Happy Thanksgiving! Though I know us Yanks are the only ones who celebrate it, I wish it to everyone else too. I know, I know, it's been nearly four months since my last update. I'm sorry about that. I've been suffering a lack of ideas. I have the general ideas planned out, just not the details. Plus, I've been worrying about other things, namely figuring out where to go to college or whether to join the Navy or not.
Sorry I didn't get this out to Vld for translations and thefirstphoenix for beta-ing. I just wanted to get this posted before I leave for shopping…Black Friday and all.
Thank you Vld for the translations! You rock! And yes, Monique has had a fairly normal upbringing (for wizarding standards, anyway) so this is perfect.
Hermione fancied the icy cold was permanently entrenched within her body, clinging forever onto her bones even if she were to be dumped into a vat of boiling water. She still lay on the carpeted floor, clutching the unconscious blonde Slayer-witch to herself protectively. Her arms were wrapped around the thin girl and her hands were entwined with each other. Her body was still racked with violent shivering spasms, as were the four companions crumpled on the floor around her. She did not want to move; she did not want to speak; she did not want to do anything at the moment as exhaustion unlike anything she had ever felt beset her. All the adrenaline from her fear and flight from the dungeons and the mad vampiress that probably still dwelt inside were now diminishing to leave in their place a relieved but dazed fatigue.
Her unruly curls covered her face, but she could not find the energy at the moment to remove them. All she could concentrate on was willing her body to lose its icy numbness and allow the warmth of wherever she was to bring sensation back to her near-frozen limbs. Her teeth were clenched tightly against each other and her jaw ached from the constant chattering spasms.
While they had waited for Jinx to return with some form of deliverance, the five conscious Slayer-witches had huddled together out of necessity—they had held the unconscious one in the center, giving her the most warmth and support. The collective warmth of each individual body all amassed together had kept hypothermia at bay, but it would not last long if the winter winds kept assailing them with such ferocity. The winds had increased their speed and strength almost exponentially, it appeared, when Jinx first Disapparated. They had not really been waiting for very long—probably ten to fifteen minutes at the most. But in temperatures so low with a wind chill factor that only exacerbated the problem, even five minutes without proper winter-wear or a hot fire was too long. The girls had been too cold to even dance with joy when Jinx finally reappeared after a perceived eternity. They had wasted no time grasping onto the necklace that was to be their salvation.
When Jordan had acknowledged Aidan's presence with her slightly brassy remark on his slowness, Hermione almost cried from overwhelming relief. It only made sense that Jinx would have gone to Aidan. He was the only other human she knew of (aside from Jordan) that had bonded with the creature. If Aidan was there, then she knew they were safe. She did not even care where they were. Anywhere other than that cold hovel of death from which she had just escaped was fine with her.
That is, it was fine with her until she heard the next words.
"Weren't there supposed to be thirteen of you lot?"
No…it can't be.
The familiar voice and its common air of imperiousness caused Hermione's blood to freeze all over again—this time not from extreme cold. The energy brought on by anger and shock usurped her weariness. She forced herself into a sitting position, gently pushing the inert girl in her arms over to the confounded Monique. She kept hoping that her ears had been deceiving her. Surely her eyes would not see the person who had spoken those words; a person she believed to be apart of the whole scheme.
"What's the matter, Granger? Scared?"
Though those words seared into her memory had been spoken with Jordan's voice, the disdainful, caustic tone of arrogance and hatred was not hers. Jordan never talked to anyone like that, unless she was playfully impersonating a Slytherin.
Hermione should have automatically sensed—especially now that she was a Slayer—it had not been Jordan whom she had been following so foolishly into the forest. Her fingernails cut into the fleshy palms of her hand as her fists compressed tightly, the remembered words from the event eroding her control. She recalled her feelings of desolate helplessness, being trapped in that dank cell, watching her friend's life slowly slip away right before her eyes, and those vampire guards ruthlessly sneering at her and snatching the sickly Jordan from her arms. Her brown eyes darkened with unbridled rage.
"Wish I could stay and watch that vampire torture the Mudblood bitch."
Without any warning, Hermione sprang to her feet and lunged at Malfoy. She had inadvertently pushed Jordan aside in the process, causing the startled girl to collapse on the couch with a shocked cry. Luiza, Jill, and Monique (with the blonde girl in her arms) rose to their feet when they saw their unofficial leader, one of their rescuers, tackle the blonde boy. Their frantic eyes turned to the stunned Jordan, who was still spread-eagled on the sofa. They were unsure of what to do. They could not decide if they should assist Hermione or stop her.
