All Along The Watchtower
"There must be some kind of way out of here,"
Said the joker to the thief
"There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief
Businessmen they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None will level on the line
Nobody of it is worth"
"No reason to get excited,"
The thief he kindly spoke
"There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour's getting late"
All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Bare feet servants too
Outside in the cold distance
A wild cat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl
Alex teetered at the top of the stepladder he had resting against his wall of CDs in the study of his little home. Sir Woofsalot scampered about at the base, barking excitedly as the ladder rocked back and forth, and Alex grabbed one of the shelves to steady himself. It wasn't that he was afraid of falling, after all it wouldn't hurt him if he didn't want it to. But even after all these centuries he'd just never been able to shake his fear of heights.
"What?" he called done to the tiny terrier puppy as he jumped about, tail wagging furiously, pink tongue lolling out again as he fired off another shrill couple of barks. Alex shook his head and turned his attention back to the CDs he'd been dusting for the last hour or so. He wasn't sure how dust could exist in a place he'd constructed from his own mind, but then he had decided that he did in fact have a totally brilliant mind, so had carried on with his chore, humming Bridge Over Troubled Water as he went.
Having had his first two houseguests in the best part of a millennia, it had awakened a spark of pride in Alex about the old place and he'd been entertaining himself the last few days by giving everything a little spruce. Seeing as he'd got himself every scrap of music he had ever liked on CD since the recording of music began (and a few from before) he had spent the best part of the day working his way through the racks of disks, giving each one a wipe and a polish. It turned out, there were some perks to accidently letting someone from your universe fall into another one, and thus eliminating all branch-off realities from your timeline for the next few years. His underwear drawer was much neater for one.
He blew away a strand of blond hair that seemed determined to fall into his eyes and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. Housework was laborious. It was a good job he had a cold bottle of pinot grigio and the best of the Seventies to keep him going.
Sir Woofsalot growled and chirped, then began running around the room like a maniac, his nails scratching frantically on the floorboards Alex had just waxed yesterday. He rolled his eyes and fished out the next CD to dust.
He may have had less work to do, but that didn't mean he'd hadn't been preoccupied. All he'd been able to do was wait, hoping, just hoping, everything was still going to be okay. Draco Malfoy had certainly thrown a bit of a wrench into the proceedings, but Alex was certain he'd put enough safety measures in place that his plan would still work. And cleaning helped him stop thinking otherwise.
Harry was due to perform the spell soon, and Alex had stopped watching in favour of his music collection. He was concerned irrationally that his nerves would somehow effect the incantation, and it would be much better to leave his boys to their goodbyes and check in later when everything was back in order. It was as he was thinking this he realised he'd cleaned the A to Bs of his Soul selection twice.
There was a soft thump on the floor, and Alex looked down to see Sir Woofsalot as he plonked his bum on the wooden boards, and looked up at Alex panting. He yelped and wagged his tail, pleased with himself. He had something by his paws, a greyish sort of lump which had evidently made the noise a moment ago.
Alex frowned and climbed down. His attempts thus far to teach the west highland white terrier the basics of 'fetch' had merely resulted in several pairs of good shoes being chewed up and slobbered on. So why had the puppy brought him something now? He must have done something really bad, Alex decided, and was offering him up a present as recompense.
Half way down the ladder, Alex saw the grey lump flutter under his feet, and Sir Woofsalot barked, making him jerk in surprise and almost lose his footing. "Oh Woofsy!" he cried out again in annoyance. He really didn't fancy the inconvenience of a broken leg.
It was obvious now as he reached the floor that the lump was one of his pigeons, and as it was regaining consciousness it was flailing its wings around in an attempt to get away from Woofsy. The puppy yelped delightedly at every wriggle the bird made, snapping at it with his needle-like teeth.
Alex jumped the last few steps and swiped at Sir Woofsalot's nose, making him dart off and bark again, his tail still wagging. Alex muttered under his breath about puppy disobedience training camps, but Woofsy just dropped his bum to the floor again and let his tongue fall out of his mouth.
