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The Better Part of Valor

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Rosenberg's Army". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Which is more valorous: discretion or courage? Harry and Willow prepare to end the war against Voldemort once and for all, even if they have to flee before they can fight. (Sequel to Black, White, and Red All Over) ON HIATUS

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Willow-CenteredLegacyWeaponFR18520,2293429,57613 Jun 1213 May 13No

The Sun Shines Red

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; JUNE 22, 1006

Severus Snape scrutinized the two women who had been talking with Rosenberg by her bedside, trying to figure them out as best he could. At the very least, they were both intelligent enough not to blabber openly about the First, given that anything that could be known by the five senses was known to the First. How precisely those sensations translated was not quite clear, as Rosenberg had been quite insistent that its greatest desire was to become flesh so that it could physically feel. Large scale slaughter was its most likely course of action to attain this goal, naturally.

The same intelligence could unfortunately not be applied to Potter and his cohorts. He had interrogated them the prior evening about everything they had discussed verbally to try and control the information the First would know about them, and they had of course divulged every piece of information they could possibly have divulged.

The First would now know that Faith and Dawn were likely to be in need of protection, and it would also know that it was probably Dawn who supposedly carried some device that acted as a key to a lock that was most likely magical in nature.

The only thing that eased Severus’s mind at all was that the nature of this key remained a mystery. Rosenberg probably knew about it, given that she had personally retrieved Dawn to bring her under Dumbledore’s protection. The Lehane girl probably knew about it as well, but it was possible that she was nothing more than hired muscle.

That was one other thing that Potter had revealed in his stupidity: the First now know that not only was Faith a Slayer, but that she was one of many. That kind of knowledge could move the world in the wrong hands; the hands into which Potter had just delivered said information.

Granger had been right about one thing, at least: Lehane might not realize it, but she would need to be protected just as much as Dawn Summers. The repercussions should a second Slayer die in this time were incomprehensible in their magnitude. At least a Slayer was theoretically capable of defending herself.

Snape was drawn from his upset thoughts as Helga Hufflepuff herself emerged from within the infirmary, having no idea how famous she would one day become. Standing in the presence of legends such as the Hogwarts Founders was like nothing that Severus had ever dreamed of. It was cruel that he had to restrain himself as much as he did from pursuing his academic curiosity so as not to affect the future, but he would still take a perverse sort of pleasure in knowing that he knew more about Salazar Slytherin, the man, than his last descendant ever would.

“You were right to call me,” Hufflepuff said to Lehane. “Whatever you talked about spent a lot of her physical energy, but her magical and spiritual health is increasing steadily. I can’t be certain, but I would guess that your time with her is doing only good for her.”

Other than himself and Lehane, Rosenberg was the only true adult in their group, and calling Lehane an adult was pushing things. Dawn Summers might technically be of age, but she obviously still looked to others for protection. Hopefully Potter wouldn’t try to play the hero and get himself killed defending her.

“She’s been resting since midday,” Dawn said as she looked out the windows towards the setting sun. Child she might be, but she was smart enough not to use words like ‘noon’ or ‘twelve o’clock’ that would give away their true nature. It was actually quite remarkable that the people here understood them as much as they did. The modern English language wouldn’t come into being for many more years. There had to be some subtle magic at work. With the Founders alive and present, Snape doubted much would surprise him. “Is she awake?” Summers asked.

“She is,” Hufflepuff confirmed. “She asked to see you, Mr. Snape, in private.”

Though Snape understood the need for the two senior minds in their group to communicate with each other, Lehane clearly did not given the low whistle she let out. “Way to play it, Sev.”

If Potter was an intolerable nuisance by his very nature, then Faith Lehane seemed to go out of her way to actively make herself just as infuriating. Alas, she was not one of his students, and was unlikely to be intimidated by any amount of sneering from him. “Do not call me ‘Sev’ ever again,” he managed to snarl.

“Whoa, chill out!” she protested. “Didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just… Who names their kid ‘Severus’ anyway? It’s a bit of a mouthful.”

