Talon of Anthrax: The "consort" offer is in part because the Baron Samedi (along with the rest of the Ghede), is not just the god of death in Voodoo, but also of sexuality. Yes, I needed a second to parse that contrast when I first learned about it, too. It's also related to the role in at least a few religions of a priestess as a god's consort, though I'm blanking on which those are at the moment.

London Knight: Cute as Gaiman's Death is, I think she's a little too nice to be a Dark Power. If I had picked Death as a Light Power, though…

Chapter 15

Albus rapped shortly on his old office's door and walked inside. Despite calling him here as though he were nothing but a naughty schoolboy, Griselda was not at her desk but instead staring out the window at the dreary October sky. "Take a seat, Mr. Dumbledore."

For all that the woman before him had been running the OWL exams when he was just a student, he had not been one for 127 years and would not tolerate being treated like one. Forcing a well-practiced smile on his face, he asked lightly, "Whatever is the matter, Griselda? You look tense."

"Tense." She turned around to look at him, her lips pressed tight in a severe line. "Why would I be tense, Dumbledore?"

"Many possible reasons. The war raging outside these gates that neither you nor Amelia can seem to do anything about. The stress of running a school. The paranoia of viewing everyone around you as an enemy." He spread his arms. "Any one of them would be enough to cause you to be tense."

She just glared at him for several long moments. "Or perhaps it has to do with the secret meetings you've had with the little group you're building up from the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, aided and abetted by Minerva and Pomona." He answered her accusation with a placid expression, and she slammed her hand on the desk. "Damn you, Dumbledore! You were told that you were not allowed to recruit students for your little private army!"

"I fail to see how providing extra tutoring to the students who ask for it is something for you to become upset about." Though he now wondered who had informed Griselda about those 'tutoring sessions'. Yes, they were made up of Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, the houses to which young men and women of the Light gravitated towards, though as he was being reminded, others of a more violent and callous disposition somehow found their ways there as well. Yes, he was working with them on teamwork and fighting a superior enemy force by relying on each other, but that was also what he was working with them on during the regular classes. Yes, Minerva and Pomona had helped him. And yes, it was his hope that these students would continue to support the Light once this war was over, though the accusation that he was assembling an 'army' stung. His goals were nothing so nefarious; he just wanted to ensure the Light retook control of the country once Tom was defeated.

She stared at him with narrowed eyes. "I can't tell anymore," she said softly, "if you're evil or just insane. Not that it matters, I suppose."

Her left hand moved slowly towards her wand, and Albus felt his eyebrows rise slowly. Was Griselda planning on fighting him? Here and now? Really?

Before the elderly witch could make such a mistake, bells and whistles clattered in the tiny office and made both of them slap their hands over their ears. What in Merlin's name was that noise?!

He waved his wand quickly at the ceiling, and the Silencing Cham let them uncover their ears only to hear the same noise, albeit at a drastically lesser intensity, rising from the stairwell and yet still loud enough to be heard through the thick wooden door. "Christopher, what is that?" he demanded from one of the portraits of the school's former headmasters.

"Tis the wards, Albus!" the medieval wizard shouted, the paint fleeing his face to leave him pallid with fear. "An enemy force hath breached our defenses! Fight the villains at our gates!"

"Fawkes!" A ball of fire exploded into existence, and he caught the phoenix's tail feathers before his familiar could fully rematerialize. A wave of heat and fire swept over him, and he landed lightly on the ground and looked out at the battlefield.

The students were assembled in a loose arc around the gate to Hogsmeade, most screaming in terror while a few brave souls held the line. Spells of all colors leapt from the wands of the older Lions and Badgers, the young men and women proving his faith in them to be well founded. Not that they were the only ones defending their school. Over on the left side he could make out a few of the Ravenclaws, which was reassuring to see. The Ravens were traditionally too inwardly focused to care about good or evil, a trait that could be a relief or a frustration depending on the day, but even they could be motivated by self-preservation. Spotting a gap in their ranks, he hurried over only to stop once he was halfway there.

