A/N: Sorry, sorry, sorry! I know I suck and I'm always keeping you waiting. Sorry. I hope this makes up for it, and I hope you're still interested. xxx

EPOV

My mouth blazed with the acrid tang of metal as I charged at Jacob. By that point, I was way past 'conniptions', so I barely registered the tell-tale ripping sound of the Wolves' clothes exploding into tatters. Embry and Seth launched themselves in front of their bewildered friend, shielding him from my impending attack.

They need not have bothered though, because before I could ever make contact with the dumbfounded mutt, I was suddenly and unexpectedly jolted backwards by my sister, whose limbs wound around my own like Devil's Snare.

"Stop it, Edward!" she hissed through her teeth, struggling to restrain me. "Get a grip!"

But her words were wasted; any hope of rational thought had been lost the moment I'd seen the word 'imprint' spelled out on the table.

For more than a year, Jacob's persistent obsession with my mate, his constant meddling and his puerile attitude had plagued me. As if that in itself wasn't enough, now he wanted my daughter – an unborn, innocent child. He wanted to take her from me … from us.

Sick! my mind spat. Foul!

"Get off, Alice!" I snarled, attempting to shake her off. That was when my brothers joined the fray. Jasper took my left arm, while Emmett took my right. Outnumbered as I was, I was instantly overpowered.

Jacob watched the spectacle in complete and utter shock, staring back at me in open-mouthed horror as I practically foamed at the mouth, the venom pooling on my tongue as the monster in me reared its head. The unanticipated attempt at assault had given the mutt a sickly mien: beads of sweat lined his upper lip, and his skin didn't have its normal russet glow. If I hadn't wanted to kill him so much, I probably would have pitied him.

A sudden rush of air informed me that Carlisle and Esme had arrived from upstairs. They swooped into the room like a pair of falcons, gliding in opposite directions as they reached the bottom of the sweeping staircase. My father joined me, while his mate rushed over to my rival.

"Esme, Alice, get Jacob out of here," Carlisle ordered. He stepped in front of me then, attempting to block my view of the mutt. How silly. Had he forgotten that I didn't need eyes to see?

That was when I felt my sister's chokehold loosen. Confident as she was in Jasper's and Emmett's ability to subdue me, Alice slipped away.

"Jacob, outside. Now."

The mutt blinked. "But―"

"No buts! If you know what's good for you, you'll get the hell out of here."

I thrashed again, but my efforts were pointless; one vampire could not overpower two other immortals, especially when one of those happened to be Emmett.

The pup didn't even protest when my sister grabbed his arm, nor did he put up a fight when she and Esme started ushering him towards the back door. Just before he disappeared outside, he cast his eyes back over his shoulder, getting one last glimpse of the prophetic runes sitting on the coffee table.

And then, just like that, he was gone.

I struggled against my subjugators, whose hands gripped my wrists like iron manacles.

Get a hold of yourself, Edward! Jasper demanded. Killing Jacob won't make you feel better.

"Wanna bet?" I spat.

"I know you're angry, but getting into a fight with him will only upset Bella."

The empath's words were echoed by my father, who, despite having no clue as to the cause of the confrontation, was doing his best to dissuade me from acting on my impulses.

In her present condition, causing Bella stress is the last thing you want to do, Edward. Think of the baby!

By now, my father was an expert in pacifying me. He knew that any threat whatsoever to the people I cherished was intolerable to me, so when he pointed out that my black mood might increase my wife's anxiety levels, I had no choice but to rein in my emotions.

In that moment, my teeth could have ground through metal or bone as easily as the steely mandibles of a bear trap. Every paternal instinct I possessed was willing me to throw off my brothers and go tearing after the wolf.

If I happen to accidentally rip off one of his limbs, Bella will probably forgive me eventually. It was 'probably' that stopped me though. As usual, Jasper and Carlisle were right: I couldn't hurt Jacob, no matter how much he deserved it, because doing so would hurt Bella, too.

The inevitable groan was enough to assure my brothers and father that I wasn't about to demand a fight to the death any time soon. Still, I needed a way to shed some rage before Bella returned from upstairs.

Where are you going? Emmett panicked, when I started marching towards the back door – the very same that Alice and Esme had pulled Jacob through only a few moments before.

Ignoring my brother, I stormed in the direction of the nearest tree. Esme would kill me for sure, but I figured she'd understand eventually. Better the tree than Jacob's neck.

My knuckles smashed into the trunk, causing the bark to crack and crumble.

"GOD DAMN IT!"

I threw one punch after another in an attempt to expel my rage. The activity didn't last long though; after only six lunges, the giant cottonwood began to sway, its half-obliterated trunk no longer able to support the weighty branches above. Only when the tree began to creak and groan did I stop. I took a step back, watching with some satisfaction as it teetered in the gentle breeze, before it inevitably went slamming down into the earth.

While I stared at the mess I'd created, I waited for my rage to abate. I'd hoped that the act of maiming and destroying something would prove to be a cathartic exercise. In the end, though, I was just as furious and terrified as I had been before I'd ruined Esme's garden.

So absorbed had I been in the pointless task that I'd failed to notice the arrival of Bella's father. Now, free of distractions, I was alerted to him by the fresh scent of adrenaline, human blood and the pounding rhythm of his speeding heart.

Urgh. Great. He saw.

With a heaving sigh, I slowly turned to face him.

He was standing between my brothers on the decking. Next to the behemoth that was Emmett, the alarmed, pale-faced police chief looked smaller and more helpless than ever.

I had never revealed my true strength to Charlie before. The most he had seen up until now was a game of vampire baseball and my sister carrying a Christmas tree more than twice her size last year. Still, there was a massive difference between shouldering a fir and using your bare fists to punch a hole through the trunk of a fully grown cottonwood.

It was clear that the man was frightened by what he'd witnessed. He stared at me with startled eyes, as if 'seeing' me for the very first time.

"Charlie," my father said from the doorway, "perhaps you should come back inside. Bella will want to see you."

Charlie nodded, but didn't move from his spot. He continued to watch me, his eyes occasionally dropping to my balled hands. For a moment, I thought he might turn to follow Carlisle, but the longer he studied me, the more he seemed to gather his courage. His stare, which only moments before – disarmed as he had been by the unexpected display – had been as feeble as a blunt blade, now seemed to recover its edge.

"That was quite the performance," he murmured finally, his mouth turned down in a scowl. "I knew you were strong, but …"

I responded with a grunt. I really wasn't in the mood right now for a chat about my physical abilities. I just wanted him to get the hell on with it. He was an intuitive man, and seemed to sense that that was the case.

"You couldn't have waited?" he said finally, thinking of what I'd told him over the phone.

My eyes dropped to my toes. I looked up just in time to see him grab a fistful of hair.

"For god's sake, Edward, Bella is practically a kid herself! You have all of eternity to think about starting a family, and you pick now?"

"It's not as simple as that, Charlie."

My father-in-law folded his arms, arching an eyebrow. Why couldn't there have been a cosmic remote for moments like this, one that you could use to fast-forward through time and skip all the awkward conversations?

"Vampire couples can't have children," I told him flatly.

Emmett frowned, shifting his weight. Not yet, he reminded me.

I nodded.

Charlie, meanwhile, stood frozen by the door. He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it again.

"We're unchanging, you see." Charlie listened in silence while I explained the differences between vampire and human anatomy, and how it was impossible for my mother's and sisters' bodies to accommodate a growing child as Bella's did now.

He looked beyond me, into distances. "So … so what you're telling me is … it's now or never?"

I stared at my father-in-law, and heaved a sigh. That, it seemed, was enough to answer his question.

