Xander and his crew landed back in the UK and looked around the airport. "Well, we're back," he noted tiredly. "How do we get to the Leaky from here? I don't have anything changed over."
"Easy," Harry said, equally as tired. That had been one long fight. He led the way outside, then held up his wand. A large, double-decker bus roared up and stopped beside him. "The Knight Bus," he said with a slow smile. "Hey, Stan," he said as the door opened. "How much to head back to the school?"
"I can only get as far as Hogsmeade," the driver noted, nodding at the others. "Friends of yours, Neville?" he asked with a grin.
"Yeah, my personal guru and teacher, my fellow apprentice, and the guru's husband," Harry said lightly. "How much?"
"Say three galleons for each of you and a sickle more for the beds and a toothbrush?" He looked at Xander, then at Draco. "Though, I'll have to ask that you refrain from anything funny until you get off so you don't disturb anyone."
Draco waved a hand. "I don't care. Xander, pay the man." He followed Ron up the stairs and found an empty bed.
Xander glared after Draco but he did pay the fare. "Thanks. However close you can get us is fine." He nodded and headed up after Harry, finding a bed next to his consort. Draco started to climb in with him. "We can't do anything and I'm still sore, Draco."
"Fine," Draco pouted sullenly. "Be that way then."
"He'll shag you later, Malfoy, get over it," Harry said as he climbed into his own bed. The bus's engine sped up. "Hang on." They grabbed something as the bus lurched and they were off. "We'll be back around dinner."
"Cool with me," Xander agreed, closing his eyes. He kicked off his shoes and decided he would like to be covered up, there was a slight breeze. He snuggled in and quickly fell asleep.
Draco looked at him and then got up and slid in behind Xander, laying on top of the covers to hold him. It always seemed to make him have pleasant dreams when he held his consort. He heard Weasley say something and looked over at him.
"Nothing. Go to sleep, Malfoy. I'm sure we're in for it when we get back."
"Dumbledore can leap," Draco said quietly, snuggling down again. Xander was very warm.
Harry looked at Ron. "Did you think it was interesting who came to help us?"
"I saw that movie," Ron told him, starting to frown again. "I thought it was just a movie."
"I'm glad that one of the two of them was on the East Coast," Draco put in. "We needed someone who had such varied knowledge of the city."
"Yeah, but it was still strange." Harry looked over at him. "The next time we have a chance, I'll let you watch the movie we're talking about." Draco shrugged and closed his eyes. Harry looked at Ron. "Think we'll get Filch or Snape for detentions?"
"Filch," Ron said dryly. "Snape's not that bad a punishment." Ron fluffed his pillow a bit. They had both come at Methos' call and had rushed out after Draco, not taking anything but their wands with them. Xander had charmed their way past customs so they were clear on that front, but now they were going to have to face down the Headmaster. He was not looking forward to it, knowing by some strange son's logic that his parents would also be there. He closed his eyes and decided to rest now, while he still could. They'd be spending months in the Forbidden Forest with Filch for this.
In Vegas, Greg turned up the tv in the break room, frowning at it. Slowly, his hands drifted to his hips and his scowl became Snape-like.
"What is that?" Grissom asked.
"Fyarl demon. A slime shooter that should only be human height," Greg said absently. He blinked when the newscaster announced that it had been a publicity stunt gone wrong. "Yeah, keep the delusions, dear, you'll need them some day." He flipped off the tv and went to call his Master by disapparating home. Now he knew why everyone had warned him not to move to LA or New York. Strange things happened there at regular intervals. Snape's head appeared as soon as his floo connected. "Fyarl demon?" he asked.
Snape grimaced. "Dumass was there. His consort and his apprentices all ran out of here without much explanation."
"I'll send on a copy of the paper," Greg said dryly. "I didn't feel anyone call."
"Methos did it." He smirked at him. "Why would you have went anyway? Aren't you supposed to be at work?"
"Well, yeah, but there's not many of us over here right now and I expected to at least have felt the warning and request go out."
"I'll check with Methos. He may know why it didn't," Snape agreed, signing off.
Greg grimaced. "Just what I need, more trouble from my tattoo." He apparated back to the changing room, startling Warrick. "Sorry, had to run home to make a call," he said as he left again. He stomped back to his lab and sat down to think while he ran routine tests. Something was going on.
Xander was woken by a gentle shake, a different experience for him. He opened his eyes and the man put a finger over his lips, nodding behind Xander's back. He wiggled and felt Draco laying there and smiled, nodding. "How long?" he whispered.
"Maybe twenty more minutes," the conductor told him. "The other two are already downstairs."
"Thanks. I'll get him up." The conductor nodded and Xander flipped over slowly, smiling at the peaceful picture Draco made as he slowly blinked awake. "You're adorable when you're confused first thing in the morning," he said with a grin. "You look like a little kid."
"I'll spank you for that later," Draco promised, then he yawned in Xander's face. Xander took the opportunity to give him a deep kiss, which was a sure way of waking Draco fully. "Thank you." He grinned. "Are we nearly there?"
"The conductor said we have about ten more minutes."
"Good." Draco sat up and stretched, then watched as Xander stood up and did the same so he had more room. "Do you think we'll be in a lot of trouble?"
"Probably," Xander said dryly. "Only one way to find out." He held out a hand and Draco took it, allowing himself to be helped up. "C'mon, let's join the other boys." He used his wand to make the bed then led the way down the stairs, joining Ron and Harry at the window. "I remember these woods. They used to be a lot bigger though."
"Careful tree-cutting and regrowth," Harry told him. "Corporate robbers can't leave an unspoiled piece of ground untouched."
