A/N: First off, a thousand apologies, my dear readers, for the dreadfully long wait I've made you endure. Real Life has caused me a great deal of trouble over the past year, mainly in the form of a failed first round at the dreaded Bar Exam in July '06, which forced me to drop everything in order to study for the crucial second attempt at the Bar Exam. However, I sat for the Bar again in February and the work paid off this time—I passed and am now a fully-fledged lawyer. My thanks for your patients and reminders that you were still waiting for the end of this tale. I've had a rough time getting back on track with writing after all that studying and stress, so I hope this chapter pays off for you.
There are only a couple of chapters left, which I am trying desperately to finish in this very week, so I can at least promise you a much faster rate of updates as I attempt to beat the clock to complete this story before July 21st!
Chapter Seven: Lineage
"DAMMIT!" Ron shouted, kicking over a chair. "That bloody, careless, sneaky, STUPID prat!"
"He can't have got far!" Ginny said.
"He could have Apparated anywhere," muttered Mr. Weasley.
Ron was now storming back and forth between the Great Hall's tables, occasionally throwing things, and ranting continuously about Harry's stupidity. Hermione sat down as he stomped by, feeling weak and shaky. Ginny came and sat next to her.
"Did you know something?"
"About Harry running off? No!" Hermione exclaimed. The idea! She had never agreed with Harry's cavalier attitude about his own safety, and she wasn't about to start letting him gallivant off at a moment's notice now. "I did have another dream last night, but nothing that really led me anywhere."
That got Ron to stop yelling. "What was in it?"
Hermione frowned, leaning back against the table. "Sort of…history. History of the past wars; it must mean something other than to educate me, but Viktor and I couldn't think of anything before he had to go."
"Tell us," Headmistress McGonagall ordered.
With a shrug, she said, "We saw what we think was the destruction of Numenor—the island of the first wizards, remember?" she added, for the benefit of Ron and any others in the room who hadn't committed the writings of Tolkien to memory. "And Queen Miriel climbing to the temple at the top of the hill, but that place stayed above the flood waters. She was saved for being faithful to the Valar and given four immortal daughters: the Ladies of the Lake. We think the shard of Numenor became Avalon."
"Fascinating," breathed Professor Flitwick. "Perhaps we should ask Professor Binns, but my suspicion is that there is ample evidence to suggest that you are right. There are few truly ancient places in the wizarding world that serve as magical strongholds—Avalon was inherently powerful even before Arthur's time. All magical power has a source."
Hermione nodded. "But it didn't give me much insight of where it might be now, I'm afraid."
"Well, as you say, there must be a reason for it. We can only hope it becomes clear soon," said McGonagall thoughtfully. "Was there anything else?"
"I was Morgana in the dream, it felt at first as if she was studying the history herself. One thing I remember is the poem from Lord of the Rings, 'all that is gold does not glitter.' Then she went to Camelot to meet Guinevere—this must have been when Mordred first started to betray Arthur. Guinevere gave her the scabbard of Excalibur to keep it from Mordred. She ended up throwing it to the Lady of the Lake."
"Hmm." The Headmistress stroked her chin. "The scabbard would be useful to us if we could locate it."
"There's something else," Hermione told them. "The poem made me think of it; I think Excalibur and Andúril are one and the same."
Someone whistled loudly. "The sword carried by the line of the first wizards," mused Flitwick. "We know nothing of its fate after the death of King Elessar—Aragorn, that is. If the Ladies of the Lake are the guardians of a remnant of Numenor, they may well have possessed it before it reached Arthur."
"And again, the question remains: why has Miss Granger been told this?" McGonagall shook her head.
Ron dropped onto the seat next to Hermione. "Now what do we do?"
"Ask Professor Trelawney?" Ginny muttered, scowling. Harry would be in for a rough time with her when she got her hands on him again. The thought made Hermione smile to herself.
And it serves him right!
Her vision blurred and something seemed to tug at her mind. It must have shown on her face, because Flitwick asked, "Miss Granger? Is something wrong?"
Hermione pulled a face. "I wonder if this is what having a split personality is like. If Morgana's trying to tell me something, it's not getting through. I don't suppose we have a good Legilimens in the Order?" she asked hopefully.
McGonagall sighed. "The only accomplished wizard at mind magic was Severus Snape, and…" she tilted her head. Hermione grimaced. "And even his expertise was Occlumency. I presume you're referring to a true mind-reader? There are no wizards with the mental Sight to comprehend the mind of another."
"Voldemort does it," Ron pointed out.
"He achieved it through dark magic and multiple magical transformations. It is highly dangerous, Mr. Weasley. If he wasn't mad before he attempted it, he most definitely was after. The mind is a confusing and powerful thing, risky to meddle with."
