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Pale Serpents

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Pale Serpents
by Lucinda

 

Willow had gone to England with Giles, the idea being that time away from the Hellmouth and under the supervision and instruction of older, wiser, more experienced witches would help her to come back to her normal self, the Willow that she'd been before. Or at least go back to being someone who didn't skin her enemies alive.

She'd been getting better, and her skin returned to a normal, if slightly pale complexion. Her eyes were green again, but they weren't the light green of spring leaves anymore, now they were the deep green of serpentine. Her hair wasn't black now, but it was a darker red than it had been before, more like blood than autumn leaves. But the biggest change in Willow wasn't so easy to identify. She felt older, and her actions no longer had the care free joy that had once been so much a part of Willow's life.

Giles had brought her into London with him, figuring that she could spend the day exploring while he argued with idiots on the Watcher's Council. She'd readily agreed, not wanting to spend the day bored in the pleasant little cottage.

She had been meandering around aimlessly, and she'd finally gotten quite thirsty. She'd looked around, spotting a small, somewhat run down looking pub, the sign some sort of faded pot, or maybe a cauldron. With a small smile, she'd gone inside, hoping for something cool to drink.

It was like another world inside. People wore long gowns and robes, tall pointed hats and long scarves. There were people in corners puffing on pipes, blowing incredibly detailed shapes that moved from the multi colored smoke. Others had wands and spoke about charms and hexes to keep out garden pests.

Willow tried not to gape, feeling rather out of place. She felt quite glad that she'd worn one of the longish dark skirts, and a soft blue peasant blouse, they almost passed for normal clothing in here, looking just a little off as opposed to the way her jeans would have clashed. She settled at an empty chair in the corner, watching everyone and listening, feeling amazed. Here was an entire society apart from the normal world, a society where people used magic for everything. She'd never known about such a place, such an idea. The Wizarding World.

"Are you looking for supplies? You look, if you'll pardon me for mentioning, as if you aren't from around here." Someone spoke to Willow, a woman with a low voice that didn't carry, and the sort of accent that reminded her of watching the Parliamental debates on the news network. Her accent didn't just say British, it carried the weight of generations of prestige and wealth.

Willow looked at the person, a slender, elegant woman in a long gown of some shimmery fabric in pale green. Elsewhere, she would have assumed silk, but in this place? Willow wouldn't assume anything about this woman was entirely mundane. "I could use a few things. My supplies... there was a problem, and I need to replace them."

The obviously wealthy woman nodded, her eyes smoky pools half concealed by her eyelids, appearing somewhat bored by the whole world. "I thought you might be looking for something. I can help you find what you need. Come with me, I'll help you find everything."

Willow followed her behind the pub, where the woman stopped in front of a brick wall, producing a slender wand about the length of her forearm made of a pale wood, and tapping on some of the bricks. Her motions were careful, as if she were afraid that she would scuff the wand, and Willow could feel the magic in the wall. The bricks began to move, reshaping themselves into an arch, opening to a street filled with shops advertising brooms and robes and a bookstore and an 'Owl Post' and all sorts of delightful looking stores, quite clearly directed towards this 'Wizarding World' that Willow hadn't dreamed existed.

The woman began leading her through an extensive list of stores, purchasing an almost appalling amount of things for Willow, the most frequent direction being "Put it on the Family account."

From the scurrying shopkeepers, Willow learned that her unexpected guide was a woman named Narcissa Malfoy, and that she was married to a powerful wizard, and quite definitely wealthy. She also didn't seem particularly known for acts of random kindness, which made Willow wonder why she was being so helpful. Especially since the woman had known exactly where to find Dracorin powder and ground Hellhound teeth. That had been this dark little shop in some place called Knock Turn alley, located through a narrow, shadowed passage between a pair of stores along the main road, Diagon Alley.

Finally, they made their way to a somewhat neglected looking building that proclaimed 'Olivanders: makers of fine wands since 237 AD'. That proved to be a small, dark room filled with narrow boxes.

"We simply must purchase a wand for you, dear Willow." Narcissa was practically purring. It was an odd look for her, especially since she reminded Willow more of a snake than a cat.

She had to ask. "Narcissa? Not that I'm complaining, but... Why are you being so nice? Spending all this money, and showing me around like this..."

Narcissa chuckled, a noise that somehow reminded Willow of shards of glass falling. "When my husband annoys me, I spend his money. The timing happened to favor you. Besides, Willow, I can feel your power. You will make a name for yourself here, even as I'm sure you must have in America, and it's always a benefit to have the people with power thinking well of me."

Willow nodded, the explanation making sense to her. Except for the part about shopping being fun, although shopping here was much more fun than hitting the mall with Buffy. "What if my name remains in obscurity?"

"Then I've still spent some of Lucius' money, and I haven't been bored today." Narcissa's words carried a hint of manipulation, as if to suggest without using the words that if Willow remained in obscurity, wouldn't she then think well of Narcissa for her generosity? "I don't think you will. Now, to find you a wand."

She nearly destroyed a good portion of Mr. Olivander's store, even singing his eyebrows before they finally found the wand for her. It was fifteen inches long, made from Willow wood, with the core made from dragon heartstrings. Narcissa had watched the various failures with interest, and had merely murmured, 'You see, with this much power, there is no chance for you to remain unknown to the Wizarding World."

Willow had the feeling that Narcissa was right. But she'd never enjoyed a long day of shopping quite so much in her life.

 

end Pale Serpents: Narcissa

Chapter Text

She could hardly believe her unexpected change in fortune. She'd expected England to be lonely and unfamiliar and alien. Instead, she'd found somewhere that felt like home: the Wizarding world.

She'd met a man name Albus Dumbledore, a wizard of considerable reputation among the wizards and witches of England. It seemed that Dumbledore had a school where children were taught how to be wizards, and they needed someone to teach a class called Defense Against the Dark Arts. It sounded like a milder version of how to survive over a hellmouth. She'd wanted something to do, and that had sounded useful. It would be good if the young witches and wizards knew how to protect themselves, and it would also have her somewhere that she would have someone to let her know if she was shifting towards the dark side.

Now, she was a teacher, at a school for magic. It was a delightful and amusing development, considering that she'd already taught once before, her sophomore year of high school. But this was different. She was teaching many different ages, from little children who couldn't have been more than ten or eleven all the way to students who were only a few years younger than she was.

Willow made a very careful point of working in her spare time with the other teachers, learning how to use a wand like all the other wizards and witches did. There was probably a reason why they didn't just go without, and it wouldn't do to mess up the poor kids learning curve just because their teacher didn't do things in the traditional way. But she was still a bit hesitant with the wand, and some of the students had noticed.

Professor Flitwick was delightful, all excitable and excited about everything. His specialty, Charms, gave her the most trouble, most likely because she wasn't used to the slight differences in the way wand-magic worked. McGonagall was... well, she was educational. Brisk and a bit impatient, she reminded Willow of a math teacher that she'd once had. Fortunately, she didn't have a lot of previous experience with Transfiguration to mess things up. AS for the other major area of use for Defense, there was Potions as taught by the unforgettable Severus Snape. He was tall and glowery and always lurking around in sweeping black robes. He was amazing at Potions, but the most sour tempered living man that she'd... well, maybe not the sourest, but certainly among the crankiest.

But even Snape was a delight in comparison to the alternative, life without friends or family, nothing more than her guilt and the temptation to fall back into darkness. She was at a place filled with magical learning, somewhere that she could spend decades just learning. The fact that the stairways and paintings moved was an added fascinating thing.

On the down side, she finally understood why so many teachers didn't like their students. Some of them didn't pay attention, and others thought that she was a joke, that she obviously couldn't have any idea what she was talking about because she was young, and pretty. The worst of the lot was a fifth year student named Draco Malfoy, the son of Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy, the wealthy, spoiled scion of a pureblood wizarding family that could trace their ancestry back almost to the founding of Hogwarts a thousand years ago. He seemed to think that generations of dead wizards in his ancestry made him superior. Predictably enough, he'd noticed her tendency to leave her wand sitting on her desk as she lectured, and had also picked up on her hesitance when using the wand for magic.

It appeared that young Malfoy was spreading nasty rumors that she was an incompetent witch, that she could hardly use her wand. That she was so weak and puny in her magic that she was only a bare step up from a mudblood, whatever that meant. She was pretty sure that it was an insult. He was also predicting that she'd be dead before the term was over.

Today, she was lecturing about vampires, a topic that she could discuss in her sleep. This was one of the fifth year classes, the Gryffindor-Slytherin session. She'd been warned that Harry Potter had a tendency to attract 'interesting occurrences', Hermione Granger could find the right book for any information, Ron Weasely was the younger brother to Fred and George Weasely, the worst pranksters the school had seen in years. There was Neville Longbottom, the human embodiment of well meaning bad luck and ineptitude. But far more annoying to her were Draco Malfoy and his minions Crabbe and Goyle.

Right as she was explaining the most basic methods of slaying a vampire; decapitation, incineration, or wooden stake, she heard Malfoy's voice as he spoke to his left hand flunky, not even bothering to whisper.

"I bet if she ever saw a vampire she'd fall down in a faint. She's probably quoting a book at us because she can't cast any magic worth a lead knut."

Willow had had enough of him. He was rude, arrogant, and worst of all, he had the potential to be an excellent student if he would just apply himself. "Malfoy, if you haven't figured it out, this is MY classroom, which means that I talk, you don't."

"You don't even have your wand with you, you left it on your desk again like the incompetent half rate witch that you aspire to become." He was sneering at her.

She could feel her eyes going darker as the power inside of her flared, crying out to hurt the arrogant brat. Instead, she made the 'zipping' gesture, silencing his mouth with a small use of power. "Actually, the wand is entirely for the benefit of the students. I only started using one this year. I don't need a wand for magic, Malfoy."

She curbed the power inside her, contenting herself to levitate him and his books from the desk, tossing him out into the hallway, the door opening just in time for him to sail out. "You have detention tonight, and owe me a two foot scroll on vampires and methods of fighting them by Friday. AND I'm deduction fifty points from Slytherin for you inexcusable lack of manners."

The door slammed shut in front of Draco, firmly leaving him outside of the class. Since he figured that he already knew everything, she'd just let him go get an early start on that paper.

Sometimes it was good to be the teacher.

"Now, for the rest of you, I was about to explain the wonders of a simple levitated tree branch..."

 

end Pale Serpents: Draco.

Chapter Text

 

Lucius Malfoy strode through the hallway of Hogwarts as if he owned it, his black cloak billowing behind him like a dark cloud. His pale skin and ice colored eyes contrasted sharply to the black and charcoal colors of his expensive clothing, the only brightness the cold silver gleam of the snake's head topping his walking cane, an unneeded affectation that illustrated his power and Slytherin heritage. Students moved aside as he passed, expressions of fear and dread marking their features.

He ignored them as he always ignored the 'lesser people' of the world, those whose money, power and ancestry were less impressive and illustrious than his own, which meant almost everyone. Unless he happened to want them to do something for him, in which case he loomed menacingly like a dark cloud over their lives, thinly veiled threats 'persuading' things to go his way. Right now, he was on his way to have a few words with the instructor of his son's Defense Against Dark Arts class, the American witch that seemed so uncertain when using her wand. He had a small, evil smile that let it be known that he was looking forward to this.

He paused at the doorway to the classroom, looking inside to make certain that the witch was actually inside. She was sitting behind a desk, looking at a stack of papers. Her hair was almost the same shade as those infuriating Weasleys, and her clothing wasn't the traditional wizarding fashions at all, in fact, she looked almost like a muggle, sitting there.

"I assume that you are 'Professor' Rosenberg? The person who threw my son out of class?" His voice was cold, and there were audible quotes around Professor, a clear indication that he considered her title to be undeserved.

Willow glanced up, having noticed his presence already. She'd half hoped that he'd leave if she ignored him. He looked like an older, taller version of Draco, with longer hair. He had surprisingly pretty hair, almost at odds with the severity of his appearance. So this was Narcissa's husband? No wonder she'd been annoyed with him. Again. She looked back at her papers, half certain that the apparent lack of attention would aggravate him. "And you would be Draco's father, the elder Malfoy. Yes, I did throw him out of class."

"Under what justification? My son is entitled to a full wizarding education." His voice dripped scorn.

Willow looked at him, noting the way he stood, the cane positioned so that light glittered off the silver head, his cloak falling behind him like a dramatic backdrop. Oh yes, here was a man who deliberately set out to make an impression. Too bad she wasn't impressed. "Mister Malfoy, your son was thrown out of that day's lecture for being a disruptive and ill mannered brat. He refused to pay attention to my lecture, and was making rude comments during the time that he was supposed to be listening, preventing other students form learning as well. So, I removed him from that day's lecture, and assigned him a paper on the topic that he apparently felt he wasn't in need of learning. Precisely what grounds for objection could you possibly have?"

"My son is not some common plebian that you may push about at your whim! He is a Malfoy, the scion of a long and illustrious line of wizards going back for centuries. What credentials can you possibly hope to hold against that?" His eyes looked like sunlight flashing off of ice, bright but cold, devoid of warmth or humanity.

Willow looked at him, putting down the quill that she'd been using as she checked over some of the papers turned in for the third year Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw session. "Mister Malfoy, I don't care if you can trace your family back to the first wizard to walk the face of the earth. Not paying attention in class can result in gaps of knowledge that, especially with this class, can be fatal or worse. I don't care how long your family tree is, or how rich you are. That buys you opportunity, which is different from knowledge. Draco wouldn't pay attention, so Draco got his but tossed into the hallway. It had nothing to do with his family."

"Miss Rosenberg, do you have any idea what sort of influence I can hold over your future?" His voice had gone low, an almost purring tone to it as he uttered his not quite threat.

She smiled sweetly at him. "Now you're trying to politely threaten and intimidate me. Very good form, by the way, but it isn't working. I saw scarier things than you while I was in high school."

It made her casual unconcern even more infuriating that she then returned her attention to grading essays, ignoring the fact that one of the wealthiest wizards in England was standing in front of her desk, glaring metaphorical daggers at her. Willow reigned in the amusement that his look of outrages offended pride was creating. Clearly, Lucius Malfoy was not used to being ignored. She made a little gesture towards the door, implying that he should leave. "You can go now."

He spent almost a minute standing there, staring at her in outraged shock. With a sudden movement, he seized her wand from where it was laying on her desk, hurling it into the back corner of the room. "How dare you! I am not some unimportant lackey that you may dismiss at your will! I will not stand for this sort of treatment for myself or my son! Where is your courage now that your wand is gone, mudblood?"

Willow looked at him, allowing her eyes to become inky pools of infinite shadow as she looked at him. Her voice had an almost echo to it as she spoke. "I've closed a hellmouth and fought a hell goddess. I've resurrected someone from the dead. You and your feeble threats don't intimidate me. The wand acts more to restrain my power than focus it. I could incinerate you with a single word right where you stand, and follow it up by hunting down and ripping your precious Voldemort limb from limb with the power of my thoughts. There is nothing that you can do to frighten me. I don't suggest that you threaten me either, because I have a tendency to kill things that threaten me, and I've been assured repeatedly that that's considered excessive violence. Now get out of my classroom."

The feeling of her power filled the room, like a thick chill that seeped into the spine. Malfoy could feel it, and his eyes went wide in surprise, and a hint of fear. "Nobody can do that..."

Willow conjured a globe of spinning green-black fire over one outstretched palm. "You'd be surprised what I can and can't do. You don't want me as an enemy, Lucius Malfoy. Money can only go so far."

He slowly backed away from her, his face a bit paler than when he'd entered the room. "This is not over, Rosenberg."

Willow sighed as the door slammed shut behind him. She placed the globe of mage fire under a small cauldron, figuring that she really needed to try to make one of those headache relieving potions that Professor Snape had showed her. Of course it wasn't over, people like Malfoy never let things be over until someone was dead. She rubbed her temples, wishing that her temper wasn't quite so short now.

"Merciful heavens, please give me patience. The Malfoys are trying to drag me back into enough anger to rip the flesh from their bones and burn the bones to ash just to make them go away. I don't want to go back to being evil Willow because of Lucius and Draco Malfoy. Please... just... please."

All Willow could do was hope that some kindly power heard her whispered words and had some shred of sympathy for her, some shred of mercy. Enough that she had the patience or good fortune to not fall back into darkness.

end Pale Serpents 3: Lucius.

Chapter Text

 

 

Severus Snape was not particularly good at dealing with people. That was one of the reasons, well, one of many reasons why he spent much of his time in the dungeons where he taught Potions at Hogwarts. It was far more soothing to stay in the cool darkness of the familiar dungeons than to go forth into the loud, unpredictable world of people, all with their hidden thoughts and desires and agendas. Once, he'd delighted in the petty intrigues and games, testing just how far he could tweak things, just how much dissention he could cause before getting caught. But he'd been no more than a student then, still blithely unaware of just how dangerous thing could get.