"Hermione! What are you doing!" Aidan exclaimed. His initial state of relieved speechlessness (and immobility) was shaken out of him by the bookish witch's unanticipated act.
Hermione had Malfoy pinned beneath her, while the boy flailed and struggled desperately. Though he seemed to put up quite an effort, his strength quailed in comparison to that of a Slayer in her prime. Hermione's brown eyes were tainted with wild anguish and anger at what she had suffered, what she had suffered because of him—or so she believed. Normally, the clever Gryffindor would never entertain such a notion as attacking first and asking questions later. She set much store by planning ahead and thinking things through carefully before acting. She rarely acted on her whims—at least, she rarely acted on her whims physically. With the verbal whims she exercised a lot less restraint. Acting on impulse was something her boyfriend, Jordan, or even Harry (whenever he was caught in the throes of rage) would do. The last time she had honestly done something on a whim was when she had lost her temper at Malfoy and punched him right in the face.
"You bastard! It's your entire fault! You slimy son of a bitch! You led me into that trap! You let them take me!" The seldom-used curse words and accusations fell from her mouth so easily; very easily for someone who did not make a habit of uttering them. She had her strong hands wrapped tightly around Malfoy's throat, squeezing so hard his face was turning blue. Tears of fury spilled from her feral eyes. Recollections of what she had went through, what she had felt, the screams she had heard from the ill-fated Slayer-witches who had been first on Drusilla's list fueled her fire.
She tightened her grip. Malfoy was beginning to lose consciousness.
"What's the matter, Granger? Scared?"
"Wish I could stay and watch that vampire torture the Mudblood bitch."
"…my lucky thirteen…"
Hermione was drowning in the deluge of memories that veiled her from the reality of what she was doing: Jordan's breathing getting shallower and her coughs becoming more violent; the screams of the victims being tortured; all those years of school in which she was forced to endure his torment of name-calling, taunting, and even worse.
"They're dead because of you!" she screamed in anguish.
"Hermione, stop! You're choking him!" Aidan shouted. He had run to the Slytherin boy's aid, though he knew it would be useless to try and pull a Slayer off of him. All he could do was appeal to Hermione's sanity and hope he could scream some sense into her before she really did choke Malfoy to death. He did not like the boy very much—though he viewed him in a much better light now than what he had before—but he did not want him to die. And he certainly did not want him to die at the hands of one of his own friends. Were Hermione to ever come to her senses and realize what she had done, she would never forgive herself. In her right mind, the girl was not, and never would be, a murderer.
"Jordan, help me!" he screamed hoarsely. He grabbed Hermione's shoulders and tugged uselessly.
Jordan sat stock-still and stunned on the sofa, not believing a whit of what she was seeing. That could not be Hermione straddling Malfoy and choking the life out of him. She must either be dead, still in her feverish coma, or she must just be hallucinating from post-traumatic shock syndrome or something. She could not even force her eyes to blink away this bizarre and horrifying scene nor could she make her jaw shut. Her treacherous motor skills must have decided to seize an opportunity of temporary hiatus, one that was unsanctioned by the head office.
"Jordan!" Aidan called out again; desperation tinged his voice.
Her brother's frantic plea snapped the frozen girl back to unwelcome reality. She gasped, as if she were only just witnessing what was happening, and leapt to her feet.
"Hermione! Stop it!" she cried, wrapping her arms around the girl's midsection.
Where Aidan had failed, Jordan had succeeded—most fortunately for Malfoy. Since Jordan had eight more years of rigorous physical training and greater field experience, she was physically stronger than Hermione. Nevertheless, it had taken nearly all her strength to drag the mad girl off and keep her from trying to lunge back at Malfoy again. She had to call on one of the other Slayer-witches for assistance in calming Hermione down and keeping hold of her until she calmed down. Monique was the only other one brave enough to venture towards the struggling pair.
"Qu'est-ce qui lui arrive?" Monique cried, fear evident in her dark eyes.
"Hell if I know," Jordan replied in a strained voice. She had not noticed she had spoken in English instead of French. She was too busy trying to keep a hold of Hermione, who was thrashing about like a wild animal.
"Let me go! It's his fault! He'll do it again!" she bellowed.
"Hermione! Calm down! Christ, what's gotten into you?" Jordan was becoming desperate for a way to get through to her friend. After all, it was not like she could hold onto her forever. She finally settled on the only technique she could think of at the moment. It wasn't a tactic she particularly cared for, but it would suit its purpose. Hopefully.
