Chapter 27 pt 1
Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed the last chapter! And to Biblioseros
for betaing this one. See, this is proof that I can, occassionally, get chapters out in a timely manner... when I'm not distracted by other stories... Anyway, enjoy!
Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own anything but the plot. And a few OCs.
The Prophecy of the Four Chapter 27 –
Ascension part 1
Sophie paused in her clean-up and frowned in confusion at the crisp knock on the back door. She looked up at the kitchen clock; it was nearly midnight. The knock came again. Carefully, she placed the tea towel in her hand onto the countertop and picked up the heavy cast iron skillet from its home on the back burner.
She approached the back door with some trepidation.
“Who's there?” she called out through the door.
“Lieutenant Emmerson with the British Armed forces, ma'am” came the reply, said so softly she could barely hear.
“Sophie, what's going on?” a voice called from behind her.
She turned to look at her husband, Jack, shrugging as she conveyed all her bewilderment with a look.
“It's the military.”
As she turned back to the door, she could hear his footsteps coming closer. She unlatched the door and opened it just enough to get a clear view of the young man on her doorstep. He certainly looked like he was in the military: short hair hidden under his uniform hat and wearing what she recognized from her days of dating an officer as a field uniform.
He didn't move as she took him in, giving her time to make sure he was alone. Then he finally took a step forward and nodded in greeting.
“I apologize for calling so late and in such an unorthodox manner,” he said. “But I'm afraid the situation at hand requires it. May I come in to explain?”
Sophie exchanged a look with Jack.
“Yes, alright,” she said and opened the door wider, stepping back from it. Her grip on the skillet in her hand tightened.
Jack stepped back, leaning casually against the counter next to the knife block. The lieutenant stepped into their kitchen and carefully closed the door behind him, not locking it. He took in their positions with a single glance and Sophie could see amusement pull at the corners of his mouth.
“So, what's this about?” Jack demanded impatiently.
“My apologies, sir. I trust you have heard about what happened in London a week ago?”
Sophie blinked, her mind drawing a blank.
“A lot of things happened in London last week-” Jack began. Suddenly his eyes widened. “Oh. You mean the terrorist attack.”
The lieutenant nodded.
“Yes. We have reason to believe the terrorists are using an area nearby as their base camp.”
“And you want to know if we've seen anything?” she asked. She looked at Jack and then back to the soldier. “I swear I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary! Oh my, to think...”
“Why are you doing this in the middle of the night?” Jack asked with a frown.
“Please, you misunderstand me.” The lieutenant raised a hand to stop them. “We have all the information we need. I'm here to evacuate you.”
He paused, letting the information seep in, before he continued.
“According to the intelligence we've managed to gather, they're planning something big for sometime tomorrow and there's a big likelihood this village will be directly in the path of whatever it is. But we want to hold off as long as possible of alerting them that we're aware of their plans and have counter-measures in place. Which is why we're running the evacuation in this way. Tomorrow we'll have some of our own people populating the village in disguise.”
Sophie and Jack stared at the man, not sure what to say. Suddenly, Jack seemed to wake up.
“My mother!” he exclaimed. “She's half-deaf! She'll never hear someone knocking on her back door and anyone sneaking into the house will scare her half to death!”
The lieutenant nodded.
“We were rather hoping for your help,” he said. “We only have one team conducting the evacuation within the village itself. A second is standing by at the buses we have prepared for you in case our attempts at keeping the evacuation quiet fails. Any help you can give us in convincing your neighbours to evacuate as well would be appreciated.”
“Of course,” he said. Then he turned to Sophie. “I'll leave the children to you.”
Sophie nodded. As Jack left to get his jacket, she turned back to the soldier.
“Where exactly should be go?” she asked. “And what should we bring?”
“The buses are parked next to the school grounds, under those big trees.” She nodded, knowing exactly where he meant. She heard Jack re-enter the kitchen. “Don't take the front door. We know this is an inconvenience, but we're asking that everyone please leave their vehicles behind and leave the main roads for people with mobility problems.”
“That shouldn't be a problem, the school's not that far away.”
“Thankfully, mum's got no problem with movement. She's a spry old bat. Just can't hear worth a damn.”
Sophie turned to Jack and met his twinkling eyes.
“Good,” said the lieutenant. “Make sure to pack light. Medication, cellphones, something to keep the children occupied with, one change of clothes, but nothing much. You shouldn't be gone for more than a day, two at most. Any more questions?”
Sophie shook her head.
“Then good luck.”
With that, the soldier quietly opened the back door and disappeared into the night.
Connor had never thought of a phone as intimidating. It was a fairly simple electronic device, absolutely nothing demonic about it. In fact, the black plastic phone looked rather innocent as it sat on the small table in the hallway, minding its own business. . .
Connor shook his head. He was being silly. He was the Destroyer, son of Angelus, the Scourge of Europe. He would not be defeated by a mere telephone.
Without any further hesitation, he picked up the phone and pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket. There was a number written on the scrap. He dialed it. There was a series of clicks on the other end and then he heard it ring.
"Hello?" a female voice answered.
"Hi, Rachel, it's Connor. Is Angel there?"
"Yup, one sec."
There was some shuffling on the other end and some muffled voices.
"Connor?" Angel's voice finally sounded.
"Hi. Um, what's up?"
Connor paused briefly, wondering what he should say.
"I - I just wanted to call to, uh, say thanks for arranging for me to stay in England. It's been lots of fun."
"England? You're still in England? I mean, England's great, but I thought you'd be at least in Germany by now."
"Nah, stuff came up. Actually, I did some sightseeing in Scotland. Saw lots of amazing things."
"Oh, okay. Scotland's really beautiful."
"Yeah, it is."
Connor turned around as the door behind him opened abruptly.
"Hey, Destructo-boy, you coming?" Buffy asked with a glint of excitement in her eyes and a hefty broadsword in her hand, resting over her shoulder. Connor nodded and she disappeared again.
"Well, I gotta go," Connor said to Angel. "I just wanted to say thanks for everything, dad."
"Well, you're, uh, welcome. . . son," Angel's voice sounded slightly hesitant and confused.
After Connor hung up, Angel stood still, staring at the phone in his hands.
Suddenly a pair of arms encircled his waist. He put the phone down and slowly turned around in his lover's arms. Then he looked into her eyes and ran his right hand through her blonde hair before capturing her lips in a tender kiss.
“Is there something wrong?” the blonde werewolf asked when she pulled away.
Angel looked down at her thoughtfully.
“I'm not sure.”
Prime Minister Anthony Davidson hurried down the halls of the London military offices, every muscle in his body straining from the effort of not breaking into a run. The cloud of people, both in uniform and not, told him exactly which was the correct office.
Two uniformed officers marked as Royal Military Police stopped him just outside the doors.
“Mister Prime Minister, I'm sorry, but I'm afraid we cannot allow you to enter the crime scene,” said one.
The words 'crime scene' made his heart stop. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“So it's true then,” he said.