Three things were immediately apparent. First, these were not just any Ravenclaws; they were Black's allies. Second, it was clear they knew what they were doing if the fact they were using fire spells against the Inferii he could now make out through the empty space between their members. That was worrying because he knew no professor had taught them the best way to combat the walking dead, as proven by the fact that his students were using other spells to try to bring down the Inferii. Third, that was not a hole in their defenses.

It was just the minimum safe distance from the witch in the middle.

Black twirled and swung her hips to a song only she could hear, and as she waved her arms to the dance the Fire Lash Curses she held in each hand sliced through the air and the Inferii alike with devastating effect. Her friends were even helping, funneling the reanimated corpses as best they could so that she could cut them down. She was clearly the one who taught the other Ravenclaws how to fight these enemies, and how she knew he almost would prefer not to learn. Regardless, she was not his priority. Creating dozens of arrows of flame, he flung them into the Inferii still rushing the innocent students who had not thought to try burning their enemies alive. While his arrows were still in flight he conjured slabs of heavy stone and banished them at the archway where the gleaming gold gates once stood. The stones caught the Inferii ahead of them and crushed a few as they slammed into place and made an impenetrable wall. Now all he needed was to help the students destroy the rest of these abominations.

A loud roar came from beyond the wall, and the stones shook from something large and terrible trying to break through. What else did Tom have, Albus could not help but wonder. An erumpent? A troll? Another basilisk? The conjured stone shattered, and he staggered back a step when he saw what came through the new hole. The students gasped as they too recognized him. They all knew that face.

"Rubeus," he murmured in sorrow, "what have they done to you?"

The Dark witch among them ignored the familiarity of the man before them and dashed closer, hacking apart some of the lingering walking dead and then bringing both of her burning whips in an overhead swing to try to slice off the nearer arm of this massive Inferius. Hagrid was half giant, however, and therefore was far more magically resistant than all the other Inferii had been. Death had not changed that. Instead of cutting, the Fire Lash Curse instead wrapped around its forearm and held fast. Hagrid roared again and yanked his arm back, and unlike its cousin, this darker variant of the Flame Whip was substantial enough that his unnatural strength sent the girl flying towards him. She was still tumbling through the air when, in contrast to the gentle nature of the man who this once had been, he slammed his fist into her chest. The snapping of bone could be heard even where Albus stood, and the whips vanished while Black sailed away and slammed into the ground.

The chances of her surviving that were slim.

Albus could not decide if that was good news, a tragedy, or merely inconvenient, but he was not in a state to reflect on that. Staring into the half-rotted face of one of his closest friends, he forced his emotions down and locked them away as best he could. This was not the time for mourning, he told himself as he raised his wand. That would come later. The ground melted into quicksand beneath Hagrid's feet, and the grass grew as high as the trees and sprouted large thorns before bending to wrap around his arms and torso. Hagrid struggled as best he could, but without solid ground to brace himself against even a half-giant's strength was limited.

Fawkes fluttered down and perched himself on Albus's shoulder, and glancing over Hagrid's head he conjured more rock to replace what Hagrid had destroyed. Now that the gates were sealed yet again, he returned his attention to the foul work the Dark Arts had made of his friend. He stepped closer and looked into Hagrid's milky eyes. "I am sorry for what I have to do," he said. "I hope you will forgive me."

The phoenix crooned before hopping from his shoulder onto Hagrid's head. Feathers flickered into flame, and the righteous fire washed over the Inferius. Normally phoenix fire was anything but destructive, it was also a powerful purifier, and all that was left of the man now was flesh animated by magics of the foulest kind. The red and gold flames consumed Hagrid's remains as though they were nothing but dry leaves, and after only a dozen seconds at the very most all that was left was a pile of pure white ash.

Albus took his time vanishing the ashes and restoring the grass to how it had been before, his movements slow and solemn. Only once that was done did he look around again. There were some injuries, true, but the worst looked to be one sixth-year boy whose chest had been scratched and shoulder bitten. Even Black, despite his hopes, was somehow still among the living and not even that seriously injured if the way she was already sitting up in the middle of her friends was any indication.