"Good point." Xander patted him on the back. "If I didn't tell you earlier, you both did excellently with the demon. You worked together flawlessly."
"They've got experience," Draco snorted.
Harry looked at him, then suddenly grinned as a thought sure to irritate Draco came to mind. "Since you're married to a good guy, does that mean that you're going to be with us the next time we have to face the big, ugly sucker down?" he asked facetiously.
Draco shuddered. "No!" He looked at Xander. "I need a long cuddle to get that image out of my mind." Xander gave him a kiss on the forehead, making him smile. "That's a start."
"I'm going to be there, but I won't force you, Draco." Xander turned back around as the bus lurched to a sudden stop, looking out the window. "Hey, it's Hogsmeade and it's still light," he said happily. He led the way off the bus, letting everyone else come behind him. He smiled and waved at the driver and conductor before the bus was off with a loud bang. "Wow. I like that thing. I'll have to remember it."
Ron looked around the town. "Things are still open," he noted. "Xander, can we go do a bit of sweets shopping? I *really* need some chocolate."
"Sure," Xander agreed, leading the boys that way. He even spoiled them by buying them a huge bag of sweets, which they would have to share. Draco didn't like that plan but he went with it as he walked up to the school. He also stole one of the peppermint imps and popped it into his mouth as the school came into view. "Here we are, safe again," Xander announced. "That concludes another exciting trip in the lives of the Hellmouth's Warriors. See us next week for an exciting new adventure."
Harry and Ron were giggling as McGonagall opened the door. "What are you laughing at?" she snapped.
Ron pointed at Xander. "Him." He grinned at her. "Headmaster?" She nodded, giving him a tight-lipped look that on normal people meant their underwear was too tight. "My parents?" She nodded again and the look got a bit more mean. "Harry, chocolate?" he asked as they walked in. Harry handed over a large piece of chocolate candy. "Thanks. Have some yourself, we'll definitely need it," Ron sighed.
McGonagall glared at Xander. "You risked their lives!" she said angrily. "How could you do that to us!"
Xander gave her a small hug. "They weren't in that much danger. The majority of the danger was because New York's small, exclusive academy showed up and they're clueless." Draco giggled as he followed Xander inside. "Ah, it's almost like a third home," he quipped as they went up the stairs to the headmaster's office.
"I can have you readmitted," Dumbledore offered as soon as they walked in. "You are of the proper age and a year here might do you good, Mr. Dumass."
Xander shuddered. "No thanks. Hey, Hat, stick up for me before you have to try and figure out where I fit now."
The Sorting Hat woke up and looked at Dumbledore. "If you bring him back as a student, I refuse to touch his head," it announced. "He has been sorted twice!" Draco cackled. "Speaking of, let me check that one," it said. Draco hid behind Xander, making the hat snort. "Remember, young man, I can have you put into Hufflepuff and I will if you bring that beast back in here." It went quiet again.
"That's an excellent reason to not come back," Draco said quickly. "I'd make a terrible Hufflepuff. I'd have to gossip. I'd have to be *nice*. I'd even have to be *happy*!" he wailed.
Xander pulled him around for a hug and a pat. "Don't worry, babe, I won't let you be resorted. You won't have to gossip or be nice." Draco rested against him, giving him a secretive smile for their play-acting. "See, I can't come back," he said happily.
"Unless we put you into Slytherin or Gryffindor," Snape said smugly from his seat. "Of course, you'd be better off over there. That way Mr. Malfoy would have to learn self-control."
Xander snorted. "Cousin, I know rooms all over this place where we can hide and shag," he pointed out. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind reviving my old haunts."
"As long as they've been cleaned," Draco admitted. "I'd feel strange if we walked in there and found people's panties from so long ago." Xander pinched him and he shrugged. "I would. Who knows whose it would be?"
"Good point," Xander agreed, giving him a grin. "I promise, I won't share anything about my past lovers except my varied and enormous experience at giving and receiving pleasure."
"Enough," Dumbledore pleaded. "Xander, if you stay much longer, the Ministry will force you to attend classes again."
Xander grimaced. "What would I do? I took everything but Divination and Arthrimancy. Besides, I am nineteen."
"Take a room in town," Snape told him.
"I can't hold out that long," Draco pointed out.
"Perhaps you should have thought about that before you got joined," McGonagall said from behind them.
Draco looked back at her. "Do you remember the library incident?" Her lips pursed again but she nodded. "That was going to happen for at least another two years, on and off at irregular intervals as I got overly stressed, or until I found ultimate control and a consort."
"Emilia...." Snape started.
"My cousin was a virgin until she got with her husband," Draco said firmly. "I haven't been one of those in nearly two years. She had it *much* easier, just because she was a girl. Girls have it much easier in these things."
Xander nodded. "True. Valena had a lot more control than Draco does."
"We'll make sure Mr. Malfoy has enough time off now and again to stop all such outbursts," Dumbledore said gently. He looked at the boys. "I should expel you for leaving that way."
"You wanted the seventy-foot slime shooter to take over New York?" Ron asked, looking confused. "It's not like they could have handled it, sir."
Harry nodded, stepping closer to Ron. "Really. We saw their Academy and they were really clueless. Their sixth year Defense class came and they were going to use a stunning spell because that's as far as they had gotten."
Xander nodded. "Yeah, I asked the teacher but she said it wasn't necessary to do more than personal defense with her students," he agreed. "Outside of Mr. Murray, we were kinda it."
"As in..." Snape asked, waving a hand. Xander nodded, grinning at him. "I thought that was a movie."
"It was," Ron told him. "Only him and the guy who played Egon were real." He shrugged at the incredulous look. "Mr. Murray showed up to help. He's sorta the patron saint whenever he's around."