“I'm afraid so, sir,” a voice said loudly from inside the room.
Anthony opened his eyes and looked in at a tall, gangly man wearing a colonel's bird on his uniform. He was eyeing him with narrowed eyes. Slowly he walked towards the door. The two RMP officers guarding the office stepped aside to let him out into the corridor.
“I must confess, Mister Prime Minister, I am rather surprised to see you here in person,” the colonel said. “I know we are proceeding here as though this is a crime, but as of right now we have no evidence to actually prove General Tanya Baker did not die of natural causes. I was not aware you knew the general well enough to come running here after learning of her death.”
Anthony blinked and then winced as he realized just how odd this must all look.
“We'd been working closely on a project of national security in conjunction with the Home Office,” he answered. “I needed to-” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Her death complicates matters. Although, I suppose, if they were hoping to put a halt to our plans they're a little too late.”
He looked into the office again. Apart from the forensic team busily taking samples and snapping pictures of every inch of the room, it didn't look like a person had just died in it. The floor was clean, the shelves and desk neat and orderly except for a pile of papers that been knocked over and scattered on the floor. The body had obviously already been removed, for which Anthony had to admit he was rather grateful.
“Do you know how she died yet?” he asked.
“Not yet. There was no visible cause of death or trauma of any kind, except for the scattered papers, which we think she did herself as she slumped over onto her desk. We're having her blood tested for poison.”
Anthony nodded. He hoped they found poison. Mister Giles had told him of the wizard's Killing Curse, which left no trace except for a dead body. If the general's killer was a wizard, he wasn't sure they'd be able to bring them to justice.
“Please let me know what you find out,” he said, before turning on his heel.
“Prime Minister Davidson!”
Anthony turned back even as he dug for the borrowed cellphone that was stashed in the pocket of his dress slacks.
The man was watching him with a calculating look on his face.
“Do you have reason to believe this is murder?” he finally asked after a few moments.
“Yes, in fact, I know it is.” Anthony saw no point in hiding now. “Unfortunately, unless you can find traces of poison in her blood, I'm not sure there's much you'll be able to do about it. So, good luck, I suppose.”
He didn't bother waiting for the colonel to respond, as he was already rushing towards the exit, cellphone in his hand and dialling the first number on the speed dial.
“We have a problem,” he said as soon as it was picked up. “General Tanya Baker is dead.” 'Damn, I'm very sorry to hear that,'
said Mister Giles after a slight pause. 'Well, thankfully everything for today has already been set in motion, so her death, sad as it is, doesn't affect that.”
“Things are going smoothly then?” 'More or less. I imagine you've been sent a copy of the note sent to the general, but the military managed to evacuate most of the two villages with Xander and the slayers' help. And there are hidden patrols in the approximate area we think they're in.'
“Good.” Anthony stopped and took a deep breath of fresh air, before continuing. He suddenly felt very tired. “I really hope we manage to stop this tonight, but I suppose I should get find out who General Baker's successor is and brief them on the situation.” 'Our goal is to prevent Voldemort's ascension, which has to be done tonight. But the aftermath, if we succeed, won't exactly be easily explained away either.'
“Right, yes, of course. If you speak to the wizards, could you please let them know that it's possible the general was killed by a killing curse? I mean, it could also be poison, but we won't know for sure until the toxicology report comes back.” 'Is Kingsley Shaklebolt there?'
Anthony looked to the side, where the wizard in question was following him and listening attentively. He had one hand casually stuffed into his trouser pocket, just ahead of the prime minister's regular bodyguards.
“Yes, he's here.” 'Good. Faith and two of the other girls will be meeting you at Downing Street as added protection.'
“Oh.” Anthony gulped. “D-do you think we'll be a target?” 'Today, no, I highly doubt it. But it doesn't hurt to be careful.'
“I see. Well, I'll leave you to it then, shall I?” 'Very well. Have a good day, Prime Minister.'
“Yes, you as well. And good luck, Mister Giles.”
Anthony hung up and took another, shaky breath, feeling just a smidgen less terrified when he finally entered Downing St. and saw Faith and two girls he somewhat recognized (he had a feeling one of them may have brought him lunch while he was in the Watcher's Council recuperating after the demon attack) standing in the lobby waiting for him.
“This is madness!” a gruff voice bellowed from somewhere in the main entrance. “I assure you we were all perfectly safe in the Ministry!”
“Yes, this is absolutely preposterous!” a second, higher-pitched voice added. “Moody, you had better have a damned good explanation for all this!”
The group currently eating breakfast in the Great Hall, while going over last-minute notes, all looked up. Harry, Ron and Hermione exchanged annoyed looks.
“Please tell me we're locking whoever those guys are in the dungeons,” Connor said. There was slight pause, during which several people snickered. “I mean, you do actually have creepy dungeon-y bits in the 'dungeon' part of the castle, right? It's not just classrooms and dorms, is it?”
“Nope, there are still a few cells down there, for old times sake,” said George Weasley (Connor could smell the difference).
“Filch loved showing off the iron chains hanging from the walls,” added Fred Weasley.
“Seemed really upset that he wasn't allowed to use them anymore.”
“Apparently, Dumbledore had been really strict about tha-”
Suddenly the doors to the Great Hall swung open, admitting in a group of indignant-looking wizards followed by a surlier-than-usual-looking Mad-Eye Moody and Arthur Weasley. The first man through was a rather large man with golden hair littered with greys and a beard that made him look very severe. His first move was to survey the room. His eyes very quickly came to rest on Connor and Willow, who was sitting a bit further up the table and had only briefly raised her head away from the scrolls she and Madame Pomphrey were examining.
“What are these muggles doing here?” the man demanded.
“That's Scrimgeour,” Harry whispered to Connor. “The Minister of Magic. The one next to him is the former minister, Cornelius Fudge.”
“Ah, politicians,” said Connor. “I knew I was right with the dungeons.”
“They're here helping us, Minister Scrimgeour,” Arthur Weasley began explaining. “You see Willow there works for the Watcher's-”
“Muggles, helping?!” Fudge declared.
A few of the witches and wizards behind him responded with equally outraged exclamations.
“How exactly do you expect muggles to be helpful in a magic war?” Scrimgeour asked, contempt oozing from every word.
Suddenly, something flew past his head, making him jump backwards and squawk in surprise. He looked to his right, his goggling at the very large battle axe that was now embedded
into the stone wall.
“Oops, solly, hand slipped,” said a soft, feminine voice with a thick, Asian accent.
Connor didn't bother hiding his grin as Xing-li Huang smiled sweetly at the gaping wizards as she walked quickly up the center aisle of the Great Hall and then leapt over the Hufflepuff table, pink pig-tails swaying behind her as she moved. The small, 16-year-old Chinese girl then proceeded to casually walk up to her axe and effortlessly pull it out of the wall – leaving behind a rather noticeable gouge – and then twirled it in her right hand as though it weighed next to nothing, before going back the way she'd come.
She stopped beside Willow and bowed slightly in greeting. Willow grinned back.
