My Eternal Curse
Author's Note: Hey, I've got another full length chapter for you. It's been a long time coming. I've been busy editing my first proper novel. 'Derailed' book one in the Spell Smith series will be out later this year.
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We now continue with our chapter already in progress.
The Peal of the Cloister Bell
Jenna sensed elusive noxious Gray magic slithering at the fringes of her awareness while she slept, drawn to the hibernation chamber's ancient Gray might. It had built slowly yet inexorably to critical mass. Their unintentional prison was no longer safe. Death in the form of liquefied malignant power was precariously close, searching, squirming down through the sodden sickened earth. Jenna awakened with a start, a hoarse terrified cry escaping her lips. She panted, feverish panic burning through her veins. Her thoughts were a twisted jumble which refused to right themselves. She felt Salazar's strong arms around her. He spoke in a soothing tone, but she couldn't hear anything beyond her own hammering heart. Her mind refused to translate Ziell's anxious hisses either.
Jenna tried to master herself, tried to grasp the warning circulating through her blood reminiscent of thick bitter sludge. The sense of impending death vibrated with greater intensity. The details of the premonition were unimportant. They needed to flee. They needed to cast all trace of caution to the wind and call for aid while there was still time.
But what of my precious books? Jenna thought.
Jenna needed to preserve her library and the tools she had brought with her or else invaluable age-old wisdom could be lost. As a scholar and the last Gray sorceress, Jenna would die before she let that happen. She dug deep within herself for the strength to guide her loved ones through their newest misfortune. She triggered the hibernation chamber's archival retrieval enchantment. The sounds of stones grinding and objects flying through the air signified that everything of value was compacting into a single bewitched chest. That done, Jenna sent out the most powerful psychic distress call she could generate, directing it at magicians on the same mental wave length and any remaining friends in the area. She caught the briefest glimpse of the vampire Aldwin before her mind adhered itself to an enthralling intricate enigmatic spirit. The other person's entire lifetime of thoughts, emotions and remembered sensations flooded Jenna's brain while hers suffused his in return.
Zachary Alvin Montgomery was remarkable, truly the stuff of legends. It was a miracle of epic proportions that the wizard had retained his sanity through his hard complicated childhood. Given Zach's exotic upbringing and training, separating his bizarrely diverse talents and personality traits into two personas was an inspired solution rather than a symptom of irretrievable madness. The Light persona Zach was a sweet, compassionate patient caretaker and champion of the bereft, who measured every deed and its foreseeable consequences prior to acting. The Dark persona Zachary was a powder keg of exuberance and action, who acted according to his beliefs with little thought for what would follow. Thankfully, Zachary regarded his Light side as the senior of the two and willingly took direction from his other half. Both sides were passionate forces of nature that would be very easy to love and entrust with not only her life, but her deepest darkest secrets. Jenna knew in her heart that once she was rescued she would never leave Zach's side. She smiled, sensing his agreement.
"Zach, I need you," Jenna said, which strangely felt like the most natural thing in the world to say.
"Impending death underground, need emergency excavation from ground level and we'll talk courtship later. Got it." Zach listed. "Your priority is escape. You don't have time to be careful. The hibernation chamber's structural integrity is already compromised. Therefore, any significant alteration in the status quo can bring the ceiling down on your heads. The next chamber is your safest bet because of its alternate purpose. Escape there, even if you have to blow the doors to do it. I'll be there."
"Thank you," Jenna replied, both relieved and resolute.
Jenna had survived this long against impossible odds, another thing she and Zach shared in common. She refused to die before they ever even met.
She could feel Zach's smile as he advised, "That's the spirit! Release the link. Focus on keeping yourself, your bonded and your grandson safe. I'll reconnect us when we're near."
Jenna nodded without thinking.
"Felt that," Zach mentioned before she could chide herself for forgetting they weren't in the same room. "If spells don't work on your cell door, combine the most volatile Light element in your stockpile with the most volatile Dark element in a three-to-one ratio, place it at the seam of the door, add saliva and get as far away as you can."
"Don't worry. If it comes to that I'll erect a shield that protects us from the explosion's concussive force," Jenna reassured him, withdrawing her end of the connection while he did the same.
Weirdly, Jenna and Zach could still feel each other, but the effect was substantially diminished. Jenna had never felt such a strong immediate personal connection with anyone except Ziell. She pushed aside the strange experience, resolving to work on it when death wasn't actively pursuing them.
"Salazar, Ziell, I'm fine," Jenna said. "There's no time to explain. We're leaving. Salazar, get the trunk and two cloaks from the southeast side chamber. Ziell, help me up."
Jenna's grandson scrambled to follow her orders. Ziell nuzzled the Gray witch's hand. Jenna rested her hand in the customary place on her familiar's powerful scaly body, allowing the serpent to guide her off the bed and down the steps of the dais.
"Ziell, sealed doorway," Jenna directed.
Her Divinus Animus brought her to where she needed to be. Jenna took her wand out of the hidden pocket of her sleeveless low-cut, cream-colored silk summer dress, weighing which charms would give her the best chance to force open the unyielding doors. Jenna plowed through the mental list, sensing that each spell was rebuffed. Cursing herself for doing too good a job on the cell door, Jenna wondered if she should skip the rest of the list and use Zach's suggestion. She had designed the chamber to contain her in case she wanted to take flight for the wrong reason. Jenna never imagined she would need to escape under the threat of death. It was time for drastic action. Salazar came up behind her, the weight of his footfalls slightly offset by the small chest in his possession. Jenna listened to the soft sound of her grandson placing it on the floor to his left.
"Stop for a second so I can help you into your cloak," Salazar said.
Jenna put her wand away and complied. The groan of stone protesting rang throughout the chamber, reminding her of how little time they had. She summoned from the chest a bundle of willingly given unicorn hair and the heart of a Kneazle, unwillingly extracted while the creature was still alive. She separated out three parts Light element to one part Dark element and crushed each one with a quick blast of neutral energy. Satisfied, Jenna knelt, carefully placing the crushed elements on the floor at the seam of the door.
"Salazar, Ziell, go wait by my staff at the dais," Jenna instructed, calculating the best possible strategy to carry them through this part of the crisis. "Things are going to happen fast. I need to you to focus on protecting yourselves, the chest and my staff. I've made a rudimentary explosive. The instant I retreat unlock the staff from its mooring and duck. Once the door has been demolished make a run for it before the ceiling comes down on our heads. Our priority after that is to seal off this chamber. Understood?"
She heard the pair retreat to the dais without hesitation, making a mental note of both the minimum and optimum distances of her protective ward. Jenna scrambled to her feet, producing as much saliva as she could. Salazar gave her the go-ahead. Jenna spat on the crushed potions ingredients. Grabbing her skirts, she fled. She reached the dais and erected the protective ward barely in time. A massive explosion rocked the hibernation chamber, knocking the witch off her feet. She heard the massive doors topple over, blown off their moorings. The slosh of water and the unmistakable tortured grate of buckling stone told her they were out of time.
Jenna slowed her perception of time. She sprang lithely to her feet. Salazar and Ziell flanked her, ignoring the order to focus on protecting themselves. Jenna used Ziell's eyes to keep from tripping during the coordinated dash into the next chamber. The Gray sorceress summoned Salazar's magical staff, intending to trade tools with her grandson before resealing the chamber. The ceiling in the next room chose that moment to crack wide open, bringing with it a torrent of toxic magical water.
Salazar and Jenna acted at once. They were both Charms masters, however, Jenna held the greater gift for magical stonework. Salazar lassoed one door using her staff while Jenna grabbed the other one using his staff. The two worked together to place the doors back in their original positions. Salazar took over the burden of holding the stone doors in place against the massing water and falling debris while Jenna fused the doors together and into the surrounding walls. She then went on to reinforce the adjoining wall to the best of her ability. Jenna sealed each and every crack she could, but there was simply too much pressure on the micro-fractures to do an effective job. The weaknesses in the compromised stone warned Jenna they didn't have long.
"Zach, hurry!" Jenna thought, updating him on the nature of their plight.
She sensed Zach accelerate, becoming a force of unshakable determination with a will to match. Salazar coughed while he adjusted to the stale dust-choked air. As a stone master, it was a simple affair for Jenna to ward off normal foreign particulate matter. She wished she could do the same for Ziell and Salazar, but she simply didn't have the energy. Jenna planted Salazar's magical staff on the stone floor, relying on the stone's timeless strength to bolster her own. She wasn't used to feeling tired, much less being thoroughly drained. The lingering aftereffects of long term stasis and fighting the unknown suffering witch's excess Gray might was proving too much for her recovering body. Jenna hoped she was never forced to face the Gray witch in combat because she would lose.
This new Gray magic was powerful indeed which practically had a mind of its own.
"Where did you learn to harness the fundamental incompatibility between high Light and high Dark magic to create a stable impromptu short fuse explosive and all without employing a catalyst?" Salazar asked once his coughing fit subsided.
"My saliva was the catalyst," Jenna pointed out, only now deciphering the magical principles behind the ingenious innovative solution. "Breaking down the ingredients to any extent would activate and prime their innate potential. Being what they were, the two ingredients were highly volatile on their own. Combining them in equal proportions would have led to an uncontrollable chain reaction, releasing a poisonous by-product of debilitating corruptive energy that could have killed us. The three parts Light to one part Dark ratio kept the high Light energy as the dominant force, thus temporarily protecting the user from the usual dangers. Any part of a practitioner can be used as an ingredient for potions or other branches of magic, in this case mort craft. Saliva isn't used often because it's weaker, slower acting, and neutral by nature. A living neutral element is perfect for this task because it forms a stable bridge between the potent conflicting forces. The unstoppable controlled fusion process absorbed the entire sample before it reached critical mass, thus making it a safer method than most forms of magic designed to achieve similar results."
"I didn't ask you how it worked. I asked you where you learned it?" Salazar pressed, impatient.
Jenna remained silent, figuring her grandchild wouldn't like the answer. Salazar's suspicious nature had saved them both in the past, but it also made it hard for him to perform leaps of faith, particularly where new people or situations were involved. She didn't know how he was going to cope in a world with nothing to ground him except for what they brought with them. She feared the world of the future was the worst possible place for young Salazar Slytherin.
"Bloody hell!" Salazar growled, beginning a string of sulphurous curses that made her wince. "You didn't work this out until after you used it! You took this plan on faith, faith in a person we know nothing about. How long do we actually have? Do you have a plan for escaping this chamber or are we waiting for your new 'friend' to rescue us? Did you-"
"Enough, Salazar," Jenna said, her tone finely honed steel. "You will not lecture me in something you know nothing about. I experienced Zach's thoughts and life experience as though they were my own and he experienced mine in return. I trust him implicitly because he is worthy of that trust. Godric and recent events have blinded you to the good in people, but it is there just the same. Truth doesn't require your belief. It just is. We would be dead now if I hadn't acted, that is the truth. Zach will save us – that is a fact, not faith. You will understand when you get to know him. The wall is going to buckle soon, however, we'll escape the chamber before we're killed. That is fate."
"How can you be so certain?" Salazar questioned, striving and failing to keep the skepticism out of his voice.
"Because my romantic relationship with Zach is preordained for every reason in the world and I'm not leaving until you're safe," Jenna spoke with such conviction that her words left her beloved grandchild speechless. "In some ways, you're just as stubborn as my Godric once was. You've seen the proof that more than cold logic moves people and events, yet you refuse to acknowledge it. Your blind skepticism is a prison of your own making. You once believed in taking chances with your heart. I sometimes fear you will choose a life sentence in that cold empty place rather than seek out a bonded or a soul mate. Godric did that and look where it got him. I'd rather take a leap of faith and fail than endure that lonely existence."
Zach bolted out of his office as though a horde of starving undulating Dementors were chasing him, cursing the local floo network for being so damn sensitive. The idiotic thing refused to work because of the concentration of undirected Gray magic floating around. Of all the times for it to give up the ghost, why did it have to be now? Zach took the stairs four at a time, employing a web of charms composed of speed enhancement, weight reduction, and physical fortification to augment his pace and stamina well past the norm. Moving at twenty times the speed of a world record holding muggle athlete should have been exhilarating, or at the very least disconcerting. He felt nothing, not even the strain from the protracted exertion. Zach had no room in his mind for fear, self-preservation, or so much as the smallest doubt. He became the mad dash. Every thought and consideration beyond his goal was irrelevant. His beautiful Gray sorceress Jenna needed him and that was all he needed know.
"Zach, hurry!" Jenna telepathically urged, showing him their quandary.
Zach poured more power into his web of enchantments than he had used before for personal augmentation, transcending into an unbridled agent of resolve. Grimly, he decided running wasn't fast enough. He bounded adeptly from section to section of the interminable spiral staircase, slicing through the thickening air as he doubled velocity. The moment Zach had a clear line of sight he threw an architectural adjustment charm on the outer wall on the ground level of his tower, making the large heavy stone temporarily rearrange themselves into a makeshift doorway into the outside world.
That done, he jumped down the rest of the way to the foot of the stairwell, plummeting a good fifteen feet. Zach retained his momentum as he hit the ground. The Light wizard cast an ancient, powerful multilayered deflection charm to ward off the toxic magical rain, which proved to be so effective he was protected from being splashed. He wanted to head directly to Jenna, but his talent in the Sight drew him in a route that would take him by the Entrance Hall first. Someone cast open the school's massive double doors at the precise moment it entered his line of sight.
