Chapter Twenty-One - The Heir
Set - shortly after ch. 20
Notes: I know the last chapter was more than a little confusing, what with unresolved scenarios with everybody, pretty much but here we go for all of you who have stuck with me this far - nice, comfortable resolution. Perhaps ;)
Oh, and to get in the mood for writing this chapter, I listened to a Queen song repeatedly - No One But You. Gotta love music - food for the soul, it is. Speaking like Yoda, am I.
Also, for the record, I despise doing endings, which is why my series are usually so long and drawn out. Endings are my biggest fear. I don’t like them. They have a tendency to become cheesy in my hands. They scare me a lot. I try and avoid them, but this story...well, it has an ending.
And compared to most endings I’ve done, its not too bad.
Chapter Twenty-One - The Heir
Warm and light...
Her eyes still pressed tightly shut, Cassandra didn’t want to risk opening them, in case it wasn’t real, in case she was still there, in case the red glow she saw through her lids was blood once again.
Her hands shook by her sides, touching whatever she was lying on.
Warm, light and soft...
It had to be a dream: a cruel, evil dream that would slip from her grasp as soon as she dared to open her tightly closed eyes.
Shivers - and not from any cold - rapidly passed through her bruised and scored body, her aches and pains returning to her full force, as she fished around for more evidence of where she was.
Inhaling a nervous breath, she gasped.
No blood or salt or fear...
Hesitantly, biting down on her lower lip so hard that she could taste her own blood, she started to open one eye, squinting as clear, bright light, clean light flooded into her visual senses.
A shaking breath escaped her.
This wasn’t there...it definitely wasn’t there...
A high roof towered above her, clean and creamy in the light flooding in the windows above her...bed? She was in a bed? Turning her head slowly, she looked down at her body.
She was in a bed, in a nightshirt, with sheets and blankets tucked up to her chest, where her horribly bruised and cut hands lay by her sides. Tears welled in her eyes as she recognised what was resting beside her right hand.
Despite the pain lancing through her limp wrist, she moved her hand until her shaking fingertips touched her son’s head, where it was resting on his folded arms, on the edge of the mattress.
Sleepy brown eyes flickered opened and, yawning like a puppy would, he lifted his head. "Whu...?"
"A...lex..." she whispered, her dry lips beading with blood, wishing she could say more than that, lift her hand, move, hug him, jump around...anything!
His eyes turned to her face, widening. "Mom!" She felt her lips painfully rise in a smile, fighting down the dizziness and awful headache that was looming in on her. "I-I thought you were...oh God...mom..."
Despite the awkwardness of her position, he managed to wrap his arms around her and she could feel his hot tears against her throat and more than anything, she wanted to be able to lift her arms and return the embrace.
She just felt so tired, so utterly exhausted.
Tears stung in her eyes and she whispered, "My baby boy..."
"Oh God, mom..." He was sitting on the edge of the bed now, leaning over her, one of her feeble little hands resting between his, tears streaking his cheeks. "Why didn’t you tell me?"
"Couldn’t...loved you...too much..." Why did she feel so tired? So drained?
"I love you too, mom and Ethan...he’s here...he told me everything...we got you out... you’re safe now...you’re gonna come home and were gonna take care of you and everything’ll be fine."
Cassandra’s eyes closed, too heavy for her to keep them open any longer. "I..." she whispered softly. "Know...love...you..."
She felt her son’s lips brush her cheek, as she drifted back into somewhere between sleep and unconsciousness.
"That can’t be good for you."
Blood-shot eyes peered over folded arms, Malfoy’s face buried in the thick sleeves of his robes. "You’re not my bloody father," he mumbled, lowering his face until all his features except his forehead and hair were hidden from sight.
"Malfoy," Giles said. "Come on."
One hand under Draco’s elbow started to bring him to his feet, but he sulkily jerked his arm free and crossed them on the bar top again, burying his face. "You can’t tell me what to do," he slurred. "Sod off."
Giles’ eyes narrowed and had if who knew him had been there, they would have identified the expression as that of the one known as ‘Ripper’ and no one, especially not a pissed-as-a-newt young wizard, told Ripper what he couldn’t do.
Fortunately for the wizard, The Leaky Cauldron was almost empty, only a couple of old wizards dotted here and there in the booths or at the tables, so what happened next went unseen for the most part.
Grabbing a handful of the back of Malfoy’s collar in one hand and one of the boy’s arms with the other, the older wizard frog-marched the protesting youth out of the back door of the Leaky Cauldron and into the yard.
Before he could cry out, Draco’s head was plunged into the rain barrel that stood beside the door, the rush of cold suddenly washing away all the blurry warmth in his mind that half a bottle of vodka had provided him with.
He struggled futilely and was jerked back, his head erupting from the water. Panting and gasping, he struck out, only for those strangely strong arms to fend of his blows and take control of him again.
Spun around, the dizzy - and slightly sick-feeling - wizard stared at Giles as he was slammed back against the wall that lead into Diagon Alley, the expression on the older man’s face more frightening than anything he had ever seen on his father.
That was really saying something as well.
Yes, Draco Malfoy had idolised his father, but he had also been terrified senseless of him: of the beatings he meted out; of the insults he landed on his son’s head for not being nearly good enough; of everything about him.
To see an expression more terrifying than his father when he was angry...