“Hey Xing-li,” she said. “How was patrol?”
“Vely boling,” Xing-li answered with an exaggerated grimace as she absently twirled the axe she had slung over her shoulder. “All bad things lun away. Met half-man, half-hoase. He was...intelesting. Not undestand me.”
She shrugged, as though meeting a centaur was a normal, everyday occurrence and it was only a bit disappointing his experience with foreign accents was so limited. Connor chuckled.
“The other slayers are reporting the same,” said Andrew, who had been coming up behind Xing-li. They'd been using some sort of back entrance to the Great Hall, which was closer to whatever exit they'd been using to leave the school (in case anyone was watching).
“Lots of creepies and crawlies, but nothing that doesn't belong there,” he said.
“How in Merlin's name would you know what's normal in a magical forest?!” the former minister guy tried again.
“Ewoks know how to hide in their own territory,” said Andrew sagely.
Harry and Ron blinked and then, as one, looked to Hermione for an explanation. Hermione was frowning. When she realized their eyes were on her she glared at them.
“Oh don't look at me, I have no idea what that means!” she said.
The three of them suddenly remembered Connor's presence in their midst and turned to him for an explanation. Connor shrugged.
“Sorry, I don't do geek-speak,” he said.
Which was sort of true: he did know what an ewok was and he could probably hazzard a rough guess as to what Andrew meant by the statement. However, he really didn't feel like trying to explain it to people who'd never seen Star Wars
before and probably didn't even know what it was in the first place.
He'd seen Buffy trying to explain cellphones to some of the wizards earlier. No way was he volunteering for that particular brand of torture.
He turned his attention back to where the minister was still whining about being dragged into the relatively-safe magical castle. Moody was trying to temper his growl into something half-polite as he explained what was going on.
“You know I don't mind knocking them all unconscious for you,” Connor called out. “We can wake them up when everything's over and let them take over and deal with the political part.”
Moody glared at him. Beside him, Harry badly covered up his laughter with a cough.
“Not helping Connor,” Hermione admonished him under her breath.
“Just thought I'd throw that out there.”
“Typical muggle boorishness,” a tall, long-nosed woman that had arrived with the minister said with a sniff of her upturned nose. “Already their propensity for violence makes itself known.”
Connor blinked at her.
“Um, lady, last time I checked, this stupid Dark Lord we're helping to fight is one of yours,” he said.
“I also must vehemently protest such incorrect sentiments,” said Andrew with an air of carefully-cultivated snobbery. “Although, it is true that many of us here have, in fact, tasted the temptation offered by the dark side, I assure you we fought against it and come out victorious in that most difficult of battles of the soul. And in light of these difficult battles of ours, it is also horribly inaccurate of you to refer to us as muggles in the first place as we are warriors for the light side and help those chosen to protect the human race from the forces of the darkness by the Powers that Be!”
Several moments of stunned silence followed Andrew's speech.
“Did anyone manage to follow that?” Harry asked.
“For Merlin's sake, Harry, shut up or he'll start explaining himself!” Ron hissed.
Meanwhile, the twins were looking at Andrew with identical, thoughtful expressions.
“Gred,” said George.
“Forge,” said Fred.
“There has to be a way for us to use him for a prank.”
“Yes, there does.”
“Maybe his voice?”
“Or his incomprehensible speech?”
“No, the hair's fine.”
Connor chuckled. He'd spent all morning with these two pranksters and he honestly couldn't wait to see what they came up with. He wondered if Angel liked canary – that is, custard - creams...
The Minister of Magic and his retinue were now turning some very interesting shades of red. Oh, and they were screaming again. Something about muggles and laws and useless things like that.
“That's ridiculous!” Harry suddenly yelled. “We didn't break any laws! They already knew about magic and they'd already figured out about Voldemort before they came anywhere near us!”
“They would not have figured anything out on their own had someone not helped them!” Fudge exclaimed. “There is no way any of you can-”
The great hall seemed to vibrate with the force of the single word that echoed like a roar of thunder. Connor smirked. He'd been wondering how long she'd manage to hold her temper. Willow was a lovely, kind and patient woman, unless she was tired, stressed and on a deadline. Which, was evidenced by the magical glow surrounding her as she glowered at the now shocked-speechless wizards.
“We still have several incredibly important problems to solve and not a lot of time to work with, so with all due respect to your magical persons, could you all be silent and let us do our thing!”
The expressions on the ministry peoples' faces was totally worth all the annoyance they'd caused. Connor was still chuckling an hour later when he joined Arthur, his eldest son, Bill, and several other slayers as they apparated to where Buffy was waiting for them, watching the area Draco had indicated on the map as being the approximate edge of the Malfoy Manor grounds.
Once Dawn and her group managed to take down the ward from inside the manor, they'd be able to gain access to the grounds through a side entrance. For now, they just had to wait.
“Okay, I know this is really bad form, but I kinda wish the evil snakeman would get a move on,” said Xander, his voice only slightly whiny.
“I don't care if it's bad form, I agree,” said Vi. “All this waiting majorly sucks. What happened to the good ol' days of 'charge first, wait and find out what happens later'?”
“Unfortunately, until Dawn and her group manage to take down the forceshield thing we've got nowhere to charge to, 'cause it's magically invisible.”
“Forceshield?” Gwen pipped up with a laugh. “I think you're in the wrong genre there, Xander.”
“Eh, whatever.” He scanned the square around them. “You know, I gotta say, I'm kinda impressed at how many people opted to stay and help with this ruse.”
“You mean, how many people the army boys couldn't convince to leave so gave up trying,” she said.
“Yeah, them. I mean, take that little old lady over there-” He motioned to the lady in question, who'd just hobbled out of the grocery store carrying a cloth bag containing bread and milk. “She looks like she's older than God and that long coat of hers is weighing her down like a suit of armor, but there she is, going about her daily business, pretending nothing's wrong.”
“I wouldn't be underestimating that old bint if I were you,” a voice suddenly said from behind them.
Xander and the two slayers turned to face Corporal Lake, who was one of the special forces operatives wandering the village pretending to be a hapless civilian. He grinned at them.
“That's Stella Carson. She's not staggering around because she's old, but because of the two loaded shot guns she's packing under that long coat. Said 'er 'usband was a general and if were going to go join 'im today, she wouldn't be going down easy. Wants a 'ell of a story to tell when she gets there, she said.”
Xander stared at the corporal. Then he turned to stare at the old woman, watching as she hobbled slowly across the cobblestone street.
“Wow, that's one scary old lady,” he said.
“Yep, sure is,” Gwen agreed.
Xander shook his head and looked down at his watch.
“Aaanyway, that's about half an hour we've been sitting here. You girls ready to move on?”
“Totally,” said Vi.
“I think I need chocolate,” said Gwen.
“Well, then corner store it is!”
