Chapter Fifty-eight

The fire of their testing

Sophia and her professor spent a long time sitting in companionable silence upon his couch until he glanced up at the old clock next to the floo powder on his mantelpiece and realized that it was growing close to sunset and curfew. They had been there for some time. He wasn't sure precisely how long, but it was certainly time for her to leave.

"Miss Colville, I'm afraid that if I keep you out after hours, your friends will worry, and rightly so," he said, standing and stretching his long limbs.

"Yes, they will," she agreed with a very somber look on her face as she remembered the warning that Corinna had given her about being out of the Aerie after night had fallen. She had taken that warning quite seriously, although she had lost track of the time.

Krohn plucked at his dressing gown and said, "Allow me to put on some robes, and I will escort you back."

"There's no need," Sophia assured him.

"But I insist," he said with a slightly smirking smile.

"Very well," she nodded as he retreated to the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Privately, she was grateful, even though she thought it a terrible inconvenience for her professor.

The castle halls were already shrouded in shadow when Professor Krohn and Sophia emerged from the dungeons. This made her more than a little uneasy, especially as the far-off sound of thunder from a coming storm reached her ears. She had unwittingly violated a warning from Corinna, which was something that regularly, although not always, had unpleasant consequences. She walked close to Krohn as he strode purposefully through the corridors at his side.

"Worried?" he asked, glancing down at her.

"A bit..." she admitted quite freely, knowing that he would find no fault with that.

In fact, the professor was quite pleased, though he kept that opinion to himself, as he hoped that such concern would prevent Miss Colville from doing anything rash or irresponsible in the future. He hoped, but he did not truly believe that it would. If circumstances arose that she believed to warrant action from her, he knew that she would not hesitate to act. He admired that on some level - he had respected his siblings for what they had done, though he had still wished they had acted otherwise - although it made him uncomfortable and a bit sad.

"That is quite understandable," Krohn acknowledged after a pause. "I am not without concerns myself," he added to reassure her.

Sophia felt mildly relieved to hear that she was not alone in her fears.

At the bottom of the stairs leading to the Aerie, the professor paused and bowed slightly to Sophia.

"This is where I will take my leave of you as I have no desire to climb all that way. I think you should be all right from here on as even the lower portion of the tower is warded well enough," he told her with some confidence.

"Of course," she agreed with a nod.

"I ... I enjoyed our little chat. Perhaps we shall speak again, but on less weighty topics," said Professor Krohn with the barest hint of a smile coming to his lips.

"Yes, I shall look forward to it, sir," Sophia replied. She counted his words as a high compliment. They were entirely unexpected too.

"Good-night then," he said, turning on his heel and walking away.

Sophia did not watch him go as she knew her friends would be more than a bit concerned by her lengthy absence.

About halfway up the spiraling stairs of Ravenclaw Tower, Sophia heard the sound of shouting above her and running feet above her. Her heart hammered in her chest as she recognized the voices as those of her friends. For a moment she couldn't make out what they were saying. Then one voice rose above the others:

"Sophia! Sophia! Go back down! You must warn Krohn!" she heard Corinna call out to her at the top of her lungs.

"What?" she shouted back in confusion.

"The vampire!" yelled Martin.

Sophia only hesitated for a second before starting heedlessly back down the stairs at a full sprint. She imagined that Corinna had had a break-through and knew that something was going to happen to the potions' master. Behind her she could hear her friends running down the stairs as well, but she had them by more than a few turns in the narrow tower stairs.

She was nearly to the bottom when she heard the disturbing sound of raised voices below her. One she easily recognized as Krohn, but the other? At first it was not so familiar. Then she realized that she had heard this voice before, though it had been through a door... It was the voice of the vampire. They were shouting spells back and forth at one another.

"Professor!" she screamed, taking her wand from her pocket as she raced into the corridor below.

As she turned toward the source of the shouting, she saw Professor Krohn holding his wand aloft, blocking the spells that the vampire sent at him with a certain finesse, though his brow was already drenched with sweat from the exertion. His robes had been rent from the collar to the navel by a curse or hex, but from what Sophia could see, his skin was untouched, and he remained uninjured and unharmed.

