Sorry for the delay on this chapter (and I was doing so well during the summer *sigh*). I'm not dead yet though, and neither is this story. We're nearing the end, but there's still a ways to go. Anyway, thanks to everyone, who read, reviewed or favourited the last chapter. And, of course, to Biblioeros
for betaing this chapter.
I would also like to thank Rich
, whose comments on Chapter 23 on tth.com inspired Faith's scene in this chapter.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot, the prophecy and a few OCs.
Prophecy of the Four Chapter 26 –
Big Ben towered over its surroundings, very little hindering its view of the Thames and the London Eye. Majestic and beautiful, its tower was still a child to much of the city, even more so to the land it stood upon. Yet it was the first to notice the thin wisps of darkness slither from the river's shores and twist into the city, until they wrapped themselves ever so slightly around the buildings' foundations, the edges of dark alleyways and into the depths of every shadow they could find.
Big Ben shuddered, the stones holding it together wanting nothing more than to shrink away from the shadows now surrounding them. They tried calling out, but humans are deaf to the language of stone. The time came and Big Ben rang out into the city, dismayed at how dimmed its sound seemed.
A few humans looked up at the sound. If any of them detected the faint panic in its tone, they quickly dismissed it as their imagination.
And so, from within its tower, Big Ben watched as people milled around - some with purpose, some for pleasure – and saw the darkness sneak into their souls, weighing them down without their knowledge. He saw smiles dim and brows furrow. He saw laughter turn to anger, happiness to despair.
Helplessly, it watched as the darkness slunk across the city and spread like a very subtle plague.
Its cries went unheard and unheeded.
Faith stumbled out of the red mini cooper Giles used as his personal car. She yawned widely and attempted to rub some life into her blurry, tired eyes. Ten o'clock in the morning might not be considered early by most people, but she lived and worked on a slayer schedule.
From the other side of the car, she heard Giles pulling her gym bag out of the back seat. Then the door banged shut and she heard the electronic lock engage. Faith didn't bother to look at him. She was too busy examining the Victorian-style house they were parked in front of. It was a rather dreary-looking structure with a pointed roof over the entrance-way, which sported a beautiful stained glass window above the door. Faith raised an eyebrow at the green dragon depicted in it.
Around the property was a black iron fence, interrupted every six feet with a large stone pillar. The gate was held up by two pillars that were bigger than the others with stone lions sitting at attention on top.
Giles walked up to the gate and pressed a doorbell, which was mounted on the right-hand pillar. When Faith joined him there, she saw it was not only a doorbell, but a speaker as well.
“Yes, hello?” a woman's voice said through the speaker moments later.
“Hello, this is Rupert Giles,” Giles immediately said into the speaker. “I booked a lesson for my student, Faith Lehane.”
“Ah, of course, come on in Mr. Giles.”
Giles stepped up to the gate and pushed it open when the buzzer sounded. He and Faith then walked up the white stone walkway to the front of the house. Faith couldn't help but notice what looked like well-tended flowerbeds, though most of the flowers were drooping and drying out. It was a shame, because otherwise, she was sure they would look pretty.
The front door was opened just as they reached it by a tall woman in her fifties. Her light blond hair was pulled back into a tight bun, which accentuated her high forehead and emphasized the striking blue of her eyes. Then she smiled at them and her face transformed into a completely different person: the sort that invited complete strangers in for tea because they looked like they needed it.
“Good morning,” she said. “I'm Angelina White. Come on in. Stanley's downstairs waiting for you.”
“Thank you,” said Giles with an incline of his head. “I suppose we'd best not keep him waiting.”
She laughed. “Oh I wouldn't worry too much about that. I'm sure he's finding something to play with down there. The children bought him Guitar Hero 5 for his birthday.”
Faith chuckled, though she was still confused as to what she and Giles were doing here. He'd said something about remedial training, but nothing in the house hinted at anything to do with slaying. The halls were brightly lit with small crystal chandeliers with three arms each about two meters apart from each other and paintings of countryside panoramas lining the dusty blue walls.
Then they passed by an open door that lead into what was probably the living room and Faith stopped. Comfortably worn-in leather furniture barely registered in her eyes - though she did notice the rather new-looking flat screen TV - but what caught her attention was the giant stone fireplace that dominated the room and the two broadswords that hung above it. Faith had spent half her life using swords and she could tell a real one from a cheap replica at a distance.
These swords were real. And they weren't new. No matter how well a person maintained a sword, one could always tell a decorative trinket (even an authentically-made, expensive one), from a weapon. If she stood close enough to them, Faith had a feeling, she would probably be able to still smell the blood.
“They're symbolic,” a voice said from behind her and Faith turned to Angelina's gentle smile.
“They're real,” Faith countered.
Angelina nodded. “Yes, they're mine. When I married Stanley, I decided to hang up my swords for good.” She gestured to them. “And, so, there they hang. It's a symbol of my choice to be a wife and a mother instead of a warrior – that I chose love over violence. Yet, the swords are also a reminder of the strength that exists at the heart of our family, the strength that will awaken if necessary in order to protect that choice, that family.”
Faith stood transfixed for a few moment, looking into those bright, blue eyes until she saw something vaguely familiar looking back at her. She gasped.
“You're a slayer?” she whispered.
“No, dear, I was only a potential. The Watcher's Council took me from my parents when I was very young and assigned me to a watcher, who trained me to hunt and kill. I remember hoping and praying fiercely when I was a little girl that I would be chosen as the next slayer, dreaming about how I would become a great legendary warrior.” She paused, her expression turning a little dreamy. “And then I met Stanley and by the end of that winter I was wishing and praying I would never be chosen. The day I turned eighteen and thus too old to be chosen became the happiest day of my life.”
“It was also the day she finally said 'yes' when I asked her out,” a male voice added cheerfully.
They all looked down the hall to where a lanky man with short, brown hair wearing a white cotton shirt with the top two buttons undone and a pair of dark blue jeans stood leaning against the wall. There was a rapier tucked in the crook of his arms.
“I was wondering what was taking you so long,” he said as Angelina walked up to him.
“I'm sorry, we got distracted,” she said.
“Yes, I could see that. I dare say they're now appreciating the subtle irony of how you hung up your swords so that you could go and marry a champion fencer.”
