* * * Charge of the Light Brigade * * *

As tremulous speculations on the magical vampire theme run rampant throughout the thoughts of everyone in the room, along with some degree of appreciation for his honesty, Edward becomes aware of an approaching set of new thoughts… the collective tenor of which is intrinsically furious, hostile, determined, fearful, alarmed, frantic, and thoroughly desperate. Magical humans- including some who are family members of students here. It would appear that Delores has been busy in her absence… which idea is unfortunately confirmed by the odd perspective of her thoughts- wherein she is standing at a fireplace upstairs, dripping wet and utterly terrified, while leaning her head into a benign set of magical flames which allow her to be urgently speaking with the highest authorities of the Ministry of Magic. It seems they have promptly sent their most capable and willing reinforcements in response to her panicked alarm.

Grimacing lightly with exasperation, Edward informatively inserts into the noisy silence: "Your cavalry is coming."

The unexpected pronouncement momentarily side-tracks everyone's previous trains of thought- though the tension in the room remains. "Cavalry?" someone wonders aloud, trying to register Edward's meaning while simultaneously seeking for any clue his human senses can offer to confirm it. Nothing is detectable.

Edward nods calmly. "There's an army of angry witches and wizards headed this way."

Numerous eyes widen with concern and dreadful anticipation, contemplating nervously what a mass invasion could do to their delicate peace… as well as how good his hearing would have to be to pick up on their intentions from so far away, and through the thickness of castle walls. Does that mean he could be privy to every unaware conversation that might be going on in the closed-off rooms around them? That's a scary thought!

In other news, a newcomer's most likely approach is going to be to shoot first and ask questions later, as theirs had been- only now, with strength in numbers (theoretically) and the possibility of coordinating their efforts, they might actually be intending to gang up on him with a simultaneous strike of their magic. With various other creatures, that's often been enough to get past whatever supernatural immunity to spellwork their thick skins provided. It might be the only chance they have to shoot him now.

Amidst the nervously alarmed residents, most of them confused as to what they should do about their imminent dilemma, the identical twin redheads from the alley have summarily shed any lingering unfriendliness in favor of asking for clarification on which culprit they hopefully suspect is behind it all. "The wicked witch and her minions?!" they prompt excitedly. The two of them obviously loved the Oz reference used earlier- especially in the characterization of Delores Umbridge, and are mischievously anxious to hear more about it. Their anticipatory humor serves to lighten the tense atmosphere dramatically.

Appreciating their welcome diversion from the foreboding (even if easily avoidable) concerns affecting everyone in the room, Edward smirks slightly in amusement and casually cocks his head as if to listen closer. "Actually- there are no flying monkeys in this bunch," he amenably informs them, to their delight. "In fact- anyone of that caliber seems to be curiously absent. This is just a bunch of concerned citizens from the Ministry. They've been informed that a vampire is attacking Hogwarts." An edge has crept into his voice by the end of the last sentence.

Attacking!? But that's not right! He's done anything but. Surely that toad Umbridge- or the Slytherins- must be behind this. Many of the observers bristle indignantly at the presumption leveled against him, notably including the deputy headmistress. Edward is touched.

Surely he couldn't mean… Harry is additionally struck by the oddest impression, as he recalls the image of the basilisk's statue in the Chamber of Secrets. Does he know how much Salazar Slytherin resembled a monkey? No, he decides; that's gotta be coincidence.

Also of prominent interest among these thoughts, are Severus Snape's shrewd observations of Bella's sleeping profile in her vampire's arms. In company with a well-disguised hint of tenderness, the image has triggered him to recall the living image of his young friend Lily Potter, along with the all-too-familiarly devastated thoughts of one who has lost his love to another, then unintentionally been the cause of her death. Edward can sympathize. For this fiercely distressed wizard, however, it was all very real. In recognition of the fact that any offensive toward Edward would end up placing her into an even more vulnerable position, finally the potions master asks of him: "What are you going to do about it?"

Forewarned of the approaching posse's intentions as he is (and effortlessly capable of moving much faster than they could ever hope to react to), the wizard army won't be able to do anything to him- even if their plan otherwise could have worked- though they're still going to try. Edward sighs. "It seems I'll have to disappear for a bit and let all of you handle them at first. I can't allow her to be in the line of fire," Edward grimaces in frustration. Truly, she shouldn't have to be part of this confrontation at all… and she wouldn't have had to be- except that, under the potential threat of a summons, it is still better than letting her be separated from me… in this dangerously volatile environment. "And the Wicked Witch strikes again!" he irritably mumbles under his breath… quickly giving rise to a more vocal burst of aggravation. "How can you stand having that woman as a teacher here?" he asks sincerely of no one in particular.

Throughout the room, muffled but appreciative snickers sound out from a number of the staff and students alike- along with the silent twitches of even more discreetly upturned mouths- as their thoughts in unison reveal just how much they'd really like to be rid of her. Hmmm, Edward's eyebrow rises interestedly at the consensus. He might just help them out with that.