"The growth spell was really pretty neat though," Harry offered. "It took six tries to figure out how to counter it. We learned how to unravel curses and spells today. A valuable lesson for our future working environments."
Xander patted him on the back. "You got the theory down very well too, Harry. You too, Ron. Just think, the kiddies thought that a good 'Finite Incantantum' would have stopped it." The whole group laughed.
Arthur Weasley cleared his throat. "What was the danger in this?" he asked gently.
"Fyarl's shoot snot," Xander told him. "Nasty crap, but still snot. The biggest threat was being stepped on as it tried to get at the person who had done this to it. Who, by the way, was a wizard like Willow." He beamed at Draco. "He figured that part out, that it was external magic, which was what allowed the other two to unravel it."
"Then I'm very impressed with your performance, but that does not excuse running out of class and missing a day and a half," Dumbledore said firmly.
"It's not like we're not ahead," Ron pointed out, sitting down and crossing his feet. "Harry and I are both ahead in everything but Potions."
"Which you are hereby expelled from," Snape announced as he stood up. "Mr. Malfoy, come to my office once you are done here," he said coldly.
Draco looked at him. "I am married, Professor, you may call me by my married name," he said in the same voice. "I'd rather not be associated with that lech who donated his seed to my creation."
Snape raised a brow. "Really?" Draco nodded. "That's fine, but your mother is waiting on you in my office, and I dare say that may upset her."
"I didn't make her marry the bastard," Draco pointed out. "You can tell her I said that." He crossed his arms. "I'll see my mother shortly. You may tell her that also."
Snape gave him a look. "Not until after we have a discussion," he pointed out before leaving the office for calmer environments.
Xander patted Draco on the back. "Calm down, he can't make us stay apart for very long," he soothed. "Your mother will back you up on this." Draco gave him a grateful look. "Bottom line, Albus. Detentions, suspensions to towers, or are they formally mine?"
"I believe that they'll be having a month of detentions with Mr. Filch," Dumbledore said genially.
"Pay up," Ron said, holding out a hand. Harry put a galleon in it with a grimace.
"Gambling too?" Molly asked now that the mute charm was taken off.
"Just on which one we'd have detention with," Ron said, giving her a grin. "We weren't in much trouble, mum, don't yell. I've been in more just helping Harry."
Molly opened her mouth but her husband patted her on the hand. "I believe we'll be discussing that, Ron. You as well, Harry."
"I tried to keep him out of it," Harry said quickly in the spirit of self-preservation. "I didn't make him help me."
Dumbledore laughed. "Fine. That will be after dinner." He stood up. "All of you are to get cleaned up and changed, then go to dinner. Mr. Dumass, you will be staying," he said when Xander started to follow Draco. Everyone else left, Molly and Arthur following Harry and Ron to chew them a new one and Draco going to change. "Alex, you know you can't stay around the school," he said gently, sitting back down.
"Albus, you know I can't be that far from him," Xander pointed out. "Since I'm over the age of attendance, I can't go here. Would you like to suggest something else?"
Dumbledore sighed. "There are two solutions to that dilemma. You can either give Draco a portkey to your side and he may use it once a week, on the weekends. Or you may find some way to be useful to the school." He looked the young man over. "I am aware that you do not want to attend school with us. That is perfectly reasonable. Your last time here was rather upsetting for many of the student, if only because you stole everyone's girlfriend and most of the boyfriends." He gave him a slight smile. "Talking with the professors hasn't found you an opening either. Methos may allow you to fill in now and again when he wants a day off, but no more than that. We don't need a permanent tutor either."
Xander considered it as he sat down. "Albus, to be truthful, the farther apart Draco and I are, the worse his condition will get. I don't really want to go here again. I never wanted to step foot in this school again when I got the message about the reunion. I'm open to good suggestions but I don't know what you want me to say."
Dumbledore sighed and nodded. "I understand. You could make a new map of the school. Harry's map is a tad bit wrong in places." Xander looked at him. "That would at least take you two months. That would get you to the holidays and by then I expect Mr. Malfoy to be desiring some time alone." He smiled. "If you like, we can do that."
"I'll talk it over with Draco tonight," Xander agreed. "Any other ideas?"
"Not unless you want to find a new subject and teach it?"
"I could teach cursebreaking," Xander pointed out. "There are others in the school who want to try it out. Speaking of, I need to call the goblins on behalf of a student who wanted to know about guarding positions." He grabbed a quill and paper, writing it out.
"Mr. Goyle has reevaluated his demands on his son and won't make him get a job any longer."
Xander shrugged. "It wouldn't hurt for them to come up and promote their program anyway. They always need people." He shifted, getting more comfortable. "Did you offer Bill the chance to revamp the map of the school?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "He said he'd rather be eaten than stay here, he left for home last week," he admitted. "It's not just make-work, it's something we've been putting off for a while now, Alex."
"Sure, I can do that. It's not like I have so much to do at home, outside of gathering things that have disappeared from the family home." He shrugged. "If Draco agrees, I can do that. I can teach them all about mazes and hidden rooms while I'm doing it."
"As long as the boys stay in class," Dumbledore responded.
Xander grinned at him. "Albus, the kids know everything I and most of the other Banes know. They need practice, not theory."
Dumbledore considered it. "Next year, they can have all the practical application they could desire, but for now they are to act like normal sixth years, Alex. No matter how advanced they are, I cannot allow them to skip a grade or allow them to run wild over the school. Other students are starting to wonder why they don't get such privileges."
"I'm betting someone's pointing out that they're Harry and Ron, and that they're probably doing stuff for the war," Xander offered.
