Stuck in the Middle with You
The bastard turned his wand into a portkey.
That was Bill’s last thought before he felt the unwelcome tug of magic. Then everything became a blur, quite literally.
Bill immediately felt a sense of alarm. He had traveled by portkey many times. This time felt distinctly different, however; accelerated somehow. Before he could even hazard a guess as to where Greyback was sending him, he was already being spit out — right over a large lake.
Startled, Bill was only just able to take a lungful of air before he found himself submerged in the icy cold water.
Unfortunately, his new wand in one hand and the broken one in the other, he was unable to propel himself through the water effectively; instead sinking deeper and deeper despite his best efforts. Realizing that he needed at least one free hand to swim up to the surface, he finally let go of the broken wand. As it disappeared into the murky depths below, he began to swim again, this time much more effectively, using the faint light of the moon as his guide.
When he finally broke through the surface of the water, he took a few grateful breaths of air. Shame it was knocked out of him a moment later when something heavy landed on him, pushing him back under the water once again.
Momentarily stunned, Bill sank a few feet before he managed to gather his wits. Before he could swim back to the surface, however, a flash of gold caught his eye.
Buffy Summers, he realized. She had been transported as well, no doubt by the other half of his wand. And she was swimming down toward the bottom of the lake.
In mute horror, Bill watched as she sliced through the water, thinking that she must have been confused. After all, portkey travel could be rather disorienting, particularly when it was the traveler’s first time or if it was unexpected. She had the unfortunate luck of having both happen at the same time. Then he noticed the path she was taking; she was headed straight for that weapon of hers, which was rapidly sinking to the bottom. A moment later, they both disappeared from sight.
She wasn’t confused. She was mental. And yet, it was his fault she was in this situation at all.
With no choice but to swim after her, Bill dove down after her.
Thankfully, though he had no doubt someone of her ability was a strong swimmer, his arm span far outmatched hers. Within moments, he had her back in his sights.
It was a good thing, too. For although she had managed to reach her weapon, something else had, too; many somethings, in fact.
Bill grimaced as the swarm of grindylows surrounded her, grabbing both her and her possession with their tentacles. She was fighting them off admirably, but there were too many of them; she would drown before they relinquished their prize, and they knew it. She probably did as well, and yet the stubborn little chit wouldn’t let go.
Bill’s mind raced as he swam ever closer, struggling to think of what he could do.
Under normal circumstances, magic was the obvious choice; however, the blasted wand he had finally gotten from Ollivander was tempermental on the best of days. It was why he was unable to summon his old wand with a simple Accio in the woods, and it was why he hesitated to use it now. It would hardly do to save the girl by blasting her to bits with a miscast spell.
On the other hand, he did not have many other options, and she was visibly weakening.
At that exact moment, one of the grindylows managed to sneak behind her and wrap its tentacle around her neck, and his decision was made for him.
Bill pointed his wand at the creatures.
The revulsion jinx came out of his mouth in a stream of bubbles. To his utter relief, however, it worked. A jet of boiling water shot at the grindylow, knocking it off of Buffy and sending it careening into a few others. As it began howling in obvious pain, the rest of little buggers momentarily back away, not wanting to risk being hit by another blast.
Bill seized his opportunity; though his lungs were screaming for air, he quickly closed the gap between him and Buffy and grabbed her around the waist. Then, using his last bit of breath, he swam as quickly as he could for the surface. Mercifully, she didn’t fight him.
The night air had never tasted so sweet. He greedily sucked it down the moment he felt it on his face. Beside him, he heard Buffy sputtering and coughing, half drowned that she was. There was no time to rest, though, not with the grindylows below them still.
With his arm still around Buffy, Bill began to swim for the shoreline.
Unfortunately, it was a large lake, and they had managed to land almost squarely in the center. By the time they reached shallow water, Bill was good and knackered. Buffy was still limp, however, oddly so, so he forced himself to continue on, scooping her up in his arms and carrying her until his feet were on solid ground. It was only after he had gently deposited her on the ground that he finally allowed himself to sink to his knees in exhaustion.