His lip started to tremble and he felt cold suddenly, like all the blood in his body had been replaced with ice. Water was trickling down his face, his hair hanging over his eyes and his teeth started to chatter.
"Now listen to me, you little prick," Green eyes were fixed on his dangerously. "I might not be your arsehole of a father, but I do know what I’m talking about. I’m not letting you start down that road."
"And why should you give a fucking damn?" Frightened, cold and wet, Draco’s words came out harsh and loud before he could stop them. "Why do you give a fucking damn what happens to me?" He shoved Giles’ hands off his shoulders, his eyes burning. His words rapidly turned from angry statements to raw sobs. "I’m scum, remember? I was a fucking Death Eater! Why the hell would you care?"
He was slammed back up against the wall again, but a little less forcefully. "I give a damn because I’ve been where you are now, you little git," Giles’ voice had softened a little, although it was still rough. "I won’t let you go that way..."
One of the hands on his upper arms loosened and rose to lift the shaking youth’s face up, making Draco’s grey eyes meet green. Tears were burning their way down the young wizard’s face and he was choking on harsh, wracking sobs.
If he was ever asked at a later date what he happened, Malfoy would say that he had no idea whatsoever.
One minute, he had been forcibly pinned against the wall, the next, he was crying like a bloody baby in the protective arms of the older wizard with the frightening eyes and the reassuring words.
His sobs choked him so much that he doubled over, fell to his knees and vomited the meagre fluid contents of his stomach on the cobbles of the yard. Giles went on one knee beside him and supported him, an arm around Draco’s shoulder.
Bile and saliva dripping from his mouth, his throat feeling as if he had swallowed rusty nails and crushed glass, Draco stared wildly at the older wizard, his tears still stinging down his cheeks.
"I hate it..." he hacked out, slamming the heels of his hands against his forehead, his voice rising in pitch and intensity. "I HATE IT! I want to fucking forget! I don’t want to remember! I want to forget my mum’s face when she died! I want to forget my dad thrashing me because I was never damn well good enough for his perfect world! I want to forget!" Furious, grief-filled grey eyes flashed at Giles, as the young wizard threw himself at the older wizard. "I want to get pissed! I want to get so fucking pissed that I don’t even remember my own name or him or THIS!" He ripped his sleeve back, baring the dark mark. "I want to forget!"
His fists were pounding against the older wizard’s chest as he let all his anger, his misery and his all out frustration escape. Giles, for his part, let the boy beat against his chest for as long as he needed to then sag against him, crying.
As Draco’s hysterical cries trailed off into muted whimpers, his body still shaking violently, Giles helped him unsteadily get to his feet, supporting the boy’s body with his own.
He held the blond boy as protectively as he would any of his other surrogate children in Sunnydale, leading him back into the Leaky Cauldron and to one of the booths in the darker corners.
There, he let the boy pour forth his woes, then shared with him the experiences that he had learned in his youth, after failing his father, being expelled from Hogwarts and his involvement with the blackest of the black arts.
"Hi, Ethan," Alexander didn’t even need to look up when a pair of callused hands came to rest on his shoulders, where he sat beside his mother’s bed. They squeezed his shoulders briefly.
"How is she?" The wizard looked down at the horribly frail-looking woman in the bed before them. She had always been so tiny and delicate, but now, she looked more than a hundred times worse.
Her hollow face was as white as the wax of the candles that stood in brackets on the walls. Deep, dark purple hollows ringed beneath her eyes. Her lips were swollen and scabbed, scratches and bruises covering her delicate features.
From what he had heard from the witches on duty, the rest of her body was as bad, if not worse than her face. If her appearance was anything to go by, she was more dead than alive, but the older wizard wasn’t about to admit to his God-son.
"She woke up again a while ago, but she was too tired," Alexander replied quietly, one of his hands lying over his mother’s. His hushed voice still echoed off the high walls and roof of the ward, no matter how quietly he spoke.
They were in St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries and had been for the two days since Cassandra Bones had been granted a full pardon by the Aurors committee and Ministry of Magic.
Alexander - himself - had gone to Azkaban to retrieve her, Benjamin Stone his only companion on the journey, and they had immediately had her brought to the central magical hospital, where she had remained unconscious for nearly a full day.
Stone had been horrified at the sight of Bones, when the boy had emerged, carrying the limp body of his mother, his brown eyes grim. Only two days before, when she had been placed in the prison, she had seemed so...
He couldn’t say what, but to see her after the Dementors had been given her...
Her life must have been horrific for her to react to them so badly.
Alexander hadn’t explained.
He hadn’t said anything until his mother was safely in a bed in the hospital, being treated by the best nurses available to the wizarding world.
There was silence in the ward now, the light of the sinking sun washing in through the high windows that rose to the Gothic ceiling, which towered high above them, the gargoyles and carvings eerily shadowed by candles and disappearing sunlight.
"Ethan," Alexander looked up at him. "I...I need to ask a big favour."
"What is it?" The seriousness in the boy’s voice startled him.
Alexander looked back down at his mother’s face. It was contorted in pain and she was whimpering, her head twitching from side-to-side spasmodically. "I need to go and see Stone," he said quietly. "Can you stay with mom until I get back?"
"You positive you don’t want me to come with you?"