Dumbledore nodded. "True, but it's also Ms. Granger who's been one of the disgruntled, their best friend and cohort. It's getting bad, Xander, and the boys need to have a normal educational experience." Xander raised an eyebrow. "As normal as possible," Dumbledore admitted. "On their breaks, you can take them and spoil them all you want. I'll even allow them to be checked out for weekends now and again if you can prove it's a training experience. I cannot allow you to have them running willy-nilly about the school. Mr. Potter's future may well depend on something that a teacher knows that you do not."
"Fine," Xander sighed. "I'll take the mapping job, go back to training them, and then we'll deal with extraordinary circumstances later."
"Thank you. I had no doubt that your most recent excursion was necessary and educational, but the boys really didn't need to know that."
"Actually, they did," Xander said as he stood up. "Harry, Ron, and Draco learned the difference between internal magic, like ours, and external magic, like Willow's and Ethan's. They also learned how to warp and unravel spells and charms. Between the three of them, they could probably destroy a good portion of the school." He nodded and left, going to tell Draco the good news.
Dumbledore groaned and put his head down, putting his arms over it. "Why do I do this to myself?" he asked the wood he was resting on.
Molly looked up as her son walked into the conference room they were using, giving him a tight-lipped smile. "Good. Close the door." She noticed his look around for his father. "He'll be in later, after we have a discussion about your paychecks, young man."
Ron looked at her, then shrugged. "I don't have another vault, mum, and I don't mind if you use some of it now and then." He sat down beside her on the couch, but turned to look at her. "It's more convenient for me this way."
She stared him down but he didn't change his story. "We do not need it, Ronald, and you will quit."
Ron leaned closer. "Mother, bugger off," he said gently, then he smiled. "It's a son's prerogative to take care of their parents if they want to." His smile picked up. "Think of it as a start on a retirement fund or something."
"We have one of those," she said firmly.
He snorted. "Mum, I know how much dad makes. I want you to be able to live off the money once he's ready to chuck it all for an easy life of tinkering." He leaned back. "If you continue to complain, I'll have to add more."
She grimaced. He was trying to be sweet, but he didn't need to. "Ron, when we're ready to retire, we'll be inviting one of you and your family to come live with us and take care of us in your old age. We'll have everything covered and there won't be any need for such things."
"What about traveling a bit, mum? You could do that if you had some money. Maybe go see Bill and Charlie soon?"
"Gracious, Ron, we can do that now if we really wanted to! With only you and Ginny left, and the others making decent paychecks, the money goes farther."
"Mother, I'm not the only one helping your retirement, and the present finances as well."
"I know, and I've yelled at the twins about it a great number of times," she said firmly. She pulled something from her pocket. "Since you're an apprentice cursebreaker, you get a reduced rate on a vault of your own. Since Xander is a freelance, you only have half the fees the rest of us do," she said as she put a key into his hand. "I do not want to see any more unauthorized additions to the family vault, Ronald."
"Mom, stuff it," he said quietly. "I'm doing what I think is right. If you don't like it, yay. Don't use it. If you need it, it'll be there." He handed the key back. "That was only a tenth of my commission from the Sunnydale haul," he said, sounding very mature. "Xander and Harry helped me put most of the rest of it away so I'd have it to live off of for a while yet, plus I'm still getting paychecks. Even if Xander spends himself poor buying back everything that was stolen out of his family's home, I can always go work for Gringotts itself and live off my interest." She looked stunned. "My two percent of the commission was more than enough for me to live off of forever, mother, even if all I do is sit around in my underwear all day and read comic books." He stood up and put the key into her sweater pocket. "Now that we've gotten that settled, are you going to complain to me now about helping take on the snot shooter?"
She grimaced, staring up at him. "Ron, we really don't need it."
"Right now, you don't. Some day you might. What happens if Dad or you get sick?"
"We've got insurance."
"And if he gets fired for this thing with the Ministry?"
"There are other jobs, ones that aren't as demanding."
Ron put his hands on his hips. "Mother, listen to me on this, okay? I know what I'm doing. I work in a dangerous field. I do dangerous things like force myself to follow Harry around when he's in the middle of trouble. There's every chance this war is going to be the end of me and I'd rather you had the money than the Ministry in taxes." He sighed and looked up, stretching his neck before looking at his mother again. "You can fuss all you want. Bill and Xander both know how to work it so you won't know that I do such things. The only reason you know now is because we told you that there was a small addition to the vault."
"Actually, the bank did," Molly said dryly. "We still do not need it."
"Tough, take it!" he said angrily. "Do not fuss and whine at me, mother! I won't have it! I will not have you unprotected financially! I'm a good son and I'm leaving it there, whether or not you like it." He stomped off, going to sulk in his room. Why wasn't she happy about this? It was like she wanted to punish him for taking care of her and his father. It sucked and he was tired of it. He stomped back down to the common room and right to the fireplace, sitting down to talk to someone with some sense, the one who had helped him see it was a nice gesture and that he wasn't damaging their pride. "Buffy Summers," he called out. Her head spun and she shook it briefly. "Sorry," he said with a grin. "Never taken a floo call?"
"Nah, but it's a nice change. What's wrong, Ron?"
"Oh, a few things. Mom grumped at me because I added to the family vault. We got a month of detention for dealing with the seventy-foot fyarl demon. Things like that," he said bitterly.
She grinned. "Seventy feet? How?"
"Growth charm," he said, leaning closer. "It was really neat. I never knew New York was that big or that it had all that stuff in it. Draco had the cab take us past this whole street of shops with pretty clothes in the windows while he drooled."
She laughed. "This I want to hear about. Is this pay-by-the-minute?"
