The Angel of Destiny had promised that Leo would be returned if the sisters - Paige, Piper and Phoebe - survived their final challenge. When pressed, the Angel of Destiny revealed no further details beyond the hint that this battle would be their toughest yet, one in which the Charmed Ones might not prevail. The Elders had no insights to offer either. It was up to the Charmed Ones to find out from which demon or demons the threat would emanate and figure out how to thwart the attack.
At the same time, the sisters had to deal with the recently returned Christy, the older sister of Billie, a witch who had been helping the Charmed Ones ever since the decisive battle with the demon Zankou. To protect their identities and prevent public exposure, the Charmed Ones had faked their deaths and glamoured themselves as others pretending to be the Bennett cousins. The ruse had worked for a while. But the growing cleft between the Charmed Ones' need to protect themselves and to protect the Innocent led them to reveal themselves to Agent Murphy, the Homeland Security special agent who had remained behind in San Francisco. Although Agent Murphy had been apprised of the possibility that the Charmed Ones had survived the blast in the basement of the manor, a suspicion held closely by Agent Keyes, he was taken back when the now unglamoured sisters presented themselves to him at Homeland Security.
Christy presented her own challenges, as she had been whisked away fifteen years early by demonic forces and held in captivity at the behest of the TRIAD. That detail came as quite a shock, as the Charmed Ones had been assured by Cole that he had vanquished them years ago. But, the Charmed Ones knew very little about the TRIAD, a trio of very powerful upper level demons who once had hired Belthazor, the demonic half of Cole Turner, to kill the sisters. With the return of Christy, the Charmed Ones were forced once again to confront the machinations of the TRIAD. They succeeded in vanquishing the TRIAD. Yet, as powerful as the TRIAD were, they apparently had not been the looming threat. For, with the relatively easy vanquishment of the two-thirds of the TRIAD, Leo still had not been returned. What could this new powerful threat be? What forces from the Underworld could muster enough support to constitute the "ultimate power" that the Charmed Ones might not be able to vanquish? Who was left in an Underworld that the Charmed Ones had decimated after seven long years? The Source had been vanquished. Cole was trapped in an astral plane. Zankou had gone down with the NEXUS. Yes, who exactly WAS LEFT to threaten the sister so seriously that the Charmed Ones might not survive? Who indeed?
Paige and Phoebe both took turns moving the crystals closer to together. The pentacle formed by the crystal cage was getting tighter and the pain experienced by the Noxon demon was increasing geometrically. Piper demanded to know once more who had sent the Noxon demon to attack. Not only had the Noxon attacked the two remaining students from Magic School's advanced combat class, but this demon and his now vanquished companion had killed the parents of Billie and Christie. Was the Noxon now after the Charmed Ones? Was the Noxon part of the ultimate battle that the Angel of Destiny had warned the Charmed Ones to prepare for. The pain the Noxon felt was excruciating and becoming more so with each adjustment the two crouching Charmed Ones, Paige and Phoebe, made to the crystal cage. As the cage grew smaller and smaller, the Noxon seemed on the verge of spilling all.
Suddenly, a huge fireball formed in front of Christy. Its direction pointed directly toward the Noxon. Instinctively, Piper raised her hands to freeze the action. The fireball's advance slowed to a crawl, but Piper feared it would break free of her freeze, hit the demon and possibly vanquish the Charmed Ones only lead.
"What the heck!" Piper shouted. "What are you doing, Christy? The Noxon is just about ready to tell us what we need to know. How could you?"
"Whatever!" Christy reply with the arrogant disdain that had recently begun to color her dialogue with any of the Charmed Ones. Even Billie had felt the Christy's venomous vituperative on more than one occasion.
"Well, stop it, why don't you? Our goal is not just to kill the demon so we can all feel good about avenging the death of your parents. We need information. Just back off," Piper implored.
