A/N: I just realized I have not described Cordelia's, Dawn's or Willow's patronuses. I got their animals from here
Cordelia - pheasant - confidence, attraction, perseverance
Dawn - quail - sacred spiral, ceremonial, Holy
Willow - white lion - equal balance to Earth's elements, bringer of peace
All the next day was quiet on the Hogwarts front, Scooby reunion aside, yet Cordelia could not shake the horrible feeling that something terrible was looming on the horizon. It was just out of reach but she had not felt this way since living on the Hellmouth around May-time. The students seemed happy and oblivious and the bulk of the staff were as well (excepting Snape who was still looming about on his default of cranky). It seemed only Dumbledore might share her trepidation as the twinkle in his eyes seemed slightly dulled today.
“I’m just being silly,” she found herself telling Dennis as she sat down with an evening hot cocoa with extra marshmallows as her wind-down after her last class. “There is enough of a threat out there from demons let alone dark wizards - I shouldn’t be making up more in my head.”
Dennis could not reply, but he dropped a few chocolate sprinkles on the top of her drink carelessly and Cordelia froze as she looked at it, all attempt at trying to calm herself down abandoned.
“Dennis? Get me Hermione Granger. Now. Tell her to bring her runic translations.” Her voice was steely and Dennis did not wait before racing off through the walls and going to find the clever girl. Cordelia cast a quick charm on the beverage to keep it exactly as Dennis had inadvertently created it.
She stood and paced for roughly ten minutes before a breathless Miss Granger came to the portrait door with a textbook in hand and Dennis sailed through it. Cordelia quickly opened it and ushered her inside.
“I want you to translate something for me,” Cordelia quickly explained as Hermione looked puzzled at the ghost-summons. “I have been having a very bad feeling all day and just as I was taking my hot cocoa, Dennis sprinkled chocolate sprinkles on top and …” she pointed to the offending sprinkles.
“Oh my,” Hermione quickly set-to, realizing as Cordelia had that it seemed very similar in nature to the other rune the teacher had seen.
“I’m sure this is Thurisaz…” she muttered as she flipped the pages until she found what she was looking for.
“No, it is Thurisaz in merkstave…oh no.” Hermione looked up and her gaze locked with Cordelia’s. “I think your bad feeling was right on the money.” Cordelia snatched the book out of her student’s hand and read.Thurisaz in merkstave: Danger, defenselessness, compulsion, betrayal, dullness. Evil, malice, hatred, torment, lies. A bad man or woman. Rape?
“I think we can rule out the last part,” Cordelia said as she handed the book back to Hermione. “Voldemort must be the thing it is talking about, I think these runes are a sign from the PTB. Dumbledore brought me here to help you against him, you are already aware of that I am sure. We need to narrow it down to the meaning the PTB wanted me to get, we need to find out if we have been compromised in any way.”
Hermione nodded in agreement. “Should we tell Dumbledore?”
“I think he might already know, he has been on edge all day as I have. I will tell him anyway - you check on the students you can and make sure that Harry and Dawn most especially are okay.” Cordelia instructed. "I will meet you back here in half an hour to report."
Hermione nodded once and then shot out of the door in pursuit of her friends as Cordelia took a few deep breaths and hurried off with her magically-frozen cocoa to find Dumbledore. She was sure he would be able to help riddle out the true meaning of the warning Thurisaz was trying to give her. It was not good, whatever it was trying to warn about and Cordelia was terrified that Voldemort had found out about Dawn's true nature. If he had, that was not of the good at all. Dawn had to be protected beyond anything else - for one, Buffy would kill her if anything happened to Dawn and for two the havoc Voldemort could wreak if he found out how to utilize Dawn's power for his nefarious schemes. It was not hard to find the headmaster, he was pacing his study as he was wont to do when she came hurtling in the door.
"Albus - look at this," she thrust the cup under his nose and the older man peered at it through his spectacles. "I think it is a warning, Dennis did it by accident when he was helping me make my hot chocolate. Hermione Granger has already marked it as..."
"Thurisaz in merkstave from the Nordic Elder Futhark," Albus finished for her. "This is not good. I had a feeling Voldemort was up to something, he has been markedly quiet these past few weeks and that does not bode well."
"Nor does his wreaking havoc," Cordelia pointed out dryly.
"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed, passing a hand over the cup and seemingly trying to figure something out.
"Do you know which of the possible meanings of the rune it could be?" Cordelia asked, clearly worried.
"I would think that it is most likely to be 'betrayal, malice and lies' based on his movements in the past but I will not allow myself to be blinkered by it. He is a creature of habit and pattern, Miss Chase, you must know this about him. He is like a magpie as well, collecting shiny baubles that he keeps and hoardes, but we cannot allow ourselves to rule out possibilities just because we think he might do so."
"I understand," the woman agreed. She did not want to close herself off to any possibility just in case Voldemort was counting on them following logical patterns to combat him. It would give him an opening they could ill afford. "Who do you think could have betrayed us, though?"
"It is something I will have to think on. It is quite possible someone has gone over but it is just as possible that they could have been coerced into giving information or even unwittingly given it. Loose lips sink ships after all." We must always remember that.
"Is Dawn his target, do you think?" She voiced the question that had been nagging at her.