"Hold her, Monique!" Jordan ordered. When the French girl looked at her with uncomprehending alarm, Jordan reissued the order in French. The girl then nodded in understanding and wrapped her arms securely around Hermione.
"Qu'est-ce que tu vas faire?" Monique inquired fearfully.
Jordan tried to suppress the extreme reservations that were screaming their protests at what she was about to do. She only hoped her friend would understand. "Hermione, I'm really sorry for what I'm about to do. But you'll thank me for this later…maybe." Or you'll just get even more pissed off.
Taking a deep breath, Jordan raised her hand (which was shaking slightly in hesitation), and firmly struck Hermione across the right cheek with the back of it. She was not terribly skilled in judging the amount of force one should use to merely stun and the amount of force one should use to knock someone unconscious outright. She was hopeful only the former of the two had been used.
Immediately after the blow Hermione's body had sagged in Monique's arms, causing Jordan to cringe with guilt. The French Slayer-witch's eyes snapped up to Jordan in alarm, but then instantly swept back to Hermione once a small sob was heard. Jordan sighed audibly when she learnt she had not, in fact, just knocked her friend and classmate out.
"'er-my-knee?" Monique said cautiously, her dark eyes flitting to Jordan's.
Jordan motioned for the dark skinned girl to gently release her tight hold on Hermione. The wretched girl sank to the floor as the grip lessened, eventually dropping her head into her hands to weep uncontrollably. Her entire body trembled with sobs. Whether her weeping was of guilt and shame, or just plain grief, Jordan and Monique could not tell.
"Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire?" Monique asked Jordan.
Before Jordan could answer, they heard soft, uncertain footsteps approach from behind. The girls turned to see their two comrades, timidly emerging from their frightened distance to see if they could help. Luiza's coal-black gaze and Jill's iridescent gray one mirrored each other's emotions: concern, puzzlement, and fear. They slowly knelt by their fellow Slayer-witches' sides.
"What's wrong with her?" Jill asked uncertainly.
Jordan looked at Hermione, sadness and compassion in her eyes. She reached out a hand to stroke her tangled brown locks. The disconsolate witch did not even acknowledge the other four's presence. She merely continued to weep with her hands hiding her face from them. For the first time that she could recall, Jordan wondered what had befallen her friend in their imprisonment while she, herself, had been trapped in her feverish dream world. Obviously, it must have been incredibly horrific to make the typically levelheaded Gryffindor act so violently. Strangely, it caused Jordan to be rather grateful for her illness. It had kept her blissfully unaware of her situation until right before their great escape.
"Stay with her for a minute, please?" Jordan requested. She rose to her feet. She still seemed to forget only one of her companions (not counting Hermione) spoke English.
Contradicting what Jordan had assumed, Luiza asked in a soft, concerned voice, "Did they do something to her in that place?" Her Castilian accent did little to hamper her clarity. In fact, it only made the words (as Romance Languages are wont to do) more attractive to the ear.
Jordan blinked in surprise, the seriousness of their current situation temporarily pushed aside. Although she was glad to hear that the girl spoke English, she was kind of annoyed no one pointed it out earlier.
"You can speak English," Jordan stated, frowning. "Why did you not mention this earlier?" She directed her pointed question to Luiza and Jill.
The two girls shrugged. "Slipped our minds, I guess," Jill remarked.
Had there not been other more substantial problems to take care of than language barriers, Jordan would have pressed the issue. As it was, she reiterated her request for them to stay and comfort Hermione; she had to see to the boy her friend had nearly strangled to death.
She quietly approached her brother and Malfoy, both of whom were seated on the floor. Aidan was inspecting the damage done to their host's throat and Malfoy was still dragging in wheezing breaths at a speedy rate. His silver-blue eyes were tinged with redness, while shock still clung to the boy's entire body.
"Are you alright?" she asked tentatively.
Draco shrugged Aidan off of him and tried to gather up his shattered pride before answering the absurd question the object of his unwilling affections had just asked. He could still feel the sensation of his windpipe being slowly crushed under the astonishing strength of Granger's hands. Whenever he shut his eyes, he could still picture the image of those chocolate brown eyes laden with rage, and overwhelming anguish and pain. He could still sense her filthy brown curls brushing up against his face as she bore down upon him in her enraged (and nearly fatal) paroxysm.
In all the years that he had known Granger, he had never expected her to ever lose all sense of control and just succumb to feral whims like that. Near the end of their third year, she had lost her temper with him and punched him; however, that episode had nothing on this one. The thought that he might have deserved it, as retribution for the cruel manner in which he had treated her, never actually entered his mind.