"Professor Montgomery, wait!" Hermione Granger shouted, hopping up and down to catch his attention. "Kathryn Kelly gave me something you'll need!"
Zach went to young Hermione, remembering the Hufflepuff Seer whose gift was obtaining what people need.
"You'll need these," Hermione said, handing him three potions bottles. "I checked them. They're permanent language translation potions. Good luck."
Zach nodded. Just then, the vampire doctor appeared behind the teenager, carrying two shovels and a length of heavy-duty rope. The seventh year Slytherin girl Octaviana called Hermione away.
"Jenna is an old friend," Aldwin said by way of explanation.
"Let's go," Zach replied, gesturing for the other wizard to follow.
Zach cast a propulsion charm to give himself a much-needed jumpstart, forcing Aldwin to work to keep up. His connection to Jenna drew Zach unerringly to an innocuous spot less than ten feet from the furthest border of the Forbidden Forest. He stopped on a dime, noticing the ground in this area was strangely dry.
"She's here, directly below us," Zach proclaimed.
"If you're sure, then let's begin digging," Aldwin said, throwing him a shovel.
Zach caught it. He bounced on the bone-dry half dead grass… Zach cursed, his mind factoring in the water's active intent into his calculations. This wasn't just an ordinary case of a large underground structure losing the battle against the combined weight of water-saturated soil. It was magically driven. They didn't have time to dig using conventional means.
"Wait, we don't have that kind of time," Zach said, tossing the shovel aside. "She'll drown if we use conventional means."
"Then what do you propose?" Aldwin asked, looking at the ground uncertainly.
"Back away to the edge of the deflection field," Zach directed. "I'm going to try something."
He closed his eyes, using a simple charm to nimbly assess the soundness of the ground and the structure of the ceiling above his beloved's head.
"Jenna, I'm here," Zach telepathically called. "Don't worry if you hear anything strange happening above you. Aldwin and I will get you out of there in one piece. It's a promise."
"Aldwin?" Jenna echoed. "As in, the vampire Aldwin?"
"The very same," Zach said, marshaling his power to command the very land itself. For this woman, Zach would traverse any terrain, break any law and perform any feat to keep his beloved Jenna safe and happy. She was more than just his soul mate – she was his inspiration. He felt Jenna blush, deeply touched by his thoughts, only then grasping that he hadn't shut the mental connection.
"Courtship later," Jenna reminded him, grinning and blushing even harder.
Zach nodded. He couldn't wait to unearth her so he could see her expression for himself. Zach dialed down his fortification and speed charms to boost his lightening charm to capacity, making him levitate a foot in the air. He employed a charm of his own making to interface with the region and commanded the earth to part. The lawn split evenly down the center and peeled back, exposing the ground underneath. Zach formed a controlled whirlwind around himself, vacuuming the dirt into the air and neatly depositing it in a mound off to the side. It took less than a minute to reveal the smooth natural stone roof of the antechamber. Zach rebalanced his web of personal charms, lowering himself back down again. The moment the Light wizard touched down he felt out the structure of the ceiling, looking for a way in.
"Clever, very clever, Jenna dear," Zach praised, kneeling in front of the Hogwarts symbol and running his hand over it to get a feel for the magic. "This ceiling is an emergency exit. Any magical stone smith can open this."
"Not anyone," Jenna disagreed. "Only a master in stone can open it without a lengthily complex invocation or explosives-"
"Done," Zach said, quickly backing away as the stone ceiling began to separate.
"How? What- what did you do?" Jenna stammered. "I felt a featherlike beat like you were knocking on the ceiling and it responded."
"I communicated our need and asked it nicely," Zach explained, waiting impatiently. "It only needed a touch of magic from me to do what was needed."
"Only the most talented stone shapers can do that," Jenna said. "In my day, you would be revered and coveted for that talent alone. You should be a recognized master. How many other disciplines have you been 'dabbling' in?"
"Later," Zach replied, sensing the retracting process end.
The stone settle into its new shape. Zach ran to the edge, studying the distance to the chamber floor and what they had to work with, which wasn't much. Aldwin did the same, frowning.
"The language barrier is going to be a problem," Jenna warned. "I'll explain whatever's needed to my grandson."
"My rope isn't nearly long enough, and judging by the buildup of Gray magic, we don't have enough time to retrieve another one," Aldwin evaluated.
"We won't need one," Zach decided, forming the image of a thick long length of rope and a harness in his mind, making its structure as complete as possible. "There's two ways to get them out without traditional implementation. The fast method is bound to startle the grandson and he would need to trust me for it to work. The slow method is untested at this height, but that shouldn't be an issue. Jenna, Aldwin, if you like my earlier tricks, you'll love this."
Zach straightened, summoning the power directly from the region to create a ball of glowing realistic silver-gold neutral magical energy the size of his chest. He guided the energy into the shape he imagined before shunting the image into the back of his mind. Jenna gasped in awe in both his head and aloud. Aldwin appraised it, clearly impressed, which was no small feat considering the vampire's age. Zach felt, as well as physically heard, Jenna order her massive snake to enswathe her body.
"Meet the phantom object, in this case, a rope," Zach explained, handing Aldwin the end of the rope before looping part of it around his arm. "Phantom objects are part mental projection, part physical manifestation maintained by the caster. They have solidity and similar mass to their real counterparts, but are significantly stronger. This rope is nigh unbreakable at the expense of constant attention and energy from the caster. The image of the rope must remain in my mind at all times or the energy will lose cohesion, so now's not the time to screw with my concentration."
Making sure the glowing realistic silver-gold rope was secure, Zach dropped it over the side. It tugged the way a rope should, signifying they were good to go. Zach dialed down his personal lightening charm all the way and dialed up fortification. "I wish I could add additional protective and lightening charms to this, but we don't have that kind of time. Jenna, step into the harness and we'll get started."
"My grandson goes first," Jenna insisted, her voice bristling with authority.
"Very well," Zach accepted her judgment, figuring it was just as well since he knew for certain he'd be able to evacuate Jenna quickly if trouble strikes. "Tug on the rope twice when you're ready."
Zach could see the scene in the antechamber play out in his head as if he were standing right next to them. Jenna's full-grown Divinus familiar was draped over her cloaked body. She held the harness out to her adult grandson. Salazar wore a double-barreled holster on his back occupied by two magical staves. The young-appearing wizard was busy looking at the enchanting woman like he had never seen her before.
"Salazar, you're going first," Jenna explained aloud, trying to get the wizard to hold still long enough to affix the harness to his waist and chest.
"I'm not leaving you," Salazar argued. "This is your journey. I'm only along for the ride."
"Salazar, go!" Jenna sternly ordered.
"I have been your caretaker for over a century," Jenna said. "I know what I'm doing. I'm ordering you to take the chest and leave me behind."
Salazar gave in, fearful for his grandmother. Jenna competently secured the harness on the younger wizard and gave him the chest. Salazar tugged on the rope twice. Zach and Aldwin began hauling Salazar up with all the expediency they dared, but the faster they moved the more the rope swung. Zach cursed, his sense of the future prickling in warning. They were dangerously behind schedule.
"If you die I'm going to follow you into the afterlife just to scold you," Salazar called down to her.
Jenna smiled serenely for her grandson, expertly hiding her worry from him.
"Do that and you'll be in an underworld of trouble," Jenna joked. "I'll lecture and tease you mercilessly."
"You would," Salazar replied, sounding a great deal calmer.
Zach and Aldwin picked up the pace as Salazar neared the top. Zach's sense of the future was becoming a raging alarm. They weren't going have time to use the same method twice. The two wizards helped the third over the lip of the antechamber. Zach walked over to the edge, preparing to use a charm he hadn't had time to beta test even in his head. He retooled his calculations for working in tandem with a second person. Improvising was always interesting. Doing it when you're life's on the line was double the fun. Zach believed in his natural affinity for Charms. He was good at this subject. This would work. The glowing silver-gold rope dispersed since it was no longer needed.
"What are you doing?" Salazar demanded, stricken. "She's still down there!"
Aldwin employed his vampiric strength to hold the irate wizard back, having the faith to continue following Zach's lead.
"It took three minutes to bring him up," Zach said, simulating the reworked charm in his mind. "We have less than a minute and half. Don't panic. I've got a plan."
The ground rumbled threateningly. Zach flinched, keenly feeling the stone's distress. Salazar fought Aldwin with the entirety of his strength but his efforts were meaningless. Jenna's grandson began to rant. Zach ignored it, too focused on his internal preparations. He maximized his fortifying charm and set the other two to their absolute lowest setting. Jenna and Ziell weren't the lightest combination, but Zach was naturally strong. It wouldn't be an issue. The ground rumbled again. The stone of the adjoining chamber screamed in pain, warning Jenna and Zach of how little time they had.
"Zach!" Jenna yelled fearfully.
Zach stepped into the empty air, controlling his plunge by sheer force of will and instinct. He landed in a crouching position, the fortifying charm enabling him to absorb the impact. He sprang into action at once, on his feet and scooping up Jenna in half a second. She placed her hand on his face without prompting, providing the much needed physical contact for the new cooperative charm. Fissures appeared along the wall and the seam of the chamber door. Water gushed through the small openings, placing additional strain on the damaged stone.
Zach activated the charm. Their powers melded effortlessly exactly as he knew they would. He directed their combined might. Zach, Jenna and Ziell became, in effect, lighter than air. He leapt upwards, propelling them out of the antechamber and into the open sky. Zach suspended them ten feet directly above the opening at the outer extreme of his deflection field. The three of them watched the antechamber flood below. Zach and Jenna resealed the stone roof together before the toxic water could escape. They commanded the displaced dirt and grass carpeting to return to its rightful place.
The couple gazed at one another, entranced by each other. Jenna's appearance placed her in her early twenties, maintained by Divinus magic. Her intelligent, milky white eyes were positively mesmerizing. Zach suspected they would be compelling no matter their color. A pair of pearl hair clips adorned her long, silky, loosely curled red hair. She was a stocky, muscular majestic beauty attuned for combat while still magnificently feminine. Light freckles sprinkled her naturally pale skin, offsetting her floor length, cream-colored, silk sleeveless summer dress beneath the dark cloak and lovely impractical pearlised slippers.
"That was amazing!" Jenna exuberantly remarked in his mind, careful to keep in contact with him as she wrapped an arm around his neck. "You're amazing."
"Not really, just determined," Zach telepathically excused.
"Don't discount the truth," Jenna thought. "Your natural talent for Charms is unparalleled even in my era. I had the honor of observing how your mind revised the exact charm we're using now. Zach, we're flying! The puzzle of human flight never been solved in either of our time periods and you know it. I'm a Charms master. I recognize power when I see it. You're no amateur. You're no apprentice. You're well past regular master-hood, if only you'd let yourself see it."
"I'm nobody, merely a weird Past Seer and a minor scholar who loves to tinker and refine anything that seems off or incomplete," Zach discounted. "Filling vacant niches isn't an unusual pastime for an enthusiast of a given discipline."
"Fine, if it's so simple then tell me how this charm works," Jenna challenged. "Why did you need a partner to make it work?"
"I didn't strictly need it," Zach clarified, becoming uncomfortable. "We linked our magics to avoid the inevitable weight issue, which would have prevented us from achieving adequate lift. The flight charm works by manipulating an object or person's relationship with gravity. It also adjusts a person's sense of balance in sync with each given change, so you won't become nauseous. Movement is controlled by the part of your brain responsible for locomotion. The governing principles are simple. Their execution is even easier. I'm an ordinary scholar, not a superhero."
"Superhero?" Jenna asked, puzzled. "What is that?"
Zach telepathically communicated the concept and examples in the blink of an eye.
"Can you show me the entire incident?" Jenna requested, smirking knowingly.
Zach ran through his memories from the time they made contact to their daring escape.
"I hate to break it to you, my dear Zach, but you are a superhero," Jenna thought, kissing him lovingly on the cheek. "You're my superhero."
Zach didn't know what to say. Aldwin cleared his throat to get their attention.
"If you two are finished staring adoringly into each other's eyes, teeming with mutual longing, you might want to reacquaint yourselves with the ground," Aldwin suggested, smirking in amusement.
Realizing how their silent conversation must look, Zach and Jenna laughed.
"I'm taking you all to my office," Zach decided aloud, lowering them to the ground. "You'll be safe there." He held Jenna closer. "I won't let you leave my sight. I almost lost you once. I won't risk it again."
He landed smoothly quite content to carry Jenna and Ziell back to the school.
"I like the sound of that," Jenna replied aloud in her native dialect. "Are you planning to set me on my feet anytime soon?"
"Your footwear isn't suitable for walking in the toxic rain," Zach answered aloud in his own dialect. "My deflection spell keeps the rain off our heads, but it won't stop the water from seeping into your shoes. Your pearlised slippers are adorable, but they don't stand a chance against the water. I don't want you to be poisoned."
"Good point," Jenna said, shivering. "I'm dressed for high summer rather than tromping through the freezing rain."
Zach placed a temperature control charm on Jenna's light dress capable of warming Ziell. Immediately, Jenna stopped shivering and relaxed. His beloved and her serpentine bonded were toasty warm in moments, filling him with joy to know he had provided for her needs. He would do it for the rest of his life if she let him.
"Unhand my grandmother!" Salazar ordered, scowling balefully.