"If she is then he has picked the worst possible time to try to take her - we have yourself and Miss Rosenburg on the staff to help us strengthen our defenses, Dawn herself is no fool and Buffy I am sure would have something to say. That Xander fellow is also a powerful ally. He may not be a wizard but he is full of the power the Dark Lord knows not..." Cordelia had the distinct impression of a light bulb going off in the head of the Headmaster.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Voldemort has never loved or been loved by another. He has been hero-worshiped by some of his more devout followers but none truly love him. That is his truest weakness. He cannot know or understand love or how it strengthens the spirit - if he had, he never could have committed the atrocities he has done." Dumbledore said gently. "Your young Mr. Harris is full of love, warmth and compassion and he also possesses a strategic mind honed through years of fighting alongside the Slayer. Yes, I think if he attacked now, he would find us far stronger than he could ever have imagined."
"We can't be ill-prepared either way," Cordelia felt a tiny bubble of hope in her gut and she could not help the small sigh of relief that escaped her despite her words of caution.
"Indeed we cannot, I will see to it that the wards are doubled tonight before I retire. The magic protecting this castle is ancient and powerful and I can only strengthen them for a short duration. It will last twenty-four hours at most and then I cannot try it again for at least a sen'night."
"Do not do it yet," Cordelia said, "Save your strength for when we know we will require it. The rune may have been an imminent warning but it may not have been. I will take Buffy and patrol the most likely places he might try to penetrate the walls tonight. If we see anything, I will send my patronus."
"Very well," Dumbledore laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and then made his way up the spiral stairs to his private rooms as Cordelia turned and left his office. She summoned her patronus and bade it to go and find Willow, Xander and Buffy and bring them to her rooms. She would try to not overreact to the runic warning but nor would she sleep tonight if she did not at least go and patrol.
She got to her rooms at the same time as Willow, Xander and Buffy entered the corridor and she hurried them all in and quickly debriefed them while they waited for Hermione to come back and check in. Buffy was understandably upset and ready to go take a chunk out of Voldemort's shiny white backside when Cordelia had related to them what she had seen and what she and Dumbledore had deduced.
"I'm glad we left Faith to run the Sunnydale side of things, I want to be here to smash his snakey face in for even thinking about my sister," the Slayer muttered as she paced a hole in Cordelia's carpet.
"We don't yet know if he does
know about Dawn, Buffy," Willow said placatingly.
"I still want to show his face what a Slayer fist can do," Buffy reiterated. "I don't care if he's a wizardy-whatsit, how is he any less worthy of being pounded than The Mayor or The Master?"
"Yeah, Wills, this guy is going around murdering people - he is just as bad as any Big Bad we've taken out. I'm in," Xander added.
"Actually, Xander, I think Dumbledore has you in mind as a kind of bodyguard for Dawn even though you're a muggle." Cordelia told him and he looked surprised.
"Hey - I can fight, I don't -"
"Hey!" Both Buffy and Cordelia started at the same time.
"Looking after my sister is not just anybodies job!" Buffy yelled as Cordelia threw in "Dumbledore's put his faith in you, idiot."
"Hey, one scolding at a time please, ladies!" Xander pleaded, realising he had put his foot right in it. "I don't mean that I don't want to protect Dawn, I'd just like to get a piece of him too." Then he added in an undertone "I miss Oz. He'd get it."
"Not just Dawn, he wants you to protect and keep an eye on Harry. He loves him in pretty much the same way Buffy loves Dawn." Cordelia added, this time more quietly.
"That and Harry has a knack for finding trouble anyway," Hermione added. "Sorry, Professor, Dennis let me in."
"No problem, are they both okay?" Cordelia asked. "Yeah, I checked on Dawn - she is fine, I put a warning spell over her bed in case anyone who isn't a sixteen-year old girl tries to come within ten feet of her bed."
Buffy's eyes lit up. "Willow, I want you to learn that spell as a permanent thing over her bed."
Hermione ignored the outburst excepting a very tiny uplift at the corner of her mouth. "Harry is asleep and drooling as usual. He'll be fine, I had to wake Ron up," here she grimaced a little "which is why I am late, he is a nightmare to wake up - but he promised he would keep a special look out."
"Good work, Hermione. Thank you. Oh and ten points to Gryffindor as well while you're at it," Cordelia smiled. "Dennis will escort you back to Gryffindor Tower - he'll let me know if anyone tries to take points away or give you detention for being out of bed. Dennis? I want you to guard Gryffindor Tower as well and come and get me if anything seems even slightly off."
The ghost and the girl left the rooms and headed back for the tower as the Scoobies turned to each other again.
"The Tower should be secure and even though I do not think he'll attack tonight, I don't want to take any risks. Buffy - want to patrol with me tonight?"
"I'll go," Willow offered. "I couldn't sleep well anyway and I don't have any classes until tomorrow afternoon - you've got the fifth years first period."
"Okay, sounds good. Wake me if you need me," Cordelia agreed and Willow and Buffy left the room as well.
"Mind if I sleep on your couch?" Xander asked.
"As long as it is just the couch, fine," Cordelia agreed. "Better to keep in groups or pairs I guess anyway just in case." She conjured a blanket and transfigured his clothes into pink flannel pajamas with bunny motifs. "Sleep tight," she added with a cheeky grin.
"Cordy!" Xander protested but he was only met with a snigger and the snick of her bedroom door.