"Bella is impatient to be turned, Charlie," Jasper murmured. "And yet she wants this baby. What would you have had Edward do? Deny your daughter immortality and widen the age gap between them, simply to meet the expectations of modern society?"

If I hadn't been able to hear his thoughts, I would have sworn that Bella's father hadn't heard a single word my brother had said. Jasper's speech had affected him though. He turned the words over in his head, unable to decide whether or not he agreed. In the end, it all came down to one thing.

"Bella wants it?" he asked, still looking at me. But I didn't have time to answer him before a small voice bet me to it.

"She does."

Charlie jolted, startled by his daughter's sudden arrival. He spun to face her, stumbling backwards when he caught sight of her protruding abdomen. She was standing by the door, her small frame drowned in one of Emmett's football shirts. Rosalie was with her as usual, her hands carefully positioned beneath the witch's elbows in case she fell.

I approached them then. My sister glided away as I took her place.

Charlie looked stricken, his eyes glued to my wife's belly.

"Perhaps we should all go inside and sit down," my father suggested, "where Bella would be more comfortable."

The police chief nodded in agreement and wordlessly followed us into the house.

While Carlisle explained Bella's delicate condition to her astounded father, I cast my mind out, far beyond the house into the clotted depths of the forest, where Alice was looming over Jacob like a thunder cloud.

"Well?"

The wolf had collapsed onto a flat, mossy rock. He sat unmoving, slumped over with his head in his hands. For a few moments, the woods were quiet with nothing but birdsong and the sound of scurrying animals coming out of the thick maze of trees.

"Jaco―"

"You're lying," he hissed suddenly, slowly looking up at my sister with stony, black eyes.

Alice's fists clenched at her sides. "Right, because trying to fool a temperamental mongrel into believing that he's going to fall in love with a baby vampire hybrid is really my idea of a joke."

The mutt shook his head. He looked like he was about to throw up.

"You saw the runes for yourself," Alice reminded him. "You saw them move."

"So what?" he snapped. "Those symbols meant nothing to me, and even if they had, it wouldn't change anything. As far as I'm concerned, that was all down to the twisted sense of humour of some sick poltergeist! They didn't move on their own for god's sake! How can you be sure that whoever was responsible for it wasn't trying to trick us? I mean seriously," he raved, jumping up from the rock to pace the forest floor, "how can you tell that whoever was behind this is actually honest? For all you know you've got Pinocchio's ghost hiding in your attic!"

If only, thought Esme, who was standing calmly by my sister, arms folded in front of her. "Of course, there is a chance that the runes were wrong, but …"

Jacob stopped pacing, his hands on his hips. "But?"

My mother bit her lip. "But … perhaps … perhaps we should consider what we're going to do if they're not."

My nails dug into the arm of the chair as I waited for the mutt to respond. He tilted his head up to the rolling sky, his fingers clenched together behind his neck. I'm sure his mind was as chaotic as Alice's and Esme's. Either way, I found that I could no longer focus on any of them, because I was too busy considering the words the mutt had uttered earlier.

They didn't move on their own for god's sake!

No, they hadn't. Until now, though, I'd been so focused on Jacob that I hadn't actually considered who might have been behind the infuriating message. Someone with knowledge of the future, certainly… someone who had shared that knowledge with me before, and who might be tempted to do so again...

There was only one being who sprung to mind, of course.

I was only half aware of the conversation that passed between Bella and her father. She managed to fool him into thinking that she was perfectly fine though – perfectly safe and unhurt. Clearly I had been wrong about her acting abilities, because there was no way that Charlie was that obtuse. He listened to every word she said, microscopes for eyes, studying every smile, every gesture, every move that she made as he searched for the lie in her story. To me, he had never seemed more like a cop than he did then.

"Bella, hadn't we better be going?" Carlisle said, rising from the loveseat. "You're going to be late for your appointment."

Charlie frowned. "Appointment?"

"Lamaze," Emmett lied, his eyes gleaming with the promise of mischief. "Like Carlisle told you earlier, we're planning to carry out a C-section, but my meticulous brother is determined to prepare for every eventuality. Isn't that right, Edward?"

"Er―"

"Is that so?" said Charlie, voice slow and gruff. He scrutinised me for what must have been the hundredth time, frowning all the while.

I nodded.

My father-in-law leaned back in the armchair.

"Why don't you show him what they've been teaching you," Emmett suggested. "It will put Charlie's mind at ease if he sees how prepared you are."

The false concern in my brother's voice was enough to provoke a cutting glare, not that it had any effect. Unfortunately, Charlie agreed with Emmett. He wanted to know that his daughter was in safe hands.

Ugh! Why me?

With an utterly fake smile, I turned to Bella. After placing a hand on her knee, I motioned for her to follow my lead. Her teeth snapped together, but she went along with it, determined as she was to set her dad's mind at ease.

"In in out, in in out. Ee ee ooooh, ee ee ooooh." Thank god we were planning a caesarean. If I'd had to do the Lamaze thing for real, I think it might actually have resulted in the first recorded case of a fainting vampire.

Once the mortifying performance was over, I helped Bella off the couch so that she could give her father an awkward hug goodbye – awkward because she was getting quite big, and had to stand sideways to get close to him. Luckily, the witch had managed to convince Charlie that not only was she safe, but that she was also completely ecstatic about the pregnancy, which of course was true – we both were.

"If this is my only chance to have a baby, Dad, I have to take it. I already love him, so so much."

Charlie held his breath, staring at his daughter with warm, chocolate eyes. Then he sighed and pulled her back into a hug. "Yeah well, take it from me, that feeling doesn't ever really go away. You take care of yourself now, and him – or her… whichever."

The witch smiled against her father's chest. "I will."

She pulled away then, moving until her back was touching my chest.

Charlie stared at her for a moment longer, and then turned his eyes on me, pausing a moment before, finally, he held out his hand. "I, er, I guess I owe you an apology," he admitted.

For the first time in what felt like forever, I smiled. We shook. The exchange seemed to melt away the last piece of mail in Charlie's icy armour.

"You'll get it someday, son," he assured me. "One moment you think you know what's best for them, and the next they pull the rug right out from under you."

"How do they do that?" I frowned, still clutching Charlie's hand. Finally there was something that he could teach me – an area in which he was the expert and I was the novice.

He smiled, but it was bittersweet. Releasing his hold on my hand, he shrugged and murmured, "They grow up." One day, out of the blue, you realise that you don't know what's best for them at all – they do – and all you can do is hope and pray that they're right, and threaten anyone and everyone they ever meet with bodily harm and murder if they ever even think about hurting your baby.

Ok, so maybe I wasn't a total novice. The promise of bodily harm: check. Murder: a work in progress.

"You'll get it someday, son," Charlie said again, patting me on the shoulder, failing to realise that I got it completely already. "And when you do, you might come to understand why I occasionally give you a hard time, particularly if he turns out to be a she."

At that, I laughed. "I guess that's where being a bloodthirsty undead guy might have its uses."

The comment earned me a playful slap to the chest, courtesy of Bella, and a smirk from her father.

After we promised to keep Charlie posted on Bella's progress, the man congratulated us on our news. Now that he was satisfied that his daughter was looking forward to motherhood, he seemed quite happy with the prospect of becoming a grandfather. Granted, he'd hoped that the stork wouldn't be dropping by for a few more years at least, but if it was a choice between an early arrival or none at all, he knew which option he would prefer.

The very moment we heard the low pur of the engine, Carlisle began ushering Bella towards the chimney. Five minutes later, she was lying on a bed in St Mungo's 'Gunhilda Ward'. Initially, the healers couldn't decide where to direct us. In the end though, much to my irritation, they sent us to the first floor – the area reserved for patients suffering from 'creature-induced injuries'.