"Set me down a moment," Jenna directed. "We need those permanent translation potions."
Zach set Jenna down. He fished the three potions bottles from Hermione out of his jacket. He gave Jenna hers and Salazar's bottles and then swallowed his own. Once that was done, Jenna returned to the security of Zach's embrace. Jenna and Ziell were amazingly light in his arms. Zach loved that his beloved was as eager to be there as he was to hold her. Jenna explained to her companion about the translation potion and Zach's completely logical plan to carry the Gray sorceress in order to protect her from the tainted rainwater saturating the rest of Hogwarts grounds. Salazar glared at Zach, obediently swallowing the potion. Zach got the feeling his relationship with the founder of the Slytherin line was going to be rocky.
"Jenna is not your property, Mr.…" Salazar sneered in a very Severus manner.
"Professor Zachary Alvin Montgomery, Patriarch of clan Montgomery," Zach introduced himself. "I'm a Past Seer and Hogwarts' new Divination instructor. Believe me when I say, I worship the Lady Jenna. I am hers, heart, body and soul, as I was destined to be for eternity. I am devoted to her protection and happiness."
"Oh, Zach!" Jenna cooed adoringly. "I feel exactly the same."
"I know who you are, young man," Zach went on before Salazar could freak out. "All of Wizarding Europe knows your reputation, which over the centuries has been sullied beyond recognition."
"Centuries?" Salazar repeated. "How long were we in hibernation?"
"1,004 years," Jenna answered. "Zach provided me with the missing information that allowed me to perform the calculation. I've seen what Zach's talking about. You can't afford to use your old name. You'll be lynched if you reveal yourself. Our names must remain in the past. We're Jenna Veleda and Vincent Nolan as stated on our translation potions, now and forever."
"You're…?" Aldwin said, catching on. "Jenna, are you sure it's wise associating with this… person?"
Zach knew vampires. He could hear the hidden threat in the old vampire's words. Salazar would be dead before he knew it if Jenna gave the word to end the Dark wizard.
"Vincent is my grandson," Jenna said disarmingly to the two of them. "I raised him since he was a young boy. Aldwin La Fey, you know better than to judge someone based on a name."
"Vampires don't go by their surnames," Aldwin gently reminded her. "And even if we did, I wouldn't use my original name. It's has a worse reputation than his. Please, don't use it again, for my sake along with that of my bonded."
Zach did a double take, filing the information in his brain for later use.
"You're bound, that's wonderful news!" Jenna enthused. "Who's the lucky vampire? Did you turn them yourself?"
"I umm… didn't," Aldwin admitted, sheepishly. "Filius is mortal."
"Aldwin!" Jenna admonished. "You should know better. It's dangerous to wait. If your bonded dies, they'll drag you down with them."
"I reasoned that we have time because he's a member of the long lived," Aldwin said. "Our arrangement has worked for more than eighty years…" The vampire sighed. "Can we discuss this another time? Yours isn't the only emergency on my plate, you know."
"Of course, my old friend," Jenna accepted. "I look forward to meeting your beloved Filius when the time is right." She waved an arm at the lawn. "Lead the way."
"Filius?" Zach echoed, shaking his head. "Eighty years is a long time."
"Thank you, Jenna," Aldwin replied, his expression troubled.
Aldwin guided the small party back to the school in emotionally turbulent silence. Zach wasn't surprised Filius was bound. It explained how his old mentor knew so much about the subject. Filius' status as one of the long-lived didn't bother Zach. His old mentor was the same person he'd known most of his life. Everyone was entitled to their secrets. Jenna's and Salazar's secret was a doozy. Zach was a master at protecting secrets. He would fashion a cover story worthy of his beloved, which would put her in the best light. The surname Veleda was ancient and forgotten, the family having died out centuries ago. As for Vincent Nolan… Zach had heard of the name before. It was infamous. Young Vincent Nolan's story was a tragic one.
"Jenna, is Vince Nolan your grandson's real name?" Zach telepathically inquired.
"Yes, how did you know?" Jenna asked.
"Because this is the era he was born in," Zach thought back. He chuckled, the perfect cover story beginning to form in his mind. It was both inspired and twisted. "Our young Vincent is a time traveler who was disposed of in an unstable temporal portal when he was three years old. Everyone believed he died. Now, we know what became of him. You're going to love your new life story. It's beautiful and tragic, replete with terrible twists, innocent maidens, eternal friendships and loving parents who mutilate their own daughter to keep her out of the cruel despicable clutches of wicked Dark wizards."
"Zach!" Jenna thought, making a gagging sound. "That sounds absolutely revolting!"
"Well, we need a way to endear you two to the masses despite your Parsel status," Zach pointed out. "A proper cover story does that. It gets your foot in the door with the Light regime. Your natural charm will do the rest."
"Okay, so what's the story?" Jenna wondered. "Am I a lost princess? Was I locked in a tower because of my terrible deformity? Was I abandoned in the deepest darkest magical forest and raised by Ziell? Is Vincent a former indentured gladiator turned gentlemen, who rescued me from my horrible Dark parents?"
"I'm glad to hear you're catching on," Zach said aloud. "Patience, my dear. It will be more fun to hear the entire story by the fire over a bracing cup of tea rather than piecemeal in the cold, dark pouring rain."
"Very well," Jenna replied aloud, trying not to pout. "I'll wait, but I hope it sounds more palatable in context."
Zach doubted his beloved was going to enjoy the more colorful details he needed to add in order to make the story believable to both the Dark and the Light aristocracy. He didn't want to distress his beloved just now with unpleasant facts about the current state of Wizarding politics. Zach wanted Jenna to savor her newfound freedom from her thorny past for as long as they could get away with before life intruded. She was the love of his life. Zach would help her integrate no matter what stood in their path. If that meant concealing the notorious impetuous geeky Dark Lord Salazar Slytherin in his home time period, then that was what Zach was going to do. He would do it gladly for Jenna's sake, even though it might get him and his bonded killed someday. Oh, the things we do in the name of love!
"You're already bound and I can't feel him?" Jenna exclaimed loudly. "How is that possible? Why would protecting Sa- Vincent's secret lead to your deaths? I know the truth would put him at risk-"
"If you are found out Zach and his bonded one will die slowly, horribly because of the old Inquisitor's creed 'guilt by association,' my lady," Aldwin answered before Zach had the chance. "Both sides will want you five dead, however, Zach and his bonded will suffer worse than either you or your grandson for concealing you. Never try to explain the truth about yours and Vincent's history to another person. It is heresy in this era, my lady. The concealment charge coupled with the heresy charge would mean instant sentencing to the Dementor's Kiss for Zach. Your lover's soul would be eaten by a ghastly Dark being without so much as the courtesy of a mock trial. Keep that in mind in your dealings with others."
"Jenna is not that man's lover!" Salazar grumbled.
"Quiet, this is important," Jenna shushed her grandchild. "Zach, why I can't I feel your bonded. How could I have missed it during our memory sharing?"
"Our bonding is new," Zach explained, shrugging. "We just found out about it last night. Severus Snape and I are separate at present. We did it so we could function independently at the top of our game for the duration of the crisis. We couldn't afford to share injuries and stresses when we each have to be in multiple places at once."
"Snape? Did you just say Snape?" Salazar pressed.
"Yes, Severus is the Patriarch of the Snape line," Zach supplied. "Why?"
"Because that makes him my great-great-great-great grandson," Salazar replied. "Clan Slytherin changed their name to Snape in an effort to distance themselves from me for political reasons."
"Wow! Will wonders never cease?" Zach marveled, whistling. "I can't wait to tell Severus about this. He might even accept you with open arms…" Zach cleared his throat. "If he doesn't break your neck. Don't worry about it. I'll explain before he decides to snuff out your life with a thought. It'll all work out. I'll make it work out. It's one of the things I'm good at."
Zach could only hope he wasn't lying. Jenna would never forgive him if his other half murdered her grandson, even if it was for the right reasons. Severus was fiercely protective of those he loved. If his bonded perceived this man as a threat then there would be no stopping the execution.
"Remember everyone, when we enter the school, the Seer Net, my collection of Seers, will be able to hear us," Zach warned. "I'm accustomed to them in my thoughts and have no trouble hiding anything. Jenna, Vincent, you'll have more difficulty. You're new, which means you'll be read multiple times by many people, some of whom are powerful telepaths and empaths. The children aren't good at control. They can't help it and curiosity is the world's most natural lure. Bury anything you don't want to share with over two hundred gifted children and their hangers-on."
"Two hundred? Whoa!" Jenna breathed, awed and worried by the thought. "that's the greatest known concentration of people with the Sight in history."
"I know," Zach sighed wearily. "Believe me, I know."
Zach thought of Severus, Jenna, Vincent and the trouble that undoubtedly lay ahead. He had the feeling he was only beginning to understand what people meant when they said love was never easy. Zach didn't have a happily ever after to look forward to. He wasn't naive enough to believe life's problems would simply disappear when the universe decided he had fulfilled his suffering quota. Zach was determined to make the most of the gifts chance and destiny had bestowed him. Their families had a chance to unite and build something beautiful and momentous, a dynasty that could endure long after all of them were gone. When Zach made Severus understand, he hoped his bonded chose to share in his vision. Zach couldn't live with himself if he and Severus wasted that opportunity out of fear of a preventable nightmare future. He knew he couldn't live with his bonded if he lost Jenna because of it.
Just inside the safety of the Entrance Hall, Hermione handed Professor Montgomery three of the four potion bottles Kathryn had given her. She was glad to have run across him. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the staff was spread too thinly. It figured it would take a Seer to find a Professor without the petitioner being on fire or something. The vampire Aldwin arrived carrying a length of rope and a pair of shovels, clearly intent on speaking with the Professor, who practically glowed with an aura of highly refined power focused on saving someone he held dear. The sound of Hermione's name drew her attention to the arrival of three students. The eldest was a Slytherin seventh year named Octaviana Hawthorne, whom she knew only by reputation. The Ravenclaw sixth year Travis and the Ravenclaw seventh year Andy, on the other hand, Hermione had gotten to know well these past few weeks. Naturally, she was desperately needed for her formidable expertise. Hermione's peers explained the situation en route to the Order of Salus medical facility in the dungeons.
Hermione thought about her possible memory intrusion. The vampire doctor was the perfect impartial third party capable of putting her fears to rest. The key was getting his attention when she had time. Hermione laughed bitterly. Yeah, like that would ever happen. She patted the pocket holding the potion Lot 10. Against her better nature, Hermione looked forward to her coming battle with Albus Dumbledore. There was a time Hermione wouldn't have dreamed of raising her hand against the old man in anger. Her loyalties to Dumbledore died the instant he acted against her loved ones. It wasn't wise to betray a Granger. Few survived it. Those who did fervently wished they hadn't.
Three issues had to be resolved before the battle. Issue one, Hermione's questionable memory. If it was real then she had to retrieve Dumbledore's watch so he couldn't hold it hostage. Also, if it was true then the solid foundation of the truth would strengthen her ire, greatly improving her chances of success. Issue two, Dumbledore's origin. She wasn't naïve enough to believe Dumbledore was an ordinary wizard. The old wraith was more than human. The proof was concealed between the lines of her ancient foe's track record. Since Dumbledore had been an ally, she hadn't taken the time to unravel that mystery.
It was one mistake she would never make again.
Hermione had scant hours to figure out precisely what she faced. After hearing about Professor McGonagall's plight, Hermione suspected she had come across the condition somewhere before. The problem was that the ancient tome that could provide the information was buried amongst her things. Hermione didn't know when she was going to find the time to search for it. She could risk summoning the book, but what were the chances it would be intercepted? Hermione shuddered at the thought of Dumbledore catching a glimpse of the book's title. Hermione's third issue was the simplest, however, resolving it was dependent on dealing with the other two. Hermione desperately needed a real plan. The instructions the Seers provided simply wasn't enough.
"…Don't worry about lacking a competent pair of spare hands," Travis was saying in conclusion. "We've located a suitable assistant for you. They should already be prepping the ingredients to the appropriate specs."
A brave Hufflepuff first year weighed down by an imposing magical tome rounded a corner, matching their swift pace. The auburn haired youth fell into step with Hermione, offering her the powerful artifact.
Hermione accepted the book without looking at it, strongly advising, "Go to the Seer tower. You'll be safe there. Thanks."
The first year nodded, breathing heavily as he turned the next available corner that would take him out of the dungeons. Hermione took a second to examine the mysterious gift without breaking stride. She gaped, recognizing the rare dangerous book. It was the same exact volume she was thinking of moments before. Even better, it was hers. Her long forest green bookmark peeked out of the chapter she was thinking about. What force compelled Seers to pilfer Hermione's belongings and then return them to her right when they're needed? Later, Hermione had to take stock in a very literal sense. What else had the Seers made off with while she was distracted?
This wasn't the time to worry about that. She had to save Professor McGonagall, research an obscure threat, validate a memory, and neutralize a devious merciless enemy. Hermione hadn't felt this engaged in years. She loved to test herself against seemingly insurmountable challenges. In a strange way, Hermione needed it. She needed to feel useful. She needed to test her limits, perhaps more than she needed her next breath. Hermione's mother kept telling her she was stagnating at Hogwarts. At this moment, Hermione couldn't agree more.
Perhaps it was time for a change.