“What the hell were those things?”
Bill jerked his head up in surprise at the sound of Buffy’s voice, which was somewhat lower and hoarser than usual.
“Grindylows,” he replied. “Nasty little creatures, aren’t they?”
She didn’t respond; instead she stared at her feet, a haunted look on her face as she gingerly touched her neck. Gone was the incredibly strong, extremely fearsome Slayer; in her place, was a bedraggled, vulnerable girl.
Bill looked away, giving her a moment to collect herself. It was what any decent bloke would do. He and his brothers did it for each other all the time when one of them was caught out of sorts.
He used the opportunity to take a look around. Aside from the lake, which he hoped to never touch again, he saw an expanse of trees. From his vantage point, they seemed to slope upward. Beyond that was more trees, all of which formed an ominous canopy. None of it looked familiar.
Bill rubbed a tired hand over his face. He was a little surprised when his hand came away wet. In all the excitement, he had forgotten that he was soaked to the bone.
Holding his breath, he got to his feet and performed a quick Hot-Air Charm — one that sputtered out before the slightest puff of air could reach him. Turning a little red, he tried again, this time with much more success.
He turned back toward Buffy, thinking to offer to do same for her; even though he knew full well there was just as much chance she would shove his wand up his arse as accept. Before he could put his life in peril, however, she got to her feet and came to stand next to him, her earlier mood gone as she coolly assessed her surroundings.
“How did we get here? And where are we?”
“Portkey,” he replied. “Greyback enchanted my broken wand to bring us here.”
Buffy frowned. “Why? The middle of a lake seems kind of strange. Unless he wanted those little gremlins finish us off?”
Bill swallowed his grin at her name for grindylows. “No, I imagine that’s not what he intended at all,” he said. “There’s a reason only ordinary, every day items are supposed to be used as portkeys. You don’t want the object’s own magic interfering with the magic of the portkey. The results could be disastrous — much worse than falling into a lake of grindylows.”
Part of him was surprised by how forthcoming he was being. The other part of him felt as if he owed it to her. Whether she appreciated it or not, he didn’t know. But then, that wasn’t the point.
She raised her eyebrow at him. “If you say so,” she retorted, her fingers ghosting the angry red marks on her neck. Then she drew in a sharp breath. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but how do we get out of here? Can the key thingy bring us back?”
Bill shook his head. “One way trip, I’m afraid.”
“Can you make another one then?”
Bill shook his head again, this time much more stiffly. “Magic has its limitations, one of them being distance. It’s dangerous to create a portkey — or travel by any other magical means — without knowing where we are or how far we are from our destination.”
Add to that the trouble he was having with his wand, and he’d be a bloody fool to try anything as complicated as Apparating. Getting splinched would be the best possible scenario.
“So basically what you’re saying is that you’re useless.”
And just like that, she was under his skin again, all the previous goodwill he had been feeling gone.
Bill glared at her. “Yes, I suppose so, largely because someone broke my wand, and now I have one that hasn’t decided if it even likes me, let alone if it wants to work properly.”
She grinned at him, though in reality it was closer to a grimace. “Your wand has my complete sympathies.”
Bill felt his temper rise even further. She just met his gaze defiantly, daring him to do something.
They stared at each other, neither one willing to back down. Bill could feel the tension ratcheting up with each passing second. Before it could boil over, however, a sound echoed across the lake, distracting them both.
It was the smallest sound, one that would not have caught their attention if they had not been standing on the edge of the lake. As it was, however, it carried over the still water quite easily.
Bill and Buffy both turned in the direction from which it came. They both glimpsed something moving close to the water’s edge.
“Greyback?” Buffy wondered aloud.
“It’s possible, I suppose,” Bill said slowly.
And it was. They may not have landed exactly where Greyback wanted them to, but that didn’t mean they were that far off, either. Then again, they were in a forest, one where magical creatures lived, as evidenced by the grindylows.