The vampire had its pointed teeth bared as it spat curse after curse at the master of potions, who apparently, not to mention very surprisingly, was quite capable of defending himself. The face of the creature was horribly scarred on one side, no doubt from its earlier encounter with Alastor Moody, but it still looked pale and menacing despite this defect. Its red eyes glowed with a peculiar and unholy inner fire as it almost seemed to enjoy the duel.

Sophia gulped for air, trying to decide what spell to use. Hardly a brilliant student in defense, she couldn't think of anything that might help her professor, that the vampire could not deflect easily given her skill, or lack thereof, in the more advanced defense techniques. Her ears were ringing with panic and her wand hand was shaking terribly. She simply didn't know what to do.

Then, before she could decide, the vampire hissed a spell that she did not recognized.

Krohn tried to block the beam of red light that came from the wand of his opponent, but the effort seemed futile to Sophia. He was lifted from his feet and hurled against the wand behind him with such force that Sophia thought that she heard a sound like that of a sickening, bone-breaking crunch. She felt dizzy for a brief moment as she watch Krohn slide to the floor.

Then she forgot everything: the wand in her hand, the vampire that stood looking at its handiwork with a smug expression, and the sound of her frantic friends somewhere behind her on the stairs. She rushed headlong toward where Krohn lay in a crumpled and unmoving heap on the floor with a muted cry of anguish.

"Professor?" she questioned as she knelt beside him, shaking him by the shoulder.

There was blood oozing from his left ear. She wasn't even certain that he was breathing. A strangled sob escaped her throat. Was he dead? Had the vampire killed him? Simple as that?

"Not even a challenge," said a low voice from just behind her.

Sophia looked up at the vampire with tears in her eyes. She leveled her wand at it, though her hand shook even as she did so.

"You can't have him," she said in a tremulous voice.

"Oh, I don't want him. He would hardly have been worth risking death and damnation for," the vampire answered coolly. The expression on its ruined face was a very smug and self-satisfied one.

Tears spilled down her cheeks, but she had no other opportunity to respond as the vampire looked quickly toward the stairs and, upon seeing Martin, Sissy, Olivia, and Corinna all rushing toward him with wands raised, gave a short, dry laugh and transformed into a bat, before winging its way down the corridor in the direction of the library.

Sophia tucked her wand into her sleeve and very gently gathered Krohn's head and shoulders into her arms. She was trembling terribly, but that didn't hinder her. She hardly took note of that nor of the tears that clouded her vision.

"You have to be all right. You must ... You must ..." she whispered as she pulled his tattered robes closed and touched his face.

She could hear him breathing now, though the sound seemed wrong somehow, but it was enough to tell her that he wasn't dead, not yet, and that was something at least. Sophia brushed his hair from his forehead and fought back a sob. The color had quickly drained from his skin, leaving him almost deathly pale.

"Sophia, we have to go after them," said Olivia loudly, and perhaps not for the first time, causing her to look up.

She could hardly see her friend through the tears. "Who?" she asked, not understanding.

"Sissy and Martin are chasing the vampire down! We have to help them!" she said impatiently.

"Professor Krohn... he needs help," said Sophia, shaking her head and trying very hard to reign in her emotions.

She wanted to scream at them, at everything ... for all the good it would do. For nearly the first time in her life, Sophia wanted to yell, to let go of her composure, to lose control, and just scream. Instead she merely squelched a sob and closed her eyes for a moment as she fought the competing desires. Then she shook her head, refusing to go with them.

"I'll get Madam Pomfrey. You should come too," said Corinna, who was looking at fallen Krohn with a pale and anxious face. But her voice, on the other hand, was unusually calm. She plucked at Olivia's sleeve.

"No..." Olivia protested, looking up the hallway after her other friends, who had already passed from view.

Sissy and Martin had both dashed after the vampire. Olivia wasn't certain whose idea it had been, but Martin's face had held an expression of unusual determination and courage. She suspected that he had led the charge, and that frightened Olivia very much. She had no idea what he was thinking nor why he chose to behave so rashly, even by her standards, but Olivia was somewhat comforted by the thought that Sissy was with him. Sissy could protect him. She always did.

"Really, Olivia. We're of no practical use in a fight. Come on," Corinna stubbornly insisted, pulling Olivia in the direction of the hospital wing.

"Get ... get a professor too," said Sophia with chattering teeth. "Get anyone you can," she added.

"Of course," Olivia promised, relenting and running off with Corinna at her heels.