Deep down, Hermione couldn't stand the thought of spending the next two years playing 'dutiful student.' She knew the curriculum better than half of the teaching staff. It was time to make them aware of that little fact and graduate early, another Hogwarts first. If anyone could achieve that joke of a miracle, it was Hermione Granger. They arrived at the new infirmary. Jessica promptly gave them directions to the potions lab over the loudspeaker so they wouldn't have to slow down. Hermione sensed the unusual mix of magical equipment and heavily modified muggle equipment. She was impressed. This was the first time she had come across a setup remotely like her own. Remembering Draco's comment that she would be wasting herself at the Ministry of Magic, Hermione wondered if he was right. She had to explore all of her options before choosing the vocation that was right for her.
Hermione stifled a groan as her migraine made itself known. Persistent little monster. Headache draughts and muggle medicine simply weren't cutting it. Compartmentalizing the unwanted sensation, the young witch turned her attention to the matter at hand. The trio who had found her left once she entered the potions lab. The door closed behind her with a soft snick. Hermione and Draco exchanged a meaningful look while she took the seat next to him and put her book aside. Hermione wasn't anymore surprised Draco was her partner than he appeared to be. They were the two best Potions artists available at this given moment. It was foolhardy to select a person of lesser talent because of something as trifling as past history. They both knew the need. They would both maintain an air of professionalism.
Much to her pleasure, the Order Of Salus spared no expense. The equipment they had at their disposal was topnotch and the ingredient stores would be the envy of many an apothecary. The Ministry's research labs didn't hold a candle to this one. Dumbledore had suggested becoming a Ministry researcher in the first place. He was the one who arranged for the private tour. The job offer was some kind of trap. Hermione didn't know what she was going to do with her life now. If she lived past the battle she was going to have to make some changes. Dumbledore had influenced Hermione in innumerable ways. It would take quite a while to undo that damage.
Right now, she was in no hurry to keep her date with destiny. Hermione was in love with this chamber. She could live here for weeks and never feel deprived. No sooner did she think that than she espied a set of comfortable beds in the far corner and a pair of dressers, complete with a set of privacy curtains set up for each bed. Nearby was a proper bathroom and shower. Hermione giggled in delight. It was as though the designers had read her mind! Her lighthearted giggle was joined by Draco's own jovial laughter.
"I know. This set up is amazing!" Draco enthused. "You should see the rest of the infirmary. The designers thought of everything. It's hard to believe we're still inside Hogwarts."
"Agreed," Hermione said, returning his smile.
She cautiously added the first set of ingredients to the large cauldron and double-checked the flame's intensity. Potions was one passion where she and Draco were on the same wavelength. It was a good thing they ended their silly pointless vendetta for Ginny's sake. It was bizarrely easy to work alongside Draco. Their partnership felt as natural as breathing. If only idiotic prejudice wasn't a stumbling block. If only they had more in common, they could do better than tolerate one another. They could become friends and maybe true allies. That wasn't likely. Hermione mentally shrugged.
"How can you be so certain we have nothing else in common?" Draco responded to her thoughts. "Sorry about that. The thought jumped out at me. You're normally hard to read-"
"There is no need to apologize, Draco," Hermione forgave. "I know the Sight isn't something you can switch on and off at will."
"Thank you for your understanding," Draco said. "Don't worry about my prior impolitic language. That behavior won't recur. I've come to realize my father unduly influenced me with his… inaccurate beliefs. I've never felt that way in my heart." Hermione gazed at him, stunned. "Yes, Draco Malfoy, pureblood aristocrat and prominent Slytherin, does have a heart. Is that so hard to believe?"
"I wasn't surprised you have a heart," Hermione hastily clarified. "Everybody does. I'm shocked you're apologizing. I never thought I would live to see the day. What brought you to this life -altering revelation?"
"I wouldn't call rejecting my father's unsophisticated drivel life -altering," Draco said stiffly.
"Then you clearly haven't seen him lately," Hermione guessed.
"No, I haven't," Draco quietly admitted, carefully adding his first contribution to the cauldron. "Have you seen your parents lately?"
"No, I haven't either. You must know your father won't approve of your new attitude."
"He won't. I don't care if he doesn't. I am the sole heir to clan Malfoy. If he doesn't like my choices, then he can choke on them."
"This is Hogwarts. Secrets have a way of slipping out. You've said it aloud in a room without privacy magic enacted. You know there's no going back."
"I know. Believe me, I've thought this through."
"Good. There's nothing worse than suffering for a careless mistake."
"Are you going to answer my question?"
"How do you know we don't share proper common ground?"
"I don't, technically…" Hermione sighed. "Look at our track record. Can you think of one thing we both agree on other than potions?"
"We don't know each other, Hermione," Draco said. "How could we? This is our first cordial conversation. For all I know…"
Her talented lab partner paused as he focused on precisely mincing a particularly dangerous magical herb. Hermione was grateful Draco took his work seriously. If she died today her cause of death wouldn't read 'potions accident'. That would be truly embarrassing. Her hands and blade danced on the cutting board while she concentrated on the slightly more dangerous potions ingredients in front of her, listening to its magical pulse shift with each slice. She didn't stop till it felt just right. When Hermione looked up again she saw Draco watching her with an awed countenance. Feeling the brewing magic shift, she pointed to the cauldron. He gradually stirred his contribution into the liquefying tempest with a practiced hand before adding hers. The melding magic settled into the next stage. Draco stopped stirring at her silent signal.
"What is it?" Hermione asked once it was safe to talk.
"How do you do that? How do you know the precise moment an ingredient is needed?" Draco wondered, his expression unreadable. "You know how to bring out the best in the most challenging potion. Each of your creations is perfected as though you've made thousands of them, even if it's your first time. It's amazing! I've had the honor of witnessing that talent in action once before, but he wouldn't tell me how it's done. My best work is clumsy and ineffectual by comparison."
"Your work isn't clumsy," Hermione disagreed. "It's competent."
"Competent?" Draco snorted in disgust. "You sound just like him! He called me 'competent' too."
"Whom are you referring to?" Hermione wondered while pulverizing nightshade blossoms and primrose leaves with a fresh mortar and pestle. She nodded at the mugwort stems and Draco got to work.
"Who else? Professor Snape," Draco replied with a note of bitterness.
"Did he tell you why?"
Sardonically, Draco mocked, "He said 'If I didn't learn it on my own then I wasn't ready for it. There is nothing more dangerous than knowledge without the wisdom to wield it. We'll speak again when you can feel your way through your potions.' Some help that was."
"Actually, it was," Hermione corrected. "He gave you your answer, just not in so many words."
"What do you mean?"
Hermione gazed into the bubbling brew. The next three ingredients had to be added simultaneously to achieve optimum effect and then stirred counterclockwise 14 times and clockwise 32 times. Explaining this to Draco, the partners completed their task in adequate sync. Examining their work, she knew they had more than enough time for a lesson.
"I'll show you," Hermione offered, taking magic imbued mine salt and wheat grass off the far shelf and bringing it over to their table. She brought out a fresh cutting board, mortar and pestle, and a thin curved blade. "We're going to do a step from a generic headache draught. This is one we've all done a thousand times. What do you normally do with the mine salt?"
"Ground it into fine powder," Draco said. "What do you do differently?"
"I also ground it into fine powder, so does the average muggle," Hermione instructed, placing a handful of crystals into the mortar and taking up the pestle. "Our finished products may look identical to the uninitiated, but they're nothing alike. The difference is awareness. If a muggle prepares the ingredient it's just salt. They have no magic, so nothing is gained. If you prepare this ingredient without full comprehension of its nature then the ingredient is unconsciously saturated with your magic, making it viable, but nothing more. What I do is quite different. I open myself to the untapped magic locked away deep inside the element while I work, sculpting it into the ideal puzzle piece for my purpose. Come here. You need to see it for yourself." Hermione took his hand and guided him to stand behind her. "Place your hands on mine while I work and open yourself to me. You'll feel what I feel."
Draco molded himself to her back, following her instructions to the letter. She concentrated on her ingredient and nothing else, giving her student the best possible demonstration. Draco groaned softly, flinching away in discomfort.
"Why does your head hurt so much?" Draco wondered.
"I banged it against the edge of a table when the school screamed," Hermione mentioned.
"You have a concussion!" Draco exclaimed, tensing.
"Maybe," Hermione shrugged, unconcerned.
"Definitely," Draco asserted. "You shouldn't be making this potion. In fact, you shouldn't be performing any magic. You should be lying in the infirmary awaiting treatment. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to practice magic in your condition?"
"No, nor do I care," Hermione said while she finished with the first ingredient. "I'm a Granger. We're made out of tough stuff. I can handle the pain for a few hours." She thought about the beaker of death resting in her pocket. "I have to. People will die if I don't, starting with Professor McGonagall. If we stop now you'll have to start over from scratch. Minerva doesn't have that kind of time."
"No, she doesn't," Draco reluctantly conceded.
Hermione worked harder to distance herself from the pain so her pupil wouldn't have to feel it. They switched positions. Hermione rested her hands on Draco's, wordlessly guiding him to touch the wheat grass first to get a sense for it. Tapping into his magic was effortless. His soothing warmth enveloped her. She could stand here for hours just feeling this. A happy sigh escaped her lips, complementing his own. She distantly realized that her pain had kept their contact from reaching this level. Impulsively, she delved deeper into his essence, seeing him for the first time. Draco wasn't the vile thoughtless menace his father tried to force him to become. He was a kind, empathetic, loving person willing to die for those he cherished. He reminded Hermione of herself. Perhaps they weren't so dissimilar after all. Their magics blended, melding into one harmonious whole.
"This is different from before," Draco breathlessly whispered, leaning into the certainty of her embrace.
"The pain was acting as a barrier," Hermione breathed, never feeling so close to anyone in her life. Merlin, even the magical gestalt didn't feel like this. Their connection went further than she thought possible. Their magical cores were so nearly perfect for each other. It made Hermione and Draco's hearts ache. Perfection was virtually within their grasp – virtually, but not quite.
"Listen to the wheat grass," Hermione instructed, struggling with all her might to keep her mind focused on the task at hand. "Its magic will resonate with yours when you've made contact. It's more than sound. It's more than sight. It is sensation. Think of the ingredient as a willing extension of your being."
"Does this method work with unwilling ingredients?" Draco questioned, also fighting to maintain his composure.
"Yes, however, it isn't like working with the willing ones," Hermione advised. "True unwilling ingredients must be forced into compliance. This conscious direction opens us to their malignancy, exponentially intensifying their hazardous nature."
"If you're not careful you can make the draught too potent, messing up the dosage," Draco thought to her. He slipped underneath her impressive mental shielding, really seeing her for the first time. "Then the trick is to use the power to brew a better draught without rendering it useless to others. I understand now why Snape didn't want me to learn this too early. I could have killed myself, or someone else by accident, that's if I didn't become possessed by an unwilling ingredient I was experimenting with."
Exuberant, Hermione mentally praised, "Yes, exactly! I don't know why you worry you're not gifted in Potions. You are a natural in this vocation."
The sensation of the wheat grass's magical pulse filtered through Draco, tickling Hermione's senses. Judging by the sensation, his awareness had permanently broadened. Hermione smiled at her success. Draco now knew what it was to feel his way through a potion.
"For now, concentrate on encouraging the wheat grass to be the best possible fit for the finely ground mine salt," Hermione directed.
Draco took up the blade and sliced into the wheat grass, getting a feel for it. She contentedly observed him take to the new method with all the natural grace and skill of someone who'd practiced the technique his entire life. Before long, he was done. The wheat grass was flawlessly shaped and tempered for the theoretical task they discussed. Oddly, Hermione felt a wave of sadness. She–
"I don't want to withdraw either," Draco mentally sighed. "I've never felt this… comfortable."
"I know. It's like we're almost made for each other."
"Let's just drift together, just for a few moments," Draco thought, turning to face her. "Let's forget the danger, the pain and hardship awaiting us, just for this one beautiful moment."
Hermione gazed into his eyes, unable to deny him anything.
"Yes, let's…" Hermione's thought trailed off as she rested her head on his shoulder. Their magic, minds and bodies melded, taking comfort in each other's sheltering embrace. Images of Draco's life flooded her consciousness. A million voices and sensations overlapping one another competed for Hermione's attention. She didn't fight them, accepting whatever Draco's magic chose to confide in her, knowing full well she was leaving herself open to the same perusal. Neither shut out the other although both had the ability. The images, sounds and sensations coalesced, forming crystal clear memories untainted by the passage of time.
Hermione experienced Draco's life as though it were hers, enduring every hurt and sharing in every accomplishment. Draco didn't live the life of easy privilege as she originally thought. Clan Malfoy certainly had money and power, however Draco himself was by no means free. He had grown up in a gilded cage, which had no physical form yet bound him tighter than an actual prison. Even his magic hadn't escaped incarceration. It had been gradually and grotesquely forced into a mold it was never intended for. His magic couldn't breathe. It couldn't show its true grace for if it had, just once, Draco would have been murdered before either of them could shine. So, he tirelessly trudged through the charade and the gulf between the two sides of Draco's nature widened. Actually, it was three sides. His Sight had been concealed from him most of his life for the exact same reason.