"Of course I'm not alright!" Draco spat, his voice scratchy and peppered with pauses for breath. "The crazy bint nearly crushed my throat!"
Jordan knelt down and gently lifted up his chin to see the redness and swelling, which would no doubt be the mottled colors of purplish-black within hours. Her sensitive ears could discern the trouble he was still having with breathing. She was honestly relieved he was not unconscious—or even worse, dead. Her relief, like her brother's, had less to do with any personal feelings toward Draco Malfoy and more to do with how it would affect Hermione. Even so, she certainly did not want him dead by anyone's hands. Had she had to put up with his taunts and verbal abuse for as long as Hermione, Ron, and Harry had, perhaps she might feel differently.
Actually, when Jordan pondered over it, their first meeting had really been the only time he had been unpleasant in his manner towards her. To tell the truth, that had not really been entirely his fault. She had decked him right in the face and sent him flying. She could also not forget his help, whatever his motives had been, in guiding her back to her common room and making sure she got there safely. These buds of thought niggled at the edges of her conscience, but she had not the time for reflection at the moment.
Her eyes strayed over to the blonde girl upon the sofa, who was stirring a little bit. Those signs of movement bade Jordan to predict she would soon be waking up. It would probably be better for her if she were to wake up in an atmosphere that was not so edgy. But where should they go? Her first instinct was to take them all, Draco included, to her home. Her grandmother—who was a mediwitch—could take care of them. She glanced at Aidan, who was suddenly looking at her strangely.
"What?" she asked.
Before she could do anything, she was engulfed in her brother's near-crushing embrace. She was taken aback for a moment, but then relaxed and patted his back. His body warmth spread to her limbs and renewed the safe, secured feeling she normally felt when in the arms of a family member. To think that luxury had almost been denied to her forever made her shiver disagreeably.
Aidan pulled back eventually, becoming more aware of the time. Malfoy and the girls would need medical attention and the girls really could use some decent baths. Nonetheless, he was not moving an inch from where he stood until he was certain this was real and not some twisted half-dream, half-nightmare. He looked his sister directly in those eyes that reflected his own; his hands clenched onto her shoulders tightly. When his sister uttered his name again, he knew for sure that she was alive and unharmed—well, mostly unharmed.
"Don't ever do anything like that to me again! Remember how Mom was when Uncle Nick died? Did you want to put me through that?" Aidan yelled.
"I'm…sorry?" Jordan stammered. She wasn't sure whether he was actually angry with her or just finally releasing all his painful relief.
"God, Jordan. You scared the hell outta me. I could feel you dying," he told her, his voice cracking.
Jordan's face softened and she grasped one of Aidan's hands and squeezed it, assuring him that she was now healthy and alive.
"I'm here now. And I'm fine," she intoned seriously. Unwarranted, guilt crept into her gut, though she knew it had no business being there. It had not been her fault she had been abducted and—well, it might have been partly her fault she got so ill. Even so, the memory of how her mother had nearly lost herself in grief when her own twin brother had died was still overpowering, especially during a time like this. She could only imagine how she would be acting were her brother's and her positions reversed. If anything, Jordan would have handled it even worse than Aidan had.
She sighed dejectedly when she let her gaze stray to the huddled forms of Luiza, Jill, and Monique. The three girls were blocking Hermione from view, though it was not necessary for Jordan to see her friend to know what she was doing. Thinking that it could have easily been her in Hermione's place—sobbing, shaking, and nearly committing homicide—made Jordan feel queasy and oddly grateful once again.
Her eyes still glued to the girls, she murmured to her brother in a humorless voice, "You know, Aidan, I'm thinking maybe it was a good thing I was unconscious during most of it. Ignorance is bliss."
And then, almost as if a light bulb had been lit above the girl's head, Jordan frowned and surveyed her surroundings for the first time. "Hey, where are we anyway?"
Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys and Care of Magical Creatures professor of Hogwarts, had never looked more shocked and speechless when several people suddenly materialized in front of him. At first, he immediately assumed it was an attack and drew his huge crossbow up in front of him. The weapon was already loaded with a giant, deadly bolt.
A girl, her face shrouded by darkness, quickly darted forward with her hands outstretched, palms facing forward. "Hagrid! Don't shoot! It's us!" she cried.
Hagrid thought he recognized her voice (and he vaguely noticed her accent was American), which caused his finger to slightly recede from the trigger. However, recent events had increased his natural suspicions. He did not lower his weapon.