“Fencing?” Faith asked out loud, turning to Giles. “Yo, you want me to learn fencing? Isn't that more of, like, a game than a combat style. Seriously, how the hell am I supposed to decapitate a demon with the skinny-ass sword?”
“Ha!” the man – she was assuming he was Stanley – barked out. “I take it this is the girl? You don't live up to your name much, do you?”
Faith scowled at him, then transferred the scowl to Giles as she noticed the corners of his mouth twitching suspiciously.
“Young lady, the objective here is not to teach you to fence properly,” Stanley continued. “It is to show you how to incorporate the basics of fencing into your regular swordsmanship.”
Faith blinked twice and then put her hand on her hip.
“Yup, sorry, still confused here.”
“Then allow me to demonstrate.” He grabbed the rapier by the hilt, his face becoming serious, though his movements lost none of their energy. “First of all, this 'skinny-ass sword', as you so rudely called it, is a 'sabre'. And, secondly, this is the beginning stance – otherwise known as the 'en-garde position'.”
Faith took in his stance: one foot in front of the other as he balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to jump into action and his right hand holding his sword in front of him and pointing slight upwards. Her eyes widened moments later as she realized he was holding his left arm away from his body and away from his sword
Stanley smirked when he saw she'd figured it out.
“In fencing, only the dominant hand is used,” he said.
“To most people, any of these movements would be next to impossible to do with a heavy broadsword,” Giles finally spoke up. Faith looked at him and smirked.
“Yeah, but I ain't most people,” she said.
“That you most certainly are not.”
Stanley dropped his stance and grinned.
“Shall we get started then?”
Faith echoed his grin.
Prime Minister Anthony Davidson had actually been relieved to see Kingsley Shacklebolt once again at his desk when he came in that morning. The wizard had assured him he was well recovered from his injuries and confirmed that they were co-operating with the Watcher's Council – although he, curiously enough, didn't mention the Ministry of Magic, merely said 'we'. Anthony decided to ask Rupert Giles about it later.
However, as these things often happen, when he did speak to Rupert Giles just after noon, it was the last thing on his mind.
In a stroke of brilliant paranoia to rival Anthony's own, Norman offered to lend him his son's cellphone, since no one would ever think to put a trace on a child's phone. He wasn't entirely sure how Norman had managed to convince the boy to hand over his phone for an indefinite period of time, but he had a feeling there was a substantial bribe involved and possibly a James Bond-style story.
The phone showed the time as being 11:26 when it vibrated, catching Anthony by surprise and making him nearly spill half a beaker of coffee all over the speech he was supposed to be delivering in the afternoon at a conference on clean energy or whatever long-winded name the organizers had decided to give it. He frowned when he checked the display.
It was a text message from Connie Price. He'd e-mailed her this number on a whim – in case she caught wind of something important regarding wizard activity that he needed to know immediately, before any media frenzy could begin.
The message was chilling in its simplicity: Call me. Now.
A quick peek to verify his magical portrait was asleep, he stood up and walked over to the window to look out – to prevent lipreading from security camera footage. He dialed her number. Connie picked up before the second ring. 'Oh thank God you're not in a meeting.'
Anthony frowned. He knew that tone of voice and he didn't like it.
'Hello Connie, what's the emergency?'
She took a deep breath. 'I'm not sure if you'd necessarily qualify this as an emergency, but it's definitely bad. Very, very bad. You'll probably hear the reports soon, but I thought I'd give you the chance to contact whoever you've got to contact while you have the chance.'
“What do you mean?” 'You remember Avebury? We spent a weekend there one summer, oh three years ago or so: stone circles, lovely manor house, big white horse?'
“Um... yes, I remember it. Lovely little village as I recall.” 'Not anymore. As of some point in time last night, it's a ghost town. All the buildings are intact, phones and electricity still work, pets are all accounted for, but every single person? Gone to the last.”
Anthony's eyes widened. This was much bolder than anything the evil wizards had done before.
“Bloody hell. Don't know how the wizards are going to manage to cover this one up.” He winced at how callous that sounded. “Are there any signs at all as to what happened to the people?” 'Not from what I've been able to overhear so far. It looks like everyone just suddenly vanished. And the wizards had better get here quick if they're going to so much as get access to the scene, because so far it's just local authorities, but I'm pretty sure more media will turn up within the hour if not sooner.'
“How did you get there so fast?”
Connie chuckled. 'I've got my own police scanner. Although honestly, I'd figured out something was wrong before the authorities did because of a rather suspicious influx of twitter and facebook posts about Avebury residents missing work, being late for meetings... that sort of thing. However, not one single Avebury resident has posted anything since about one in the morning.'
“What have you been doing, scouring every single twitter post in the country?!” 'Ha! No sorry, I'm good, but even I need to eat and sleep and do actual work. I've been keeping an eye on several key twitter posts and doing searches on anything to do with magic and activity in magically-active areas. Avebury was a logical choice. Its stone circles have been historically linked to possible pagan rituals and are extensively used by modern-day neo-pagan groups for their own rituals. It'd be a perfect place to go have a real magical ritual you didn't want people to know about. The local residents wouldn't likely know the difference.'
“Makes sense, I suppose.” He signed and ran a hand through his hair. “Damn, this just makes things even more complicated. Well, thank you for letting me know about this. You're right, I do have a few people I need to contact.” 'You're welcome. So, when can I expect to meet them? You realize you all owe me for this.'
“Yes, I do. I'm afraid I can't speak for the wizards and, quite frankly, I'd rather not tell them about you at all. But I'll ask Rupert to look for you.” 'Rupert? That's all you're going to give me: a first name?'
“Sorry, Connie. They may not be wizards, but they're not exactly in the public light either. I'll try to convince them to talk to you, though. Apparently, they were all very impressed with some of your earlier reporting, so they might very well be interested in meeting you anyway.” 'Well, then thank you in advance. Oh, there's the detective, I've got to go!'
“Good luck, Connie.” 'You too.'
She hung up and Anthony pocketed the phone. He looked at the clock. 11:48.
He walked out of his office and strolled up to his secretary. Shacklebolt had turned around when he heard the door opening. Anthony leaned over a bit to talk to him with minimal chance of being overheard.
“Take an early lunch,” he said quietly. The dark-skinned wizard frowned. “Use it to go and contact your superiors or whomever it is that you need to. They need to go to Avebury. Something happened there last night and now every single person living in the village has disappeared without a trace. There's no way magic wasn't involved and very soon, it's going to become a media circus.”