The ward was occupied by five other patients, one of whom had suffered an encounter with an angry banshee. The middle-aged wizard with flaming-red hair was lucky to be alive, since banshee screams were fatal to anyone unfortunate enough to hear them. Luckily, the creature had been afflicted with acute bronchitis at the time, a fact that had saved the man's life. Sadly, however, the attack had left him with permanent deafness.

The wizard's ears were gushing with blood, and nothing that the healers did seemed to be enough to stop it. Midas Mitt complained that he had never had to request so many blood-replenishing potions in one day. First the man with the irreparable eardrums, then Bella, whose red-blood cells, it seemed, were still on the menu.

As well as Mr Nesbit – the banshee victim – there were two other males sharing the ward: an elderly man and his grandson, who had been admitted together with severe burns, after an unfortunate accident with an ashwinder. The healers who'd tended to them had applied copious amounts of cooling ointment to the affected areas, which seemed to soothe their blistered skin.

In the bed farthest from Bella was a young lady who had been stung by two billywigs at once. Apparently, she'd smuggled them into the country after a trip to Australia. According to Midas, the woman had been found at four o'clock in the morning outside Buckingham Palace, where she'd been floating upside down shouting 'hello Queenie' at the top of her lungs for a good fifteen minutes before obliviators arrived to deal with the situation. After they'd wiped the memories of a few traumatised Muggles, including Her Majesty herself and Prince Philip, they'd confiscated the billywigs and had swiftly transported the witch into the care of St Mungo's healers, who had quickly proceeded to strap the woman down to the first bed they could get their hands on. In addition, they'd given her a silencing potion to prevent her from disturbing the other patients. Unfortunately, though, her thoughts were just as loud as anyone else's, and so I was forced to listen to her bizarre inner ramblings.

If insects are attracted to light, why don't fireflies fly in circles? The profundity of the question, for a moment, shocked the woman into stillness, which of course was soundless giggles shook the bed soon after.

I pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling stressed. "Carlisle, can't we upgrade or something? You know, offer a donation to the hospital – bribe them? Seriously," I pleaded, pressing my palms together, "I'll do anything. Anything."

Alas, though, it was not to be. All the single rooms were taken, and so I had no choice but to endure the incessant madness of Miss Giddy three beds down. It was only when Renesmee cracked another rib that I managed to block her out.

To their credit, the healers were at Bella's side in a flash, swarming around her like bees, assiduous as ever in their efforts. After repairing the broken bone, Midas Mitt appeared with another blood-replenishing potion. Ensuring that Bella's red cell count remained at its highest continued to be a priority, which was why there was always a cup of blood on her bedside table. The moment the cup was empty, a healer would arrive to refill it. My wife consumed so much of the stuff in the first few hours of her stay that Emmett started calling her 'the iron maiden'.

Eventually, said 'iron maiden' sunk into a quiet slumber, her fingers still splayed tenderly across her belly. Once she was asleep, Emmett and Jasper revealed to our father the cause of the paroxysm he'd witnessed a few hours previous. Like the rest of us, he was completely astonished and spent the ensuing minutes gawking at the wall in dumbfounded silence.

Not long afterwards, Alice and Esme wandered into the room, bringing news of Jacob.

"He wouldn't believe me at first," my sister announced with a quick huff, folding her arms tightly across her chest.

"Could you blame him?" my mother asked, jumping to the mutt's defence. "I didn't believe you at first. No wonder Jake wouldn't. It's not as if he wants this. It's not his fault."

I would have protested if I hadn't thought that doing so would upset her. I didn't want to fight with Esme, especially not in a hospital.

"Did you manage to convince him?" Jasper inquired, arching an eyebrow at his wife, who stood on the opposite side of Bella's bed.

Alice shrugged. "We're not sure. He's in denial, obviously, but I think a part of him knows that it's true. He kept talking about a … a pull…" her gazed flickered briefly in the sleeping witch's direction, "an urgent need to be close to Bella. It didn't take him long to surmise that Bella wasn't the cause of it."

According to my sister, the possibility that Bella was carrying his imprint had disturbed Jacob almost as much as it had the rest of us. Although he wanted desperately to visit his best friend while she was in hospital, the thought of sharing any kind of bond with a vampire completely disgusted him, and so he'd decided instead to keep his distance.

Poor kid, thought Jasper, his countenance as bleak as the weather outside. It must be awful for him – to have no control over who he loves.

I snorted in disgust. "Oh, please!" I hissed at my brother. "Are you actually pitying him, Jasper? You make him sound like a victim, special even. Well, he's not! He's not special at all. I mean, really, who does have control over who they fall in love with? I certainly didn't, and neither did you."

"And yet you're furious with him," he pointed out, his expression incredulous, "for being guilty of the same thing that you yourself are guilty of."

I opened my mouth to protest, but found that I couldn't. I'd backed myself into a corner and now I couldn't form a single argument without sounding like a complete and utter hypocrite. Excluding Rosalie and me, everyone in attendance was beginning to feel sorry for the mutt. Everyone was on his side. That, combined with the fact that Giddy had 'I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts' on loop in her head, made it impossible for me to stay in the room a moment longer.

The doors swung violently on their hinges as I rammed through them. I heard my father call out to me in his mind, but I ignored him. It hurt to be away from Bella, even for a second, but I couldn't stay there. I needed to clear my head. I needed to get out, to get away from thoughts of Jacob – poor, helpless Jacob – before I went mad!

I'd had no destination in mind when I'd left the ward, but my feet seemed to know where they were going: I soon found myself staring at the big open fireplace of the entrance hall, floo powder at the ready. Before I could step into the flames, though, I was apprehended by my brothers.

"Where are you going, Edward?" Emmett asked, appearing on my right.

With a sigh, I turned to face him. I suppose it was only fitting that they join me. They'd been there the first time after all.

They fixed me with expectant stares, their eyes questioning. I nodded to the golden basin sitting on the large, stone hearth.

"I'm going to Hogwarts," I realised suddenly, "to see her. Now, are you coming or not?"

0o0o0o0o0o0

The golden hall seemed just as magnificent on our second visit. With its towering golden columns and glittering walls, one couldn't help but stand in complete and total awe. The sphinx was just as regal, too, wearing the same fathomless expression I remembered from our previous meeting, her blind eyes as hard and piercing as ever.

A single touch had been enough to wake her last time. Her spirit had sensed that her body was in danger, and so, in what could have been no more than twenty seconds, she had travelled directly from New York to Scotland, in order to defend what she had referred to as her 'shell'.

I approached the sphinx without hesitation and touched her paw, before stepping back to await her arrival.

Ten seconds passed, and nothing happened. Twenty seconds passed, and still nothing happened. Thirty seconds … nothing. Fifty … no change. Two minutes after I had made contact, Akharet slept on.

"I don't understand," said Emmett. "That should have worked. She should have sensed us."

Maybe that's why she's still asleep, Jasper thought, because she knows that it's us.

"You think she doesn't want to talk to us?" I asked, turning to the empath.

He shrugged.

"Surely she would have to come back though," Emmett reasoned, "just to check if nothing else. Who's to say she isn't spying on us now?"

My brother had a point. It wouldn't exactly be out of character for her.

"All right, let's just say she is here," said Jasper, looking at me now. "What exactly do we want to ask her?"

I held my breath, biting my lip as I continued to gaze up at the silent creature. "I want to know," I said, projecting my voice through the hall, "why she felt the need to warn us about Jacob."