Very gently, Alex scooped the pigeon from off the floorboards as it frantically cooed and flapped it's wings. It wasn't injured from what he could see, and once he'd soothed the bird enough it calmed down to allow him to remove the little message attached to its foot. Maybe it had been in such a hurry to deliver it it had flown into a window, thought Alex. If it had stunned itself and fallen to the floor, Sir Woofsalot would have been able to pick it up. There was no way that dog had the smarts to take down a fully functioning bird. He could barely fathom the dog flap.
The message was all scrunched, like it had been mashed against the pigeon's leg in a rush. Alex felt a little flurry of nerves. Slowly, he unravelled the rolled up parchment, still awkwardly cradling the bird in his left hand.
"Are you KIDDING me?" he yelled out as the hastily scrawled words sunk into his brain. There wasn't much written down, but what there was chilled his blood where he stood.
He took off from the study, his feet pounding through the hallway, the kitchen, then out through the utility room and into the barn. At least a third of his carrier pigeons were missing from the rafters, and Alex looked down at the one in his hand in trepidation. Woofsy was pelting around again, kicking up the straw and dust on the cold concrete floor.
Alex couldn't remember the last time so many pigeons had been out at once, and he started to feel sick, really sick. His dog was barking in the house down, unsettling the birds still in the rafters, a chorus of cooing rising in the air. This was bad, this was really bad.
Another pigeon soared back into the barn through one of the open windows in the roof, heading straight for Alex with the message on its leg. He hurriedly eased the dozy bird still in his hand onto a perch then unfastened the new note to read it as quickly as possible.
"Oh no!" he moaned, even more confused than he had been a minute ago, the words on the paper not making any sense. "No, no, no, no, NO!"
Another two pigeons flew through the window from the starry sky, but Alex had barely a moment to register it. Before he could even reach out his hand for the birds, all three of the windows that lead out into Limbo beyond were blotted out by grey feathers and a deafening assault of coos and squawks. Alex ducked instinctively as the pigeons dive-bombed him, battering him with hundreds of wings and pecking at him with dozens of pointy beaks.
He yelled out, shooing them away as they trilled loudly at him, each wanting their message read before the others. Alex scrabbled around, grabbing legs at random to pluck off their notes. He only needed to read a few to get the gist of what was going on.
He fanned a pathway through the frantic birds, scooped up Sir Woofsalot in one hand, then darted out of the barn, slamming the door shut behind him. Hopefully his pigeons would calm down if he gave them time, but he couldn't waste a moment reading any more of their messages, and they wouldn't like that. He rolled the little puppy from his hand and the two of them sprinted through the house once again, pausing only for Alex to snatch his tailcoat from a peg in the hallway.
He burst through his front door giving it only the barest of mental instruction of where he wanted to go, but the second it was open the administration hall appeared, and Alex and his dog bolted on through to the marbled corridor without even a blink. Woofsy's barks echoed off the walls Alex would normally walk calmly to reach Jia's office, but today he had to make a stop before he headed to his manager's room.
He turned one or two corners, then found a likely looking door to bang on, and bang on it he did. He pounded with both hands against the white wooden door, desperation making him dizzy.
"Alright!" came a voice from inside, but Alex didn't relent until the door was thrown inwards. "Hey, hey, alright?" demanded Seamus Finnigan, a slice of toast in one hand and a can of beer in the other. Sir Woofsalot darted between their legs, shooting straight into Seamus' spacious apartment with its views over Galway city, or what looked like Galway at any rate.
Alex didn't pause, he just raced after the puppy, who had raced straight into Seamus' workroom. Seamus charged in after them, mouth open to give them both a piece of his mind. But then he saw the monitors.
Every single wall in the workroom was stacked floor to ceiling with television screens; old and new, large and small, Technicolor, black and white and even some in sepia. Each screen would only hold its image for a few seconds before changing, and in ordinary circumstances it was nonsensical to Alex and made his head hurt. But today the people and places on those screens seemed to convey an undeniable vision of clarity.
Seamus' beer can dropped to the floor. "What have you done?"he breathed out in horror, much in the same manner as Alex had when he'd seen the first note from the pigeon.