At this moment, Christy reached out and clutched the hand of her sister Billie. The mere act of joining hands with her sister seemed to propel the fireball forward, for it burst forward and obliterated the Noxon. So much for the unvanquishable demon. In a split second, the Noxon exploded in a nuclear blast that shook the attic to its foundation. Paige and Phoebe were flung across the room. Whatever it was, this fireball clearly did not need invocation of the astral plane to vanquish the Noxon as the vanquish of his partner had required.
Piper, Paige and Phoebe stood shocked. As if connected by an invisible hand, each of their jaws dropped through their jowls. Shock and disbelief, however, soon gave way to anger. Piper again led the charge.
"How could you? And, you, Billie, what are you now siding with Christy? You've vanquished our only source. Maybe that was our last opportunity to learn more about the Ultimate Battle."
Unresponsive, Christy took a potion out of her pocket and dropped it on the floor at her feet. Still clutching Billie's hand, both she and her sister disappeared in a flash. The Charmed Ones were left to ponder the latest development in a disturbing trend that had seen them on the receiving end of accusations regarding the Greater Good. Not the least bit subtle, Christy had deliberately poisoned the relationship between the Halliwell and the Jenkins sisters. The helpful advice, hours of attention and the constant pampering of Christy in order to smooth her adjustment to the real world after fifteen years of captivity in a demonic dungeon had been answered with recrimination and abusive argumentation. The Charmed Ones were selfish. They were obsessed with power for power's sake. They would do anything to get their way even if it meant ignoring the needs of others. Somehow Christy had managed to place blame for the death of her parents, parents she openly scorned, at the feet of Piper.
Paige was the first to stir and dazedly asked Piper what had happened. "Oh, you know," Piper replied. "Christy launched a fireball and vanquished the Noxon."
"What?" stammered Paige. "And where was Billie when all this went down?"
"Well, she sort of helped Christy's fireball break through my freeze. I mean I don't think she did so deliberately, but once she joined hands with Christy the fireball burst through my freeze."
Phoebe was still lying on the floor. She had hit the wall hard. Piper and Paige both rushed to her side. Paige reached out her hands to heal the concussion that Phoebe had sustained. Coming to, Phoebe looked around and wondered aloud where the Noxon demon was. "Gone," was Piper's curt reply.
"Whaddya mean, gone. We had him in the cage. There was no way he could escape from that."
"True," Paige replied. "All too true. But we sort of didn't reckon on Christy spoiling the party. She decided to vanquish the demon on her own."
"And, Billie?" Phoebe demanded to know.
"Well, Billie sort of got caught up in the action," Piper replied. "Christy used Billie's powers with her own to vanquish the demon. Bottom line: I think we know what the ultimate power is."
"You mean, Christy?" Paige asked.
"No, I mean Christy and Billie together."
"Oh, that can't be," Phoebe demurred. "I mean Billie. She's not evil. Look at how much she's helped us. It can't possibly be her."
"Yeah, Phoebes, I know. But Christy has got this strange hold over Billie. It's more than just older sister younger sister. God knows, what fifteen years of demon indoctrination did to Christy. Whether we like it or not, I think those two together are the ultimate power."
"Are you sure, Piper," Paige inquired.
"It's gotta be, Paige. Look, I tried to vanquish the Noxon with my own power, and I barely dented him. The only way we got rid of the other Noxon was to banish him to the astral plane. Christy and Billie, though, just blew him to pieces. I can't match that power."
"Well, what are we going to do?" Phoebe sighed. "It's not like we are going to vanquish Billie."
"We may have to."
"You can't be serious," Paige chimed in.
"I am. I may not like it, but it sure looks like we eventually are going to have to."
"Well, there's no way I'm going along with that," Phoebe asserted. "Billie's not evil. We can't just vanquish her. Maybe we just need to talk to her."
"Yeah, well you know her best, Phoebes. I'm with you. I can't see how we can vanquish Billie. I mean that's murder, isn't it."
"I'm not saying we are going to vanquish them tomorrow or even the next day. But, I've got a feeling we're going to have to."