Martin had gone after the vampire. That had been his choice, his decision, when faced with the undead foe for the third time. It was one that he had made many long weeks before. The terror would end. If it ended in his death, then that was simply that. If he managed to destroy the vampire, though he hardly knew how, that was obviously better. But he could not live with it terrorizing his friends and harming those whom he loved. That was something that he could endure no longer.

Those thoughts had raced through his mind, fueling him and driving him onward as he went off after the vampire with Sissy at his elbow.

He had not exactly expected her to join him, especially after catching a glimpse of what it had done to Krohn, which from what he had seen was horrible. He should have never known better; Sissy was right by his side, undaunted as ever, as they raced after the enormous bat that winged its way through the halls and corridors. Martin was already wheezing, but knew that he could not give up the pursuit. Sissy would not do so now, so neither could he. That thought further fueled him even as he felt a stitch in his side and they dashed up a flight of stairs and then down yet another corridor in seemingly endless pursuit.

In another part of the castle Corinna and Olivia were making their way with all speed toward the hospital wing. The two girls, thanks to their Quidditch training, which had been all the more rigorous of late as Ambrose enjoyed seeing how hard he could push his team, were hardly even winded and making good time as they ran. At least they were making good time until they both crashed into something...

"Ow ... sweet Merlin! You little shite, I'll get you this time," said the person into whom they had crashed, flailing his arms as they ended up in a disorganized pile.

"Professor," said Corinna, wincing as his very pointy elbow caught her in the chin.

"We didn't mean to..." began Olivia, hastily ducking a flailing arm.

Cyrus Knowles, the most unfortunate person with whom they had collided, ceased struggling and carefully moved away from them, wheezing slightly and feeling for his cane, which he had lost in the mayhem.

"Thought you were someone else," he muttered as Corinna located the cane and placed it gingerly in his hand. He had obviously thought they were Black and his cronies. "You ought to watch where you're going," Knowles added in a disgruntled tone.

"The vampire's in the castle again! You've got to warn someone! Professor Krohn's been injured," Olivia blurted out very quickly, attempting to drag Knowles to his feet.

"Merlin! How bad? Where is it?" he asked with a horrified expression that he could not school into his normal uncaring facade.

"It was near the Aerie, but Sissy and Martin chased it away," said Corinna, conveniently ignoring his other question, which was painful for even her to answer. She was afraid that Krohn was going to die, if he wasn't dead already.

"Krohn?" he asked insistently.

"It's bad," said Olivia, feeling ruefully concerning her uncharitable thoughts toward the professor. If he had not been between the vampire and Sophia in the corridor, what might have happened to her? Would she be the one hurt or worse?

"I see..." said Knowles as his expression grew grim and hard.

"We're going to get Madam Pomfrey," Corinna informed him.

"Please do, but be careful," he said with a firm nod. "I'll do my best to attend to the matter," said Knowles, switching his cane to his other hand before drawing his wand and moving quickly down the corridor.

Corinna had a bad feeling about that. But then she had a lot of bad feelings ... about everything that was happening to them. Absolutely everything.

Sophia had stopped sobbing, though tears continued to course intermittently down her face as she cradled Professor Krohn close to her, desperately wishing that he would move or make one sound, anything to let her know that there was still a spark of life in the pale and seemingly spiritless body in her arms.

"If wishes were fishes..." she thought hopelessly, blotting the sweat, which had become commingled with her tears, from his pallid brow with her sleeve. No more blood oozed from his ear, and for that was she grateful.

She had made so many wishes on his behalf that evening. She had wished that his brothers and sister had not been killed by Grindelwald. She had wished Professor Dippet hadn't died, leaving Professor Krohn all alone. She had wished that so much could have been other than what it was. She had never once thought to wish for his safety. She had never even considered him to be in any danger. None at all. But Sophia had been wrong.

She cautiously touched his throat and felt a soft thud beneath his cold and clammy skin.

"I'm sorry, professor..." she whispered, closing her eyes and touching her forehead to his.

A quiet sound down the hall caused her to look up...

Martin and Sissy had halted in their pursuit somewhere near the bottom of the Owlery. He was panting and out of breath. Sissy was as well, but she was more adept at hiding that fact.

"We've lost it," she stated, looking up at the darkened ceiling of the corridor, checking to be sure.