Kingsley Shacklebolt's eyes widened. Then he nodded.
“I understand,” he said after a slight pause. “Then I'll see you in an hour, Prime Minister.”
Anthony nodded. He didn't bother staying to watch him leave, instead heading straight to his office to call Rupert Giles, who listened to his story in silence, before cursing viciously under his breath. 'It seems we don't have much time then.'
“Much time for what?” Anthony asked him, instinctively feeling like he didn't actually want his question answered. 'Before Voldemort begins the final stage of his plans. If he hasn't already. Ever since we got up this morning, we've been feeling something off. It's been like this for a while, but this morning it suddenly seems to have gotten worse and we're not entirely sure what it means. I have a feeling local police will be dealing with a lot more violence than usual. And it's only going to get worse.'
“Is there something I – as in the government – can do?” 'Other than ensure the police are out in numbers and with back-up? I'm afraid not really. We're meeting with the Order of the Phoenix in about an hour to discuss how to strengthen our wards with their magic and their wards with ours. In the meantime, I'll send out someone out to Avebury.'
“And could you have them look up Connie? It is thanks to her that we have the information this early in the first place...”
There was a pause on the other end. 'Yes, alright, I'll have them do that. I suppose she'll also be the best source of information about what's going on anyway.'
Anthony breathed a sigh of relief.
“I'd also hate to alienate her when we might need her and her instinct for information gathering in the future.” 'Hm, yes that too, I suppose.'
They hung up shortly afterwards and Anthony pocketed the cellphone. He then called Norman's secretary to find out if his finance minister was in his office, before doing the same with the opposition leader and the minister of the home office.
With one, final flick of his wand, Remus finished his portion of the warding spell. He took a deep breath and took a step back. To his right, he could see Alastor still casting, weaving Remus' portion together with the one Minerva was casting on the other side of the house and adding his own spell to the mass. Several metres behind him, Willow sat cross-legged on the grass, her eyes closed and palms touching the grassy lawn.
It took Alastor a few minutes more to finish and then he, too, stepped back from the house. He turned to look at the young red-head behind him.
“We're done,” he stated.
“Hmm,” she answered. “It seems to be settling together nicely: no fighting, no rejection, steady flow... Okay, we're good!”
She opened her eyes and grinned. Alastor nodded to her. Remus smiled, glad to be done. Casting full-house wards was difficult enough at the best of times, casting it around a house that already had wards on it was that much trickier, but casting wards around a house whose existing wards were completely different, redefined 'tricky' and added twice the amount of concentration and sweat. They'd done it, though, and now the Watcher's Council had a new set of wizarding wards protecting it.
Remus pocketed his wand and went to join Mad-Eye and Willow. Buffy also came forward, away from the tree, whose shade she'd been leaning against as she'd watched the wizards work. She took a small item out of her pocket and pocked at it, before bringing it to her ear.
“They're done out here and Wills says everything's good,” she said after a few moments. “You're good to go.”
She took it away from her ear and touched it, before joining them.
“Okay, so Andrew's gonna go ahead with the locating spell now,” she said.
“That is rather useful,” said Alastor, his eyes on the small object in Buffy's hand.
“What, the cell?” She held it up questioningly and Remus could now see a small screen on the front of it with the time in big, bold print over a picture of a handsome man in a suit and tie. “Yeah, don't know what I did before I had one. Based on what Draco's been telling us, communications is the one place we have you totally beat.”
Alastor's reply was some sort of a grunt, which could've possibly a reluctant agreement. Buffy smirked at him. He turned away to greet Minerva as she, too, came to join them.
“Everything went well, I take it?” she asked.
“Yup, everything's all hunky-dory,” Willow answered with a beaming smile. “My wards around the property are holding steady and the new ones are settling in around the house just fine.”
“Excellent! I'd certainly hate to have to redo it all again.”
Remus grimaced, mentally agreeing with her.
“Thanks so much for doing this,” said Willow, looking at each of them in turn.
“You're very welcome, Ms. Rosenberg,” said Minerva.
“Don't worry, we'll get our own back when you do the ones at Hogwarts,” said Alastor.
Remus chuckled. “You know it hardly seems fair, Hogwarts is so much bigger than your house.”
Willow just shrugged. “It's not really more complicated to do a large area like that as opposed to a small one, just takes more power.”
“It's why we're letting Andrew do the locating spell,” Buffy added. “Wills needs to conserve her energy for doing your wards.”
Remus nodded. Although he hadn't really had much opportunity to talk with Willow about her powers, he had gathered she actively used the magic within her in a much more immediate way than wizards did. Wands helped a wizard control and focus his magic, but it also helped prevent magical exhaustion, because a certain amount of magic was required to flow into the wand in order for the wand to function as anything more than a nicely-shaped stick. Which meant that a wizard couldn't use so much magical energy that they were in mortal danger.
Every creature has a limited amount of energy and a wand prevented a wizard from going beyond that limit. Willow didn't use a wand, which meant she didn't have that control. He understood her care to not over-exert herself if that was the case.
Although, there had been a few comments Dawn had made...
Suddenly, he realized the group was starting to make their way inside. He shook his head and followed as they lead the way into the kitchen through the back door.
“Anyone want anything to drink?” Willow called.
“Some tea would be fabulous, thank you,” Minerva called back. Remus and Alastor nodded their agreement and Willow went to put the kettle on with a smile.
Buffy, meanwhile poured herself a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator.
“So, what happened to miss pretend-Tonks?” Buffy asked Alastor.
Remus sucked in a sharp breath, feeling like the wound he'd just barely managed to pull together last night was beginning to bleed again. He closed his eyes as the wolf inside him growled, his hearing suddenly becoming sharper even from the other side of the room. As though the wolf wanted to know, who it needed to tear apart to avenge his lover's death. The worst part was that Remus would be lying if he said he wanted different.
“The young woman pretending to be Nymphadora Tonks is an auror, who'd been assigned to the detail stationed at Hogwarts after your sister and Draco Malfoy arrived there with their demon companion,” Alastor answered Buffy. “Her name is Rachael Windemere. We confirmed the dark mark on her arm and then interrogated her with the veritas serum.”
“Veritas serum?” Willow asked. “Is that some sort of truth potion?”
“Yes. It compels the drinker to answer any questions posed and renders them unable to lie.”