"Even if a Seer such as Sybil could manage to comprehend it, it's unlikely she could translate what she sensed into words that would be comprehensible to you or I," added Mr. Weasley. With a sad smile, he added, "It's a shame Firenze is no longer with us. There we might have had a chance."
Hermione winced, recalling the brave Centaur's gruesome end at Death Eaters' hands nearly a year earlier, as did the others. "I wonder if that's why they targeted him," mused Ginny. "Of all the people on Hogwarts grounds."
"It's quite possible," McGonagall said. "Voldemort has long feared the perceptions of the Centaurs. Firenze was, to him, among our most dangerous allies."
Hermione's heart lurched, and she stiffened. Ron looked at her. "What?"
"I…but Firenze isn't the only Centaur, is he?" she rasped, as her pulse quickened. "They haven't managed to find any of the others, as far as we know?"
"Not to my knowledge," said McGonagall, frowning as she understood Hermione's meaning. "But they are not allies of ours, my dear, and despite their lack of love for Voldemort, they are unlikely to come to our aid."
"But when was the last time we asked?" Hermione pressed. "If they know more than us about what he's up to now, maybe they'd be willing to help, if only to point us in the right direction! They understand the past as well as the future, better than we do!"
The elder Order members exchanged glances.
"Surely it's worth the risk to ask," said Ginny.
"Miss Granger knows better than you the risks of approaching the Centaurs uninvited, Ginevra," said McGonagall. Ginny cringed.
"But we wouldn't be asking them to do anything, just for information," Ron protested. "I think we should go." Several of the other remaining Order members nodded.
But something else occurred to Hermione. "Somehow I think they'd be more receptive to one person asking for help than a wizard delegation." Seeing their reluctant faces, she exclaimed, "For goodness sake, we're running out of time! Harry could be anywhere; Voldemort could be anywhere! We can't sit here forever debating what's safest." She stood up. "I'm going."
"At least let me go with you!" Ron argued.
She shook her head. "I think it'd be better if I went alone. If I'm not back in twelve hours, then come looking for me. In the mean time, you might try other ways of looking for Harry!"
It wasn't until she was halfway across the grounds that she recalled the startled expressions of the Order. Well, she supposed she had been a bit overbearing, but then again, they hadn't challenged or overruled her either. Strange. Unlike them…but also unlike her.
Rather like Harry, she thought dryly. Her general modus operandi was to let the others make the decisions and then followed the leader. No doubt the Order was as surprised as she was.
At the edge of the Forest, she gritted her teeth and muttered aloud, "Here goes nothing."
Despite her resolution, her nerves quailed. I'm really not like Harry, she thought. Harry wouldn't hesitate. Then again, if I'm going to find him, maybe I should start thinking like him.
With that thought, she forced herself to start walking again. She managed not to take her wand out but let her fingers touch it in her pocket. That was reassuring. Her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the forest floor in the fading afternoon, and her senses went to hyper-alert. Every little shuffle or creak in the woods felt like a threat, and she was sure she was being watched. Her heart was pounding so loud, she could barely hear.
I must be mental to do this, her panicky mind told her, but her feet kept moving forward. It's for Harry. I have to try…just keep walking.
Her mind wandered to all the awful things that had happened—or nearly happened—to her and her friends in the Forbidden Forest. Then again, that never stopped Harry. Or even slowed him down, for that matter. Why was Harry so reckless? Really, he didn't even think, not only of the danger to himself but of the consequences for everyone else. Now here she was, walking into the Forbidden Forest. Am I any better than he is when I think I'm right?
The bushes rustled, and Hermione froze. Oh lord…
She didn't really expect an answer. After silence hung heavy for several moments, she gritted her teeth and forced herself to resume walking. Someone was definitely watching her. If it's the Centaurs, maybe I should stop and try to talk to them again. Then again, if it's not the Centaurs, maybe I should run. She stopped short then, looking all around, but she could see nothing. Whoever was following her, they were an effort to hide themselves. Her fingers tightened on her wand in her pocket, and she walked on.
An arrow embedded itself in a tree trunk just inches next to her. Hermione's wand came out in earnest now, but she restrained herself from bringing it fully to bear, and said aloud instead, "I'm not going away, so you may as well talk to me!"
The bushes behind her shuddered, and she dove away as an arm reached out to grab her. Scrambling to the middle of a small clearing, she brought her wand to bear. Arrows were pointing at her from the bushes, and she could hear the snapping of twigs. Only one Centaur clearly showed himself, emerging from the bushes.
Bane. Just my luck. She stood her ground and waited.
"You trespass here deliberately, intruder."
