Xander brought a short stack of history books up to the front counter of Flourish and Blotts, all covering the original Voldemort war. He wore a glamour of a middle-aged Sri Lankan woman (with two intact eyes). He had been a little uncomfortable with appearing female, but Willow was better at female glamours and both men and women were more inclined to talk to a woman. After the first few trips, he'd gotten quite used to it.
“I think these will do for now,” he said to the clerk with a self-deprecating smile.
“Not cheerful reading,” the clerk commented, as he totaled the prices.
“But necessary, if he's really back.”
“There doesn't seem to be much doubt of that,” the clerk said, gesturing to the day's Daily Prophet (the store sold them) with the “Dark Lord Offers Alliance to Ministry” headline and the large photo.
“I need to know what it was like back then. I guess you don't need history books for this, but I only moved here a few years ago.”
“That I don't. Death eaters killed both my parents. They testified at trial that You-know-who said 'go cause trouble' so they caused trouble. My parents were random targets. They'd never so much as inconvenienced the blood purists. I mean, they didn't approve of muggle-baiting, but live and let live, right? Let live and get killed anyway.” He paused, wiped a few tears and took a deep breath. “Sorry for getting emotional.”
“Your entitled, and I'm sorry.” Xander said automatically. Behind his closed face, he reflected that “live and let live” was exactly the problem. From a 'muggle' perspective, it looked more like “live and let rape, torture and commit general mayhem.” And when “let live” included paying taxes to fund obliviators to cover up the crimes.... But it was no different in his native culture. Add enough horrors together and they become 'politics', and politics is no excuse to be rude. Out loud, he asked, “Is it going to be like that again?”
“Hard to say. They say You-know-who did it to create fear, not for fun, so maybe he won't want to this time. But if he thinks you're worth even slightly more to him dead than alive...” he shook his head, “Anyway, this comes to 14 sickles.”
“Thanks,” Xander said, handing over the money (goblin-mediated currency exchange didn't even ping the scoobies' weird-o-meter, and while this species of goblin hadn't been seen in centuries, they were listed in the council's archives as “not evil: greedy and vindicative but trustworthy”).
As Xander turned to go, the clerk spoke again, “I've been thinking of running away from all this myself, but I don't have any money to speak of and all I know how to do is run a bookshop. Do you think I could make it in... where was it you moved here from?”
“Sri Lanka,” Xander said slowly to cover the time needed to think of a response that wouldn't reveal his complete ignorance of wand-wizardry there, “Can you read Sinhala and Tamil?”
“Not in the slightest. Guess I'm stuck here.”
“Well, good luck whatever you do.”
“Thanks. You too.”* * *
Xander finished the last of the books and sat back thinking. He had a pretty good image of wizarding society by now. It was full of decent people, and somehow came together to do indecent things. Dealing with demons was easier. They could kill demons. How do you kill an idea? But every book, every conversation, every clue helped. He didn't believe in giving up. He'd find something. Or Giles would.
Dealing with the ministry was only slightly simpler. Xander had approved Willow's strike, seeing it as a nondestructive way to show them the harm they did when words would surely roll off them. When he learned that one of the obliviators had killed himself, he reconsidered. It had been too harsh. And, paradoxically, not harsh enough. Individuals had changed their ways, but the ministry hadn't. Escalation wasn't the answer: there was no where to escalate short of killing people. The council wasn't in the business of killing people.
For Voldemort, they would make an exception. He was as evil as any vampire, and no one was entirely sure if he qualified as human. Some sources suggested he'd used dark magics to destroy his own soul. As a bonus, history suggested that his entire organization would topple without him (very much unlike the ministry). He was not, however, any kind of soft target. Also, if they could keep him thinking he'd fooled them until the last minute, he could be useful, especially for keeping dementors under control. That game was dangerous, though: the last thing anyone on the council wanted was to give Voldemort one free shot with the first overt betrayal.* * *
While Xander studied wizarding society, Willow studied their magic. She too read many books and asked many questions. Also, she spent hours experimenting with her wand and studying the wards on wizarding public spaces. Unlike the sociology team, she made rapid progress.
In many ways, wand-magic was an incredible achievement. One day she hoped to compare notes with Merlin (he wasn't exactly dead, after all, and the scoobies seemed to run into everything sooner or later), and see how he felt about how his work had spread. It allowed powerful but not very skilled wizards to achieve extraordinarily subtle results. But it did have a few drawbacks that a witch with a better grasp on the fundamentals could exploit....