Maybe some might try to say that he'd fallen in with a bad crowd, the Slytherins under the leadership of Lucius Malfoy, two years ahead of him. But he'd seen the signs, seen enough to know that that path led into darkness. At the time, he hadn't cared, hadn't understood how dark the dark could be. How tempting, how seductive Dark Magic could be, as it slowly ate away at your insides, changing you, reshaping you.

Few people ever walked entirely away from such things. He'd... gained himself breathing room, becoming the Ministry's spy, but he was still far more sensitive to the power of the Dark, or to power from someone that had known the dark, breathed it in, drank the shadows of the darkest offering of the soul. He'd never quite understood why Albus Dumbledore had given him the chance to become the Potion master. Never understood why the man had offered this second chance to him. But it was obvious even to him that he wasn't the first person Dumbledore had offered a second chance. There was Rubeus Hagrid, a half giant expelled from Hogwarts, now Groundskeeper and a Professor. He'd allowed Remus Lupin, a werewolf, to become a student here, and given the man a year as a Professor. There was himself, probably hundreds of 'second chances' of lesser degrees to the students, and now there was his latest project. The newest Defense Against Dark Arts Professor, an American named Willow Rosenberg.

He frowned as he thought of her. She'd never even known the wizarding world existed, having taught herself so much. But then she'd fallen into darkness, something about a former friend and a slain lover that he didn't know the details of. But she'd slipped into the Dark, and it had marked her, seeped so deeply into her that just being near her felt almost as seductive as working dark magic. It was amazing how well she was doing at fighting those desires, the temptations that the darker magics seemed to whisper into a witch or wizard's inner ear.

Dark Power flared from above, beckoning, whispering and screaming with fury and outrage. Power the likes of which he hadn't felt in years... It made him sway on his feet, and he nearly sliced his thumb open. He dropped the slender knife, certain that whatever was going on up there was far more important than slicing the dried shark's liver. The power couldn't have very many sources, and he knew it was from the room of Professor Rosenberg. He left the dungeons, hurrying towards the room she instructed in, part of him hoping to get there in time... although he wasn't certain 'in time' for what. Lucius Malfoy was backing out of the classroom, his walking stick clenched in one hand, his posture rigid as he left the room. The impression that he gave was one of anger and... fear. The source of the darkness was still inside the room. Lucius didn't see him, didn't know that anyone had caught his unimpressive exit, the near panicked retreat.

Severus pulled his tattered courage together, and stepped into the room, uncertain exactly what he would see. He'd never seen anything leave Lucius so rattled. Professor Rosenberg was sitting at her desk, rubbing at her temples with her fingers, as if to try to prevent a headache. A globe of green-black fire seethed under a small cauldron. He wand was nowhere in sight, but the feeling of power was unmistakably emanating from her. He knew, even as the question rolled from his lips that the answer was no. "Professor Rosenberg, are you feeling well?"

One hand dropped from her temples, seeking to open one of the desk drawers. She looked at him, her eyes no longer the twinkling hazel green that he'd become used to, but pools of darkness. He sucked in a lungful of air quickly, tasting the power that filled the room, glad of his thick robes. Whatever she'd done had left the room cold, far more so than his dungeon. He was faintly surprised that there were't visible puffs of steam from their breaths.

"Professor Snape... I'm... I just had a visit from Malfoy the elder. Apparently, people don't normally toss his wealthy boy out of class for interrupting." Her voice sounded oddly deeper, and filled with a sort of tension.

He looked over her desk, well aware by this point of her tendency to leave it laying to the side. "Where is your wand?"

"Malfoy tossed it off into the back corner. Of course, he also tried to intimidate me, hinted that he could ruin my life, and tried to loom like he was all big and scary." She sounded so tired, but it was not a tired of the magical sort, not from the steady whispering rustle of dark power.

"What did you do to him?" Part of him almost wished that she'd done something horrible, even though he'd seen the man walk... scurry away intact.

"Well, first, I think it made him mad that I said I'd seen scarier things in high school. That's when he threw my wand and called me a mudblood." She sighed, stirring things into the miniature cauldron, the burning mage-fire heating it. "Then I went all... are my eyes still black? I sort of leaked power around, and told him I didn't need the wand, conjured the fire and told him I could incinerate him on the spot. I told him that I could... well, I threatened his stupid Voldemorte and basically told him that if he tried to threaten me again I might kill him. I really..." She almost seemed to deflate a bit, sinking in on herself with a sigh. "I lost my temper. Badly."

Severus felt himself sway again, uncertain if he was becoming light-headed from all the raw power in the room, or if it was shock for her words. "You.. threatened him? And spoke the name of the Dark Lord? With all this... power in the air?"

She frowned, looking down with an almost guilty expression. She stirred more things into the cauldron, ingredients for a simple headache potion that he'd shown her. "Sort of. I actually told him not to threaten me because I was in the habit of killing things that did that... And I really don't see any reason not to use the name Voldemorte. Better than calling him He-Who-Hides-From-A-Teenage-Boy. Or Pretentious-Wizard-Guy. I'm not afraid of him. I've faced far worse..."

"More frightening things than Lucius Malfoy in your high school? I assume this is American later schooling?" He felt himself relaxing just a bit as her eyes lightened, becoming eyes again, although still not yet hazel. They looked as dark as his own. She was such a puzzle to him.

She smiled, as if remembering more carefree times. "Oh yes, much scarier. There was the time the hellmouth opened in the library, the Incan mummy princess who wanted to suck the life out of me, Angelus, the mayor turning into a giant snake demon..." She gave a small snort of laughter. "My vampire double was scarier than Malfoy."

"I think I need to sit down..." His head was definitely spinning. All of the things that she'd mentioned... all while still in high school? A Hellmouth? No wonder the Malfoy's didn't frighten her...

She made a small gesture, and a chair slid under him. "Sitting works better when there's a chair. How did you... How did you do it? How did you walk away from the temptation?"

He sighed, reaching out with one hand to brush over her fingertips. "It get easier in time. As for how... I suddenly realized that... it wasn't worth it."

She gave a small, sad looking smile. "Will you help me? Help remind me that no matter how delightful it would be to just get rid of those Malfoy boys, going all darkside, flaying them alive and burning their bones to ash isn't worth it?"

Almost before he could think about it, the words slipped out. "Could you do that?"

She sighed, another gesture calling her wand to her from wherever it had landed in the back. "Could I as in 'do I have the power?' Of course I have the power. I fought... well, a hell-goddess actually, and I'm still here. That sounds a bit arrogant, doesn't it? But umm, the point is that just because I have the power to do something, that doesn't make it right, you know? And I think magically killing someone because they jump on your last nerve isn't quite right. I don't want to go back to the darkness... it was all cold and empty feeling."

He shivered, her description so accurate. "I will do my best to help you, Willow. To help you keep from falling back into the shadow."

Her smile had a hint of life to it again. "Thank you, Severus."

 

end Pale Serpents: Snape

Chapter Text

 

 

Narcissa frowned slightly as she examined the painting. There was going to be a gathering of some of her husbands acquaintances over the weekend, and despite the fact that she had no intention of actually being present, she was supposed to make sure everything was perfect for the event. How frustrating. But that still didn't answer the question of 'was the painting suitable for the event?'

There was a slamming sound from the front of the house, and the house elves scattered. Apparently, her husband had returned from his trip to Hogwarts. She wasn't certain exactly what he'd been planning, something about the new Defense Against Dark Arts instructor treating Draco 'inappropriately' by throwing him out of class. She would guess that things hadn't gone according to plan. She decided the painting would probably do, and went to change for dinner, slipping into a pale grey gown that shimmered like fish scales, trimmed with emeralds.

She fixed her face into a mask of neutrality as she descended into the dining hall. Her husband was frowning and glaring, slowly twirling a goblet of deep red wine in one hand. Lucius was muttering unhappy and angry words.

"It shouldn't be possible! The woman is infuriating, there must be some sort of trick." He sounded... almost like he was trying to convince himself of something.

"Who is infuriating?" Her voice held only mild curiosity, but inside, she was filled with dancing questions. Who was this woman, what had she done, and why was her husband so shaken by it?

"That woman, Rosenberg! I don't think she's a certified professor, but she's positively filled with power. Too much power, it's not possible for someone to do those things! She conjured fire without a wand, and the power... It filled the whole room. She... she threatened the dark lord, and claimed to have fought a hell goddess!" He sounded positively shaken, and he was trying to cover fear.

"Rosenberg?" Her mind was spinning. She remembered the red haired American that she'd taken shopping in Diagon Alley. The one that she'd suggested had potential. The young witch had felt powerful, but... not on that scale. How had she masked that much power? And how much would her husband count against her in Willow's opinion?

Lucius frowned again, his thumb rubbing over the emerald on the silver goblet. He took a big swallow of the wine, still looking unhappy. "She's dangerous."

"Since it appears that she is capable of such things, or at least capable of giving the impression of power, perhaps it would be wise to try to make a good impression?" She managed to hide her amusement. Lucius had imagined himself as the largest snake in the land for a long time... it was amusing to see him confronted with someone he couldn't frighten or influence.

He looked at her, his eyes flashing with annoyance. "How do you propose to do that? The woman threatened to incinerate me where I stood. She has no fear of the Malfoy name. How do you propose we 'get on her good side" my dear wife?"

Narcissa's smile was sickeningly sweet, her favorite expression for humoring someone. "Lucius, my dear, if you and Draco have already made a poor impression on her, that only leaves me. I shall... befriend the poor uprooted woman, so far from her home and all that is familiar. I will become her friend, and insinuate myself into her good graces. And then..."

"Then, the woman will be favorably inclined to cooperate with ideas that you put forward. An excellent plan, my lady." Lucius started to smile, clearly thinking that Narcissa's plan would naturally be HIS plan.

"Precisely. Once I win her trust, she will listen to my version of things. She sounds like she would be a powerful ally." Narcissa's slow smile and half closed eyelids showed simply pleasure at the idea. It entirely masked her deeper thoughts, that with such a powerful ally, she might be able to rid herself of a burdensome husband. Oh yes, it would be good to have the ear and trust of someone powerful enough to not need a wand.

Smiling, she started to consider the various ways that she might be able to approach Willow. What strategy to use? Obviously, Willow wouldn't believe that any offers were made from the simple kindness of Narcissa's heart... "This may take a bit of finesse... and a bit of time. Patience will be required for this plan to work."

"Take all the time you need, Narcissa. It isn't as if you have any other pressing concerns to fill your time." Lucius' voice had that silken tone of arrogance that he used so often.

She felt the urge to snarl, to shriek and howl for blood in the tradition of her long ago Norse ancestors. Instead, she curved her lips into something that would pass as a smile. "This is not something I wish to go wrong. Rest assured that Professor Rosenberg will become a high priority in my life."

"Good. Will everything be ready for this weekend?" He appeared to have already dismissed the matter, certain that he'd delegated everything to her, that things would turn out according to his plans.

She remembered her ancestors, the wolves of the sea, relentless and unfaltering in their attacks. She remembered generations of mages, and those few relatives that weren't - the members that the family never brought up before the pure blood obsessives like Lucius - the cunning politicians, tacticians, lawyers, and... oh yes, a vampire. "Don't worry, me dear husband. By the time I'm done, she'll practically be one of my family."

Yes, if she could make Willow feel like family... Family came first. That would be just perfect.

end Dinner Conversation at Malfoy Manor

Chapter Text

 

Narcissa smiled as she looked through the clothing shop at Hogsmede. The selection was... adequate, but that wasn't the cause of her smile. Lucius thought that she would win Willow's trust and allow Willow to become his pawn. So, he'd sent her out, saying 'win her over' and 'make her your follower', all the while under the delusion that she, Narcissa Freysdotte Malfoy was his loyal minion. Pah, she was as loyal to her husband as he was to his precious Dark Lord. Undoubtedly, Lucius thought that Willow would give him the power to defeat Voldemort once and for all, enabling him to become the preeminent Dark sorcerer.

For once, she agreed completely with his estimation of probability. With Willow, he could probably defeat Voldemort, at least, if the things that he and Draco had said about her were true. She hoped they were true, hoped that she could win influence over Willow.

But not to help her husband. No, she was tired of supporting her husband. It had lead her into a place where the odds favored terrible trouble at the first misstep.

The students were allowed into this town over the weekend, and many of them had decided to take advantage of that. So had the teachers. Hopefully, Willow would be among them... Yes. There she was, talking to one of the other professors... was that Minnie McGonagall? Goodness, looking at her, you'd scarcely know that she'd been the assistant Professor of Transformations when Narcissa had been a student.

Casually, she strolled towards Willow, planning to have a 'friendly chat' and ask how she was adjusting to her new job.

Minnie left, shaking her head as she walked towards a gathered knot of students. Willow stood alone.

"Willow... so good to see you again. I was a bit curious how you were finding your new occupation." She smiled a bit at Willow, not wanting to push matters too hard.

Willow looked up, and smiled hesitantly. "Narcissa... umm... was Draco complaining?"

Draco... yes, he'd been complaining. Perhaps he'd entirely missed the results of Lucius' encounter with the young witch. "Draco often complains. But I would like to know a bit more about what happened. He said you threw him out into the corridor and assigned him an enormous amount of extra work, Lucius was ranting about you being disrespectful of the family name..." She waved a pale hand casually, a visual signal of her dismissal of their complaints. "But they do that often."

"I was trying to give a lecture on vampires. How to spot them, what they do, how to get rid of them or kill them. He was... making rude comments about my probable skill at magic instead of listening, so I threw him out of class, gave him detention, and demanded a scroll on how to kill vampires." Willow shrugged, as if she was trying to remain polite about Draco and his temper.

"Just.. out the door? You picked him up and threw him out? No wonder Lucius was in such a snit... Although he really should know that sort of thing by now." She couldn't help but smile.

Willow gave a small shrug. "I levitated him actually. Along with his books. And he's sixteen now, and been in school for magic and strange creatures for five years, of course he should know. But... I heard some of the previous instructors were erratic in their lesson plans..."

"You just... levitated him out? With all of his books? Impressive..." Narcissa smiled, wondering how powerful Willow really was.

"He's not that heavy... his ego takes space, not mass... and that was out loud, wasn't it?" Willow blushed.

She just laughed, wondering how many other people thought that way about her son. "Oh, I probably shouldn't be laughing at that. But other than Draco, how is everything going?"

Willow made a slight shrug. "It's sort of weird being a teacher. Pretty much the last thing I expected after... well, after. Being around vulnerable young minds... might give them ideas and all. Strange ideas."

"What sort of strange ideas?" Really, Willow might be an American, but how different could her magic possibly be?

Willow's eyes glittered with amusement. "When I floated Draco out the door, my wand - and it's a very nice one, thank you. Anyhow, it was sitting on my desk, not in my hand."

She felt her jaw drop. "But... wandless magic? How... not a potion, surely..."

Willow shrugged. "It's not impossible. It just takes more precision. Like this..." She held out her hand, and a small globe of light formed.

Narcissa stared at the tiny globe. It wasn't a particularly powerful spell, or difficult, but... everyone else needed a wand to cast it. "You didn't use your wand... You cast magic without a wand. That's practically unheard of."

As she looked at the globe, Narcissa began to wonder if she could learn to work magic without a wand. If it was simply a matter of focus, as Willow was implying... The possibilities were astonishing.

"Perhaps we can go on a trip at some point.. there are some shops that I think you might enjoy..." She ran her fingers over one of her rings, a gold band worked with dragons, a gift from her 'uncle' Kiarran. "Some very interesting shops. And it will be good to get out of the manor occasionally."

Willow smiled. "You're the first person in a long time that it's been fun to go shopping with. I'd like to see these shops."

Narcissa smiled, feeling almost triumphant. More time with Willow... that was a sign that she had the opportunity to gradually win Willow over. Nothing blatant like the threats and bribery of her husband's circle, but something more subtle. It would take longer, but if Willow trusted her, that would be far more powerful than if she feared her.

"I'll send an owl the next time I'm planning a trip." She smiled at the way Willow's eyes lit up. Maybe the whole ridiculous proverb about flies and honey had some basis after all. Yes, she would have to make a point of cultivating Willow as one of her closest friends.

end Seeds of a Plot

Chapter Text

 

Willow was still feeling a bit bemused after her day out at Hogsmeade. While it had been reassuring to have a chat with Minerva about transfigurations and to hear some of the more colorful anecdotes about past students, that wasn't the source of her puzzlement. No, that was Narcissa Malfoy. Narcissa had been there, which had seemed a bit odd all by itself, and had decided to chat with her. It had all been quite civil, and apparently, they would be going shopping together in the future. But still, she could't help but feel that there was something behind it, some ulterior motivation.