"Well, there's still a lot we can do between now and then," Phoebe replied. "I'll try to talk with Billie. In the meantime, maybe we should do something about Christy."
"Any ideas?" Paige wanted to know.
"We could cast a protection spell about the manor," Piper suggested.
"How exactly would that work?" Paige continued.
"Well, if Christy truly has been corrupted by the demons, then she's not really a witch any longer. We could limit access to the manor to only good witches. As long as Billie stays loyal to her Wiccan duties, she could still enter. If Christy is truly evil, then she won't be able to enter, at least not immediately."
"Yeah, well that's not going to make Billie happy. I mean if we keep Christy out," Phoebe replied.
"Well, then it will be your job to explain why, Phoebes. Persuade her to question Christy's motives."
"That may be easier said than done," Paige added. "But, I'm with you on this, Piper. I think I've got a spell that just might work.'
"What have you got, Paige?" Phoebe asked.
"Well, it's a variation of something I've been thinking about to deal with Magic School. It just might work for the manor."
"Fire away!" Piper added.
"It's best as a power of three spell. Gather round," Paige intoned as she reached for the Book of Shadows and flipped to the page where she had left the scrap of paper containing her rough draft.
Warren witches, we are all From us, please hear our urgent call Demons, warlocks and those who pry Blind their eye to that inside Not sense within, nor enter now Spare none who not the rede avow We ask but one this simple rule Protect our home from all evil.
After quickly examining the spell, Phoebe and Piper joined their sister Paige and intoned the incantation. They could only hope that it would work.
"Did it work?" Phoebe ventured to know.
"Well, it's not like Billie and Christy are going to pop back in - or at least try to - on command," Piper replied. "We'll just have to wait and see."
"Shouldn't we include the condo as well?" Phoebe pressed on. "If I'm going to try to reason with Billie, it's gonna take place there, too. And you just know Christy's gonna to tag along and divert things her way, if she really is evil."
"Good idea," Paige replied. "I can adapt this one pretty quickly. Let me see ..."
"No, wait, Paige," Piper interrupted her scribbling sister. "You should go ahead and re-write the spell, but let's not invoke it just yet."
"Why not?" Phoebe demanded to know.
"Well, look. If we protect both the manor and the condo, then surely Billie is going to get really suspicious. She's going to think that we're trying to divide her from Billie."
"But, isn't that what we're trying to do, if they are the ultimate power?" Paige inquired.
"Right, but we don't have to be so blatant about it. Leaving Christy access to the condo gives us some deniability. Having her kept out of the manor should cause Billie to wonder what's going on. She wouldn't automatically blame us. Maybe then she'll begin to question what Christy's motives really are and overcome this sisterly stranglehood that Christy has on her."
"Good point!" Phoebe exclaimed.
"I'm with ya, sis. It makes sense to me."
"Good. So, we'll write the spell and keep it in reserve. In the meantime, let's just hope this spell protects the manor. Tea anyone?"
"Me," shouted Phoebe. "Me, too" added Paige. With that, all three sisters trudged down the steps to take their places around the fire. Piper veered off towards the kitchen along the way in order to heat up the kettle and lay out a few treats. "Might as well relax before the ultimate battle heats up," Piper thought to herself. When the water was ready, Piper called for her sisters to come help with saucers, cups and krimpets. All three girls settled in for an evening together, relieved by the protection spell but worried by the day's events and what the future might bring.
Amidst a haze of mist, Christy and Billie appeared in the main chamber at Magic School. Puzzled, Billie turned to her sister and asked, "What are we doing here? Why aren't we in the attic?"
Confidently, Christy replied, "Piper was about to harm us. I had to get us out of there before she flew into a rage."
"Why would she do that?" Bille continued.
"I guess she thought that I was trying to interfere with the Noxon interrogation. I'm sorry I lost my temper. I just got frustrated at the slow pace of the questioning. It seemed like we were getting nowhere with the Noxon."
"But, all Piper did was freeze the fireball. I mean where did this fireball come from?"