"Someone needs to be here in case she wakes up again," the boy said. "Could I...I don’t have any over robes and I kinda don’t want to be standing out..."
Ethan looked down at the robes he was wearing again. He had forgotten just how cold it was in England, but he immediately shrugged out of them and handed them to Alexander. "You take care, all right?"
"I always do," Alexander replied, pulling the robes on. "If mom asks where I am, tell her she can have three guesses."
Ethan almost smiled, as he slipped into the seat that his Godson had just vacated. "I think I can manage that."
It was only ten minutes after Alexander had left the ward - clad in the wizard’s comfortable, thick travelling robes - that Ethan realised, with chagrin, that he had left his wand in the pocket of his robes.
"Good thing the boy doesn’t know how to use it," he muttered, turning his attention back to his lover and taking her small hand between his.
"So you’re still hanging about?"
Giles raised his eyes from the young man seated beside him to the older one standing just beside the booth, gazing down at them. The small red head was at his side, her arms around him. "Snape."
"Do you mind if we join you?"
Waving towards the opposite side of the table, Giles’ smile was brittle. "How are you both?"
"We’re okay," the girl said. "Please, how is Cassandra? Is she all right?"
The Watcher exhaled a sigh. "I’m afraid I-I-I don’t really know," he replied. "As far as I am aware, she was still drifting in and out of consciousness. Xander and Ethan are still keeping watch over her."
"And dare we ask why you still have him with you?"
Malfoy’s eyes rose defiantly, but there was a worn look about his pale face. "Sod off, you obnoxious bastard," he whispered, his voice rasping, looking back down at his tankard of butterbeer.
"We h-h-have been comparing notes," Giles’ green eyes flashed in warning at the former Teacher. There was something in those eyes that suggested the man was more powerful than he looked. "And we have decided that both our f-fathers were pricks."
"Ah, now there is a topic I am familiar with. The wonder of fathers."
"N-n-n-n-no..." All men looked at the girl, who was pressing against Snape’s side, her face white.
A look of horrified guilt shot across Snape’s face. "By Merlin..." he breathed, his fingers threading through her hair and drawing her to him, his lips pressing against the top of her head. "Forgive me. It slipped my mind, dear one..."
"If I may..."
Malfoy touched the startled Watcher on the arm, leaning up to whisper something to him, no doubt explaining the circumstances in which Ginny had been cursed with her last encounter with her father.
"Sadly, he was absent that night," Snape murmured, gathering his lover in his arms.
Malfoy, however, was staring at his former House Master. "Why are you..." A black brow rose. "Oh!" His face twisted in horror, his eyes going from the Potions Master’s face to the barely visible face of the girl in his arms. "Eurgh!"
"I believe that is what her brother said," Snape’s eyes were focused on Ginny’s bowed head, her small hands spread on his chest. "Dear one?" Brown eyes lifted to him, blinking tears back. "Are you all right?"
One of her arms slid up and around his neck, pulling him down. Burying her face in his throat, she wrapped her other arm around him, his own arms lifting her into his lap to cradle her.
"But you...her...that’s just sick! You’re old enough to be her bloody father!"
"V-V-V-Voldemort was o-older," Ginny stammered.
"Treble your age, at least, dear one."
The red head sniffed softly, curling comfortably against Snape’s chest. "Pervy old bastard that he was," she whispered. "I like my men older than me...but not that old... and wrinkly...yuck..."
Her lover and the watcher both had to smile at the tone in her voice.
"That reminds me," Malfoy was staring at her as if he had just realised something or earth-shattering importance. "You were dead last time I checked. Why aren’t you still dead? Was it just a temporary thing? Or did Snape raise you to be his zombie-love-muppet? I would believe in that more than in you miraculously being resurrected."
Ginny actually giggled. "Malfoy!"
"What? Like he wouldn’t do that, Weasley," What looked like a genuine, albeit very hesitant smile came onto his lips. "I bet that is what he did, but he just didn’t bother to tell you."
"Malfoy," Snape snarled, his eyes glittering.
"Uh..." The blond man drew back in his seat warily.
"Severus," a small hand brought his face around, his expression softening as soon as he met Ginny’s eyes. "You’re being horrible, scaring poor Malfoy like that."
"Ah, yes, dear one, but you must recall that is because it is what I do best."
Ginny’s lips rose a little. "Not quite, Severus," she muttered. "But I’m sure that the thing you do best would also scare Malfoy out of his wits, if he ever had the chance to see you doing it."
Black eyes gleamed with amusement. "You really are quite the minx, you realise, dear one?" he remarked, before weaving his hand through her hair and pulling her mouth against his.
Malfoy blinked, then stared, then blinked and stared some more.
It was like a muggle car-wreck.
He couldn’t seem to look away.
That is, until he was sure he saw a flash of a tongue.
"Giles, let me out! I think I’m going to be sick!"
Ginny and Snape broke out of the kiss and smirked.
And looking more evil and wicked than he ever had when he smirked?
After being befriended by the Heir of the Dark Lord, having his head dunked in a rain barrel in the back yard of The Leaky Cauldron, being practically adopted by an ex-demon-worshipper before seeing his House Master stick his tongue in the mouth of one of the Weasleys, it really was turning out to be the most surreal week of Draco Malfoy’s life.
Alexander stood at the doorway at the head of the hall, taking a slow breath. He had never felt more nervous or frightened in his life and it wasn’t just because of those looming robed guards.