“Cool,” said Buffy. “Must make getting answers out of a prisoner so much easier.”
“Unless they've cut out their tongues,” said a voice from the doorway. Remus turned to where Dawn was leaning against the doorframe.
“Cut out their tongues?” Minerva asked, looking slightly ill.
“Yup. Thankfully, we found a spell that helped with that, but still.” She turned motioned to Alastor. “Sorry to interrupt, go on, I can wait.”
“She didn't know much,” Alastor continued with a scowl. “However, she is the one, who informed You-Know-Who about Severus's betrayal. Also-” He looked pointedly at Buffy. “-Ms. Summers, she'd been there for your arrival at Hogwarts.”
“So, that means Voldy knows me and the Watcher's Council are involved now,” she said thoughtfully.
“And, more to the point, the Circle of the Black Thorne does,” Willow added. “Assuming that's really who's helping Mr. Big Bad.”
“You know, maybe that's why they tried to kill Buffy,” Dawn suddenly said. All eyes turned to her.
“What do you mean?” Minerva asked.
“Well, think about it, there aren't a whole lot of people out there, who know anything about ascension, let alone have actually seen it happen and lived to tell about it. Willow actually got a look at the Books of Ascension too. Which would make us one of the only people in the world, who'd not only recognize the ritual, but also be willing to help you. 'Cause I have no doubt there are others, who'd know about this, but most of them wouldn't likely care if Voldemort did take over the human world. More like take advantage of the situation for themselves. Buffy coming to London when she did in order to look for me probably put one hell of a kink in their plans.”
Minerva nodded, seeing where the girl was going with this.
“Of course, because when she found you, she also found us,” the deputy headmistress said in understanding.
“You know, I've thought about it and I don't think the Circle was working with Voldemort yet when I was there. They'd have recognized my name, or at least the name 'Summers'. Plus, Draco would've at least glimpsed them at some point since the bad guys are sort of all camped out in his home. Although, they could've been helping him in other ways... Anyway, the point is, they probably wanted Buffy out of the way to minimize the chances of us all meeting.”
“Which means you
were the kink in their plan,” Remus pointed out.
“So did pretend-Tonks say anything else?” Buffy asked after a pause.
Alastor shook his head.
“Just a lot of rubbish about how we're going to lose and the Dark Lord will subjugate all Muggles and the like. She did confirm that he's got some sort of big plan he hasn't shared with his followers involving a potion and that a group of four powerful individuals approached him several weeks ago with the desire to join him. Unfortunately, she's apparently been spending most of her time working as an auror, waiting for the right time to grab someone to impersonate.”
“When?” Remus asked, his voice hoarse. He cleared his throat and met Alastor's eyes. “When did she take Tonks?”
There was sympathy in the veteran auror's eyes. “Shortly after the group was stationed at Hogwarts.”
Remus closed his eyes, willing away his tears. It meant he likely hadn't seen Tonks herself since before the attack in Diagon Alley.
“Remus, I'm so sorry,” said Minerva, before enveloping her former student in an embrace.
Remus relaxed into the hug for a few moments, relishing the comfort from the woman, who was once his teacher and was now his friend. When he felt like he could once again face the world, he stepped away from her and she let him.
“Thank you, Minerva,” he said with a weak smile.
“Sorry to be the bearer of even more bad news, but Andrew's not having much luck with the locating spell.”
Remus turned to the doorway, where Lori now stood beside Dawn. She cast him a sympathetic smile.
“Is it not working?” Willow asked with a frown and Lori turned to her.
“Oh, it's working,” she answered her. “He's just not finding anything. And Draco thinks he's just remembered something about the Dark Lord receiving a powerful ward as a gift from a sympathetic admirer or something to that extent.”
“That doesn't sound good,” Buffy said.
Suddenly, a loud music-like noise rang out from the general direction of her pocket. She took out her cellphone and looked at the screen, before answering it.
“Hey Giles, how goes it at town Disappearing Act?” she said as she walked out of the room – presumably so that she could concentrate on her own conversation.
“Maybe we should go check up on Andrew in the meantime,” said Willow.
She handed the wizards their tea and then they all headed to join this mysterious Andrew, who'd apparently arrived last night with slayer re-enforcements. All Remus knew about him was that he helped Buffy run the watcher's council house in Rome and had a significant knowledge of magic and a certain degree of power, though nothing close to rivaling Willow.
The man turned out to be much younger than he'd expected him to be. The only watchers he'd met so far had been Giles and Lori – though, in retrospect, he supposed Dawn was sort of a watcher as well – so the young, floppy-haired man, who was sitting on the floor in front of a map of England, was a bit of a surprise.
“Willow, I swear, I have no idea why this isn't working!” he whined (yes, there was a definite whine in his voice). “I've done locating spells before and I'm finding other magical areas, but not the one we're looking for.”
Remus stepped up to the map and looked at it. The map was peppered with spots of light of varying size and brightness. He frowned, trying to remember exactly what Buffy had said Andrew was looking for. It wasn't until he noticed the large, though dim spot of light in the middle of Scotland next to a smaller, brighter spot that he realized what he was looking at.
By Minerva's gasp, she'd also just figured it out.
“That's incredible!” she said.
Andrew looked up and blinked, as though only now realizing there were more people in the room. Willow grinned proudly.
“This is how Spike, Connor and Illyria found Hogwarts,” she said. “We found some information that pointed to Scotland and then figured this big blurry magical blip could possibly be a hidden magic school.”
“That's not just impressive,” Alastor said quietly with a deep frown. “That should be impossible. Hogwarts is enchanted to be unplottable.”
Willow frowned thoughtfully.
“But we're not looking for Hogwarts,” Andrew spoke up. “The locator spell I did was to find powerful magic. It's like, I can see where the force is being used and how much of it is being used, but I can't tell if it's Luke Skywalker battling the forces of the empire, or the Emperor hiding a Death Star.”
Remus blinked at him.
“That makes sense,” said Willow with a thoughtful nod. She caught the incredulous stares from the three wizards beside her and winced. “What Andrew means, is that the locator spell hasn't actually found Hogwarts the castle, but rather the enchantments that are keeping it unplottable. Well, those plus all the other wards and magic in the school itself. I was wondering why it looked so blurry and vague even though the spot was so big; it's probably the unplottable spell trying to keep the castle unplottable.”
“I see,” Minerva looked worried. “I suppose there's not much we can truly do to guard against such spells...”