"Out of frustration, anger, I don't know. I'm really having a hard time controlling my powers," Christy averred. "It's not like I was in witch training for fifteen years."
"I know. I know. But, you've got to learn to control your emotions. Our powers are tied to them. The sisters are going to misinterpret everything if you simply fly off the handle at every little frustration."
"Well, it wasn't a little frustration. Billie, that demon killed our parents. If it had killed one of the sisters, do you think the other two would patiently interrogate the demon just maybe hoping that there's more to the story. No, they'd avenge themselves. Isn't that what happened when Prue died?"
"I guess you're right, but I really like the sisters. Their like family to me."
"No, Billie, we're family. We're all we've got. The sisters took you in and taught you the craft. They even helped you get me back. But their agenda is the same as ours. Piper wants Leo back no matter what the cost. And, we're, we're fighting for the greater good. You've got to be clear on this."
"Okay, but I still think it was wrong to just disappear from the attic without a word of explanation. I know they would understand how frustrated you are and how difficult it is for you to control your powers. Let me just have a word with Phoebe. She'll understand."
"She may not," replied the voice emanating from the shadows. "She may not understand at all," the voice continued.
"Who are YOU?" Billie demanded to know. "Demon?"
"Hardly. You probably don't remember me. I have known you since both of you were young."
"Dumain?" Billie exclaimed. "You exist. You really exist!"
"Yes, Billie," Christy replied. "Dumain helped you find me. He's the one who helped you interpret the symbol at the end of my diary. Here's been with us all along."
"What are you, like a whiteligher?" Billie wanted to know.
"No, I'm not a whitelighter. Paige is your whitelighter. I'm more like a guide. I work for the greater powers."
"You know about Paige, and the sisters?"
"Of course. I always have. I knew it would be your destiny to meet with them and learn the craft from the Charmed Ones. They have brought you along very nicely. But now it's time to strike out on your own. It's you and Christy's destiny."
"Okay, like what destiny?" Billie inquired.
"You'll see. Your destinies await you. Be patient and let Christy help you to understand."
"Yeah, whatever. But this place creeps me out. Are you sure there are no demons here?"
"It's okay, Billie. Dumain is helping to keep Magic School demon free. As long as we are here, they'll stay away."
"Good. Because I'm exhausted. I just want to read a book, any book, to get my mind off of all this destiny stuff. It's giving me a headache."
"Can I get you some tea, then, Billie?" Dumain asked.
"Tea, who drinks tea other than the sisters. Just get me some hot chocolate. That'll do me right."
"Umm, sounds good," Christy added. "Let's start a fire in the library and gather round the fireplace with two large mugs of hot chocolate. Girls night in. Do you mind, Dumain."
"Not at all. It'll just take a few minutes. Relax while I boil up some hot cocoa."
With that the sisters retired to the library. Billie hoped to put the day's events behind her. Christy continued to mentally work out the scheme that she hoped would irretrievably lock Billie to her side.
Sunday morning. As usual, Piper was already downstairs in the kitchen. For some months, Sunday mornings had been a time for the entire Halliwell clan to get together. Henry and Paige were generally the first to arrive, while Phoebe was often delayed. Phoebe spent as much time as she could working out at the Hap Ki Do storefront three blocks over. Even after moving to her condo, Phoebe had continued to frequent the storefront. Though she found the owner, Jason Lee, to be as tough-minded and as strict a teacher as Cole had ever been, there was one added bonus. Jason was a happily married father who had absolutely no interest in Phoebe beyond instructing her in the martial arts.
At that moment, Piper heard a commotion in the hallway. Henry and Paige had arrived and were calling to Wyatt and Chris who were playing in the sun room. Chris was in his playpen, while Wyatt was wandering about orbing things to and from Chris. Already now, these boys were developing an intense rivalry, and Chris could barely talk!
Leaving the muffins to sit and cool down a bit, Piper walked into the hallway and greeted Henry and Paige. Paige asked casually whether anything interesting had happened overnight. Piper shook her head no. "No news is good news, I guess, "Paige concluded.