Snape grimaced when he heard Helga Hufflepuff of all people stifling a chuckle at his misery. “My mother named me, if you must know,” he said with quiet venom. It was more information than he usually ever let slip about himself, but it was one thing that he would not allow some idiot girl to mock him about.

For her part, Lehane looked at least a tiny bit sorry. “Yeah, well, parents can be a bit crazy when they actually care about their kids, right? But Red wants to see you, so step to it, Back in Black.”

Another piece of the puzzle that was Faith Lehane fell into place. Had her parents truly not cared for her? Snape’s own father might have been an abusive arse that gave Muggles a bad name, but his mother had been there for him when she could, at the very least. As for her most recent nickname for him, it had no obvious offensiveness to it. Black was practical and symbolic, and he would not apologize for his choice of garments.

Nodding brusquely to the Slayer, Severus made his way into the infirmary, stopping just long enough to give Professor Hufflepuff a courteous nod. He would have given her a polite smile, but such was simply not in his nature, and he didn’t want to seem insincere.

A simple four-legged stool awaited him next to Rosenberg’s bedside. She didn’t look quite as clammy as she had yesterday, but she did look rather tired. Snape walked over to the bed and stood by Rosenberg’s side. He did not care to sit just yet.

“Hey,” she said softly with a smile. “So, uh, I’m guessing you’re wondering why we’re here, exactly.”

“The Headmaster had discussed this plan with me as a last resort should it be necessary to hide from a foe we could not best. Given the nature of our enemy, I believe I understand why we are here.”

Rosenberg chuckled, though it ended up in a cough.

“Take deep breaths, Rosenberg,” Snape said, hoping to stave off any potential illness. “Inhale slowly, hold your breath for five seconds, and then exhale slowly.”

The erstwhile Defense professor did as he told her, and she visibly relaxed after a few breaths. “Thanks, Severus. Er, that is, if you don’t mind me calling you by your first name, I mean. You can call me Willow if you want, but it’s okay if you don’t.”

Snape couldn’t help but be simultaneously grateful for her thoughtfulness and also appalled by how Rosenberg seemed to wear her emotions on her sleeve for all to see. “For the present, being on a first name basis would best serve our purposes,” he said carefully.

Rosenberg – No, it’s Willow now – closed her eyes in what might have been contentment. “Okay. That works. So, uh, I’ve been out of it for a little while. Did anything apocalyptic happen while I’ve been in here?”

Oh, that was one way of putting it. “Potter and his friends were speculating openly about the nature of our enemy, about Miss Lehane’s true nature, and about a device to undo a sort of lock that they believe to be in the possession of Dawn Summers.”

Willow swore under her breath. “I taught them about it just one day ago! What part of ‘omnipresent’ did they not understand?!”

Snape snorted in agreement and sat himself down on the stool. “Potter tends to find himself in trouble that is usually of his own creation. He relies on Granger and Weasley to help him out of such situations, which often involves a lot of guesswork and investigation. They probably assumed that this enemy was no different than any other they’ve faced before.”

“And again,” Willow said, clearly agitated, “what part of ‘embodiment of all evil in the history of the world’ is so hard to understand?! I thought those three were smarter than that. And that’s another question: why are they even here? You know the most about this world, I get that. I know the most about the enemy, and Dawn and Faith are the reason we’re here. What’s so important about Harry, Hermione, and Ron?”

“There was a prophecy,” Snape began.

Willow put a hand to her forehead and winced. “There’s always a prophecy. But, anyway, you were saying?”

Snape resisted the urge to smirk. “The interpretation was accepted to mean that either Potter or the Dark Lord must kill the other.”

“Uh-huh. What did it actually say? Prophecies have a funny way of turning out to be not at all what you’d expect.”

The girl was certainly perceptive. No, she’s not a girl. She might look young, but she’s clearly faced her share of dangers. She’s a woman, even if a young one. “The prophecy was given at the end of June in 1991, and foretold of ‘one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord.’ It refers to a male child born to parents who have defied the Dark Lord three times, and he will be born ‘as the seventh month dies.’ It goes on to say that the Dark Lord will ‘mark him as his equal,’ but that ‘he will have power the Dark Lord knows naught.’ The last portion tells that ‘either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.’”