“It could also any other assortment of creatures, both magical and non-magical.”
Buffy nodded, and almost absently, touched her side, looking for something. It was an automatic reaction, one he assumed, came from being the Slayer, only this time, there was nothing there.
“Crap! My crossbow! And Winnie!
” she exclaimed.
To his chagrin, she started to move toward the water again, as if she were thinking of diving back in and duelling the grindylows again. It was a losing battle. Her bow was probably halfway across the lake by now, possibly in pieces, courtesy of the nasty little gits.
Bill quickly grabbed her arm to stop her from such a futile task.
At his touch, she whirled on him, her eyes sparking. Fortunately, before she could act on it, Bill caught sight of something close to the shoreline.
“Look,” he hissed.
Buffy turned just in time to see the trees shudder as something very large moved through them, seemingly heading straight for them. Even worse, while it was still a ways from them, it was significantly closer than it had been moments ago.
“I have to get—”
“There’s no time,” Bill interrupted. “What was that you said to me, not ten minutes ago? Greyback has the advantage here, and right now, between the two of us, we have no weapons and a defunct wand. We need to get the hell out of here, formulate a plan, and above all else, not go off bloody half-cocked
Eyes blazing again, she wrenched her arm away from him. To his surprise, she took a deep breath and nodded.
“You’re right,” she said. “Let’s go.”
With that, she turned on her heel and melted into the treeline.
Bill ground his teeth and followed. His frustration was soon forgotten, however, as it took all his concentration to keep up; for she was quick and agile, moving effortlessly through the trees like a bloody wood sprite.
The pace was relentless. Trees rushed by them in a blur. Though at times Bill felt like his legs were going to collapse, he pressed on.
Finally, eventually, Buffy came to an abrupt halt, throwing her arms up in frustration.
“What is this?! The Neverending Forest?”
Bill drew in a few deep puffs of air before responding.
“It’s beginning to seem that way, isn’t it? Perhaps we should stop and rest for a bit, start again when the sun is up.”
She skewered him with a look. “Right, because I wouldn’t want to make it too difficult for Greyback to kill me in my sleep,” she retorted, gesturing to the lack of coverage around her.
Bill smirked. “If you give me a few moments, I may be able to fix that.”
Without bothering to explain any further, he began walking once again toward a tiny outcropping of rock he spied just up ahead. It was nothing to speak of, really, just a large boulder or two, but it would do.
After a moment, he heard Buffy follow his lead. His smirk grew wider. Now all he needed was for his wand to behave itself.
When he finally reached the rocks, he paused, waiting for Buffy to catch up. Once she was standing next to him, he raised his wand — ignoring the small snort of disdain next to him.
Since his last few spells had been successful, he was feeling a bit more confident this time around. Still, he felt a distinct sense of relief when he felt the spells settle into place.
Five minutes later, the protection wards were complete.
Triumphant, he turned toward Buffy.
“We’re safe, for now. Greyback — or anyone, for that matter — won’t be able to penetrate the shielding charms in place. Just stay within five meters of this boulder,” he said, pointing to the one closest to him.
Buffy stared at the invisible boundary for a moment before looking back at him. He could see the conflicting emotions in her eyes, probably trying to decide whether to believe him or not. He half-expected her to just leave and go her own way.
“I still don’t think this is the best idea,” she finally said. “A good night’s sleep — and I use that term loosely — isn’t going to change the fact that there’s no food or water.”
Bill shrugged noncommittally. “I believe I can help with that, too.”
As he spoke, he reached inside the pocket of his trousers and pulled out the magically shrunken tent he had stored there for precisely something like this. He set it just in front of the largest boulder and pointed his wand at it.
A blue jet of light shot out of his wand and encircled the tent, enlarging it until it was its normal size.
Smothering a triumphant grin, he turned toward Buffy, whose eyes were as wide as saucers as she stared at the tent.
“After you,” he said, making a sweeping motion with his arm.
“Uh uh,” she replied. “I’m good.”