"You look quite thoughtful. Especially considering that most look at Hogsmeade as a sort of vacation." Severus Snape's voice swirled around her, and he was standing in the hallway, looking at her.

Smiling, she nodded at him, tucking a fallen lock of hair behind her ear. "It was... neat. But I had a strange chat... And ohh, it's just weirdly complicated."

"Perhaps we could discuss it over dinner? I could arrange for us to dine privately, in my quarters or yours, if you'd like." He had this almost smile that just... it looked good on him.

"Dinner, hmm? Maybe my rooms, since you seem to be almost fanatical about your privacy." She smiled at him, still not quite certain why the often dour Potion Master had decided to be friendly towards her, only that it had been after her confrontations with the Malfoy guys.

"I will make certain it is done. Tonight, eight o'clock." With an almost awkward smile, he nodded and left the hall, his robes swirling around him.

All she could do was smile as she considered him. She'd never expected him to be anything like a friend. Yes, he was smart, and really good at what he did, but... He could be so cranky, downright foul tempered at times. Demanding of his students, half of them were convinced that Professor Snape was some sort of vampire or ghoul. He wasn't, she'd checked. But he certainly looked the part. But he'd decided to talk to her, even more after her encounter with Lucius Malfoy. He'd helped her calm her rattled nerves. Sometimes, she wondered if he had any idea how grateful she'd been for his efforts, how much talking with him had helped her. They talked about normal things, about potions and what she intended to cover in her lessons, and that helped her remember that she'd given up on being evil.

She tried to get things ready before he came to dinner. All of her clean clothing was neatly hung up or in drawers, and her basket of dirty laundry was tucked into her private bath, and firmly closed. She'd lit a few candles, allowing the scents of apples and cinnamon to fill the room, and a gentle golden light softened the effect of the stone walls. The carpets were in a soothing pattern of green and blue, as were the rest of the decorations in her chambers. But she still felt very nervous. What if... Willow sighed, trying to make herself relax. Dobby brought the tray with their diner in, and she thanked him, causing the house elf to blush an unflattering pinkish green before leaving.

There was a tapping at her door, and she wasn't surprised that he'd arrived at precisely eight. Smiling, she gestured for him to come in, old habits preventing her from offering a verbal invitation. His small smile at that made her giggle. "You have a most welcoming set of rooms, Professor Rosenberg... Willow."

"Thank you. Dobby brought us dinner, so... that shouldn't be a problem. She felt awkward as she settled herself in one of the chairs at the small table.

He settled himself into the other chair, lifting the domed lid from the tray to reveal generous portions of turkey, with potatoes and greens and steamed apples with cinnamon, and soft rolls glistening with butter, and pitchers of iced tea and pumpkin juice. "It seems that we've been served most generously."

"I think the house elves think I'm too skinny. There's some sort of conspiracy to try to fatten me up... all sorts of generous snacks, incredibly delicious fattening deserts... Sort of sweet in a way. Shows that somebody cares." She wasn't quite certain where to start, so she babbled a bit, looking at the food while they shifted a bit and became comfortable.

"While I do think they might have a point, I somehow doubt that's what had you so thoughtful earlier." He smiled, sipping at his pumpkin juice. "Was it something that happened at Hogsmeade?"

Willow shook her head, mock exasperation in her voice as she said "Everyone here thinks I'm too skinny. I swear, I'm eating enough for two people, and I have no idea where it's all going..." With a small smile, she looked at him, noticing the amusement in his eyes. "Actually, I had a chat with the mother of one of our more memorable students. Narcissa Malfoy. She seemed quite... friendly, actually."

He tensed, looking at her with a particularly bland expression. "Narcissa Malfoy? I wasn't certain that friendly was in her nature."

Willow sighed. "She definitely was being friendly. I just... I can't help but wonder why. She has to have a motive... She even looked a bit amused about me tossing Draco out of class. I don't know if she's normally like that about her boy's punishments, but... it just seemed a bit off."

"What did she say? Were there any offers?" He was frowning. "I would advise... caution. Lucius Malfoy was... perhaps still is, a strong supporter of the Dark Lord. I fear there might be something other than a desire for intelligent conversation behind her overtures."

"She offered to take me shopping with her. Asked how I was adjusting to being a teacher. And if it was true that I could work magic without a wand." Willow sighed, spearing a cinnamon apple with her fork. "I just sort of wish I knew what her game plan is. I mean, it's pretty clear that she would like me to be on her side, but... who's in the other corner?"

"One thing that I can state with confidence, Narcissa is quite capable of finding any object that you could possibly wish to purchase. But I could only offer speculation as to her true alliances and sympathies." He looked annoyed, and scowled at his turkey, stabbing mercilessly at it.

"Did she take the Mark?" Severus would know, especially since she'd learned that he'd been heavily involved in an investigation of people that might have served Voldemort.

He looked up, his eyes swimming with secrets. "No, she didn't take the Mark. But that doesn't tell us where her loyalty or sympathies might rest."

"So... I should be very, very careful, is that what you're saying?" If only joining the wizarding world came with Cliff Notes... But then, probably half the things in them would be wrong or outdated.

With a tiny smile, he nodded. "Yes, be very careful. I don't trust her, but... that could be partly because of who she married. Please, be careful. And remember that she undoubtedly had a plan."

"Of course, Severus. I'll try to be very careful." Willow smiled, thinking that whatever the reasoning for his friendship, she was glad of it.

end Pale Serpents 7: Willow's Dinner Guest.

Chapter Text

Draco scowled as he walked towards the door of the classroom. Defense Against Dark Arts was quickly becoming his least favorite class. Not only was the new Professor some half taught American with no respect for tradition and old families like the Malfoys, she seemed to be being harder on him than he could remember any other Professor ever being. A two foot scroll on vampires... Was she insane?

Considering some of the previous teachers for this class, that was a possibility. He opened the door, not bothering to knock. After all, he didn't expect to see anything there beyond the diagrams on the board, maybe a pile of papers to grade. Even though he'd made a point of not turning in his scroll on Friday. Waiting until after his weekend at Hogsmeade.

Her wand was sitting in a cup, along with several muggle style pencils and a few quills. Green fire burned under a desk top cauldron, and there was something bubbling inside it. Professor Rosenberg was there, holding a sword as she fought with... it looked like a vampire.

Draco made a small noise, not quite a gasp, not quite a squeak. He pressed back against the wall, eyes wide, heart racing. Vampire... vampire... he didn't have a stake, no holy water... what was the spell for fire?

She turned, looking at him, and the vampire faded from sight, like a dissolving illusion. "Draco? You have that scroll? Oh, that was an illusion. He wasn't really there."

"Why were you sparring with an illusionary vampire?" He'd managed to regain control over his voice, and he walked towards her desk, his knuckles white as he clutched his scroll. He would not shake, would not show his fear.

"Because some things you can't fight with magic. Some things, you need to fight with sharp weapons. Various types of demons, maybe someone with magical shields... And it's a good way to deal with stress." She leaned the sword against the wall, the faint metallic tapping enough to show that it was a real sword. Her words were calm sounding. "So, why are you bringing your scroll on Monday when I told you Friday?"

He swallowed, thinking that his efforts were not such a good idea. Maybe she wasn't the second rate hack he'd accused her of being. He couldn't manage an illusion even close to that detailed. "I... it fell behind the bed?"

She made a small nod, clearly not believing his excuse for a moment. "Draco, it's very important that you know how to defend yourself against vampires, against the sort of things I'm covering in this class. You know there are these things out there... Vampires don't care how rich your family is. They don't care what sort of honorable or memorable reputation your family has held for centuries. You are mortal, that makes you either potential dinner, or a potential child. Some vampires can feel magic, and they'd try to turn you. You wouldn't want that."

Draco paused, remembering some of the furious talks his mother had had at his father, speaking about the risks of going places that vampires traveled. "But... I have... there's a relative. Sort of an uncle? Wouldn't that keep me safe?"

"You have an uncle that's a vampire? If you say it's Spike..." She shook her head, tendrils of her hair falling. "That might keep you a little safer, IF the vampire isn't a minion, IF the vampire cares who your uncle is, IF they don't decide to kill you as a message to him. Vampires go for violence and dead bodies as messages."

"How do you know so much about vampires? You didn't even go to one of the American schools for magic!" He felt confused, uncertain where she'd learned, no longer able to convince himself that she didn't know.

With a small smile, she made a little circling gesture over her cauldron, the substance swirling obediently. "No I didn't. Maybe if I had... I'd certainly be more practiced with the wand. I grew up over a Hellmouth. I've fought vampires and demons, I've seen the Hellmouth. This class is something I know, something I lived through. I don't want any of the students here to have to know the pain of seeing their closest friends turned to vampires, or to die because they couldn't get out of trouble, couldn't recognize danger."

He stared at her hand, making little circles over the cauldron as the potion stirred itself. Her wand was still in the cup. His voice was a bit weak as the question slipped forth. "wand... Don't you need your wand for that?"

She shrugged a bit. "Not really. But it makes the people here less nervous when I remember to use one. I'm hoping you read the assigned sections... I can't cover everything in the hour that you'll be here."

"But all witches need wands for magic." How could she do that? It was against everything he'd learned about how magic could work.

"Not really. Nobody used them in Sunnydale. Potions, stinky herbs, chanting in Greek or Latin... yes. What you truly need for magic is strength of will, a firm idea what you're doing, and... well, it often helps to have the herbs and texts. Wands make it easier, not possible." Her eyes seemed to swirl with shadow for a moment, going impossibly dark.

"Just... just like that? Are you covering that in class as well?" He felt something inside go cold. She wasn't at all a feeble place holder. She was power, and he could feel it radiating from her.

With a small smile, she held out her hand for his scroll. "That's next week. We're covering shape shifters this week, including werewolves."

"Werewolves? But..." He shook his head, realizing that however much she was apparently willing to look at him as a person instead of some sort of lesser being due to his status as a student, she still was the Professor. Still allowed to set her curriculum however she wished. "Yes, Professor Rosenberg. I'll try to be less disruptive in class."

"Good. You've got a lot of potential, Draco. I don't want you to waste it by trying to depend on your family name or money. I'm not sure if you've seen it or not, but there's a commercial that sums it up pretty good - there are some things that money can't buy." She had a small smile, as if she was remembering things.

He'd been headed towards his seat, prepared to reread a section of the texts, having been a bit confused by the section on Tervassi demons. Her words made him stop, sending an unfamiliar feeling through him. Slowly, he turned, looking at her with an expression of surprise. "You think I have potential? Just... just for being Draco?"

"Of course, silly. But it's not enough to have potential, you have to work a bit to develop it. You have to learn from your classes, to practice your skills. Having potential is a help, but it won't carry you through life by itself." She paused, looking thoughtful as she pulled a teacup from a drawer. "Not very well at least. You could probably coast through on your family name, slip through with the right passing of money, but then you'll only be half of what you could become. You'd just be another rich guy living of the family fortune. Instead, I'd like to see you become Draco, to make yourself into... into somebody."

"I want to be myself. To be Draco, and... I want that to mean something." He hadn't even realized that the words had slipped out until it was too late. But he meant them.

She gave a small smile. "Just... be sure that you know who Draco is. Draco has to be more than money, more than magic. If you let one thing define our whole existence, or one person... If your world is based on one thing, you fall apart if that thing is removed. Become Draco, but make sure that Draco is connected to the world."

Frowning just a little, he voiced the question. "I thought you taught Defense, not philosophy?"

"Isn't part of Defense how to not fall to the darkness inside as well as the darkness outside? But maybe..." There was something in her expression, some subtle clue to understanding her, to knowing why. But it slipped away, and she continued in a softer voice, one shadowed by memories. "No, you're right. I'm getting all philosophical. Go, sit down, make sure you have your notes, and figure out who Draco really is."

Settling in his seat, he opened his book, staring at the words on the page. But he couldn't focus on shape shifting demons. He turned her words over in his mind, trying to make sense of them. She thought he had potential... thought he could be something as Draco, not as just another Malfoy. She was still incredibly infuriating, entirely unorthodox, but... he tried to remember anyone else that had expressed that sort of confidence in him. He couldn't come up with anything.

He was still staring at the same page when the other students started filtering into the classroom. Who was Draco? What did he want from the future?

End Philosophy and Scrolls.

Chapter Text

Willow had only been a little surprised by the large dark eagle-owl that had landed on her desk. He looked almost arrogant, which might be something that he'd learned from his owners, the Malfoy family. There was an envelope clutched in his beak, which he presented to her with a flick of his wings and a soft 'whhhmmm' noise.

She accepted the envelope, looking at him from the corner of her eyes and murmuring a polite "Thank you, would you care for some refreshment?"

The owl seemed to shift a bit, and looked almost... eager? He clacked his beak softly.

Willow poured a bowl of water, offering the owl a soft crescent roll. "That should do for a moment. I'll ring for one of the house elves to bring you a nice pigeon. I assume that Narcissa wanted you to bring a reply, so that will take a little bit."

Had anyone told her a few months ago that she'd be talking to an owl that had just brought her an invitation to go shopping, she might have laughed. As it was, it still seemed a bit odd... Ringing for a house-elf, she opened the envelope, seeing an elegant curve of writing that had to be from Narcissa Malfoy, which was in fact the case. The house elf, a particularly fluttery one called Chip, arrived, and started warbling about how Miss Willow was 'so considerate, so thoughtful... a pigeon for the owl, of course, right away...'

Predictably, Chip returned with a small snack for Willow as well as a pigeon for the owl. All she could do was thank him for the refreshments.

The thick parchment had a crest in the top corner, one that after a moment she placed as the Malfoy Crest. She'd never seen such a proper formal invitation for something so simple. But there it was, "Narcissa Freysdotte Malfoy requests the pleasure of your company for an excursion..." Well, someone had certainly been taught proper and formal etiquette. There was even a second slip of parchment for a reply.

Willow smiled a bit, dipping a quill in the small inkpot to write out her reply. 'I thank you for your invitation and would be delighted to join you for your expedition. Might it be possible to include a stop where one could acquite a functional silver dagger and an Orb of Thessulah? I shall join you...' Her reply completed, she carefully folded it and placed it back in the envelope, propping it beside the desktop cauldron. To the owl, she made the request 'If you could take that back to Narcissa after you've finished your pigeon, I think she would be pleased."

She met Narcissa in Hogsmeade, having decided to wear something that looked fairly nice but was still dark enough not to stain easily and comfortable enough to fight in if it became required. She’d prepared herself with a carefully honed iron dagger and a wooden stake, both tucked discretely under the robe, which was a lighter weight dark green that matched the color her eyes had decided was the new normal. She also carried her wand and a pouch of wizard money.

“So good to see you again, Willow.” Narcissa’s words were welcoming, but there was something almost strained, as if she was trying to conceal some vulnerability or falsehood. When she turned to lead Willow to the Floo network, there was the faintest difference in the color along her cheekbone, as if there was a concealed bruise…

“I was pleased to be invited.” Willow smiled, deciding not to ask about the bruise. It looked as if Narcissa had hit the ground hard, curling over the cheekbone and to the temple, a little towards the jaw. But, what or who had caused her to land that hard? Did her problems with her husband extend to physical abuse? Had someone else made her fall? Had she been attacked? Was it simply an accident? The only things that she was certain about was that it was the type of bruise from landing head first on the ground hard, and Narcissa seemed to want to hide it.

Maybe it would be good to distract herself from it. “Will anyone else be joining us on this trip?”

“My uncle Kiarran.” Her thumb rubbed over the side of a golden ring that twisted with some sort of pattern. When she continued, her words almost carried a hint of apology. “I assure you that he will be on his best behavior. Some of the places that we’ll be going… Might be less safe for two women alone.”

Willow shivered as the implications crossed her mind. She’d always known that some places weren’t safe, and learning about demons and other odd things hadn’t changed that in the slightest. “Let me guess… some of the harder to find items? Well, let’s meet your uncle.”

She’d had vague images of someone older. With Narcissa’s smoky eyes and fading blond hair, someone tall and lean and elegant like she was. Those images were shattered by the man that was waiting after their Floo trip. He was a little over six feet tall, with long hair the color of wheat, and gray eyes. Broad powerful shoulders and lots of muscles everywhere, wearing old fashioned clothing and a sword at his back. As Narcissa hugged him with a murmured “Uncle Kiarran” Willow realized that he was a vampire, and had been for a long time, judging from the feeling of age that he had.