A shiver passed down his spine.
The wash of ice, the bitter gall, the surge nausea he felt when they neared made it painfully clear why his mother had been in such a condition when he had liberated her from the prison two days earlier.
"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Stone asked.
His eyes roamed the grim hallway he was about to enter. He could hear the moans and whimpers already, his hands shaking by his sides, gusts of sea-scented air tossing his hair into tangled curls.
It looked like it should be deserted.
It looked like a ruin.
Cold, grey stone was everywhere, cracked flagstones lining the floor, puddles and mould staining them. Riddled with chinks, the wind whistled shrilly through the wall, the sound making him shudder again.
The only light in the hall came from tiny windows in the cell and two large, circular windows - with magically enhanced transparent shields instead of glass - high on the gables, allowing the weak moonlight to wash everything in a pale weird blue.
On either side of the long, narrow, dark hall, box-like cells stood, enclosed by thick, rusting bars. Each one contained a prisoner in a different state of sanity: some rocking in corners; some screaming hoarsely on the floor; some limp like vegetables.
A hollow banging caught his attention and he looked in the direction of the sound, immediately regretting it.
One of the prisoners was cracking his head rhythmically against the rusted metal of the bars.
He was mumbling, blood streaming down his face, a visible dent appearing in his already misshapen forehead. He pulled his head back and made it connect with the thick bar once more, hard.
There was a crunching sound, like someone hitting an over-ripe watermelon with a sledgehammer.
The prisoner went limp and slid bonelessly down the bar, leaving a smear of blood and brain tissue all the way down the column of metal. Slumping on the floor, an ooze of grey slipped from his cracked skull.
Bracing one hand against the crumbling doorframe, Alexander fought down a wave of nausea, closing his eyes.
"Wait outside," the boy whispered. "You don’t need to deal with this. It’s time for me to face him."
Stone nodded, relieved to be out. He stepped back, as the young man took his first uneasy steps into the hall, the scent of blood, urine, vomit and death overhanging the whole corridor.
Alexander tried not to look at what was happening in the cells.
He tried to tell himself that the people imprisoned were there for a reason, that they deserved whatever they got, that they had committed foul crimes against humanity and should suffer.
Bile rose in his throat, as he saw one of the prisoners out of the corner of his eye.
It was a young woman, probably only a few years older than he was. She was sitting on the floor in the middle of her cell, cross-legged, rocking feverishly as she yanked clump after clump of her hair out, her scalp torn and bleeding.
Pressing his lips together, Alexander continued down the hall, his footsteps sounding deafening to him, until he reached the final grim cell, several bars of which had been magically removed to provide an entry way.
Clearly, no one expected the prisoner to get up and walk out.
Stepping into the room, Alexander’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness around him, the only light and air provided by a narrow slit in the wall that was classed as a ‘window’.
It was about four inches wide and a foot long, which meant the light was hazy at best, but especially because it was night.
Squinting around, he turned towards the darkest corner of the room when he heard someone whisper.
"Who are you, boy?"
The voice was soft, sibilant, dangerous.
Alexander felt a cold sweat prickling down his back, his stomach twisting into tight and painful knots. He looked for the owner of the voice, only seeing a small lump of what looked like blankets in the corner.
"V-Voldemort..." he stammered.
Somehow, now that he was here, he could understand just why the Dark Lord was so infamous. His hissing voice was so calm, so cool, so deadly that it made him feel that the owner feared nothing.
Even the feel of the room...
The wind was still shrieking around him, the chill making his ears and nose go red, but nothing could compare to the blood-freezing feeling that he felt settle in the pit of his stomach.
He wanted to turn, to run away, to be sick...all at once.
"I know who I am, boy," the voice murmured again. "Who are you, to be granted access to me?"
Shivering, pulling the thick robes around his body, the reassuring smell of Ethan lingering on them, Alexander swallowed hard, staring down at the bundle of ragged blankets in the corner.
Focussing his mind on snakes in any way, shape or slithery form, he answered, his voice shaking with fear, "I am Alexander Bones, only son of Cassandra Bones... Heir of Slytherin..."
His words escaped as a series of hisses and spits and he swallowed hard again, his fingers biting into the material of the robes around him that were doing nothing to keep out the cold.
There was a stunned silence.
Hardly surprising, Alexander thought, swallowing hard and repeatedly - it was the only thing he could do to stop himself being sick - Voldemort would hardly expect the Ministry to allow his Heir access.
It seemed like an eternity before the heap in the corner shifted, the fabric rustling.
The two simple words were stated in a respite of the wind.
Alexander slowly nodded, wondering why he had felt the urge to come anyway.
Was he trying to make himself go nuts? Did he want to have a complete nervous breakdown? Did he want to be tormented by the fact that his father was a terrifying psychopath who looked strangely like a heap of blankets?
"They granted you access to me..." There was a hissing chuckle. "Foolssss..."
Alexander’s teeth were clattering together noisily. Every single part of his body felt like it was shivering on it’s own. His pushed his shaking hands into the deep pockets of the robes.
"You have reached maturity."
The blankets shifted and Alexander froze. Gleaming scarlet eyes were staring up at him from the darkness of the corner. Red eyes...if that wasn’t enough to make him run in terror, he knew nothing was.
