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Dark Fall (revised)

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                As Willow gathered her things in preparation to leave her private history lesson with Professor Binns, she paused.  “Professor?  Everyone says… it sounds like you’re different with a whole class than you are here for my lessons.”


                The ghost looked at the desk for a moment, before looking over at Willow.  “It is different with one student instead of a few dozen.  Easier.  Though I’ve stopped losing my place in the lectures.”


                “A whole class is too many people?” Willow considered that, and with it her own experiences in front of a classroom.  The pieces clicked together for her, and she blurted, “You have stage fright!  All those people looking at you scares you.”


For a moment, Professor Binns glared at her.  The expression was unexpectedly menacing for the ghostly professor.  Then he seemed to slump, and shook his head, “I’ve been trying.  You have no idea how long I’ve been trying to give a good, solid lesson without stammering, forgetting what I was supposed to be talking about, or putting the students into a daze.”


Willow considered him, and guessed, “Probably since you first found yourself as a Professor?”




“Being able to go through the whole thing without forgetting what you’re saying is a step in the right direction,” Willow conceded, and then decided to share her own experiences.  “Fear of talking in front of people is something I’ve got too.  It’s pretty common, but not something I can talk too much about with my friends.  We’ve been hunting vampires and fighting demons, how am I supposed to say that I’d rather be running for my life from a pair of hellhounds than standing in front of a couple dozen people talking about something?”


Professor Binns gave her a thin but sympathetic smile.  “I suppose most wouldn’t understand that.  I’d rather deal with the hellhounds… not that they could do much to me now.”


“Someone once suggested that I try to imagine everyone in the audience or the classroom naked,” Willow paused, remembering that disaster.  “That didn’t really help.  I’ve found that I do better when I imagine the students as a bunch of young demons trying to learn – pretty backwards, huh?”


“Quite, and I begin to understand you uncle’s despair at your language,” Professor Binns teased.


“I got stuck teaching before, and it really helped when I avoided eye contact.  If I never saw more than a couple people in my field of vision at once, it became easier.  You might try that – I don’t see how it could hurt.” Willow suggested.


“True, I don’t think it could get much worse,” Professor Binns murmured.


“I’ll see you in a few days, I’ve got to scoot for Charms,” Willow smiled.


Professor Binns made a small shooing gesture, no longer paying much attention to her.  “Naked?  No, I don’t think that would help.  Most of them are much too young for that to be anything but disturbing…”


                Willow made her way to the classroom where she met with Professor Flitwick for her charms lessons.  It hadn’t been used for multiple student official lessons for almost a century, due to a combination of a smaller student population and several classes having been removed from the curriculum.  Professor Flitwick had mentioned in one of their earlier lessons that during his third year, this had been used for some of the Arithmancy lessons, and that during his sixth and seventh years, it had been used for some lessons in basic household magics that had been given to some of the students, most of them muggle-born. 


                “You seem quite alert for someone who just spent a few hours with Professor Binns,” murmured Professor Flitwick.  “Most of my students can hardly stay awake during his classes.”


                Willow considered for a moment, and then leaned closer.  “Can you keep a secret?”


                “I have quite a few years experience with that,” he smiled.


                “He’s completely different one on one and with a whole group.  With a whole class… he gets stage fright up in front of all the people and has trouble talking.  And so, you get the whole recite the words without looking, which really saps the delivery, you know?  He’s been trying, apparently for a really, really long time, but public speaking can be really hard.  I’d rather have to banish a hellhound, it’s less stressful,” Willow shared.  “But it’s also the sort of thing that’s embarrassing, because really – being afraid to stand up and talk in front of people?  My friends laughed when I admitted it, and I’d think that wouldn’t be less embarrassing for someone who’s all grown up and professionally established, y’ know?  So I don’t think he wants to talk about it much.  Or at all.”


                “That… actually explains a few things,” Professor Flitwick nodded slowly.



                “So, more of the wonderful things that can be done with charms, and the much simpler ones that you’re willing to teach me,” Willow prompted.