“Narcissa? Your uncle… he’s…” Willow hadn’t been expecting a vampire. Draco’s words about a sort of uncle drifted back, causing her to assume that this was the uncle in question, and he definitely wasn’t Spike.

Narcissa blinked a moment before smiling. “Yes, he is. Willow Rosenberg, allow me to introduce you to Kiarran Vadirsson, Childe of Fragi. Uncle Kiarran, this is Willow.”

Kiarran made a smooth bow, a small smile on his face. “Pleased to meet you. You ARE the Willow Red-Witch from Sunnydale? Your reputation precedes you.”

She’d felt almost thrown off balance. A vampire being all civil, someone that had heard of her and wasn’t looking nervous… “I am from Sunnydale, yes. Hopefully, there was something good in the various things that you may have heard.”

Kiarran laughed, a rich, deep laugh full of nothing more sinister than amusement. “Oh, all sorts of colorful stories. Including a few about you being a bit more open minded than most. So, where am I escorting you ladies today?”

And the shopping began. They went through an almost bewildering array of shops, many in obscure and difficult to find locations, collecting an assortment of things. Including not one but two Orbs of Thessulah, the silver dagger that Willow had wanted, and a book on translating the Romany language to English, which seemed to puzzle Narcissa and amuse Kiarran.

Willow found herself enjoying the day far more than she’d expected. And Kiarran seemed… charming. It almost felt like a day out with old friends, despite the fact that they were relatively new acquaintances. She’d also learned that Kiarran didn’t think that Lucius was up to the quality of his ancestors and Cissa could have done much better for a husband. Apparently, Narcissa had lately been arguing more about her husband’s ‘choice of associates’, and there was tension there. She’d smiled at Willow, casually mentioning that this would probably prompt a lot more shopping trips, if she’d be interested.

Naturally, Willow found herself very interested. The day had been fun, and Narcissa and Kiarran delightful company. Narcissa had even seemed to relax, some of the tension leaving her body, and her eyes looking a bit less hard.

Back at Hogwarts, Willow surveyed her purchases, and the things that Narcissa had insisted on picking up for her with a smile. Shopping with a vampire had been fun… she was now officially in the Twilight Zone. But at least she’d put together one thing. She wasn’t sure who else was there, but Narcissa was plotting against her husband.

She also found a note from Severus, asking if he could join her for dinner this evening. It was another invitation that she accepted cheerfully.

End Plots and Shopping

Chapter Text

 

Willow was staring at a crystal sphere that appeared to be shot through with threads of gold when Severus Snape entered her rooms. A small table had been set with a mouth watering feast for two, and the soft candles made the room look almost romantic. Even Willow's garments a bit more formal and elaborate than normal contributed to the look. But Severus didn't think that she'd brought him here for an attempt at romance, especially since this dinner had been his idea.

"How did your day go? You seem to have taken a long time."

Willow looked up, as if startled. "Severus... Sorry, I guess I sort of got lost in thought. The day was... oddly fun. See? An Orb of Thessulah. Just one of the nifty things we found today." Her voice was cheerful, but filled with undertones that he couldn't quite decipher.

"Was there anyone else on this trip? Madame Crabbe, or perhaps Constance Bulstrode?" He offered a small smile, pulling her chair out so that she could sit down.

"Not one of those ladies. Or any other ladies of her acquaintance. I met her... well, she referred to him as her uncle Kiarran." Willow looked very thoughtful.

Severus frowned, certain that he'd heard that name before. If he could only remember... an image came to him, a towering warrior with a sword and fangs, threatening an overly foolish Death Eater who'd sought Narcissa's 'company'. As he recalled, the vampire had chopped the Death Eater in half for presuming to lay an unwanted finger on his descendant... "A vampire, if I'm remembering the right person."

"Yes, a vampire. He seemed... On good behavior, and he was being very charming. He also seems to think that Lucius Malfoy is an arrogant pretentious fool that wouldn't be fit to polish the boots of Phoebus Malfoy, who I assume is an ancestor." She smiled just a little. "I had to agree with the pretentious part."

For a moment, he simply stared at her, attempting to reconcile the image of a vampire with a sword, gleefully cutting down drunken Death Eaters with someone 'charming'. Although he certainly agreed with the evaluation of Lucius Malfoy as an 'arrogant pretentious fool'... "There must be some sort of motivation."

Willow put on an exaggeratedly innocent expression. "You don't think someone might just want to be charming to me?"

Silence stretched for a few long moments.

Willow was the one who spoke first, her voice somewhat amused. "Okay, I know there was an ulterior motive. He's on Narcissa's side in this... whatever that she's brewing up, and they want me on their side. And Lucius is NOT on their side. I think he's on the other side, but obviously not alone, or they could have just... offed him, or vanished him. So, they want me with them, against Lucius, who I really don't like anyhow, and it's something big and intimidating..."

"Are you certain?" He wondered what Narcissa was up to, and how much Willow had peiced together.

Sipping at her iced tea, Willow shrugged. "I'm absolutely certain that they're on the same side in this, and that something is making them nervous about it. And I'm really certain that Kiarran doesn't think Lucius is good enough for Narcissa. I don't think what they're planning is quite nice, and maybe a little illegal."

"Lucius most likely would have several other Death Eaters on his side. Depending on how far..." His words stopped as a sudden idea occurred to him. Could Narcissa intend to remove even the Dark Lord? "Do you have any idea how far her plans go?"

Willow chuckled a little. "Severus, I spent the day shopping with Narcissa and her suspiciously charming vampire ancestor. I got some nifty things and a handful of answers, but that wasn't one of them." Willow frowned, her expression turning oddly serious. "But... There's something wrong there, something she was hiding. She... there was a bruise on her face, covered by make-up."

He felt as if something cold had slithered through him. Worry churned, refusing to take identifiable form. “A bruise? Are you certain it wasn’t just from a lack of sleep?”

She shook her head, eyes gone unreadable with memories. “It was a bruise. The sort that you get when you hit the ground head first, sort of sideways. Like if a vampire throws you… or if someone shoves you hard into a wall. Or maybe she tripped and fell. I have no idea how she got it, but it was definitely a bruise, and she was trying to hide it. When I helped…” Willow closed her eyes, swallowing hard. “I saw them from fights back in Sunnydale, and I’ve seen them on my best friend when his father was kicking him around like a punching bag. I know bruises when I see them. It could have been an accident, but… I don’t think so.”

“Merlin’s bones…” Severus didn’t know what to say. Narcissa bruised, possibly because of abuse. “Perhaps that would be why she wants to move against her husband…”

Willow opened her eyes, a thin layer of teasing over the agonized worry in her voice. “You have met Lucius Malfoy, right? It’s just… He didn’t seem quite like the type.”

Surprise flowed through him, and he gaped at Willow. “Not the type? What, not the sort to be abusive?”

“No, not the sort to be physically violent. I would have pegged him more for emotional abuse, cruelty of the spirit… maybe even magic. Certainly threats and intimidation. I just can’t quite picture him hitting her.” There was a shadow of remembered pain on her face.

“There are spells that could cause someone to collapse.” He felt a shudder that had nothing to do with the temperature run through him. Could Lucius Malfoy be using those Dark spells on his own wife? Or was someone else responsible for the bruise that Willow had noticed? “Although those spells are considered Dark.”

“Lucius Malfoy uses Dark Magic.” Willow’s voice was low, almost flat. “Not he’s felt it, not once upon a time, but recently. It was all over the feel of him when he paid me that visit. I can see him using illegal magic against his wife.”

“But we don’t know that he did.” He hated the words of caution even as he knew they were true. Lucius Malfoy was evil, and had done many terrible things, but they had no proof that he was abusing his wife.

“Right.” Willow sighed, picking at her food. “But I think I’ll probably end up helping kick his ass if she wants.”

Severus picked at his own food, which now seemed rather tasteless. “I just might help, if you’ll have me.”

Willow looked at him, a tiny smile on her face. “If I’ll have you?” She blushed, making Severus realize that his words could have been taken as a proposition. “If it comes down to that, I could use someone to make sure I come back from the edge of magic.”

End Handful of Answers.

Chapter Text

 

"You seem quite pleased, Cissa. Almost smug." Kiarran leaned against the wall, watching his descendant. Narcissa Freysdotte Malfoy was curled on a chair in his flat, eyes gleeful as she smiled, no doubt thinking over their shopping trip that day.

"I am pleased." She admitted, looking at him. "You seemed most impressed with Willow. Is she truly that well known, or were you flattering her?"

He laughed, wondering how Cissa had managed not to learn more about the younger witch that she'd decided to recruit. "Cissa, do you remember hearing rumors of a witch helping the Slayer? Or about that undisciplined fool Angelus making a return?"

"Of course. I'd assumed that the Salem Institute had finally decided to offer aid to an American Slayer. And Lucius was prattling on about Angelus being a delightful inspiration..." She scowled, apparently most annoyed with her husband. "What does that have to do with Willow?"

"Cissa... Have you forgotten everything I tried to teach you about knowing both your enemies and your allies?" He settled onto a chair, watching the woman who had become more like family than most of his descendants through the centuries. He'd kept a watchful eye over his family instead of slaughtering them, confident that they could be more useful alive than dead. The centuries had proven him right dozens of times over. He was even considering turning Cissa one of these days... "It wasn't the Salem Academy. It was Willow who offered the Slayer aid. Rumor also has it that she used a Gypsy curse to restrain Angelus, ending his rampage. She also caused a large commotion over the Hellmouth this past spring. That witch has more power in her right hand than your husband has in his whole pale body."

"Ohhh...." The look of surprised delight on Cissa's face was almost gratifying. "I'd learned that none of the American magic schools had any records of her, nor was there any record through the American Magical Ministry or Muggle legal system. But that much power... All that without a wand?"

"Indeed. I've told you for years that not all witches need wands. Now, imagine her on our side..." Kiarran smiled, remembering Willow. She seemed so charmingly sweet, and looked almost too fragile to have so much power. But he'd felt it when he'd touched her, a hum of magic that he'd felt down to his bones.

Cissa's smile was almost catlike. "Lucius would never be able to stop us. And I don't think that his Dark Lord would be able to stand up to Willow. But... there is the small matter of a dedicated and foolish army of Death Eaters... Surely she couldn't stand up to so many at once? The sheer number of spells..."

"Which returns us to the need for subtlety. They do have an advantage in numbers, which is why we must be stronger and smarter." His smile was sharp, a reminder of just how much of a predator he was.

"She seemed to enjoy today." Cissa was thinking out loud, clearly trying to feel out any possible adjustments required in the effort to bring Willow to her side. "If we continue with the shopping expeditions, and some encouraging words... let her decide that we are her friends... If she was willing to do so much for the Slayer, she might be willing to help us."

"True. She would be delightful to have with us. Deadly to have opposing us. But the advantage is that she would not join Voldemort." Kiarran paused, considering the myriad rumors that he'd heard about her 'fall' the Darkness. "Even in her darkness, she wouldn't become one of his followers."

"Why not? So many who practice Dark magic join him." Cissa looked at him, undoubtedly wondering what stories he'd heard.

He chuckled, thinking that for once, the circles of vampires and demons were more informed than the wizardly circles that Cissa moved in. "She's too precise, too logical and orderly to join him. Voldemort is much too chaotic, and indulges in far too much needless and messy violence. Her darkness was precise and deliciously orderly in her choice of targets. And she didn't waste her time trying to spread fear and confusion."

"Both of which are among the Dark Lord's favorite things to do." Cissa nodded, much more aware of the details of Voldemort's activities than Kiarran. "That is useful."

"You understand now why we must convince her that we are her allies. I don't know if she will be willing to believe me friendly, I may have to settle for charming. But as for you... yes, I think she's one of the best possible choices for an ally. Especially since her magic is less easily classified. With so little idea of what she can do, how would anyone be able to prepare? Although if they have warning enough to try, we have erred in some dangerous way..." Kiarran mused, his thoughts on dark green eyes and pale skin.

"Of course. This will have to be done carefully. Although... I actually think that she would be a good person to have as a friend." Cissa looked almost wistful.

Kiarran knew that she was undoubtedly remembering the many times that people had sought to draw the young Cissa close, in order to make use of her family, or money. The number of times that her trust had been abused and betrayed... "Perhaps. If we can avoid the mistakes that those in Sunnydale made... She does not sound like the sort to hold ones past actions against them, but if she decides that you have used or betrayed her friendship..."

"You said that she moved against someone that had harmed her lover?" Cissa mildly curious, but there was a faint scent of fear.

"The rumor said that the man killed her lover." He traced the grain of wood on the arm of his chair. "The rumor that I heard was that she flayed him alive and then incinerated him."

Cissa gasped, her face growing pale, which brought the bruise into prominence. "Oh my... We definitely do not want her to become that angry with us."

"Precisely." Kiarran nodded. "But I don't think that looks likely at the moment. Things seem to be moving nicely. Now, about that bruise on your cheek..."

end Moving Nicely.

Chapter Text

 

Willow hadn't been terribly amused by the urgent message that had arrived by owl. Apparently, the Watchers were getting snippy, and throwing a hissy fit over something or other, and Giles needed her to come to London. The message didn't say, but her suspicion was that the Watchers were having their fit over her, and her 'potential menace'. They were entirely frustrating at times.

To her non-surprise, there were Watcher's having a fit over her and her near invocation of Proserpexa, which would have most likely destroyed the world, or at least turned it into a very scorched place. Probably burned all life from the surface, although she was uncertain about the effect on the oceans... Which was entirely not the point, as Buffy would have said. They had been worried that she was a danger, and had been muttering in dark and stuffy tones about lost shrines to vengeful pagan forces... Willow had tried her best to keep from turning any of them into rats or newts.

She'd crept out, finding Giles in a somber conversation with a middle aged woman with short grey hair, and a very pale, very skinny man with wire rimmed glasses in almost comfortable looking clothing. They at least didn't seem to be lost in hysterical worry.

"Rupert, your associate seems to have left the council chamber." The woman had hazel eyes with laugh lines, and a faint Irish accent.

Turning, Giles looked at her. "Willow... I wouldn't have thought that they would be finished yet. You left early?"

She smiled. "I was trying to avoid turning any of them into newts."

"Newts?" The pale man smirked just a little bit as he repeated the word. He had the most astounding resemblance to an older Draco with that expression... He had to be in his late twenties or early thirties. But surely a Malfoy wouldn't be here?

Willow grinned just a little, deciding to see if he'd get the reference. "They'd get better."

All three of them burst out laughing, and the woman shook her head, choking her words out around the laughter. "My dear lass, turning them into newts would be better, for some of them."

Willow smiled, giving Giles a small hug. "I'll just go now. They wouldn't really listen to anything else now anyhow."

"Will you be alright?" Giles looked a bit worried. "London isn't always safe at night."

"Hey, experienced witch here... Hellmouth survivor. I should be just fine." Willow smiled.

Confident that life in Sunnydale had prepared her for trouble, Willow made her way out of the Watcher's Hall. It was getting dark, and she sighed, feeling glad that she not only had her wand, which reminded her of her magic even when she didn't use it, but a much more solid bit of wood, a simple, solid stake, carved from a sturdy bit of oak. She should be prepared for just about anything.

A young vampire attacked her, not subtle enough to be more than a minion, and not old enough to be cautious or quiet. Willow managed to dodge the initial lunge, having been alerted by the scuffing of his shoes, and cast a slowing spell on the vampire. That made it almost too easy to stake him, and she breathed a sigh of relief as the vampire crumbled to dust. It still felt almost as if someone was watching her, but... surely not.

She was almost back to the Wizarding section when she felt it - hostility following her. Hostility with footsteps, numerous shuffling feet. All she could tell was more than three, and at least one pair of high heels. Frowning, she fed a little more energy into her defenses, raising a shell of power around her, hoping that it was merely paranoia.

That hope was shattered by a sizzling curse that sped towards her, skidding off the edge of her shield as she dropped into a jarring roll. Another spell, not nearly so loud soared at her from another angle, and she realized that she was almost entirely surrounded by her attackers. A group of wizards, for reasons unknown to her seemed to be trying to kill her... And her shields couldn't hold forever. She would have easily been able to take any one of them down... even two or three of them. But there were a lot more than three, and she couldn't keep blocking their spells forever, although she'd started trying to bounce their magic back, trying to hit them with their own spells. It was having mixed results, and while a couple had fallen, she was still outnumbered and rapidly feeling the strain.

Another figure emerged from the shadows of the alley, standing behind a group of the wizards. Willow felt something dark and heavy form in her stomach. She was already slowly loosing, another person would only hasten the end... And that was when a sword point thrust through the chest of one of the wizards, causing him to slump to the ground, blood pooling around him. Willow had felt a moment of pure baffled relief... the person wasn't trying to kill her, good.