“Huh.” Rosenberg’s face was neutral as she pondered what Snape had just told her. “Have there been any other Dark Lords between when that prophecy was made and, well, when we left?”

“None that I know of, not counting our enemy and your other half, but I don’t believe the prophecy applies to them; it specified the Dark Lord as male.”

“Right. From what I know about Harry, that actually does seem to fit the interpretation, unless the prophecy was counting the months on a different calendar. I know Harry was marked with his scar by a curse that should have killed him, but did his parents fight V-“ Willow took a moment to steady her breath. “Did his parents fight the Dark Lord three times before Harry was born? And what about the power that the Dark Lord doesn’t have?”

For a moment, Snape was taken aback by Rosenberg’s usage of the honorific title that he himself only used out of habit. But then he realized that she was making an attempt to not use his name so that the First would have less information to use against them. Yet another sign that she was far from childish. “His birth fits the criteria,” Snape said evenly. “As for his exclusive power, the Headmaster has his theories. I am not entirely convinced, but the Headmaster is. While his speculation is far from conclusive, it is plausible.”

Rosenberg’s eyebrows rose a bit into her forehead. “Right. Because D… Because the Headmaster’s speculation is never wrong.” She sighed, seeming to be frustrated. “You know, if we’re going to have to keep referring to these people, we’re gonna need some sort of code so that we don’t raise suspicion. Even if we keep using titles, those are bound to raise suspicion from certain people we might encounter while hiding out here.”

“You raise a fair point,” Snape conceded. “What would you suggest?”

“Something from home. Something the Big Bad wouldn’t know about. I’ve actually been thinking about this for a while after Faith left me to rest. I’ll be drawing from works of fiction that you’ve probably never heard of, so be patient with me, okay?”

“I can be patient when there is need,” Snape said with a faint smirk.

Rosenberg smiled. “Did you just make a joke?”

“I never joke, Willow.”

“Of course you don’t,” Willow said with a smirk before she let out a sigh. “This is going to be rough going forward. The Tothric device took most of my power with me, and I don’t think I can use magic without a wand anymore. I know how to use a wand to an extent, but my experience with one is even less than those three kids out there. I may need you to help me out, Severus. I think we all will, actually.”

Snape smirked at the irony of the situation he found himself in. After years of waiting patiently to teach defensive magic, his one opportunity came almost a thousand years in the past, and his only students would be three irritating Gryffindors, an almost childlike witch who had just lost a large amount of unknown power, and two other young women who remained mostly a mystery. “I will do what I can, though I imagine most of the teaching will fall to the current Professors here at Hogwarts. I may appeal to them as the senior most member of our group to join in the teaching, but we have an opportunity to learn from legends. It would be foolish to count on me alone when you have others at your disposal.”

“Well, duh,” Rosenberg said in an infuriatingly Muggle sort of way. “I didn’t mean just relying on you. Just that, well, you could help. I’m guessing I may be a more difficult student for you than you might like. I never really had a teacher before. Not a magic teacher, anyway.”

This was news to Snape. “You are self-taught, then?”

“Mostly,” Willow confirmed. “I had help from some friends. Tara taught me so much as well…” The redhead’s thoughts seemed to wander with that last statement, and Snape guessed that Tara was her dead lover. “But for the most part, I learned magic on my own.”

“If that is the case,” Snape said with more than a hint of impatience, “then teaching you an unfamiliar style will not yield much success. Why did you choose to buy a wand in the first place if you had no need of one?”

“Well, I figured that all the students would need someone with a wand to teach them how to use their own. I figured it would be more of a teaching tool than anything else.”

“And now that your double has absconded with much of your power, you feel the need to rely on a teaching tool to focus your magic?” he sneered. “You would rely on a tool that you have such little experience with?”

Willow winced at his criticism, but unlike many students who suffered similarly toned rebukes, she did not cave under the pressure. “I don’t know, okay? This hasn’t happened to me before. I just… When I hold my wand, I can feel its power. I feel like it’s a part of myself that I can call upon when I need it. I’m just not sure how, yet.”

“Hold a moment,” Snape said, realizing something crucial. “Potter said that your double discarded her wand, and that is what you have on your person now. When you were split, you both still had everything on your persons that you had before the split. Are you sure that you do not have two wands in your possession?”

