A/N:- Huh... I thought I'd posted this last week. I came back to make some slight alterations and found that the chapter had never been added (despite having the file uploaded). I blame it on the crappy way my internet's acting at the moment. Sorry you're getting it late... but at least it's a better version!
So… I accidentally posted the wrong version of Ch 74 at first, one which didn't contain some of my final edits/additions. Very little in the way of storyline is different in the proper version, with primarily some expansions of character's thoughts (I do have a tendency as a reader recently commented to be overly wordy… unfortunately I haven't managed to reign it in) and a more rounded completion of the conversation between Buffy and Remus. I updated it to on the monday after I first posted it (17th), so if you read it the weekend it went up and you're interested in seeing the changes, you might want to re-read from where Remus and Buffy discuss Lily's letter. Nothing new is particularly plot central… so you won't miss much if you choose to just read on.
Now that's over and done with - Welcome to the longest chapter of the story! (that's true even without these notes - making the story break the quarter of a mill mark) I think I can pretty definitively say that there will not be another this long… mostly due to what I need to say next…
I have to take a break in writing here (probably until the summer when uni's over… at the very least until May). Or… well, since (despite evidence to the contrary) I've never really been able to completely stop writing - a break in posting (I might even be able to get back with a few chaps in reserve so I don't have such long gaps between chapters). I wanted to get to this chapter before I had to do this as, after having left you guys in the lurch about so many things for so long, I thought I should finally resolve some things for you all (and hence powered through to include all the scenes planned for this chapter rather than moving them to the next when this got so long) which, to a point, this and recent chapters should do.
Since no one can assess my success in that better than you… read on and judge for yourself...
"My Lord, our attacks have been going well."
"Yes, agents are fulfilling our objectives, here and abroad. Although…" he trailed off dangerously, "It appears the Americans went too far, didn't leave any witnesses."
"They were just having fun, My Lord. We didn't think-"
"No, and you should not attempt to do so. Leave what you do not understand to me and follow orders."
"My apologies… We did not intend to harm your endeavours." he should have stopped there but for some reason thought he could help his cause by barrelling on, "Attacking Salem brought up old resentments. We didn't see a reason to show the Muggles any mercy." Not with how little they had shown us went unsaid, centuries old resentments still festering.
The others edged away, careful not to show any signs of support, however much they agreed with the sentiment. They knew a man who was asking to be punished, even if he did not realise it.
"The only reason you should need is that I ordered it." the cruel voice responded from the depths of the chair he was lounging in, "If you cannot ensure they follow my directives I will find somebody who can. In the mean time I believe some time with my new pets will serve as a reminder of what is important."
With a casual flick of the wrist he gestured to his other followers, two of whom briskly stepped forward to carry out his directive, first leading him then, when he realised where he was being taken, dragging the disgraced man out. The huge snake at their master's feet rose up for a moment as he began to struggle, showing a distinct interest in the proceedings.
The man laid a hand on the creatures' head and let out a strange hissing sound that made his remaining followers flinch. His handsome face twisted into a satisfied smirk, "Peace, Nagini, there will be better prey for you soon."
Suddenly the man was alert, still resting seemingly carelessly in his throne but more aware of his surroundings, listening carefully to something in the distance. He flinched as if recoiling from an imaginary blow, his brow furrowing in concentration as he focussed on the origin of the attack.
One groan of pain, then more echoed through the room as one by one the other occupants gripped at their left forearms, trying to contain the burning within them, but all this was ignored by their leader as he fought some internal battle.
"My Lord?" A new arrival asked, his voice wavering in pain. Figures were appearing, all also pulling at their clothes, scratching at the black lines of the brand traced on their skin, trying to get at the thing which was attacking them from within. "What..." the voice faded out as it's owner crumpled to the floor followed quickly by his companions as if this was some kind of game.
Only their leader remained aware, aware but ignoring what was happening to his followers, his thoughts miles from their plight.
By the time the Headmaster arrived, Buffy and Harry had been deposited on neighbouring beds in the main hospital wing each with a large dose of Pepper-Up potion which they were instructed to regularly sip.
"Oh, Headmaster, Miss Fullbright found you." Madam Pomfrey smiled as she spotted him in the doorway, "I'm glad you came so quickly."
"I'm afraid we must have passed her on the way here. As you see, I have other reasons for coming."
As Dumbledore slowly moved into the room, an unsteady form following alongside was revealed. It's companion removed the Headmaster's supporting arm and straightened to shakily stand as soon as the other occupants of the hospital wing were spotted.
"Severus!" the Healer rushed to his side and, ignoring denials of it's necessity, helped Snape into the bed beside Buffy's and started to inspect him for injuries, popping one of her magical thermometers into his mouth and shaking her head at the result.
"There's no need-" Snape's words were cut off by a stern look from the Headmaster as Madam Pomfrey bustled over to her potions cabinet.
"You have severely depleted magic levels."
He scowled at the Healer, "Yes, Poppy, I am well aware of that. I also have a more than adequate supply of my own potions in my office, since I am the one who provides yours."
"And, as a wizard with some knowledge of healing, you know that your condition can be dangerous if not treated properly." The witch responded, berating him as if speaking to a student rather than another staff member.
