Hermione was meditating in her living room, dressed in full Jedi robes with her training lightsaber clipped to her belt. Her parents were out at the moment, which meant that she could meditate in peace - they didn't stop her or anything, at least not intentionally - in fact, they were happy enough thinking that meditation was "just one of those magic things". But they still kept asking her if she wanted anything, or tried to talk to her, and it could get frustrating. Still, she lived with it.
She enjoyed meditating. Harry had taught her how to meditate, during the last year when she trained with him, and then the lessons that Dumbledore taught the student Jedi had helped her learn more about meditation and the way one could use it to tap into the Force. She agreed with Harry's assessment that it was actually quite relaxing; a sort of way of getting rid of all those little annoyances that accumulated through the day, and focusing one's mind.
She opened her eyes at the sharp sound which shot across her meditation. The sound of someone politely but firmly rapping at the front door was hardly conducive to proper meditative practice. She sighed softly, and closed her eyes, trying to meditate some more. Her parents had always told her not to answer the door when they weren't there, so she ignored it - the person would probably go away in a minute and she would hopefully be left in peace.
She sighed again. For whatever reason, the visitor wasn't getting the message of "no one home". Oh well, she'd done plenty of meditation to be getting along with. She got up, went to the front door, and opened it.
"Yes?" she said, before seeing who it was.
He didn't look like anyone from around these parts - he was a tall man in a black cloak. He had short silver hair, a silver beard and he must have been something like seventy years old, give or take, though his body language was that of a younger, more physically fit man. He was standing outside her door, smiling politely at her. He didn't exactly look like a salesman, but Hermione was suspicious anyway. Something about him felt… really odd.
"Ah, hello," he said, his voice regal, and posh, cultured and at the same time, somewhat alien, though she couldn't tell how she knew that. "My name is Count Dooku. I have been sent to escort you to where you will be trained."
All sorts of warning bells were going off in Hermione's head - escort her to where she would be trained? But that was Hogwarts - and he didn't look like any staff member. Although there was the possibility that he was the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, but she quickly dismissed that.
"I don't know you, so I probably shouldn't go anywhere with you," she said cooly. She moved her spare hand as subtly as she could toward her lightsaber, which "And I doubt you have anything to do with my training."
Dooku's face showed a flash of anger, and that was when Hermione knew he wasn't a teacher or anything to do with her training - and then to Hermione's surprise, he smiled, a cold thing that made her just a little bit afraid.
"You're sharp," he commented, strangely enough reminding her of Professor Flitwick complimenting her on an impressive bit of wand-work in Charms, but without the warm fuzzy feeling of being right. "Unfortunately, that means that you must now learn the lesson of what happens to sharp children who speak out of turn."
He held his hand out, and before Hermione could react or even think, something very like lightning flew from his fingers and struck her. She flew backwards, and rammed into the hallway wall, where after a split second of agony she thankfully lost consciousness.
Dooku left a letter on the desk in the hallway – part of the cover story behind the girl's disappearance was that she was off with friends, who had come visiting. The letter would assuage the parents concerns for a short while, and by the time they realised what had happened the girl would have begun the long, slow journey into the darkness.
He picked the girl up using the Force. She was indeed sharp and intelligent, assets that would serve her well in the future. She would be a powerful asset to the Sith's cause, just as his Master had foreseen – but a powerful asset to Dooku, not to Sidious. Treachery is the way of the Sith, and Dooku had been both betrayed and betrayer in his time, so he knew full well how to play the game of deceit.
He walked with the girl to the local conveyance – an 'automobile' - that he had picked up and had parked a little way down the road. 'Very odd method of conveyance', he had thought after driving it around for a while, 'though it is quite relaxing.' It required more concentration than a speeder did, because it lacked certain technologies that one was normally accustomed to.
Dooku placed the girl in the back seat of his automobile, where she lay unconscious. Hopefully she wouldn't be too concussed - however, saying that, if she lost her memory that would make her an even finer asset, because she would have lost any ties to this place and Dooku could lie to her and tell her she had always been as she was; servant, apprentice, tool. Ah, the possibilities. Dooku shook his head, trying not to get his hopes up too much. Focus on returning the girl to his universe first, and then he could worry about everything else.