The very moment I finished uttering Jacob's name, a wispy voice echoed through my head.

Not me, it said.

I jumped with my brothers; they had heard it too.

"She's here!" Emmett exclaimed, pointing out the obvious. His eyes darted in every direction, as if he expected to find the sphinx pressed against a wall somewhere, or dangling from the ceiling.

The statement rang in my head, over and over again. Not me.

"If it wasn't you that did it," I shouted at the statue, "then who? Tell me."

But the demand was met with silence. I should have known that she wouldn't indulge us. When had Akharet ever responded to commands? Sphinxes were proud creatures.

"Was it Léaina?" I pressed, the image of Atlantis's sphinx twins filling my head. "Was it Gáta?"

No, said the voice, ringing again in my mind.

"Then who?" Jasper pleaded. "Please, tell us."

We waited for what seemed like forever, but the question went unanswered. After a while, I heard Emmett sigh.

"Come on, guys," he said dejectedly, his shoulders sagging as he turned towards the exit. "She clearly doesn't know."

An image flashed suddenly behind my eyelids, as bright and vivid as lightning: a woman who easily surpassed Rosalie in beauty. She was exceptional, sheathed in a black hooded cloak, which concealed all but a sliver of hair as black as a raven's feathers. Her skin was as pale as the thin light of a winter's morning, her lips the colour of poinsettia. And yet, for all her loveliness, there was something incredibly sinister about that face – something menacing about the set of her mouth and the coldness of her eyes… those hateful, blood-red eyes.

The image vanished as quickly as it had come, but that didn't matter; it would be stored forever in the vaults of my memory, whether I wanted it there or not.

I glanced at my brothers. They were just as confused as I was, their brows furrowing atop wary, concerned faces.

"A vampire?" Jasper murmured, still staring at the sphinx. "Not one that I recognise, though."

Emmett shook his head. "Me neither."

"That makes three of us then," I muttered, feeling incredibly uneasy. What could possibly inspire a random vampire to get involved in something that affected her in no way whatsoever? How could she possibly know that Jacob was destined to imprint on my daughter? More importantly, how could she cause a set of objects to move without touching them?

"This woman, whoever she is, must be able to astral project," said Jasper, echoing my thoughts, "like Akharet. How else could she have learnt about Jacob?"

That was about as far as we got in our theory. We could speculate as much as we wanted to about the vampire and her motives, but it wouldn't get us anywhere. In the end, the sphinx's response had raised more questions than actual answers, meaning that I felt more agitated when I left than I had when I'd entered her lair. No matter how many times we implored her to help us, she refused to be of any further use, and continued to stare over our heads with eyes unseeing.

"Where are you going now?" Emmett demanded, hurrying after me as I stormed back through the tunnel. Jasper followed closely behind him.

I sped up the dimly lit staircase, urging my legs to go faster.

"Damn it, Edward!" my brother shouted at my back. "Where are you going?"

I didn't bother to stop as I answered him. I simply growled, "To the only other person I know who might actually be able to give me some answers!"

0o0o0o0o0o0

It was late morning when we arrived in Mahouyama. The sky was a blanket of soft blue and gold cast over a beautiful, acclivitous landscape. The blossom trees were nothing short of lovely, gleaming like mother of pearl in the splendid morning light.

Chiyoko was waiting for us by her mirror, her eyes closed as she listened to the pleasant accord of the wind-chimes clinking together in the gentle breeze.

"About time you got here," said the woman. Her skin looked as delicate and wrinkled as scrunched tissue paper. I couldn't even begin to imagine how old she must have been. She gestured for my brothers and me to sit down.

I didn't have time to waste, so I quickly took my place on the opposite side of the circular pool. Jasper and Emmett joined me a second later.

"Ask away," Chiyoko urged, her voice calm. Funnily enough, now that I was there, I had no idea what my question was. I seemed to have so many that I didn't know which to ask first.

"Jacob," I said flatly, after a while.

Chiyoko tutted. "Not the biggest of your problems really."

"But a problem all the same," I retorted. The witch seemed annoyed by my preoccupation with the mutt, pursing her shrivelled lips.

"It depends which way you look at it," she supplied. "Jacob will imprint on your daughter, yes. However, in light of what is to come, I would have thought that you, of all people, would have been more than grateful to know that there will be someone out there willing to risk his life to protect her."

"I can protect her myself," I snapped, shooting her a disparaging glare. "I don't need a mutt to help me take care of my daughter."

Chiyoko shrugged, unfazed by the venom in my tone; apparently she had nothing left to say on that matter.

A second later her eyes dropped to the pool of water before her. The witch hunched over the mirror, her small frame lost in the folds of an oversized jade kimono. She peered into the water, an image of the night sky filling her mind. Mars was bright last night, she mused, remembering the planet's violent orange glow as it spun its way through the ethers. "It won't be long now."

"What won't be long?" Emmett asked, his voice hard as he followed her line of sight to the crystal pool. But Chiyoko refused to answer, her glassy eyes still fixed on the water below.

I huffed, raking a hand back through my messy hair. "Earlier you said that Jacob wasn't the biggest of my problems. What did you mean by that?"

The witch tutted. "You know exactly what I meant by that. The danger, Edward. The threat."

I gulped. "When will it happen? Why will it happen, and how can I stop it?"

Chiyoko hissed. "'Don't try' is the simple answer. One way or another, it has to happen. It's unavoidable … inevitable. Fate will find a way to make it happen. The more you struggle, the worse you will make things for yourself and for your family, Bella most of all. I will tell you as I told her, if you want to have your happily ever after, first you must pay for it."

"And why is that?" I growled at her, suddenly furious, bashing my fists against the earth, my lips curling back of their own volition. "Why is it that no one else outside my family seems to have to suffer as we do? We've burned, we've lived for decades in isolation. WHY? WHY IS THAT NOT ENOUGH?"

"Because you'll have eternity!" snapped the witch, her voice full of ice. "An eternity with the ones you love if you overcome this, free of misery, sickness and death. And you think that a mere century will suffice as a payment for that?" The witch threw her head back, a mirthless laugh escaping her lips. "You and your family stand to enjoy a happiness that no one else in this world will ever know, and for that you must endure adversity. Yet here you sit, complaining that life is too hard, as if you really are the first to face hardship, without a thought for the countless men and women who've lost their lives in pursuit of the very same thing you desire. Not even that – a fraction of it!

"Tell me this, Edward," she continued, daggers for eyes, "Do you want to spend your life looking over your shoulder, worrying for your wife's and daughter's safety?"

"You know he doesn't," Emmett growled. "None of us do."

"No, but it will happen eventually. Do yourself a favour and face it sooner rather than later."

I opened my mouth to protest, but the elderly witch cut me off in an instant. "Do as I say and accept this," she said, pleading now, "or I swear it will be to your detriment."

I glared down at the floor, feeling my fingernails grind through the stone I sat on. "You didn't answer my other questions," I pointed out a few moments later, after I'd finally managed to rein in my temper. "When and why will it happen? Also, the woman who moved the runes – who is she?"

The witch cocked her head to the side, blinking in confusion. "Woman? What woman?"

"I… the…" I sighed, reaching up to pinch the bridge of my nose. God damn it. "You know what, forget that. My other questions – when and why?"

Chiyoko exhaled loudly. It was a tired sound. "I'm afraid I can't answer that."

"You don't know?" Jasper guessed, but the witch shook her head.

"That's the thing – I do know, but it would be more … beneficial for you if you were to search for those answers … elsewhere."

What the hell is she talking about? Emmett wondered, just as lost as I was.

"There's something that you need to see," she told us, gently lacing her hands together.