She turned her attention to a pair of wizards trying something incredibly vile feeling, hating the fact that she had to trust in her shielding to protect her back. The spell hurt when it hit her shields, and she felt a trickling of blood from her nostril as the spell rebounded, disintigrating the wizards who'd cast it, leaving smoking shoes and cracked wands on the road. A dull scream came from behind her, one of the wizards.

Turning, she discovered that the sword bearing newcomer had literally cut down that section of her attackers, and now seemed to have his face buried in the throat of another. Broad shoulders, a sword, and wheat colored hair... Kiarran? Had he actually saved her, or... Her head spun, and she heard the sound of the last couple of wizards fleeing, running in terror for their lives. She felt like she should be more upset about the fact that he was drinking from one of the wizards... had maybe drank from another while her back was turned. But they'd been trying to kill her, she couldn't quite muster any sympathy or outrage for their deaths. "Kiarran?"

The figure stood up, revealing it to be Kiarran, his eyes golden, blood smeared over his chin and fangs as he let the body fall to the ground. "Willow. Are you injured?"

Willow offered a hesitant smile, swaying slightly on her feet. "I... think I've done a little too much magic here. They didn't actually... ughhh"

Darkness swirled, and with a spinning sensation, she felt herself toppling towards the ground. She felt strong arms catch her almost distantly. "I have you, Willow."

Willow was almost surprised to wake up. She was laying on a couch, supported by supple leather. Her shoes had been removed, and her wand and stake were not on her body, although a few moments careful and slow inspection of her surroundings proved that they had been placed on the coffee table beside the couch that she was currently draped on. The room was fairly comfortable, with a few bits of leather furniture, and stone walls. Swords and a slightly faded shield hung on the wall in front of her, and she was aware of another presence, even thoguh she couldn't hear any noises. She tried to remember what had happened... "Kiarran?"

"You said that earlier, Willow. You appeared to be in a bit of trouble earlier... just a few more dark wizards than you seemed ready for. I do hope you don't mind the assistance." His voice was calm, almost amused.

She wanted to sit up, to make certain that she was still presentable. But she knew that trying to sit up right now... at best would make her feel nauseous, at worst would make her black out again. "No, I don't mind. There were... a few too many. Thank you... but... umm... why? Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but..."

Kiarran chuckled, the sound so rich and lifelike that it was hard to believe that he was dead. "Ah, it was a pleasure to offer you the assistance, fair Willow. I've never been one to pass up a halfway decent fight, and the blood of wizards tastes better than the blood of what they term Muggles. Cissa likes you, and she could use someone outside her husband's circles to associate with. You're a good influence on her, and that would come to a halt if you were killed."

"You helped me because Narcissa likes me?" Willow felt like her head was spinning again. Everything seemed so odd, almost unreal, but she knew that bizarre or not, this was her life now. And she owed its current continuation to a vampire.

"In a nutshell, yes." She could feel him looking at her. "She doesn't have very many friends."

Willow closed her eyes again, knowing that she would just have to trust in Kiarran to continue his good behavior. She was too drained to even try to stop him anyhow. "Well, thank you anyhow. Even if it was for her sake and not mine... I'm still uncrispied."

"Rest, Willow. You look... in no shape to return to Hogwarts just yet, and it is far too close to sunrise for me to assist you to another location. My home has enough protections that nothing shall enter and harm you." Kiarran's voice sounded soothing.

She could already feel her eyelids sinking down, inexplicably heavy. Was she just that tired, or could Kiarran do that hypnosis trick? "Rest... sounds very good..."

Gazing at the slumbering woman on his couch, Kiarran smiled. Tonight had been entirely unexpected, but a golden opportunity. He might not sail for money anymore, but he could still seize the moment. Rescue her from her danger, and not only would she still be alive and therefore able to benefit them, but she would feel... grateful. That gratitude would only make her more receptive to their plans. And truthfully, Cissa did like the young witch. Over all, he had lost nothing, and could only benefit from this night's dramatic rescue.

end Over Her Head.

Chapter Text

 

Kiarran smiled, watching Willow rest on his couch. She seemed so fragile to be able to command as much power as she did, but he had seen how she had been handling herself against that ambush. Granted, they would probably have worn her down and defeated her, but there had been twelve of them. At least, twelve to start with. Between the bouncing hexes, his sword, and... well, he'd indulged in a nice dinner since they had made themselves so clearly available... Probably one had made it away, maybe two.

Between the sheer level of power and the fact that very few witches or wizards managed to have shields strong enough to bounce effective hexes, including the Unforgivables... well, she would make a very potent ally indeed. He wrote out a message, using the Norse runes of his youth to inform Narci that Willow was here. She would want to know, in order to strengthen the bond between the women. And while her miserable husband had many skills, a fluency with Norse Runes was not among them. And even if he could read it, would he understand the meaning of 'The tree sleeps under my hand.'? No, probably not.

And while he waited for his descendant, he leaned back in his chair, watching Willow sleep. She was resourceful, and used her abilities without the ridiculous dependency on wands that seemed to burden all of the mortal magic users now. One of his descendants a century or two back had explained that the wands made the power easier to control, but why didn't more of them learn to do without their wands anyhow? Didn't they realize how easy it would be for an enemy to steal or break the wand? Without the wand, most wizards were as helpless as the muggles that some of them - like Narci's husband - despised. But Willow didn't need a wand.

Frowning, he wondered just why Willow had been in London. She didn't live there, and there were very few shops there that the contents could not be acquired elsewhere. So, she'd obviously had some business in London, something not relating to Hogwarts. Perhaps it would be useful to know what had been important enough to bring her here? Especially if that knowledge could be of use to them...

Willow shifted her position, a tension appearing on her face. "Don't warn... too many... not in the books. Always... bad guy packs... too many... Giles? Should... Buffy..."

Kiarran frowned, listening to her words. Willow must be dreaming, and the murmured words must reflect the dreams content. Possibly she dreamed of the attack tonight? Buffy, wasn't that... Yes, it was the name of the current Slayer. And where there was a Slayer, there would always be at least one Watcher. If Willow had been meeting with the Watchers tonight, that might be of some use. He wasn't quite certain how, but surely there would be some opportunity to use that information.

He heard a sharp popping noise from his entry hall, followed by soft footsteps. A pale golden light came from the hallway, as Narci walked into the room, the tip of her wand glowing. "What happened?"

"A group of Death Eaters surrounded her, casting curses. The spells... they were bouncing from her shields. They would have eventually worn her down, but I happened to be in the area. She's far more useful alive, and the fools had their backs to me..." Kiarran smiled at Narci, his teeth gleaming in the light from her spell. "I think she's mostly exhausted."

"So you saved her. How... chivalrous sounding." Narci smiled, as if the image was amusing for her. Perhaps it was, considering that she knew full well that while he knew about chivalry, he'd never practiced anything more than token version of it. "And she will remember that you saved her, that we were here when she woke."

"Precisely, my child." Kiarran smiled, looking over at the witch with her dark red hair, signs of exhaustion and worry still clear on her. "We have helped her, and perhaps she will be able to help us. I find myself no fonder of snakes now than in my youth."

"But some of them have more than a bite at their disposal." Narci looked cautious, and made her way over to Willow's side, carefully sitting on the edge of the couch. She appeared to examine Willow, looking for any indication that the spells and curses may have affected Willow. "Where was she?"

"I think she was visiting with the Watchers. Perhaps their entire ineffective Council." Kiarran shrugged, not quite certain. "She hasn't been entirely talkative."

Narci smiled, a cold and calculating expression. "Yes, some of them are rather ineffective, always bumbling around, poking their noses where they aren't needed. Perhaps some of them could be of use to us after all... perhaps as a distraction? If my husband and his fellow minions of the grand low serpent are busy watching the Watchers, or picking them out from inconvenient places, they won't have time to watch... a quiet wife of impeccable breeding, or a temperamental vampire with a shocking taste for physical violence."

"Delightful. The only question being how to attract their attention, and where to have them look. Nowhere that they could easily be made to vanish, but nowhere that would cause too many problems to us." Kiarran mused on the question, before a slow smile spread over his face. "What about the area where the Crabbe and Goyle families live? There is a good deal of activity there, and they are perhaps... more enthusiastic than competent."

"Those particular men were not recruited for being clever, or influential. They were simple bullies then, and now they are simply bullies for a more powerful shortsighted fool. But how to attract the Watchers notice..." She looked thoughtful, and then smiled. "Do you think that you could arrange a few bodies? Things to make it look as if there is a sudden careless vampire presence there? If we combine that with things to hint at Dark rituals, the Watchers will surely send someone."

Kiarran considered her words. "There are a few good sized cemeteries there, and a nice underground system. It would be easy enough to set up lairs, and I can find some young minions to send there. Fools, and sure to be careless, but if they are somehow questioned, they will only be able to say they were sent by a powerful master, someone with a plan. The Watchers would never think that the 'plan' is to lure them there, and will begin investigating. If they are competent, they may find things on the Crabbes and Goyles, and if they are incapable, they will draw a good deal of attention."

"Will it be difficult?" Narci looked at him, her expression thoughtful.

A casual wave made light of her question. "Not at all. If I send perhaps six, maybe eight minions, there should be at least ten dead before a week is out, and that will surely be noticed. As our only true purpose in sending them there is to distract people from us, how can it not work?"

Narci just laughed, shaking her head. "A very good point." She looked back at Willow, brushing a red lock away from closed eyes. "She should be just fine after some rest. Nothing more serious than magical overexertion... and I have something for that. A nice potion... well, an effective potion, anyhow. Rather vile tasting, actually, but we never could figure out a way to make it taste better and still work. My potions partner all through Hogwarts was Severus, after all. Since he is the current Potion Master, perhaps I should see if he ever found a better formulae for this?"

"Did you often exert your power too much during your studies?" Kiarran looked at her, curious.

"I kept trying too much, and Severus... I'm not certain if his gift wasn't as strong as he wanted it to be, or he just didn't mesh well with his father's wand, but it always seemed as if spells tired him more than anyone else in the class, not that he wanted that to be known." Narci pulled a small vial of something gray-green from her bodice, and carefully poured the potion between Willow's lips, careful to see that the unconscious witch swallowed instead of choking.

"Is the Potion Master likely to be a problem?" Kiarran looked at Narci, wondering just how close she'd been to Severus Snape. He could remember her mentioning him, a quiet, somber youth with a sharp nose and gift for potions and lurking.

Narci looked as if she was about to speak, and then closed her mouth, thinking for a few moments before she finally spoke. "I know that he despises Lucius. He's unlikely to do anything to protect him. But he also took the Mark, so he might feel obligated to try to prevent us from acting against the Dark Lord if he knew. I do not know how he would react, so it's best if he knows nothing more than that we found and helped Willow. What he does not know, he can not tell."

"Yes, secrecy of our real motivation is important." Kiarran nodded. "You stay with Willow, and I will begin the work of sending minions towards the Crabbe homes."

Narci nodded, looking at Willow again. "I'll stay here, and when she wakes up, explain how you save her. You probably looked very... impressive."

"As long as it was the right impression." Kiarran left the house, confident that Narci could handle the rest. She'd had to learn how to weave misdirection, evasion and bits of the truth together to accomplish things for years now, she should be an expert at it.

end Protective Tendencies

Chapter Text

 

Willow had not returned last night. Not slipping quietly into the building in order not to disturb anyone, not shuffling blearily inside in the wee hours of the morning. She just hadn't returned at all. She'd left yesterday, having said that her friend and the closest that she'd had to a mentor, Rupert Giles, one of the Slayer-Watchers, had encountered some troubles with the Council, and wanted her to help try to sort it out.

Severus was not happy about the whole mess. Not only because the Watcher's Council were almost as skilled at denying danger as Cornelius Fudge, but because something, a hint of that greater connection that witches and wizards were supposed to have was screaming at him that Willow was in danger. It had taken him far too many years, but he'd eventually figured out that while it didn't catch everything, if that little corner of him 'felt' something that strongly, screamed this loudly, it was serious. And those reactions were never wrong. If that corner said trouble - Vodemort is evil, don't drink the red bottle, something is wrong with that woman, then there was something bad. Very rarely did that tiny corner have good things to say, the most memorable exception being Dumbledor.

Narcissa had been trying to cultivate Willow. Granted, there was a slim chance that she only wanted a friend, a confidant, someone to spend time with away from her husband. And perhaps Neville Longbottom would learn to make a proper potion, and the Weasley twins could stay out of trouble for a week. Possible in theory, but very unlikely. Narcissa meant trouble, even if only from her husband Lucius Malfoy or... hadn't Willow said they'd gone shopping with Kiarran? The possibilities for trouble merely expanded when adding a vampire to the equation.

He had the feeling that Narcissa didn't intend to hurt Willow, but instead hoped that Willow would help her to achieve something that would incidentally included the removal of Lucius Malfoy. But... He remembered Narcissa very clearly from his days as a student. She'd been his Potions partner, and while she was intelligent, and had a phenomenal memory, she was... bluntly, she was self-centered and ambitious. She'd never been in the habit of doing things without some gain for herself.

"Professor Snape?" Draco's voice was unexpectedly lacking in arrogance.

Looking behind him, he saw Narcissa's son leaning against the doorway, looking perfectly presentable, but his eyes were... darker, rather troubled looking. "Is something out of place, Draco?"

"Yes. Professor Rosenberg. We... I was trying to get a bit of assistance with one of the section of our reading, but... she's not here. I even asked one of the House Elves if she was anywhere on the school grounds, and it said that she wasn't." His small frown, and the tightness of his eyebrows betrayed Draco's worry.

A small, petty part of him wanted to chastise Draco for having such an interest in Willow, but he shoved that portion downwards. Draco had a good point - Willow wasn't here. "She went to London yesterday with her mentor. It was only expected to take a few hours."

"What happened?" Draco's voice was small.

"I hesitate to guess. Wi -Professor Rosenberg has a way of attracting trouble to herself. I fear that something.... unfortunate has happened to her." Severus shook his head, trying to conceal his own worry. "I suppose we could speak to Professor Trelawney, but... Her grasp of the present, like her grasp of the future, is often rather imprecise."

"She was babbling - something about swords and blood and green flashes bouncing. And she thinks Professor Rosenberg will come face to face with death before midwinter, and I should avoid one eyed dark haired strangers." Draco scowled, clearly wanting to call the woman an utter loon.

Nodding, Severus looked out again, frowning as he noticed one of the carriages approaching the castle. "A carriage... Perhaps we should go learn who is here."

Severus felt very surprised when the first figure to emerge from the Thestrial-drawn carriage was Narcissa, her hair pulled into a simple braid, her gown a simple ash gray. She reminded him of her younger days, when they'd both been students. The other person was Willow, looking quiet and unhappy and a bit pale.

"Now here we are, and I'm sure that Severus can find or make you a few potions if you're still unsettled. I'm sure he can make more of that remedy for over-extension if you need more." Narcissa was smiling a little, the expression almost gentle and entirely out of place on her. Immediately, Severus began wondering what her plan was, and how Willow was connected.

"Mother..." Draco looked as if he was quite surprised, and uncertain if this was a good surprise or a bad one. "I see you've met Professor Rosenberg, this year's instructor for Defense."

Narcissa smiled at her son, as if she was measuring him against some unknown mental list, and he came out with a favorable rating. "Draco... yes, I've met her. She's quite unusual, especially compared to some of the previous Defense instructors... eminently capable as well. You could learn quite a bit from her. Especially, it appears, about protective shields."

Willow chuckled a little, but she sounded as if she was considering something ironic, rather than amusing. "Bounce a couple... well, bounce some nasty curses off shields, and they think it's impressive, raise the dead and they think you've moved to the Twilight Zone."

"Curses? Does that mean that Trelawney..." Draco glanced at Professor Snape for a moment, and then back at his mother and Willow. "Does that mean that Professor Trelawney was right? She said something about blood, green flashes, and swords."

Severus felt his stomach tighten at the reminder of Sybyl's ramblings, and that little corner felt worried. Swords and blood and green... "Would it be rude to ask what delayed your return?"

Willow smiled at him, still looking drawn, as if she'd exhausted her magics recently. But he'd felt her power, what could have done that? It would take something monumental, unless she'd simply learned a trick to make herself look more powerful than she really was.

"I was on my way back to the Leaky Cauldron when I was ambushed by a group of.. well, I guess evil wizards, and one witch. They were trying to kill me, casting these nasty feeling curses... One spell bounced from my shield and just... all that was left of the wizard it hit was a pair of smoking shoes. Nasty." She shivered, clearly remembering the events. "Kiarran... Narcissa's uncle, happened by, and he... well, he saved me. Sharp broadsword, lots of practice using it... The rescue was just in the nick of time."