Buffy saw Harry trying to hide a smirk at her reaction to his most hated teacher, for once being treated like the surly child he so often resembled as the mediwitch thrust a glass matching their own into his hand and ordered him to drink. She would have been disguising a smile of her own but the woman's words caught her attention, "Dangerous?"
"Oh, there's no reason to worry. Just keep sipping your potions."
"But..." Dumbledore met Buffy's questioning gaze as the mediwitch moved over to Harry, pulling his hand away from his scar to inspect the irritated mark and once again taking his magic level.
"If left untreated, extreme loss of magic can permanently reduce your magical abilities. Even erase them altogether."
"Headmaster!" The woman whipped about, "There's no need to bring up something so unlikely, to worry the-"
"No, Poppy, I believe there is." He intoned calmly, waving away her arguments, "They both have a habit of overextending themselves, and should be made aware of the potential ramifications. That if they continue to do so they might not fully rejuvenate their power, even with your care."
"Well." She answered with a huff, unable to entirely disagree with the man.
"I believe we also need to discuss what caused your magic loss today. Poppy-"
The Healer held his eyes for a long moment, seeming about to argue further, but then relented with a nod, "I'll just go and check on my other patient. I need to change her sheets, as Scourgify seems to have no effect."
At her words a house-elf appeared at her side, ready to lend her assistance, with a pile of fresh white linen it its arms which towered above the creature's head.
"Come on, Mink." Madam Pomfrey lead the way into Faith's room, shutting the door behind them.
As soon as they were alone, Dumbledore's intense gaze landed on the students, waiting for an explanation. It was Harry who broke first, not used to ignoring the expectations of authority figures, or not those he acknowledged as worthy of that authority anyway. Despite everything that had happened the last year, everything he had learnt, the Headmaster still fell into that category.
"Faith has... had a Dark Mark. I grabbed her arm when I noticed it and then I... we..." He trailed off, unable to explain the way their power had rushed through Faith, trapping them in a strange loop of magic.
"The Mark started to bleed," Buffy finished, "coming out through her skin until there was nothing left."
That surprised the usually unshockable Headmaster, "The Dark Mark is gone?"
"I think so..." Buffy shrugged, "I don't know. It wasn't there before so maybe it's just hiding again?"
"I doubt your actions would have resounded through others with the Mark if they didn't have a profound effect."
"Why didn't we see it before?"
"What?" Buffy asked, frowning as she tried to understand Harry's words.
"The Mark. How come it was hidden?"
Snape let out a disparaging snort, "You don't think we would be stupid enough to have proof of our allegiance permanently visible on our skin? If anything the Protean Charm is the least complex aspect of the spells contained within the Mark."
"But if it's meant to stay hidden-"
"Something or someone activated it." He cut Harry off a sneer before taking a sip of his potion, the effect ruined when his hand shook slightly as it returned the glass to the table beside him.
"Voldemort!" Harry exclaimed, grinning when Snape recoiled away from the name of his master, "It showed up when I said Voldemort." he gleefully repeated the word which had so unsettled the man.
"Of course it did, you idiot boy."
"There's no need to snap, Severus." Dumbledore held up his hand before Harry could speak again, his attention all on the reclining man, "Are we still alone?"
Snape sat silently for a moment, deep in thought before finally nodding, the Headmaster waiting for that gesture before indicating that Harry could continue.
"Why did it react to my saying..." Harry trailed off at the sharp look Dumbledore gave him, "...his name?"
"It responded to the name of its creator, alerted him to its use. That is part of the reason his name was so feared."
"But… I've mentioned Riddle near her before." Buffy cut in.
"Tom Marvolo Riddle might be the name he was born with but it wasn't the one he attributed to himself. When the name he chose is spoken near a Dark Mark he is able to sense it, to use the connection and hear what is being said about him."
She nodded, his words making as much sense as any of the more complex magics did to her, "Why did Faith even have the Mark?" Buffy glanced at the bed beside her, "I thought it was only for his followers; Death Eaters."
"He wanted to bind her to him," Snape replied, "and she agreed to be bound."
"She wouldn't-" Buffy started angrily, only to be cut off by the man's bitter laugh.
"The Dark Mark cannot be given against one's will. The uses it is put to might be corrupt, but the binding itself is not, it Marks us as his in a ceremony more meaningful than any wedding."
"He was possessing her!"
"I'm sorry, Miss Summers, but what Professor Snape is telling you is true." Dumbledore's eyes were filled with sorrow, "She may have been coerced, but Faith must have willingly accepted the Mark, free of the taint of any other's magic, or the ritual would not have worked."
"How do you know?"
His gaze flicked to Snape before returning to Buffy, "Riddle once tried to Mark one of my allies, but was unable to do so, despite using the Imperius Curse to control her."
"So... Faith wanted it?" Harry asked warily, glancing across at the room she lay in.
"Buffy-" the Headmaster began with a sigh.
"No." She cut in firmly, "He might have convinced her to take it, that it would help her escape the memory of what he had forced her to do... but that doesn't mean she wanted it."
A rap on the windowed door of Faith's room drew their attention back to Madam Pomfrey who, with that minimal warning, swept back into the main Hospital Ward.
