell half a day ago. Apparently good old Amelia Bones really set the cat among the pigeons when she agreed to gather the transcript of my trial for you, Miss Summers--"
"'Buffy', please. Unless you want both Dawn and me to twitch each time and look around for mom," Buffy interrupted, pushing down the old grief. "So Bones turns the ministry of magic upside down, doesn't find anything, and finally pays a-- firecall? Like a phone-call, only with more fire and less phone, huh? - to he-who-used-to-hold-her-job back in the 90s. Crouch Sr. tells her you got sent to prison without a trial, ergo no transcript, and she tears enough strips off him that he gets all confused and screws up recasting the mind control thingy on his son. His son wants revenge, gets daddy's wand, turns the tables, hunts down his old cohorts in record time, and...?"
"Barty imperio'd his own father for a change, stuffed him in a trunk, gathered all the Death Eaters he didn't consider traitors to the cause for hiding behind the imperius defense, and once they'd forced him to listen to reason..."
"...that there hadn't been found any trace of Voldemort in the past thirteen years, and that they wouldn't even know where to start looking..." Dawn was quick.
"...he decided he could at least further his lord and master's cause by picking a quarrel between the wizarding world - above all, the hated Ministry of Magic - and the Slayer and her people," Black continued. "So the Death Eaters split up to cover all the better known cemeteries in the Oxfordshire area, raised a bunch of inferi at each, and ordered them to hide and guard the places until a female with a magical signature showed up during nighttime."
"Not a stupid plan at all," Buffy summarized blankly. Once she'd heard of any open graves, she'd have checked out the cemetery in question anyway, and if she'd been any less alert, quick, or lucky - or had been alone without backup in form of a dog that happened to be a wizard in disguise -, she'd have ended up as a corpse with visible spell damage. Willow, Dawn, and the rest of the Scoobies (plus those of the baby Slayers who looked up to her like she was a legend) would have overcome the tensions between them and collectively demanded justice. They'd have acted on the traces of magic found, blamed Fudge's people, and-- "If they'd managed to kill me, the rest of us might have very well started a full-out war on the wizarding world."
"Great," Dawn said with heavy sarcasm, "this is like freaking Jeopardy. First we gained the Count of Monte Cristo, then you--" she smirked at Buffy, inviting her to share the joke, "almost turned into Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and now we have the magical equivalent of Professor Moriarty tied up in the bathroom. With nowhere else to put him. Dibs on the first shower once we've gotten rid of him!"
~ hopefully to be continued ~
I need an English native speaker as a beta as well as someone to bounce ideas off (otherwise I have no idea as to how to kick my muse into gear... the mere fact that these first few chapters exist is a miracle). I know several of you have contacted me on that - thank you! I will get back to you once I get a breather in this race of getting out as much of this story as I can put to (virtual) paper before my inspiration runs dry.