"Hagrid," the girl tried again, her tremulous tone betraying her nervousness. She slowly advanced forward, with her hands still stretched outwards to show him she was unarmed.
"Who are yeh? What business yeh got here? I warn yeh, take a step closer and I'll shoot!" he threatened.
The girl halted in her tracks, right at the same moment some moonlight peaked out from the clouds and illuminated her face. Hagrid gasped and dropped his weapon when he saw the pale, but very alive face of Jordan Firewell. She smiled nervously and took a deep, shaky breath of relief when she realized he recognized her.
"Jordan?" he asked. His black eyes suddenly widened with wild hope and he croaked, "Is Hermione with yeh?"
Jordan nodded. She gestured to her brother, who was supporting Hermione. The witch slowly raised her head, allowing Hagrid to see the dirty, tear-streaked cheeks set beneath the red-rimmed, dull brown eyes.
Hagrid practically plucked the girl from Aidan's arms and buried her in his massive arms. Tears spilled down the half-giant's scruffy cheeks as he blubbered in joy and relief at the return of one of his beloved students, and, more importantly, one of his friends.
"Thought I was never gonna see yeh again! Blimey, Hermione! Don' scare us like that again!" he sobbed.
Luiza, Jill, and Monique goggled at the sight of this gargantuan creature and his strange behavior. Luiza and Jill had never laid eyes upon a man so large and were more than a little terrified of him, despite his obviously being familiar to their two rescuers. Monique had an advantage over her two comrades. Her headmistress from school was easily as large as this man, so she was a little more prepared for the unusual sight.
"As sentimental as this is," Draco interrupted irritably, his voice still rather hoarse, "I'm freezing my arse off here!"
Hagrid didn't seem to acknowledge the oddness of Draco Malfoy's presence with these particular people. Either he didn't really notice it was Draco or he just didn't care. After a moment to collect himself, he quickly took the limp blonde girl Monique was carrying and tucked her in the crook of his elbow. He carried both her and Hermione back up to the castle, with the rest following behind.
Jordan quickened her pace to catch up with Hagrid's tremendously long strides, hugging her arms to herself in an effort to keep herself warm. Glancing up at Hagrid, she asked, "Um, how come our portkey didn't take us here?"
Hagrid did not answer, appearing to be far too absorbed in his relief for Hermione's safe return. Jordan would have asked again, but they had already entered into the Great Hall of Hogwarts. She immediately stopped in her tracks to engulf deep breaths of relief and happiness, pushing away the horrors of the past few hours to the back of her beleaguered mind. She shut her eyes, just standing in the midst of the large foyer to let the waves of the harmonious magic of Hogwarts wash over her. She almost imagined her aches and pains were dissipating on contact with the atmosphere of the school—as if the magic possessed an ethereal healing quality.
"Wow, so this is Hogwarts," Jill remarked in wonderment. Her bright eyes followed Hagrid's gigantic feet as they traversed the stone steps leading upward into a darkened hallway. Flickering torches lined the walls in iron brackets, casting spurts of illumination in the pervading darkness.
The sense of urgency to reach the hospital wing diminished slightly as the three girls who were not students at Hogwarts appraised their surroundings in awe. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was highly regarded by most of the wizarding world, though many also simultaneously nursed subtle jealous feelings toward it and its famous—and infamous for that matter—alumni. It was one of the oldest magic schools in the world, its ancient history palpable to all who walked its grounds by the very magic in the air.
"Yep," Jordan replied quietly, her eyes roaming all over the place as if she had not seen it for an eternity. "This is Hogwarts."
"Dawn! Sweetie, wake up!" Willow cried, shaking her best friend's sister roughly.
Dawn groaned sleepily and pushed Willow away, turning over on her other side. Willow would have rather not disturbed the teenager from the peaceful sleep she had been lacking for so long, but in this case, she was certain an exception should be made.
The redheaded Wiccan practically lifted Dawn to a sitting position and commanded in a very loud voice, "Wake up!"
Dawn's eyes snapped open abruptly and she shrieked in surprise at the rude awakening. She struggled for a moment in Willow's arms before her brain fully awakened to reality. After a few moments to allow her breathing and heartbeat to return to normal, healthier speeds, she blinked away her unfocused vision.
"Willow?" she inquired groggily.
"Sweetie, we've had word from Hogwarts! Hermione and Jordan are back and they're alive!"
It took a moment for the information to process in Dawn's foggy brain before she gasped. Sitting up straighter, the girl asked in a hopeful voice, "Really? They're okay?"