Maybe he doesn't recognize me…I hope. "Because I need your help. It's a matter of life and death." Hoping she looked supplicant, she dropped to her knees.
The bushes rustled, and Bane sneered. "We do not live here to be at the beck and call of humans." To the as-yet-invisible others, he added, "This is not the first time this one has entered our land to make us do her bidding."
Damn. "There's a war on. We do what we have to do to survive. Voldemort will come after you soon enough if he destroys the rest of Dumbledore's friends," she called out desperately.
"We are not a part of your war!" someone replied from the darkness.
"You will be! He'll come from you! Even if Firenze hadn't fought with us, Voldemort would come for you!"
She thought she heard a mutter amongst the Centaurs, and Bane's face darkened. "Firenze was a fool. He betrayed his own kind to serve yours, and died for it. He was a fool."
"He was BRAVE!" Hermione shot back indignantly. "He CARED what happened to innocent people even if they weren't his own race!" She supposed she wasn't being very diplomatic, but Firenze's death still made her sad.
She stood up and faced the bushes instead of Bane. "I know you can see things we can't!" she shouted. "I'm not asking you to 'serve' anyone—just to help! I know you can see what's happening to us!"
The brush rustled near her, and she definitely heard whispering. An unseen Centaur said, "You are aware of what is happening to yourself?"
"I know something is happening," she admitted. "Just not what it is. With Harry, it's obvious; he's connected to Voldemort."
Bane frowned at that, which struck Hermione as odd; surely a Centaur wouldn't be afraid of his name. But then she heard someone say, "You challenge him to speak of him so."
"It's just a name," she said. "I don't believe he can hear me. Not without Harry around, at any rate."
The murmurs in response to that, Hermione dared to hope, might have been respectful. But Bane scowled. "You are all ignorant, human. You do not understand."
"But you do, so you claim, but you never explain anything," she retorted before she could stop herself. She was getting very tired of Bane.
"You are all connected," said the other Centaur. "Humans assume that there are no forces at work that they cannot see."
Pushing back her exasperation, she asked, "But why can we suddenly see it now? I never had prophetic dreams before."
"It is the dark one's doing," said Bane, still grumpy.
"I can't imagine he'd do it on purpose," Hermione mused. "We've already figured out a few things from the visions."
Apparently Bane had decided that they'd be rid of her sooner if they just answered her questions. "The dark one began it, but he never knows where it will end. He did not consider where it would end."
"You mean he wanted to see his ancestors?" Hermione asked. "So it was something he did—but it had the side effect of letting the rest of us see too." The Centaurs didn't reply. A few others had emerged from the bushes and were gazing from her to each other as she puzzled on. "But not all of us are having visions."
"The effects of his act continue to grow," said one of the Centaurs. "Others will begin to feel it. You did so first because your blood is closest to that which he has awakened."
"My blood…you mean Morgana?" Hermione hissed. "He went to Avalon to try to reach Mordred's power, then, and the ancestors further back. If it's growing…does that mean he's lost control of it?"
Bane made a derisive noise. "The dark one never had control. Not of the lives past, and he will know it before the end."
"So it's dangerous to us, this thing he's done?" Hermione asked. "Is it dangerous to Harry?"
"The dead would gain life if they could," said Bane. "Or if they cannot, they would have the living join them."
"That's why Harry felt drawn to the Veil," she mused, shivering.
"The Veil is but one visible door. The dark one has opened another, but it is not confined as is the Veil; if it is not closed again, the effects will grow. The fabric of the world will tear."
And yet you think that's no concern to you, she thought sourly, but bit her tongue.
"What can I do?" The question sounded absurd, but she didn't know what else to ask.
"You have the power to control the island, just as she did," said a Centaur woman, the first Hermione recall ever seeing. "She will tell you how to restore the Veil."
"But how do I find Avalon?" Hermione pressed.
Bane snorted. "She tells you. Like all humans, you are too fearful to listen. That is why you cannot Divine."
She gritted her teeth. "The visions don't make sense. I see Avalon, but they don't show me where it is."
Bane started to speak, but the Centaur woman motioned him back. Feeling somewhat gratified, Hermione gazed at her curiously. "They will be clear to you when you embrace them. Humans fear the loss of freedom, of self, if they surrender to the voice of another. When you call her to you, she will speak."
Hermione pulled a face. Well, that's helpful! To the Centaurs, she asked, "What about you? Do you plan to go on ignoring the war?"
She knew she was pushing her luck with them, by the way they grumbled, but Bane sneered at her, "That we choose not to scurry to the bidding of humans does not mean we are ignoring anything, narrow mare." He addressed his fellows. "And we have said enough. Let her be gone."