"Excuse me," a polite voice spoke from behind him, the accent not unlike his own but without the distinctive Coruscanti tinge.
Dooku turned to face the speaker, a tall, intelligent looking man with long silver hair and a longer silver beard. This man was standing with his hands folded behind his back, watching Dooku intently as though he were a fish in a tank, his blue eyes shining with a keen wit. Behind him, a young man with red hair was already drawing out a lightsaber hilt, and another three children, one girl with blond hair, and two boys (another with red hair and one with jet black) were running up to join them.
"And you would be?" asked Dooku, politely, seeking to keep the conversation amiable for the moment. He already knew that they were Jedi from the way they felt in the Force, and the children looked delightfully worried - especially the black haired boy, who seemed to recognise him. Ah, the joys of being famous.
"Professor Albus Dumbledore," said the silver-haired man, equally amiable. "May I ask who you are, and what you are doing with Miss Granger?"
Dooku narrowed his eyes at the man. Ah, this was the point upon which the conversation would have to become unpleasant, which was a shame. He had been hoping for a quiet exit, plus the fact that this man seemed quite civilised, even considering the fact that he was a resident of this backwater.
"I am Count Dooku of Serenno," he replied, haughtily. "I regret to inform you that it is none of your business what I am doing with 'Miss Granger'."
"I beg to differ," Dumbledore said, his voice cooling a fraction. "I sincerely doubt Miss Granger's parents would approve of the fact that she is being kidnapped."
"Kidnapped is such an ugly word," Dooku said, flashing a grin like a predator. "I prefer to think of it as 'recruitment'." He stopped smiling, and, taking his lightsaber out, he took a battle stance. "Other than that, there is nothing you need to know. Kindly get out of my way."
Dumbledore said nothing, but calmly drew his own lightsaber out and ignited it. A brilliant blue blade shot out of the hilt. Dooku didn't immediately recognise the stance the man was in, but in his arrogance, the Count of Serenno believed this was simply an example of lax fighting skills. Dooku gave the man a quick salute with his own blade, a Mark of respect to his foe, and they began circling one another. The younger ones all drew lightsabers of their own, but the one called Dumbledore held out his left hand to stop them.
"You should stay back," he said calmly, his eyes never leaving Dooku. "I will deal with this 'Dooku.'"
This struck the wrong nerve in the Count of Serenno. "Deal with me?" Dooku repeated, outraged. "Deal with me? I am Count Dooku of Serenno, and it would take someone of far more prolific skill and power to deal with me!"
Before Dumbledore could say anything in reply to the tirade, Dooku, letting his outrage flood his senses, sent a bolt of Force Lightning at him, stronger than the one that had used on Hermione, and the headmaster of Hogwarts was sent flying, unprepared for the attack. Calming himself down, Dooku permitted himself a smile, and looked at the assembled younger Jedi, all of whom looked horrified.
Harry watched in horror as Dumbledore was thrown backwards by Count Dooku's Force attack - lightning? That was something Harry had never seen!
He knew who Dooku was of course – a prominent Jedi Master, well known for training Qui-Gon and dealing with many situations over the years, some of which Harry had been told about by Qui-Gon and many of which were required reading in the Temple. The question being, why now was he kidnapping Hermione and attacking Dumbledore? What motivated this attack?
It was a riddle. Harry didn't care about riddles. What he cared about was the fact that Dooku would soon turn his attention to the younger Jedi – so he quickly snapped his lightsaber on and up, in one of the Soresu stances Obi-Wan had taught him during his days at the Jedi Temple. Dooku, at the sound of the sabres igniting, turned to the younger Jedi and smiled.
"If your Master there could not stop me, you can't," he said, sounding incredibly reasonable as he did so, "so I wouldn't even try."
"Why are you doing this?" Harry asked, almost yelling. "You're a Jedi!"
"Was a Jedi," Dooku corrected the young apprentice. "I walk a different path, now."