To my left, Jasper angled forwards, hanging on the witch's every word.

Chiyoko glanced briefly at the empath. No more than a second later, though, her eyes snapped in the direction of Emmett, where they stayed for a long while. Finally, she said, "The answers to your questions lie within the belly of London―"

I froze in an instant, feeling as if I had been plunged into ice water. The belly of London… I had heard that phrase before.

"―in the Department of Mysteries," the witch specified, still staring at my brother. "Go there and you will have your answers."

She turned to me then, her black beetle eyes almost completely obscured by the wrinkled, drooping skin of her brow. One hand disappeared into her robes, searching amongst the silk folds and pockets. A second later, she extracted two small transparent vials, one filled with clear liquid, the other filled with a hazardous looking substance lime green in colour. "This," she said, indicating the first, "is the Draught of Living Death, and this," she continued, referring to the second, "is the antidote – Wiggenweld Potion.

"The Ministry will be heavily protected. You don't want to alert the guards, or you'll never get into the Department of Mysteries. One by one, slip them the draught, then get in and get out as quickly as you can."

She held out her withered palm to offer me the vials. Without a word, I reached out and took them, before slipping them into my trouser pocket.

Go to the Hall of Prophecy, the witch instructed. Look for your name. Beware, though, only you must touch it … Only you can lift the orb from its resting place.

"I―"

"Go now," said the seer, shooing us away with a backwards sweep of her hands. "Do what you must, and then return to your wife. Time is short. Go."

I didn't have to be told again; the mention of Bella was enough to remind me that she would be waiting for me after she woke up. I couldn't afford to waste time lingering here, and so I pushed myself to my feet, thanked the infuriating woman, and without any further ado turned to leave.

It would be two o'clock in the morning in England. We had six hours to infiltrate the Department of Mysteries – six hours to sneak in and back out again. Chiyoko was right: time was of the essence. With that thought in mind, I sped down the mountainside, a missile locked on to its target. My brothers were right behind me and, like me, were absorbed in thoughts of hidden corridors, secret prophecies and a long awaited bell jar.

0o0o0o0o0

We didn't travel immediately to the Ministry, despite the time constraints. After we'd reached the large open fireplace of the Spinning Dragon – Mahouyama's most popular inn and bar– Jasper had quite rightly pointed out that our knowledge of the Department of Mysteries was virtually non-existent. We knew barely anything about the place or its layout. Bella herself had told me once that it was easy to get lost down there, for in the Department of Mysteries, the rooms moved from one place to another without warning.

For that reason, it was unanimously decided that we should take a detour.

I could have kissed my sister when I saw her waiting for us by the fireplace of the Burrow, ready to go with a fully clothed but slightly dishevelled Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny. She'd been watching us closely and had seen our meeting with Chiyoko. The moment she'd realised we'd be asking our human friends to assist us she had speedily rounded up the group, travelling first to Hermione's parents' home, then to the Burrow where Harry had been staying with the Weasleys. They'd agreed to listen to our plan, and, subsequently, had quietly assembled in the kitchen, which smelled of porridge, eggs and overcooked bacon.

They all looked exhausted, their eyes puffy and red from lack of sleep. It was hardly surprising; only a few hours ago they had been battling the wolves, and now we were asking for their help yet again. How I would make it up to them, I had no idea.

"I ope shiz gra'ful fo vis," Ron yawned, rubbing his eyes. His hair was sticking up at odd angles, as if he'd been dragged through a hedge backwards. "I don't get out of bed for just anyone, you know."

I smiled. "Actually, Bella doesn't know we're here. She was asleep when we left the hospital."

"Huh. Lucky for some."

"Why don't you tell us what this is about," Harry suggested, stifling a yawn himself. When I explained that my siblings and I needed to break into the Department of Mysteries, the witches and wizards became instantly alert. More than once they exchanged wary glances, obviously dubious about our plan. Hermione in particular seemed troubled by the idea of breaking and entering.

"I don't know, Edward," she said with a frown. "What you're talking about is … illegal."

"We know that," interjected Jasper, "but it's for the good of Bella. She's … in danger."

"What are you talking about?" Ginny demanded, her voice filled with alarm.

Jasper sighed, shoving a hand back through his hair. "We can't … we―"

"They can't say," Alice interrupted suddenly, her eyes dark and unreadable as she studied us from the shadows. "Like I told you back at the house, they're magically bound. Apparently, they know something else that we don't."

My sister gazed at her husband, searching his face. All the while, though, she directed her thoughts at me. The anger in her tone was clear. I can't tell you how infuriating that cryptic little conversation was, Edward. All these references to a coming danger, yet not once did anyone actually mention what that meant.

"I'm sorry," I murmured. Truly, I was. I wanted nothing more than to unburden myself to my sister. I wanted her to know what was coming. I was used to sharing everything with her, and now I found that I couldn't.

Jasper sensed his wife's emotions, and subsequently used his gift to soothe her, but he was unable to smother her anxiety completely. It was still in there somewhere, hidden beneath the surface.

I turned back to the humans. They continued to stare at us with guarded eyes, turning our words over in their minds. Finally, Harry spoke up.

"The last time I broke into the Department of Mysteries, it was because I thought there was a threat to my god-father's life. Illegal or not, I'd do the same for Bella."

Ginny nodded slowly in agreement.

"We can't just go barging into the Ministry, Harry," Hermione whispered, trying to communicate her exasperation without waking Mr and Mrs Weasley. "Last time, Voldemort wanted us to get into the Hall of Prophecy. Why else would there have been no one to guard the place? Clearly he got rid of them all before we arrived."

"It won't be like that this time, though," Ron finished, a thumb absently tracing back and forth across his lower lip. "There'll be guards patrolling the corridors, particularly level 9. No one's getting into the Department of Mysteries without a solid plan." The wizard blinked out of his daze, his eyes snapping suddenly up at Jasper. "Do you have one?"

Jasper sniggered, as if to say, 'Are you kidding me? I'm the big shot major from the Confederate Army; of course I have a plan!'

My brother quickly explained our intended strategy. It hadn't taken us long to decide on one, because Chiyoko had done most of the work for us.

"So," said Jasper, grinning at Harry, "do you still have that invisibility cloak or what?"

0o0o0o0o0

The iconic scarlet telephone booth descended slowly through the pavement. The guard at the far end of the atrium looked up from his folded copy of The Evening Prophet. When he realised that the box was empty, he laid his newspaper and mug of pumpkin juice down on the desk in front of him, then stood up from his seat, one hand moving to the inside pocket of his peacock blue robes where his wand was stowed.

When the bright red telephone booth finally touched the floor of the atrium, the wizard cautiously raised his wand. "Is someone there?" he called. The man hadn't actually expected a response; after all, what kind of stealthy villain would ever reply 'over here, Mate'? When no answer came, the vigilant guard began his approach, carefully making his way towards what he had decided was a highly suspicious booth.

Telephone boxes don't just drop through the floor of their own accord, he told himself, particularly after hours. That just doesn't make any sense.

I snorted quietly in response. Because the idea of a telephone box dropping through the floor at all is perfectly normal.

"Homenum revelio," the man said with a quiet, steady voice, his wand held out in front of him.

Nothing happened.

"Homenum revelio," he said again, just to be sure. When the spell, yet again, failed to produce an effect, the wizard sighed and lowered his wand, his arm dropping to his side as he lowered his defence. A second later, he squared his shoulders and resumed his march towards the telephone booth, this time moving with increased confidence and speed.

"Bloody thing," he grumbled to himself as he reached the gaudy kiosk. Must be some weird malfunction. Either that or some silly bugger thinks it's funny to make himself a nuisance.