"Nah, not as far as I know," he admitted with a grin. "Besides, it'll just be my next paycheck if it is. I needed someone not from my family." Ginny cleared her throat from behind him. "Mum's got her back up, I'd be careful. Go away."
"Fine," she said, backing away from him. "She's also standing outside the door."
"Then go talk to her," Ron suggested. "I'm sure she likes you a bit more than me at the moment. I'm probably below even the twins right now."
Ginny gave him a scared look before she left to talk with her parents. "Mum, why are you mad at Ron?" Her mother groaned and shook her head. "He's talking with one of Xander's friends, Buffy, and he said you're mad at him."
"I'm not mad at him, just upset that he's being stubborn."
Ginny gave her mother a hug. "I know what he did, I saw his calculations, and if I had the money I'd do the same thing," she assured her with a bright smile.
"Ginny, we don't need it."
"Mum, hush. You're hurting Ron's feelings by making a big deal out of it and not taking it. He really was pouting at the pretty blonde woman."
"Pretty blonde?" her father asked. "Do we know this Buffy?"
Ginny giggled. "She's the current senior Slayer, the one Xander works with."
"Oh." Her father brightened. "I suppose she's a good friend for Ron then." He watched as Draco walked up to the door, frowning as it opened for him. "When did he switch houses?"
"He didn't, but Ron's the only one outside of Xander who can keep him calm. The portraits were told to admit him when he's broadcasting." Someone screamed from inside and she looked at the painting. "Lint brush." It swung open and she led her parents inside. "What is going on!" she demanded.
"Malfoy!" one girl shrieked, pointing at him.
Ginny looked at Draco. "Are you being a butt?"
"No," he scoffed, grinning at the girl. "I scared her by being nice." He looked at Ron again. "Candy bag?"
"Harry!" Ron called. Harry came trotting down the stairs with the bag in his hand. "Save me a few of the peppermints and some of the chocolate," he requested, going back to his conversation.
Arthur moved around so he could see her. "Hello," he said happily. "I'm Ron's father, Arthur. You're Buffy?"
The woman shook her head and laughed. "I'm Buffy's younger sister, Dawn. She had to go deal with an annoyance that just walked in." She waved at him. "Hi, Ron's dad. Buffy wanted to know when her shopping buddy was going to come back?"
"I'll be back at the holidays," Draco announced, smiling at her. "Hello, Dawn."
"Hi, Draco. So, seventy-foot demon?"
"Seventy-foot slime shooting demon," Ron agreed with a grin. "Fyarl with a growth charm."
"That's so wicked," Dawn told him. "I never get to do the cool stuff anymore."
Buffy's head popped up and she shoved Dawn's out of the way. "That's because you need to study so you can find a real job somewhere that's not here, young lady. Go back to your Biology notes, now." She smiled at Ron, and the people behind him. "Hi, and you are?"
"Ron's father, Arthur," he said with another wave. "Are you Buffy?" She nodded. "It's very nice to meet you. Ron's said some very nice things about you."
She blushed. "Ron!"
He laughed. "They like my nice friends."
"Good point." She smiled at him. "I like Ron, he's a kick-ass buddy, but he hates to shop so I adopted Draco as my shopping buddy. He has great taste."
"Yes, and his next task is Xander's shirt collection," Draco said as he finished gathering his haul and waved, then he left.
Ron beamed. "He said he'd be back for the holidays."
"Cool! Maybe we can hit some of the great sales." She winked at Ron. "We have vamp clothiers here, you could do the leather and jeans thing some more."
"I'd like that," Ron agreed with a big grin. "I'll save that paycheck just for that trip." Someone cleared their throats and he looked at Hermione. "Hey, 'Mione. Hermione Granger, this is Buffy Summers. She's one of Xander's best buddies."
"Hi," Hermione said, nodding and smiling at her. "We've heard a lot about you. Will you be visiting soon?"
"Xander never mentioned that option but I'm pretty busy around here. All the fighting the dark and all that," she said with a small head-bob/shrug move. "Maybe he can bring me over for a week if I can get the other Slayer over for a bit and the not-Xander's willing to be the main guy around here." She grinned at Ron. "I'll let you go so you don't get in trouble. Have fun, and smack Draco for me for not writing me back about my red dress."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll enjoy it," Ron said with a wicked glint in his eyes. "You behave and be careful. I want to see you and not a vampire you when I come back next time." He turned off the floo then stood up. "Sorry, I needed to talk to someone who liked me." He looked at his father, then grinned. "It really wasn't a big problem, Dad."
"I know, son. Come on, let's talk about this stuff you've been doing with Harry and Hermione." He led his son over to a table and sat him down to talk with him, man to man. He didn't mention the money, he understood his son's motives and knew it would only upset him further to harp on it.
Molly sat down with Ginny and Hermione to talk about the social life they had. Girl talk to kill the time until she could calm her youngest son down.
Xander looked up as someone popped a paper down in front of him at his table at the Leaky Cauldron. He had been in Diagon looking for a present for his boys and now he was having lunch. He picked up the paper to look at the headline. "My house?" he asked the bartender.
"Your house," Tom agreed dryly. "I thought you might not have seen that yet." He nodded at Xander. "Have a good lunch and let me know if you need anything." He went back to his place behind the bar, getting someone a pint.
Xander read the story, how there had been a reported break-in and the Law Enforcement division of the Ministry had answered. How they had found some of the paintings empty and the rest of them non-responsive. There was even a nice request for him to call them. "Why couldn't they find me themselves?" he muttered as he finished off his lunch in a few bites. He waved at Tom as he put money on the table and took his packages, the paper, and himself to the Ministry. Once he was checked in, he headed to Law Enforcement, tapping politely on their door. "You wanted to talk to me?" The woman looked at him. "Alex Dumass," he said, shaking her hand. "Why wasn't I informed that there was a break-in at my house?"