After pitstopping at Rickman's Grocery and loading their pockets with much needed energy boosts (the store owner, Robert Rickman, had opted to stay and help with the ruse by running his shop for regular hours... consequently he was in much demand as he was the only shop open in the village and the only supplier of non-army rations), Xander and the slayers made their way to the pub. It was a squat, stone building that claimed to be over 300 years old and looked like it could withstand a direct hit from a missile launched from space. It was called the Crooked Bow, though the cast iron symbol above the door was a dented trumpet.
Xander was determined to figure that one out.
On the inside, the pub was rather classically pub-like: there was a bar with a good-sized television above it slanted at an angle to look outwards, but still enable anyone behind the bar to see it as well, and plenty of solid-looking oak tables surrounded by rather rickety-looking chairs. It was bright in the daylight, but clean, with that unmistakable odor of stale beer, deep frier and last night's stew that clung to its surfaces in such a way that every blind man knew exactly where they'd wandered into the moment they walked through the door.
Today, the Crooked Bow was doubling as headquarters for two squads of the British military, a group from the Watcher's Council and one reporter. Giles and the military commander, Brigadier Benton, were huddled over a map where several of the soldier had earlier pushed two of the pub's tables together. Behind them, Connie Price was watching and listening, glancing occasionally to her cellphone.
They looked up when Xander and the slayers entered.
“All's quiet on the western front!” Xander declared with a grin.
“Except that the manor's to the south, so it doesn't particularly matter what's going on in the west,” Vi pointed out.
Xander rolled his eyes.
“Okay, fine, the southern front is quiet too.”
“Thank you, Xander,” said Giles. “Did you see anyone suspicious walking around?”
“Nope, just us. And one really scary old lady, but she's just the regular kind of scary old lady, not the evil, cook-you-and-eat-your-brains-for-dinner kind of scary old lady.”
“Good. Faith called. She says the government is secured and have accepted her as their bodyguard. Apparently she only had to break one wall to get them to listen to her.”
The last was said with an amused, Ripper-esque smirk, which Xander gladly echoed.
“Sounds like she had fun.”
Connie Price abruptly snapped her tablet cover shut and slid it into her purse.
“Well, thank you, gentlemen for allowing me to listen in and document your behind-the-scenes planning,” she said, smiling at Giles and Brigadier Benton. “However, I think I should take a stroll around the village and get a feel for things, perhaps talk to some of the remaining residents.”
“Very well,” said the Brigadier. “Just do make sure you take cover at the first sign of trouble.”
Giles looked at his watch.
“Dawn and her group are scheduled to leave in about half an hour,” he said, glancing up at her. “Please do try to be back within an hour. We don't know exactly when Voldemort plans to start the ritual, but Buffy and the Order of the Phoenix will begin their attack as soon as Willow's let them know the barrier is down.”
Connie looked at her watch and nodded.
“I'll see you in an hour then,” she said before leaving the pub.
Xander shrugged and then turned to Vi and Gwen, motioning to an empty table.
“Well, we might as well have lunch before all the excitement starts.”
Flames roared to life inside the large, stone fireplace that dominated the small, unadorned room inside the Malfoy Manor. It was a room known only to the family, hidden away as it was at the bend of a mostly unused corridor behind a large painting of Vindicus Pius Malfoy. Seconds later, Draco stepped through. He didn't stop to shake any of the soot off his clothes and, instead, immediately crossed to the mahogany bookcase against the wall. It was half-full of what appeared to be travel guides, books on language spells, maps and international directories, some of which were so old and faded, it was impossible to tell what they were supposed to be without opening them.
Brandishing his wand, Draco tapped several of the books in what appeared to be a random order. As soon as he tapped the sixth book, the flames in the fireplace briefly flashed green. Draco let out a breath, relieved he'd remembered the combination correctly. It had been a while since he'd used this fireplace. And even then, he'd been traveling with his parents and they were both written into the wards the same as he was. The combination was to allow strangers through.
The flames shot up blue and Alastor Moody stepped out. Draco automatically stiffened, before forcing himself to relax.
“Well, I see your password worked,” the auror commented. He narrowed his eyes at Draco suspiciously. “You never did say what would happen if you got it wrong.”
“The fireplace wouldn't allow you to leave,” he said. “Anyone following me would get trapped in the flames.”
Moody's eye spun widely as it registered the layers and layers of spells and wards inside the small room. Behind him the fireplace proceeded to spit out more people. Draco couldn't help but snicker at Dawn's clumsy stumble.
“Okay, that is definitely one of the weirdest ways to travel ever,” she declared.
“Weirder than demon-flame teleport?” Remus asked as he helped her gain her footing.
“Hey you like the teleporting, don't even try to deny it!”
“Wouldn't dream of it.”
“You know, I think I'm a bit disappointed,” said Charlie Weasley as he looked around the room, following Spike and Azazella as the rear of their infiltration force. “I was expecting something a bit more... lavish with snakes and dragons everywhere.”
“This is a secret
room; it's not exactly designed for entertaining.”
Behind Draco's back, Charlie rolled his eyes, which made Dawn giggle. Draco whirled around and looked between the two of them with narrowed, suspicious eyes. Dawn failed to look innocent. Charlie just grinned back winningly.
Just then Spike walked up behind Charlie and slung an arm over the Weasley's shoulders.
“Don't worry, Charlie-boy, me an' Azazella will make sure there's plenty o' excitement even without the snakes and dragons,” he said with a fully vamped-out, malicious-looking grin.
Charlie looked into Spike's yellow, inhuman eyes and paled.
“Spike,” said Dawn. “Behave.”
“What?” Spike stepped back, throwing his arms out in mock-outrage. “I'm just getting to know my partner-in-crime of the hour.”
“Just how quickly do you go through partners-in-crime?” Charlie asked, sounding like he wasn't entirely joking.
“Be vigilant and you won't need to care,” Moody growled. He then turned to Draco. “Mister Malfoy, is there anything else we need to know before we proceed?”
Draco considered the question carefully. After a moment, he turned to Spike and Charlie.
“Azazella can lead you through the servants' tunnels, so you're not likely to run into any death eaters, but if you happen to come across a ghost of an old lady wandering around, just make sure you're polite to her and compliment her on her dress.”
Spike raised an eyebrow. Draco shrugged.
“She's the elderly maiden aunt of a former Lady Malfoy and she can cause quite the ruckus if she feels you've been rude or inconsiderate. Quite the impressive lungs on her, believe me.”
“We'll believe you,” said Charlie immediately. “And hope we never get the chance to verify it.”
“That's all I can think of that Azazella wouldn't know.”
“Well, then off we go!” Spike declared, striding forward happily.
“Wait!” Draco exclaimed, quickly rushing to beat Spike to the door. “There's a password to get into the manor.”
“There's a password to connect to the room through the floo network, a password in order to allow others to enter, who aren't keyed into the wards and then another
password to enter the manor?!” Remus stared at Draco, incredulously.
“My ancestors were nothing if not paranoid.” He then turned to the painting, where Vindicus Pius Malfoy was snoring away silently. “Honeysuckle.”
The painting opened.