Clouds and seemingly impenetrable darkness covered the outside world, and the halls of Hogwarts were dim and full of shadows.

"No, we ... must keep ... looking," Martin panted with a dogged expression on his face. His knuckles were white as he gripped his wand.

"Be sensible," said Sissy, thinking that he was behaving in a reckless manner befitting only a Gryffindor. She wanted to give him a good hard shake. "It's gone for now," she told him.

"But..."

"Sophia needs us. I can't imagine that Madam Pomfrey has reached her and Krohn yet," said Sissy with a very grim look.

"She was in a right state," said Martin, shaking his head and giving in to Sissy, though he very much wanted to climb the Owlery and see if the vampire had retreated there.

"Indeed. I can't be sure what it did to the ... to Professor Krohn, but I am quite certain that it was not remotely pleasant," she said with a forced calm, leading the way back. She had nearly referred to him as the 'old bear', but had thought better of it, wondering whether he would die or not.

She pitied Sophia, remembering how it had been for her when Professor Knowles had been brought in from the forest all those months ago ... the helplessness, the fear, the anger. Those were feelings that she would wish upon no one, least of all her friend.

"We did not finish our conversation," said the slightly hissing voice of the vampire as he loomed over Sophia and her professor.

She quickly drew her wand from her sleeve and attempted to shield Krohn with her body.

"Exarmo!" said the vampire, knocking the wand from her hand and catching it quite deftly.

He examined it for a moment before tossing it away without a second glance. Sophia heard it clatter on the stone, but did not see where in the shadows the instrument had landed. She was only comforted by the fact that he had not snapped it in two. She choked back a sob as he looked down at them again. She was certain that he was going to kill them both.

"What do you want?" she whispered.

"Many things, young one, few of which you may give me," he answered with a repulsive expression on his face somewhat akin to a leer.

Sophia shuddered and continued to try and protect Krohn. She wasn't sure if the vampire knew who he was, but she certainly didn't want it to find out.

"I care not," the creature said to her with a passive expression. "My master wanted his line to end. I believe it shall. The marginal uncertainty in this matter is not enough to induce me to drink the blood of a traitor nor to expend the energy required to take his life in another fashion. Better that his end be slow."

The vampire was saying that it thought Krohn was as good as dead. And that fact didn't matter one whit to it. The professor's life or death meant nothing. Then Sophia felt a horrible chill as she realized that it had Legilimenced her without her knowledge. She hadn't felt a thing, but then, she had no defenses against Legilimency that she was aware of. She shuddered involuntarily.

"Why are you here?" she asked it, daring to look up and stare directly into its glowing red eyes. That was all the defiance, and bravado, she could manage.

"Why are any of us here?" it shrugged. "I am here to do a final service for one who was most dear to me. Does that answer suffice?"

She nodded mutely, knowing that it meant to kill Martin for Grindelwald, though the Dark Wizard was long dead. It need not elaborate on the subject for her to understand that.

"I go to seek my quarry now, but I cannot leave you free to hinder me or raise an alarm," it told her with a slight sniff. "Pity the others dispersed so swiftly," the vampire added almost boredly.

Raising its wand, the vampire cast a complex spell with a lengthy incantation of which she only recognized one word: Incendio.

There was a momentary flash and a dull roar in her ears as the spell was completed. She squeezed her eyes closed and clung to Professor Krohn as though for dear life.

Suddenly, she felt very warm and ventured to open one eye. Sophia found that they were surrounded by a cage of glowing red flames. Her mouth went dry. How long could they remain within its confines? She wasn't sure, but the heat was already growing rapidly, and she had nothing with which to douse the flames or to defend both Krohn and herself against them as it had taken her wand from her.

Better that it be slow, the vampire had said.

With a rather fiendish chuckle, the vampire was gone. And it had got something out of them after all: a moment's amusement.

Halfway up the stairs to the hospital wing, Corinna paused and grasped her head in her hands with a shrill cry of panic and frustration that caused Olivia to stop in her tracks and turn to look at her with wide eyes. Corinna looked up at her on the stairs and shook her head.

"Damn," she muttered.

"What? What?" asked Olivia, biting her lower lip.

"You go back! I'll have to get help. I think the vampire's going to try to hurt Sophia," she explained, shaking her head again and ambling up the steps toward the hospital wing, "if he hasn't already."