He could see the mistrust written all over her face.
Feeling more annoyed than he cared for, Bill entered the tent. Though it was a little damp inside, the water repellant charm had, for the most part, held. He immediately headed over to the small pantry, grabbed a few apples, and stalked back outside.
He tossed one of them to Buffy, who caught it deftly with one hand.
“Eat it, toss it, do whatever you like with it. I would tell you that it’s not poisoned, but you wouldn’t believe me either way, would you?” he bit out.
Then he strode back into the tent and sat heavily in one of the chairs. Moodily, he ate the apple. Once he was finished, he forced himself to concentrate on the Greyback situation.
One thing was certain; Greyback had set a trap for him. Whether he had known that Bill would come back to retrieve his wand was irrelevant. The bastard probably didn’t care. The important point was that he obviously wanted to capture Bill, probably hoping for a bit of sport before he killed him.
It further bolstered his theory that Greyback had returned for one reason and one reason only: revenge. Because of this, it made him extremely dangerous.
A slight noise outside the tent pulled him from his thoughts.
Rising to his feet, Bill quickly made his way over to the flap of the tent and peered out.
To his surprise, he saw that it was Buffy. He honestly thought she would’ve taken off by now.
Curiously, he watched her as she sat a meter or two away from the tent, leaning against one of the smaller boulders. Then she closed her eyes, her breathing becoming slow and regulated. Before long, tiny beads of sweat appeared on her forehead. Yet she didn’t move, simply continuing to breath in and out in a slow rhythm.
She must have stayed there for a better part of an hour. Some might have found it as thrilling as sitting through one of Binns’ lectures. Bill, however, was transfixed. He hadn’t thought her capable of the stillness with which she sat, as all his encounters with her pointed to the contrary. Even more unexpected was the sense of peace it brought with it.
To his enormous regret, it was broken with startling abruptness soon thereafter.
Without warning, Buffy leapt to her feet with a look of victory. And in her hand was a gleaming sword.
Bill stared at her in disbelief.
Somehow she had summoned her sword — through
Perhaps sensing his shock, she looked over at him. The look on her face, while not hostile, didn’t invite any questions. So Bill simply turned and moved back into the tent.
Soon, he was ready to turn for the night. Before he settled into his cot, he looked at the opening of the tent. He hadn’t heard a single sound since she had retrieved her sword. She was probably long gone by now.
With a sigh, he laid down, eventually falling into an uneasy sleep as his mind continued to mull over what had happened.
He awoke later in the night with a start. Thinking he heard something outside, he threw back the covers and made a beeline for the flap of the tent.
He was astonished to see that Buffy was still there, leaning against the rock, fast asleep, sword still in hand.
She looked miserable. Her clothes were obviously still damp, and she was shivering.
Bill hesitated for a moment before grabbing one of the blankets off the cot. Then, as quietly as he could, he walked over to her.
When he got within half a meter, her eyes snapped open, her hand tightening around her sword. Though she relaxed a little when she saw it was him, she was still wary.
He held up the blanket to show his intentions. Her eyes widened slightly in surprise. Then she nodded.
Encouraged, Bill closed the distance and handed her the blanket.
With what could only be described as a sigh of sheer bliss, she drew the blanket around her like a cocoon. With a brief look up, she muttered a thank you before her eyes fluttered shut.
Taking his cue, Bill started to turn to go back into the tent. As he did, however, he spotted something lying next to her; the apple, eaten down to the core.
Bill shook his head.
The girl confused him beyond the point of reason. Though he would never say this aloud — he did have some sense of self-preservation after all — he constantly felt a bit like he was offering a bit of meat to a hippogriff, where the beast was either going to accept the gift and become the best of chums with him, or it was going to bite his hand off and he’d be forced to spend the rest of his days learning how to cast magic with his other hand. And yet avoiding her seemed impossible, particularly in light of their current predicament. He had little choice but to make the best of the situation.
He just hoped he had all his limbs attached when all this was over with.+++
A/N: Still with me? Hopefully?