"If Madam Pomfrey is finished with her, I believe it is time to assess the truth of your claims." Snape rose to his feet, earning him a frown from the Healer which deepened when Dumbledore gestured for Harry and Buffy to follow him.
"Headmaster, I don't think-"
"They have both finished their potions, Poppy. Moving to another room will not cause any harm."
The Healer huffed, "I expect you both to return before dinner to assess if you require another dose. In the mean time you are not to perform any magic." her eyes flicked to Harry, "That includes flying Mr Potter."
"If you use your broom today I will ensure it is confiscated again." She stated, her firm tone leaving no doubt that she would do as threatened, despite the recent overruling of her authority. Harry turned hopefully to Dumbledore, but instead of support he merely found agreement. That, and Snape's overt enjoyment of the situation, gave him a deep scowl as he stormed into Faith's room.
The Headmaster shut the door behind Buffy as Snape pulled up Faith's left sleeve and inspected her forearm, now clear of any evidence that there had ever been a Mark, the skin pale and unbroken.
"It's gone." The Potions teacher finally said, the usual distain wiped out of his tone by his shock.
"We told you that already."
Dumbledore ignored Harry's snide words, his eyes remaining fixed on the man beside the bed, "Are you certain?"
The usual derisive sneer returned to Snape's face and he pulled up his own left sleeve to display the black image upon it. He remained like that for a minute, staring at his forearm with a level of focus that seemed to have no direction until the brand on his arm began to fade slightly into pale skin. He let out a heavy gust of air before shakily pulling it back in, the Mark returning to its original state. "That is as much as I can hide it at the moment. If she was Marked, we would be able to see it."
"See. We got rid of it." Harry said with a satisfied smile.
"Does this mean we can remove them all?"
"I don't know. Possibly." She could almost see the thoughts shimmering behind Dumbledore's eyes, the plans being concocted.
"What about my scar?"
The Headmaster's excitement dimmed at the reminder of that other link, of the bond forged by his futile attempts to stop Riddle, "I doubt that Harry."
"But if..." Harry trailed off at Dumbledore's expression.
"The connection you have to Riddle is far closer than that given to those bearing the Dark Mark. I'm not certain anything could break it except…"
"One dying at the hand of the other." Harry finished with a disappointed sigh.
"So..." Buffy finally spoke into the heavy silence which had taken over the room, "Should we give it a go?"
"Try and get rid of your Mark."
Harry and Snape both stared at her with identical shocked expressions, neither apparently having thought about that aspect of this discovery. Snape, unsurprisingly, regained his composure first, his face donning a sneer, "Miss Summers, I don't think-"
"No, Severus, I believe she is right. We should see if they can repeat the effect."
The man's scowl deepened at Dumbledore's words, but he followed the implicit order, wordlessly presenting his left arm to Harry who reluctantly placed his hand on it just below the elbow as Buffy locked her fingers about his wrist.
"What now?" he snapped at them when no immediate changes were apparent.
"I... I don't know. Before it just..."
"It just happened." Harry finished for her.
"Well, then it's obviously not something you can replicate." Snape bit out, wrenching his arm out of their grasp and stalking across the room.
"Perhaps not as easily, the connections they share would have helped, but if it is possible for one Mark, it should be for others. We merely need to deduce the circumstances required."
"While you waste your time pondering that, I should go."
"Yes, of course." the Headmaster responded vacantly, his mind caught up in the potential of what had happened, "You know what can be shared."
Buffy was reluctant to leave, even when Harry also excused himself to, as he grumpily muttered, watch the Griffindor Quidditch team practice. She hovered by the bed, watching Faith as she lay there, still unaware.
"You should try to reach her, Miss Summers. If she has borne his Mark all this time it might be what was blocking you."
"Do you really think so?" She had to ask. Buffy had been wondering just that since she had seen the brand on Faith's skin, refusing to let herself hope that she might finally succeed.
"I do." Dumbledore replied with a smile, leaving her to make an attempt.
The girl of light jerked up at her name and a bright smile broke across Buffy's face; Faith could hear her.
Faith scrambled to her feet, running from this new presence in a place where she had only experienced nightmares.
Buffy ran through the darkness, using everything she had to catch up with the girl and pull her around. Faith flinched back in preparation for the expected blow, but when one didn't come she finally looked at who had caught her.
"How... What are you doing here?" Faith glanced about and lowered her voice to a whisper, "You should go. It's not safe."
"Okay, lets go then."
"I can't. I've got to hide." she pulled out of Buffy's grip and began backing away, staring behind her.
"No, we've got to fight."
"You don't know what she is. What she can do."
The shadowy Faith appeared behind her wielding that knife, but this time Buffy was there, could fight her. She could fight her but not, as Buffy quickly came to realise, stop her. However good, however fast Buffy was, her opponent was faster, better,and her blade was quickly covered in Buffy's blood. She was weakened, losing bit by bit as each small injury slowed her further until she made a big mistake, left her side open long enough to be stabbed exactly where Faith had done so before. The hilt of the imaginary blade sticking out from beneath her ribs just where another had only weeks before.