Only two days after Voldemort announced his alliance to the ministry, Willow had a plan for dealing with the dementors, including any treachery from Voldemort. It was left to Buffy to actually implement the plan (once the relive-your-worst-memory power was understood, it was generally agreed that Willow should be kept far from dementors, lest she relapse). All across the world, slayers were warned that the scythe would be unavailable for a few hours. Some canceled patrols, but most did not. Willow supplied Buffy with a series of magical protections, then air-cast her into the receiving-zone of Voldemort's fortress.* * *
Buffy arrived in a surprisingly pleasant place: a formal garden with a vaguely renaissance-Italian feel, with a white and green Baroque manor on one side and dense pine forests on the others. Voldemort alone was there to meet her, but she could just barely make out a dozen others hidden by chameleon magic (“disillusionment”, the book had called it). Treachery indeed. Let the games begin. The drop of Willow's blood scotch-taped to her neck felt warm and reassuring.
“Welcome, Buffy,” Voldemort said in a friendly manner, “I was surprised to receive your message. The permanent destruction of dementors has been sought without success for centuries.”
“Killing things is what we do,” Buffy said with a smile, “Where are they?”
“This way,” Voldemort said, beginning to walk, “Even with our best baffles, we didn't want them too close to the house.”
Buffy followed. “Remember not to use any wand-magic on me. It would disrupt the protections Willow layered on me.”
They walked a short way in silence, then arrived at the dementor pit. It was ten feet deep and about fifty wide, with walls of plain rock. Inside, the dementors were packed so tightly they were almost bumping eachother. Even with Willow's eyeliner, they didn't look like much: humanoid forms in black hooded cloaks. Buffy could also faintly see the invisible sheets of magic that held the creatures in. Between Voldemort's protections and Willow's, Buffy didn't feel their power at all.
“Is anything going to happen to me when I cross those wards?” she asked.
“I don't think so,” Voldemort said, “I don't know precisely what Willow provided you with, but these wards are very specific to dementors and their power. They shouldn't interact with you at all.”
Buffy felt Willow's agreement through their telepathic link. Willow had tried three times to explain exactly what she could and couldn't sense before giving up, but whatever it was, it left her confident now. That was enough for Buffy.
“Let's do this,” she said. She took a running jump into the pit and summoned the scythe midair.
The space in the pit she'd been aiming for had been empty when she started, but she'd underestimated how eager the dementors were to eat her. Before she hit the ground, it was packed. She shifted midair to lead with the stake-side of the scythe. The stake buried itself in a dementor's head. Her feet followed shortly thereafter, forcing the dying monster to the ground. As soon as her footing was solid, she wrenched the scythe free and swung the blade a full circle around her. Various dementors tried to grab her, but they were no match for her in physical strength.
Mental strength was another matter. Voldemort's protections no longer applied, and while Willow's were good, they weren't enough. She felt her coffin around her. She heard herself telling Angel to close his eyes. She smelled her mother's dead body (she hadn't even realized at the time that it had
a distinctive smell. But it did.) She wore her anger like armor, but she wasn't sure how long she could hold out, and there were a lot of dementors.* * *
Voldemort backed away from the pit as he watched her fight. Having her own plan fail would be preferable, but that didn't seem about to happen. He gestured to a death eater.
The death eater, despite her clear warning, cast a cheering charm on her. A cheering charm, under these circumstances, had plausible deniability. Or at least Malfoy had thought it would, during their planning session. Malfoy had not volunteered to be physically present when the idea was tried. In fact, all the death eaters present were those Voldemort felt he could afford to lose.
Her warning, while clear, had been misleading. The charm did disrupt her protections. Not her protections against dementors, but her protections which Willow had specifically designed to be violently disrupted by wand magic. They were defensive, as Andrew had put it, like a flak jacket made of plastique.
A massive wave of magical energy stretched outward. One major advantage a prepared Willow had over wand-wizards was brute force, and she used it here. Even the dementors were momentarily stunned. The death eaters were knocked unconscious altogether. Voldemort, just barely, managed to shield against it.
Buffy immediately leapt out of the pit and charged Voldemort. So much for deniability. Voldemort pointed his wand and cast an exploding jinx, not at Buffy, but at the ground six inches in front of her.
Willow's brute attack had concealed a subtler one.
Voldemort wasted precious moments trying the spell again. Still nothing. Buffy closed to 100 feet.