"It wasn't me!" cried Alex, slapping his chest with his hands. "It just happened, I don't know, I don't know!"
There was a small coffee table in the middle of the room, and on it a single remote control. Seamus shoved the rest of his peanut butter and toast into his mouth and seized the clicker, jamming at the buttons like a mad man. "This. Is," he said punctuating each word with a click of the remote. "Not. Good!"
The images whirled in front of Alex's eyes, and Woofsy leant into shin uncertainly. Seamus suddenly dropped the remote and lurched into the living room again, grabbing his trainers from the bay window sill and hopping into them without bothering about the laces. Alex and Sir Woofsalot were already hurling back out into the corridor, and the bang of the door told them Seamus was right behind.
The two men and the dog pelted down the corridor, their feet slapping on the shiny marble. The troll janitor was up ahead, polishing the floor with one of those big buffering machines reminiscent of a street-sweeper, and singing Eurythmics off key but enthusiastically. He didn't even seem to notice as the two Watchers sprinted by him, or as Sir Woofsalot took a bite at the spinning cloth buffer.
It was only a minute or two before they reached Jia's office, but Alex felt like it had been hours since he'd seen his pigeon's first message. He and Seamus piled into the office without stopping to knock, and came upon a startled Jia and one of her other Watchers, obviously mid-report.
The older Chinese woman stared at her two co-workers in shock, a mug of coffee halfway to her lips. The other Watcher, a vampire Alex guessed by how pale she was and the way she eyed their pulsating necks hungrily, looked very annoyed at being interrupted. She wore a long black lacy dress, black gloves and considerable amounts of black eyeliner, which Alex might have thought of as being clichéd if for one, he cared, and two, he hadn't spotted the scruffy looking red trainers poking out from under her skirt.
"I'm in a meeting?" stated Jia bemused, her head darting between the two Watchers on their feet as the vampire made a growling noise. But Alex didn't say anything, and neither did Seamus. Words wouldn't do it justice, Jia would sense the vibrations now they were, feel what was wrong in the air soon enough.
Her face dropped, her coffee mug slipping from her fingers and breaking on the floor, thick brown ooze splattering on the linoleum. "What?" she hissed, hastily turning to her battered old computer monitor, which was already facing the vampire Watcher. In moments the screen flicked several times as windows were opened and closed, until there before them all was the map of the universe branches, glowing blue like a winter-starved tree against the black emptiness of the background.
The curser flew over the lines, tracing the possible outcomes as they twisted and turned. Jia's index finger that wasn't clicking the mouse followed the paths, darting this way and that. Until she found the problem.
Both her hands dropped to either side of her wheely chair, and she gawped at Alex and Seamus incredulously. Sir Woofsalot whimpered.
"What!" she hollered. "Have you DONE?"
End of Book Two
Once again I have to start by thanking my brother John for all his editing and general support. Tread On My Dreams is where his crazy Horcrux plotline came to life; it re-shaped the entire trilogy and I can't now imagine the story ever being without it. Also for his invaluable help crafting the senior Malfoys, who were two of the trickiest characters to get on the page but ended up being amongst my favourites, thanks to your feedback. And finally for having the most influence on this book's soundtrack, from Genesis to Depeche Mode to Nine Inch Nails, you've got great taste bro ;-)
To my mommy for sticking with me in the eleventh hour, proving it's never too late to tweak and get your grammar right. But especially for helping me keep my chin up when the world wasn't looking its brightest. I'll always be your Troll lol.
I have to give a special shout out to some of my FanFictionnet family for surprising me with their enthusiasm and generosity. First, to The Modern Prometheus, who took it upon themselves to become my unofficial editor, helping me make my work more professional and boosting my spirits with kind words. To Perylee for always having such great questions to ask and keen interest in the story, as well as fixing all my German in the first book – danke! And finally, the awesome Sunny Kitten, a fellow Joss Whedon fan from around the globe, thank you for telling it like it is and never letting me down with your amazing insight.
And to everyone else who has read and reviewed, followed and favourited – thank you! You are the reason why I've spent over a decade working on this crazy story, and I hope you enjoy the final book as much!
With never ending love,