Olivia was tempted to follow, but she was more worried about Sophia now. In fact her heart was hammering in her chest as she thought about all the possibilities, all of the things that could happen to her best friend at the hands of the creature of darkness. She immediately began running back toward the corridor where they had left Sophia and Professor Krohn.

Due to the unpredictability of the castle's stairs, especially after hours ... and during the spring, Sissy and Martin found themselves struggling to return to the corridor at the base of the Aerie. After some effort they managed to make it to the old staff quarters, which was nearly as far from their intended destination as the Owlery had been, although in the opposite direction. They were both beginning to grow frustrated and extremely anxious.

"If only we could run into a professor or someone who could help us," growled Sissy as she followed Martin through the corridors.

"Anyone..." said Martin with a frustrated sigh, knowing quite well that the chances of finding anyone in the seldom used corridor was very unlikely. Most of the time that part of the castle was deserted, except when his uncle had been living there. Now it was completely empty, so far as Martin knew.

"Your father would be most helpful," she commented.

"Or mum," he shrugged.

"But we'll make it on our own;" said Sissy with a firm nod, pursing her lips together, "we're Ravenclaws, after all."

"That's right," Martin agreed, trying hard to find some pluck and not think about blood that had been coming from his potions' professor's ear. Or the fact that the vampire was still on the loose somewhere.

Sophia had resigned herself to the fact that she was going to die. Her clothes were beginning to smolder from the heat and intensity of the flames. She tried to protect her unconscious professor from the extreme heat, but there was nothing that she could do for either of them. She was powerless without her wand.

"Some Ravenclaw I am ... I bet Sissy or Olivia would be out of here in a snap, wand or no," she said into Professor Krohn's ear, while at the same time willing him to remain unconscious. She thought it would be easier, less painful and frightening for him that way. If he didn't wake up, he would never even realize. Maybe he wouldn't even feel it when he burned to death.

"I wish to Merlin this wasn't happening," she said with a dry sniff. All of her tears were gone, dried up by the incredible heat. "I'm not ... not afraid," she said, and maybe that was the truth at that one moment, "but you, professor, if only you didn't have to die too ... then it wouldn't be quite so bad."

Then she heard something heartening, something that gave her strength and hope: the sound of running footsteps in the corridor. Her head snapped up from the place she had been resting it against her professor's shoulder.

"Olivia!" she cried with a momentary burst of elation. Help had indeed arrived! Olivia could have them out of there in a moment. Simplest thing in world! Just a quickly spoken charm...

"Sophia! Merlin's beard! What happened?" asked Olivia with wide eyes as she skidded to a halt and looked at the flaming cage that surrounded her friend and the unconscious potions master.

"It was the vampire. Just get us out of here! I don't have my wand," said Sophia desperately.

Olivia, of course, had hers in hand and nodded, trying to think of a good spell that would rescue both of the captives. The only thinking she could think of was the Flame Freezing Charm...

"Erm," she said as she began shaking. She had never quite mastered that one at the beginning of the school year. The finer points of the rather elementary charm, including the part about the flames freezing, had inexplicably eluded her somehow. After all, she never thought she would need the spell and... and this was just unfair!

Sophia immediately realized what was wrong.

"You can do it! Just cast the spell," she encouraged her friend in a pleading tone.

"But if I miss or muck it up..."

"It doesn't matter! We're going to die if you don't do something! Anything! Do something, Olivia!"

Olivia took a deep breath as she realized that Sophia was right. She had nothing to lose by attempting to stop the flames and everything to gain. That thought made it just a little easier to collect herself, though she still had misgivings.

"I can do this," Olivia told herself, raising her wand and taking another deep breath. She could smell singed human hair, Sophia's hair, which was dangerously close to catching on fire. She tried not to gag as she prepared to speak the incantation.

Sophia winced in pain and clutched Krohn closer to keep him as far from the raging fire as possible.

"Please..." she begged Olivia, closing her eyes and willing all of it to end, for better or worse. Just for the heat and the intense pain it caused to stop.

That was the last prompting her friend needed. Olivia spoke the incantation as clearly as she possibly could and waved her wand.

The effect was immediate. The cage-shaped flames froze in place, turning to light blue ice as the spell had no fuel, such as wood, upon which to act. The fire was quenched, and the intolerable, almost deadly heat was ended.