                “Yes, today we’re going to discuss shielding charms.  There are a variety of spells to offer a magical protection, most protect against magic.  Some protections are geared towards specific types of magic, and there are a few that offer physical protection.  Now, the basic theory is quite similar…” Professor Flitwick began with the theory of the magic.  He seemed to prefer when his students understood the whys in addition to simply moving a special stick, clearly and correctly pronouncing a few words, and watching as something happened.


                Willow listened eagerly, taking notes.  Maybe this wasn’t the special dementor-repelling patronus charm, but magical shields and barriers still sounded pretty cool.  And all sorts of useful, even away from the Hellmouth.  And shields specifically focused a protecting from one type of magic?  Like dark, hellmouthy-feeling magic?


                It didn’t take a genius to figure out how those could be useful.


                Maybe she could get wandless shielding and use her wand for some attack spells… perhaps a nice fire spell next time she was fighting vampire?


End part 42.



                After dinner, Willow made her way to an empty classroom to practice her shield spells.  Professor Flitwick had seemed quite pleased with her grasp on the theory, and had recommended a few books to look up more details.  They’d also gone over five different types that he’d had her practice casting, and mentioned another three.  There had been one spell that made a physical shield like something a medieval foot-soldier or knight might carry, two variations of a personal energy based shield, and two variations of a shield that formed like a magic wall.   Earlier, he’d told her that she had the incantations and wand motions correct, and she’d actually had shields form, though she had no idea how effective they would be.  They might be just as solid as a sheet of tissue paper.



                With that in mind, as well as the facts that Spike was in the Forbidden Forest, and Drusilla and Lucius Malfoy were plotting, and the fact that trouble kept finding her, Willow wanted to get the shields right before she needed them in a fight.  It was so much less stressful that way. 


She started with the spell for the physical shield, the one that was good for spells – unless they were fire or electrical – and hurled objects.  A physical shield formed the first time, but just like when she was practicing with professor Flitwick, it felt a little flimsy.  A careful tap with her finger made a noise that sounded more like poking an aluminum bake pan than a useful metal shield.


Three more tries and she finally had a shield that felt like it deserved to be called a shield instead of a toy.  But it might still be a good idea to test it a little for more than heft and the tone of sound she heard when flicking the metal with her finger-nail.  “Good, it’s a real shield now.  But will it hold against things?”


                The door opened with a creaking squeal.


                Willow spun, facing the door with the shield still in place and her wand raised, tip glowing pale gold.  She blinked at the sight of Harry Potter.  “Ohh… Harry.  I wasn’t expecting company.”


                “Errr…. I come in peace?” He rubbed at the back of his neck, looking embarrassed.  “Didn’t mean to startle you.  I can go if I’m in the way.”


                “You aren’t in the way,” Willow smiled.  “Professor Flitwick showed me a few shield charms today, and I was trying to practice them a bit.”


                “Like that one?” Harry gestured at the gleaming metal shield on her arm.


                “Yeah…” Willow paused, considering Harry.  “You’re a trouble magnet, Moldy-what’s-his-name keeps bothering you, and you have those fancy magic tests coming up at the end of the year.  Help me work on these?  We can take turns, one do a shield and the other toss spells at it to see if they hold.”


                “What kind of spells did you have in mind?” Harry had a small frown.  “And aren’t you normally studying with Professor Wyndham-Price, or Malfoy?”


                “Little ones, the sort where you can tell if it hit, but nothing that would send up to Madam Pomfrey if it gets through the shield.  Like the tickling spell, or the little paint dots.  Really simple things.  Maybe if they seem to be holding well, tossing pebbles at them.  Wesley has a project, and Draco’s working on a paper for Transfiguration,” Willow explained.



                “Oh, that should be okay,” Harry seemed to relax.  “I think Professor Snape might turn me into potions ingredients if he found out I was hexing his niece, even if it was for practice.”



                Willow sighed at the reminder of how everyone seemed to view her uncle.  Though he did seem to have a lot of issues with Potters…  Harry might have a point.  “You cast something at the shield for… ummm… three spells and then we switch?”


                “Sounds like a plan,” Harry nodded.