No longer the least bit wary, the guard pulled open the glass-panelled door. He didn't actually step inside; instead he popped his head in, his eyes roaming over the telephone, which was dangling by its metal cord, creepily swinging from side to side like a metronome.

The man huffed and slammed the handset back onto the base unit, before stepping back to shut the door.

All of a sudden, he felt something gust past him on his right, the abrupt rush of air disturbing his long robes. He looked around quickly, his eyes narrowing with confusion. The wizard's fingers tightened on his wand as he waited for a sign that he should alert the other guards. When a few minutes passed without further incident, however, the guard shook his head and reached up to rub at his eyes, having passed off the mysterious breeze as the trick of a tired mind.

"Depulso," he said, banishing the phone booth back to the street above, before plodding back to his station.

"Going mad, I am," he muttered. The wizard sat down and picked up his paper again, returning his attention to a story on a catastrophe involving a group of archaeologists, who had accidentally unearthed the skull of a fully grown dragon during the excavation of an ancient Roman settlement just outside of Colchester.

Scale of Massive Muggle Discovery Causes Clean-up to Drag On

Following the recent discovery made by British archaeologist – Muggles who dig up earth and search for lost artefacts to learn about the past – obliviators have been working around the clock to modify the memories of the countless men and women who were present when the dragon skull was first uncovered.

The Muggles were members of a well-known group of archaeologists who regularly appear on 'Time Team', a popular show that has been airing on British television for many years.

"It wouldn't have been such a big job to modify everyone's memory," says Morpheus Weaver, one of the Ministry's most experienced obliviators, "if we'd only had to deal with the archaeologists involved. Unfortunately, by the time we realised that dragon remains had been found by Muggles, almost every specialist in the archaeological field was already aware of them."

According to Muggle specialist Arthur Weasley, this was a result of advancing Muggle technology, specifically the Internet – a giant web that allows Muggles to communicate instantly with other Muggles from anywhere in the world.

Luckily, obliviators stepped in before the news could be broadcasted to the masses. In order to resolve the situation, however, the Minister for Magic has had to liase with the Muggle Prime Minister. The Muggle politician has since instructed MI5 employees to remove all evidence of the dragon skull from the Web.

"It's proving to be a very difficult task," says the Minister for Magic, who has been monitoring the operation since it began. "Whenever we pull an image down, it pops up somewhere else."

The Minister later explained that such images exist in 'cyberspace' (a concept too Mugglish to be explained). In order to completely eradicate the picture, the Internet's entire infrastructure must first be destroyed. "Not only would this be immensely difficult to do," he continued, "it would also be incredibly stupid. The World Wide Web is a massive part of Muggle life. If it were to suddenly disappear, economies would collapse and the entire Western world would be thrown into chaos."

The news of such an intriguing web has captured the attention of countless witches and wizards across the globe. Magical creature specialist Casses Spinner today called for Ministry officials to take a page out of the Muggle world's book.

"Is it not a little strange," said the wizard, "that our methods of communicating with one another are less advanced than those used by our non-magical neighbours? We should be making plans to build a world wide web of our own. I'm sure Britain's acromantulas would be more than happy to help, so long as the right incentives are provided."

Whether or not the Minister agrees to consider Mr Spinner's proposal is another matter. In the meantime, however, Kingsley Shacklebolt has promised to devote as many obliviators as are available to keeping the existence of dragons and the magical community under wraps. With a bit of luck, the World Wide Web will not be the cause of any more sticky situations in the future.

The guard rolled his eyes as he finished reading the article, and flipped slowly to the next page. "A World Wide Web, eh … pfft! What a load of codswallop. I 'ent seen no ruddy web."

The man shook his head and reached out for his mug of pumpkin juice, lifting it slowly to his lips. He took a small sip, and lowered his arm to place the mug back on the desk before him. Before it was safely back on the table-top, though, the mug slipped straight out of the man's grip. A second later, it shattered all over the gleaming wood floor, orange liquid exploding in every direction. The guard slumped forwards in his seat, falling flat against his desk, the first victim of Chiyoko's Draught of Living Death.

Alice whipped off the invisibility cloak while she waited for the rest of us to enter the atrium. Hermione had placed a powerful Confundus Charm on the visitor's entrance, which normally would not admit anyone into the Ministry outside of working hours. After the witch had finished weaving her spell, however, it was easy to dupe the magical telephone booth, which now seemed to think that the time was just after midday.

My sprightly sister had volunteered to enter ahead of everyone else. She'd descended into the Ministry in the phone kiosk, concealed by the invisibility cloak, and had managed to slip past the guard to spike his drink with the seer's potent concoction. When the wizard had first called out 'Homenum revelio' I'd been terrified the spell would reveal Alice. Hermione reminded me later though that that specific spell only worked against humans.

"Nice work," said Emmett upon reaching our sister.

Alice folded her arms. "Are you kidding? I thought we'd be waiting all night for him to take a swig of his juice."

Harry checked his watch. "It's already half past three. We need to take care of the others, and by that I mean all of the guards, not just those protecting the Department of Mysteries. There are others upstairs, and we can't risk them finding this guy unconscious." He indicated the wizard with a nod.

"Harry's right," said Hermione. "We don't want anyone raising the alarm while we're downstairs, otherwise we'll have no chance of getting out without being caught."

Alice agreed to incapacitate the rest of the guards, and instructed us to wait by the desk until she was finished. It didn't take long, no more than ten minutes in fact. One by one, they sank into the inescapable clutches of sleep, overwhelmed by the seer's potion.

After finishing her task, my sister awaited us inside one of the lifts located at the far end of the entrance hall. Somehow, we all managed to squeeze in together. The moment the doors closed, the elevator jolted backwards, moving us away from the polished wood floors and peacock ceiling of the atrium, before plunging down to the ninth and lowest level of the Ministry of Magic.

The doors opened with a cheerful ping, which seemed to belie the nervous mood that had suddenly overcome the group.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Emmett worrying his lip, clearly anxious about our imminent venture into the Department of Mysteries. This is it, I heard in his head. This is where I'll find it, I know it.

Naturally he was thinking about the bell jar – the one the sphinx had foretold would enable him to give his wife the very thing she wanted most in the world: a baby.

The lift opened to reveal a long, plain corridor, at the end of which was a black door. Two guards were lying on the floor by the entrance to the department, their bright blue robes puddled around them.

Jasper led the way, carefully stepping over the wizards when we reached the end of the passage. He grasped the doorknob and gave it a quick twist. "Here we go," he murmured to himself.

The door slowly swung open to reveal a large circular room, whose walls, floor and ceiling were the colour of midnight. Between twelve identical black doors, all of which were handle-less, there were candles branching off the walls at intervals. The eerie light of their blue-burning flames reflected off the inky marble floor, giving it the appearance of dark water.

One after the other, we cautiously wandered inside. Before the door behind us closed on itself, I heard Ron whisper 'Flagrate'. Through his eyes, I watched as he drew a fiery 'E' on the dark wood, something he had remembered from their last visit. The moment the door clicked to, the walls suddenly began to rotate, whizzing around and around.

"'E' is for exit," Ron told us, when the walls of the room had finally come to a stop. I didn't want to remind him that Alice would be able to 'see' our way through the department. All she had to do was decide on a door to open, and she would immediately know what lay behind it.

"Which one?" Jasper asked, staring at his wife, his thoughts clearly mirroring my own.

She pointed to the one directly opposite us, her glazed eyes seeing beyond the door. She led the way, pausing just before the threshold, her brow furrowing slightly.

"What is it, Alice?" her mate probed.