Willow nodded, her thin lips curling into the most genuine smile anyone had seen for days. Dawn gave a half-squeal, half-sob of joy and threw her arms around the older woman. Tears of happiness spilled from her weary sapphire eyes and she chanted over and over in her mind, Thank you! Thank you!
Willow rubbed the girl's back and said, "Get ready. We're going to Hogwarts to see them."
Running the entire way to the hospital wing after arriving in Dumbledore's office was probably not the smartest thing to do. His lungs were burning with the need for more oxygen—which he was denying by pushing himself to go even faster. Considering how he had been starving himself for the past few days and how restless his sleep had been, he shouldn't have (physically) been able to move so quickly. Knowing his girlfriend was in the hospital wing, alive and in one piece after being abducted and suffering Merlin only knew what for three days was enough to make up for his lack of fuel.
"Ron, for goodness sake! Slow down before you fall and break your neck!" his mother screeched behind him. However, she was certainly doing her best to keep up with him.
Ron nearly collapsed against the entrance to the hospital wing, but managed to stay on his feet as his hazel eyes frantically searched the all-too-familiar setting for a bushy-haired brunette. He almost panicked when he couldn't find her immediately through all the bustling witches and wizards there. Had it all been some kind of dream? A joke? His own miserable mind was now playing cruel tricks on him by taunting him with hopes that the girl he loved was safe? His heart thudded painfully in his chest when he considered the likelihood of such a thing.
"Hey, there's Ron." How he managed to pick that up amidst the din of voices and languages, he didn't know. He did know it sounded like Jordan, though. And he also knew odds were good that if Jordan was there, Hermione was close by.
His eyes found the source of the voice and he found his American classmate wrapped in a blanket and sitting on a bed in the farthest corner from the entrance. Her parents were sitting on either side of her, both of them crying and holding onto her arms. She looked thinner in the face and altogether less ample than was the norm for her build. Her hair was nothing but a filthy mat of tangled locks, obscuring her natural auburn shade.
In all seriousness, Ron liked Jordan. He considered her a friend in the short amount of time he had known her. And he really was glad she was okay. But where was Hermione?
"Ron, over there." Ron started in surprise when he felt someone touch his arm. He turned to see Aidan, smiling in understanding and pointing to the area across from Jordan. The curtains were drawn around the bed, which explained why Ron had not been able to spot her. Why was the curtain drawn? Was she hurt even worse than Ron had feared?
"Is…is she okay?" Ron asked Aidan.
Ron could have sworn he felt his heart plummet to the bottom of his shoes by the ambiguous expression on his friend's face. His throat became tight, constricting the passage of air to his already beleaguered lungs.
"Well, she's physically okay," Aidan managed to say. The odd look in his eyes was still there, scaring and annoying Ron at the same time.
Ron didn't wait to hear more; his imagination was already driving him crazy as it was. The last thing he needed was to add fuel to its fire. Using his long legs to his advantage, he strode to the bed where Hermione lay, his heart thumping loudly the entire way. He swallowed uncertainly before peaking around the curtains.
"'Mione," he breathed softly. He was so afraid of what he might find that only the second part of her name was spoken audibly.
The young witch was sitting up in her bed. Her face was turned away from the young man who spoke her name. Her curls hid the rest of her face, but Ron had no need to see her face to know she was crying. He could see the slight tremors of her shoulders beneath her white hospital gown. He could hear the sniffles she always made when she was weeping quietly.
As quietly as he could manage, Ron sat down on the bed.
"Hermione?" he asked, reaching out his hand. He wanted so badly to grab her and hold onto her for the rest of their lives, never once letting her go. However, after talking to Aidan, he restrained his urges and forced himself to wait for her to acknowledge him. She had been through so much he didn't quite know about; he certainly didn't want to make things worse.
Hermione's face suddenly materialized out of the haze of dirty brown locks. Her beautiful brown eyes were rimmed with red and swollen from crying. Tears had forged pathways through the dirt smudged on her otherwise pale cheeks. In spite of the fact that she had just escaped some quite possibly horrible fate, she looked like the entire world had come crashing down before her eyes. Something had happened to her during the time she was taken; something that did not, apparently, happen to the other girls.
The redhead looked across the room over to Jordan and her parents. The American Slayer-witch met his eyes and smiled slightly while waving. Her eyes then went over to Hermione; her expression melted into a frown of concern. Ron wondered if Jordan could provide any insight. For now, however, he just wanted to hold his girlfriend and give what comfort he could.
"Ron?" Hermione's voice sounded so broken, so small. He had never heard her sound as vulnerable as she was now. Nor had he ever seen her look like it.