“It's not like You-Know-Who doesn't know where to find the school,” Remus added reasonably.
“Actually, there might be a way to protect an area from being detected by a spell like this,” Willow said thoughtfully.
“Which brings us to our problem,” Lori interrupted. When she had everyone's attention, she pointed to the map. “Now, we know the Malfoy Manor is in Wiltshire. However, if you look at the map, there is nothing powerful enough to be the a manor in which Lord Voldemort has settled. We can see Avebury, and a few other pockets of magic, but no Malfoy Manor.”
She waited for everyone to see what she was talking about, before beckoning Draco forward. Remus hadn't even noticed the boy leaning against the far wall. He was dressed as a muggle and his hair wasn't pulled back as harshly as he'd had it the last time Remus had seen him at Hogwarts. In true Malfoy fashion, he wore the clothes and style with complete comfort, as though he'd always worn muggle clothes. Remus hid a small smile; it seemed young Draco was indeed acclimatizing well.
“Now, when we realized there was nothing wrong with the spell,” Lori continued, “but we still couldn't locate the manor, Draco here suddenly remembered something from before he and Dawn escaped.”
She motioned to Draco and the boy nodded before taking up his end of the explanation.
“It was before my mother d-died,” he began. “I'm not really sure about the particulars, but I know it had something to do with Constantine LeBeau finding someone, who was sympathetic to the Dark Lord. She'd given him some sort of old ward designed to hide magical things or, I suppose, places. I remember father describing it as a series of statuettes that had to be set around the manor in a certain order. I've seen the central one and it's in the ballroom.”
“Wow,” said Willow. “Okay, I've read about those. They're really powerful and super rare.”
“And totally explains why you had so much trouble with the locator spell when you were looking for Dawn,” Buffy said as she walked into the room.
“Yeah, totally,” Willow agreed. “So, what's the what with Giles?”
“Giles says there was definitely some sort of powerful magic done there last night, but nothing he recognizes. According to Connor, the whole village reeks of magic and, oddly enough, rain. Like a really powerful storm passed by the area, but there's nothing in the weather reports for the area.”
“Weird,” Dawn commented.
“The whole thing is beyond weird. Mr. Weasley's stumped and so are the aurors Connor's been eavesdropping on. They met up with Connie Price, who's been able to confirm that the police haven't found a single living person, but they also haven't found anyone dead or any blood or signs of a fight or anything. Doors locked from the inside and everything. So, yeah, beyond weird.”
“Something like that would require some serious mojo,” said Andrew into the silence that followed.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Willow. She looked to the wizards. “I've never seen anything like it, is there a wizard spell that could do something like this?”
Minerva shook her head.
“If there is, I've certainly never heard tell of it,” she said.
“Though You Know Who does seem to have a talent for finding old, obscure spells that haven't been used for a very long time,”Alastor said thoughtfully.
“Sadly, that is very true.”
“Well, I suppose this means we'll all be getting even more intimately acquainted with the library,” said Dawn brightly. Draco groaned.
“I'll also ask Anora if she can ask her father if he has any thoughts on the matter,” Lori said thoughtfully. “He might know of some private collections that have what we need.”
“And we'll, of course, scour the restricted section of the Hogwarts Library,” said Remus.
“Perhaps it would be wise to leave that in Miss Granger's capable and currently unoccupied hands, while we figure out how to get into the Malfoy Manor undetected so that we may foil this ascension of his,” said Minerva.
“Oh Merlin!” Draco suddenly gasped, his eyes wide with realization.
“Draco, what is it?” Buffy asked.
“I just realized what my father was telling me in his message!” Draco's voice was breathy with the excitement.
“What do you mean?” Dawn asked with a frown.
“Do you mean, there was more to the message then the obvious?” Remus added.
“Yes. I thought there was something odd about how he specifically felt the need to tell me I was still his son and heir and always would be.” He smirked at the room, his old arrogance reasserting itself in his posture. “What he means is that I haven't been cast out of the wards. I
can get into the manor through all
of its entrances.”
“Including the ones the Ministry and You-Know-Who don't know about, no doubt,” Alastor Moody growled and Draco blanched slightly at the twinkle of excitement in the auror's eyes.
“Secret passageways?” said Buffy with a grin. “Cool! I am sooo up for secret passageways.”
“Xander will love it,” said Willow.
Alastor cleared his throat.
“Well, I'll leave you to figure out the rest of the arrangements,” he said. “I should head to Avebury now and join the auror contingent. I'll see some of you tonight at Hogwarts.”
“Indeed,” Minerva nodded. “'Till then, Alastor. And good luck.”
Alastor grunted a reply as he left to find a place to apparate from.
The death eaters standing by the doors clutched their wands and backed away, their hands trembling as the entourage entered the room. Lord Voldemort's hands tightened around the armrests of his throne. He watched Lord Belzak and his minions approach with a neutral expression, refusing to let the Circle of the Black Thorne see any weakness in him.
A small part of him wondered whether allying himself with them in his search for power had been a mistake. Another, larger part – the part that had spent hours pouring over the books he'd been gifted – knew the power they offered was real and that once he had that power, he could easily foil whatever alternate plans the Circle had.
Perhaps they were looking for a new member into their fold. Though, after McNab's display of power last night, he rather doubted it. As much as Lord Voldemort refused to be impressed by the flaky-looking man, he could hardly help himself when a storm cloud passed over the manor and, in a clap of loud thunder, deposited an entire village's population into what used to be the dragon pens. They were currently wandering about within them in a dream-like haze.
As a result, Voldemort now realized he was dealing with individuals that were more powerful than he'd originally given them credit for. He watched warily as Lord Belzak approached, two large demons with thick, dark green skin and a single, small horn protruding out of the middle of their foreheads, surrounded by prominent ridges. Their bright yellow eyes looked over the humans in the room with a malicious gleam.
Voldemort watched with amusement as more of his death eaters backed away from them. A few – most notably Rabastan Lestrange and Avery - met them with sneers of their own as they tightened their holds on their wands.
One of the demons carried a black iron box, which was locked at the top with a silver lock. As they came closer, the Dark Lord could faintly make out engraved runes running along the bottom edge and several holes drilled along the top. The second demon carried a much smaller box made of ordinary, Muggle cardboard.
Lord Belzak stopped and nodded his head in a gesture of greeting. Then he motioned to the demon with the iron box.