Rosenberg’s face scrunched up in confusion. “I don’t think so. I had my wand in a pocket in my sleeve, but I haven’t taken it out since then.” She held up a hand to tell him to pause while she fished in her sleeve, withdrew a wand, and placed it on a bedside table. A further search of her pockets and the bed revealed no trace of another wand. “Looks like there’s just the one.”

“Fascinating. Unfortunately, wand lore is not an area in which I am remotely qualified. A trip to Ollivander’s is probably in order, assuming we can find the shop.”

“If you say so.” Willow closed her eyes and resumed her controlled breathing. “This would be so much easier if we could talk telepathically. I don’t think You-Know-What can listen in on conversations that can’t be seen or heard, but I don’t know if I’m up to that kind of magic right now. And don't worry: 'You-Know-What' isn't the code name I had in mind. I'm still working on that in my head."

"Rest, Willow. In time, you will be up to your usual standards,” Snape said, and as he said it, he wondered why he had let those words slip. Encouraging words were not something he was usually any good at, nor were they anything he cared for. Perhaps it was Rosenberg’s minor resemblance to Lily Evans that brought out this protective side of him, but that was dangerous speculation. And if it was true, then he didn’t even want to consider the fact that he might be emotionally compromised. “And I can help for the time being.”

“You can?” she asked hopefully.

“Perhaps. It would require direct eye contact, most likely, and a degree of trust that I am not sure you have any right to place in me. For that matter, I would need to trust you more than I currently do.” The fact that he trusted her at all was another revelation that some unknown emotions were getting the better of him. Yes, Rosenberg was mostly competent, and she had the wisdom to do away with traditions if they hindered the mission, but there was much he still didn’t know about her.

Willow sighed. “Look, I’m not sure if we have the luxury of, you know, getting to know each other really well before we’ll be forced to do something like this. You’ve given me no reason not to trust you, save that Harry, Ron, and Hermione don’t seem to like you that much. Give me a good reason for that, and I’ll let you into my mind if you’re willing to take a leap of faith with me.”

Under normal circumstances, Severus would not even consider sharing the personal details of his life with someone he had only known in a purely professional context for only a few months. But these were not normal circumstances. “Potter’s father was to me much as young Mr. Malfoy is to Potter. The resemblance between father and son is too great for me to attempt to ignore without driving myself mad. Granger and Weasley are merely along for the ride, I believe is the term.”

“Severus Snape,” Willow mock-scolded him, “are you saying that you’re letting a childhood grudge color your judgment?”

“Mockery will get you nowhere, Rosenberg,” he sneered.

“All right, all right. I’m sorry,” she said, and she seemed to mean it, given the slight flush in her face. “That was mean of me. Note to self: don’t joke with Severus, since he’s all serious and stuff.” She took another deep breath. “All right. I trust you to look into my mind. Just don’t go further than you have to, all right? There’s some stuff in there that’s not relevant and that I’d just as soon keep private.”

“Likewise,” Snape said, withdrawing his wand. “Prepare yourself, Willow. Legilimens!

Images from Rosenberg’s life bombarded Snape’s mind, and he worked to sift through them to find what was needed.

Many images of a young girl alone in a large house passed him by. Soon she was joined at a Muggle school with two boys her own age. A girl with long brown hair appeared along with a flurry of shameful emotions, and he felt Willow push back against those memories. Painful and possibly irrelevant, then.

A girl with blonde hair and green eyes joined the others, and one of the boys from earlier was gone, replaced by a vampire wearing his face. The other boy staked him and turned him to dust, which was tinged with a great swell of sorrow. The names ‘Jesse’ and ‘Xander’ attached themselves to the vampire boy and the surviving friend, respectively. Soon after, Dawn’s face joined the blonde, which was soon labeled Buffy Summers.