“Honeysuckle?” Dawn asked. “Really?”
“I have no idea,” said Draco.
“Well, it's certainly not anything I'd guess,” said Remus.
They slowly slunk into the corridor, eyes and ears sharp for movement. At the first junction, they moved to separate. Just before they left, Spike turned back, looking serious.
“Oi, Wolf, Eye,” he called out in a whisper. Both Remus and Moody stiffened and then turned to face the vampire. Moody's glare should've been lethal. “Take care of the bit.”
“Good luck you lot,” said Remus.
“You too,” said Spike.
And then Spike, Charlie and Azazella – looking like Angela in order to hide her magic – went around the corner and Draco turned to lead Dawn, Alastor Moody and Remus Lupin in the other direction.
Draco led them down a rather twisted, narrow corridor until they reached a much wider, brighter hallway covered in thick, plush dark red carpet. At the end of the corridor, he paused and cautiously looked both ways. Moody automatically took position across from him.
“Looks like it's all clear,” he whispered.
Draco nodded. Then he placed a hand on top of the black marble dragon statue standing just in front of him, as though guarding the entrance to the corridor they were in, and ran his hand down its head, neck and half-way down its back.
Without so much as a single creak, a section of the stone masonry beside him swung inwards like a door. He smirked at his companions' surprised looks before slipping into the passageway. They followed. Once they were all in, Draco waved his wand and whispered a spell. The stone door closed just as silently as it had opened.
“Okay, that was cool,” said Dawn softly once it'd closed completely, leaving no sign it was there at all.
“These passageways run through most of the manor,” said Draco. “They're also covered in silencing charms, so we can be as loud as we want and no one will hear us.”
“Well isn't that convenient,” said Moody, looking annoyed.
Draco smirked, before moving on.
“You didn't think the Ministry had managed to find all our secrets, did you?”
“Of course not. And I hardly think you're about to show us all the ones they missed now, helping or not.”
“How exactly can you tell where we are in the manor?” Remus asked, curiously. “Is it just familiarity with the corridors?”
Draco was silent for a few moments, before he stopped in front of a section of the wall and pointed downwards, to the left.
“This leads to the lower level of the library.”
They looked to where he was pointing and saw that one of the stones at the base of the wall had a single embossed 'L' engraved on it.
“It was a rather popular way to build wizarding residences at the time the manor was being built. Of course, to get in you have to know where the entrances are and how to open them.”
“I suppose this explains how all the dark arts books can suddenly vanish out of your library whenever aurors come to search for them,” said Moody, although he only sounded slightly annoyed about it.
“Oh no, there's a different trick behind that one.”
The smug smile on Draco's face was wiped off by an intense glare from Moody. He quickly looked away, but didn't elaborate on the 'trick'. Behind the two of them, Dawn and Remus exchanged amused looks.
They came to a spiral staircase leading up. It was by far the most elaborate thing they'd seen inside the secret passages. The steps themselves were made of a dark-stained oak with silver detailing embossed into the wood in the shape of the Malfoy family crest. A thick, black iron banister ran along the steps, shaped to look like it had a snake winding around it, its head hissing at them from the edge of the railing. They went up the stairs, which must've gone up at least two levels.
Finally, Draco stopped in front of a section of the wall and paused.
“This is going to take us to one of the ladies sitting rooms just above the ballroom,” he explained. “We could go straight into the ballroom, however...”
“Too risky, this is better,” said Moody.
Draco nodded and then pointed his wand at the wall. He whispered an unlocking spell and, once again, a door made up of masonry opened up. They walked into a room bathed in sunlight that smelt of flowers and strawberries.
Dawn gasped. Compared to the dark tones of what she'd seen in the rest of manor (which admittedly was probably the drabbest part of it), it was like entering another world. There was a large, white marble fireplace along one wall with a small seating area in front of it: beige cushioned chairs covered in small, blue flowers and an antique pinewood coffee table with brightly-coloured peacocks painted onto its top. As she walked through the room, her shoes sank into the lush, rose wool carpet.
Moody and Remus took over once they reached the hallway and Draco had explained exactly where they were going. The veteran auror led the way as they snuck through the hallway, with Remus taking the rear and Dawn and Draco between them. Dawn had her sword drawn. Without the speed and strength of either a slayer or a vampire, she knew she wouldn't be able to do much against the wizard's magic, but she could at least do enough to distract any death eaters they came across so that the others could take them down.
And perhaps she'd even manage a little bit of surprise magic of her own. Being an Ancient had to come with some sort of perks, right?
Dawn dismissed those thoughts from her mind. She needed to concentrate on what they were doing, not mope about things she couldn't change. She was a Scoobie; she could do this. Hell, even Draco was holding things together and he was working to take down his ancestral home.
And, she had to admit, it was a very impressive home.
“You know, gotta thank whoever it was that put in all these carpets all over the place,” she whispered to Draco. “Makes sneaking around way easier.”
“That was my grandfather,” Draco whispered back. “He was rather fond of carpets.”
“That he was, however, I feel I must correct your mistaken impression that they make sneaking easier.”
All four of them whirled around at the voice. It took them a few moments to locate its source. In fact, it was when Lucius Malfoy stepped out of the shadows of an alcove they hadn't even noticed until he stepped out of it.
“Damn,” muttered Draco, “I forgot about that alcove.”
“Evidently,” Lucius said dryly as he leaned against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. His eyes slid over to Dawn, who tightened her grip on her sword. “And to answer your question, young lady, the carpets may muffle the noise of your footsteps, however they also serve to hide the sigils drawn onto the floor with the express purpose of notifying the head of the house to trespassers in several of the wings.”
“What? Why didn't I know about this?!” Draco demanded.
His father smirked.
“You didn't think you knew everything there was to know about this house, did you?”
“I think this house is going to give me a headache soon,” he told Dawn out of the corner of his mouth.
“Right there with ya,” Dawn answered him, before continuing more loudly. “Draco, I think it's safe to say your family takes paranoid to an almost unhealthy extreme.”
Draco made a face, which could've been interpreted as a sort of reluctant agreement. Lucius snorted.
“It's been invaluable whenever the Ministry's decided to preform a surprise raid.”
Dawn noticed the change in his expression only seconds before the elder Malfoy moved. She wasn't the only one. When Lucius enveloped his son in a hug there were two wands and a sword pointed at him. Draco's eyes widened and he froze for a several moments, before relaxing and returning the embrace.
With a small smile, Dawn, too, relaxed and stepped back as she lowered her sword. She exchanged looks with Remus, who also took a step back.
“You're alright,” they heard Lucius whisper to Draco. “I'm so glad Severus was right.”
“Severus?” Remus said with a frown. “How could Severus have known?”
“Cordy probably told him,” said Dawn with a shrug.
“That having been said...” Lucius suddenly cut the embrace short, pushing Draco back, but grabbing him by the shoulders so that he was looking him in the eyes. “What in Merlin's name are you doing back here?! Do you have any idea what the Dark Lord will do to you if he finds you here?!”