Sophia opened her eyes and felt very much relieved.

"You did it," she said with a wide smile, savoring the coolness of the air around her as the heat swiftly dissipated.

"I can hardly believe it!" laughed Olivia as tears sprang to her eyes. Sophia was safe! She had managed to perform the spell correctly.

"Can you fetch my wand or cast Reducto on these bars?" asked Sophia hopefully.

"I'd better get your wand," said Olivia, looking around for it. "I wouldn't want any accidents." She was thinking mostly of what had happened to Mister Moody's leg and wanting to take no chances. There was no need to press her luck or tempt fate.

"The unmitigated arrogance..." said a septural voice from the shadows of the seldom used corridor that stopped Sissy and Martin their tracks. They knew that voice only too well.

"Show yourself!" demanded Sissy as they both scoured the hall for the source of the voice, for the vampire that had once been Christoph Somerville.

They saw nothing, though there was a side passage ahead of them where Sissy well imagined that the vampire might be lurking, watching them in the dim light, lingering in the deepest shadows.

"Oh, I think not," he answered with a dark, malevolent chuckle.

"Coward!" shouted Martin in a loud voice. His temper was beginning to rise. "You bloody coward! Come out here this instant!" he roared, turning red in the face as his voice reverberated through the corridor.

"Will you be so brave when I have my fangs in your throat, I wonder?" asked the vampire in a musing tone. "I do not think you will be, young Dumbledore" said Somerville, answering his own question.

"Let's see then!" said Sissy, trying to force him from hiding so that she could attempt to stun him or something. She didn't have a plan yet. She didn't think a Hurling Hex would catch him off-guard this time.

"Oh, I can afford to bide my time. The two of you aren't going anywhere. I'm not going anywhere. No one will come for you here... Yes, I can be patient now. I can have my fun, take my time," said the voice from the shadows ahead of them.

"I don't think you will have very much fun with us," said Sissy in a cold and dangerous tone. She cast a quick stunning spell into the darkness, hoping to get a lucky hit. Nothing.

"Temper, temper," laughed the vampire.

"You want me, don't you? You came here for me, right? Why don't you come out and get me then?" asked Martin, striding forward several paces and holding his wand up in a defensive position.

There was a barely audible whisper from the darkness. The word spoken was unfamiliar to Martin, but Sissy's eyes widened in horror as she heard it:

"Crucio!"

The vampire had cast an Unforgivable Curse on Martin.

Martin let out a high, shrill cry of panic and agony as the curse took him by surprise, overwhelmed his senses, and sent him to the ground where he involuntarily curled into a fetal position and whimpered in pain. His wand fell from his trembling, unfeeling fingers. The only thing he could think of was the pain and wanting to make it stop. The sensation was like nothing he had ever known before. He felt as though he were being consumed by flames of pain that licked at every inch of his body, burning and tormenting him both inside and out.

"Stop! Stop it!" screamed Sissy in a half-panicked voice as she watched her young friend writhe on the floor in front of her. "You beast! Stop it!" she cried out, not knowing what to do or even if the curse could be counteracted.

"Oh, yes, quite a bit of entertainment to be had here," laughed a cruel voice in the darkness as the curse ended long moments later. He had held the curse for a long time, drawing upon the unnatural well of hatred available to certain members of the undead. Few mortal wizards could have held the curse for so long as that.

Martin lay shivering on the floor, insensible to everything that was happening around him, not quite unconscious, but certainly incapacitated.

"You bastard!" she shrieked, firing another stunner into the deepest part of the shadows.

"Still planning to knock me on my arse? You'll need stronger medicine than that," he scoffed with a derisive tone.

Sissy wasn't sure, but she thought she might have clipped him with the spell. She couldn't be certain about that, but she knew he was right and began wracking her brain for other spells that might prove more effective. If she could have seen him, a Hurling Hex might have proved useful, but that hex had a very nasty habit of rebounding if not aimed properly.

"You want a better shot at hitting me, little girl?" questioned the vampire in a mocking tone, moving from the shadows to the center of the corridor at last. "Take it," he hissed at her, baring his fangs at her.

Sissy moved forward quickly to place herself between Martin and undead creature that taunted her, keeping her defenses up all the while as she stood over her shivering friend. No one, not even vampires, gave free shots like that. He was still taunting her. If she had known a really good curse, she might have tried it, but most of those in her repertoire seemed too weak to use against a vampire in a pitched battle.