My sister shook her head, the image of a twinkling bell jar filling her mind. "I – it's … I'm just seeing some weird things. You'll find out soon enough."

And with that, she pushed the door open, and my eyes were suddenly flooded with brilliant light that sparkled off every surface, as if the entire room had been adorned with precious stones – an enormous contrast to the gloom of the entrance chamber. In addition, a persistent ticking abruptly filled my ears, and when I cast my eyes about the room, I realised why: almost every available space was occupied by a timepiece. In the spaces between bookcases, the walls were covered from top to bottom with clocks of every description, their pendulums swinging back and forth in perfect synchronisation. Watches were strewn over desk tops, and pretty golden time-turners glittered inside cabinets.

None of that was of any interest to me though, for my eyes were riveted to the source of the dancing light, beyond which there stood another door.

A sharp intake of breath revealed that Emmett had seen the bell jar, too. I glanced to my left where he stood beside me, and sure enough his gaze was aimed at the crystal container at the end of the room. The light it emitted reflected off his skin in rainbows.

The humans pressed on. They didn't realise until they reached the far end of the room that my siblings and I were still rooted in place.

Harry frowned, looking back at us with his hand on the door knob, before exchanging a worried look with Ginny.

"Err … is everything all right?" she asked, a small crease forming between her eyes.

"Fine," I responded, still staring at the bell jar, inside of which there lay an egg. It was floating, riding upwards along a rainbow current. Without warning, the egg suddenly started to hatch and, in record time, out popped the slimy head of a tiny new-born chick. In the ensuing moments, I felt my eyebrow rise halfway up my forehead, because the bird miraculously started to grow the higher went. In no time at all, it had aged into a fully grown hummingbird, its feathers a mixture of vivid emerald and sapphire. The egg reached the top of the vessel, and then slowly began to descend. As it fell, the bird started to shrink, until it resembled the bedraggled chick that had first emerged from the shell, which magically resealed itself a second later, as if it had never cracked open in the first place.

My brothers and sister were mesmerised, just as I was. Together, we approached the towering bell jar drawn to its dazzling brilliance like winged insects.

"I wouldn't touch that if I were you," Hermione cautioned. "The container is permeable. If any part of you passes through onto the inside, be it a hand, a foot or you head, it will immediately start to … youthen."

The witch's words fell on deaf ears though. Emmett wasn't about to walk away without learning the power of the mysterious object, not after what the sphinx had told him. He took a step closer, his eyes captivated by the rainbow current as the hummingbird repeated the cycle for a second time.

He stared at it for a moment longer, weighing up his next move, his ice-blue eyes as large and glassy as giant marbles. He drew a long, deep breath then, the familiar determination overriding his uncertainty.

Here goes nothing, he told himself, before, without any further ado, he stepped through the glass of the shinning bell jar.

The very moment he was on the other side of the barrier, a sudden thud filled my ears, then another a second later, then a third. My mouth gaped open in absolute awe as I realised I was hearing Emmett's heartbeat. My brother stared down at his chest in absolute astonishment, his eyes as wide as saucers. His focus switched a moment later to his wrists, where his long dead pulse suddenly burst back into life, the hard, crystalline flesh of the vampire gradually melting into the softer, rosier skin of a mortal man. Blood flooded his cheeks, until they looked flushed and healthy. I had never actually seen him with this much colour, even before his transformation. By the time Rosalie had carried him back to the house all those years ago after she'd found him in the woods, he'd lost so much blood that his complexion had been closer to that of a vampire's than a human's. He stood there, inside the bell-jar, until there was no sign that he had ever been immortal.

And then he stepped out – my brother, Emmett … the human.

My mind struggled to make sense of the sight before me. I could only compare the situation to standing bang in the middle of Tornado Alley, where order could become chaos in the blink of an eye. My mind was in complete disarray, caught in a whirlwind that turned every single thought I had upside down.

Jasper and Alice were in similar straits, staring in open-mouthed astonishment at the man who only ten seconds ago had been a vampire. Ten seconds! And such an easy transformation! It almost made the last century of suffering seem like a joke, as if the universe had been playing tricks on us all this time.

I'm not turning back, my stunned brother realised. His chest was rising and falling rapidly, and he grasped at his throat as he realised that, for the first time in over half a century, his lungs actually needed oxygen.

"I'm not turning back," he said, aloud this time. "I'm not turning back!"

His eyes bored into mine. For a moment, the air seemed to get lodged in his throat, only to whoosh out through his lips a second later as the enormity of our discovery finally hit him. When he suddenly began to hyperventilate, Jasper was forced to step in and use his powers to calm him.

I could smell the adrenaline coursing through my brother's veins, that and the sweet smell of his blood. Incredibly, I cracked a smile; Rosalie hadn't been lying when she'd spoken about Emmett's human scent: he did reek of daisies and vanilla.

My amusement was short-lived though, and my brother's voice quickly brought me back to reality. "She lied to us," he murmured, staring intently in my direction as the image of the sphinx filled his face. She said there wasn't a cure.

I felt my brow furrow when I realised that he was right. Akharet had told us that there was no such thing as a cure for vampirism when Jasper had quizzed her on the subject last year, after we'd stumbled upon her golden lair. And there was no way she could have been lying- the spell she'd placed on my brothers and me would not have been binding if she had not upheld her end of the bargain and answered us honestly. Yet there my brother stood, as bold as brass in his new skin.

I didn't know what to say, and neither did Jasper by the sound of his thoughts. Neither of us could figure out how the sphinx could have fooled us, even though it was as clear as day that she had somehow duped us. And then, of course, one had to wonder why. Why would she feel the need to?

None of us could believe what we were seeing. Even Alice – the psychic vampire who was never shocked by anything – looked shaken.

"I don't understand," my sister whispered with a shake of her head. "I don't … I don't understand. This can't be happening."

But it was. There was no denying the ocular proof. My brother really was a human.

We stood in silence for the longest time, simply staring at one another. The humans were at a loss for words, too. After all, this was a new discovery for them as well.

The whole thing was almost comical. Ron kept leaning to one side, as if seeing Emmett from a different angle would change the reality.

Can't be, he told himself. He just … can't be!

I'm seeing things, decided Hermione. Ron's finally done it – he's sent me round the twist!

Fortunately, at least one member of our party managed to regain his senses.

"We should probably push on," Harry announced abruptly, his voice breaking through the mental bedlam. "We're running out of time. There'll be plenty of time to marvel over this later."

I nodded absently and wandered in his direction, my eyes still resting on my brother.

Emmett glanced at the bell jar, briefly contemplating stepping back inside, before he decided against it and turned to follow the other humans. I trailed on behind him, beside Alice and Jasper.

Together, we pushed through into the next room – an endless chamber as tall as a cathedral, with rows and rows of towering shelves, many of which were empty. The place was gloomy and sinister, lit by the same muted blue light that had filled the entrance hall.

"Where to, Alice?" Jasper asked.

His mate's eyes clouded over, her eyes seeing the things that others couldn't. Without a word, she drifted beyond us, moving like a ghost down the aisle, until she came to a set of shelves on our left that was filled with small glass orbs, some of which glowed softly in the gloom, emitting a faint light from within.

"At least the Unspeakables managed to restore some of the prophecies after the battle," said Hermione. "I felt bad for causing so much damage."

"How could they have done it, though?" Ron wondered, a puzzled expression forming on his face. "Restored it all, I mean."

Harry shrugged. "The original prophecies could have been replaced. It's just like Dumbledore said – they're only records. As long as the person they were made to is still alive, I assume another record can be made to replace any that were broken."