Only, legs-frozen-in-fear were making it a bit of a problem.
"You resemble your mother."
"A great deal."
This was what his mom had dealt with.
Frightening voice, bad BAD feeling, evil...
"Do they know who you are, my Heir?"
Licking his suddenly dry lips, Alexander nodded. "Y-yes, sir." There was a rasping chuckle at his words. "They...the Minister...he wished to kill me."
"Dear Cornelius..." Voldemort whispered to himself. "You killed the bloated fool, no doubt..."
Alexander’s hands clenched into fists in his pockets, his teeth grinding together. His father, his biological father, thought he - Alexander - would have killed a wizard for being afraid of him?
His fingers brushed against wood in his left pocket, his lips parting in surprise. A wand? How had he...
Alexander’s eyes widened.
"Tell me, my boy," his father whispered. "Can you feel the power? Do you desire to use it?"
Mom called him that, but it had never sounded so...dirty when she said it, when he was curled in her arms.
Even the sound of those words on the Dark Lord’s lips made him feel like he had to run and wash himself, scrub himself clean until he didn’t feel so filthy.
Robert Harris called him that, too.
It aroused almost the same feelings of fear and disgust that the words had caused him when Voldemort had spoken them. Every time he was knocked down, or struck by his stepfather’s fist, that was what Harris had called him.
Only his mother ever said it with love.
Neither of the men he could call father made it feel that way.
It was almost as if he was an animal.
"Yes, boy, power."
A burning, sick feeling was settling over the icy lump in his stomach. Was that all this... thing cared about? Power? What about his mom? What about everything that she had gone through?
Clearing his throat, Alexander shakily asked, "What are...we going to do?"
"With your strength, my boy, I will rise once more," there was another hissing laugh, full of ice-hard mirth. It made gooseflesh rise on Alexander’s skin. "They will see the folly of imprisoning me thus."
"You’ll be strong because of me?" Alexander asked. He felt dizzy.
He couldn’t let it all happen again. He couldn’t let anyone else go through what his mother had. What the Mini-Willow had. What Creepy-black-wearing guy had. Even what Draco had.
"Yes, my boy...together..."
"We will rule the Galaxy as Father and Son..." Alexander’s eyes closed, a mirthless smile crossing his lips at the thought of Star Wars. Voldemort was the incarnation of an even more evil Vader to his Skywalker.
"Yessss..." Voldemort breathed. His eerie red eyes were glittering. "My son, my blood, my Heir..."
Opening his eyes slowly, Alexander raised his head and smiled a forced smile.
"You’re wrong..." he said.
The red eyes narrowed to slits. "What causes you to say this, my boy?"
Alexander withdrew the wand from his pocket, pointing it at the heap. "You are not my father," he said in a low voice, fear matched by loathing and disgust. "You were never my father."
"But I thought he was a squib."
Malfoy shook his head emphatically. "Not a chance, Professor," he said, unable to shake the habit of calling Snape Professor. "The first time I met him, he admitted he had power, but he didn’t want it."
"He is a remarkable young man, powerless or not," Giles said.
The odd quartet were still sitting in the quiet booth in The Leaky Cauldron, enjoying the chance to talk to people who were on the same level as they were, without being judged for it.
A lantern stood in the middle of the table, its warm glow making the group seem almost...cosy, which would have struck any observers as rather bizarre, considering the membership of the group: a spy who was a Death Eater; a son of Death Eater who was a Death Eater; a wizard who had been expelled for experimentation with the Dark Arts and a witch who had been the Dark Lord’s unfortunate consort.
"Didn’t you wonder why I fell back in your lap at the plea?"
Snape gave his lover a look, a small smile lifting his lips as he said, "Dear one, in case it slipped your mind, you do that on a regular basis."
"Not that time, Severus," she swatted at his chest. "When I tried to stop him, something pushed me back when he looked at me. It wasn’t a hard push, but just enough to throw me off-balance."
"Same here, Weasley," Malfoy said, after swallowing a mouthful of butterbeer. "It was like a hand against my chest had stopped me moving."
Ginny was turning a tankard on the table, staring at the reflection of the lamp on the rim. "You know," her voice was shaking as she spoke. "When Fudge started to say Avada K-K-Kedavra, I-I really thought he was going to do it."
"As did we all," Giles had removed his glasses and was polishing them on his shirt, his brown furrowing.
"It was his lack of conviction when he said the words that saved the boy," Snape said. "Had he truly wished to kill him, Alexander would be dead now, considering that he said the full incantation..."
Giles closed his eyes for a moment. "I prefer not to imagine that," he said somewhat uncomfortably. "Although, quite how Xander actually managed to-to-to convince him to do otherwise..."
"Force of personality, Giles," Malfoy said, leaning back against the high back of the booth’s seat. the back of his head rocked back against the dark wood, a sigh slipping past his lips. "The bloody great prat has a gift of making you like him."
"Y-y-you really think so?"
Draco lowered his chin and gave the watcher a look. "All people here who genuinely like Xander, raise a hand now," he said dryly. Four hands rose. "You think I stayed because of his spectacular taste in clothes?"
"I suppose he-he-he does have a way with people."
"Does he have anyone who dislikes him?"
Giles, pinching the bridge of his nose between forefinger and thumb, his glasses dangling from his other fingers, smiled a little.