"Well, no news is just that: no news. As for me, I really would like some news. If Billie and Christy are really the ultimate power, then I'd rather find out now and start getting ready because that can't be good news," Piper retorted.
"Yeah, well, let's hope it can wait. Henry's hungry and I can't wait to sink my teeth into a muffin or two. I'd really rather eat breakfast than to think about what Billie and Christy are up to right now."
Phoebe walked in just as Paige was enunciating the last few words. All she heard was "what Billie and Christy are up to now right now". "So, what did I miss? Did Billie and Christy try to break through the protection spell? Where are they?" Phoebe's questions burst forth as if she were still kickboxing a training partner.
"Whatever! Hi, Phoebes and no, nothing happened. Paige was just saying that she would rather eat than worry about Billie and Christy. And you know, she's right. It's a sunny morning. The kids are having a great time, especially now that Henry has joined in as the third child. Just come on in."
"Well, okay. I guess I just caught the tail end. Good. I don't want to even think about vanquishing either of them. Besides, I just can't imagine Billie being bad."
"Me, neither. I mean she's my charge. Or, was my charge," Paige continued.
As the three headed into the kitchen, Piper asked whether she should call Henry to come along. "Nah," replied Paige, "He's more than happy playing with the boys. I just know he's going to make a great daddy some day."
"You're not thinking about having a baby already! Paige?" Phoebe wanted to know.
"No, no. I'm just thinking ...," Paige managed to reply before Phoebe cut her off.
"You're thinking about having a baby. Does Henry know?"
"No, no of course he doesn't. He hasn't said anything and neither have I.
"So, you are having a baby. When are you going to tell him?"
"Listen, I'm not having a baby and neither is Henry. All I'm saying is that Henry's really, really great with kids, especially ones with magical powers."
Shaking her head in disbelief, Piper shot back sarcastically, "You two are just plain crazy. We've got plenty of real things to worry about and you two just create problems out of whole cloth. It's a good thing Leo's not around to hear you two. How I ever got stuck with two wacky sisters, I'll never know. Come on, let's set the table in the dining room. There's lots to eat."
Billie was the first to stir. She had spent the evening in one of the sumptuous guest rooms at Magic School. She had to admit the accomodations were better here than at her college dorm, even if demons could pop up at any time. She wanted to believe Christy that Magic School was now demon free. But, ever since Billie had first visited Magic School, it had been overrun with every demon imaginable, including the Source who had been conjured by a female demon and Wyatt whose trust she had gained by posing as a day care mother.
Billie had spent the night surrounded by Magic. It was a bit creepy, too. The four ornate walnut posts shot high into the room like Douglar firs. The dark vermillion canopy served as an eerie backdrop to a display of magical beings sewn onto the silky material. There were wizards, sorcerers, conjurers and a smattering of little people: leprechauns, dwarves, goblins and fairies darting in and out. At least they seemed to move as the canopy undulated from the air vent strategically placed above the canopy. Slipping between the satin sheets and sinking her head into the oversized, billowy pillows, Billie somehow managed to get some sleep. When darkness gave way to the artificial light that marked daytime, Billie rose, relieved that she had survived her first night at Magic School.
The day's events yesterday and the lack of dinner last night made Billie long even more for breakfast with the Halliwells. It was Sunday and she knew that the whole gang would be there. Piper was a great cook even if she practically forced you to try this delicacy or that sweet. It's a wonder any of the women could stay slim at the manor. But, Magic School was barren. The kitchen was bare. And there was nobody to cook. True, there was some leftover hot chocolate from the night before, but no pastries or muffins or anything that Piper could have whipped up in a jiffy.