"Buffy!" Faith called out in breathless horror as Buffy's blood spurted out from the wound; covering her attacker's hands, both the Faiths hands, in blood.
Buffy swayed on her feet, helplessly watching as the dark form approached Faith, carelessly using a new knife on shadowy shapes which appeared between them. Hacking off a young man's hand, slitting the throat of a girl in chains.
"No, no, no" Faith kept saying as she backed away from both Buffy and the shadow, staring down at the blood coating her hands with an expression of disgusted disbelief. "I didn't... it wasn't..."
"It's okay." Buffy managed to choke out, "I know you didn't want to."
"I... I can't... I'm sorry..."
Faith began to run and Buffy reached out for her. She wasn't close enough for physical contact but somehow held on with the connection they shared, pulling not just the Faith made of light, but the other Faith too. Both Faiths drawn back by the Slayer bond because, the realisation stuck Buffy like an epiphany, it wasn't just one of them she was connected to, it was both. Because... "She's you!"
A bolt of lightning cracked through the darkness, making the earth shudder, and then was gone, the darkness more oppressive after that burst of light. The sudden change made Buffy take a deep breath, but the pain she steeled herself for after that action never came and she looked down to find her injury too had disappeared, leaving her able to move.
"No! It wasn't me. I didn't do those things."
"You didn't intend to. You didn't want to. But you did, Faith." The whole place entered into constant motion at those words, flashes of light emerging from the darkness all about them, "It wasn't your fault, but it was you."
"No..." Faith sobbed, crumpling to the floor and curling into a tight ball, refusing to look up at the shadowy figure which loomed above her.
"She is a part of you... and I think... I think you have to accept that if you want to get out. You need to stop hiding from it, from her." Buffy warily moved behind the cowering form, watching the one standing over them carefully for any sign of attack, but none came. She knelt down next to Faith and rubbed her back to help ease her sobs, "The knife's been destroyed, Faith. He can't make you do things any more. He only wins if you let what's happened defeat you."
Faith looked up at the girl above her, at the cruel expression she had worn as she carelessly cut others down. She shuddered at the sight, but reached out with a wavering hand to grasp one that exactly mirrored it.
"No one told me you were, like a slayer Yoda, B." A voice rasped out as Buffy was trying to make sense of the sudden change, of being thrust out of Faith's mind. It was as unsettling to be forced out as the visions imposed upon her had been.
"Wha..." She blinked and focussed on the figure sitting up on the bed, eyes open and alert.
"You must embrace the darkness within, Young Slayer, or it will rule you." Faith couldn't quite imitate the voice, not with hers sore from so long without use, but the tempo was perfect.
Buffy tried to scowl, but she was grinning too hard, "Shut up."
"Seriously though. To come out with that crap you must have given in to Xander's movie selections way too often."
"It worked didn't it?"
Faith ducked her head slightly, unsure how to react to Buffy's sheer elation at having her awake, speaking to her like the cocky girl she had once seen in a dream.
"Miss... Faith. You're awake!"
Madam Pomfrey was standing in the doorway with a smile almost as wide as Buffy's, drawn over by the voices in the room but expecting it to be another visitor, not that what they were hoping for had finally occurred. She entered the room, taking out her wand to check on her patient, then stopped suddenly when that action elicited a surprising response. Faith flinched back as soon as she spotted the wand, rolling off the bed and frantically escaping from tangled in sheets to get ready to defend herself.
"No! Faith, it's okay. She's just trying to help." Buffy had to hold her back from attacking the Healer, feeling the girl's entire body shaking in fear.
"She has one of those..."
Her eyes opened, remembering what wands had done to Faith, immediately understanding what the girl expected, "Wands aren't bad... they can just... do bad things."
Faith tried to return Buffy's confident smile with a smirk, not quite able to hold on to the confidence her expression required, "And now you sound like the NRA."
She hadn't relaxed, but at least Faith wasn't trying to get out of Buffy's grasp anymore. Faith watched the mediwitch's every movement, still poised to defend, but no longer about to preemptively attack.
"I don't care... I'm not letting one near me."
"That's fine. Madam Pomfrey, could you-"
The Healer had already pocketed her wand, not knowing the reason for Faith's reaction but happy to placate her patient, "Call the Headmaster? Of course."
Faith tracked her progress as the woman exited the room, only letting out a shuddering breath when she disappeared from sight. Now that they were alone, she looked about the room, her gaze finally focussing on something out the window; the Griffindor Quidditch team practicing for the final match, "So this is where you've been?"
"Yes... I can do magic," Buffy paused a moment, waiting for Faith to lose the tension which had entered her body at those words, "When the wizards found out they sent me here so I could learn to control it."
"But… they said you were dead. Buffy, everyone in Sunnydale thinks you're dead… Your mom…" Faith trailed off, her eyes widening as memories flooded back, "God, B, your mom!" Faith sat back heavily on the bed.
Buffy closed her eyes, trying to hold back the flood of emotions which threatened to overwhelm her, "I know."
"I'm so sorry. I tried to stop them…"
"Don't. It wasn't your fault." It was hers, Whistler's, everyones and no ones.
"So... wizards, huh?" Faith asked, breaking the morbid silence which had begun to descend.