"Fair point," replied his friend, before sinking back into silence.

Alice stopped abruptly in front of one of the shelves, her eyes pinned to an orb sat a few feet above her head. She raised a willowy arm to point at it. "There."

I followed her line of sight, until my eyes landed on a crisp white label covered in elegant, dark green text. My eyes greedily swept over the words.

H.C. to N.E.

Edward Cullen, Bella Cullen and Renesmee Cullen

Versus

Aro, Caius and Marcus

Beside me, Alice was as still as a statue, her mind screaming in horror as she reread the words. She shook her head, as if denial could change the future.

"Go on, Edward," I heard Jasper say. I remembered then that only I could lift the orb from the shelf; anyone else who tried to remove it would immediately fall prey to a curse that sent its victim insane.

Hesitantly, I reached up for the orb, standing on my tip-toes, until my fingers brushed the delicate glass.

"Now what?" I asked the humans when it sat safely in the palm of my hand.

"If you want to hear the prophecy," explained Harry, "you'll have to smash it."

I glanced down at the object, wondering if I actually did want to hear the truth. I already knew that the Volturi would come for us. What I didn't know was why. I bit my lip, fear mercilessly gripping my heart. If I refused to listen, I might be able to pretend for a little while longer that my future would be filled with nothing but happiness – that Bella and Renesmee would be safe for eternity. The moment I heard the words, there would be no going back. I would no longer be able to lie to myself, to delude myself into believing that the danger was over.

The less I knew though, the less prepared I would ultimately be when they came for us.

With one long, determined breath, I swung my arm through the air and sent the orb smashing onto the floor, the sound of shattering glass immediately feeding the strong sense of foreboding. The very second after the orb had been destroyed, a strangled voice filled the air.

"When Venus makes her path across the sun … two destinies her wondrous spell shall seal … A body born of ice shall wed with one of fire … after Love unites dear witch and immortal vampire … From this union there shall come a child … twinned with Mars – bringer of war … condemned to die by order of kings … the bloody three who covet sight and power … Yet there is hope of victory still … for the child who'll be known as one and the other … It lies within the pawn turned queen … It lies within the mother."

The voice died away, leaving me with nothing but an incredible feeling of emptiness. I was so overwhelmed by the sinister words that my mind barely registered the shrill screams coming from inside the heads of my friends and siblings.

It was Renesmee who they wanted. It was Renesmee who they would come for.

Of course, my inner voice whispered, what else could ever motivate Bella to respond so violently to so many vampires?

At one point, I had suspected that it would be her that would draw them to Forks – that they would discover her powers and would subsequently declare war on my family in order to destroy what they considered an abomination.

But no. A threat to Bella's life would not have provoked the kind of reaction that I'd seen in the premonition the sphinx had granted me last year. If I knew Bella, that kind of rage could only be awakened by one thing and one thing alone: a threat to the life of some she loved. In her eyes, her own life meant little in comparison to the lives of others. And at the end of the day, when all was said and done, whose life could ever matter more to a mother than that of her child?

Why they would come for my daughter, I couldn't say. Perhaps they would assume she was an immortal child. That would certainly provide them with reason enough to give us a death sentence. Whatever their motives, I already felt the swell of outrage and fury that every parent experiences when someone threatens their blood.

Rage forced my jaws to clench, venom suddenly pooling in my mouth in despite of the dragon's blood I had consumed earlier that day. It was fire on my tongue … acid in my mouth, and it burned away all hope of rational thought, until nothing was left but pure animal instinct.

"The Volturi…" Alice murmured, her olive eyes wide and desolate, "they're coming for us."

Emmett and Jasper nodded, sadness and fear swimming in their eyes.

"Now you know everything," the empath told his wife.

Alice nodded in response. She exhaled shakily, collapsing back against the towering stack of shelves to stare up at a ceiling that was lost in darkness. Hermione slumped down to the ground beside her.

The humans had heard of the Volturi and knew how dangerous they were. They also knew that the powerful coven would severely outnumber my family. As much as they wanted to help, there was very little that mortals could do to injure vampires. Professor Martin had made that clear when he had invited my siblings and me to assist him in one of his Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons back at Hogwarts.

This can't be happening, thought Hermione. It just can't. Not to Bella.

My fists clenched at my sides.

"Perhaps it's a good thing that Jacob will imprint on Renesmee, after all," Jasper muttered suddenly, immediately jerking my attention away from the panicking human. My brother traced his lower lip with his thumb. "I'm not saying I like it, but the boy is an Alpha now. If he decides to defend Renesmee, the rest of his pack will join him. They'll have no choice, and Sam will not stand by and let his friends endanger themselves without pledging his own support."

"He's right," Emmett realised, staring at the ground.

As was to be expected, part of me – a large part at that – wanted nothing more than to argue that my brothers were wrong … that we didn't need Jacob and his lapdogs at all. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to agree with them: the more support we had when we faced the Volturi the better. And if it came down to it – if I had to choose between keeping Jacob away from my daughter and giving her extra protection, I knew which decision I would make each and every time. I hated almost more than anything the idea that Jacob would imprint on Renesmee, but I would hunt him down to the ends of the earth and drag him back to meet her kicking and screaming if I thought he would sacrifice his own life for hers when the time came.

Harry hugged Ginny to him. She buried her head against his neck in an attempt to block out the nightmarish thoughts currently infesting her mind.

"What's the plan?" the wizard asked in a hard voice, a steely resolve visible in his vivid green eyes, which were currently aimed at me.

"Well first," piped Emmett, "I'm going back to that bell-jar so I can get back into my battle armour. I can't face the Volturi in this thing," he said, indicating his body with a wave of his arm. "In the meantime, I'd appreciate it if none of you would mention this whole human business to Rose. I don't want to promise her the future she's been dreaming of for decades until I'm confident there's no threat to any of our lives."

We all nodded silently in agreement.

"And then what?" asked Ron, folding his arms as he cast his eyes about the group. "What's the plan? How do we get through this?"

I stared ahead into the gloom, seeing nothing … nothing but the bloody images in my mind's eye – images that were being conjured by the hissing, snarling creature within. Once I had referred to him as 'the Monster'; now I had a new name for him: Daddy.

"It's actually rather simple," I said slowly, the calm of my voice belying the blistering hot fury I felt inside. When I failed to elaborate, Ron exchanged an uncertain look with Harry.

"W-what's simple?" stuttered the wizard. "What are you going to do?"

I continued to watch the scene play out behind my eyes as I answered him, revelling in the blood and gore and justice of it all. Now that I knew what they were coming for, I believed more than ever in the sphinxes predictions. After all, what force in this world could ever be more dangerous than a magical new-born vampire powered by sheer maternal instinct?

"Edward?" Hermione pressed in a small voice, pushing herself back to her feet, before she repeated her boyfriend's question. "What are you going to do?"

I stared on into distances, an evil smile pulling at my lips. "I'm going to welcome them," I murmured calmly.

I sensed rather than saw the exchange of anxious glances shared between my friends and family.

"W-what?" said Emmett, his voice shaking for the first time in decades.

My smile disappeared, washed away by iron determination and white-hot hatred. "The Volturi – I'm going to welcome their arrival," I said again. "I'm going to stand there in the field with a smile on my face as they come to take my daughter from me. And then I'm going to unleash her – I'm going to unleash Bella upon them … and watch her kill them all."

A/N: I hope you enjoyed that. Like I keep saying, I WILL finish this story. It just might take me a while, that's all. I have a very busy job and life, and things get in the way of writing. I have a busy couple of months coming up, and probably won't get time to write again until the end of May. Sorry for the long waits. I hope you'll stick with me.