As the first of the school's would-be rescuers finally can be heard nearing the front doors of the castle, with a polite "Excuse me," Edward abruptly vanishes from human view in a light swirl of breeze. The foreign air current immediately encircles the entire room, effectively obscuring the path to his hidden destination that is located somewhere within it.

Clever, Albus the wake of this sudden disappearance, the startled human residents can't help but look around in fascinated astonishment- trying in vain to locate him.

They aren't looking for very long. Almost immediately, the sound of the castle's front doors crashing open with a bang causes everyone's heads to turn toward the noise- as the newly arriving crowd rushes into the Great Hall, frantic for the welfare of those inside it.

They are mystified by the calmness of the scene.

Immediately their eyes search among the occupants for the predatory intruder that clearly isn't there, and Albus steps forward with a placating voice to try and salvage the situation. No, no one's been attacked or hurt; Yes, a vampire's been here- and still is; No, he didn't come here intending any harm; Yes, they've all had a bit of a scare; No, there hasn't been any aggression on his part; Yes, he is in fact a member of the undead population; No, his presence here was an accident, and he remained to help us fix it; Yes, he's been quite friendly and cooperative; No, he doesn't apparently hunt humans; Yes, he has a muggle human companion…

Edward is utterly still, stooped low and watching the whole scene from atop one of the gigantic convex chandelier bases suspended above the Gryffindor table. The torch in front of him mostly shields him from view, while it hides Bella completely, and he is grateful for the efforts of those who have been in attendance from the beginning. Some few of the newcomers are calming down from their initial terror, though they are as yet far from convinced. The undead vampire species is not to be taken lightly.

Resting peacefully in the crook of his right arm, her head right up against his shoulder such that every warm breath caresses his neck welcomingly, Bella's eyelids flutter briefly as she shifts into a new part of her sleep cycle.

On the floor below them, those that have just arrived are clearly having trouble being able to imagine a friendly vampire image, not having witnessed it themselves. Popular opinion recently promoted about the good headmaster by the wizarding newspaper isn't helping, though everyone else has readily supported his report of events. Some are (very wishfully) doubting that a vampire was in fact ever even present; maybe it had all been a false alarm. Albus is confident in his assertions, however, and those that are inclined to respect him are trying to believe. It's not easy.

And so, the venerable wizard offers them evidence from his own wand of the light spell that was performed just prior to their appearance- by emitting a smoky echo of dancing spectrums for their viewing pleasure, and launching into an explanation of the nuances that were inherent to it. This is how he knows the nature of this vampire's motivations, after all, and that he had at no time harbored an attitude of aggression. It's important that this be clearly understood. The resident students and staff in particular are fascinated to hear these insightful details, having witnessed the whole thing themselves without realizing all it had meant. This new perspective of the foregoing events is very welcome.

But it has also made clear, to those that had initially doubted it, that an undead vampire has in fact been present within the school's warded boundaries- not to mention inside the castle walls!- making them all the more on edge about the conclusion that he still is. Inherently malignant creatures, the lot of them…

It is with this frame of mind that, in the very next moment, an indistinct mumble originating from slightly above their heads causes such a startling and frightened reaction. Immediately, the gaze of one of the Ministry's distrusting new arrivals snaps up to look in the direction of the sound- and takes notice of the barely discernible crouched human-like profile atop one of the convex torch bases. Reflexively, he shoots a panicked spell toward the ominously hidden target.

The wizard's aim is off, however. And so, rather than being able to simply catch the beam of light that would have benignly dissipated against his skin (as the one earlier had done), Edward feels his perch dislodge from underneath him. Evidently, the spell has broken it from its magical suspension… and they are falling.

Immediately, and with supernatural quickness, Edward responds by lithely twisting and bending his body nearly double in mid-descent, as he expertly maneuvers the hazardous chandelier base underfoot to where he can safely balance it- jagged-side-up on his free hand- in time to land with catlike finesse right between the startled students it would have fallen upon. Bella is barely jostled during the effort.

Tossing the massive object harmlessly onto the floor beside them, as the nearest students hurriedly scoot just a little bit further away from his unexpected proximity, Edward turns calmly to face the spooked ministry officials who are still on guard. "I'd be a little more careful with those, if I were you," he admonishes them, indicating their outstretched wands.

Then, as he steps back slightly in order to give the grateful but nervous students a little more comfort room, Bella mumbles again in her sleep… and this time her words are clearly audible. "Stop! Jane, please… Don't hurt him!" she pleads, unconsciously clutching at the fabric of his shirt. Edward's glance toward her sleeping form is full of tender concern as his free hand moves responsively to the side of her head and his thumb gently strokes the hair away from her face.

Naturally, the newcomers are astonished to witness this.

A/N: This is the last ready-to-publish chapter I have handy for this storyette, though it is not the end of the story. Consequently, in a fortnight, my next post will be either a new chapter of Essentially Magical, or the beginning chapter of another EM storyette. In either case, don't worry! There will be more great things to come in this story, as soon as the focus of my writing flow permits. :)

Thank you all very much for your support!