“I have brought the necessary items for the first part of the ritual,” he announced in his deep, rumbling voice. “If you truly wish to go through with it, then you should not delay. Dermain's spies have brought us information that the Slayer is gathering her forces together.”
The Dark Lord snorted. “I hardly think a mere Muggle is much of a threat, no matter how many allies she has. And a few vampires and one demon are not what I'd call an insurmountable force.”
Belzak narrowed his eyes at him, the piercing intensity of his gaze more than making up for the demon lord's lack of stature.
“While it is true she has no magical power, Buffy Summers has proven herself as nothing less than a determined force. Do not
Voldemort frowned, but said nothing. Then he nodded, accepting the warning. He would think upon it later.
Looking away, he raised his wand and levitated a chair that had been sitting against the wall to his left and placed it down in front of him, before transfiguring it into a table. At an order from Lord Belzak in a tongue unrecognized by the wizards, the demon guards stepped forward and placed the boxes on the table.
Then the demon lord stepped forward and handed Lord Voldemort a heavy, silver key covered in engravings that clearly served a magical, rather than decorative, purpose. The wizard examined it closely for a few moments, somewhat impressed by the craftsmanship. Then he pushed it into the lock on the iron box and turned.
A golden light from within illuminated the engravings along the bottom of the box for a few moments. The lock fell open and Lord Voldemort removed it, setting it aside. He then lifted the heavy lid and peered inside.
Shiny, round bodies crawled over each other within the shadows of the box. Lord Voldemort watched them for a few moments, excitement filling his body with a thrum of energy; the beginning of his victory was here, before his eyes.
“Scarab beetles,” he commented thoughtfully. “The Egyptian symbol for renewing life.” He shrugged. “I suppose I should be glad I'm not required to consume a phoenix. Why twelve?”
“Three is a perfect number. Four is a perfect square. There are four levels to the Egyptian underworld, with three versions of Egypt in each and the third level is where the dead remain. You are aiming beyond that.”
The Dark Lord nodded. His short association with the members of the Circle of the Black Thorne had certainly awakened a curiosity within him to the possibilities beyond wizarding magic. It was certainly something to explore once his power was complete and he'd conquered the Wizarding World. He was rather looking forward to it.
His gaze wandered to the small, cardboard box sitting innocuously to the right of its iron brother.
“And the smaller box?” he asked.
Voldemort blinked. Lord Belzak stared back at him impassively.
Hermione Granger stared at Willow Rosenberg as the redheaded witch layered her own wards on top of the existing ones at Hogwarts. She'd never seen anything like it. The muggle witch had simply walked onto the grounds, taken her shoes off and sat down cross-legged on the grass. Nothing had happened for a while as she apparently centered herself and reached for her magic – at least that was how Buffy had described it.
Then she'd simply reached down and placed her palms flat onto the ground in front of her. It was gradual, but slowly a web of light – of magic – spread out from Willow and began to encompass the grounds. Once it touched the outer perimeter of the grounds, it began to rearrange itself and Hermione gaped as the light surrounding the castle began to spread upwards, until it became a dome of magical webbing.
“Incredible,” she heard Firenze whisper.
The centaur had come out to watch Willow work, saying he could feel the difference in the aura surrounding her and was curious about it. Hermione turned to ask him what he meant by that and caught a glimpse of the redhead in the process. She gasped. Willow was glowing
“She is taking magic directly from the earth and molding it,” Firenze continued.
“I've truly never seen the like,” Professor McGonagall added. Beside her, Mad-Eye Moody was diligently taking it all in, his eye swirling around faster than Hermione had ever seen it before.
“I'd love to see what she'd be capable of in battle,” Charlie Weasley commented.
“No,” said Firenze. All eyes turned to him for an explanation. He looked at them with sad eyes. “Her magic shines brilliantly, but I can sense darkness equally powerful lurking just beneath.”
“Willow won't be joining the fight unless we're desperate,” a new voice joined them. It was Buffy Summers. She was watching her friend with a sad look. “Willow's tasted the darkest of dark magics and used anger to fuel her power. It's heady and addictive and maybe she might be able to use it to defeat Voldy, maybe not.”
She then turned and met each of their eyes in turn, her own hard and unyielding.
“We got lucky last time. This time, maybe not so much. Even if Willow did defeat Voldewarts, there's no way of knowing for sure that we wouldn't be left with something even worse.”
Hermione had heard similar words from Dawn before she'd even met Willow. Now she finally understood them.
“The girl's been under the influence of the Hellmouth for too long,” Moody suddenly commented.
“An active hellmouth is dangerous for magic users. We learned that too late.”
“It's why wizarding schools never take in children from their vicinity,” Professor McGonagall added. Then she shrugged. “I've been doing some research of my own.”
“Blimey, this looks incredible!”
“Hey, Buffy, I thought Willow was going to cast an armor ward like what the Immortal has around his villa.”
Buffy turned to Andrew as he approached with Harry, Ron, Remus and his band of slayers. Ron and Harry were looking around at the dome surrounding the castle grounds in awe.
“She changed her mind; said this would work better.”
“So, how'd the uninvite spell go?”
“Like a slicing an orange with a light saber.”
“I can't believe how easy it was,” said Harry. He and Ron had decided to help perform the charm instead of watching Willow. “I mean, it didn't seem to take any magic at all.”
“I think it's because it's a charm that uses pre-existing, natural magic and magical laws, instead of taking magic from the caster,” said Remus thoughtfully. “Although I have no way to prove that unless someone were to actually monitor individual magic levels as the spell was being cast.”
“Which could disrupt the spell itself,” said McGonagall.
“So, how exactly do we know that the spell worked?” Ron asked.
Buffy shrugged. “We've done it a couple times before and it's always worked.”
“I suppose this is one of those times where having a vampire on your side comes in handy,” said Charlie.
Buffy snorted at the comment, but didn't say anything. Instead, she let Andrew take up the explanation of just why Spike was with them and his many noble and courageous deeds. Her mind was full of the upcoming battle. She knew how things had to go down, but that didn't mean she had to like it. A small part of her hoped the wizards would have a few suggestions, something she hadn't thought of, to make it possible to do things differently, but the larger part of her knew that for the pipe dream it was.
And then there was the conversation with Dawn that she'd been putting off having for way too long.