"I'm here, love. You're safe now," Ron told her, his own voice threatening to crack from emotional overload.
Hermione emitted a sob and threw herself into her boyfriend's arms, burying her face in his chest. Ron did what he could to soothe her, rocking her back and forth and kissing her hair. Questions about whatever had happened to her could wait, he decided. For now, all he wanted to do was rejoice in her return and revel in the feeling of her beating heart right next to his own.
Buffy read over the information Andrew had diligently gathered on the girls who had been abducted. Her blue-green eyes were laden with exhaustion and anxiety, though some of the anxiety had recently been assuaged. She and Faith had been in the infirmary assessing the conditions of every girl and giving them words of comfort—albeit two of the times had to be through a translator. Now she was outside the infirmary and away from the noise in order to clear her head and plan on what to do next. She couldn't just drop everything and go to sleep because six girls had escaped from wherever they were being held. Thirteen girls had been taken. Only six returned. Buffy despised math precisely for these reasons. Arithmetic and reality were walking hand in hand to tell her seven girls were still currently missing in action.
She was the leader of the Slayers—all the Slayers. She couldn't abandon these girls to their fates, not only because she had a duty as their commander, but also because she had a duty as a fellow human being and warrior. All but two of the girls who had been stolen away were still in school, ages ranging from fourteen to seventeen. One of the two who were adults was a beloved wife, and the mother of a six-month-old boy. The other was training to become a Healer so she could serve her fellow Slayers medically on the field.
She owed it to these girls to find them, or, at the very least, learn of their fates so she could give their families, and the world, some closure. However overjoyed she was that the two girls whom she had trained personally—not to mention that they were her sister's friends—were back, the search was not over.
"Got claustrophobic, love?"
Buffy's eyes flew from the pack of papers in her hand to the platinum-blonde man walking towards her. Spike came to a stop right in front of the Slayer. His baby blue eyes traveled down to the items in her hands and he frowned.
"I'm just reviewing over who we still need to find," she told him dolefully.
He nodded in understanding. He shifted his position to lean against the wall beside her, fishing in his pocket for his pack of cigarettes. Buffy didn't even bother to reprimand him for smoking inside the castle despite Dumbledore's rules. She had far more to worry about than Spike's habits.
Tilting her head back and closing her eyes, Buffy intoned morosely, "We still need to talk to those girls. We need them to tell us all they can remember. And I so do not want to put them through that right now, but we don't have the luxury of time."
Spike sighed and blew a few smoky swirls out of his mouth. "If you have to question any of them, I'd go for Jordan. Not that I'm biased or anything, but she seems like she's the most stable at the moment."
Buffy snorted sardonically and replied, "That would be because she was unconscious up until the moment of escape. The rest of them were awake. All of them except for the German girl, Gisela, and Hermione seem pretty well considering what they've been through. Hermione's…lost it. And the other girl is very disoriented and confused. I'm not sure she'll be remembering things very well any time soon. Plus, Madam Pomfrey tells me she's got a few fractured bones in her face."
"Ouch," Spike noted, wincing in sympathy. Then he turned his face to Buffy and asked, "What in the bloody hell happened to that boy? Did you ever find out why he was brought here? Where does he fit in all this? I hear he came with them."
"From the little bit Aidan's told me, he had gone to the Malfoy boy's house to see if he could, I don't know, beat some information out of him since the boy's family is in league with Voldemort. Then the phoenix shows up and both the boys figure out how to get the girls home. I haven't pieced it all together yet. It's not that important right now, anyway," Buffy informed him.
Spike grinned roguishly and remarked, "Beat some information out of him, eh? I knew I liked that boy. Spitfire, that one. Just like his sis."
"Well, Mad-Eye Moody was all for torturing some suspected Death Eaters," Buffy pointed out. "And I mean, torture."
"That bloke is just cracked. That's all I'm saying," Spike quipped. "Not that he was wrong though, mind you."
Buffy quirked an eyebrow and reminded him, "Jordan's dad wanted to torture some people too. I seriously think if Jordan had been gone an hour longer he would have thrown the auror code out the window."
Spike shrugged. "Eh, that's understandable. His only daughter had been kidnapped. If it had been the Bit, I woulda been out for blood…in a manner of speaking. All of us would be." He had, of course, been referring to himself and the Scooby Gang.
Buffy didn't answer, though she silently agreed with him. "Wouldn't have mattered anyway. Professor Snape has that truth potion and the American aurors have all those ways to extract the truth from demon-kind without using physical torture. Mr. Firewell just wanted to hurt something, which I can't blame him for. And Moody is just…cracked."