Voldemort tried a pure transfiguration, turning the ground in front of Buffy into water. This worked, but Buffy somehow anticipated it, and jumped clear over the pool. She actually seemed to react before
he cast the spell. In Tibet, Voldemort had met wizards who could do that. It was one of the few magics he had never made work for himself. So it went. He had other talents.
Pure transfiguration worked but jinxes didn't. Most wizards would have been in helpless and confused. Voldemort wasn't most wizards. He understood that his wand had been cut off from the magic-core, the energy construct where ur-spells lived. He could use no charms, no curses, and no transfigurations into things more complicated than he himself understood.
Briefly he considered releasing the dementors, but the way he usually brought down wards was using charms designed for the purpose. He could try to disrupt them with chaotic energy, or drink in their power, but either option risked backlash. He couldn't afford that risk right now.
Instead he conjured a cloud of sharp iron shards already in motion toward her. She batted most of them aside with her weapon, but a few got through. They punched straight through her flesh and out the other side, drawing blood but doing no crippling injury. She was slowed a little. 50 feet.
He stared into her eyes and brought his will to bear against her. His attack slid off her protections, presumably tuned for dementors, but good against any mental influence. He did manage to see into her, though. Within her was a spirit as strong, dark and violent as any basilisk, but completely subordinate to her human will. When he'd first met her, he'd thought Willow was the dangerous one and Buffy was only her assistant. He'd been wrong. 30 feet.
He sent his mind inward, then downward, then evilward, and thought a Name. A vile thing stirred, and sent forth power. His skin, already scaly, took on dragon-like toughness. His eyes, already red, became solid red and glowing. But the transformation took precious time. 10 feet.
He blew an explosion of fire at her. She shielded her face with the blade, but the rest of the attack made it through, knocking her backwards. 20 feet. There were definitely burns on her skin, but they didn't seem to slow her.
Voldemort wished he could apparate for more tactical distance, but his own wards blocked it. Putting a single-person exception to an anti-apparition ward was very hard. He did have an exception for portkeys, but those required the magic-core. Instead he backed away as fast as his improved feet could carry him, drawing breath for another blast.
It wasn't fast enough. He could hardly follow her leap, but before he was ready, she was bearing down on his face with the stake. He got one hand (really a claw) around the handle of the weapon and shoved sideways. Buffy's superior strength was of limited use with nothing to push off of, so she went sideways and missed the blow. But even the handle of the weapon burned him, and he could not hold it. Buffy fell freely to the ground at Voldemort's side.
And was up before he could spin to face her. For all his newfound strength, Voldemort had no real experience
with up-close violence. He didn't see the blow until it had already lopped his arm off. He had no experience coping with pain either. He wasn't even thinking tactically when the next blow severed his head.* * *
“Robe me,” Voldemort said, though Malfoy was already doing so. “How long was I discorporate?”
“Three hours, my lord.”
“Good. Who knows?”
“Only those of us gathered here,” Malfoy said, gesturing at Pettigrew (who had provided the needed memories via Malfoy's pensieve), Rookwood (who had brewed the potions, since Snape was unavailable), Bellatrix (who had – proudly – provided the flesh) and Macnair (who had gathered iron shards with Buffy's blood). “And the slayers know they killed you, of course,” he added.
“Very good. Did you add something to the ritual? I feel stronger.”
“No, my lord. We did it precisely as Wormtail remembered.”
“Hmm,” Voldemort said, and casually lifted the hundred-pound cauldron he had stepped out of with one hand at full arm's extension. “Perhaps it was the blood. Macnair, inform the vampires that I require a sparring partner, then go to the dementors we held back and see if you can teach them to fight more effectively. Explain fear to them. Malfoy, make arrangements with the ministry for me to begin training their aurors. Pettigrew, investigate the slayers and their allies. Find their weaknesses but do not engage. Bellatrix, begin drilling the outer circle in how to fight slayers. Rookwood, you will assist me. I am going to investigate the magic they used until I can not only counter it, but turn it against them.”* * *
“All slain?” Willow asked.
“All slain,” Buffy confirmed, dropping wearily into a sofa, “The betrayed us exactly like you figured, and the spell went perfectly. I scythed Voldemort, then went back and finished off the dementors, dropped the lackies in our cells as a bonus. The shields you gave me weren't enough alone, but those plus his were, so whenever I started to feel overwhelmed I just jumped back out and ate some chocolate. It took a while, but got the job done. At least assuming that pit contained all of them.”
“I think so. Just how twisted a mind could he have had?”