Despite being lost in thought, she noticed the moment the magic lighting up the Hogwarts perimeter began to fade. She looked to Willow, who was sweating as though she'd just run a marathon, but looked calm and content, which told Buffy the wards were successfully in place. It took about ten more minutes for the light to fade completely.
Then Willow finally opened her eyes and grinned happily. Buffy grinned back and went over to help her friend stand.
“Oh wow,” said Willow as Buffy gripped her, giving her time for her shaky legs to regain mobility again. “That was intense; the grounds are huge and there's so much natural magic here from the land itself, plus from all the magic that's saturated the area from so much of it being done here and all. It was a bit distracting at first, but I used it to tie the wards better to the land, 'cause it made them stronger and used less of my magic...”
“Breathe, Wills,” she said. “Whatever you did, it looked super-impressive and all sorts of shiny.”
“It was indeed impressive,” Moody added. “If you have any literature on how this was done, I'd love to take a look.”
“Oh, um, I've got a few books back at the Watcher's Council,” said Willow. “I'm sure Giles wouldn't mind if you came by to take a look.”
Buffy giggled at the man. He looked like he was mentally rubbing his hands with glee.
“Well, now that that's done, I believe we have about an hour before Mister Giles and his group are due to arrive via portkey,” Professor McGonagall said loudly enough to be heard over all the individual conversations. “Would anyone care for some refreshments in the meantime?”
“Sounds good to me,” said Willow, who looked like she needed said refreshments rather badly.
No one had any objections, so they slowly headed back to the school. Madame Pomfrey met them in the library, several tomes already open in front of her. She immediately began to fuss over Willow, forcing the redhead to sit down beside her. Once the tea and food arrived and Willow began eating, the school nurse finally relaxed.
And went to grab her next victim. Harry Potter reluctantly allowed her to run several scans on him. Willow couldn't help but become curious about the process.
“What are you scanning for?” she asked the nurse as Madame Pomfrey wrote down the results of the last test.
“I'm trying to ascertain just how deeply the horcurx is embedded inside Mister Potter,” she answered. She looked back to Harry, who paled at hearing her confirm what he'd already guessed. “All right, Mister Potter, you may go get something to eat now. I'll call you over if I need anything else.”
Willow craned her neck to read Madame Pomfrey's notes.
“Would you like some help with this?” she asked, looking up at the nurse.
Madame Pomfrey smirked.
“I was rather hoping you'd ask, my dear,” she said. “I'd like to hear exactly how the spell you used to find the horcrux in the first place actually worked.”
Willow nodded and took another sip of her tea before beginning her explanations.
General Tanya Baker looked up at the knock on her door. She glanced at the clock and frowned, wondering who it could possibly be. She'd sent her secretary home over an hour ago.
“Come in!” she called out.
The door tentatively opened and a small man wearing a light gray suit stepped in. The goatee made him instantly recognizable as Joseph Montgomery, the Royal Opposition's finance critic. He was carrying a manila file folder in his tan-coloured gloves (the general had no doubt they were made of lamb skin).
“Ah, good evening, general,” the man said with a light smile and a voice that sounded like it should've come from a man twice his size. “I'd heard you've been keeping some rather late hours the past two weeks; I'm glad to see my information wasn't wrong.”
“Mister Montgomery,” she greeted with a nod. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh, nothing really, you'd requested a report from our defense critic. Lester said it was urgent and as I'm meeting my wife for dinner just around the corner, I offered to drop it off on my way.”
“I see. Well, thank you for your help then.”
General Baker stood as she accepted the file folder from Montgomery. She opened the folder and skimmed the first paragraph. Satisfied it was the correct report, she placed it onto the pile of papers decorating the corner of her desk. She'd look it over first thing in the morning.
“You're very welcome, general. I'll be on my way then. The reservations are for eight and I really shouldn't be late.”
“Enjoy your dinner, Mister Montgomery.”
“Thank you, I shall. Have a good evening, general.”
Joseph Montgomery closed the door after him as he exited General Baker's office. Keeping his face carefully neutral, he then walked down a level, where he entered the restrooms. As expected, they were deserted this late in the evening. Waiting until the door swung shut behind him, he slipped off his leather gloves and threw them into the covered garbage dispenser, before crossing to the sink and washing his hands. He threw the wet paper towel on top of the gloves so they were no longer visible from the top.
Thankfully, cleaners never paid any attention to what was in the garbage bags they emptied in restrooms.
He walked out of the restroom and proceeded to leave the building. Putting Big Ben at his back, he walked casually away. A few minutes later, he took out his cellphone and dialed. It was picked up on the second ring. 'Mister Montgomery, I trust you've had no problems?'
“No, none. It is done. I think she was a bit suspicious, but not nearly enough. Took the file without hesitation.” 'Excellent. You are on your way home now?'
“Actually, I'm meeting my wife for dinner at a nearby restaurant. She's been sighing over photos of Venice again, so I'm taking her out for some relaxed, open-air Italian dinning.” 'A splendid idea, Mister Montgomery. Enjoy your evening then.'
“Thank you, Mister Knight. You do the same.”
He hung up and slipped the phone into his pocket. He looked up at the lovely blue sky and smiled. Things were going well, after all. General Tanya Baker was dead the moment she'd taken the file folder, which was laced with a slow-acting contact poison specially designed by Wolfram and Hart from some sort of demon flower pollen. It also dissipated into the air, so by the morning it would be completely inert and harmlessly.
And General Baker would be dead, leaving the Prime Minister without a commander-in-chief of the military, who was in on whatever was going on.
As he tried to guess just where the general's body would be discovered, Joseph Montgomery made his way to meet his wife and acquire himself an alibi.
“Hey, Dawn, wanna get some fresh air?”
Dawn blinked tiredly and then looked up at Buffy, who had the beginnings of dark circles under her eyes, but was vibrating with anxious energy. She narrowed her eyes at her sister and sat up straighter. Dawn knew Buffy, had seen her before a big battle, knew how to recognize the anxious energy of anticipation, when Buffy was on edge, because the Slayer was looking forward to the fight.
Which is why Dawn could tell her sister was nervous about something.
“Um, sure,” she finally answered. She really, really hoped this wasn't going to be about Buffy trying to talk Dawn out of her part in the next day's battle. Her sister should
remember how that turned out last time.