Billie decided to make the best of a less than desirable situation by adding entries to her own "Book of Shadows", a book that Leo had encouraged her to begin during one of his tutoring sessions with her in the attic. So far, Billie's spells and potions consisted mainly of exact copies or slight variations of spells found in the Charmed Ones own Book of Shadows. It was a good thing she had written many of them down since it didn't seem likely that she would be invited back to the manor any time soon. After heating up the pot of hot chocolate and pouring herself another cup, Billie sat down at one of the desks in the library and racked her brain for a couple of other spells that she had used but not yet written down.
After about an hour, Christy finally appeared. She was not alone, but was accompanied by Dumain. Dumain was carrying a tray filled to the brim with sweets and treats. He also announced that coffee was on the way. "Finally," Billie sighed. "I could really use a caffeine fix."
Christy noticed Billie working in her journals and asked what she had been up to. "Oh, just trying to remember a few more of the spells I had cast," Billie replied. "I wish I had followed Leo's advice right away and written them down when they were still fresh in my memory. As for potions, if I don't remember all of the ingredients exactly and in what portions, well, I can always experiment."
"Good. Good! Who knows we might someday need to use those potions against the sisters, especially if they come after us," Christy answered back. "Dumain has warned me that the Charmed Ones might come after us. Piper's really lost perspective with respect to the greater good with all her frustration and concern for Leo."
"Yeah, well that's understandable. And until they do come after us, I'd rather not make any vanquishing potions. This is all just gonna blow over. I can't believe Phoebe or even Paige would go along with an attack on us! It just doesn't make any sense."
"Well, Dumain, has an idea we might wish to try out. We could go on a sort of vision quest and peer into the future. We might get a glimpse of the sort of world where the sisters are taking us. And, if Dumain's right, the world that the sisters are going to bequeath us is one where naked power dominates and it's the sisters who are abusing that power."
"But, the future, I mean like can't that change? How do we know what the future will be with any certainty."
"Yes, but we can get a glimpse of what the future will be if we don't pull the sisters back onto the path of the greater good. If not, we might just be guilty of allowing the sisters to abuse their powers and do harm to innocents in the process."
To listen to Christy, who spoke with confidence, a calm demeanor and a slightly dominating tone befitting an elder sister, the greater threat was the Charmed Ones, not Billie and Christy. As much as she was relieved to be reunited with her sister, Billie still had trouble accepting the world as Christy described it. Fifteen years with demons surely had warped Christy's perspective. But, Billie had as much trouble resisting Christy's schemes now as she had had when she was younger. Christy pretty much ran the show then as she was trying to do now. Billie just hoped that this time she wouldn't get the blame if something went wrong. Somehow Christy always had managed to escape accountability as a child, even Billie's mom admitted as much to Billie. Mrs. Jenkins indicated that it had taken a long time for her and Billie's father to figure out that Christy was the brains behind the assorted pranks that Billie and Christy had gotten involved in. It seemed as if every other month Billie was grounded for this or that.
Paige finally managed to pry Henry away from the boys and escort him to the dining room table, a table that was filled with all sorts of breakfast treats. There was a plate of muffins, a 10 inch stack of pancakes and gosh knows what else! Henry did manage to take a seat at the big table and allowed the boys to sit at their little table on the side. Chris, who had just left the confines of the high chair behind him, was happy to sit at the table all by himself, although Piper still came by to cut his food into tiny morsels.
"Gosh, Piper, you've managed to do it again. I didn't think I was hungry on the way over, but I've got an appetite now. Can we dig in?"
"Knock your socks off, Henry. It's great to see at least one man with a hearty appetite. Leo doesn't know what he's missing."
"Well, he probably does, Piper," Paige chimed in. "He only like has five years experience with Sunday breakfast."
"More or less," Phoebe added. "Don't forget, though. When he was an Elder, he was exactly around on Sunday or any other morning for that matter."
"Don't remind me," Piper scolded her sisters. "It's bad enough that he's not here without you two adding to my misery."
"Sorry, sis," Paige managed to squeeze in between two bites into a huge chocolate muffin.
"Yeah, me, too," Phoebe added, as she continued to nibble away at a partially eaten pancake.