Hermione yelped as an arm seized her around the waist and hauled her off her feet. "Hey!"
The next few moments were a confusion of jolting and pounding hooves, and she only had time to wonder briefly if this was what Umbridge had experienced before there were stars above her and she was roughly set down. Landing on her knees and feeling as if her brain had been rattled around in her skull, she shook her head. Someone grabbed her shoulders. "You okay?"
"We have not harmed the mare. Tell her we shall not be so obliging next time she trespasses."
Hermione got her bearings in time to see the Centaurs retreating back into the forest. Ron, kneeling in front of her, looked indignant. "Where do they get off calling you a mare?"
"By their reckoning, I am," she replied absently. "Well, I suppose I got more out of them than most people, but it still made not a jot of sense."
"Poor old Firenze," sighed Hagrid. "Could use him right now."
"There is no point desiring what we cannot have," said the headmistress briskly. "Come. We must get word to the teams and learn if there has been any sign of Potter."
Something stirred in Hermione's mind. "Desire!"
She scrambled to her feet. "Professor, is the Mirror of Erised still at Hogwarts?"
McGonagall nodded. "But how—" Ron began, but Hermione was already running back towards the school.
The Headmistress led them deep into the dungeons. "Dunno if this is gonna work," said Ron. "That thing had Harry half-mad when he was a first year."
"You exaggerate, Weasley; Albus kept abreast of Potter's activity. He was not overly attached to it." She waved her wand to unlock a heavy, metal door. At McGonagall's command, it swung open; Hermione had never seen the Mirror of Erised before, and wasn't quite certain what to expect. Somehow the big, dusty mirror both did and didn't fit the image in her mind.
Having read about it, she needed no instruction to stand in front of its glassy expanse. "Well?" Ron demanded almost at once.
"Hush, Mr. Weasley, it takes a moment," McGonagall said.
Hermione stared at the mirror until her eyes stung. All she could see was a brown-eyed girl staring intently back at her. Oh come on, she thought crossly.
Then, reflected behind her, a tall figure appeared faintly in the glass. Hermione almost looked over her shoulder, startled, until she remembered that he couldn't possibly be in the room—he was on the team headed for St. Michael's Mount. She swallowed hard. The Mirror didn't lie, but it wasn't showing what she needed.
Her own reflection frowned back at her, but suddenly a subtle change took place, and the Mirror showed a woman, not much older than Hermione, but with eyes that reminded her of Dumbledore.
With a gasp, Hermione put her hand to the Mirror's surface, and the woman echoed her movement. Their fingers met, not glass, but flesh upon flesh, and Hermione had no time to do more than yelp before a bolt of energy seemed to race up her arm.
The watchers in the room let out a collective shout as she rocked back from the Mirror and spun around, staring wildly at them. Then she leapt past them, and her cloak fell to the ground as a black bird streaked out the dungeon door.
Arthur Weasley drew his wand, hoping to snare her, but McGonagall stopped him. "Let her go. She will find him."
"But will she be able to tell us?"
Everyone turned to look at Ron. "What?"
With a bereft expression, he whispered, "Didn't you see her eyes? They're not brown anymore. They're green."
Once outside the confines of the strange castle, she resumed her human form only long enough to move instantly to the shores of Avalon, driven by some remembered desire she could not fully explain. There, she saw him awaiting her, but when he turned around to face her, something was not right.
"Hermione? How'd you get here?"
She knew not that name. The boy before her bore Arthur's face, Arthur's eyes, but it was not her brother. "Who are you?"
He recoiled. "What? Hermione…bloody hell…who are you?!"
Evil wizardry was afoot, she could feel it. The air stunk of it, yet it did not live in this stranger with her brother's face. She strode past him to the water's edge, seeking answers. They came on the scent of the wind from the island.
Avalon was taken. Something dark and filthy held it. How had such a thing come to pass without her knowledge, without warning from the Lady? And what was more…she sensed…he was with it.
A hand touched her arm, and she whirled on him. "Hermione, look at me! You know me! Come on, I know you're still there!"
He was familiar to the other, she realized. What had become of them? "Arthur," she whispered.
The green eyes narrowed. "No, I'm not Arthur. Arthur's dead, dead for centuries." She hissed a denial, and he tightened his grip on her arm. "So are you. Let her go, Morgana. Let her go!"
Although he was not Arthur, she felt power from him, great and familiar…yet greater even than Arthur's own had been. She tried to pull away, but he would not release her. Arthur's power had not equaled hers, but this man's exceeded it. She wanted to move away, to escape and think, but his grip stopped her.
"Hermione, I know you can hear me. Take your body back! Let her go, Morgana! You don't live here anymore! It's not your time! Hermione, wake up!"