It had taken three years and the unwitting aid of Jessica Belden, the Ravenclaw signs reader, but his magic had bridged that gap. Draco, his magical core, and his Sight were one and the same for the first time since infancy. His magic and Sight were free of the smothering constriction enfeebling them. The time they spent locked away only strengthened their might. Now that his magic finally had the power to defend them, it had no intention of going back, ever. Draco's magic was developing at an unprecedented rate. No power on Earth would be able to conceal its nature in just a few short hours. Draco would come into his own, overshadowing his father's lost grace. He will discover the two witches who completed him or they'll beat him to it. The Triumphant will be reborn. The world had waited long enough for the reemergence of the trio's collective grace.
Hermione and Draco's magical cores chose to sever the link, ending the enlightening overview. Hermione's vision was obscured by a curtain of tears. Her head pounded furiously. Her muscles twitched and ached like she had been running for hours. The world swayed, threatening to escape her awareness. The Light witch stumbled back, disoriented by the unexpected shift. She blindly reached out for something to hold onto. Her vision cleared adequately enough to see that Draco fared no better. She seized his shoulders. He grabbed her waist. The two worked to steady themselves. Draco was the first to recover. He kindheartedly guided her back to her stool so she could rest and offered her a handkerchief. She gratefully accepted it. Hermione dried her eyes, her body gradually regaining its equilibrium. Step by step, she shunted the torturous migraine back into its shell so she would be able to think clearly.
The experience had been worth the pain. Hermione currently understood Draco better than his callous unfeeling father did. He was glorious to her eyes, a treasure to be protected and cherished as he should have been from the start. Narcissa Malfoy had loved her son. Hermione knew it because Draco did. Sadly, that love hadn't sheltered Draco from Lucius' poisonous ambitions. Draco urgently needed someone in his corner with the power and motivation to shelter him in the days to come. After all, it isn't every day you become a powerful Light healer and super weapon.
Hermione would gladly act as that shield.
Hopefully, she wouldn't be his lone defender. Ginny had already pledged her aid, but she was in no condition to handle the extra burden. Draco's third cousin, once removed, Professor Montgomery and his girlfriend Claudia Astin were potential allies in the coming conflagration. There were several more possibilities to explore. They would have to see.
Draco's penetrating gaze made her wonder how he interpreted what he saw. Hermione didn't know what she had exchanged just as he didn't know what he had offered. She wished she knew what he was thinking. Why was he wary of her? Hermione's life wasn't important. Her upbringing wasn't all that interesting–
Oh! Alexis and Kathryn didn't share that belief. Those two even subtly argued over whether they should summon Professor Snape after listening to her history for five whole minutes. What had they heard that alarmed them? The fact that Hermione's records had been falsified to get her into Hogwarts a year early couldn't have spurred that kind of reaction. Draco must have experienced whatever was in Hermione's background that put purebloods on edge firsthand. She moved to take Draco's hand. He flinched, recoiling from her touch. It was more than that. Draco was afraid of her! Hermione huffed at the absurdity of it. He was wrong. She was the last person he should fear. She couldn't let him huddle alone in his personal darkness. Hermione gave herself over to instinct.
She ensnared him in a hug, whispering, "Draco, please don't be afraid of me. If what you experienced during our melding bothers you, then try to put it out of your mind. We're not enemies anymore. We'll never be again. Our magic melded so well for a reason. You're- you're important to me. You are not alone. I pledge to be your friend and ally in the days ahead. I will protect you, as your father should have. I won't let Voldemort or anyone else hurt you. You have my word as a Granger."
Draco stiffened, whispering back, "But you aren't a Granger. Granger isn't your actual surname anymore than it belongs to your parents."
"What does that matter?" Hermione wondered, perplexed. "I've been a Granger my entire life. Does it matter that my parents invented the identity to give my childhood stability, something to call my own? Are you going to reject my oath based on a technicality?"
"No, that's not it," Draco said, seizing her upper arms to hold her at a distance. "Hermione, look at me."
Infuriated by her own cowardice, she couldn't bring herself to comply for fear of facing yet another rejection. Hermione wouldn't have cared one iota about Draco's denunciation back when they were at odds. She might not have placed much stock in it mere days ago. Their shared sense of closeness changed everything. It was worse than losing Ron all over again. She wouldn't experience that feeling one more time if she could help it. The denizens in the Wizarding world normally shied away from Hermione for one reason or another. They made light of her abilities. They laughed in her face.
Hermione couldn't prepare herself to see the classic heartless rebuff she had been greeted with a thousand times in House Gryffindor. She should have been used to that kind of response after so much practice. She wasn't. Hermione hated the Wizarding world. Part of her wished she had never received that damnable letter. Did her mother Belle have a point? Was Hogwarts a mistake? Draco made the decision for Hermione, tenderly lifting her chin so they were eye to eye. Draco's expression wasn't one of rejection. It was one of sympathy.
"I'm not surprised you hate us, considering the way you've been treated… considering the way I've treated you," Draco responded, his tone seething with the intensity of his remorse. "You've artfully kept so many secrets. You have been the very soul of discretion. You're adept at satisfying your allies' needs without drawing attention to their weaknesses. You've acted with such subtlety that you've equally hoodwinked Professor Snape and Dumbledore. You possess the wisdom to know when to speak and when to maintain silence. You have the patience to lull your prey into a false sense of security before striking.
"Your gift for compartmentalizing the… diverse aspects of your nature surpasses even my own parents. Professor Snape himself would have trouble unraveling the tangled contradictory weave of your mind. I don't know what you were when the Sorting Hat evaluated you. I didn't get to experience that memory. I know what you've become, what we've– No, what mental defenses House Gryffindor has forced you to cultivate in order to protect your spirit from being utterly and irrevocably crushed by their relentless crude bullying. Hermione, you have matured into the very personification of Slytherin."
"You're wrong, Draco," Hermione interjected before he could go on. "They have crushed me."
She began to tear up again. She was sick to death of crying. She was sick of feeling. She was sick of caring. She was sick of being alive. Unable to stomach facing his blinding sympathy another moment, Hermione wrenched herself out of his grasp and spun around to face the worktable. A wave of dizziness threatened to compromise Hermione's balance. Draco offered his hand. She waved him off. She stubbornly hung onto the table until her perception of the world righted itself. Calmly, she dried her eyes. She sat back down at her workstation and started working on the next ingredient.
"A Slytherin with a Gryffindor's valiant headstrong tenacity and a Hufflepuff's unwavering sense of devotion. Finally, a Ravenclaw's unerring thirst for knowledge and razor sharp intellect," Draco softly marveled, retaking his seat. He proceeded to ground his next ingredient to fine powder. "Will wonders never cease?"
Hermione ignored the remark. The two worked in silence, alternating between preparing the ingredients and tending to the potent brew. She didn't want to think. She didn't want to feel. She didn't want to care. Draco represented all three. Hermione glanced in his direction. His body language communicated he wasn't letting this go. There was nothing she could do about it. Hermione hated feeling vulnerable. Helplessness had dogged her from the moment she joined the Wizarding World.
It wasn't getting easier with time. Nothing made it better. Maybe nothing could. Hermione would either have to learn to bear it or leave Wizarding society behind. Disappearing would be easy but would it be better? Hermione honestly didn't know. No amount of power or insight could help her with this problem. Life was the ultimate equation, one with variables Hermione couldn't began to grasp.
Emerging from the deep gray fog of slumber, Severus Snape heard tense voices around him. He felt the clinical touch of a physician from time to time. Some part of his bruised psyche knew he shouldn't be awake. Something was very wrong with him, but before he could identify what he slipped back into unconsciousness. When Severus approached full awareness again, his gradually clearing senses informed him he was in a medical facility. He kept his eyes closed, listening to Dr. Aldwin talk to two of the child healers.
"…out of immediate danger of synaptic failure, but I still don't like the look of his vitals," Dr. Aldwin said, using the same hushed tone adopted by consummate healers since the dawn of time. "John, find Professor Montgomery and inform him his colleague is under our care. Impress on him the severity of Snape's condition."
"William, increase the patient's dosage another quarter milligram…"
Severus scarcely suppressed a groan. By Merlin, his head throbbed. He felt like someone was driving a pickaxe through his brain in slow motion. A cooling substance entered his veins from an IV line in his left arm, soothing the pain to a dull ache. The voices and sensations clarified significantly, approaching his normal from before he began using Gray magic. It wasn't an encouraging sign, neither was the sensation that he was drifting away.
"Why are his vitals crashing?" Dr. Aldwin cursed. "Bloody hell, he's a Gray magician! Stop the course of treatment. Now!"
The trickle of the cooling substance ceased. Strong hands replaced the IV line and a warming fluid took its place. Severus' senses sharpened to the point they were operating just under his new normal. His body strengthened under the influence of the new medication.
"Professor Snape's vitals are stabilizing," William reported. "What happened?"
"We nearly killed him," Dr. Aldwin said gravely. "The patient should remain stable until the corruptive magic bleeds off enough for us to be able to properly diagnose him."
"What's Gray magic?" William asked.
"It would take too long to explain," Dr. Aldwin evaded. "Suffice it to say, each type of magic leaves its mark, changing the practitioner in numerous ways. For instance, the medication we just took him off of is ideal for Light wizards, ineffective for Dark wizards, but it's poisonous for a debilitated Gray... "
"What is it, sir?" William asked.
"Whoa, that was disturbing," Dr. Aldwin said. "William, I have to go. I just received another telepathic distress call. There is a medical emergency elsewhere. If the patient awakens, do not let him leave. I don't care what he threatens you with. I don't care what you have to do. Keep him inside the confines of the neural stabilization field at all costs. Snape is not your Professor right now. He is your patient. Is that understood?"
"Yes, doctor," young William replied in a tone that said in no uncertain terms the boy would obey the vampire doctor's orders without question.
Severus waited until the sounds of the doctor and his loyal assistant's voices receded. He silently counted five minutes. No one came to check on Severus at end of the count. He was free and clear for the moment. Severus opened his eyes and sat up gingerly. His entire body protested at the action. Severus closed his eyes to shut out the wave of vertigo that made his vision swim. He patiently waited for his equilibrium to stabilize. Once it did he opened his eyes and tested his muscles. His skin was paler than usual. It was harder to breathe. His reflexes were sluggish, hampering his response time. It was still faster than before his Gray shift, but only just. Severus groaned when he noticed the Order Of Salus medical bracelet decorating his wrist. He wouldn't get ten meters from the facility before they were notified of his escape. He tried to remove the bracelet, however, nothing he did to it worked. The bloody thing was escape proof.
"Well, let them try to catch me," Severus scoffed, his voice gravelly. "I've evaded far better equipped and trained search parties who have nothing but time on their hands. No doctor has ever kept me confined against my will before. They won't now. Zach will just have to understand."
Severus stood unsteadily and retrieved his clothes from a chair next to the bed. He dressed with inordinate difficulty and blended in with the shadows. He silently left his hospital room without being detected by anyone. Severus couldn't afford to indulge in the overt caution of healers and skittish children while Hogwarts needed him. It was time to unify the student body and bring this crisis to an end. Severus swore to himself he would accomplish that feat. He didn't care about the cost to himself. The children came first.
Charlie and Bill Weasley hauled their brother Percy off the dragon Morgan's back, preparing to go through the gates of Hogwarts and into the rain of misery. Everything of value they owned was shrunk down and stowed away in Morgan's saddlebags. Charlie had no fear Morgan would get herself into trouble while he was gone. She was the perfect traveling companion. She had a natural talent for concealment despite her large size and was extremely bright and appreciated a well-reasoned argument. Morgan refused to set foot on school grounds while the magical rain persisted. Charlie convinced her to wait until the storm ended and then proceed directly to the paddocks. The crack of thunder broke his train of thought. Charlie listened to the rain's magical pulse. It was the same as the white Divinus book 'Architecture Of The Divinus Animus'. It was a good thing Charlie and Bill had brought their library along. Charlie had the feeling he would need it.
"How do we get past the rain, Charlie?" Bill asked.
"I'm not sure," Charlie replied. "I had been hoping Morgan would get us to the entrance, but she doesn't want to go near it. I don't blame her. The region cries out in sympathy for Ginny."
"Its rain," Percy mocked like they were slow. "You walk through it."
"Shut up, Percy!" Charlie and Bill snapped in unison.
"Did we pack umbrellas?" Bill asked.
"Yeah, but they're not going to offer complete protection," Charlie said. "I don't normally bother with rain gear in my line of work."
"Neither do I," Bill said. "Hold him."
Charlie tightened his grip on their idiot brother while Bill pulled out the umbrellas.
"Hey, what if we modify and lighten them?" Bill helpfully suggested. "That way we can keep dry."
"Do it," Charlie said, taking out his wand. He conjured shackles and chains on Percy's arms and legs, restricting the fool's movements. He conjured a short chain and attached it to the shackles on Percy's wrists to use as a leash. Charlie and Bill finished at the same time. Their multicolored oversized umbrellas were comical yet serviceable. They dragged Percy through the dangerous psychic rain, ignoring their younger brother's complaints and periodic yelps of pain. It didn't take long to reach Hogwarts' massive double doors. Charlie led them inside, grateful to escape the frightening display of Ginny's pain. Bill shut the doors behind them and used a drying spell to clean up the toxic water they had tracked in.
Charlie felt strange. He held up his hand, shaking his head to clear it. There was a freaky disconcerting buzz in his ears, like the hum of voices just beyond his range of hearing. The Entrance Hall's atmosphere became oppressive. Charlie got the impression the air was alive, singing songs of fear and loss, which overshadowed the faintest foretaste of death. Apparitions of students and Professors went about their daily business in high speed as though they were moving in fast-forward.