"Yeah." Buffy managed to smile, "wands, broomsticks, cauldrons and all."
Faith nodded, her eyes flicking over Buffy's body in search of the weapon she too must have, but her eyes stopped, fixed on something else, before they reached the wand in Buffy's back pocket. "Buffy! You're..."
Buffy glanced down and found her shirt wet with blood, the old knife wound had been reopened, her body somehow reacting to the events in Faith's mind. She saw the horror, the denial in Faith's eyes, something more a part of the girl she'd met there than the one she'd been speaking to since waking.
"It wasn't you."
"But it was." Faith gave her an uncomfortable grimace, the expression more real than any of the smiles and smirks she'd worn, "A part of me did it, wanted to, enjoyed it even. I think that's what was so scary."
"But... you're not going to stab me again, I hope."
"No! Of course not."
Buffy smiled, "Then we're good. People want to do lots of things. It's the impulses we choose to follow that matter." She saw Faith's expression darken, "And you didn't choose to do those things, the knife possessed you, controlled you."
"Whatever you say, Dr. Phil." Her confidence was back, but Faith's grateful eyes reassured Buffy that she had heard what she was saying, that it mattered.
"Is it okay if I..." Buffy gestured at her bleeding side.
"I want to heal myself, but I'll need to use my wand."
Faith's eyes flitted about the room for a moment, alighting again and again on the only exit, before taking a steadying breath, "Okay."
Even expecting it she flinched back when Buffy withdrew her wand, but watched with interest as Buffy exposed her wound and prepared to cast.
"I hope you're not about to heal yourself, Miss Summers."
Buffy started like a child caught sneaking sweets, and looked up to find Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey watching her disapprovingly through the doorway, "I..."
"Leaving aside the fact that it's exceedingly reckless for someone without training to attempt healing spells, and that new legislation prevents you from casting spells not authorised by your teachers, you are not permitted to perform any magic today."
Buffy sheepishly restored her wand to her back pocket, "Oh yeah."
His disappointment broke into a smile as Dumbledore turned to Faith, "It is very nice to finally meet you, Faith. Would you mind Madam Pomfrey using her wand to heal your irresponsible compatriot? They could go outside if it makes you uncomfortable."
"Um... no. Buffy can stay." Faith was watching the new arrival warily, and Buffy knew why. The air around Dumbledore was always alive with magic, and if with Faith associating that feeling with pain, with her torture, it was understandable that wouldn't want to be alone with him.
Faith looked on with fascination as Madam Pomfrey closed the cut on Buffy's abdomen before cleaning away the blood, trying to hide a gasp when she saw the unbroken skin left behind. Even after seeing this benign, beneficial even, use of the power she feared, Faith wasn't able to relax with so many potential enemies in the room. Her eyes jumped frantically from the Healer to Dumbledore and back until, at a nod from the Headmaster, Madam Pomfrey left.
"Well, now that's out of the way. I am Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." He extended his right hand to Faith with an amiable smile.
Faith tensed again at his abrupt movement despite the friendly words, but stood her ground, taking his hand and giving it a quick shake before retreating back to Buffy's side, "Faith, the... uh, Vampire Slayer. But I guess you knew that."
Buffy glanced into the ward where Madam Pomfrey was tidying her supply cupboard, letting out the breath that had caught in her throat when it became clear that she hadn't heard Faith's words.
"Yes, but as most magic users are not aware of Slayers, it would be best if you refrain from introducing yourself as one."
Faith glanced at Buffy, "So we're secret identity gals?"
"But then how did the ones who... took me know what I was?" She asked with a frown.
"They're working with werewolves."
A grimace flickered across her face, "Oh yeah."
Buffy could almost see her thoughts. The werewolves who killed Joyce.
"Those who took you are extremists. They believe in wizarding supremacy and have little care for non magical beings, human or otherwise. We believe they wanted to use you somehow."
"Use me?" she let out a bitter snort of laughter, "I guess they did that. As their personal assassin." Buffy gripped hold of Faith's hand, but before she could repeat her earlier words again, make them feel like mere platitudes, Faith continued, "I know it wasn't really me... it'll just take time to believe I couldn't have helped it."
Seeing her discomfort, Dumbledore silently conveyed his own reassurances with a smile and changed the subject, "I have contacted Matthew Azazel, the Chair of the Watcher's Council, to inform him that you are awake. I am certain he will be here soon.
Matthew did not come that day.
Instead he sent his apologies, promising to arrive as soon as he could, and they were left deciding what to do without him. Buffy refused to leave Faith alone in the Hospital Wing, not when she had only just awakened, not while the sight of a wand made her itch to attack before its wielder did. To retaliate as she had been unable to while chained to a dungeon wall.
Buffy took Faith to the one place in the school where there was no chance of encountering any wand but Buffy's; to Rowena's hidden safe-house which had, after all, been designed with Slayers in mind. Buffy guided Faith through the school, deliberately using the more problematic routes, those no other student would bother with. This avoidance was made easier by the Weasley twins final prank, the swamp on the fifth floor had turned a collection of corridors into dead ends by blocking the point where they met, leaving that floor's entrance to the stairwell awkward to reach but empty of other students.