Flickers of memory tried to rise from the depths of her consciousness, but she forced them back instinctively, seeking dominion of the body she inhabited. But then voices made them both turn, and over her shoulder, she spotted figures coming down the hillside towards them.
"Harry?" someone called.
"Hermione's possessed!" the stranger shouted.
She tried again to free herself, but then her eyes were drawn to a figure who came swiftly to the lead of the group. His eyes, dark and warm and unlike any she had ever beheld, captured hers, and although he was strange to her own memories, there was a power about him that was not altogether unfamiliar.
Then the consciousness she had fought to suppress rose up with a surge of recognition, as the man held out a hand to her, and emotions came bursting from deep within until they drowned Morgana, sending her collapsing in defeat with a wail of despair.
Harry caught her as she fell, and Viktor ran ahead of the others to join them. "Hermione?!"
"Harry?" she coughed, and both Viktor and Harry sighed with relief to hear recognition in her voice.
"Thank god," Harry muttered, shooting Viktor an apologetic glance as the rest of the Glastonbury and St. Michael's teams reached them. "I thought I'd lost you."
Hermione shook her head, then glared at Harry and shoved him away. "And what do you think we thought when you ran off again, you stupid git! Are you completely incapable of using your head?"
"You're a fine one to talk, letting Morgana possess you!"
Hermione scowled. "That wasn't exactly the plan," she muttered.
Roger Davies raised a hand in mock-deference. "Hate to interrupt, but what exactly was the plan?"
With a quick glance at Viktor, Hermione pointed at Harry, "That one took off as soon as the teams left, apparently from some vision. I couldn't decipher mine enough to figure where he'd gone, so I went to the Centaurs." Several of the Order members hissed. "Well, it was either that or Professor Trelawney. They said something to the effect that I needed to surrender to Morgana, so we looked into the Mirror of Erised. I…" she glanced at Viktor again, then hastily looked away. "I saw her, but then…I can't really remember. She possessed me, apparently."
"You were different when you got here," Harry confirmed.
"And you," said Fleur to Harry, "what have you to say for yourself? Running away again?"
Harry threw up his hands. "I had a dream. There was someone talking to me, telling me the war had started, a dark man. Merlin, maybe. I just knew I had to go. I wasn't even sure where I was." He glanced over his shoulder at the swampy landscape and the hills, and pulled a face. "I'm still not sure, actually. Where are we?"
Several people snorted. "Glastonbury Tor," said Bill, pointing at the cone-shaped hill rising not far away out of the foggy plain. "Supposedly discredited as a site for Avalon."
Hermione tilted her head at it. "It looks different now. When Morgana looked at it just now, it was definitely an island. There was water."
"Oh, there's water," said Tonks, walking to the edge. "Probably looks a bit more island-ish during the rainy season, but there's water now."
At last, Hermione turned to Viktor. "Speaking of which, what are you lot doing here? I mean, not that I'm not glad to see…er…"
Alexiev and several of the others sniggered. Hermann said delicately, "Viktor vas suddenly quite certain that ve vere going the wrong way. Ve had little choice but to follow his lead."
Hermione flushed, and Viktor felt his ears burning. "It seems I have been affected with the same premonitions that drive Hermione and Harry. I felt as though something called me to this place." It was frustrating to think that the same recklessness that he frowned upon in Harry Potter and others in the Order had so easily taken hold of him.
Remus Lupin joined Tonks at the bottom of the hill they were on, gazing over the flat stretch of land between them and Glastonbury. "As interesting as all these new instincts are, we now have to figure out what to do next. I don't see any sign of Death Eaters, but if this is Avalon, it's a safe bet they're there, and that they know we're here."
Several people hissed at that, and the Order members moved into a more defensive formation. Kingsley and Hermann joined Tonks and Lupin. "Walking to it should be easy enough. The plain gets a bit marshy during the wet season, and the river Brue is on three sides, but there's plenty of bridges across. It's narrow, but like to be quite swampy at this time of year. We'll either have to cross the Levels or go around them."
"Meaning we can only reach it on foot from one side unless we Apparate. Not sure I care for that idea. Any wards?" asked Bill.
"Nothing I can detect," said Roger.
Harry patted Hermione's arm and got to his feet. "What's that?" he asked, pointing a structure at the very top of the hill.
"St. Michael's Church, I believe, or what's left of it. Medieval ruin, almost as old as Hogwarts. That's where the supposed grave of Arthur was found, but that was pretty well discredited, from what I've read," Kingsley remarked. "Which again begs the question of how this is Avalon."
"Perhaps a false grave and apparent discredit served as a more effective disguise," Viktor pointed out. "It would be simple enough to plant coffins at the church claiming to be Arthur's, knowing that once they were revealed as false, attention to this place would end."