"Miss Howard!" yelled a familiar voice from down the corridor.

Her stomach flip-flopped as she saw Professor Knowles standing some few meters behind the creature, holding his wand aloft. She imagined that he had heard her voice, which had been quite loud only moments ago.

"Stay back! It's between us," she warned him quickly. "It used the Cruciatus Curse on Martin," she added nearly as swiftly. Her heart was hammering madly in her chest now. How could she protect them both? How could she protect any of them? She had no idea of what she was going to do.

Knowles paused and an expression of profound shock and horror passed over his features. He held his wand more defensively as the expression dissipated, leaving one of grim resolve in its stead.

"You have no place here, vampire. Get out while you still can," Knowles ordered the creature in a firm and commanding voice.

If he were afraid, he did not let it show. But Sissy knew, given that the vampire had robbed him of his sight and had tortured him with Legilimency and perhaps other means, that Knowles was surely afraid, but he was doing an admirable job of acting the part of the heroic Gryffindor. No, Knowles was and would always be simply heroic to her, everything else aside. She adjusted her grip on her wand.

"And you shall order me out?" chuckled the vampire, not even turning to look at him. There was no need to waste the effort.

It's blazing red eyes were locked upon shivering Martin and nowhere else. Sissy realized that it was nearly done biding its time and playing games with them. It was nearly ready for the kill.

"That's right," answered Knowles.

"You screamed like a pathetic child when I blinded you. I have no compunction about taking other things from you. Do you fancy losing a hand? An arm? Your legs perhaps?" The vampire was clearly mocking him, not to mention Alastor Moody. "Go now and leave them to me," he said with a wave of his hand, not deeming the blind professor even worthy of killing.

Leaving them to the vampire was something that Professor Knowles neither would nor could do to two of his students, much less Martin, whom he had sworn to protect, nor Sissy, who occupied a special place in his heart. He would have given his life to defend them, and as he stood there, he believed he would be doing just that not so many heartbeats into the future.

"Even my life," he said, lifting his wand from its defensive position and into a the antiquated salute that he had used all those nights ago when he had first chosen to pursue the vampire into the forest.

Then Knowles released his cane, and it fell to the floor with a loud clatter.

"Aren't we the dramatic one," scoffed the vampire over his shoulder with a sneer on his ugly face that Sissy longed to wipe off.

She knew what Knowles meant with the gesture; he never expected to need the cane again. He expected to die there in the hallway for her and for Martin. But watching the salute and noting the angle of his wand, she had something else in mind, though she wasn't at all certain it would work.

"Don't move, professor," she said in an authoritative voice.

Knowles froze in his stance without question. Perhaps in this moment, more so than in any other, was his faith in young Miss Howard and her skills tested and found true. The vampire glared at her, trying to decipher her intentions, but the glare came too late.

"Expelliarmus!" she bellowed with all her might, reaching her empty hand toward Knowles, but keeping the vampire carefully between them.

The wand never reached her hand, but nearly one quarter of its total length, coated in dark blood, protruded from the left side of the vampire's chest. It had pierced his chest from the back, robes and all. Somerville looked down and let his own wand slip from his pale fingers. He laughed out loud and touched the bloodied tip of the wand with an expression of disbelief and wonder. He laughed again though more softly, taking a stumbling step backward. Then he lifted his head and looked at Sissy once more. The glow had faded from his red eyes, and they slowly resumed their mortal hue as did his lips and his skin, though he remained pale. He trembled slightly, and his faced contorted for an instant in pain.

"Well done..." said Somerville as he crumpled to the floor, dissolving into a fine, powdery ash as he did so. The wand that had pierced his heart fell with a soft plop into the ashes.

"Miss Howard?" asked Knowles in a choked, quavering voice.

"We did it. The vampire's ... gone," she informed him, shaking with relief and kneeling with Martin. "Now we've only to pick up the pieces," she added very quietly as she brushed her friend's auburn curls away from his forehead. He merely whimpered in response.


A/N: I'm having a lot of problems with this site's upload system. My apologies!

hsibelius: I can't figure out how to repair any of the weird things the site is doing. Luckily, there are only four chapters, not including this one, left. Thank you very much for reviewing!