Monsters and demons of all manner of shapes and sizes passed him by, all of them ending up slain or otherwise incapacitated. A boy entered the picture, and the name ‘Oz’ was appended to this face, followed soon by the revelation that he was a werewolf. A cage held him during the nights surrounding the full moon, and a Muggle weapon fired some sort of dart that incapacitated the werewolf without killing him. Idly, Severus pondered the immense use such a tool could be against any number of different foes. Another face, a dark-skinned woman named Kendra appeared, but she was quickly killed by the Master Vampire, Drusilla.

Another year came and went and Severus saw Willow’s first memory of Faith Lehane. The Faith with them currently was dressed in a black leather jacket, a red shirt of some sort, black leather pants, and heavy boots. Her younger self resembled this image for the most part, though the memories painted her as more promiscuous than Severus had previously imagined. A wall soon appeared that forbade him from viewing anything more about Faith. A brief thought from Willow nudged him to ask the Slayer herself about these things rather than to press Willow about them.

The year came and went, ending in a confrontation with a dark wizard ascended into a serpentine True Demon, which had been destroyed quite simply by a sufficiently large explosion that had decimated the school building. Thoughts of demolishing Hogwarts to kill the basilisk sent shivers through Snape’s mind.

Oz soon met another werewolf, a female, and unable to control himself, he left Willow heartbroken and alone. Weeks passed before a strange magic stole the voices of the entire town of Sunnydale, and Willow had only survived the creatures called ‘the Gentlemen’ by joining forces with a blonde-haired witch, and the name Tara affixed itself to her.

Willow made an effort to eliminate the next year and a half from Snape’s thoughts, and he detected an urgency that he not press the matter. He trusted Willow’s judgment, and the next image he saw was a tombstone over a grave belonging to Buffy Summers, around which sat Willow, Tara, Xander, and another woman that was identified as Anya. Led by Willow, they performed a most foolhardy ritual intended to resurrect Buffy Summers, presumably possible given the circumstances of her death, which Willow would not disclose.

Throughout the next year, Willow grew increasingly powerful magically, and she grew increasingly reliant on magic for the most mundane of tasks. For wizards and witches in Snape’s world, this was not uncommon, but for a Muggle-raised, self-taught witch drawing on powers tainted by the Hellmouth, she was drawn into a downward spiral that involved a temporary separation from Tara, who had by then become her dear lover.

Another memory showed Tara and Willow reuniting, and while Severus tried not to intrude on the graphic details of their lovemaking, he could feel how strong their love for each other was. Even though Tara was not truly there with them, he could sense that this was a bond that could only be broken by death.

As if in response to his thoughts, a Muggle weapon similar to the one that had incapacitated the werewolf struck Tara. Unlike the other weapon, this one was designed to kill, and faced with her other half dead in her arms, Willow descended back into the darkness that she had struggled to free herself from, and what followed was a display of uninhibited power that truly frightened Severus. Not just her immense power, which she had attempted to end the world with, but the cold glee that accompanied that power was chilling in a way that the Dark Lord had yet to fully match.

It was then that an image of Xander appeared. A Muggle with no special powers of any sort appealed to Willow’s humanity, and indeed it had been said that no magical or supernatural force could stop her. But the pureness of Xander’s friendship brought Willow back from the brink of evil and she grieved for her dearly departed lover.

The next year showed a confrontation against eyeless creatures called Bringers, or else Harbingers of the First Evil, along with a man dressed as a Christian priest who was acting as a vessel for the First. It was attempting to destroy the entire Slayer line, as it had been given a foothold in the real world due to Buffy Summers’s resurrection, and it sought to expand that foothold and become truly incarnate.

An unearthed relic of some sort, a crimson weapon that resembled an axe with a stake on the end, appeared in Willow’s hands, and she tapped into its power and all by herself activated every potential Slayer on the planet, giving them a small army of Slayers. A vampire with a soul exploded in a burst of light, and as the others fled, the vampire’s sacrifice caused the town of Sunnydale to collapse, sealing the Hellmouth there permanently.

The next three years were relatively uneventful by comparison, with a relocation to Cleveland and then to Washington DC to be close to the evil they sought to fight, and then Willow sensed the ritual that the Dark Lord had used to revive himself. The rest, Severus knew, and he withdrew from Willow’s mind.

The red-haired witch breathed slowly and steadily in her bed. “You saw it all?” she asked.