Draco blinked, surprised by the abrupt change in conversation. Then he shook his head.
“You wouldn't have sent me that message if you hadn't expected me to pass it on to my new-found allies,” Draco said, his voice betraying some nervousness, but otherwise steady.
“Ah, yes, your allies,” Lucius drawled. He straightened, his knuckles relaxing their hold on his son, and then looked past him to sneer at Moody and Remus, until he stopped at Dawn. Her, he looked at thoughtfully. “You're from Sunnydale, California.”
“Formerly,” Dawn answered. “There's not much living there nowadays; it's sort of a big crater now.”
The corners of his mouth twitched with amusement.
“Indeed. I take it you knew it was a hellmouth then?”
Dawn grinned. “Yup! It was underneath the high school. You should've seen the ancient vampire army that tried to crawl its way out before we shut it down for good!”
Lucius' eyes widened.
“I heard parts of the story when I was in America recruiting,” he whispered.
“Which is all well and good, but we've not got the time to be chattering away,” Moody growled. He stepped up to Lucius and jabbed his wand against the blond's neck. “I've no idea why you sent yer son that message and I don't much care. S'far as I'm concerned, you're still the enemy and this could all be a trap.”
“Alastor!” Remus exclaimed.
“No, wait!” Draco cried out, moving with a speed acquired by fear for his father's life.
He pushed his way between Moody's wand and his father, forcing both men to back away a step, surprise visible on both their faces. The determination on Draco's face made even Moody pause.
“This entire operation was possible only because of the information Snape and my father were able to get to us,” he said. “I'm not saying it makes up for anything my father did, but at least you could, I mean, he didn't have to send anything...”
As Draco's speech floundered, Dawn saw the tenderness and pride that flashed across his father's face. It made up her mind. With a slight nod to herself, she stepped forward.
“We're here to take down the wards,” she told Lucius, whose head snapped to her.
Moody growled something at her, but she ignored him. Lucius' eyes narrowed, as though trying to figure out the hidden meaning behind her words.
“We know what Voldemort's planning to do today,” she continued. “He's going to preform an ascension to become a pure demon of the sorts that were banished from this world millenia ago. And we know he's got himself some sort of new allies helping him.”
Lucius nodded. “They call themselves the Circle of the Black Thorne.”
“That's what we figured. Anyway, what we've also got is an army: part magical, part not and part Slayer. What we need is for those pretty new wards Voldemort recently got as a present to vanish.”
“You realize if this is a trap, you've just handed him all the information he needs,” said Moody as he glared holes into her skull.
Dawn glared back, suddenly feeling fiercely protective of her choice and determined on Draco's behalf that she was going to be right.
“Look, I'm sure this guy's done a lot of really bad things, horrible things. But guess what? So's Spike and Willow and Connor and, oh hell, even Giles has a not-so-nice past, which, yeah okay is like baby pretend evil next to the others, but still. And let's not start on Connor's father – and mother, come to think of it...” She stopped herself and shook her head. “Sorry, I'm getting off-topic here. The point is that he's not a monster and even if he was, he's Draco's father.”
She then shrugged.
“Besides, it's not like I've told him everything or even anything super-specific.”
She looked between Remus and Moody, imploring them to understand. However, a snicker from Lucius had them all turning to him in astonishment.
“Well put, young lady, well put,” he said with a smile. He turned to his son. “Apparently, you have either better luck or at the very least a better instinct for people than I ever had. Take after your mother, I imagine.”
He placed a hand on Draco's shoulder.
“I'm proud of you, son.”
Dawn smiled at the way Draco's eyes widened and the smile that spread across his face. Lucius smiled back at his son. Then he cleared his throat and stepped back.
“I assume you were planning to head to the ballroom through the main hallway,” he said, suddenly all business.
“Then take the fireplace instead and I'll clear some of the way for you.”
Draco frowned. “Are you sure you want Ministry aurors to-”
“Not particularly, no, but I want the Dark Lord to succeed even less. I'm not saying I believe in the ministry or any of their silly muggle-loving sycophants, however, as your friend Dawn has so succinctly pointed out, the Dark Lord's plans are not conducive to either my ideals or to you. Helping you and subsequently the Order of the Phoenix is, how shall I put it....”
“The lesser of two evils?” Dawn suggested.
Lucius nodded. “Indeed.”
With one, last look in Draco's direction, Lucius passed them in a swish of robes and then strode confidently down the hallway towards the stairs.
“I really hope this isn't going to be something we regret,” Remus said quietly.
“Yeah, me too,” said Dawn. Then she shrugged. “You know, if worse comes to worst, I can just call for Azazella. I mean, the only reason we're not just doing that now is because she knows the servant passageways and how to get to the dungeons. Plus, we want to keep our little infiltration quiet for as long as possible.”
“Yes, I'd much rather not have to rely on her strength,” said Remus, looking a bit green just at the thought of letting her go rampaging.
“Right then, where is this fireplace entrance?” Moody asked Draco.
Draco took a deep breath and walked back the way they'd just come from. They followed him until he stopped in front of a large, hall mirror in a heavy gold frame decorated with golden leaves and branches bearing fruit and nuts: mostly apples, pears and hazelnuts. Draco's eyes turned to the left hand side of the frame and his left hand came up to examine it. Then he used his thumb to press down on the one, lonely walnut hanging next to an apple.
The mirror swung out to reveal a short passage.
“I have to go last,” said Draco. “Just touch the griffin statue half-way down.”
“Griffin statue, got it,” said Dawn, entering first.
The passageway was narrow with naked stone on either side of her, but it was clean, as though someone actually took care of it and swept it every once in a while. Or, she supposed, sent a house elf to do it. The griffin statue, as it turned out, was actually only about five steps into the passage. She looked behind her to make sure the others were coming and then touched the statue.
No sooner had she touched it, she felt a sharp tug around her navel, which then seemed to envelop her entire body, sending her into a dizzy spin she had to shut her eyes against. It only lasted a few seconds, but it still sent her reeling and she fought back nausea with deep breaths. She let go of the statue and stumbled backwards, aiming for the opposite wall she knew was there.
Suddenly, she was caught by a pair of strong hands. Dawn's eyes snapped open, her body automatically twisting to get away and prepare to defend herself.
“Dawn, Dawn, relax, it's alright, it's just me.”
Dawn relaxed as she recognized Remus' voice. Then she noticed her surroundings. The narrow passageway was gone and instead they were standing in a small room. There was a small polished table with two wooden, padded chairs on either side of it and a low hutch made of polished wood bearing a decanter filled with a caramel brown liquid and surrounded by several stout crystal glasses on short stems. Next to the hutch sat an identical griffin statue to the one that had been in the passageway.
“Draco really should've warned you about the portkey,” Remus said, disapproval in his voice. “It can be a bit harrying the first time around.”
“Huh?” was all Dawn could manage.
“Well, this certainly explains a lot,” she heard Moody grumble.