Behind Harry, Kara ignited her own sabre, as did Ron. They both looked ready for action, and Harry was grateful for their presence, but he honestly doubted they could win. Dooku took a stance in his classic Makashi form, and inclined his head.
"Pace yourselves," Harry told his two friends. "And be careful."
After a moment, led by Harry, the three young Jedi charged at Dooku, pacing themselves enough to not get defeated instantly. Castor, watching the display, tended to Dumbledore, who was groaning, stunned for the moment.
Kara went into her attack, swinging her sabre for the Count's head – he neatly blocked this, but she sent another series of powerful swings his way – only for him to block each and every one of them. Her attacks were lumbering Shii-Cho and it was child's play for Dooku to block every single blow repeatedly. Harry tried to hit him on his unguarded side, only he never seemed to have one – always moving his sword into the perfect position to block any and all strikes. Harry tried every trick he knew, but none of them worked. Ron, only knowing the very basics of Form I lightsaber fighting, only got a handful of attacks in before Dooku first destroyed his weapon with a quick flick of the wrist, then, in the same move as a parry that sent Harry off balance, scorched Ron's arm. As the boy screamed, Dooku Force-pushed him, sending him flying across the street and landing in a heap.
Harry gritted his teeth, and continued fighting, while Kara remained unflappable; her own attacks did little better, and Harry's barely got the Count's attention. The young Jedi swung his blade high, but Dooku caught it with his own and sent it into Kara's. The two of them were sent stumbling away, and Dooku grinned at their shoddy swordsmanship.
"Change of tactic," Harry muttered to Kara. "Circle him." And the two jumped forward again, orbiting Dooku at different points, trying to keep him off balance. It didn't work - as the two young Jedi span around Dooku, trying to divert his attention, he seemed to spin with them, always facing an assault head on, and blocking it with a perfectly balanced move. Harry cursed silently - there was a reason Dooku's holocron on lightsaber forms was always being watched - the man was the best duellist the Jedi Order had, and now apparently he was a traitor. It didn't seem to have dented his form - next to the elegant moves of Dooku, Harry's own attacks often seem forced and exaggerated and inefficient.
It was only a matter of time before he started wearing them down, although the duel had only lasted a mere handful of seconds. Kara, frustrated by the constant parries and ripostes, swung a desperate strike a Dooku, but he parried it, knocked her sabre out of her hand, and stabbed her arm at the shoulder. She screamed, and he Force-pushed her away too.
Harry kept going, ignoring the pull of anger as he fought. He tried every trick Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had taught him, every move, every manoeuvre, but steadily, he wore himself out on Dooku's immovable defence.
He lunged forward, attempting to copy Dooku's style for a moment with a stab, but ended up knocked to the ground by Dooku's fist, and he was stunned for a moment. Before he could get up, Dooku had grabbed his lightsaber from the ground using the Force, and held them both at Harry's throat.
"So you see," the Count of Serenno said, in an almost conversational tone, "I am the superior fighter. You could not win. I'll leave you alive, to remember not to challenge your betters." Damn him, he didn't even sound tired!
"Sorry, sir," came a voice from behind them, full of from determination. "I don't think I've learned that lesson yet."
Castor was standing up; his body was held in a battle stance that Harry had never seen before; it reminded him vaguely of the stances the two Sith assassins had used, but surely Castor wouldn't copy them. His sabre – still the one he had taken from Karoc, gleaming red – was held in both hands, his left crossing his body diagonally downwards and meeting his right, the sabre pointing downwards. Behind him lay Hermione and the cauterised week of a car door - Castor had freed her.
Ignoring the damage to the car and Miss Granger's release, Dooku instead marvelled at the battle stance the boy had taken.
"That looks like… Juyo!" Dooku said appreciatively, blinking as he tried to get over the surprise of seeing someone so young wielding it. "Risky choice you know. Not many Jedi go for it, and Padawans don't normally get taught it. Apparently it leads to the Dark Side." Dooku grinned. "Not that I needed it."
"I saw it first hand," Castor said grimly, his eyes fixed on Dooku's.