“Save for what you did not want me to see, yes.” A thought occurred to him. “What did you see?”

“Only what you didn’t want kept secret,” she confirmed. “And you keep a lot of secrets about yourself. I appreciate you sharing what, uh, Non has done and what he has planned, so thanks for that. But I’m surprised how much of your personal life you censored. You don’t strike me as the type of person who cares what other people think about that stuff.”

Severus was not at all comfortable with discussing his personal life with anyone, let alone a relative newcomer into his life. “I am accustomed,” he said carefully, “to the company of those who are always seeking an advantage to use against anyone they meet. I have learned to guard my thoughts with great care. Trust does not come easily to me.”

“I guess not,” Willow said. “And wow! That was tiring. But before we call it a day, there are a few more people I need to talk with.”

Harry sat on a bench outside of the infirmary and wondered for the umpteenth time why they were in this time period. Hermione was probably right about the dangers of being here, where the tiniest change could mean a world of difference for everyone they knew and cared about.

And why had they fled? Was it because of whatever Malfoy had done to Rosenberg? Was it because of this First that they’d learned about just recently? It couldn’t be Voldemort, or else they would have fled as soon as the Triwizard Tournament had ended.

Harry understood that the purpose was to protect him, and possibly Dawn Summers as well. Why an army of Slayers, the Order of the Phoenix, and any number of non-corrupt Aurors couldn’t protect them back home was something that was beyond Harry’s understanding.

Sparing a brief look at Ron and Hermione, he guessed that they were just as confused as he was.

The door to the infirmary opened quietly and suddenly to reveal Professor Snape. “Inside,” he snarled with quiet venom. “Granger, Weasley: You as well.”

Harry briefly glared at Snape before heading in to see Professor Rosenberg. She looked paler than usual, and it was strange to see her in a sickbed. The usually lively and vivacious professor hardly looked the part right now.

The door closed behind him, and Harry was surprised to see that Snape was still with them.

“Professors,” Hermione said carefully, “what’s going on?”

Snape glowered at the three of them. “I am here to explain whatever Professor Rosenberg cannot for whatever reason. In the meantime, I suggest you stay silent unless you are spoken to directly. And if you must say anything, for Merlin’s sake, use what little brains you possess.”

“That’s enough, Severus,” Rosenberg said softly. “I’ll take it from here.”

The Defense professor turned to look at Ron, Hermione, and then Harry in turn, and it was clear that this was not to be a visit to wish well the bedridden witch.

“Professor Snape tells me that you three were speculating aloud on the nature of what we’re on the run from. Don’t say anything!” she said harshly before Harry could speak in his defense.

“You three like to investigate your enemies and figure out what’s going on, I get it. There is a time and a place for that, but we are in neither the time nor the place. With an enemy that is omnipresent – that is to say, it exists everywhere, all the time – it will hear whatever you hear, see whatever you see, and so forth. We’re going to call this enemy Lord Zod going forward as a code name. I told you in class that Lord Zod knew everything that anyone can sense, and you gave audio and visual clues when you spoke about it. Do you have any idea how stupid that was?”

Rosenberg did not raise her voice, likely because she was still sick, but the rebuke still stung tremendously. Until now, Rosenberg had been an ally, even a friend. For her to turn on them like this… It made him furious.

“I thought you were on our side!” Ron said angrily. “So you’re saying we shouldn’t even talk about the-“

“Silence!” Snape barked. “Weasley, I told you not to speak unless you were spoken to directly. And this is not a matter of being on one side or another. Think before you speak, for just once in your life!”

“Enough, Severus,” Rosenberg said. “Let me say this more simply,” Rosenberg said. “Anything you say, hear, see, smell, taste, and maybe touch… Lord Zod knows all of it, and Lord Zod will use every bit of information it has to manipulate you and others. Or did you learn nothing from my lessons about deception and misinformation?”

Harry hadn’t thought about that. An enemy who couldn’t be touched hadn’t seemed like much of an enemy, and yet the Ministry had done too much damage without laying a physical hand on much of anything.

Hermione raised her hand on Harry’s left.

“Yes, what is it, Hermione?” Rosenberg asked not unkindly.