Hermione studied the small hill, sitting among the pastures and trees in the mist. "It seems so…ordinary."
"Probably the point," Harry murmured. "I don't see any place that could hide Voldemort's forces."
"Not that we can detect, at any rate," said Bill. Harry looked at him and nodded. "The town's on the other side, but in Arthur's time, everything between us and the Tor would be more or less under water. Glastonbury could well have been an island until the fen was drained. Even now, it floods in the spring sometimes. Not good for much more than pasture."
Hermione was staring hard at the Tor. As Viktor watched, she got up and made her way down past the others to the very edge of the marshy plain. Then she knelt and pressed her fingers into the ground, letting the water rise up around them. Fleur started to say something, but Harry motioned for silence.
"We're in the right place. Glastonbury is Avalon," Hermione said slowly. "And there's…something here. I don't think it's only Voldemort."
Harry raised a hand to his scar. "I'm not feeling him at all, and I should."
They were not the only ones uneasy, Viktor noticed. He himself was aware of the sense of wrongness about this place, despite the complete lack of any magic in the air. Finally, it struck him. "This place is populated now," he remarked, getting to his feet. "People, farms, and the town. Yet there is no sound, no movement. It is as though the land sleeps."
He was right; not a bird sang in the dawn, and there was not a man or beast to be seen. Fleur moved closer to Bill and shivered, but Harry and Hermione were calmer than the others…as if they had been here before. "Potter?" asked Kingsley. "Granger?"
"I read that Avalon was separated from the rest of the world by a veil of mist," Hermione said. Harry shot her a startled look, and she patted his hand. "There's lots of magical veils that separate worlds, I'm afraid." Viktor recalled what she'd said about Harry's godfather's fate and understood the younger man's dismay.
"Morgana would know how to open the veil," said Bill. "Wouldn't she? She was Lady of Avalon."
Hermione pulled a face. "I'd guess so, but after what happened at the castle, I'm not sure I want to try that again. She seems a bit eager to run around in my body. Speaking of which, has anyone let the others know that Harry and I are safe?"
That seemed to satisfy her, and Viktor started forward as Harry and Hermione got to their feet and began walking slowly out onto the muddy grasses. But then Kingsley caught his arm. "Wait. Let them sniff it out first; they're the ones whose senses are tuned to the place."
"Our Arthur and Morgana," mused Roger, but Bill and Fleur were not so confident.
"Ouí, and their Mordred along with the modern ranks of Death Eaters are somewhere directly before us," Fleur protested. "We should not be sending Harry and Hermione to the forefront until we know more of what we face!"
"Harry, Hermione, hang back a bit," Bill called. "No way to know if they can see what's happening in this…dimension."
Hermione did turn back, but kept a hand on Harry's arm. "The Centaurs told me that Voldemort started whatever's causing us to be possessed by our ancestors. He wanted Mordred's power, but he's lost control of it—that's why I'm seeing Morgana and Harry's seeing Arthur. More of us may start to be effected. They said something about how the dead want to join the living."
Hermann nodded grimly. "The Deathly Arts are not to be used wantonly or lightly. Spirits walk the earth now by their own will, but if the veil between the world of the dead and living is torn, we could face the destruction of both."
That made Harry swallow convulsively, Viktor noticed, and he let Hermione pull him back toward the others. The mist seemed to thicken around the pair, and Viktor started forward, worried they would disappear into it.
"Hey!" Harry grabbed Hermione's arm and pulled her sharply to one side, bringing his wand to bear. "Look!"
Viktor saw what had alarmed him; a figure was moving in the mist, and it wasn't any of the Order. The others hissed and drew their wands as well, but the form wasn't coming toward them, or towards Harry and Hermione. It moved slowly, seeming to meander through the mist aimlessly, and Viktor could not even make out if it was man or woman.
"Vhat is it?" whispered someone.
"Aquilo!" Kingsley sent wind from his wand to try to clear the view, but then the figure vanished as the fog blew away.
"There!" Fleur pointed in another direction, and sure enough, there was another form moving.
Viktor ran to Hermione and Harry, with the others close behind him. "Let us fall back," he urged.
"I agree, until we know their intentions," said Kingsley, looking around nervously.
Hermione tugged at Harry's sleeve, but Harry was breathing fast as more faint human forms floated around them in the mists surrounding Avalon. "I don't think they notice us," Harry said softly. "Or if they do, they don't care about us."
"If the dead have been drawn into the world of the living, we cannot assume anything about their intentions," Kingsley told him. "Whatever You Know Who has done, our circumstances may change quickly. We should return to Headquarters and regroup, then decide what is the best step to follow."