"Interesting," Dooku said with a smile. "I look forward to seeing how your style works…"
"Then I'll be happy to oblige you," Castor said, raising the blade in the guard slightly. Quite where the boy had observed Juyo was beyond Dooku's knowledge, but if he had to hazard a guess, Darth Sidious' twin assassins might have been a good place to start. Castor growled, and Dooku smiled, his mind racing. 'Such anger! What if he could be turned, I wonder... he would be a powerful asset, perhaps more so than the girl.' After all, who needed an intelligent apprentice - it would be much better to have one he could throw away, and the boy would fit that role perfectly (it was perhaps ironic, not to say unfortunate, that Dooku had no idea how similar to his Master's plans for him these musings on Castor's potential were, but such is the way of the Sith).
"So you wish to challenge me?" Dooku said aloud, holding his sabre in a fighting stance and dropping the black-haired boy's by his feet.
"Yes," replied Castor, the borrowed Sith Blade he wielded shining red. He advanced on Dooku slowly. Dooku grinned at him, beckoning him forward.
"Well, if you want to die, that is your choice," he said amiably. "Let's see who's truly the best."
The young Jedi snarled, and with a battle cry, he charged. First, he swung his blade downwards, his anger pouring into it. Dooku blocked the strike, and found himself forced onto the defensive as Castor spun his blade up, down, left, right and diagonally to try and hit each of his weak spots. Dooku blocked each strike, marvelling that although the boy wielded Juyo with inferior skill to someone like Cin Drallig, his rage made it almost as dangerous as Vaapad in Mace Windu's hands. Almost as dangerous, but definitely nowhere near as elegant, Dooku mentally amended, parrying strike after strike. The attacks were strong, certainly, but they were misjudged, mistimed, and mis-thought, no matter how dangerous the raw power behind them was. He dodged a stab and knocked the blade out of the way, before stabbing himself. Amazingly, the boy parried it and brought the two blades into a clash. Dooku disengaged, spun his blade to adjust his grip, and attacked again.
"Come now, boy," Dooku chided. "You could destroy me if you only released your anger more!" Untrue of course – anger was nothing without focus, and the boy lacked that. However, these sort of lines were typical of Sith Dun Möch and it was a good way of making his opponents make fatal mistakes. "The Dark Side could give you enormous power..."
"I don't want power!" Castor yelled, his eyes blazing with rage. "I want only to defend against the darkness - against scum - like - you!" He lashed out as he spoke, each strike punctuating his words, but they were blocked by Dooku's blade.
Castor stepped back, realising Dooku's tactic, and to the Count's surprise, he smiled. "You might have turned, Dooku, but I won't let you turn me!" He attacked again, rethinking his strategy, mixing up his moves between what he remembered of the Dark Assassin's form - Juyo, did Dooku call it? - and his own Ataru form, in a vain attempt to drive his foe back.
"With every moment, you turn more and more, boy," Dooku countered verbally, even as he countered a mis-stepped blow, and threw Castor off balance again. "I can sense your hatred, building inside you…"
"If there is hatred, it is only toward you, Dooku," Castor snarled, spinning and hitting out again. Dooku blocked it, and stepped back – that one had been good. Almost close – another inch and he'd have ruined Dooku's favourite cloak. The boy was getting closer to falling - just a little more! "I'll kill you, with the Dark Side if that's what it takes!"
Dooku smiled at Castor's bravado – the words of a young, brave fool.
"You cannot defeat me," he said. "You have not the skill, the training, or the power to destroy me." Dooku decided to take a risk - he liked risks, especially when they might garner him success. "I think I shall take your inferiority as surrender in itself."
The boy could only watch, dumbfounded, as Dooku switched off his lightsaber and turned his back on the boy. Castor, sensing the moment to strike, leapt forward, flying through the air, lightsaber raised…
And Dooku turned, unleashing a bolt of Force lightening, which caught Castor and sent him flying. When Castor landed, Dooku walked towards him, and smiled. He held his hand up again – Castor tensed, prepared for pain.
And a bolt of red light knocked Dooku off his feet.