“Well, Professor… It’s just that… Why are we using code names if Lord Zod already knows what we know?”

“Because,” Rosenberg said patiently, “there are other people here in this school who we need to interact with. We need to give names to our problems. Names that they can’t recognize. In a popular story back home, General Zod – we’ll call him a Lord for simplicity’s sake – was the most powerful and evil of all his kind, and he sought to rule over everything.

“Lord Zod had two powerful allies, although minions would be more appropriate. One was a cruel woman named Ursa, and the other was a savage man named Non. Those are our enemies to anyone who asks, and you should call them that amongst yourselves as well. Do you understand?”

Harry nodded, unable to find words. He thought he heard Ron and Hermione affirm their understanding, but the notion of an evil Willow and Lord Voldemort both being minions of something even more powerful was almost too much for him to comprehend.

“One more thing,” Rosenberg said. There was a wise elder among the people we came from. He was a benevolent man, but for all of his wisdom, he tended to see things from a point of view that no one else could. For all of his power and wisdom and goodness, he could only see the world from a limited point of view. In desperation, he sent us here to hide from Zod and his minions. That elder’s name is Jor-El, and we can only hope he’s still alive and fighting off Lord Zod while we gather our strength.”

That got Harry’s attention. “You mean we’re going to go back home?”
“Eventually, yes,” Snape said. “We are not here simply to hide. There is a great amount to learn here. Knowledge and information are a currency that never loses its extraordinary value. Remember that whenever you speak, since every word you say will give Lord Zod more weapons to wield.”

A knock came from the door, and Helga Hufflepuff stepped inside. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that young Willow needs to rest now. I’ve let you all take her attention and energy for too long, and I would like to oversee her for the next few days without interruption.”

“Of course, Professor,” Snape said with more deference than Harry could remember him showing to anyone. “And thank you again for looking after her.”

“Think nothing of it,” Professor Hufflepuff said warmly. “You are all guests at Hogwarts, and so long as you stay, we will all do our utmost to care for you.”

Snape bowed his head in appreciation. “We will of course be happy to assist you in any way that we can. Until later, Willow, be well.”

“Thanks, Severus,” Rosenberg said with a small smile. “All of you… You all look out for each other, okay?”

Harry nodded. “We will, Pro- We will, Willow.”

“All right, now. Out with you,” Helga Hufflepuff said as she shooed them from the infirmary.

As the door closed behind them, Snape turned on his three students. “You had all better be mindful of what you just learned in there. Anything you say could potentially put all of us in graver danger than you can possibly imagine.”

A rogue thought escaped Harry’s lips before he could stop it. “Are you scared?”

Snape glared at Harry with cold fury. “I once knelt at the feet of one Dark Lord. It was a most trying and painful experience. If you have any sense of self-preservation, you will do as Rosenberg and I suggest, or we will all be forced to kneel before Zod.”

From the ashes of captivity, never has there been a stronger phoenix metaphor personified than Tony Stark. Hopefully, this chapter comes a close second.

Yes, I honestly thought that I was done with this story, but as I started to brainstorm for a new story, my Muse led me back here, so here I am again, with a chapter that I honestly never thought I would ever finish, let alone post. Funny how things work out.

I would still very much like a beta-reader to help me out with this story, as I could use a good sounding board for ideas as well as an editor to help work out the kinks of my drafts, so to speak.

I own none of the characters, settings, or anything from this story save for, well, the story itself. I'm just playing in the sandboxes that JK Rowling and Joss Whedon have so generously given us.

Comments, criticism, feedback of all sort is appreciated and is also very helpful with moving the story forward. In the end, this story belongs to you, the readers, and I can only hope that I am up to the task of giving you a tale worth reading.

I have to apologize for being away from this story for so long, and I can only hope you will be patient with me going forward. I can't promise that this story will turn out the way I want it to in an ideal world, but I will do my best.

Thank You All for sticking with me and with this story, and I hope you enjoy this chapter. ^_^

The End?

The author is currently looking for one or more beta readers for this story. If you are interested, please email the author or leave a private review.

You have reached the end of "The Better Part of Valor" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 13 May 13.

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