                As it turned out, Harry picked up the metal shield quickly.  By the sixth time it was Willow’s turn to cast little spells at Harry’s shield, she had tucked her wand back into her bookbag, casting both the shield and the little stinging hex without.  The stinging hex felt remarkably like a mix of a static shock and a wasp sting, though without the welt.  Harry didn’t quite feel up to trying the shield wandlessly, though he did manage a weak stinging spell without his wand.


                All in all, Willow thought things went quite well.





“Why do my dollies say you are asking about someone named Melisande?” Drusilla sounded puzzled.


For a moment, Charlotte considered the addled vampire and how to answer before she sighed.  “Melisande was the main character in a book that I have been reading.  You and Malfoy kidnapped me before I could finish the story.  And now I’m uncertain if I will ever learn how the story ends.”


“What had been going on in the story before then?” Drusilla sounded curious, her head tilting to the side.  Then she looked over at the row of dolls and waved a finger at them, “Hush you.  She is going to tell Mummy, and it is very rude to interrupt.”


“Melisande was the second daughter of a Viscount.  She had been seduced into an affair with the Earl of Lancashire, who was described as having soft brown curls to his hair, and warm eyes the color of honey.  A handsome man who warmed her stomach and weakened her knees,” she smiled, reminded of her own youth when handsome men had made her feel weak at the knees with their smiles, not that those smiles were always directed her way.


“Did her parents approve of the affair?  Were there whips and chains and blindfolds?” the vampire moved into the room, her pale hands clasped together in front of her.


“Her parents would not have approved, as they hoped for Melisande to marry someone responsible and respectable, while the Earl was considered quite a rake.  He was also sufficiently higher in station that they did not expect a proposal to be forthcoming.  Her parents were also quite caught up in her elder sister’s impending child and her younger sister’s debut in society.” Charlotte let her fingers wander over the comforter, “I do so enjoy historical novels.”


“So her family did not approve, and they were still together,” the vampire murmured.


“They wouldn’t have approved at all, had they paid enough attention to realize it was taking place,” she agreed.  “There were no whips or chains mentioned, though there was this scene with him putting a blindfold on her in chapter seven.  I thought it was quite forward to write such a thing.”


The vampire giggled, looking remarkably like a harmless young woman instead of a ruthless killer, “Forward for them to play like that, or forward for it to be written in a book?”


“I was told that it was not proper for a lady to discuss such details, regardless of whether or not she indulged in such things,” she admitted.


After a few moments, she added, “The Earl had just decided that he should end their affair before it ruined Melisande’s chances to make a respectable match with someone stuffy and dignified and everything her parents expected for her.  And then he left for London so that he would be away from the temptation to kiss her again.  But Melisande had just discovered she had conceived a child during one of their playful encounters…”


“What happened next?  Did he come back to keep her with him?  Did she die in childbirth?  Live to raise her child alone with the scorn of society?”  Drusilla’s eyes flickered golden with her questions.


“I… I don’t know.  That was the end of the chapter, and I had intended to keep reading after my walk in the park.  However, I was kidnapped and brought here without my book.  Though that was only about halfway through the pages, so I rather doubt she simply died in the next chapter or two,” she admitted.


“Hmmmpf.  Well, if you survive the ceremony, you shall have to finish your book to be able to tell me how things turn out,” Drusilla declared.


“What ceremony do you mean?” she asked.


“At the new moon.  The one to bring back the Great Serpent Lord… ohh, don’t fret yourself, your part isn’t anything complicated.” Drusilla then tilted her head, “What is that silly wizard doing now?  Honestly, he has no patience…”


With those words, Drusilla left the room.


End part 43.


Friday morning meant Herbology lessons in the greenhouse, with dragon-hide gloves and tiny bronze clippers.  Willow had chosen a thoroughly muggle pullover to keep her arms safe, and the sleeves would tuck neatly into the gloves.  She still felt a little bad about the fact that so many people wore dragons hide gloves, and boots, and some people even had jackets and robes made from dragon hide.  What about the dragons, and weren’t they a protected species?  Did the magical world even have the concepts of species and habitat conservation?