Faith had flinched away from every moving portrait they passed on the way up through the school, every sign of the magic which permitted the building, making staircases move or disappear, every portrait but this. The feral vampire stalked closer to the front of it's frame, as interested in the girls standing before him as they were in him, hungrily breathing in their scent, their power. Just as Faith was doing to him.
"B... I can feel him."
"I know. Want to slay him?" Buffy asked, holding out her wand.
Faith frowned at the picture and the stick of wood, "He's just a picture."
"Not just. Pictures here are often more than they seem." She grinned when Faith took the offered weapon, weighing the fragile piece of wood in her hand. It was impossible to believe that such a fragile thing could cause so much pain, could be, in the hand of another, her biggest fear. "But please don't leave my wand in him." She added as Faith finally turned to the portrait with a purpose.
Buffy retrieved her wand as they went through the door, smiling back at Faith's gleeful expression.
"It might not have been real, but that felt good, B. It's been an age since I've had a good slay." Her voice trailed off on the last word, remembering that while it had been a while since she'd faced a vampire, she had slain other things in the meantime. She recovered her ease, sending Buffy a cocky grin which silenced the concerned words that were poised on the tip of her tongue.
"You have to follow my footsteps on the stairs, they're rigged." Faith nodded, grateful Buffy hadn't brought up her slip, and followed her up the stairs.
Faith let out a low whistle as she followed Buffy through the rooms, "Nice digs." she moved over to a bed, bouncing on the well-sprung mattress. Dumbledore had evidently decided that Buffy could stay with Faith; the bedroom opening off Rowena's office now contained not one but two beds, one with her nightclothes lain out upon it.
As they were getting settled a house-elf appeared, laying out a filling dinner on the coffee table in front of the fire, the normal beverages supplemented by two glasses of Pepper-Up potion.
"Do you remember much of what happened to you?" Buffy finally asked what she'd been wondering all afternoon. Faith obviously knew enough to be wary of wands, but that didn't mean she recalled every detail. She had needed to be reminded about the werewolves who had taken her.
Faith slowly chewed and swallowed her mouthful, giving herself time to decide what to say, "Which part?"
"Any of it."
"At first... they just..." Faith shrugged, wanting to dwell on that time as little as "Well, it was easy to lose track of what was happening for a while there. I kept slipping in and out."
"That makes sense. It seemed to…" Buffy trailed off at the intense look Faith was giving her.
"You were there. I felt you…" She frowned, reflecting on what had happened during her torture for the first time and realising that the other presence she sometimes felt hadn't just been a dream, "You showed me how to keep him out."
"I dreamt of you and, once I knew what was happening, tried to find you, to help."
"It did." That indefinable reassurance that someone cared, even when she had no foundation to base the belief on, had done so much to help her make it through. At least, it had until another presence had begun to whisper through her mind. "And then he gave me that knife and things became... both much clearer and completely out of focus."
"Did you feel me after you got the knife?"
Faith recoiled, "You dreamt of that?" she liked the idea of Buffy witnessing her actions under the knife's influence even less than her knowing details of her experiences at the hands of the wizard.
"Not really. The knife's possession overrode our connection. I got flashes sometimes… when you managed to fight it."
She relaxed slightly, letting out a self-deprecating laugh, "Yeah. I wasn't good at that."
"You-" Buffy began but Faith's glare quieted her, stopped her offering pardon, asking forgiveness for actions neither could have prevented.
"So… How did you find me anyway?"
A high pitched scream cut through the air, forcing Buffy awake.
They had stayed up long into the night, discussing the wizarding world, the Watcher's Council, slaying, life in Sunnydale. Talking about everything except what had happened to Faith, what she had done, skirting around anything which came close; Joyce, the wizard's war.
Buffy heard another, more smothered, yell through the door before she reached it, throwing it open and leaping off the balcony to pull Faith back, off the girl she was slowly strangling against the wall.
"Faith!" she shouted at the girl trying desperately to escape her grip. "Stop. She won't hurt you." she glanced over at Ginny, who got warily to her feet, holding up her hands in the universal sign of surrender.
Slowly Faith's breaths calmed and she stopped struggling, "She… she pointed it at me."
Ginny's eyes grew, if possible, wider at the words, "I didn't…"
"Liar." she spat out the word, growing agitated again, "Her wand was aimed right at me. I had to stop her."
"I just came up here to practice Summoning Charms." Ginny gestured vaguely at the pile of cushions by the window and those littered around her, "I heard something behind me and…"
Buffy nodded, understanding what had happened, "Faith, Ginny is just a student at the school practicing spells, she wasn't going to hurt you." she carefully let go of the other Slayer, and picked up Ginny's wand from the floor, giving it back to the girl, sending Faith a warning look when she tensed. "Why don't you show Faith what you were doing?"
"Um… Okay." Ginny turned away from the slayers to face the window, careful to keep her wand lowered while she was faced in their direction. With a deep breath she raised her wand, "Accio cushion."
The cushion came at her too high, too fast, flying over Ginny's head and landing with a heavy whump on Faith's. Ginny flinched as it impacted and Buffy tensed, readying herself to leap back between the girls, but instead of renewing her accusations, Faith began to laugh.