Dawn looked to her left where the auror was looking out through what looked like a face-shaped indent in the wall. Then she realized the wall behind her was concave, eating a half-circle out of the small room. The peep-holes Moody was looking out of were at the base of the curve, which didn't actually extend to the end of the walls, but rather to a foot on either end of the wall.
“Okay, so what exactly happened?” Dawn finally asked.
“The griffins were connected portkeys that transported you from that passageway upstairs to this room, which I assume is somewhere near the ballroom,” said Remus.
“By my guess, we're directly behind that huge fireplace that's inside the ballroom,” Moody added.
Just then Dawn heard a faint pop. She turned in time to see Draco take his hand from the griffin statue. Then he walked to the other side of the curve (which Dawn now assumed was the fireplace) and stared at the wall. Dawn had to walk around the rounded wall to see he was looking into another set of peepholes.
“So what are we dealing with?” Dawn asked.
“There's about four death eaters in the room that I can see,” said Moody.
“I think there's a fifth in the side antechamber,” Draco added. “I think I saw movement there.”
“Hmph, there could be more than one there.”
“Has Lucius Malfoy arrived yet?” Remus asked.
“If he arrives, you mean,” said Moody.
“He will,” said Draco.
“Can I see?” Dawn asked, coming up behind Draco.
Draco moved to the side and Dawn leaned down to look through the eyeholes. From where she was, she could tell the ballroom was massive. She also realized Draco had been right: any surprise attack would only have limited success, because the area was so large that the death eaters would have plenty of room to maneuver even if they didn't really have anything to hide behind. She couldn't see the walls clearly, but even the vague, blurry images she had told her the room was grand and impressive. From what little she could glimpse, even the ceiling was painted.
The doors on the far left opened and Dawn watched Lucius stride into the room, the arrogance in his stride a more mature version of Draco's own.
“Oh, there's your dad, Draco,” she announced.
“Good,” said Draco. “Mr. Lupin, I'll open the fireplace when the time comes. It opens slowly, so either you or Mr. Moody will have to be the first one through as I'm assuming you don't want it to be Dawn.”
“Here, Remus, you take over watching,” Moody declared. “I'll be the first one through. Just let me know what's going on.”
“Looks like Lucius is ordering a few of them out,” said Dawn as she watched Lucius announce something and then wave arrogantly at the door.
The death eaters looked at each other uneasily, but then Lucius sneered at them and they scurried away out the doors. Lucius waited a few moments, meandering around and looking bored. Then he swung around and aimed a spell at the nearest remaining death eater.
“He's taken one out!” Dawn exclaimed.
“He's started!” Remus echoed her. “Open the fireplace!”
Draco tapped the griffin statue with his wand.
“Ouvrir,” he said.
Dawn couldn't help herself. As Moody rushed through the opening that was slowly appearing to them, she looked back at Draco.
“Really?” she said. “After all those complicated, weird passwords, this one's just 'open' in French?!”
Draco shrugged, only half paying attention to her. His face was pinched with worry. Remus ran out after Moody. Dawn followed, with Draco at her heel.
In the ballroom, Dawn caught a glimpse of flying dragons on the walls, but paid them no heed as she took one look around and, seeing that the older wizards had things well in-hand, ran to the pedestal standing at the centre of the room containing the statuette Draco had mentioned. According to Lori's research, it was most likely holding the ward together.
“Dawn, get down!” she suddenly heard Draco yell behind her.
Without bothering to look around, Dawn dropped into a roll, which she came out of into a crouch.
“Protego!” she heard Draco chant.
She looked to her right just as a spell hit Draco's magical shield. Draco grit his teeth against the impact, but the shield held. Dawn looked to where the spell came from and, sure enough, there was a single wizard standing at the entrance to an antechamber along the side of the ballroom.
Just then, another spell hit the wizard from the side and he collapsed. Moody rushed up to stand next to Draco, wand drawn as he scanned the rest of the room.
Dawn rose to her feet and ran the rest of the way to the statuette. She raised her sword and then brought it down with all her might.
There was a bright flash of light.
Down in the Malfoy dungeons, Azazella looked up from where she'd been observing the young dragon tamer affixing a small portkey to the dirty lapel of a grey-haired man's suit, who watched them through glossy, unfocused eyes.
“They have succeeded,” she said. “The wards blanketing magic have fallen.”
“Well that's good to 'ear,” Spike called from further on in the dungeon.
There followed a series of bangs, clangs and crashes, which made Charlie wince and Azazella stoicly incline her head in their direction. Charlie stood in the silence that followed and flicked his wand as he muttered the incantation to activate the portkey. The 'pop' of the portkey winking away to Saint Mungo's was drowned out by a final, though much quieter, crash.
Charlie inched out of the cell and into the dungeon passage.
“Everything alright there, Spike?” he called out.
The vampire's head popped out from the next cell.
“Just figured we should get a move on,” he said with a wide grin, not even pretending to hide that expediency wasn't his only reason. “The Circle's bound to notice their fancy statue things 'ave stopped working.”
Charlie frowned. “But the cells are magicked close.”
“Yeah, but the 'inges aren't.”
Charlie wisely decided not to comment any further and just got on with it, removing another portkey from the bag slung over his shoulder.
As Willow concentrated on the map spread out before her in the Great Hall, watching the brightly-lit dots on the map like a red-headed hawk, a dark area on the map suddenly began to shimmer. The witch tensed, then began to smile as the area lit up with light nearly as bright as the undefined glow in Scotland representing Hogwarts.
She looked up at the people assembled around her. Most of them hadn't noticed anything had happened yet. However, the one she needed to had. Willow looked at the girl sporting a green mohawk, whose eyes were watching her intently, body poised for action despite the haphazard way she was sitting with one leg up on the Hufflepuff table.
“The wards are down,” Willow announced. “Mila, let Giles and Buffy know they can start the attack.”
The girl jumped to her feet in an instant, reaching for the cellphone in her pocket even as she sprinted out of the hall towards the boundaries of the Hogwarts grounds and its magical interference.
The light was so blinding and disorientating that Dawn didn't even feel herself being flung backwards. Suddenly, she heard someone speaking to her and shaking her. She looked up to see four faces looking down at her. It took her a few moments to see past the bright spots in front of her eyes and recognize Draco and Remus as the two closest and then Moody and Lucius further up.
“I really hope this means it's been destroyed,” she said, blinking madly to get rid of the stars.
“Yes, Dawn, the statuette's now several smaller pieces, which means the wards should be down.”
“Oh good, 'cause I really don't wanna do that again.”
Someone snorted in amusement. Dawn was pretty sure it was Lucius.
Remus helped her stand up and held on as her head began to suddenly spin. When she opened her eyes again, she looked around the room, taking stock of the incapacitated death eaters and the broken pieces of statuette littering the ground. She also finally took the time to really see the beautifully-painted dragons (moving, of course) on the walls. She smiled; it was truly beautiful.
Then she saw the a man step out of the antechamber and cast a sickly-green spell.
“Look out!” she screamed.