Turning around, he found Griselda watching the young defenders and met her eyes with a raised brow. She could challenge him all she wanted. This, though? This was proof that for all she claimed otherwise, she still needed him and the Order if she wished to defend Hogwarts. She could not do so alone, and now she knew it beyond all doubts.

The golden gates of Hogwarts were gone, and in their place stood a thick wall of stone.

How frustrating that was, Voldemort did not think he could put into words. Instead he clicked his tongue and turned away from the aggravating sight. Sixty Inferii gone, and still the castle belonged to Dumbledore. He even sent in the Inferius he had created after killing Rubeus Hagrid, made specifically so that any Order members and even Dumbledore himself would hesitate to fight, and yet the old wizard had destroyed it without hesitation.

Had he underestimated Dumbledore's resolve, he wondered as he walked away. It looked as though he had.

"My lord," young Marcus Flint said, hesitantly walking closer as though terrified that one wrong word would be his last, "if you give us a bit more time, I am sure we can get around the gate—"

"Don't bother. It is a waste of resources." He had already tried that a few nights ago. The plan to send a small group of Inferii through the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night so they could cause havoc was a good one, but sadly that strategy had already been predicted and countered. When the Ministry retreated to Hogwarts, so had the Unspeakables. That was the only explanation he could come up with for why his Inferii dissolved as soon as they reached the edge of the wards, and neither the creatures who followed him nor even the Death Eaters themselves could pass through. He personally had been able to force his way in for several feet, but it had been challenge enough he had called the attempt off. He was not so arrogant to try taking Hogwarts all on his own even were he not fighting the wards with his every step.

The gates were the weak link in the wards. They were the designated entry and exit points, and just as a door would always be easier to breach than the wall around it, so too were the gates the sole place his army could break through. Now that he had solidified his grip over the populace, it was time to crush the remaining opposition, but if today were any indication, it would not be a simple as he initially expected.

If this were any other location, it would be less of a challenge. He knew that. No ward was unbreakable, no defense perfect. If nothing else, he could force some of his more disposable servants to try destabilizing the ward matrix and thereby cause a cascading failure. Between the millennium-old wards erected by the Founders, the additional defenses added haphazardly by headmasters throughout the centuries, and the reinforcements designed by the Unspeakables, there were undoubtedly enough points of intersection that bringing down one ward would collapse them all. Sadly, he had only a passing familiarity with curse-breaking, and he doubted many of his servants were better informed. It would be a matter of throwing enough bodies at the problem and hoping he got lucky before he depleted his forces.

Not to mention, a total failure like that had a better than zero chance of destroying the castle entirely, which was not his preferred option for dealing with his remaining enemies. It had been better than fifty years since he graduated Hogwarts, but despite himself he still held some sentimentality towards his alma mater. It had first been the refuge of Tom Riddle and then the birthplace of Voldemort; it was the closest thing he had to a home. He would rather not destroy it if he had any other options.

That reluctance was enough to stay his hand, but there were also strategic advantages to keeping Hogwarts intact. This castle had the strongest wards in Britain, possibly in all of Europe, particularly now that the Unspeakables had added to them. It was also the premier school in Britain, which meant that the best and brightest wizards went there for their education and would continue to do so even after his rule was complete. No foolish champion of the Light would dare challenge him if in doing so they threatened the children of the nation, and it would also give him the chance to oversee their indoctrination himself.

Besides, he thought with a faint smile, he had applied for a teaching position before he struck out as a Dark Lord, and he had not done so just so he had the opportunity to hide the Diadem in the Come and Go Room. Twisting impressionable young minds to his whims was a heady power, and as the younger Slytherins when he was still in school could attest, he was a better than average tutor. He might actually have to teach a few classes personally just for fun. Probably an advanced class on the Dark Arts, but that would be what everyone would expect and not his only area of expertise. He was also a dab hand at Charms. The Dark Lord and king of Britain teaching first-years how to levitate feathers; that would be something to see!