Part of Severus wondered just how coincidental that rescue had been. Could Kiarran have somehow arranged the attack? He had few doubts just how the vampire would have made the rescue, sword slashing and probably biting. How many wizards had the vampire killed? Thinking of Kiarran, or of Willow in danger made him feel uncomfortable, so he tried to move from then to now. "I am most pleased that you are unharmed."

"Does this mean you don't want to help me with the section over animated corpses?" Draco's voice was soft, as if he was trying not to upset Willow, or perhaps his mother.

Willow looked thoughtful, and then smiled gently at Draco. "Actually, I think I'd like a bit of breakfast first. If you could meet me in the library in an hour, we can go over that section again. The author of the book was just... he needed a good editor."

Severus offered a thin smile, resisting the urge to reach out, to touch her and make certain that she was really alright. "Perhaps you could join me for breakfast?"

Her eyes almost seemed to sparkle, and she smiled back. "I think that would be good. I've had... I don't feel up to the Great Hall with many people yet."

"You'll be just fine now, Willow. I think... I think Severus will take good care of you." Narcissa smiled, and it almost seemed as if there was something soft in her eyes, some trace of genuine affection.

"Thanks for bringing me back, Narci." Willow smiled at the other woman, looking as if it hadn't even crossed her mind that the entire thing could have been fabricated, could have been arranged.

As he accepted Willow's hand on his arm, noticing the nearly imperceptible trembling, Severus frowned. "They were trying to kill you... are you certain that you're alright?"

Her dry chuckle sounded strong enough. "Tired, and I was pretty frightened, but... I'll be fine from that. As long as... well, it's just low magic reserves. Rest will bring them back. And I can rest magically while teaching, or helping Draco understand the section on animated dead. It doesn't tell them how, just how to deal with them."

Remembering the times when his own magical reserves had run out, the horrible emptiness and the feeling of shaking frailty, sometimes accompanied by nausea, Severus frowned. Did Willow mean to hide her weakness from the whole world? Was he included, or was it simply the fact that they were in the hallways? Did Narcissa plan to use his too apparent concern for Willow against him somehow? He didn't know.

The few things that he was certain of included his relief at her return, the fact that Narcissa was plotting something, the hope that she might help Draco step out of his father's shadow to become his own person, and the fact that it made him feel warm inside that Willow's hand was on his arm, that her shoulder or hip would occasionally brush his body. He just didn't know what he could do about it. Any of it.

But Willow was back, once more safe. There would be time to try to figure out Narcissa’s plot later, to figure out who and why had ambushed her, to learn if the Watcher’s Council was finished with their problems. And he could try to find a way not to let his thoughts and dreams be clouded by dark red hair, or green shadow eyes that had seen far too much. Or maybe… maybe it would be safe enough to let her into his dreams, as long as he didn’t press for dream and reality to match?

Perhaps it would be safer if he focused on unraveling the clues to uncover Narci’s plot. How much had she changed from the girl he’d known in school? How much of that change was real, and how much a mask to conceal herself from her husband and his chosen allies? He would have trusted the Narci he’d studied with not to lead Willow into grave danger, although Narci had possessed a mischeivious streak and a taste for pushing boundaries, coupled with a skill at avoiding many consequences. Not by blaming others, but by simply not getting discovered in the wrong. He would have had faith in the Narci of twenty years ago, but he didn’t know the Narcissa of today. Would she still be a good friend, one of the few that he’d had in school? Or was she now a cold, calculating woman seeking power and prestige? He didn’t know, and that burned, because the answers to everything else depended on that, depended on what sort of woman Narcissa had become.

end Missing Persons

Chapter Text


 

Willow felt terrible, as if she'd been placed in a dryer with a few rocks, and tumbled for a while. There was also this dreadful cold empty feeling inside. She remembered it from when she'd restored Angel's soul, and when she'd linked them to fight ADAM, and when she'd brought Buffy back. She'd used far too much magic. Again.

She let her hand rest on Severus' arm, grateful that he was there, that someone had been worried about her. Apparently more than one person, Draco had looked pretty worried also. It was reassuring actually, that anybody would care. But her hand on Sev's arm was enough to allow her to remain steady, to not loose her balance and allow herself to fall to the floor, to curl around her middle and just ache from the emptiness. It wouldn't help anyhow.

"Perhaps something light, toast perhaps?" His voice was soothing, like chocolate and velvet all at once.

For a moment, Willow pondered the idea of food, wanting to know if anything would even stay down. "With fruit preserves for the toast... the sugar will be good for me. And tea."

It felt like a very long walk before Willow could sit down, held comfortably in one of Sev's big leather chairs, in front of a roaring fireplace, with a tray on the table between them. Toast with apple preserves spiced with cinnamon, tea, and a small bowl of scrambled eggs spread before them. Severus poured her a cup of tea, gesturing towards the sugar and cream as he moved to fill his own cup. "Are you certain that you're alright? An attack... it sounds most ominous."

Willow sighed as she poured a bit of cream and two chunks of sugar into the cup. "I'm not too injured, just a couple scrapes." She began to spread the preserves over a slice of toast. "My biggest concern is the motivation. That... it wasn't a bunch of people out looking for a random target, they were looking for me. And I'm not sure why, or who put them up to it."

"The first candidate that comes to mind is Malfoy." His voice was slightly bitter, a bit sarcastic. "Of course, the list does continue from there."

"Are you suspecting Lucius, in retaliation for me scaring him and threatening Voldemort, or Narcissa?" She glanced at him, wondering just who he thought responsible.

"Lucius, although I do think the timing of Kiarran's rescue was... very fortunate." Severus had a little smile now, almost as if she'd surprised him.

"As in... almost too fortunate?" Willow looked at him, trying to sort through everything. "I don't think Narci would have gone for so many and so serious if she was trying to set up a rescue. Those spells.... nasty. It could be the parents of some of the other Slytherins, upset that I'm not playing nice with their pureblood darling children. It could be someone that knew one of the many people we defeated in Sunnydale. It could have just been... I don't know. But I don't think Narci and Kiarran set it up."

"But you considered the idea." He was definitely smiling as he spooned a portion of eggs onto his plate.

Willow sighed, sipping at her cup. "I didn't want to, but... yeah. She's devious, Sev. She's devious and she's got some sort of plan, it would be perfectly natural to want someone to feel obligated to help her. She practically painted a sign about that when we went shopping the first time. So, I don't think they arranged it, but they'd be perfectly willing to take advantage of it."

"At least you're not blind to her deviousness." He sighed, frowning into his own cup. "Do you have any ideas about what will happen next, or what Narci's plan actually is?"

"Maybe and no." Willow chewed some of the toast, buying time to sort out how to explain things. "I have no idea what Narci's plan is, but judging from the fact that she's got Kiarran in on it, it probably involves someone or other or multiple someones dying. As for what next, that really depends on who's behind it."

"Elaborate." He smiled, one hand holding a slice of buttered toast. "If we don't know who did it, how can you predict what will happen next?"

"Well, if it was just a large group of those Death Eaters going after me because I wasn't dressed like a witch, which seems very unlikely, then nothing more, because it was coincidence." Willow paused to sip her tea, trying to remember the last time something trying to kill her had actually been a coincidence. "If it was a group of angry parents, then we're likely to see a lot of students getting some bad news. We might anyhow, I don't think too many of them ran, and I don't know if Kiarran might not have finished off the ones who were down. If it was Lucius, he'll try something else, since plan A failed. It's the way baddies work."

"Sunnydale does not seem like a safe place to have lived." His somewhat dry comment didn't seem to hold any subtle barbs, only dismay, and perhaps sympathy.

"It wasn't safe." Willow sighed, remembering all the people they'd lost. "But, big picture, we helped save the world."

"And if you want to be able to do so again, you must manage not to be killed, either by random attacks or as a result or side-effect of someone's plan." He sounded worried now.

For a moment, Willow wanted to tell him that she could take care of herself. That she’d grown up over the Hellmouth. But there was still that cold ache of tapped out magic, the feeling as if she should be covered in bruises. The unsettling knowledge that if not for Kiarran’s timely arrival, she might now be dead. “You… have a good point.”

The rest of breakfast was quiet, both of them caught up in their thoughts. There were too many unanswered questions about the recent events. It didn’t even occur to either of them that somewhere along the line, they’d come to count on the steady presence of the other. That they’d gotten in the habit of company.

End Who’s Idea Was It?

Chapter Text

 

Severus glanced over at Willow, noting the way that she was slowly stirring her tea. She was doing a remarkable job of disguising the listless feeling that he knew came from using too much of one's magical reserves at once, but he could tell. "I know that you must be feeling rather unpleasant."

"Yeah, but if I don't fight it, I'll go lie down for just a few minutes and wake up tomorrow. I've got things I need to do today," there were dark circles under her eyes, and the hint of amusement in her voice.

"You were lucky that Kiarran arrived when he did," Severus contemplated his suspicions, and the best way to voice them. "The timing was astonishing."

"Not as astonishing as all that, really," Willow sipped at the tea, and took a small bite of her toast. "They want me to help them with their plan. Badly. Why not keep track of me so that if something happens, they can take advantage of it?"

"A set-up?" Feeling relieved that she wasn't quite as trusting and naive as he'd thought, Severus felt something inside relax.

"No and yes. I don't think they planned the attack; those curses were too nasty for Narcissa to have been counting on me evading or blocking them. The ones who attacked wanted me dead, painfully. But I think they're trying to cultivate me, Narci with the friendly shopping trips and lunches, and Kiarran with the slaying of threats. It might have been her husband sending them, but... I don't see how he would have known that I would even be in London."

He nodded, glad that Willow could see the efforts to cultivate her good will. Smirking, he asked, "How are they doing?"

"Pretty good so far. I'd never known that shopping could be fun, and I was in trouble when he arrived. But I know that they want something. I guess it depends on what they want."

For several moments, Willow was quiet, sipping at her tea and nibbling slowly at the toast. Finally, she looked up, her eyes dark with memories, "I'd really like to think that at least some of its real. That she would like to be friends, and that things continue after it's over."

He carefully considered her words, and what he knew of Narcissa. He certainly didn't blame her from wanting to get rid of Lucius, though knowing Narcissa that certainly wouldn't be the only thing she wanted. "Even if she's using you?"

"Friends can help each other. There's a saying, 'friends help you move, real friends help you move the bodies'. I helped Buffy, both with moving and with bodies, though those weren't human. If she wants to be a real friend and wants my help, I can deal with that. She's easier to talk to than Anya, after all. But if all she wants is to use me..." Willow sighed, her eyes closing. "That would hurt."

"Be careful. Narcissa was a brilliant, devious girl, and I doubt that she's lost any of that since becoming Mrs. Malfoy," Severus offered.

"Are you saying that you don't trust her?" Willow's voice was soft, and she was spreading jam on a second piece of toast.

"I trusted her in school. I would like to be able to trust her now, but... I'm not sure how much the years have changed her," Severus concluded. "Time changes everyone, to some degree. The question is how much has she changed."

"I understand," Willow murmured. "I'll be careful."

* * * * * * * *

Draco sat in the library, wishing that he could just pace and fret like he wanted. He’d been worried about Professor Rosenberg, and he wanted to know that she was okay. But Malfoys didn’t fret and pace – his father had taught him that at an early age. They especially didn’t do such things in public, and despite the fact that the library only had a few scattered students, it was a public place.

She’d looked horrible when she came back. Not bruised, bloody and wounded, but… pale. The best he could explain was that she looked like something had sucked all the energy out of her and crunched, leaving her in pain and weakness to crawl away. And she wasn’t crawling, she was walking. Obviously Malfoys weren’t the only ones with a measure of pride.

“So, ready to go over the various types of mobile dead?” Her voice was soft, less cheerful than normal.

“Of course,” Draco turned, prepared to smile at her. She looked better than earlier, though still too pale. Faded wasn’t the right word, but she still lacked her usual sparkle and intensity.

“Good. Now, we’re going to go over them in my order, not the order from most of the books, not alphabetical, and not in some Ministry determined sequence,” She settled herself at the table, hands reaching out to touch the books that he’d gathered. “And no, it isn’t an unfair advantage, because anyone else could have asked me if I’d go over the listing again if they could manage to bring themselves to say the words.”

“Malfoys don’t normally worry about unfair advantages,” Draco grinned, preparing to take notes.

With a small nod and thoughtful frown, Willow began. “First, let’s talk just a little about vampires. They are dead, and they aren’t human anymore. Vampires don’t see the world the same as humans, no matter how good they are at blending in. Vampires are predators, and they have an innate tendency to use violence to solve problems.”

“Does that mean they’re simpler to deal with?” Draco didn’t think that sounded like what she meant, but he asked anyhow. It was nice to have someone who would explain to him for his own sake instead of the Malfoy name.

“No and yes. Slightly easier to predict, in that if you annoy, anger, offend or just get in their way, vampires are more likely to kill you than mortals. Outside in the sunlight is a no-no on account of burning into ashes. They can’t enter your home uninvited. But growing fangs doesn’t make them stupid, not unless they were stupid in life. And stupid vampires are minions, which means there’s a smarter vamp lurking back in the shadows giving orders. You also don’t want to forget that a person who has special abilities, like a Seer or a witch will still have them as a vampire. I’m not sure if werewolves can become vampires, or if they’d just be a regular vampire instead of a werewolf anymore, but that’s not important right now,” Willow mused.

Draco nodded, wondering just where she’d learned some of that. There had been nothing in the reading about magical vampires. “So, that’s vampires.”

“Next there’s ghosts. Some people would argue, because they don’t have a body of their own. Some ghosts can possess the living, or vampires, and use that body as if it were their own, and possession isn’t limited to a body similar to the original. There are wards to prevent such things, either personal or in an area, or exorcism rituals if it’s already happened. Mostly they can move little things, and talk at you, play mind-games. Always remember that ghosts can lie,” she added.

“There are quite a few ghosts here at Hogwarts…” he swallowed hard, glancing away from the table.

“Yeah, but those wards against possession are built in to this place, old and deep. The ones here can’t step inside of you unless you give them permission.”

Draco decided not to ask where she’d learned about possessing ghosts. He decided to just learn about the dead, and enjoy the fact that she considered him worth it just because he was Draco. And no matter how much he wanted to know, he wasn’t going to ask her what had happened, not here in the library.

End Pale Serpents 16: Delicate Conversations.

Chapter Text

 

 

"Something's going on with Professor Rosenberg. Something happened to her, something very dangerous when she went to London," Draco muttered as he stirred in shredded lacewings. Part of his mind was on the potion he was attempting to make, one that would help someone heal more rapidly from injuries. The rest of his mind was focused on Professor Rosenberg, still demanding, still completely unimpressed with his family's history or reputation, and oddly less irritating now than she had been a few months ago. "Wasn't she supposed to have gone with some sort of mentor? Where was this mentor when she was attacked?"

"Students are not the only ones who can be caught up in events, Draco. You are supposed to learn, not investigate the lives and activities of your teachers." Professor Snape's voice held a note of warning.

"But the events that catch up teachers can spill over to affect the students," Draco countered.

For a few moments, Professor Snape looked at him, his dark eyes measuring him. Unlike every other time he'd received that long, cold evaluation, this time the corner of the Potion master's mouth tipped into an almost smile. "True enough. I shall have to speak to her about her mentor."

Professor Snape glanced at the potion Draco was brewing and gave a small nod, "Your healing draught is progressing well. Professor Rosenberg was most... fortunate the other night in that your mother's Uncle Kiarran happened to find her when she was in a spot of difficulty."

"Uncle Kiarran is scary," the words were almost too soft for the Potions Master to hear. The vampire that was somehow related to his mother had been at gardens of the manor a few times, but not inside as Father refused to offer an invitation to a vampire. He was large, and intimidating, and always left the impression that he just might eat Father if he thought he could get away with it, or catch him by surprise. Father avoided him. This was one of the most understandable things that his father ever did.

Draco found himself wondering just what sort of interest the vampire could have in his Defense Professor. Some of the possibilities gave him chills.

If Professor Snape had heard his comment, he didn't show any sign. Nor did he comment on Professor Rosenberg again that night.

* * * * * * * * * *
Narcissa walked through the halls of Malfoy manor, her long skirts swirling around her ankles. The dress and the robe were both expensive silk, tailored to the latest fashion and skimming over her body in a way that looked elegant, inviting and remote at once, and had been the result of hours of careful hand-fitting. They had been Lucius’ idea. Her whole wardrobe of things that she wore were decided by Lucius and traditions.