"Right, B, I get the point. Little Red isn't out to get me with pillows." Faith gave her a only partially forced grin, her eyes still trained on the wand, "Just… put that thing away will ya?"
Ginny smiled in relief and pocketed her wand, moving about the room to collect the cushions she'd been using and throwing them back onto the sofas.
"What's a girl gotta do around here to get breakfast?"
Faith's words had barely left her mouth when the house-elf who had served them the previous evening appeared, "Will there be three for breakfast?" it asked with a bow, never entirely raising it's head.
"No." Ginny answered.
"You can stay if you want." Buffy said, although her tone wasn't entirely inviting, she had gotten to used to thinking of this place as her own.
"I need to meet the team for breakfast - we've got the pitch again this morning."
At those words the house-elf disappeared, reappearing almost immediately with two plates piled with steaming food, one of which Faith quickly dug into.
"Okay. Um… I think Faith's going to be staying here for a bit…"
"So I should stay away?"
"Well… at least let me know if you're coming. She's… a bit wary of wands."
Ginny's eyebrows rose at that understatement, "It's all right. I'm glad you're feeling better Faith." She received a grunt of acknowledgement from Faith at her words and turned towards the exit before pausing again, speaking to Buffy in a whisper, "Let me know if she wants to talk about it."
It took a moment for Buffy to realise what she was talking about, remember the last conversation they'd had in this room what felt like years ago. About what it felt like to be possessed.
"I wish I'd had someone to talk to." the girl murmured, to herself more than Buffy, before striding purposefully out of the room.
"What does she want to talk to me about?" Faith asked through a mouthful as Buffy began to eat her own breakfast.
"About being possessed." Faith's expression closed off as it had whenever she broached something close to this topic, but Buffy continued on regardless, "Three years ago a diary of Riddle's from school managed to control Ginny, used her to set a big snake on other students."
"No one was killed but, from what I've been told, she was just lucky." Buffy said answering the unspoken question in Faith's frown.
She nodded, her eyes trained on the door as she put another fork full in her mouth, thinking about the experience she shared with the girl who'd left.
After finishing their meal, the slayers made their way back to the bedroom to ready themselves for the day ahead but, before she mounted the steps up to the mezzanine, Faith paused, staring at the painting behind the desk.
"There's something freaky about that picture, B." She frowned, trying to work out what it was about it that felt so strange, "Besides it being the only normal painting in this place."
Buffy grinned, "You have no idea."
She had told Faith that wizards once helped slayers the night before, but not given her the details, wanting to save that until there was time to show off the hidden room.
"Is it another door?"
Buffy watched silently with a smile; Faith was already inspecting the frame, it wouldn't take long before she... click. The painting swung open and a white figure flew out, launching herself on Faith. She quickly recovered from the surprise and began to retaliate, desperately blocking the blows as she searched for an opening.
"You can do bet-" the statue's teasing words cut off with a sharp, unnecessary intake of breath, Camilla's human mind making her inhuman body react like it was real. She absentmindedly deflected Faith's incoming attacks before falling to her knees and speaking in a formal tone, "Greetings, Slayer."
"Hi." Faith panted, as shocked by the sudden end to their skirmish as she had been by its beginning, "Who... what are you?"
"I am Camilla, and I was once a Slayer. Now I train those who are called."
"Would you like to see..." she paused as she rose to her feet, glancing into the darkness behind her with a sad smile, "the training room?"
Faith grinned "Sure." Before they passed into the corridor, she glanced over at Buffy on the stairs, "You coming, B?"
"Buffy!" The statue launched herself at her, but instead of attacking, she pulled Buffy into a fierce embrace. "You're alive! But... how?"
Buffy's brow furrowed, then she realised what Camilla was saying, why the statue had been acting so dejected; what she had thought. "I told you there was another Slayer, about Faith."
"Yes…" The statue trailed off. Camilla hadn't believed her, Buffy had known she hadn't entirely trusted her words, but hadn't thought that meeting the other slayer would make Camilla think she was dead.
"So, now we've established we're all hot chicks with super powers. What shall we do while we wait for the Watcher?"
Buffy and Camilla shared a look before attacking, and Faith meet their assault with a grin.
She looked up again from her work strewn over the desk, disturbed by Faith's inability to sit still, "Why don't you spar with Camilla?"
"Nah. I'm still sore from yesterday." Faith stretched, her spine audibly cracking as she eased out the kinks with a groan.
Buffy could sympathise. The previous day had been spent in a thrilling three-way fight, trying out nearly every weapon on the training room's walls, letting their combat take them all over the suite. She was still feeling the after effects of the day's activities, and Buffy hadn't spent the last month in bed.
Faith finally stopped pacing, perching on the edge of the desk and opening up one of the books, flicking aimlessly through it. "When do you think he'll get here?"
"I didn't know ten minutes ago and still don't now." Buffy scowled, "I'm going to be behind enough anyway, missing todays lessons, without failing these assignments."
"You got a pass today, B. From the head honcho himself."
"That won't matter." Not to a certain teacher.
Faith froze, staring at a page halfway through the book she was fiddling with. "What..." Buffy glanced at Faith, at the book in her hands, the one Harry had given her, fallen open at the page she'd perused again and again over the last fortnight. "What is this?"