"His greatest enemy is the vampire with a soul that he mentioned at the plea," he replied. "Even when Angel was souled, Xander maintained that he was evil. He was proved right in the end."
"You would think he would feel more threatened by soulless vampires," Snape remarked dryly.
Both Snape and Malfoy had uttered the curse, voices full of pain, suddenly grasping at their left forearms, agony etched on their faces.
The colour flooded from Malfoy’s face as he pulled his knees up, hunching over his wrist. His right hand was locked around his forearm, his left twisted into a rigid-looking claw, his breathing ragged.
Snape looked just as bad, his lips peeled back from his clenched teeth, his right hand savagely pinning his left arm down on his thigh. His eyes were fixed on a spot beyond the table and he was shaking, although it was barely visible.
"S-Severus?" Ginny was staring down at his robed arm in horror.
"Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod..." Malfoy was hoarsely whispering the words like a mantra, raising his eyes to the ceiling and blinking hard, tears of pain breaking from his grey eyes.
"What is it?" Giles demanded, grasping the boy’s shoulders when he began to shake.
"The Dark Mark," Ginny whispered, staring at her lover’s face in panic.
Malfoy seemed to slump first, gasping. "What the hell was that?" he demanded, his face still white, voice hoarse. "It...where did the pain go...?"
"I...it was never that bad before...never..." Snape muttered. He looked like he would collapse if he even tried to stand. Shaking fingers feverishly pried at the button of his cuff, his hand quivering. "Dear one...?"
Leaning forward, Ginny twisted the button open, looking up at him with clear fear in her eyes. Reluctantly, Snape pushed his sleeve up over his wrist, apprehensive of what he would find.
"Malfoy...?" Raising his eyes, he looked across at the younger man, who had jerked his own sleeve back from his arm.
Malfoy stared back at him, looking equally stunned. "It...how?"
"What is it?" Ginny’s hand caught his, drawing his left arm towards her. She turned his arm over, her mouth falling open as she touched the pale skin. "Severus..." Her voice was shaking. "Your mark, Severus...your mark..."
"It’s gone..." He was staring at the spot which had been marred for so many years by the hideous effigy of the skull and snake, as if could not believe what he was seeing, the skin bare and unmarred once more.
Malfoy’s voice was shaking as hard as Ginny’s. "What does it mean, Professor?"
For the first time in far too many years, Snape felt a broad, genuine smile breaking onto his lips. "It means," he said, savouring every single sweet syllable. "That Lord Voldemort is dead."
"Cassie?" Trying to stop his lover from thrashing her way off the bed, Ethan grabbed Cassandra’s thin shoulders. Kneeling over her, one of the medi-witches running down the ward, he was holding her down on the mattress, as she writhed and cried out in pain. "Cassie!"
Her eyes snapped open as she arched up on the bed, her mouth opening in a silent scream of pain, her fingers hooking into the blankets beneath her with enough force to tear through them.
"Cassie, dammit! Don’t you do this!"
Beneath him, Cassandra went limp, slumping on the bed.
Ethan sat back a little. "Blimey," he muttered, startled. "It worked..."
"What happened?" the medi-witch demanded, yanking him off the bed with more force than her four-foot-eight frame should have allowed.
"I-I don’t know, luv. She just started screaming and thrashing about..."
The witch huffed, checking Cassandra’s vital signs. "Oh! You’re awake, dear!" she gasped, when Cassandra’s dark eyes opened and stared up at her wildly. "Are you feeling all right?"
Cassandra’s chin dipped in a nod, then an expression crossed her face that neither Ethan nor the other witch had expected to see.
A wide, delighted smile.
"He’s...gone..." she whispered, her brown eyes shimmering with joy and relief, before her head sagged back on the fluffy white pillow, as she was pulled back in the grip of unconsciousness.
Considering the violence of the attack - or whatever it was that she had just had - it wouldn’t surprise him if she had undone all the work that the medi-witches had put in to fix her torn body up.
She was far too familiar with unconsciousness at present.
He didn’t like it at all.
"He’s gone?" the witch asked, raising her brows, looking rather bemused. "What’s she talking about? Her son?"
Ethan’s face drained of colour.
Surely she didn’t mean...
It couldn’t be possible...could it?
He looked down at Cassandra and - more particularly - at the rather manic grin that was locked on her face, even now that she was unconsciousness.
"You-Know-Who..." he whispered. "You-Know-Who is dead."
"Are you finished here?"
Alexander started when Stone spoke. "Wh-what?"
"Are we finished here?" the Auror asked, studying the boy.
Alexander was leaning against the posts of the front gates of the fortress that was Azkaban, his left temple resting against the crumbling grey stone. His face was white, washed with cold blue in the moonlight.
From the front, Azkaban looked like the ideal setting for a muggle horror film, as some kind of lunatics asylum: grim, high walls; few tiny windows; spiked rooftop to prevent entrance from the air.
The moon was gleaming behind it, making the silhouette look all the more ominous and terrifying.
"Never let me go in there again," the boy said, his voice shaking. "If I had eaten, I would be sick right now..." His eyes opened and he looked up at Stone. "Can we get out of here?"
The haunted expression in the young man’s glassy eyes would have broken the hardest heart in the world.
Extending a leather-gloved hand to the boy, which he accepted without hesitation, Stone hauled him upright.