"Let me go! I need to tell her!" Jordan was screaming. She was trying not to use her physical advantages to make her way to wherever Buffy was. Right now, her parents as well as Madam Pomfrey and her grandmother, were commanding her to stay in bed.
"Tell who what, honey?" Mrs. Firewell asked, her eyes shining with fear at her daughter's sudden change of mood.
Jordan cursed in frustration and looked around the infirmary. She didn't want to just yell it out loud because she wasn't sure how some of the other girls would have reacted. They were fragile enough as it was, and she was guessing she was the only one who really knew the truth. That is, besides Hermione, who didn't look up to being talkative at the moment.
Her father laid a hand on her shoulder in a futile attempt to calm her down. "Sweetheart, please calm down."
"I'll get calm when I can talk to Buffy. Where the hell is she?" Jordan snapped.
"Can't you just tell us?" her mother queried. "We can then give the information to Buffy."
Jordan had been about to do just that when Faith approached. She called the woman over, grabbing her arm when she got close enough.
"Tell Buffy it was Drusilla," she said, almost hysterically. She didn't notice her parents gasp in horror.
"What?" the dark-haired Slayer asked in confusion.
Jordan drew in a deep breath to calm herself down. She couldn't believe she had forgotten this when Buffy had first stopped by to check on her. The girl was just having a hard time trying to download everything that had happened while she had been out of it; it must have slipped her mind. Of all the things she would forget to tell Buffy, it had to be this one.
"It was Drusilla," she repeated in the same frantic tone of voice, only quieter. "She's still got the other girls. She's to thank for the fingernail-sized wounds on my neck." Saying the last part, Jordan had pointed gratuitously to her neck.
"You mean the crazy-assed bitch who dated Spike?" Faith asked.
"Yes! I mean the crazy-assed bitch who is not just crazy, but straight-up fucking sadistic! And has really sharp nails!" Jordan clarified, her eyes glowing wildly.
Mrs. Firewell must have obviously been so thunderstruck and horrified by this news, for she didn't bother to scold her daughter for her uncouth language. This new information brought an entirely new dimension to the war. If it had indeed been this vampire, who was very powerful, and—as her daughter asserted colorfully—very mad, then the damage to their side went far deeper than suspected. It was a very strong indication of just who Voldemort had managed to ensnare for an ally. And if he got her, then there was a high likelihood he had snagged other master dark creatures already.
"Oh…shit," Faith cursed after the significance finally hit her.
Buffy snapped up to stand straight on her feet. Faith was running towards her, with a new type of expression on her face. Her dark brown eyes flew to Spike when she stopped in front of the two. Buffy did not like the look she saw in her comrade's eyes. It looked like Faith had just learned something new, something that was supremely disconcerting.
"We have a problem," she began.
"No shit, Femme Fatale. Which problem has you all hot and bothered all of a sudden?" Spike drawled, taking a drag of his cigarette.
"Look, Jordan was trying to get out here to tell you personally. She had forgotten about it at first, but she was going nuts in there about it. She told me who had them. Looks like Voldy's got a new ally…an ally we definitely don't want him having," Faith told them.
She stopped for a moment with another odd look at Spike. Taking a deep breath, she finally gave them the name the two were waiting for.
Translations are as follows:
"Qu'est-ce qui lui arrive?"
What is wrong with her?
"Qu'est-ce que tu vas faire?"
What are you going to do?
"Qu'est-ce qu'on peut faire?"
What should we do?
Thanks to all my readers and reviewers. Your support is greatly appreciated! I've just been alerted by a very nice reviewer, who is anonymous, that we are not allowed to post review responses anymore. I think this is very unnecessary and wrong of but, I suppose I must comply. If you have something extremely pressing, request for a reply via new method.
I'll still recognize those who reviewed, and can just deal with it. Thanks to: cbrownjc, bridget, Chaotic reign, Pottersgurl07, JellyFish72, Masau, Vld, thefirstphoenix, Wanderingsoul24, CharmedChick, Kat (loveorthelackthereof), gpilot96, Lola, tan xie li, seirra, pain cookies, demondude12, APS, and chunky-01.
Again, I'm very sorry I kept you all waiting so long. I'll try harder now that my muse seems to have returned. The ideas she's feeding me are disturbing, but I'm afraid of angering her for fear she'll leave again.
By the way, has anyone seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? I saw it last weekend. I wish there could have been more Sirius, but I was so happy there was a lot more of the Weasley Twins. And weren't Cedric and Krum smokin', girls?