Buffy watched the creature prowling across the page, "It's a myth."
"I've seen it before..." She trailed off with a frown.
"In the Ministry? Ron and Neville thought I looked like a Sivin too."
Faith shook her head, trying to remember through her distorted memories of her possession, "You? That thing was you?"
"Yeah, it's this ability some wizards have where they can turn into an animal. Neat, huh?"
"No, it's not. That animal, you, it's what he's looking for. He showed me a book. It was kind of like this one but... more of a fairy tale… and the thing it described, it was this creature. He thought I knew how to find it."
While Buffy was processing those words, the door to the stairwell flew opened and Matthew stepped through, his face breaking into a broad smile when he saw Faith.
"I am sorry to have kept you waiting, Faith. We're all so glad you've woken up."
"Matthew Azazel, Chair of the Watcher's Council." He shook Faith's hand, patting their joined grip enthusiastically.
"Where've you been?" Buffy stood up, moving around the desk to confront the man. They had been waiting two days for a man who had claimed saving Faith was his priority and Buffy wanted him to have a good reason. For his delay to not negate all his claims that he cared.
"I was out of the country. Dumbledore warned the Council that some werewolves were returning to America."
He shook his head with a slight smile to ease her concern, "No, although we understand they did check if a Slayer had returned." he took a deep breath, "They were in Los Angeles, close enough that the Hellmouth would make them change three nights instead of two."
Buffy glanced out the window at the clear blue sky, "It was a full moon last night." She hadn't even stopped to think about what had happened on the last one.
"Are they... How many did they get?"
"Eight are dead, three still critical." Matthew shrugged helplessly, "We put out alerts, warning people to stay in their homes but... not everyone listened."
"What about tonight?"
"My Watchers are there, trying to contain them as much as possible."
Buffy frowned, hating the thought of being stuck here while there was known dangers she should be combatting, "Why didn't you tell me? I could have-"
"We couldn't risk it." he stated firmly, "We still don't know what he wanted a Slayer for."
"Yeah we do." Faith broke into the conversation holding up the book for him to see.
"You think he wants this..."
"Sivin." Faith confirmed with a nod, passing Matthew the book.
"He kept asking about it. Showing me this old book in a messed up language. Said that 'The Slayer has the key to unlocking the Sivin'"
Buffy laughed bitterly, "His translator messed up. The Slayer is the key."
Matthew looked up from the text he was perusing, "What do you mean?"
"B can change into a Sivin."
"Buffy, why didn't you tell me?" he asked, his voice was laced with traces of fear and anger, but it was the disappointment that hit Buffy hardest.
"I… I thought I was an Animagus… The Headmaster thought so too, I've been trying to control it… and…" she trailed off, unable to meet his eyes.
Matthew let out a defeated sigh, "and you were worried what we'd do if we knew."
"You have these properties, immunity to magic, in your Animagus form?" He waved the book at her, the lines of concern on his face deepening.
Buffy shrugged, "Yeah."
His frown grew even more defined, "But… you changed back?"
"Yup. Twice now."
The disappointment in his eyes rose at those words, that she had felt so unable to trust him. Buffy readied herself for the onslaught of his anger, for him to direct that hurt at her as she had not long ago to the suspicious wizards; berate her for keeping secrets. Instead Matthew's confusion rose to the fore and he seemed to sag beneath it's weight.
~ to be continued... ~
What is Voldemort planning? ... Will they be able to remove other Dark Marks? ... Will Faith overcome her fear of wands? ... Do slayers always stab one another with knives? ... Are wizarding fairy tales always real? ... What does all this mean for Buffy?
All this and more coming… sometime… in Key to the Past!
A/N:- As the above implies, this isn't the end of the story (not even the end of this 'book' as I can't help but feel that needs to come at the end of the school year as it does in both the fandoms I'm poaching from) but, like I mentioned before the chapter, this seems like an appropriate point to pause (while everyone's mostly okay, before I raise too many other questions/concerns)… something I hope my readers agree with. Based on the comments I've received since I finally revealed her parentage, you guys seem to have less questions! Which I've kinda been hoping for as it likely means that most of them have been answered (though I know there's some that haven't - as I said… this isn't over).
Sorry to leave you waiting (again).. I know I'd probably just lulled you into a false sense of security with my (relatively) regular updates… Hopefully the fact that I've given you more chapters in the last three months than any stretch of posting since the very first bunch back in '05 (and far more words than those initial 20 chapters) will aid your forgiveness.
Don't be concerned that this means I won't finish this. There are more scenes I'm excited to write (and thanks to Allen Pitt, got planned out far better than I had before)… real life just won't spare me the time needed to do them justice at the moment.
So… to wrap up my rant (which could have been longer - I'm feeling all reflective and nearly rambled on about my inspiration for this story… where it came from and where it's going. At least you were saved from that)…
Thank you so much to everyone who has favourited, reviewed or started following this over the last three months. I adore hearing from you guys and am repeatedly overwhelmed that people want to read on and even think enough of my story to endorse it. Finally, as always, if you have any questions/thoughts/theories/grumbles (or all of the above) I would be interested to hear them.