Dawn stood up and followed her sister down the hall and through the kitchen. Buffy didn't stop until they were standing alone in the middle of the backyard, where the slayers usually did their outdoor training exercises. Behind the cover of clouds, Dawn could see the bright orange globe of the sun as it set for the day. Buffy still hadn't turned to her.
“Buffy?” Dawn asked.
Buffy took a deep breath and turned to face her sister. Dawn frowned in confusion. The nervousness was more pronounced now, and beneath it, Dawn could see fear.
“Dawn,” Buffy said. “There's something I need to tell you. I, uh, really should've told you a while ago, but it's just, well, I guess it's just been so easy to put off and now I kinda hate myself 'cause it's so not fair to dump this on you on the day before D Day, but you also really need to know in case stuff happens and...”
“Buffy, stop!” Dawn interrupted her, panicked. “We've been here before, odds against us and all. Draco will do his bit and get us into the Manor. Then my group will do our bit and you, the slayers and the Order of the Phoenix will take it from there. I'll bet Andrew and his slayers will spend the entire day being really bored and wishing they weren't playing guard dogs to a magical castle, 'cause they want in on the fun! And Faith? Well, you've already heard Faith's opinion on her babysitting gig.”
Dawn took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she calmed her suddenly shattered nerves. When she opened her eyes, they were sharp as swords and shining with determination.
“You are not going to die and neither am I.”
Suddenly, Dawn was being enveloped in a tight embrace. She grabbed Buffy and held on just as hard. Neither one of them was going to mention how ridiculously fickle such a statement was. Denial was a lovely river and they were both going to allow it to flourish magnificently for as long as possible.
Eventually, Buffy let go and stepped back. Her eyes were glistening with unshed tears and Dawn was sure hers weren't any better.
“Nice speech,” her sister said with a smile. “But that's not where I was going with that.”
“Oh. It wasn't?”
“Nope.” Buffy looked away and then took a deep breath, before looking back and meeting Dawn's eyes. “You know Phythia? The crazy demon prophet everyone's been meeting in strange places?”
Dawn nodded, surprised by the question.
“I've met her too.”
Dawn's eyes widened. “What? But you never said anything. Not when you were talking to the wizards, not even to me! If you met her then why didn't you-?”
“Because her message to me was different.”
“Huh? Different how?”
Buffy was silent for a few minutes. Just as Dawn was getting ready to smack her out of her stupor, she finally spoke.
“You know she calls herself an Ancient, right?”
“Yeah. She's the one, 'who alone the tale can tell'.”
“Which means that if we assume Illyria and Azazella are the first two Ancients, then we're still missing the fourth. And according to what she told Azazella, Phythia won't join the Ancients until the other three are together.”
“Which is great, except that we don't know, who the Fourth Ancient is.” Dawn gave her sister a searching look. “Do we?”
“Yeah, we do. Phythia told me.”
?!” Dawn gaped at her and Buffy didn't quite manage to hide her flinch. “And you didn't think this was important enough to tell anyone?!”
“Giles knows. But I- I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone else.” She looked back to Dawn, her eyes begging her to understand. “I know I can't keep you from the battle. I know you don't need me to protect you, not really, not anymore. And I guess that's why I'm here, telling you this. 'Cause the last time you were a kid, but now you're a strong, young woman and it's hard
, but I know I need to recognize that.”
To Dawn it was as though someone had magically replaced her blood with frozen red slushie, because suddenly she felt cold, frozen to the spot and unable to turn away. She should be happy that Buffy was acknowledging her as a strong and capable young woman, but her pride was eclipsed by everything her sister hadn't said yet.
When Buffy continued talking, it was in a whisper Dawn could only just make out.
“You don't need me to protect you anymore. That's what she said.” A tear slid down Buffy's cheek. “When things calmed down after Glory, we were so happy it was all over – and, well, I was dead and then after coming back I had other things on my mind anyway. But, I mean, none of us ever stopped to wonder, we ignored what should've been a huge honkin' elephant in the room, because it had shrunk to a more manageable size and there was always something more important to deal with.”
Another pause. Dawn almost wanted to tell her sister to stop talking.
“We knew so very little about the Key and now, it turns out, we knew even less than we thought we did.”
“No,” she whispered, wide-eyed and shaking. “No, it's not possible. It- I can't... I can't
“Power from the lake will make her awake.
Her wings will spread, her scales will arm,
and the Fourth she will become.”
Dawn's legs chose that moment to become jelly. She let herself sink to the soft grass, now painted a darker green as the sun had finished setting. She grabbed the nearest blades of grass and fisted them, not pulling them out, just holding on - a futile attempt to ground herself.
And then, in a moment of clarity Dawn wouldn't believe herself capable of in that moment, she realized what Buffy hadn't yet told her. She chuckled darkly, her voice sounding unusually husky.
“Wings? Scales?” she asked. She didn't bother looking up at Buffy. “Oh my God, I'm the fucking Dragon.”
Buffy knelt down beside her and put her arms around her.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered.
Dawn let go of the grass and clung to her sister.
“I know,” Dawn whispered back.
:Angelina and Stanley
- Totally my own characters. You may have noticed I like creating characters. Also, Angelina was originally just supposed to be a relative of someone who worked for the Watcher's Council... but she had other ideas and suddenly I started wondering what the hell happened to all those girls who were potentials, but never got Chosen. Fencing -
Okay, so to hedge off the multiple reviewers I know will pick up on this: no, a fencing sword is not called a rapier. However, Faith doesn't know that until the end of that scene, when Stanley tells her that. In fact, from the little research I've done on the topic, I gather even a sabre is only one of three types of fencing sword, but none of them are called rapiers. The three musketeers used rapiers, fencers do not.
Now, whether or not fencing is at all possible with a broadsword - super-strength or not - is another question entirely and this really is more about Faith applying the basics of fencing (which is done one-handed) to her own sword techniques. I really don't know enough about swordsmanship to try and guess what that would look like and won't be attempting it in the context of this story anyway. Joseph Montgomery
– You may remember him from back in chapter 11, where he had lunch with a lawyer from Wolfram and Hart (that would be Mr. Knight) and said he'd help take down the PM. Well, as you can see, he certainly hasn't been forgotten.
Well, hope that was worth the wait! The next chapter will be published in two parts due to length (yes, even I have limits to how long I believe a single posted entry should be). The first part is done, but I won't be posting it until I've finished the second part 'cause I don't particularly feel like having to watch my back for angry readers with machettes. Lol (I hope).