Not that she objected to looking fashionable, but some of the things were not as she would have chosen for herself. She wouldn’t have chosen to dress all in pastels and grays, no matter if gray and white were the colors of the Malfoy crest, or silver and white, at least. She was pale and blonde enough without dressing in things that made her look like a ghost. A few stronger colors, some bold decorations… What harm would there be in such things? Except that they would be a sign of independent thought, a sign that she was more than her husband’s ornament and mother of his heir.

An heir that Lucius wanted to groom to be exactly like he was, only thirty years younger. Someone who was convinced that money and pure wizarding heritage made one better and always right, convinced that one could buy one’s way out of trouble – which did seem true enough – and that tossing enough money would leave people convinced that trouble had never happened. Someone that would mindlessly follow that miserable Dark Lord.

Her ancestors would never have followed Voldemort. Not after he’d been defeated by a small child, one that might not have even been out of diapers. Her ancestors had only followed the strong, and only as long as their leaders remained strong. They did not permit themselves to become the branded cattle of madmen. The only thing to be pleased about the Malfoy marriage was that the family had such a blind a narrow idea of a wife’s place that they couldn’t imagine her going against her husband’s will and desires.

“Narcissa. Did your tea with the ladies of Houses Greenglass, Flint and Bullstrode go well?” Her husband’s words broke the quiet.

Narcissa reminded herself to smile as she turned to face her husband, half surprised that he remembered the story that she’d spun to explain going to see her Uncle, to see Willow as she rested in Kiarran’s home. “Madame Flint couldn’t attend, something about her cousin’s health. Constance was well enough, though she was worried a bit about her daughter’s future marital prospects. The girl is a bit larger than most, and it isn’t something that losing a stone or two would chance. There was a great deal of discussion about the futures of our children, and about possible matches… you’d have been quite bored.”

“What of the Greenglass girl? Marrying her to Draco would tie the family to us, to our Lord.” Lucius frowned, one hand caressing the head of his cane. “We must be certain of the loyalties of the old families.”

“I believe that Lord Greenglass’s mother and your own grandmother were sisters,” Narcissa murmured, trying to remember the family tapestries that kept records for some of the families of who had been married to whom, how many children they’d born and raised, and when these matches had occurred. On a few occasions, she’d wondered if the traditions had started due to so many people being illiterate centuries ago. “I’m not certain that they’d agree to a match of such close relatives.”

“Are you suggesting that there is anything wrong with my son’s heritage? That he could possibly father weak sons?” Lucius glared at her, and raised the cane, the tip pointing towards her. “Any imperfections could only have come from you and your barbaric ancestors. Myasthein!”

The spell that struck her was a pale pink, the shade of a few drops of blood diluted into a pail of water. It had been developed long ago, and used to hold prisoners and to question suspected spies, partly because it did not damage the mind the way the cruciatus did, nor did it leave marks. It just robbed all of her muscles of their strength, causing her legs to buckle. She felt short of breath, and her vision darkened as she collapsed to the floor. A bleak corner of her mind pondered the facts that it wasn’t even a forbidden spell, though it wasn’t taught in any respectable school, and the fact that Lucius barely needed any effort at all to cast it. It was one of his favorites – no marks, not even illegal, and any harm could be blamed on her own weakness.

It was one of many reasons why she wanted to see him die in agony. His use of spells against her. His constant belittling of her heritage, the heritage of a family that had produced mages for centuries before the founding of Hogwarts. His domineering insistence on trying to mold her into a nothing that existed only for his pleasures. His delight in slavery to an insane wizard-wraith that had returned from the dead due to cowardice and the blood sacrifices and sufferings of others – not even his own painful work, but that of his enemies and followers! She couldn’t forget Lucius’ own short temper in his list of faults and failings.

It felt like a long time before he lifted the spell. She took deep breathes, glad that she could breathe again, and waited for her vision to clear. She could feel a new bruise forming on her hip and shoulder where she’d fallen wrong. At least those would be easier to conceal than the one on her face had been… Regaining her breath, she tried to calm him, “Surely such a close relation would mean that they are family enough to align themselves with you already? We only have one son, wouldn’t it be best to tie in another family?”

“True, we only have one son. His marriage must be arranged carefully,” Lucius mused, shaking his head as if troubled. Then he glared at her, muttering, “A daughter or two to bind our allies to us closer would have been useful as well.”

Narcissa shrugged, not wanting to remind him of his own arrogant declaration that ‘one son was enough’ and that ‘the family blood was strong enough, ambitious enough that another son would only be the strongest, most bitter rival that Draco could have’, and that was why she would bear him no more children. She didn’t speak of the potions that she took to ensure that she would bear no more sons to the Malfoy name, or her own distrust of what he might do to a daughter who he wouldn’t think as useful as an only son. Nor did she want to consider what Lucius might look for in a match. Instead, she tried to deflect him from the lack of fruit of her own womb, “I thought you had made promises to the Parkinson family? That was the impression that Madam Parkinson and her daughter seem to hold.”

“Nothing that I can’t discard if a better option comes along. They family is old, but the girl is only moderately attractive, not particularly powerful, and the family is of diminishing political influence,” his words were cold as he belittled a family that just last week he’d called ‘his dearest allies’ over wine at dinner.

“I want a good future for my son,” Narcissa whispered. She just didn’t feel like telling him any details of the future that she wanted, one where she was a widow, where her son didn’t have to answer to any power-mad old wizards. “With a good marriage and several children.”

“Once the Dark Lord is victorious, there will be nothing to stop that,” Lucius declared before he swept along the hallway.

If Narcissa had possessed much in the lines of wandless magic, he would have burned to ash before he left her sight.

* * * * * * * *

Basil White stalked down a corridor in the main hall of the Council of Watchers. He held a stack of papers in his hands, most of them newspaper articles, with a few things that he’d found in property records and tax assessments. To his great frustration, nobody that he’d spoken to today was taking his words seriously enough. After all, what could he know, how effective could he be when he wasn’t from a long line of Council families?

“Bloody selfish, small minded insufferable bastards… the whole lot of them will find themselves up to their necks in vampires before they admit that there’s a single bloody problem that they can’t ignore or solve by throwing a teen-aged girl at it.”
“Considering your mood and the direction you’re coming from, did you have a talk with Travers, or perhaps Price?” the voice held a trace of amusement.

Looking up, Basil felt himself flush a bit at being caught using such language. Unbecoming of a gentleman, and that was what his father had intended him to be, until he turned eleven and failed the family. Until he’d become Basil White, foundling. And to be caught by Rupert Giles, Watcher of one fo the longest lived Slayers… quite embarrassing. “Jonathan Price. I found a few disturbing things, and tried to share my concerns with him, only to be dismissed.”

“If you’re that concerned, I will listen,” Rupert Giles offered, his sandy hair slightly ruffled and his jacket a little worn, showing some questionable stains along the sleeves. Stains that might have come from fighting alongside his Slayer, or perhaps from helping the young redhead that had accompanied him last week, the one who was accused of ‘dabbling with black magics’.

It didn’t take long before they found a small conference room. Basil placed the papers on the table, and pushed a few of the articles towards the senior Watcher. “Take a look at the articles and tell me what you think. Tell me if I’m the only one seeing cause for concern.”

Basil observed he man glance over the dates and locations first, a small frown appearing as he considered the details of the obituaries. Over the past ten days, eleven bodies had been found, with ‘slight tearing at the throats and limbs, presumed the work of feral dogs’ and a disturbing scarcity of blood. He’d also included two articles concerning the four bodies that had been found in a clearing, believed to have died of heart failure during convulsions, one of whom had been a teen-aged boy with a slender wooden stick.

“Vampires. Have the victims risen, or were they only feeding?” He glanced over, and then frowned again at the article about the other bodies. “Convulsions… I find myself doubting that these were killed by the vampires. Which means a second danger in that area.”

Basil nodded. The man’s experience in the field made it only reasonable that he’d understand that two dangers didn’t automatically mean that the dangers would destroy each other. And any Watcher should understand the possibilities of vampire-killed bodies.

“What else do you know about that area that concerns you?” the soft question shouldn’t have been a surprise.

“How much do you know about the Wizarding world?” Basil asked. He didn’t know as much as he’d like to about current events, but he refused not to try to keep aware of things. Today, he was Basil White, Watcher, but once upon a time, he’d been Basilisk Malfoy. If he hadn’t turned out to be a squib, he might have been a dangerous rival for his older brother Lucius, but as it was… He didn’t even know if anyone in the Wizarding world remembered him. Abraxus Malfoy had once been a Ministry Obliviator, and he wouldn’t want to deal with the shame of having a squib for a son… or perhaps everyone thought that he’d died.

“Some. Willow – you recall the young red haired American who was with me the other evening? – Willow ahs found some tutors from the Wizarding world to help her learn to control her magic. She even has a wand now, of all things. She’s told me a few things, and could no doubt help me figure out a few more.”

“There are a few old families in that area, families who are loyal to a powerful dark wizard who calls himself… who the other wizards and witches call He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or the Dark Lord. The family that was found look to be victims of those dark wizards. Their idea of an evening’s entertainment.” Basil shook his head, and pulled out a couple more papers. “Eighty years ago, a parcel of land was sold to Demetrius Crabbe. The Crabbe and Goyle families are both somewhere in that area, though they’ve used spells to prevent the precise locations of their homes from being found. Especially from those without sufficient magic.”

“How do you know that?” The question as calm, but the eyes that focused on him promised that he was more than capable of dealing with Basil if he proved part of the problem.

Sighing at the question, Basil gave a partial answer. “I was born into an old, pure blooded Wizarding family. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the magic that such a family expected… demanded. My father’s family was dark enough that I should probably be grateful they didn’t kill me. Instead, spells were cast to erase my memories and I was abandoned in the countryside. I was found and sent to an orphanage, and later joined the Watchers. The spells… they gradually wore off, and between that and some of the Council training, I remember everything now. Not that I remember enough to be of great use. But I do remember there are old wizarding families there, and that they’re fairly dark families. Dark enough that we don’t want them getting involved with vampires, and I shudder at the idea of one of them being turned.”

Rupert Giles nodded, accepting the answer. “I’ll have someone go take a closer look. The eleven bodies alone, and so close together…. Either there has been a sudden increase in vampires or they’ve stopped hiding their tracks, neither of which can be a good sign.”

“Thank you.” Basil gathered up his remaining papers and started towards the door.

“Your name wasn’t Basil White before, was it?” The question had no connection to the bodies.

“No. Basil is fairly close to my original name, but much more pleasant. I’d rather be named for an herb than a giant snake,” He let his hand clench into a fist as he remembered his father, remembered his smug older brother gloating about his friends and minions at school. Remembered everything that he should have been able to look forward to and had been denied. “And White is nothing like my father’s name. It’s much better. I have a better life now.”

As Basil retreated into the depths of the building, he could almost believe that things were better. That it was better to be a minor Watcher than the second Malfoy son. That he was lucky he’d only been inexpertly obliviated and abandoned instead of quietly killed. Almost. And he could almost convince himself that he didn’t wish the bodies had been found near his old home, that nobody would be investigating his father’s ideas of the proper places and uses for muggles.

End Pale Serpents 17: Serpents’ Skins.

Chapter Text


. . . . . . . .


Willow stared at her tea as she considered the last few days. Draco had been particularly quiet, as if something were bothering him. There had been five ravens that had delivered letters rolled up and tied with black ribbons - letters that had caused students to pale, and in one case leave the Great Hall in the middle of breakfast. She suspected that those students had parents who had attacked her in London. Sometimes it was hard to remember that the bad guys had families too.

Giles had sent a letter, requesting back issues of the Wizarding newspaper, the Daily Prophet, for the last two weeks. He hadn't explained why, which told her that there was something troubling going on that he didn't want to alarm her with. He was great, but he needed to remember that she wasn't still the painfully shy girl that he'd first met.

It was unlikely that he'd find much of use in that scandal-rag anyhow. The moving pictures were kind of cool, but the articles... Had these people ever heard of proper investigation? Confirming their information? Source anonymity?

She was just glad that she was starting to feel close to normal again after using so much magic. The House Elves had fussed even more, giving her all sorts of delicious snacks, honeyed tea, and doing all sorts of things to leave her a minimum of actual effort required. She wasn't certain if Severus had talked to them or if they just thought she looked in bad shape.

"More biscuits for Miss Professor Roses?" the House Elf squeaked.

Willow smiled at the House Elf, deciding that this was one she hadn't seen before. "If you have some of the ones with the caramel filling, those are wonderful. Is there a particular reason that you and the others have been pampering me so much lately?"

"Has we upset Miss Professor Roses?" The House Elf stared at the floor, one foot tucked behind the other, bare toes digging into the carpet.

"Not at all," Willow didn't want to upset the House Elf. "I'd just noticed the change and was curious."

"Henny is hearing that Miss Professor Roses is being attacked in London by very bad wizards. Zippy is hearing that Professor Sneaky Snape is being very worried about Miss Professor Roses wearing out her magics when bad wizards tried to hurt her. Kassi is hearing Professor Many-Beads saying nasty red and cold green spell was cast at Miss Professor Roses. House Elves is knowing what the nasty red and cold green spells do," the House Elf whispered.

"I have very good magic shields. The nasty red and cold green spells didn't hit me," Willow offered.

"But they tried?"

Willow sighed, "They tried. There was a shield I learned in an old Watcher book... if you put enough power in it, the bad spells will bounce. I saw a few red ones bounce, and I know some bounced from behind," Willow tried not to shiver. It bothered her that people had tried to attack from behind, and also that she didn't know what they'd tried to use on her.

"Why is more wizards and witches not using that shield if it can block the nasty red and cold green curses?" the House Elf blinked at her.

Willow shrugged, "It can't be cast with a wand, and most of the people here don't think you can do magic without a wand. Silly of them, but if they don't believe, then it'll never work."

"Silly wizards and witches," the House Elf shook its head before vanishing with a soft pop.

Deciding that she really couldn�t argue with that statement, Willow sipped at her tea again. The House Elves were fussing over her because they were worried about her� it was rather sweet. While she wondered if they�d do that for any of the Hogwarts staff, she decided to just enjoy it for now. There was a faint double pop, and she had a fresh pot of tea, and a plate of those delicious caramel filled biscuits, which she still wanted to call cookies. How very American of her.

Willow opened one of the old Watcher books, looking for some additional protective measures. Even if her students and friends weren�t ready to use that shield yet, there might be other ways that she could help them protect themselves. That search wasn�t enough to prevent her from being able to grade essays on the various types of ghouls � Sunnydale and helping Buffy had taught her to multi-task, especially when it involved demon research.

There was a sharp rap at her door. A moment of focus revealed the feeling of shadow and scented leaves and sharp edges of Severus Snape. Willow gestured at the door, and the handle obediently turned, the door swinging inwards.

�Should you be exerting yourself like that?� His voice made the question sound like a demand, or perhaps an accusation.

�That was nothing. Besides, I think if I don�t eat most of these cookies, I mean biscuits, the House Elves will be distraught. Want one?� Willow smiled at him.

He walked across the room, his robes billowing. Lifting one, he gave a cautious sniff before taking a bite. �The majority of those books are from the restricted section and the rest� I don�t think I�ve seen the rest before. Are they necessary for grading those essays?�

�Nope, no connection to the essays at all. Essays about ghouls, books on� well, I suppose you could lump them under Defense, so a very little connection, but not really. Multi-tasking. I don�t need the books to grade essays on different types of ghouls, and I can check any new information in the references later. The books are on measures to protect against hostile spells. More than the basic ones that the normal Defense curriculum covers.� Willow scrawled a final �exceeds expectations� at the bottom of that essay, and flipped the page in the current tome.

�Why are the normal shields insufficient?� He settled into the other chair, pouring himself a cup of tea.

�Among the other nasty spells cast at me in London were what the House Elf called the nasty red one and the cold green one. I bounced them, but I doubt most of the people here would be able to cast that shield. So, other methods would be good,� She opened up the next essay, wincing at the tiny, spiky handwriting.

�Bounced the nasty� common wisdom suggests that the Cruciatus and the Killing curse are unaffected by any magical defense, only the physical interposition of solid objects�� He blinked at her a moment before demanding, �and why wouldn�t most of us be able to use that shield?�

�Wandless casting only,� Willow answered, circling a spelling mistake in the essay. �I�ve yet to meet someone in this castle who thinks they can cast more than a little floating light without a wand. Well, that and you adjusting the fire for your cauldrons.�

Severus sipped his tea, considering her for several long moments. �It is widely believed that wandless casting requires a level of power that few possess.�

�I�ve found that if someone is utterly convinced that they can�t do something, how much or how little power it takes doesn�t matter. Belief can make all the difference in the world,� She sighed, turning another page. �And because most of the people here believe that they can�t do it, I�m looking for another method.�

�What have you found so far?�

�I�m not considering anything requires more than fifteen minutes casting time, nothing requiring sacrificing someone or something else�s blood, and nothing permanent,� She explained.