The spell hit Moody just as he was turning around. The auror stiffened and then fell to the ground.
“Alastor!” Remus exclaimed, but his wand was steadily pointed at the new wizard.
“Well, if it isn't my dear brother-in-law,” Lucius sneered, stepping forward, so that he was shielding Draco with his body.
“Lucius, what a pleasure to be the product of your demise,” the dark wizard sneered back.
“I doubt very much you have the intelligence necessary for that.”
“Thankfully it won't take much. There's already a messenger on his way to the Dark Lord to inform him of your treachery.”
Just then the doors to the ballroom opened.
“Malfoy's going mad,” one death eater declared. He looked like a rather large, beefy man.
“Avery didn't need us at the gates at all,” the other one said. “He got that help hours a-”
Dawn exchanged a wide-eyed look with Draco.
Before either of the death eaters had a chance to properly take in the scene, Remus swung around, pointed his wand at them and cast. The smaller one went flying backwards, hitting his head on the solid, oak doors and crumbling to the floor in a heap of black robes. Draco then raised his wand and cast a spell at the other, who easily blocked it. Dawn transferred her sword into her left hand and reached for the dagger strapped to her thigh.
She glanced behind her. Lucius seemed to be taking care of his brother-in-law well enough. Then she looked to the doors, where Remus – with some help from Draco – were exchanging spells with the second death eater. Unfortunately, the death eater had had the presence of mind to open the oak doors and was using them as a shield.
Then the doors suddenly slammed shut.
“Dammit!” Remus exclaimed and ran over to the doors. “Draco, tie this one up!” He called out, motioning to the death eater slumped against the door. He looked like he was starting to stir again.
Remus threw the door open as he went running out the door.
Draco did as he was told and cast some a few spells at the slumped death eater. Meanwhile, Dawn turned to where Lucius was still trading spells with the other wizard. To Dawn, they seemed evenly matched, though Lucius' hair was beginning to come out of its tie.
Then the dark-haired wizard caught Dawn's eye. He laughed and Dawn froze, recognizing the look in his eyes. Angelus had had it. Darth Willow had had it. Sometimes, Spike's eyes showed a glimpse of it. This wizard loved causing harm for the fun of it.
“Avada kadavra!” he called loudly.
“Protego adfirmo!” Lucius called back and a visible circular shield appeared in front of him, causing the spell to rebound.
The other wizard leapt out of the way of the spell and then cast another, which hit Lucius in the leg. Lucius howled in pain and crumbled to his knees.
Lucius' waved his wand, looking around himself wildly, as though trying to figure out where to aim it at.
“Finite Incan-” Draco began, before collapsing with a scream of agony.
It was a scream Dawn recognized.
“Now, now, my dear nephew,” the dark wizard said. “Can't have you interfering.”
Dawn threw her knife. It hit the man in the shoulder.
Unfortunately, it seemed Draco's uncle could take pain almost as well as he could give it, as all Dawn got out of him was a grunt and a hiss of pain. He turned furious eyes on her.
“Do you wish to take his place, Muggle?” he hissed at her through gritted teeth.
“Leave him alone!” Dawn screamed at him.
She looked down at Draco, who was still screaming. His wand lay forgotten on the ground as his hands were grabbing at his chest, looking like he wanted claw out whatever was causing him so much pain. Dawn knelt down and grabbed his arms to stop Draco from harming himself.
She felt helpless.
She felt angry. She looked up at the dark wizard, suddenly feeling absolutely furious at him for hurting her friend.
The wizard laughed at her.
Dawn felt her face heat up, then she felt the heat spread to her entire body. It was as though her anger had become a hot lava infusing her blood.
Suddenly, the wizard stopped laughing.
Dawn didn't think of anything expect how much she wanted him to stop, to be gone.
For a split second the wizard's eyes widened. Then he was flying backwards, towards the wall. He hit it with a sickening crunch.
There was a moment of silence as Draco's screams suddenly cut off. The hot anger that had infused Dawn's veins quickly dissipated as she stared at the wizard, surprised by what she'd managed to do. She couldn't think of anything else to do but stare as he slowly opened his eyes. He looked at her with a bewildered sort of anger. His wand lifted.
“Avada kadavra,” a cold voice said.
The wizard's body stiffened and then slumped.
Lucius Malfoy was suddenly beside her. Absently, she assisted as they helped Draco sit up and then Lucius got his son to drink a potion of some sorts. Her stupor was broken when Remus ran in again.
“Bloody hell, I don't know if you felt that in here, but I think Spike's group must've run into trouble, because I'm sure I just felt Azazella use her powers,” he said, sounding out of breath.
“That wasn't Azazella,” said Dawn, not meeting anyone's eyes.
No one answered him, until finally Lucius spoke up. Draco taken care of, he was now watching Dawn with thoughtful amazement.
“I have no idea what happened back there,” he said softly. “But that power... that was Dawn.”
“Looks like you're not a one-trick pony after all,” Draco rasped.
Dawn met his eyes and chuckled dryly.
In the middle of the Malfoy Manor grounds, just off to the side of the gardens and somewhere between the pond and the former dragon pens, an area approximately the size of the manor's ballroom had been cleared of its lush grass. In the centre of this clearing, a circle had been drawn in blood. Just outside the circle, Lady Zhur presented Lord Voldemort with a smoking goblet.
Dozens of robed death eaters looked on as their lord and master smiled. Some of them occassionally shot nervous glances at the imposing demon soldiers standing still as statues behind them. In the distance, more death eaters could be seen herding the hapless, confused former inhabitants of Avebury towards the clearing.
Master McNab watched the proceedings with amusement. Despite his acceptance of the Circle of the Black Thorne's help, all four of them knew Voldemort didn't trust them. He understood full well they weren't helping him out of the goodness of the hearts they no longer possessed. So preoccupied he'd been with watching for the moment of their betrayal, it had failed to occur to him that they were like Shylock.
And, when the time came, they would take their pounds of flesh.
Then the wind suddenly changed, bringing with it a faint echo of magic: a sharp breeze of power, ancient, yet somehow muffled, as though incomplete – perhaps restrained.
The amusement vanished from the mage's face as his eyes snapped to look in the direction of the manor. His eyes narrowed before he looked back to the clearing and met the confused eyes of his associates. Confusion was not something they could afford, not now.
It wasn't a complicated decision. He was the one least needed for the ritual, so with a nod of agreement, Master McNab turned with a slight bounce to his step and sauntered towards the manor.
On his way, he passed a young death eater, who was running full-tilt in the opposite direction.
I think, by my count it's something around seven years since I started this story and now, finally we're here: our heros head into a head-on confrontation with Voldemort. I've got quite a chunk of the next chapter done and will try to get it out as soon as I can so you're not left hanging with this cliffhanger for too long (you've gotta admit I've done worse though, right?). However, having just signed up to do the Merlin Big Bang challenge, I'm not sure just how much time I'll have to work on this... but I will try to have at least the next chapter up soon.