"What's happening to me?" Charlie whispered, knocked breathless by the overwhelming wealth of impressions. "A waking dream?"
The apparitions faded. Bill and Percy were gone too. He wasn't even in the Entrance Hall anymore. Charlie stood in an enormous fully enclosed recreation of a magical forest, complete with benign wildlife. He turned around slowly, taking in the beautiful craftsmanship. It must have taken a team of talented Herbology and Creatures masters to create this self-sustaining ecosystem.
"Imagine the money it would have taken to create and maintain this," Charlie said in admiration, talking to himself. "What would someone need all this for?"
"To keep our wolves happy during the full moon," a little girl's voice answered. "There are other habi- habit- habitats like ours, but they're for other werewolf families. This one is ours. Matron says it will be till the day we die."
Charlie turned towards the voice, coming face to face with a little girl no more than six years old. She had long wavy strawberry blonde hair that went down to her knees, piercing indigo blue eyes that seemed to peer into his very soul, latte skin, rosy cheeks, and was a bit chubby for her age. She wore a velvet purple dress that complimented her eyes. The child was absolutely adorable! He had no doubt the girl would one day grow up to be a maiden of incredible beauty. Charlie raised an eyebrow at sensing that the child before him was the perfect blend of natural born Lycanthrope, Hydriad, and humanity. It was an exotic combination.
"Habitat is a big word for someone so young," Charlie remarked as he watched the girl timidly approach.
"My brother and I are geniuses, just like our daddy," the little girl said. "Matron says mommy was a Hydriad, that's a water nymph, and one eighth human who got bitten by a werewolf during the full moon. Daddy was human, more or less. We're half and half by daylight and a wolf by moonlight, so my brother and I are extra weird, that's what the others keep thinking anyway. Do you think we're weird?"
"I think everybody is weird in their own right," Charlie answered, shrugging. "I look after dragons for a living. Some think that makes me weird."
"Dragons? Neat!" another child said, running up to them. "Sister, we found a cool grown up!"
The little boy was clearly the girl's twin with the same knee-length wavy strawberry blonde hair, indigo blue eyes that carried the same unadorned intent gaze as his sister, latte skin, rosy cheeks, and slight chubbiness. He was clad in a purple velvet outfit that perfectly complemented his sister's. Charlie dimly recalled that half nymph boys were incredibly rare. Once nymph enters the genetic mix the odds of breeding male children plummets. As a result, the practice of interbreeding with nymphs is frowned upon by some of the most closed-minded pure blood families who stubbornly hold onto the belief that women don't make for good heads of families. The enchanting twins stood side-by-side, dazzling Charlie with their mesmerizing nature. They each held out one of their small hands. Charlie took the dazzling twins' hands and let them lead him wherever they desired.
Strangely abstracted, he realized the twin's nymphly traits were both predominant and potent, namely the nymphly magical compulsion. It was half Novocain and half love spell, keeping their prey sedate and agreeable. Charlie suspected the mysterious children were at least fifty percent nymph. Natural born werewolves with the power to bewitch everyone they meet into accepting, and even loving them. Most werewolves would kill for that talent. These children had bright futures ahead of them. They have the honor of being the exception to the rules. They will be adored, wealthy and popular, practically capable of getting away with murder. The twins led him over to three other children sitting on a blue and white-checkered blanket, who were having a picnic. The small group were different ages. They wore radically different clothing, indicating their diverse backgrounds.
"My name is Calla and this is my twin brother Andrew," the young natural born werewolf introduced them. "We're age 6. Here is our eldest sister Hanna. She's age 8, going on nine." A beautiful girl with caramel colored skin, long azurite blue hair, and crystal blue eyes waved at him shyly. Charlie noticed little Hanna was wearing a homespun green and brown dress and leather sandals. She was a denizen of the forest. Nothing in her appearance identified which one. "This is our second oldest sister, Evelyn, also age 8. Her birthday is just two months after Hanna's." A darling girl with long thick curly coppery hair and forest green eyes got up to shake his hand and retook her seat. Evelyn wore a gray muggle traveling outfit and sturdy hiking boots. "Lastly, this is our little brother Aidan. He's 2 years old."
A Malfoy blonde toddler with silver-gray eyes and alabaster skin waved at him with both hands. Chocolate sauce smudged his fingertips and cheeks, indicating he had gotten into the fridge while his mother wasn't looking. Despite the mess, the boy's brown patchwork shirt and matching pants were clean. The youngest child's long hair and skin radiated health. The boy smiled serenely, communicating in images that his mom Wynnie didn't have much, but he was happy and safe. The village they had just moved to was even helping out, leaving him and his mother presents to help them get by. They wanted to move the pair out of their shabby shack at the edge of town and into one of the nice houses in the town square, but his mommy was being stubborn. Mommy was strong. She didn't like handouts or people telling her what to do. She really, really hated pity. Mommy wanted no part of pity.
"Don't mind Aidan," Evelyn said. "He doesn't talk… in words, that is. I think he knows how. He just doesn't want to. He doesn't like words."
"He doesn't talk yet," Calla replied knowingly. "He will when he has something to say."
"Aidan is telepathic and empathic, and a very powerful one too," Hanna clarified. "He's lived his whole life among muggles who don't understand him or want to. If I were him, I wouldn't want to talk either. His mommy brought him back to daddy's village because she was afraid for him, but daddy had moved on by then."
"Who is your father?" Charlie asked, curious about this strange group of Seer children.
"Zachary Alvin Montgomery," Evelyn proudly answered. "Don't be mad at daddy. He doesn't know about us, that's why we're talking to you. Our family used to be cursed for some reason. Now that it isn't anymore, we're trying to find him again. It should work this time. You shouldn't get hit by a bus or a meteor like the last two contacts did. Mom used to say timing was everything."
"Used to?" Charlie repeated.
"She's dead," Evelyn replied. "I ran away from the muggle orphanage to find our father myself. I'm currently on a plane heading for England. My flight will be touching down soon. I could use a ride from the airport, but I can manage on my own if that isn't possible. Aidan, Calla, and Andrew, on the other hand, need your help. They can't get away from their caretakers. Calla and Andrew here are locked up tighter than Fort Knox, and Aidan is too young to make his way on his own. As for Hanna, she's received a fuzzy vision that says her mom will be bringing her to daddy soon, so she doesn't need help either."
"How did a muggle orphan get on a plane by herself for an overseas voyage?" Charlie asked.
"I got my ways," Evelyn enigmatically eluded.
"Oh, stop being so dramatic, Eve," Hanna said. "Tell the man the truth."
"Fine. I used my extremely cool mind control powers to obtain cash, borrow a young couple that are desperate to have a baby who were coming to this country anyway, and convinced security I have a passport or whatever else they think I need to belong. As a result, I'm flying first class with my 'parents' on the airline's dime. Cool, huh?"
"Yeah, but… how do you borrow people?" Charlie wondered, mystified.
"Their desire to have children was a portal I could exploit to my own ends," Evelyn explained. "Right now, they're deliriously happy to have me around, doting on my every need. I'll erase the daughter persona from their minds once we land. They'll continue on with their lives like nothing ever happened."
"How do you know they'll be fine, Eve?" Hanna asked, snappish. "It's mean to con them!"
"The illusion doesn't hurt them and it's necessary," Evelyn persisted. "Later on, any impressions left behind will be taken for a pleasant half-remembered dream or a flight of fancy, that's if they retain anything at all from the experience. They often don't. I'm very good."
"It's still mean," Hanna maintained, crossing her arms.
Aidan looked at his bickering elder half-sisters with a sad expression, his little bottom lip trembling. Calla held out her arms to her youngest brother. He ran unsteadily to the security of her embrace.
"Alright, alright! We'll stop arguing, Aidan," Evelyn promised. She let out a noisy, irritated breath. "I keep forgetting how sensitive he is."
"What are your last names and locations?" Charlie asked.
"Where I live doesn't matter, but I know Calla, Andrew and Aidan's current addresses," Hanna replied. "The werewolf twins were born and raised here-" Hanna waved a hand at the vast chamber. "-at the Montgomery Organization For Special Needs, English branch. Dad will have the address. Aidan lives on 127 Clove Street, just off of Holly Road in the village where our father lived in during his exile. He'll know where that is too."
"Oh, and I'd be grateful if someone can pick me up at Heathrow airport in two hours," Evelyn added. "I'll wait an hour for a person with a sign reading 'Evelyn Montgomery' to arrive, but after that I'll make my own way."
"Using your cool mind control powers?" Charlie guessed.
"Exactly," Evelyn said, nodding.
"The boring vision we've hijacked is almost out of power," Calla informed them. "If anyone has a personal message for daddy, give it to him now."
Aidan left little Calla's embrace and toddled over to Charlie. The Dragon Caretaker knelt in front of the little boy. Aidan rested a hand on Charlie's right cheek, conveying boundless love, affection and trust in that little gesture for a person the boy had never met, but had heard about all his life. Charlie understood the message. Aidan kissed Charlie's cheek, wordlessly thanking him. The toddler giggled, showing him a small, dainty, gorgeous nymphly maiden with long pale green hair with the most enchanting silver highlights, vivid blue-green eyes, and pomegranate red lips. There was an enchanting strength about her that bespoke of a warrior's spirit under that delicate refined exterior. Aidan bounded off to Hanna. The eight-year-old girl embraced the toddler automatically, burying her face in his soft blonde hair. Charlie could see why Aidan's muggle mother was desperate to find the child's birth father.
"Tell daddy that Andrew and I look forward to meeting him," Calla said. "We'd love for him to see us in wolf form. Matron says we're the prettiest wolves she's ever seen and she's seen lots."
"You've never told me your last names," Charlie pointed out.
"Just tell father 'they called my mom the ultimate exotic' if you want him to recall his encounter with my mother," Evelyn said. "They met while he was on vacation. They didn't use real names. Zachary used his real name at the end. He offered to take my mother away from her sad empty life. She said no and never gave him her actual name. She was wrong."
"Aidan's last name is Williams," Andrew helpfully supplied. "My twin and me come from clan Tate."
"My mother's name is Ash," Hanna said. "We don't have a last name because you don't need one in the forest."
"Good luck!" the children called as one with the exception of Aidan who simply waved. The vision faded. Charlie was back in the Entrance Hall. Percy and Bill stared at him with worried expressions.
"Charlie, are you okay?" Bill asked.
"I think so," Charlie replied, shaking his head as he mulled over what he had seen. "I just had the weirdest vision. We need to see Professor Montgomery, right now. I have something important to tell him."
"Something more important than coming up with a plan to rescue his pregnant niece?" Bill asked. "What could be more important than that?"
"Professor Montgomery's five long lost illegitimate children," Charlie stated, absolutely certain. "They just contacted me through what they called 'a boring vision.' Come on. Someone has to be at Heathrow airport in the next two hours. We don't have time to waste."
It was hard to believe his psychic powers were real, but he was beginning to. There was too much supporting evidence. Charlie Weasley had to face facts. He was a Seer. His life would never be the same.
Ron's desperate explanations replayed in Sirius' brain again and again as he searched for Harry and Remus in dog form. "Look Sirius, I don't know how long I have, so I'm not going to repeat myself. I'm the real Ron. You-Know-Who possessed me just after Halloween. He's kept me a prisoner in my own body..."
Chaos was sweeping through Hogwarts. The children were acting stranger and stranger. Where was Headmaster Dumbledore? Why wasn't he here to regain order? What could be more important to the old man than his beloved children? Ron said Harry didn't confide in Professor Dumbledore about his own best friend's possession. Sirius was beginning to see why. If the head of Hogwarts couldn't be trusted then who could? The thought of Albus Dumbledore forsaking his duty to Hogwarts was just too terrible to contemplate.
He sniffed the ground for the umpteenth time, trying to pick up either of their scents. Just when Sirius was about to give up hope, he smelled Remus nearby. His old friend was heading this way. It was about damned time! Ducking into an empty forgotten classroom to avoid detection, Sirius waited for Remus to come into sight. He heard the sound of hurried footsteps. Peeking out the doorway, the Animagus saw Remus running down the corridor by himself with his wand drawn. Perfect. This was Sirius' chance to make up for all the stupid things he's done. The Animagus transformed back into a human. Padfoot knew Ron would understand his reasons for bringing old Moony into the picture. They need the help of an able trust-worthy adult if they were to save the boy. As his friend approached Sirius grabbed Remus and pulled him inside the room.
It happened so fast that the whole thing was a blur. Remus used Sirius' own force against him to throw the wanted wizard flat onto his back and then cast a powerful enchantment on Sirius to restrain him without so much as uttering a single syllable. Sirius looked up dazed to see Remus' wand leveled on him. If his friend shot him now there would be nothing he could do.
"Remus, stop!" Sirius pleaded. "It's me!"
"Padfoot, what are you doing out here?" Remus said, keeping his wand trained on him.
"You mind letting me up?" Sirius asked.
"Actually, I do mind," Remus replied, irritated. "I don't have time for your nonsense. I've got a school of panicking kids. If the staff can't prove that we can protect our children at this point we'll never be able to regain their trust."
"Is Dumbledore back at the helm trying to put things right?" Sirius asked hopefully.