�Why not something permanent?� He sounded puzzled. �Wouldn�t you want such a defense to remain in place?�

Looking at Severus, Willow suggested, �Because the permanent defenses usually mean that no magic can directly affect you, including healing, or that you can�t cast any magic again, ever. I�m thinking that might be a bit more than most people want to pay to be protected against unfriendly spells.�

�Not ever? That� that is more than most would be willing to pay,� he admitted.

�Which is why I�m still looking. Of course, it�s starting to look like either I find a way to make people believe they can cast a wandless shield, or it�ll come down to short term potions and enchanted talismans,� Willow sighed.

�What would be the problem with the potions?� Severus� voice had a sharper tone for this question.

�First, I don�t trust my rather limited skill at brewing anything as complicated as something like that would have to be for it to work. Second, all of them have tricky to find ingredients that might get awfully expensive to use all the time. Third, some of those ingredients can get toxic if you miscalculate, use it too often, or have an allergy,� Willow paused a moment before continuing, �And what if you don�t have time to drink a potion before they attack you, or you drop it, or the bottle breaks?�

�At least your reasons are logical. In order, let me repeat that I AM a Potions Master, I can brew anything you need, if we can get the ingredients. There are people who make careers out of acquiring and selling potions ingredients, so while there might be expense, the difficulty shouldn�t be an issue. You do have valid concerns about allergic reactions and toxicity,� he conceded.

�Right, I�m not used to having much help with the magical aspects,� Willow admitted. �I need to work on that.�

�If we place unbreakable charms on the containers, that should help. The people involved will need to take responsibility for the timing and coordination required to drink a potion on their own,� he managed to turn that into something that sounded insulting.

�None of which will be an issue unless I can find something that we can use that doesn�t have too high a price,� Willow sighed again, �At least this research isn�t on the schedule of find it before some crazy demon tries to end the world this weekend. There have to be better ways to spend the weekend than trying to end the world or fighting for your life.�

�I had wanted to ask your opinion on something one of my students had heard from home,� Severus mused, one hand pulling a letter from a pocket of his robe. The other twitched towards Willow�s books. �Perhaps you could look at this letter, and see if the news suggests the same things to you?�

�Okay,� Willow put down the book, and accepted the letter. �Why don�t you start looking through the blue scaly book, if I recall correctly, that one�s mostly potions for things. Two of us can get through this heap faster, and even if we find something today, it�ll probably need some preparation before we can use it.�

Putting down her grading quill, Willow unrolled the letter. The handwriting was blocky, with occasional ink blotches where the quill had rested for a while before the author had continued. It was addressed to �my brave son Greg�, and started with commentary about the health of various relatives and a betrothal arrangement for cousin Maude. �Are betrothals still common in the Wizarding community, or is it more like an engagement?�

�Depends on the family. Most muggle-born and half-bloods chose their own partners, so they have engagements. Betrothals are more likely with a pure-blood family, and not all of them take such actions. Most likely either a wealthy family wanting to ensure a properly upper class spouse or someone who doesn�t trust their child to find someone suitable on their own,� he explained.

Willow made a noise to show that she was listening and continued down the letter, �Are you sure that I should be reading this? Isn�t it someone�s private mail?�

�Keep reading, and yes, I have permission,� Severus insisted.

�� bodies in the woods, all pale with their throats torn out. Your mother is most distraught about�� Willow winced at that, her mind immediately jumping to one conclusion. �Vampire. I take it this is a change for that area?�

�Quite. The Goyle family has held their lands for some time, and as a family they are known for their anti-creature wards, especially ways to keep vampires from their personal properties. As a result, vampires are very seldom even near those families.�

�Which means that something caused a change, and it�s probably a sign of someone somewhere up to something,� Willow mused. �But is it vampire minions looking for something, vampires being pushed into an area to avoid something that scares them, or have one of the Goyle family made a special bad impression on a local vampire?�

�Beyond agreeing that someone is obviously up to something, I can only speculate. Should we inform your mentor?� Severus arched an eyebrow, looking over the blue tome.

�Oh yeah, the Watchers definitely need to be told about this,� Willow agreed. Let them worry about sorting out the vampire plots.

End Pale Serpents 18: Movement on the Edges

Chapter Text

. . . . . . . .

Rupert Giles looked at the group of young Watchers, many of them still in training. They were hardly the sort of group that he'd prefer to have when looking into possible threats and impending dooms, but they were what he could gather on fairly short notice without causing unwelcome questions and problems. After all, despite his status as Watcher to an active Slayer, there was only so much pull that gave him among the Council.

"Sir? What did you have in mind for us?" the question came from a young man, still carrying the gangly, underfed look of youth.

"A series of news reports have been brought to my attention. At the very least, we have several people killed by vampires, with their bodies left in the open to be found. The articles were insufficient to cover if the victims would rise or not," he paused, curious if these young Watchers would have questions.

"Do we know of an established vampire presence in the area?" asked a young woman garbed in tan.

"I have no current information on the established supernatural community in that area. Second-hand information suggests that there is or used to be several magical families in the area. There was also another issue, with a family dead under unusual circumstances. It does not look like a vampire, or a physical demon attack," he paused to adjust his glasses. "What does this suggest to you?"

"Seven rows of shelves make it clear that there's more than just vampires," offered a darker woman. "We also have stacks of books that mention harmful talismans, dark magic, and a multitude of demosn that can cause harm without leaving physical marks."

"Maybe whatever killed them will run afoul of the vampires. Do we need to worry about them?" asked a young man with the same jaw line as Quentin Travers.

Rupert sighed, resisting the urge to polish his glasses or hit the man for being a fool. "If they do not, then perhaps more people will die. I seem to recall part of the vows of a Watcher mentioning the protection of the unknowing people of the world. And if whatever killed those people runs into the vampire or vampires and they remove each other, then the whole thing becomes a much safer exercise in field investigation. Should any of you desire the chance to mentor a Potential or a Slayer, you must know how to investigate in the field."

"What if the unknown killer and the vampires work together? You said there were no marks, wouldn't that mean the blood was left undamaged? Some vampires would like such an easy way to feed," asked another young man, this one wearing faded jeans and turtle necked shirt in lieu of the more formal apparrel favored by the more conservative factions of the Watchers.

"That possibility only makes learning what is taking place more important," Rupert answered. "The folders on the table contain copies of the news articles, the most recent census reports, and a map of the area as reported by the local taxation authorities. Do familiarize yourself with them before we go."

"I think I'm still going to hope that they killed each other off before we get there."

Rupert Giles didn't bother trying to identify who had said those words. They were, after all, quite sensible, even if they were overly optimistic.

.....................

In Hogwarts, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were in the library, looking at the older lists of students. Ron would have been with them, except that he was serving a detention with Professor Sprout after getting into a fight with a sixth year Hufflepuff over something that the twins may or may not have done.

With a sigh, Hermione turned a page, "Honestly, Professor Rosenberg is an American. She won't be in the older Hogwarts books."

"Just because she's American doesn't mean that she might not have British relatives," Harry countered. "She does too many things that we haven't learned in class and knows about too much to have just picked up some things at a school like I have. Doesn't that suggest a magical family?" Harry looked at her, another book open in his lap.

"Why are you looking for information on her anyhow?" Hermione asked.

"She's this year's Defense instructor. I don't trust her," Harry replied, as if that made perfect sense. Sadly, with the events of the last four years, it made an awful amount of sense.

"You can't expect every Defense Professor to try to kill you," his friend huffed.

"No, Lockehart tried to obliviate me. Moody was supposed to be Headmaster Dumbledore's pick to keep an eye on everybody. The past four years make it too likely that someone's planted her here to watch things, or else she's going to try to kill or otherwise ruin my life. I want to be prepared for it this time, Hermione."

"That's... that's rather paranoid sounding," Hermione's denial lacked strength.

"When is being prepared a bad idea?" Harry looked at her, his glasses having slid down his nose. "I'm getting tired of my teachers being the biggest danger at school. Well, the most consistent, the troll, Fluffy, and the basilisk were all much larger than any teacher, even Hagrid."

"But she's American. The Hogwarts books won't have anything about her and what she might have learned," Hermione insisted.

"Then we need to figure out how to get information from the American magical school," Harry insisted, turning the pages of the book in front of him. "She's a lot better than Quirrel or Lockehart, which means I really don't want her to be trying to kill me. But it might be nice to know what she knows."

"She's been a decent Professor so far, if rather unorthodox," Hermione admitted. "Though I can't understand how she gets by keeping her wand in a cup on her desk with pencils and quills..."

"Which is why we need to know more about her," Harry insisted.

"At least you're studying more this year," Hermione sighed.

........................................


Rupert Giles looked at the young Watchers, a part of him wondering if he had ever been so young. So earnestly clueless about the real world. Resisting the urge to chuckle, he decided that he probably had been that young and clueless once upon a time. �What have we learned?�

�The group that weren�t killed by vampires? The older couple and the girl were a local family. Henry, Elaine, and their daughter Emily Hatfield. Henry had a job working at the local automobile garage. They had two older children who are out of town attending University. The boy was identified as Mark, and apparently, he and Emily were dating,� offered Martin Travers.

�Most of the village thought that they were a decent, hard working family. Henry was willing to give a listen to their vehicles in his off times, and Elaine gave music lessons to some of the local children. Some of the women thought there was something a bit odd about Emily�s young man, but he seemed to make her happy,� added Michelle Walters.

�Most of the vampire victims were buried in the local cemetery. It�s a bit hard to tell since the graves are fresh, but two appear disturbed, and there should be another two. Unless the bodies were sent elsewhere for burial,� offered Charles Chatworth of the faded jeans.

�Or unless they rose before they could be buried at all,� countered the woman in tan.

Rupert nodded, making a mental not to find out that woman�s name. It was rather rude feeling not to know the names of his temporary students. �We must consider both possibilities. Now, remembering that we are not to draw attention to ourselves, how would you go about learning which has occurred?�

�If we start with the names and last residence of record for each of the victims, then we should have a better idea where they should be buried. But we must learn this without drawing the wrong attention from the constables,� mused Martin Travers.

�If we check the cemetery�s records for what recent burials should have taken place, that might help. And the coroner�s office, just in case there were any less publicized unusual deaths,� Charles Chatworth added. �I can take care of that.�

Rupert Giles nodded, suspecting that Chatworth would be using a computer, and deciding not to ask if such information should be accessible. He remembered a few of those conversations with Willow. �If any of you can discretely learn anything about families named Crabbe or Goyle in the area, it could be useful. My secondhand information suggests that there were magical families by those names here at the turn of the century.�

He sighed as the young Watchers scattered. They had raised good points, but nothing out of the ordinary search patterns. None of them had said anything about the odd stick that had been found with the young man, Mark. With a bit of luck, whatever had been happening would be over and done with.

An owl landed on his windowsill, pecking at the glass with a peculiarly irritated expression. There seemed to be some sort of paper at its foot.

Paper? Wait, Willow had mentioned the wizards that�s he was studying with using owls to send mail. Openign the window, he looked at the bird. �A letter for me?�

The bird made a sort of huffing noise, looking at him as if he was rather slow, and shuffled on the window sill.

�Right then,� he very carefully removed the letter. That was apparently enough, for the owl flew away as soon as he had done so � thankfully without savaging his fingers.

Willow�s handwriting was easily identifiable. Her letter mentioned that she was enjoying her lessons, and then the words took a more unsettling turn. Reports of people killed by vampires. She wondered if he could have the matter looked into, as vampire-killed bodies were never a good thing.

�But she�s up in Scotland. How did she hear about bodies found� good heavens, the bodies found just outside of this very town?� Rupert paused, considering that question. Perhaps that was a bit of confirmation about the Crabbe or Goyle families still having a presence in the area.

It was obvious to him that they�d have to look very carefully around this place.

End Pale Serpents 19: Seeking Answers.



Chapter Text

 

 "What does he mean, demanding explanations from me!  How dare that worm demand anything from me!" Lucius was in a temper, snarling and hurling spells that shattered ornamental objects as he stalked down the hall.  A trail of broken porcelain and shattered furniture, as well as shredded curtains marked his progress.

 Narcissa sighed, rubbing at her temple.  Lucius was clearly furious, and his precious Malfoy pride had been insulted.  She wondered if it had been some irritation at the Ministry, or one of the other followers of the Dark Lord.  Most of all, she wondered what his current rage would mean for her.

 "Without me, he would still be an insignificant nobody, scrabbling for someone - anyone - to notice him!  Still certain the name Fudge only meant sticky sweets.  And he would have been justified in that certainty!"

 Ahhh, Lucius was ranting about Cornelius Fudge.  Which meant the Ministry and politics.  Narcissa had no desire to find herself caught in any sort of argument or discussion about politics or specific politicians, especially since anything resembling disagreement would only lead to pain.  She had no desire to be the object of Lucius's wrath this time - or any time.

 With as little noise as she could manage, Narcissa slipped from the side room and into the gardens.  Once there, she apparated herself to the Bulstrode home, where she glanced about the front gardens before apparating herself to the Parkinson Manor, where she gave an inspection to the impressive front gates while catching her breath.  After that, she apparated herself to London.  She was feeling far too tired for the little magic that she'd been doing.

 If fate smiled, a discreet visit to St. Mungo's could give an explanation for her recent fatigue.  She'd been sleeping more, and having less energy.  Even a few spells here and there would leave her feeling the effects, as if her magic was slipping away.  It bothered her, because she had been very careful to do all she could to stay healthy, and there were very few things which caused a witch to be able to access less magic.  Most ranged from bad to disastrous.

 With less luck, she would have no answers, but still avoid Lucius and his current foul temper.

...........................

 Willow made a gesture, and the next batch of homework essays leapt through the air to land on the edge of her desk.  Her fifth years were supposed to read up about various sorts of lingering dead, and write essays about one type, with an explanation about why they chose the dead that they picked, what the dangers of that sort of dead thing were, and how to deal with one.  Letting them pick one should keep the essays from blurring together.

 If she were feeling chatty, Willow might admit that she was particularly curious about a few of these essays.  Draco, who'd asked her to help review the material.  Hermione Granger, who seemed to be an academic over-achiever in a way that reminded Willow just a little of herself at that age.  Harry Potter, trouble magnet, who seemed to be able to find danger and plots anywhere he went, even international sporting events.  And Su Li, who'd caused her to wonder if there were Watchers or Potential Slayers lurking in her family tree on several occasions.

 She kept perusing the homework essays, trying desperately to keep her mind away from the attempt to kill her in London.  The ambush had been organized, deliberate, and intended to kill her, probably slowly and with some torture thrown in for bad measure.  Organized by people who just didn't like where she came from, didn't like her ancestry.  Organized by bigots.

 It made her furious.

 As her magic had replenished, her hair had darkened, becoming a light-swallowing black.  Her eyes were still dark green, mostly, though she suspected her voice would have a bit of the creepy echo if she thought too much about the latest attempt on her life.  Furious, and wanting to flay-incinerate-shred the ones responsible.  Ideas about horrible, painful doom shifted in her mind, along with the awful whisper that if she'd just given in, not fought against the dark magic, against her temper, they would all have perished.  Whispered that she wouldn't have needed a vampire, no matter how muscular or smooth-talking, to save her.

 Willow knew better than to trust those whispers.

 She checked half the papers wanting to ask Severus or perhaps Narcissa questions to sort out who would be attempting to kill her or have her killed - knowledge was power and often determined living or dying.  Willow had always favored outcomes where she lived. The other half were attempting to cling to her not-knowing and thus deny herself the targets for destructive vengeance that might resemble the smite-y wrath of at least an aspiring godling.  She was sure she could do it, though that might be the dark magic whispering, and her own overconfident vengeful side.

 By the end of the stack of essays, Willow had a plan.  She would talk to Severus, and Narcissa, and maybe even Narcissa’s uncle Kiarran about the current political shape of magical Britain.  She’d learn who might have been responsible for the attack.  She’d learn who had deep roots and a taste for trouble.  Where they lived, who their allies were, and what strategies they used.

 Then she’d destroy them.

 It might be best not to tell Giles too much.  It would only make him tut and fret.  She suspected Severus and Narcissa would approve of the idea, and worry about the methodology and proof of culpability.  Kiarran would probably consider it fun.

End Pale Serpents 20: Musings.