Flint had been backing up cautiously for the last several seconds, but Voldemort dismissed his obvious terror and walked away in the direction of the rebuilt Three Broomsticks, which had become the de facto command center for this area. Timothy Nott was the one in charge of this front of the war if he remembered correctly, so he would have a quick word before returning to London to discuss a few changes to security for the Ministry building with Barty Crouch.

He could not yet take Hogwarts? Fine. He would simply have to bleed the resistance a while longer and try again.

Tracey stumbled to the table and plopped down before resting her cheek on the cool smooth wood. A small hand rubbed her back comfortingly, and across from her Padma asked knowingly, "Sick again?"

"Mm-hmm," Luna hummed. That was answer enough. For the last month, ever since the middle of September, an odd sickness had bounced around the school and even the refugees on the grounds. It never lasted long, a day or at most two, but for that time its victims were sluggish and weak. Tracey had been unlucky enough to be one of the first ones affected, and it had really knocked her down that first time. She had caught it a few times since, which seemed to be the pattern of this illness. Nobody was immune even if they had already suffered through it.

"This is getting ridiculous," sighed Padma. "Six years here and we've never seen anything like this, and now we can't get rid of it. You're even getting grey hairs!"

"I am not," she said, but her confidence wavered. "Am I?"

The Hindi girl waved her closer and picked out a small lock of hair from the side. "Right here. Just a couple of strands, but they're still there."

She groaned. She was too young to be turning grey already.

"Grey hair," muttered Jen, "fatigue, weakness, and no one ever develops immunity. It's effecting everyone, and it only started after the war really started."

"It's probably just a coincidence. The timing doesn't mean anything," Morag cut in.

"Maybe, maybe not. We've all caught this 'disease' at one time or another, right?" Everyone nodded. "Has anyone been having more wet dreams than usual?"

"Dear Merlin, Jen, you don't just ask stuff like that!" the Scottish girl said with a huff.

"Just answer the question."

Padma shook her head. "Not that it is any of your business, but we are all adults. Except Luna, technically." The blonde shrugged. "Erotic dreams are normal."

"And do they feature Italian men or women?"

Whatever the other Ravenclaws were going to say caught in their throats, and Padma scrutinized Jen more carefully. "That… is oddly specific."

"I know. I wasn't asking just for my own amusement. There is a point to this."

Padma and Morag shared a look first with each other, and then with Luna. Tracey, on the other hand, was too tired to care. "Recently, yeah. Didn't think much of it till now."

The other girls nodded their agreement, and Jen continued, "Do you get those dreams the night before you wake up sick?"

"What are you getting at, Jen?" Luna asked with a wary gaze.

Italians. Sex. Weakness. Tracey scowled. There was something right there in the back of her mind, a faint memory of a conversation she and Jen had years ago about that… Her eyes widened. "Incubus."

"Exactly," Jen said with a humorless smile. "I want to confirm it with Justin and Susan first, but I expect the reason we have all had similar dreams is because we are actually being attacked by Lilin. We aren't immune to this disease later on because it isn't a virus, it's our natural reaction to having monsters feed on our life force."

"But what are we actually going to do about it?" demanded Morag. "If they were coming here, it'd be one thing, but they're somehow hunting us in our dreams."

Jen gave her an airy shrug. "I suppose someone will have to deal with them."

"And by someone, you mean you." Padma was now watching Jen with outright suspicion. "You know where they are, don't you?"

"Know for a fact? No. I just have a very good suspicion."

"Stella Zabini." The four girls turned to look at Tracey in surprise. Annoying. Just because she was a Slytherin and not a Ravenclaw did not mean she was an idiot. She could figure things out, especially when she had more pieces to this puzzle than anyone but Jen. "You figured out Blaise was an incubus, and that means his mother in a succubus. Probably the only succubus in Britain before now, but she wouldn't be able to attack all of us all on her own. You think You-Know-Who brought them here, and they're staying with the only one of their kind who has somewhere to live."