Supporting Alexander with one arm around his waist, Stone’s other kept a grip on his hand to be sure he didn’t stumble, or fall on the way to the jetty where a small boat waited to take them back to the mainland.
They were sitting in the small cabin when the Auror finally decided to ask.
"Did you see him?"
Alexander was sitting in the low bunk, opposite the door of the cabin, his eyes fixed on the wall that his feet were resting against, his arms folded over his robed chest, his hands tucked into the crooks of his arms for warmth.
Bleak brown eyes looked at him.
"He was never my father," he replied.
The tone in those five words told Stone that the subject was firmly closed and that if he even thought about reopening it, he was liable to find his head mysteriously missing from his body.
Nodding, sitting at the table in the middle of the cabin, Stone looked down at the book he had been pretending to read since they had left Azkaban. His eyes flicked to Alexander once more.
The boy had returned his stare to the wall in front of his face, his eyes haunted.
Stone shook his head once, looking back to the book.
Turning it the right way up, he started to read it properly.
The wizard stared at his Godson in consternation as his heavy robes were thrust back into his hands. "I was just going to tell you that your mother had been asking for you," he said carefully. "She had an attack...she’s taken a turn for the worst."
"She’s weak, Xander...very weak."
They were in the hall just outside the ward and Ethan had emerged for a moment of fresh air, when Alexander had re-entered the hospital, his Godfather’s robes slung over his arm as he walked purposefully up the stairs.
Ethan hadn’t been able to find out where the boy had gone, although he knew it was somewhere with Benjamin Stone, nor had he really tried, but he hadn’t really minded, as long as the boy got back safely.
Ethan looked away, unable to answer.
"Oh God..." Alexander whispered, moving past Ethan, his eyes filling with tears, hurrying towards the tall twin doors.
"Xander," The boy paused, his hand on the gleaming brass doorknob. "He’s gone."
Alexander didn’t look around, but he did lower his head. "I know," he said quietly, his voice shaking. There was a moment of silence. "Ethan, if you can help it, don’t do that priori incantatem spell thing you told me about, okay?"
Ethan, who had been folding his robes, looked up sharply, but the door of the ward was already swinging closed.
No bloody way...
"Alex," Cassandra managed to smile at him, as he sat down on the edge of the bed and lifted her hand up to press it against her cheek. "My baby boy..."
Tear-filled eyes stared at her, anguished. "Mom, Ethan says...he says you’re getting worse," he whispered. "He says...you..." Alexander shook his head. "Mom, you have to be all right...he’s gone...you can come home now...we’ll be great..."
"We would...have been...perfect...happy..." she breathed, her voice so soft he had to strain to hear her. Her pale lips lifted slightly. "At least...you’re safe..."
"Alex...I love you..."
"No, mom...you don’t say that...you don’t..." He sounded like he wanted to shout it at her, shake her and scream the words, but he didn’t. His voice trembled, tears breaking from his eyes. "I love you means good bye...you can’t say good bye...you can’t... please, mom...please..."
"I have...no choice...Alex..." She felt hot warmth on her own cheeks, her throat almost closing up. "I’ve had you...so long...we’ve been blessed..."
"But things are better now!"
"Yes...you can go out...in the world...no more danger..." With the lightest of touches, she drew him down to her where she lay, his burning face burying in her thick golden hair, her arms sliding around him. "I’m clean...at last...he no longer...holds me..."
"I don’t want you to go, mom...please...don’t..."
"I’ve had you...nineteen years..." she whispered, her fingers stroking through his hair, her arms barely able to hold on to him any longer. "I’ve had more...love than... any mother could...deserve..."
"You’re strong, mom...you’ll be okay..."
She felt him shudder with a muffled sob. "I know..." he whispered. "But I don’t want it to happen..."
"I love you..."
"I love you too...but...mom, please..." His voice choked off and she felt the hot warmth of his tears on her throat, her own eyes pressing shut in despair as tears leaked down her pale cheeks.
Her words grew fainter. "Forgive me...Alex..."
Her hands were slipping limply down his shoulders, but he caught one, holding it to his face, her fingertips weakly stroking loose curls back from his cheeks. "For leaving you..." She drew a slow breath. "For loving you...too much...and leaving you..."
"I do, mom...I do..." He pressed his cheek against her palm, squeezing his eyes shut, his throat raw and burning. "I love you, mom...I love you..."
Her fingers slipped from his grasp, her small hand falling limply down on the bed.
"Mom?" Alexander whispered, staring at her, one trembling hand touching her shoulder. She had a small smile on her lips. "Mom?" Shaking her gently, he shook his head. "No...mom...not yet...not yet..."
Cassandra Bones continued to gaze sightlessly at him, a peaceful smile on her face.
"No..." Alexander whispered brokenly. "No...no..."
Pulling his mother’s body to him, he buried his face in her shoulder, tears streaming down his face.
"Are you sure you don’t want to stay here for a few days?"
Alexander, sitting on the end of the bed in his room in the Leaky Cauldron, looked up at the older man. There was such grief and sorrow in his blood-shot eyes that Giles flinched. "I just want to go home," he said, his voice harsh from weeping.
Giles nodded once. "I thought you might want that."
He was standing at the door of the room, less than three paces from the bed where Alexander sat, one hand on the handle, torn between going to his young charge’s side or letting him grieve alone.