She smiled at him. "We weren't sure where you were and the house elves weren't saying anything," she explained. "Let me get the agent in charge, Mr. Dumass. Please have a seat." She hurried off, noticing he was still standing. She found the right cubicle and leaned into it. "Alex Dumass is here, apparently he saw the paper."
The older woman stood up and nodded. "Thank you. Is he in a rage?"
"He mostly looked confused and concerned," the receptionist assured her. She went back to her desk while the older agent led Xander into an interrogation room.
"Mr. Dumass, where were you when the break-in occured?" the agent asked.
"That depends on when it happened. This is the first I've heard of it." He sat everything on the table then sat down. "What happened exactly?"
"Two nights ago we intercepted a call to the muggle police in your home village about a break-in at your house. They said the front door was sitting open and the lights were on, even though you weren't home and the servants never came outside." She grimaced. "That was nice work with the sun allergy excuse by the way."
Xander shrugged. "I lived on a hellmouth and dealt with some helpful vampires. It's a handy excuse and the first I came to. Was my door open?"
The agent sat across from him. "It was," she admitted. "Most of the lights were on. Six of the paintings were empty and the rest were non-responsive. Most of them were responsive by the time our specialist got there to look at them." Xander nodded. "Where were you two nights ago?"
"I've been working at Hogwarts, remapping the school, for the last three weeks," Xander told her. "Both my elves knew where I was."
"We ran into six or seven," she offered. "Perhaps they were interviewing?"
Xander shrugged. "That I don't have a clue about. I have one from the line that used to serve my family and I have my consort's personal elf."
"I see. I'll let you look into that part yourself. Do you have any idea why some of your relatives might have desired to come back, Mr. Dumass?"
Xander gave her a wry look. "Besides the fact that they kept saying they were going to come back and kick my ass if I didn't have kids?"
"Yes, besides that," she said patiently.
Xander shrugged. "It's been the family's wish that they be put into stasis moments before death so they wouldn't decompose. It's a family thing against it," he shared. "My Grandmother Destina said that there was a way for them to be brought back and that the thing with Voldemort had reminded her of it." The agent nodded, her lips pressed together so hard they were white. "Sorry, I'm not giving him the power of my fear. Harry is my apprentice and I've fought long and hard to earn the right to help my apprentice kick his ass."
"I hope you win," she told him calmly. "Where have you been fighting?"
"Oh." Her eyes went wide. "That Hellmouth." He nodded, grinning at her. "You're much stronger than I am then, Mr. Dumass." She pulled something out of her pocket and handed it over. "There were family portraits that were sold off some time ago."
"Stolen," he corrected, looking at the paper. "Boston?"
"Boston. Two more empty paintings, and one in Moscow. We think they were your family as well."
"How would they have communicated?" Xander asked.
"One of them was your younger sister, one was your Mother's sister, and the one in Russia was of your Grandfather Morian." Xander blanched. "Were they together?"
Xander nodded slowly. "They were all buried in the family crypt. They all died during the plague. All of them had high fevers that wouldn't go down." He looked at the paper again. "Which family portraits?"
"Your Grandmother, older sister Katya, an aunt without a name tag, an uncle Clervis, your father, and someone named Morantha, who didn't have a relationship mentioned," she said gently.
"All victims of the plague," Xander told her, straightening up. "I don't know what's going on, but I will find the reason and either fix it or help it along."
She gave him a nod. "If you do, please let us know. We're a tad bit overloaded right now and I think you have more desire than we do to get this solved. To be frank, we nearly handed this over to the Unspeakables for them to figure it out. This isn't really our area."
Xander grinned at her. "I'm used to the strange and unusual. Let me deal with this. I've got an acquaintance that I'll have come help me." He stood up and grabbed the bags, stuffing the notice down into one of them. "Thank you for telling me. If anything else should happen, you can find myself or my consort at the school. You can tell him, my apprentices, or the Weasley family around my apprentice Ron. They'll know where I am at all times." He left, going out to get a breath of fresh air before he threw a tantrum. Then he calmly pulled out his cellphone and hit a speed-dial number he was *sure* he wasn't ever going to need. "Angel, put Wesley on," he demanded. "Yes, it's me, put Wesley on. Because I've got shit going down with my family and I need a wizard, Dead Boy. Now, please." He tapped his foot while he waited. "Wes, want to get a cool grand a week to come back to the old country, help me figure out something, and deal with shit for me?" He laughed. "No, nothing that bad, just paintings coming to life. Little things like that. Yeah, probably some research. No, I'm kinda busy and I'm emotionally involved. Please?" He checked the date on his watch. "I'll make plane reservations. Can you come within three days?" He smiled. "Thanks, man, I owe you. Yeah. Really? Are you sure I can't pay you? Cool by me then. No, you can stay at my house and talk to my entertaining relatives." He grinned as he started walking. "No, I'm not like Willow. You need to call Buffy and get the 411 on what's been going on. Because it's a *long* story and I'm walking down a regular person street." He laughed. "Thanks, Wes. Yeah, it'll be waiting on you."