He landed in a heap, and only got up slowly. Dumbledore was standing, his lightsaber on, his wand out, and his face a mask of righteous fury.
"Leave him alone," the wizard said, his voice not betraying his obvious fury. He walked forward. Dooku snarled. He wouldn't be able to catch Dumbledore off guard again, and the thought of fighting him was – unpleasant; the man was obviously more powerful than first appearances would suggest. Still, Dooku wasn't a famed duellist and Jedi Master (before his resignation) for nothing.
"Defend yourself!" he yelled, igniting his sabre.
"I do not wish to fight, but you leave me no other choice," Dumbledore replied, as Dooku attacked. He blocked the first stab, and then the second. Dooku slashed and Dumbledore caught that too.
Dooku noted dispassionately that his foe was apparently not using one of the traditional styles, but an amalgamation, some Ataru moves with a Makashi balance, Juyo stance, Soresu delivery. Dooku found, after a few exchanges, that his own style seemed insufficient to halt this, and the man before him was certainly as experienced as he was. As he spun around, his red blade flashing, he tried a number of different assaults, but none of them worked. Not underhand, not overhand, not side swipes or stabs. He stepped back, deciding to try letting his opponent take the offensive.
Dumbledore took the bait, launching into a blistering offensive that Dooku blocked with equal finesse. First an overhand chop that Dooku redirected, then a stab that Dooku dodged, a cut he blocked, a slash he ducked, and then an array of cutting strikes that the Count of Serenno blocked, albeit barely.
Dumbledore couldn't get the better of him either then – his blue blade caught so many times by the red – but neither could Dooku get the better of Dumbledore. It was a standoff, it seemed. Dooku disliked such a result but he didn't seem to have much of a choice in the matter. He stepped back, saluting quickly with his blade. He could recognise a true challenge when he met one – and by the Force, he had met one.
"You are a truly worthy foe," he congratulated. "I wish I had more time to duel you and test your skill, but alas, you seem to have foiled me. So, farewell, Dumbledore - until the next time."
He leapt off, using the Force to propel himself, before running away, heading for the portal his master was keeping open. Although he would count this day as a failure – it was not a… total loss.
Dumbledore watched him go, deactivating his lightsaber wearily, before going to help Castor. The boy was already getting up, clearly more than a little sore from his duel with Dooku.
"Are you all right?" asked Dumbledore seriously.
"Yes, I'm fine," said Castor, looking at the Jedi Master with a strange look in his eye. "How much of our conversation did you hear, sir?"
Dumbledore sighed, and gave the young man of his knowing smiles, combined with a piercing look.
"Nothing I paid too much attention to," he said, vaguely. "Although I think you had best keep away from Juyo. Doesn't quite seem… your kind of style."
Castor nodded, taking the hint for the moment, and went over to help Harry. Dumbledore had heard Castor and Dooku's exchange - Dun Möch at it's nastiest - and, watching the boy help his friends, resolved in that moment to keep an eye on Castor. But as Castor helped Harry to his feet, Dumbledore smiled. He did not think that Castor would turn to darkness – his heart was too good, too loyal to his friends. Dumbledore winced as pain shot up his side.
He'd better have a damn good excuse for Madam Pomfrey for bringing three children in with cauterised burns. He had the feeling all the Jedi skills in the world wouldn't stop that woman when she was angry.
Some time later - after being patched up by Madam Pomfrey, who was more than a little irate - the group had assembled in Dumbledore's office. Chief among their talking points was what precisely Count Dooku had been doing in their universe. Many theories had been voiced about the remoteness of the locale and the comparative vulnerability of the Jedi students here, but the key question – his choice of target – had not been addressed.
"So why did he want Hermione, out of all of us?" asked Ron, voicing the question the others had thought. A difficult question, one Dumbledore had many thoughts about, not least the obvious.
"Among other things, her friendship with you, Harry," Dumbledore began, looking at him with weary eyes. "After all, we know that someone sent the Dark Assassins after you. It is possible that this was Dooku."
"So why involve Hermione?" Kara asked, frowning.