"Why did it happen?" the young man asked. He didn’t sound bitter, but more hurt and confused by it all. "My mom never did anything to hurt anyone...why did she have to die?"
"Sometimes these things happen, Xander."
Eyes the colour of dark chocolate, filled with tears, lifted to him. "But why?" It was the plaintive question of a frightened little boy, who wanted nothing more than to be taken in his mother’s arms and rocked to sleep.
Giles wished he had an answer for him. He wished he could comfort the boy with meaningless words. He wished Ethan was present to help him, but his old friend had completely shattered with the news of Cassandra’s death.
The funeral had happened that morning, a private, quiet affair. Only the group who had been making the plea for her release, along with Stone and Wood, had been in attendance as she was laid to rest with her family.
Unfortunately, word had leaked out once again and the press were on the alert.
A hesitant tap at the door made both men jolt, Giles opening it a fraction to look out into the hall in case yet another reporter was lurking about, trying to get an interview with the ‘Heir’.
He had beaten the crap out of three already.
"Miss Weasley...what are you doing here?"
The petite red-haired girl slipped into the room. "I-I want to..." she trailed off at the sight of Alexander, sitting morosely on the bed, his eyes fixed on the floor between his feet. "Alexander..."
"Mini-Willow," he whispered, raising his eyes from the floor. A hand rose towards her and she crossed to the bed in three paces, sliding into his lap and wrapping her arms around him as he let the sobs come.
As he eased out of the door of the room, Giles felt a sad smile reach his lips at the sight of them: the grown son of the late Bones and the young woman who had almost become a daughter to her.
It was fitting that they comfort one another.
"It was a privilege to meet you, Harris," Stone was the Leader of the small group standing on the front step of the Leaky Cauldron. He shook the dark-haired boy‘s hand. "Even if it was under such tragic circumstances."
Alexander smiled, but it didn’t reach his red-rimmed eyes. "Yeah," he said, his voice rasping. "At least mom...she’s at peace now."
Alongside Stone, Snape stood with his arm around Ginny Weasley’s shoulders, also accompanied by Draco Malfoy. Each of them had already stepped forward to say their goodbyes to the unfortunate Heir.
"Cab’s here, Xander," Ethan said quietly.
He had disappeared immediately after the funeral of Cassandra, the previous day, only to be found in the darkest corner of the Leaky Cauldron, drunk out of his mind and sobbing brokenly.
Snape had taken the duty of comforting him, while Ginny had gone to Alexander.
When the boy and his Godfather had been reunited, several hours later, they hadn’t needed to say any words, the older man pulling his Godson into his arms and just holding him in the way that both of them knew a father should.
They weren’t certain what they were going to do when they got back to Sunnydale, especially with Ethan’s connections to the Underworld and Alexander’s connection with the people who fought the same underworld.
No matter what happened, they knew they could always rely on one another in a way that they had never been able to rely on anyone before. Despite the lack of blood-ties, Alexander finally felt that he truly had a father.
"Could...could I speak to Stone?" the boy asked quietly, as Ethan and Giles loaded their few bags into the taxi and climbed in, waiting for the boy.
"Take your time."
The rest of the group moved away, Alexander leaning against the cab roof, studying his hand which was clenched in a fist against the black metal. "I wanted to thank you for your help," he said, his voice low. "For taking me to Azkaban."
"I owed you," Stone replied. "I wish I could have done more."
"You did more than you know."
There was a long silence, during which the boy unclenched his fist and examined his fingertips as they pressed against the roof.
"Voldemort is dead."
Stone flinched as if he had been struck at the name. "Wh-what?"
"Voldemort is dead."
"How do you know?"
Alexander tilted his head, his eyes meeting the Auror’s. "I know," he said simply.
The older man stared at him for a long moment. "Don’t answer anything," he said quietly. "But you’re not a squib, are you?" Brown eyes gazed at him. "And you had a wand with you?" Alexander looked down.
"Everyone said he was indestructible," the boy said, his fingertips tracing a circle on the roof of the cab.
The Auror was staring at him, stunned and delighted in equal measures. Although, it did make him wonder about Voldemort’s claim of invincibility. "How do you think it happened, then, Alex?"
"He had never been hit by the curse directly. Ethan told me. Always hit him on the rebound," the reply came, quiet and shaking. "I guess...I guess he...maybe he was... hit with it directly..."
"Yes...yes, that must be it..." Stone couldn’t think of anything else to say.
"If you want to arrest me now..."
"Foolish boy," the Auror growled, grabbing the youth by the shoulders and jerking him to his chest in a hard, tight embrace. Alexander returned the brief embrace. "You go home. Live a long, peaceful life."
Their eyes met and Alexander nodded.
"Thank you," he said.
"No," Stone answered, holding the boy’s eyes. He had never been more sincere about anything in his life. "Thank you."
The boy climbed into the cab, sitting in the gap between the two older wizards. He glanced up at Stone once more, as the scarred Auror gave him a nod, then slammed the door of the muggle vehicle.
"Where to, mate?" the driver asked.
"Heathrow airport," Giles answered.
Alexander gazed down at his hands. His voice was quiet.
To find out what happens in the wake of this story, see "Legacy of the Fathers", wherein Xander receives help from possibly the most unlikely source...well...ever :)