"Not him, Severus," Remus replied.
"Do you really trust Snape?" Sirius wondered.
"I trust my friend and colleague to the ends of the Earth," Remus attested. "Now, if you intend to rant about how Severus and Zach are corrupting the children-"
"No, this is important, real important – life or death important," Sirius said.
Sighing, Remus lowered his wand.
"Make it quick," Remus stipulated.
"If you're going to keep me pinned like this then put up a silencing charm," Sirius requested. "We can't risk this getting back to him."
Remus secured the door with a particularly difficult locking spell and placed a powerful silencing ward on the chamber.
"You know, with your gift for Charms you'd make a terrific master," Sirius complimented. "You mind removing the restraint charm now?"
"Continue," Remus tersely prompted.
Sirius told him everything he knew about Ron's tortured state. Remus remained silent throughout the entire explanation, never once questioning Sirius' version of the events.
Introspective, Remus fathomed, "The situation is worse than I first surmised, however, your explanation sheds light on a great many things, including Virginia's despairing rant. If she knows then so must Severus. It also explains why Harry snitched on Hermione over that Rita Skeeter business. He must be trying to protect her. The dates fit. This isn't the kind of secret you can risk sharing, especially in a school with a growing population of powerful telepaths. Thank you, Padfoot. You've done the right thing by coming to me first. Rest assured, we'll deal with this latest development in due course. For your own safety, I need to keep you out of sight. I suggest you change back into dog form. You'll only have yourself to blame if someone gets lucky and finds you in human form because you were too stubborn to do what you're told."
Remus released him from the restraints.
"What are you going to do?" Sirius asked before obediently returning to dog form.
Cryptically, Remus answered, "Save the children from their worst enemy, themselves."
Sirius' old friend struck him with a sedation charm and he knew no more.
Evelyn Montgomery's plane touched down, waking the eight-year-old girl from her restless slumber. In her weirdly vivid nightmare she had been running through a freezing cold dead moonlit land with a forbidding crumbly castle in the distance, being hunted by a giant ghostly wraith named Fellan. He was clad from head to toe in black robes that billowed although the air was still. The hood of his cloak concealed his face yet she somehow knew what lay under there. Fellan was one of the skeletal eyeless monsters which had inhabited her and her siblings dreams for as long as she could remember.
Humans called them Dementors, a name they accepted with pride. This was the first time one actually chased her. Fellan stalked little Evelyn, hungering to get his creepy skeletal hands on her tiny frame. She barely managed to stay a step ahead of him. The worse part of the dream hadn't been the fear. It was the sense that defeat was inevitable because something worse than death awaited her if she got caught. She knew in her heart the monster Fellan was real. She was going to see him in person someday. Their encounter wouldn't play out like in the nightmare, but that definitely wasn't a good thing.
Evelyn shook off the miserable portent. It was over. Fellan couldn't hurt her until they met, she hoped. Evelyn checked herself in her late mother's ornate golden compact. She was a robust pretty little witch with long thick curly hair the color of bright copper and forest green eyes, wearing a gray muggle traveling outfit and sturdy hiking boots. She checked her digital watch. They were landing much earlier than expected. Evelyn cursed under her breath too softly for her temporary parents to hear. What a blunder! She had given Charlie the wrong time. There was no way her ride could arrive before the deadline. She wondered if she should wait the extra time or head out right away. Evelyn sighed, deciding to wait. The magical and muggle factions after her had no idea she was in this country. She was safe for the time being.
"We're here, darling," temporary mom said, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. "It's time to go."
"Yes, mom," Evelyn dutifully replied.
She was going to miss the sweet young couple. They gathered their carry-on luggage and climbed off the plane. Evelyn carried her heavy hiking backpack without too much difficulty. Everything she owned in the world was crammed into that bag. Thank Morgana she could manipulate the muggle guards to keep them from searching it otherwise she'd have serious problems on her hands. Evelyn had made up a spell to make the inside of her bag much bigger, so she could fit significantly more. Unfortunately, the spell didn't take away all the weight. Evelyn wished she had had time to perfect the space expansion enchantment, but she had been in a hurry. Being on the run from everyone does that to you. If things got serious, she would have to ditch her belongings. That would really suck. Evelyn laughed at her silly morose thoughts. There was no way anything was going to happen. After all, in this country she was just an ordinary girl.
What could possibly go wrong?
When Evelyn and her temporary parents were past security, she decided it was time to part ways. She halted, breathing another sigh. She really liked these two. Hanna's lectures about Evelyn's mind control powers echoed in her head. Hanna didn't understand. Her big sister might never get it.
"Mom, dad," Evelyn said, stopping them in their tracks. "It was really nice to meet you. I hope you get the happiness you deserve." She took their hands, dipping her proverbial toes in the waters of their future. There were children in it along with a dark cloud. "Dad, don't get on the bus to work with the broken mirror and the driver with the cruel face. If you do, you'll die."
Evelyn withdrew her influence before either could respond, erased the daughter persona and every memory associated with it, leaving the young couple with the warning buried deep in their subconscious. It would resurface when the time was right. Evelyn let her hands drop to her sides. Her temporary parents stared at her in confusion, as if trying to recall a dream. Satisfied with her handiwork, Evelyn turned and disappeared into the crowd. She had dinner at a boring sterile little establishment in the airport. Evelyn curbed her impatience, sternly reminding herself that the mistake about the time was solely hers. Damn muggle efficiency!
Evelyn became aware of an icy cold magical void tugging at the edge of her senses at the same time as she was struck by the feeling of a net tightening around her. She gasped, her breathing becoming unsteady. By all was that good, how did anyone find her here? Getting ahold of herself, Evelyn cast her senses outwards in the hopes of getting a clear fix on her would-be kidnappers. Representatives of four separate groups carrying negative intent towards her were on the hunt.
The Institute were a familiar hindrance, easily baulked yet never defeated. Lucius Malfoy and his loyal Death Eater pals had come after her before. She had always somehow managed to evade them without a direct confrontation. It was good luck, she guessed. The Unspeakables, who she believed were shadowy agents of the Light regime, was the group responsible for her mother's murder. The ever-creepy Mad-Eye Moody was heading the pack this time, rather than the Light monster's cruel barren daughter. Oh dear, the Dementors were actively haunting her footsteps too! They were newcomers to the playing field.
It had been a full week since Evelyn evaded so many predators. How in the world did they know where she was going? Evelyn hated being the prey. She was a huntress at heart. The thought of being snared by other predators was personally offensive. What Evelyn wouldn't give to possess the power to safeguard herself. She was working at strengthening herself almost every day. Evelyn was determined to be strong by the time she matured.
The image of hiding behind her father Zach's skirts was equal parts comical and distasteful. Like it or not, Evelyn needed his protection. She was years away from protecting herself against more than a few low level enemies, never mind the high level ones. It was too late to retreat. Her best bet for getting out of this in one piece was using evasion and distraction tactics until a genuine opening in the net appeared and then slipping through it with all the stealth at her command. The moment Evelyn was outside she could unfurl her fairy wings and fly off to safety without being seen by the muggles.
The young witch was both cunning and bright. She knew sometimes creativity and clever tap dancing isn't enough. Was this the end of the joy ride which had been spurred by her mother's brutal slaying? Evelyn affirmed to herself that this wasn't over. She was a Montgomery, through and through. She wouldn't be captured by the enemy. Her natural talents would see her through this latest brushfire. Evelyn was going to get the chance to meet her father and see her siblings in person for the very first time.
She drew her fairy wand and her elven flute. Her ancient living wand looked like a white gnarled stick to the untrained eye while her lovely platinum flute appeared to be a simple musical instrument. Evelyn left the ugly restaurant only to be confronted by the first group of the day, the Institute's intellectual dogcatchers. A deliberately disarming looking eighteen-year-old blonde muggle tentatively stepped forward, so as not to startle the young witch nor draw the attention of authorities. Evelyn groaned. Man, oh man was she sick of their pedantic speeches.
"Evelyn, we're not here to hurt you," the pretty blonde said in a soft obnoxiously reasonable plaintive tone. "We just want to talk. Hear us out. We haven't seen genius like yours in a solid decade. You are a gifted, capable young lady, deserving of far more than the life of a runaway and vagabond. You won't lose your independence. You'll gain a family sworn to your side. Our think tank will provide you with protection, food, shelter, clothing, a generous allowance and a first-class education. With us, you can research and experiment whatever you wish to your heart's content."
"And live behind a locked door I don't have the key for?" Evelyn shook her head. "Thanks, but no thanks." She turned to leave before they could bend her ear once more, unwittingly giving the other groups a chance to pen her in. "I've been teaching myself. If I want to enter an Ivy League school and earn a fancy degree, I'll forge the necessary records and conjure up the funds myself. As for my safety and comfort, I have my own plans for securing a place for myself. Don't try to follow me or else you'll be stuck with a headache that will take hours to unravel."
"We know why you've come to this country," the Institute flunky said, halting Evelyn in her tracks. "Your birth father lives here. Zachary Alvin Montgomery, commonly known as Zach by his friends and close associates, is twenty-eight years old. He and his rather large extended family own many prosperous corporations worldwide. His front of being a generous philanthropist is just that, a front. Your father is a dangerous man. Showing up on his doorstep unannounced isn't the smartest opening move. We can smooth over your introduction and, if needed, protect you from him."
"Zach won't hurt me and you can't protect me from what's chasing me," Evelyn affirmed, turning to face them again. "Montgomerys believe in family above all else. He'll accept his children with open arms. Save your dossier. I've read it."
"You hacked our server?" the flunky reacted, astonished.
"There's never been a security system I couldn't crack," Evelyn declared proudly. "It only takes time. To your credit, though, your techs have talent. It was my most challenging scoop yet." Evelyn sensed the net beginning to tighten. She had to escape while she had the chance. "You won't leave me alone until you've gotten something. Fine. If you stand aside now I'll email you after I meet my father and tell you how it went. Maybe we can start with simple correspondence, considering you want my cooperation."
The young woman nodded. The members of the Institute immediately stood aside. Evelyn strode by the first group, relieved to feel their acquiescence. An email or two every now and then was a small price to pay for her continued freedom. After all, this group's purpose wasn't capture. It was to get their foot in the door. That was one down and three to go. The others weren't going to be assuaged so easily. They were out to kidnap her before she reached a place of safety. Evelyn had to play this carefully since the rest were willing to murder innocent bystanders to achieve their goal.
The Unspeakables were the nearest. She shuddered when she read their leader's mind. Eww! Mad-Eye Moody's mind was an icky sewer! The corrupt Light wizards had a full description and were attempting to track the little girl through her magic. Luckily, he mistakenly thought she was primarily human, so they had no idea what they were looking for. Evelyn was free to use her more exotic powers against them. Were the rest so ignorant? There was only one way know. She slipped by Mad-Eye Moody and his ilk using her mind control powers to become all but invisible. It was almost too easy. Once she was at a safe distance she blended into a crowd of vacationing families and children, trading her detectable psychic shield for a subtler one.
"So far, so good," Evelyn murmured to herself.
She slipped under Lucius' mental defenses, which were complex and numerous. Lucius Malfoy's men were much further away in the wrong area of the airport entirely. They knew what to search for and how. She had been right about Lucius' Death Eater status, but his servants weren't. They were loyal solitary Dark practitioners. The Dark Lord wasn't after her after all. The high-ranking Death Eater wanted her for himself. Surprisingly, Lucius' thoughts weren't nearly as icky as Mad-Eye Moody's. The dangerous wizard kept a tight lid on his past deeds and personal demons, unlike the corrupt Auror who was ruled by the dark terrible things in his head.
Crazily, Evelyn felt a kinship to Lucius Malfoy, like she could trust him with her life and secrets. The flash of insight didn't make sense, but then she didn't expect it to. The Sight and instinct had no reason to explain themselves. Evelyn wished she knew which one it had come from. The two types of insight had gotten mixed up more times than the little witch could count. Not one to waste an opportunity, Evelyn skimmed through Lucius' recent memories and found something unexpected, thoughts about Zach.
"He knows Zach?" Evelyn thought, taken aback by the info.
"You've come to this country seeking Zachary because you believe he is connected to your birth father," Lucius very deliberated thought back at her. Unexpectedly, he began to lead his team in her general direction. "You believe your father is a powerful dangerous wizard of high standing, who will welcome you with open arms."
Uh-oh, how did the dangerous unpredictable wizard just read her mind like an open book? Evelyn swallowed, making no effort to correct the savvy Death Eater's messed up assumption.
"You're not an active Seer," Evelyn evaluated, abandoning her plan of ambling along with the families until they eventually left the terminal. She ran for it down the only baddie free path. It was a good thing she had memorized the airport's layout or things would get dicey real quick.
"No, I'm not a Seer, but telepathic connections operate both ways," Lucius thought at her with an amused chuckle. "My experience with Seers allows me to manipulate this form of unguarded link."
The ancient Dementor Fellan and his disciplined pack picked up on their curious exchange and made a beeline directly for the eight-year-old witch.
"Shit!" Evelyn exclaimed both telepathically and aloud, fear and panic beginning to rise to the surface of her thoughts. "The Dementors have caught my magical scent! There's no way to slip by them now. Umm… I hate to say this, but… if you want your prize, you're going to have rescue it from your rivals."