"Possibly he thought kidnapping Miss Granger would benefit his cause against Harry somehow," Dumbledore answered.
Harry frowned. "It certainly would have been upsetting."
"He also wanted to 'recruit' her, he said," Ron put in, noting that particular phrase amongst all the other things Dooku had said before scorching his arm.
"I dare say he believed her to have qualities that made her a potential Sith Lady," the old Wizard replied, choosing his words as carefully as he could in order to spare Miss Granger's feelings - Hermione was standing alone in the corner of the room, out of choice – on hearing Dooku wanted her, she had looked absolutely mortified. "I can only hazard a guess as to what those qualities might be..."
"What qualities?" the girl asked in a quiet voice. After all, it isn't every day that someone tells you that you're a Sith Lord's next choice of apprentice.
"Your intellect and thirst for knowledge, perhaps," said Dumbledore, theorising on the spot. "Knowledge is the purest form of power, and gaining power is the key philosophy of the Sith Code." Hermione nodded, accepting this reasoning. "Another reason he wanted you may have been your occasional short temper," the old Master continued. "Which is never a good thing for a Jedi to have, but hopefully under my tutelage you shall learn to control it."
Hermione nodded, the mortified expression dampening slightly. She was clearly feeling a little better.
"So do we tell Yoda and the rest of the Jedi Council that Dooku has turned to the Dark Side?" asked Castor, grimy. "It would seem the right thing to do."
"No," replied Dumbledore firmly. "That is not necessary."
"But if Dooku has turned..." started Kara.
"Then it is the Council who must deal with it," finished Dumbledore. "We cannot here, without solid proof that it was Dooku, just go accusing him of turning to the dark side."
"It was Dooku though," Harry said earnestly. "I saw him in conversation with Master Qui-Gon a couple of times – it was him."
"Can you prove it though?" asked Dumbledore, and Harry looked slightly less certain. "My point is that Dooku may still have friends on the Jedi Council, and Yoda helped train him – saying that a former protege of Yoda's has turned to the Dark Side will not go down well."
Harry nodded, clearly unhappy with this entire situation. Kara sighed and put her face in her hands, Ron and Hermione nodded, not really understanding this bit of Jedi Politics, and Castor – Dumbledore watched Castor intently. He was merely standing, and hadn't even nodded at Dumbledore's words, but his fists were closed and his teeth seemed to be gritted under his closed mouth.
"I think we should all get some rest," Dumbledore said slowly. "Ron and Hermione – go home, I've arranged transport. Harry, Castor and Kara can go to the dormitories."
They all nodded, and started to leave, when Dumbledore spoke again.
"Miss Granger?" he said. She turned to look at him. "Don't worry. You won't turn to the Dark Side. That much is certain to me now."
She smiled, and left with a slightly less downcast look on her face. Dumbledore sat back, and relaxed. Perhaps Dooku was a Sith, or a Dark Jedi, or some other form of Dark Force User, but it didn't matter. It didn't affect his plan.
Dumbledore turned towards the Pensieve, and focused on the memory, which slowly began to form in the murky depths of the device.
Many years ago, he had received a Force Vision, and what he saw haunted him to this day. The image rose out of the Pensieve and he stared at it grimly. It was a vision of the great hall of Hogwarts - there were many lightsaber users there, Jedi all, Dumbledore could tell – that was where he had gotten the idea for sending Harry to be trained from, and why he had consented to allow Castor and Kara here as well.
The hall in this image was battered. There were cloaked and masked figures lying on the floor, and more stood up, shooting curses. It was an image of Jedi at war against magic users, and it terrified Dumbledore – because he knew that in that battle, the students of Hogwarts were the ones who would surely suffer.
He sighed, and closed his eyes. The image vanished, the Pensieve returning to its inactive state.
He would protect the students of Hogwarts with every breath in his body – and beyond. This he vowed as a Jedi Knight, and as a Wizard. This school was sacred, and could not – would not – be harmed while he drew breath. But if the Sith had plans in this universe, as it seemed that they did, he could not guarantee that the School would be safe. All he knew was that he would die to defend it.