He stopped at the next question. "Because Giles betrayed me horribly a few years back. I trust the man, but not with this. His view of the world is a little bit monochrome for my tastes. Yeah, an open mind is going to be needed. Oh, I don't know, ask Buffy to hand the phone to Ethan if he's there. He can tell you more. Yeah, him. Because I like him, he's trying to keep Willow in check." He grinned. "Thanks, Wes, yeah, three days." He hung up and then hit the 'O' button. "Operator? I need to be connected with the overseas desk of United Airlines, London branch? Thanks." He listened as the number was read by the computer for his future use then smiled as the happy sounding person answered. "Hi, my name is Alex Dumass and I have a friend I need to bring over to England. No, he's English but he's a naturalized citizen of the US. I need him for some family stuff though. Please." He found a small park nearby and sat down on a bench so he could deal with this. "Three days? From LA to London, whichever airport's fine with me." He waited while she typed it in. "Yeah, angel-inv@hotmail. Yup. That's great. No, I'll be paying with my MasterCard if that's okay." He pulled out his wallet and read off the number quickly and in a lower voice so no one could overhear it. He listened to her read it back. "That's me. Thank you. Yeah, Angel Investigations. It's in LA. Courier is fine, or he can pick them up. Thank you." He hung up and paused to enjoy the scenery before he gathered everything back up again and headed for home. He had to come back to pick up his scarf but that was all right with him, he enjoyed apparating.
Wesley met Xander on the far side of Customs and gave him a hearty hug and back slap. "What's so important, Xander?" Xander handed over the clippings he had gathered. "Paintings? Missing artwork? Surely there's someone around here who you trust."
"I don't trust anyone around here," Xander told him, guiding him. "Luggage?" Wesley patted his carryon. "Smart man." He led the way outside, summoning the Knight Bus. It stopped quickly and he let Wesley get on before him. "We need to go to Hestinburg. Dumass Glen." The driver looked impressed. "Please?"
"Sure," he agreed. "Ten sickles, three knuts. For a sickle more you can have a toothbrush and a bed."
"No thanks," Xander said as he fed the meter. "It's not that long a drive." He found a seat in the back, letting Wesley sit beside him, but giving him an expectant look.
"You have a wand," Wesley said. Xander nodded. "You're one of them?"
Xander beamed. "Alex Dumass, cursebreaker. I was deaged," he said with a grin. "I got stuck on the hellmouth by a well-meaning headmaster who didn't have a clue, or possibly had malicious intent, I'm still not sure which."
Wesley gaped at him, then suddenly started to laugh. "Oh, my." He leaned back, getting comfortable. "That means the paintings were living simaculums?" Xander nodded. "How many total?"
"Nine that we know about, possibly a tenth, but since they were stolen the present owner isn't saying anything. The body's missing from the family crypt though."
"Could they be zombies?" Wesley asked.
Xander shook his head. "We have ourselves put into stasis right before we die, it's a family quirk. Their personalities are gone from the paintings, as are their energies. They all died during a plague when I was fifteen."
"Looking back, I'd have to say it was a flu epidemic," Xander admitted. "I'm only about eighty naturally." Wesley nodded. "The frustrating thing is that I can't seem to find them. If they're around, I don't know where. Then there's the lovely press. I'm actually hiding from them." The bus lurched to a stop and he stood up. "That was really quick. Thanks, Stan." He let Wesley get off before him, checking to make sure they had everything before he opened the gates and the bus banged off. "Welcome to my main home. The one in Sunnydale is a poor imitation of this one but the not-me seems to like it a lot. Oh, I forgot, have you ever seen a house elf?" Wesley nodded. "Cool. Draco's family ones seem to have followed him here for some reason. All but the three who followed his mother." He led the way up to the house and inside. "Guys, I'm back," he called. "Come meet the temporary warden." The house elves all came running. "This is Wesley, he's a wizard of the external magic variety." They bowed and nodded at him. "Treat him like you would Ron please. Any sign of my family?"
One covered her face. "Grandmas is in the study," she whispered. "Shes very upset."
"Cool." Xander handed Wes's bag to one of the elves. "Put him in the green suite." Then he led Wes into the Dark Arts study. He knew who it was, only one of his grandmothers was missing. "Grandma Des, what the hell is going on?" he demanded as he walked in.
Wesley stopped and blinked at her. "Destina Dumass," he said fondly. "Your painting was the one I used to study under at the Watcher academy." He kissed her hand, noticing it was warm. "Wesley Wyndham-Price, m'lady."
She laughed, patting Wesley on the side of the face. "I like you. You're not a suck-up." She looked at Xander. "Don't I get a hug?"
"It depends, would I be hugging a corpsesickle?"
"No," she said, moving to hug him. "See?" she whispered. "You need us, and we came."
"Grandma, you gave up an eternity to come back?"
"Well, yes and no," she admitted. "There are ways around that, young man. Now, you go right to bed and rest. Preferably with your consort. I'll tell this nice young man what is going on and bring him up to speed." She looked at Wesley. "Are you staying for a bit?"
"Xander asked me to come over and help him figure this out," Wesley told her.
"Good! Then you'll be a big help planning an assault on a compound. Don't worry, you'll like everyone else. By the way, tell Methos that the charm is fully broken. The original binding was cut." She led Wesley away, taking him up to his room, then on a tour of the gardens while they chatted.
Xander flooed back to the school and went to interrupt Methos' class by waving him into the hallway. "Des said hi and that the original binding was cut," he said quietly before walking away. This was too much and he was more than glad to let someone else handle it. This was not a battle he could win.
Methos looked at the boy's back, shaking his head. "How on earth?" he muttered as he went back to his class. The meaning was escaping him for now. He'd have to go see her and make sure she was back to her old self. He noticed Ron looking very attentive and the meaning suddenly hit him. "Dismissed," he said quietly. The students gaped but didn't protest as they hurried out. He stopped Ron to check his arm, frowning when he felt nothing from the charms. "Meet me in the library later," he ordered. Ron nodded, going to catch up with his friends. Methos went to have a long drink and a short think. There was definitely something going on.