“Good morning, students!  Today we will be working with Sonnovelenoso vines, so you will all need to wear your gloves and be very careful,” Professor Sprout seemed very cheerful this morning.


One of the students tried to repeat the name of the plant, “son of leno…  so no veela…   soni what?  Do we have to spell that?  How do we spell that?”


“There’s a handout that you should collect on the way out with names and chapter references.  Today we will be trimming out the wilted leaves, and collecting them.  They are highly useful for a number of medical potions, most of which are N.E.W.T. or higher difficulty.  Mind the thorns, they are venomous and a deep scratch will put you to sleep for a couple hours.  Don’t crush the berries, we’ll harvest those when they ripen in December.  I want each of you to collect at least four wilted leaves by the end of the class, and with proper care, all of you will stay conscious,” she chuckled.


The leaves were easily as large as a normal grown man’s hand, someone like Wesley, or Uncle Sev, or Headmaster Dumbledore, not somebody extra large like Grounds Keeper Hagrid.  The healthy ones were a deep green color with purple veins running through, a purple that matched the half inch long thorns that glistened in the light.  The wilted leaves darkened, taking on an almost bluish color as they curled inwards.  The whole procedure would have been much easier if there weren’t more thorns than leaves, or if the vines didn’t sway in this slow, hypnotic pattern.  They also had a faint, sweet smell that reminded Willow of soft comforters and warm towels…


Shaking her head, Willow reminded herself to stay awake!  No matter how much the vines made her think of soft, comfy beds.  Which was actually rather alarming, once she realized it was happening.  Vines that seemed to make you feel sleepy even without adding in sleepy-poison thorns?  What possible good could come of falling asleep beneath magical thorny vines?  Willow had never heard of anything that induced sleep being beneficial, with the maybe exception of medical sedation.  Did they feed on still bodies?  Draw the moisture from their prey so that you were too weak to get away once you woke up, and then nutrients from the decaying corpses?  Was it some sort of magical drain to help nurture the plants?  Ancient magical people developing home defenses that got out of control?


She’d have to look up those chapters mentioned in Professor Sprout’s handouts.  Otherwise the scary possibilities would keep her awake at night.


Willow felt much safer when she could retreat from the thorny vines, handing a basket with five curled up blue leaves to Professor Sprout.  Still eyeing the plants, she edged closer to the door, collecting one of the handouts.  It gave a few paragraphs about the plants, claiming that ancient magical had used them to surround their strongholds.  It mentioned keeps and huts edged with plants that would render any invader unconscious, mentioned less social witches and wizards lurking in caves and planting those vines near the entrances.  There was also mention of an angry witch seeking revenge against the nobleman who had scorned her, surrounding his keep with dozens of Sonnovelenoso vines and rendering his entire household into an enchanted sleep – allegedly the basis of the Sleeping Beauty story.


She found Draco on the way to lunch.  “Hey, about that vacation home you were telling me about…”


“Vacation house?  Whaa…” For a moment, he gave her a blank frown, before his eyes widened and he said, “Ah, that vacation house.  What about it?”


“What kind of flowers does it have?  You know, in case of allergies and stuff,” Willow hadn’t had the chance to read the chapters for Herbology, but that couldn’t be the only plant with uses in home security.  “I was hoping you could remember.”


“That’s something I hadn’t thought about.  I think it’ll take a bit to sort that out.  I’ll talk with Professor Snape,” Draco murmured.


As Willow found a seat at the Ravenclaw table, she hoped that Draco understood that she’d been asking about plants used for defense or inconveniencing potential intruders.  She thought he had, and he did keep saying Slytherin was the house of the cunning and sneaky, but...


Ahh well, at this point, all she could do was hope for the best and ask Uncle Sev later.  She had another study session with Harry Potter this evening, and he’d promised to start her on the patronus charm.  She expected he’d start with talking about how it worked and then move on to the doing part, and she doubted that he’d spend a lot of time on the history and theory.  Besides, Wesley had explained quite a bit about the theory of that charm, and agreed that dementors sounded quite dreadful, which she assumed was British for freaky and creepy and awful.


End part 44.