Viktor was no longer listening. One of the shapes in the mist was passing close to him, and he could see that it was a female form. She turned briefly in his direction, and he felt certain that she looked at him. "Mother?"
Hermione gasped and grabbed his arm when he tried to walk towards the form. "No!"
Whispers of recognition from the others brought Viktor back to his senses, and he pulled back even as he thought the shadowy form reached out for him. He heard a shout and turned to see Harry approaching a shadow that seemed darker than the others, the form of a man with long, dark hair. "Harry! Don't!" Bill yelled.
Viktor lunged past Hermione and grabbed Harry just before his fingers met the phantom's, hauling him away. Harry stammered a protest even as Hermione ran between him and the shadow he was still reaching for. "That's not Sirius, Harry, it's not the person you knew!"
"Everyone out of it! Back to Hogwarts!" bellowed Bill, and most of the Order obeyed, pulling along those who seemed reluctant.
A whisper that seemed to come from everywhere made them all freeze, and Viktor saw the mist swirling near Hermione. She stiffened, but didn't back away. "I don't think you mean me," she said shakily.
The phantoms seemed to cluster around her, but they weren't reaching for her like they had for the others. Just watching. "They think you are Morgana," said Alexiev unnecessarily.
"I'm not, though. And I don't know what they want from me."
"He has come."
"All right, this is bloody creepy," muttered Bill. "Let's go back."
"Wait!" Hermione exclaimed. To no one in particular, she asked loudly, "Who has come?"
"He has taken it." The mist thickened again into a human form, but not like the other phantoms. This one was larger, and seemed to float above the ground, almost glowing. "It is in his hands."
"Whose?" Hermione pressed. "The…Dark One?"
"In a manner of speaking."
They'd been staring at the glowing form conversing with Hermione so intently that no one had noticed the shadowy form moving toward her until he burst out of the mist and wrapped his arm around her waist, his wand to her throat. Viktor shouted in alarm along with the other Order members and took aim, but Harry's roar of sheer rage startled him into pausing.
"YOU! TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF HER, YOU BLOODY COWARD!"
The former Professor Snape curled his lip. "My terms are simple, Potter. You for her." Hermione growled, but had the sense not to struggle as his wand pressed into her throat.
"Harry!" cried Fleur as Harry started forward. Viktor too tried to advance, but Alexiev and Hermann had him by the arms at once.
"No," Hermann whispered, but Viktor had eyes only for Hermione.
"RELEASE HER!" he shouted. Snape did not even glance his way.
"Your friends may stand a chance if they flee now. No one will pursue them."
"No one's fleeing anywhere," Hermione snarled, but Snape pressed his wand harder.
Harry raised a hand frantically. "No! All right, fine! Voldemort and I have our score; we'll settle it." Snape sneered at him. "I'll go with you, but you'll let her go."
"No!" Bill raised his wand, but Harry knocked the eldest Weasley son back with a flick of his hand.
"This is my choice! I'm making it!" Viktor found that he could not move. Judging by the frantic looks in the eyes of the rest of their companions, the same restraint had fallen on all of them. Viktor had never truly comprehended just how powerful Harry Potter was.
At Hermione's hiss of protest, Harry whispered, "We all knew it had to come to this."
"For once, the boy shows insight." Snape did seem to loosen his grip on Hermione a fraction. "Come, then. Your destiny awaits."
Harry stalked towards him, green eyes flashing murderously. He paused just beyond Snape's reach, and the dark man smirked, loosening his grip on Hermione still more. "You're not taking her as a hostage." Harry drew back, but held out one hand. "You let her go if you want me."
Snape released his grip on Hermione but kept his wand at her throat. "What, Potter? Don't trust me?" He reached for Harry's outstretched hand.
"Can't imagine why not to," Harry spat, and twisted toward Snape so that the man's hand knocked against Harry's hip—where the Sword hung. The blade swung sharply away from Snape, making the older wizard start back, and Hermione dove away from him. She threw herself directly into Harry even as Snape lunged again, and the three crashed to the ground in a heap just as the green bolt of a powerful spell sizzled through the air past them.
Viktor felt the magical hold on his body vanish, and Harry and Hermione were scrambling away from Snape. Harry grabbed the Sword and made as if to cut Snape's head from his body, but Hermione cried, "NO!" and seized his hand, grabbing the hilt of the Sword with him.
Another spell narrowly missed them from somewhere in the mist, but as Hermione's hand touched the Sword along with Harry's, they both froze, their eyes met, and Viktor saw a flicker of green in Hermione's eyes to match Harry's.