Evelyn showed the Death Eater general the quickest route to her position and where she planned to go. Lucius ordered his servants to pick up the pace as he began a dead run that would put a professional athlete to shame. Evelyn had no idea why the Dark wizard felt trustworthy. Her instincts had better not be going haywire, because her life depended on them. Doing the math, Evelyn concluded the Dementors would overtake her before the Dark wizard arrived. She was going to need support.
The little witch cast the mental net wide, seeking muggle security with nothing to live for and no one to miss them, along with murderers, sociopaths, psychopaths and the like. She implanted an irresistible hunch in their subconscious that would draw them towards her chosen battleground. These muggles wouldn't be able to perceive her, but they would single out on all threats to her as though it was their lives at stake, whether the threat was visible or not. Evelyn also sent out an upsetting psychic pulse to the innocent muggles in her chosen battleground to clear them out and killed the cameras for good measure. It wouldn't do for the Institute to get ahold of verifiable proof of magic. The crowds of people thinned as she left behind the populated public region of the airport. The temperature dropped like a stone into a ravine. Cold dread gripped Evelyn just like in the dream, squashing her happy thoughts. By Morgana, she felt sick to her stomach.
She needed more help, lots more. How far away was the Institute welcoming committee and the Unspeakables' hunting party? The Institute's lackeys were too distant to be useful. It was better to let them go. The Unspeakable wizards weren't all that far. She gave the corrupt Light wizards the same hunch as her muggle helpers, blinding all under her sway to Lucius' party while she was at it. After all, Lucius couldn't very well rescue Evelyn if he was too busy pulling his own bacon out of the fire. Mad-Eye Moody and his creepy band headed directly for the battleground at a frustratingly slower pace than Lucius. The corrupt Light wizards were going to be late. Evelyn gulped. Everyone was going to be late, even her minions. She had to make it through the first round on her own.
Evelyn halted at the center of muggle no man's land and shrugged off her backpack. She ignited her fairy wand with pure positive energy. Expertly playing her elven flute with one hand, she layered herself with every intent-based protection ward she knew and a few she borrowed from Lucius' mind. She was prepared for her first direct confrontation with the Dementors, although she felt anything but ready. A coldness that had nothing to do with the temperature seeped into her bones, making her quake in terror.
The weird cold spot in Evelyn's heart, which she and her siblings had been born with, crackled to life. Like the neat Sight gifts, that grain of life-destroying power had connected Zach's five children from birth. It enabled them to recognize one another. Without it, they never would have forged their long distance mental link. Without it, they would have been blind to the flavor of life's beauty like normal people. Without it, they wouldn't be able to devour the essence of any and every living thing they chose. Evelyn hated that power. It was monstrous. It was wrong. It was inescapable. Like her brothers and sisters, Evelyn could only hope to prevent it from hurting anybody.
The poisonous insatiable power fought its tether, gaining strength from the Dementor's nearness. Evelyn let out a pained gasp, despite the fact that the unnatural sensation didn't hurt. It felt good in a sickening way. The muggle lights dimmed. It was way too late to back out of this brainless plan. It was way too late to retreat. Evelyn could only hope that she survived the next few minutes, frail as that hope was. Fellan and his pack were surrounding her position, eight in total. Their thoughts and feelings pressed in on Evelyn's young mind, drawing her towards the bleak void they called a consciousness. Fellan was the first to appear out of the gloom. His action was a twisted mockery of what the Institute representative had done.
"Surrender yourself to us willingly, Evelyn Montgomery," Fellan proclaimed in her thoughts, his words eerily echoed by the others. "As a child of our wayward youth, Zachary Montgomery, you are our hope and our doom. You are our bait and our treasure. You are Dementor in humanlike guise. You belong with your own kind!"
"My siblings and I are not your kind!" Evelyn refused, emblazoning the protective grace of her curly gnarled fairy wand. "My daddy isn't your kind either!"
The cold power inside Evelyn gained ground, refuting the little witch's denials with its unmistakable kinship to the monsters and the insatiable hunger they shared. For the first time in Evelyn's eight years, she had a name for the sick terrible power she had been born with – Dementor. This was her father Zach's dominant inhuman contribution of the legacy of the ultimate exotic and yet another curse that had been passed down to his five kids. Evelyn's eyes watered. She stubbornly refused to cry. She had to focus. She had to defend herself against- against her own kin. There was no escaping that.
The longer Evelyn stood there, the more of Fellan's essence she absorbed, and the better she understood Dementor kind. Fellan's race were empaths of the worst sort. He wasn't going to buy wheeling and dealing. He couldn't be threatened or killed in the classical sense. Fellan was a creature of single-minded purpose. Nothing would distract him from his goal. The cost of failure wasn't death. It was so much worse. It was losing the capacity for love and joy. It was the forfeiting the chance for healthy growth. It was surrendering her humanity.
"You want me, uncle Fellan, come and get me!" Evelyn challenged, bracing herself to meet him head-on. "Let's see who will gobble up whom!"
The pack of eight pounced the desperate witch's wards from all sides, shattering several outer layers of her defenses in their first coordinated strike. The Dementors concentrated their power in precise, timed assaults designed to expose weaknesses in her wards, all the while delivering multi-pronged telepathic and empathic bombardment on her psyche. Evelyn felt each malevolent strike against her wards like a physical blow and each mental one like knives raking through her soul, but she held the line. It took an entire minute to tear down the next ward and two more to demolish the one after that.
"My father refused you just as I am doing now," Evelyn intuitively read between the lines of savagery and animalistic fury. She was tiring, despite her unshakable resolve. Time was running out. "He wouldn't give you what you really wanted, what you craved. It was a bait and switch, but there was no way to get out unscathed. Zach ate one of you instead of being eaten, didn't he?"
The piercing shrieks that answered Evelyn was all the conformation she needed. Like the Sight, the Dementor's Kiss was a two way street. You can take things out and put things in. It depends on how you use it. Uncle Fellan didn't want to draw out her soul. He wanted to swamp her system with Dementor energy until she succumbed. Fellan needed her to yield because that would make the process irreversible. Well, Evelyn wasn't afraid of the big bad wolf. There was no power in magic like the willingly given.
There was still a chance even if Fellan initiated the Kiss. Evelyn had only to refuse longer that he could keep it up. The next ward failed. Was this what her father felt when he faced this trial? Had he felt hope and terror and resolve and absolute faith in his magical gifts so hopelessly blended he couldn't tell where one ended and the other began? Did her father have the presence of mind to count the cost or had he operated on pure instinct?
Another ward collapsed. There were only two left and they weren't at their best. Evelyn estimated the Dementors would be through in another minute. Her fairy magic would hold them off for thirty to forty-five seconds at the very most and then Fellan would be upon her. Sometimes Evelyn hated being smart. She couldn't delude herself with false hope. The last minute passed reluctantly and at the same time far too quickly. As anticipated, her last two wards failed together. Evelyn pushed back the eager unguarded onslaught with a blast of fairy might. The eight Dementors flew back several feet. She managed it a second time, but the strike took a lot more power.
The third time Evelyn was overwhelmed.
Four Dementors held her arms and legs while three stood watch, leaving Fellan free to act. Evelyn struggled against her captor's clammy chilling grasp, however, each monster possessed inhuman strength.
This was total overkill! Fellan climbed on top of Evelyn and seized the sides of her head, immobilizing that too. An unbidden tear rolled down her cheek as soul-wrenching dread clawed at her sanity. Evelyn refused to scream. She refused to retreat into hysteria's protective embrace.
The little witch had to keep her head, now more than ever. Fellan shrugged off his hood, revealing hisleathery eyeless face. Eww! The cold horrifying power in Evelyn that was wholly Dementor exulted in triumph. She stilled, readying herself for the most personal onslaught yet. The Dementors offered her absolute power. Evelyn yearned for power, just not at the cost of her humanity. She would hold the line and win just like her father before her.
In magic, belief was everything.
Fellan forced Evelyn's jaw open and clamped his mouth over hers, pouring his poisonous essence down her throat. Evelyn choked. She couldn't help the reflex anymore than she could escape the piercing icy cold which drove away any memory of warmth and feeling. Evelyn couldn't feel her heart. It was like she didn't have one. The mindset of the cold calculating predator was no stranger and it was no threat. It was simply another part of her. Evelyn used the clarity it offered to dig in and fight the change. Her Dementor power leapt to the surface, seeking to expunge every last trace of her humanity. Evelyn was the person she wanted to be. No one was going to change that. She wouldn't permit it!
The icy burn of Dementor life energy swamped her senses, gaining strength with each agonizingly long second. The power could do what it wanted to her body. The effect wouldn't be permanent so long as it didn't take over her mind. Evelyn lost track of time while the internal storm raged, maintaining her essence of self. She realized why she could hold the line until the Dementor's energy was spent without her father's years of training and discipline. This devastating experience would be nothing to recover from because Evelyn was built for this. Zach had given her the gift of eternal endurance along with the Dementor's curse. His incredible legacy made the little witch's vital spirit untouchable.
Evelyn loved her daddy Zach more than ever, giving her strength beyond all measure. Fervent love broke Fellan's spell. The warm feeling chased away the ice overflowing her being. The fog clouding her senses broke. Evelyn regained control of her Dementor side and dispelled the poisonous energy in one great burst. Fellan and his pack were blown backwards by her power. She gulped in fresh clean air, thankful beyond measure for that simple freedom. Bone-chilling outraged shrieks reverberated through the air. Murderous rage came off the Dementors in tangible waves. The little girl rolled over and got on her hands and knees. She scrambled over to retrieve her fairy wand and her elven flute. The eight wraiths turned on her as one. They were going to physically hurt her now. Evelyn cowered, painfully aware that her magical tools would be useless this time around. She didn't know what to do.
Lucius Malfoy sprinted into the chamber, aimed his wand at the advancing Dementors and fired a stream of silvery white energy at Fellan himself. The protective spell took the form of a fierce ghostly griffin. The griffin's intense light made Evelyn's eyes hurt, strongly disagreeing with her hybrid nature. The griffin's very presence made her feverishly warm. Every muscle in her small body felt like it was being stabbed. The little witch averted her gaze, paralyzed by the silvery griffin's power. No, Evelyn corrected herself, it wasn't messing with her hybrid state, only the Dementor nature itself.
Lucius swept Evelyn into his arms. The gentle protectiveness caught her off guard. She felt safe there, secure. Evelyn couldn't understand the kinship she felt for the dangerous stranger. He wasn't family, was he? Lucius knew her father. Maybe that explained it. Evelyn heard Lucius' breath catch. She felt his body stiffen. The little girl met his gaze, wondering at the strange look of recognition and heartbreaking comprehension. He knew quite a bit she didn't about her father's past. Zach and Lucius had a complicated relationship, but not a bad one. Lucius cared about Zach and wanted him to be happy.
"What is it?" Evelyn wondered aloud.
"Your hair…" Lucius all but growled, anguished by something she failed to catch. "You have a streak of white running through it!"
"Oh," Evelyn said, mustering the strength to examine her hair. Her long curly bright copper tresses were bedecked by a single startling streak of luminous lily white. "It's just like daddy's." Lucius swallowed, his pallor taking on an unpleasant gray-green cast. "There's only one because I managed to interrupt Fellan. Isn't it pretty?"
"Yes, it's very fetching," Lucius woodenly praised. "It looks just like your father's."
Lucius' men caught up with them, armed and waiting for his command. The muggle murderers and security officers also arrived. Evelyn's influence granted her non-magical battalion the power to perceive and combat their magical foes. Her muggle horde screamed, brandishing their weapons and charged on the Dementors. The Unspeakable wizards finally arrived. The corrupt Light wizards attacked both the Dementors and the enchanted muggles, adding to the much-needed confusion.
"Thank Morgana, the cavalry has arrived!" Evelyn sighed in relief. "Don't worry about my enthralled friends. They can't see or hear us. We're as safe as we're going to get. We should leave before any more bad guys respond to my presence in your country."
Lucius carried little Evelyn to safety, escorted by his servants. Getting away from the searing hot stinging silvery griffin and the icy freezer burn of Fellan's Dementor pack was a pacifying balm that left her blissfully exhausted.
"By any chance do you know how many illegitimate children your father has?" Lucius stiffly sought confirmation while he ran.
"Just the five of us spread out across the world," Evelyn yawned. "We've been connected to each other since the beginning. Now that the old family curse is breaking down, we're free to come home. Anyone who doesn't know they're missing will be drawn back or discovered. Everything lost will rebound tenfold. All back to normal, makeup normal anyway."
"How could that be?"
"The curse part."
"Ask your son," Evelyn said, unsure of why she had said that.
"A Seer answer?" Lucius sighed wearily.
"Yep," Evelyn murmured. "Is there any other kind?"
"Rest child, you're now under my protection," Lucius vowed. "I will reunite you with your father, this I swear on my life."
Evelyn closed her eyes and sighed in contentment. The little girl began to doze, lulled by the comforting rhythm of the beautiful dangerous wizard's heartbeat. She wondered through the sleepy cotton-filled haze if the powerful enigmatic Death Eater would keep his word. If he didn't she would have to escape once her body recovered from the assault.
Evelyn was tired of running.
She wanted nothing more than to be safe, accepted and loved, united with her remaining birth family, which until recent had been unwillingly scattered by the family curse. Evelyn's determination to meet her father Zach was stronger than ever. She had fought for too long and too hard to surrender the chance to be with the father she had never met.