"Blaise Zabini died our fourth year. Dumbledore said it was an accident, but it wasn't, was it?"

Jen smiled at Padma's question. "I did not kill Blaise Zabini, if that's what you're asking." They relaxed slightly, only for her to continue, "I did set up the circumstances that probably led to his death, but I was not responsible for it. It was his own fault."

"You're going to have to explain that one," Morag said with a little more bite in her tone than normal. Then again, Jen had just admitted to arranging to have one of their classmates killed when she was only fourteen, so that was understandable. Tracey herself probably would have reacted more if just the following year Jen had not murdered her grandfather to save her from slavery to a marriage contract at best and death on her seventeenth birthday at worst.

Luna, interestingly enough, did not look surprised the way Morag and Padma did. She was just angry and disappointed.

"It's nothing too complicated. Not even that bad. I figured out he was an incubus, and I challenged him on it during the Yule Ball before forcing him to make a magical vow not to feed on any student. He must not have thought about it before trying to do that exact thing later in the year, and as a magical creature rather than a human, he did not survive losing his magic."

They stared in surprise at their friend as she returned to her breakfast. "I'm surprised you'd admit to that," Padma finally said.

"Once you and Tracey figured out what I was planning, it was obvious the cat was out of the bag. I could either reveal everything now or you'd call me on it tomorrow morning, and tomorrow you'd all be upset that I mislead you as well."

Morag swallowed noisily. "Tomorrow morning? You want us to go after a nest of succubi tonight?"

"'Us'?" Jen shook her head. "There is no 'us'. Padma had the right of it. I am going to take care of it."

"We're supposed to fight as a group," Luna reminded the dark-haired girl.

Sadly, all that that statement did was earn a sigh. "We are working to be able to fight as a group in a battle. This? This won't be a pitched battle. It won't be a fair fight. It will be a matter of killing them before they know I'm there. It takes either a particular type of person or a lot of desensitization to go through with that, and none of you are the former nor do you have the latter." She flashed them a bright smile that was not at all appropriate considering the topic of conversation. "Thankfully, there are some benefits to being a monster's daughter."

Jen slipped between the foreign invaders, impressed despite herself with how they had set themselves up. Stella Zabini's manor had a small ballroom, but the horde of Lilin had converted it into something more along the lines of a combined massage parlor, dormitory, and porn stage. Mostly or totally naked men and women mixed and mingled, all of them chattering in Italian or in a few cases devolving into angry sex right then and there.

Riling themselves up for another night of feeding? She had no way to know.

Her eyes fell on the Lilin's host, and she made her way over. "Stella, Stella, Stella," she said lightly. "Didn't you remember what I told you back when I forced you to send your children to Italy? Did you think I had forgotten about you and the threat you pose to me and mine?" She leaned over and braced her hands on the chaise lounge so that her face was only a few inches away from the succubus's, and Zabini opened her eyes and looked at her.

"Now you have to die."

A small smile graced the woman's face, and she called out something to another monster in the room. Then Zabini stood up and walked off, her body passing through Jen's own as though the younger witch were not even there. Which, honestly, she wasn't. Standing up herself, Jen walked down the hall towards the nearby receiving room and took a look around. Two men standing guard, probably incubi but no way to know for sure, and a fireplace that was strangely the only Floo connection. She knew that for sure; she had looked for another already. This and teleportation were the only magical ways in and out of the house.

She smiled as her surroundings scattered to reveal the branches of the tree in which she was sitting. If the Lilin wanted to make themselves sitting ducks, that was fine by her. The colors swirling in the glass of her scrying mirror slowed to a stop, and she shrank the mirror and stuffed it in a small bag tied to her belt. She turned her eyes to the lights she could see in the distance, the exact same manor she had just explored, and jumped off the branch to shrink into a raven's shape. Time to get to work.