Sunlight seemed to rip its way through the heavy fog and tear it like a curtain, parting the mists around Avalon in one violent motion. They all shielded their eyes from the light that glared off the water in which Hermione and Harry now found themselves knee-deep, and made the bright walls of the fortress upon the island before them sparkle.
No longer a solemn tor in the mists of an early foggy morning, inhabited by the last remnant of an ancient tower, Avalon rose brilliant above them, its slopes up from the water guarded by walls that encircled it, level after level, with trees laden with apples dotting the green grass in between. Atop its summit, the walls of an ancient fortress were side-by-side with a great church, and the magic of both made the very air seem to ripple.
But upon the walls and grass of Avalon, the Order beheld black-robed figures, and foremost among them, the glowering reptilian form of Lord Voldemort, who seemed to have paused in mild surprise at realizing that the Order could now see him.
There were fewer Death Eaters there than Viktor had expected, given the numbers that Voldemort had massed before going to ground. His eyes were drawn to the space between the pagan fortress and the Christian church, where a ring of stones could be seen—and felt—that were out-of-place on Avalon's hallowed grounds. Above the stones, he saw, a wisp of cloud still lingered, like the faintest veil of mist.
The magic from that place felt very, very wrong.
Voldemort recovered himself and spread his arms wide like a gracious host. "Welcome, Harry. Welcome, Order of the Phoenix. I am so pleased to introduce you to my own Headquarters, since you've been so impolite as to deny me entrance to yours."
Below Viktor, still standing in the water, Harry and Hermione were shoulder to shoulder, the sword still held by both of them.
Voldemort continued, "As it happens, I am truly glad to have you here. I have need of you."
"No doubt this need has something to do with the veil you've opened," Harry called out. "What's the matter? Can't control your spells as well as you'd like?"
"On the contrary, Harry, my spells have gone beautifully," Voldemort replied. "No sorcerer in history has ever possessed the power over the dead—until myself, that is."
"You have no power over the dead. If you did, they wouldn't be talking to us," Hermione said.
Voldemort tilted his head at her, and Viktor tensed, disliking the dark lord's attention on her. "Ah. How very strange and sad that a witch so powerful and influential as Morgan le Fey should be represented in our modern days by a Mudblood. How the mighty have fallen thanks to the blood of Muggles."
"We're all still plenty mighty. Especially now that you can't hide even in Avalon," snapped Harry. "And you are the blood of Muggles just as much as any of us!"
Voldemort bared his teeth. "You'll find that any blood, Muggle or magical, can maintain the entry to the land of the dead, Harry. I fear the Muggle population of Glastonbury is all but gone, and I have been forced to use up far too many lives among my own forces as it is."
"What's he mean by that?" someone whispered.
"Only the dying can pass through the veil," Fleur said softly from behind Viktor. "That must be how 'e has done it. Killing his own followers and using the power of Avalon to open a veil here, to draw power from the dead."
But Harry didn't go charging to meet Voldemort in battle as Viktor had half-expected. He stayed where he was. "The dead aren't your allies, Riddle. You fear death too much, otherwise you'd have realized that you can't control what's beyond the veil. They're getting out more and more, and even if you manage to keep throwing people through it, you'll lose control altogether. You're only postponing the inevitable—getting yourself killed."
"The dead cannot reach me!" Voldemort thundered. "I am beyond them! My return has already proven that, when I did not die by your infant hands!"
Harry shook his head. "Wasn't my hands brought you down that night. It was your own doing, and you're fresh out of Horcruxes this time. Your doing will do you in this time, and you won't come back. What's beyond the veil wants us all, and they'll take you eventually even if they manage to get all of us as well."
"We'll see, shall we?"
Pounding footsteps broke the spell of the confrontation in front of Viktor, and he looked over his shoulder. More members of the Order were pelting down towards the water, clearly able to see Avalon as it was this time. At the head of the group were Ron and Ginny Weasley. In her hand, Ginny was clutching Harry's mirror.
But there was more.
From the sky came a great flock of creatures: dragons, Threstals, and winged horses. Close behind the Order upon the ground came the Centaurs, with bows and arrows at the ready. The one at the lead took aim directly at Voldemort. "This is the hour of doom."
"Of yours!" the dark lord shouted, incensed at the sight of the Order's full strength and unexpected allies.
The Centaur let an arrow fly, which landed directly at Voldemort's feet.
"This is not the first of such hours upon the world of men, nor the last, feeble being. You have no strength while you do not understand—this war between the Dark and the Light wages eternally on this Earth.
And always, the outcome is the same."
To be continued…
Coming Soon: The forces of good and evil square off again as they have many times throughout history. The motives and driving forces of all become revealed, and allegiances thought long-lost are reborn in Chapter Eight: A Light From The Shadows!
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