It was only a mile from her perch to Zabini's house, and when she approached the ground in front of the Floo room's window she transformed back into a person and slid the last few feet to a stop just under the windowsill. A quick peek to make sure she had not been seen, and she silenced the window and slid it open. The nearest guard she hit with a body-bind; his partner turned to see the reason for his sudden fall only to catch a jet of green death in the chest.

A hop, a tumble, and she was inside.

First, let's keep them from teleporting out. Fire streamed from her fingers and twisted around itself to form a cluster of hieroglyphics, a specific rune script she had researched earlier that very day during her empty third and fourth periods. The fire descended and seared the runes into the wooden floors. This was not a true ward, sad to say; unlike wards, palings were not tied into the earth's natural magic currents and so were charged solely from the magic their creator first fed them. Good enough for short things, but they could be overpowered.

Levitating the paralyzed guard to her, she conjured a knife and slit his throat before dropping him onto the glyphs. Blood flowed into the burnt-out grooves, and a sickly red light shone from them. Good thing she was not planning on feeding her paling from her own magic.

Teleportation taken care of, she turned her attention to the fireplace. This would not need nearly as much effort to sabotage. The Floo worked because of a charm cast on the fireplace which was then fed power from the network itself. It was simple to set up and just as simple to destroy so long as she did not want to be careful about it. Reaching her metaphysical fingers into the weave of the spell, she started tugging and tearing, ripping out chunks until it was too shredded to hold itself together any longer. A flare of emerald flame heralded its death.

The door behind her opened, and she flung a Killing Curse before she had a chance to get a good look at the poor fool who had stumbled onto her work. The succubus fell to the ground, and she hastily pulled the body towards her and magicked the door closed again. This time she made sure it was securely locked.

That just left the three bodies to deal with.

She should leave them. She knew that. The bodies would be destroyed with the rest of the Lilin. It was the safe choice. But it was just such a waste. Lilin fed on the life force of humans. What kinds of blood magic could she perform with their heartblood, which was the most powerful source of blood and which even the Baron acknowledged as the 'last drops of liquid life'? She had used Blaise Zabini's to transfer Voldemort's soul jar from Hufflepuff's chalice to Blaise's own skull, but he had been a freshly awoken incubus. These, though, were full-grown Lilin who had preyed on humans for at least a couple of decades. Their heartblood should be so much more potent.

Time was against her; she needed to make a decision. Swinging her hands in rough arcs, Jen sliced through clothes and flesh before ripping the succubus's chest open. Her heart was torn out and a stasis charm slapped on it before it could leak its liquid prize all over the floor. She did the same to the two incubi, and then she was out the window with her hearts under her arm and running to the wardline.

She stuffed the hearts into the bag with her mirror and spewed blue and white flames from her hands just within the boundaries of the wards. Hovering a foot off the ground, she flew as fast as she could while making sure her cursed fire continued in an uninterrupted circle. Only once she was back at her starting point did she return to the ground, again outside the ring of fire.

Looking up at the house, she let herself smirk. "Burn."

Jen let go of the mental leash she held on her cursed fire and watched as it raced towards the manor, consuming the grass and soil in its path. She had derived this spell years ago from feeling Elsie conjure Fiendfyre, and while it was weakened so that she could control it, at the end of the day it was no less destructive. The fire reached the walls and crawled up to the roof and through the windows.

Shouts could soon be heard through the crackling of the flames.

It took maybe three minutes for the house to collapse under its own weight, and she concentrated her fire onto the ruins until not even ash remained. Once she forcibly extinguished her spell so that it would not spread and consume the entire countryside, she rose off the ground and spun, hurtling herself through space to reappear above Hogwarts. She took a moment to look down at the castle and feel pleased with herself. Everyone below her was safe now, from that angle of attack, anyway.

If that did not count as her good deed for the day, she didn't know what would.

Yes, I am alive! I've just been busy. My second year of residency was supposed to be easier than intern year, but in reality it's just a different kind of hard. Now I'm responsible for other residents' screw-ups in addition to my own.

Silently Watches out.