Nick Boyle looked up as his best friend walked into the secret room at the Legacy House in San Francisco. "Hey," he said dryly. "Back for a visit?"
"Back for a reason," Philip said with a slight frown. "Touch your arm."
Nick did so, frowning himself. "Nothing's there."
"I noticed it yesterday. The charm's totally gone." He sat down, looking at Nick. "Where did I put the original?"
"In that small hut we used to use for meetings," Nick said promptly. He remembered hiding it inside the fireplace's trick brick. "Could it have burnt down?"
"Possibly," Philip admitted tiredly. "I called Blair, his is gone as well. Greg said he didn't even hear Methos when he called about the problem in New York."
"I saw that on the news. They got a really pretty shot of Draco, fortunately without him casting." He pulled up the picture to show it off. "I was going to send it to Methos for him to nag the boy with." Nick considered it. "Would Tip Top still be able to touch the twins?"
"Her mark on them should still work," Philip agreed. "We need to head over for a long meeting. All of us. Can you get free?"
"I've got a case right now, but next weekend I'm there," Nick said quickly.
"Thanks." Philip patted him on the arm. "I'm going to tell Derek, then I'm going to pounce Emilia and Greg. That's all of us in the US, right?" Nick nodded. "Thanks, Nick. I knew you'd remember." He strolled off, going to talk to Derek. "Hi." Derek smiled at him. "I need to steal Nick next weekend for a meeting. Can I?"
"We don't have anything planned," Derek admitted. "Will it take long?"
"It shouldn't," Philip offered, sitting down. "I don't know what's going on but our communication charm isn't working and we'd best get it figured out."
"Then you can have him as soon as he's free and keep him as long as you need to," Derek offered graciously.
"Derek, he doesn't want this to come between you," Philip pointed out.
Derek gave him a smile. "It's not, but we've been slow these last few months. Take him for as long as you need, Philip."
Philip stood up. "Thank you, Derek." He left, going to Vegas. No one was home at Greg's house so he left a note and headed to the station. It was early yet, but that's where he found Greg. He tapped on the door. "It's me," he said before Greg could look up.
"Totally broken," Philip sighed as he walked in. "Nick's got next weekend off."
"So do I. It's my usual weekend off." He looked at the other man. "Where was the original?"
"It was hidden in the hut we used to meet at," Philip said with a smile. "That was my thought too. How are you?"
"I'm doing okay. Emilia's in Switzerland for the latest diplomatic meet-and-greet. I'll email her." Philip nodded and patted him on the back. "Thanks, Philip. I was starting to get worried that you guys were shutting me out."
"We'd never do that, Greg. We like you like our brother." He gave him a hug. "I'll see you next weekend. We'll take over Dumass' house again if we can." He walked away, sending himself off as soon as he was out of sight of the building. He landed at the gates of the school then turned around and looked at the small path off to his left. He headed up it, into the fringe of the forest. No one ever came this far in, not even Hagrid. He could feel their old spells on the trees around him, following them down the old path to the old meeting spot. He found a burnt shell of a hut and sighed. The fireplace was broken and crumbling. The original charm was gone. He hiked through the forest on the path out, nodding at a few creatures he remembered as he walked briskly. One of the centaurs stopped him by standing in his path. "Good morning," he said genially. "Please let me pass."
"We do not like your kind in here," the stallion said coldly. "Leave our woods."
"The woods are communal," Philip said equally as coldly. "Whatever you trials with the school, the Banes have never been your enemy." The centaur backed up a few steps. "Did you burn the meeting place?"
"It was a *human* dwelling in our area," the stallion said. "It had to go."
"By doing so, you have paved the way for the war to be lost. May you and yours never have to fight," Philip told him as he walked around him. The stallion reared up and Philip got a glancing blow to the back of his head, knocking him out.
"Humans are all filth," the stallion said. "You will not walk in our woods again."
A bright light walked out of the woods, heading for them. "Leave him alone," it said, materializing into a woman.
"Fine, you have him if you want. We don't want his kind here." He trotted off, leaving him at the hands and mercy of the spirit.
She looked down at him. "Such a fine wizard," she murmured, getting down to wake him up. "Wakey-wakey," she said gently, smiling when he looked at her. "Good morning, precious. Did you come to see me?"
"Banes," he ground out, his head falling again.
She laughed. "Even they can't save you." She picked him up and carried him back to her lair. She could wait to eat him, she always enjoyed it more when they were awake.
Xander watched as Ron grabbed his head and groaned. "What?" he asked quietly. They were in the library looking up reanimation spells so he would have some idea of what to say to his family when he ran into the rest of them.
"Something's wrong with one of us," Ron noted. "I feel sick." Harry helped him up and out to the nearest bathroom.
Xander sighed and stood up, heading for his old practice room. He found the portrait changed. "Sword polish." It didn't open. He pulled his wand but a gentle cough behind him stopped him. "Headmaster, I need my stuff in there."
"It's all in Draco's new rooms," the headmaster soothed. "What's happened now? Another attack?"
"Ron felt one of us in trouble. I had this sudden urge to search the woods." He shrugged. "I'm guessing they're related, but I'm not dumb enough to go unarmed."
"That's fine. All your swords are in the new training area. If you wanted, you could teach a select few courtly graces." Xander looked disgusted, and the headmaster laughed. "I know you no longer practice them, but it would keep you around for the rest of the year. A voluntary group if you would. I'm sure your mate would be thrilled."
"Yeah, because Draco will see the flirting as so useful," Xander said dryly. The headmaster looked at him. "Fine, I'll do it," he sighed. "Where is it?"
"Your cousin set it up." He walked away. "Have a nice walk in the woods. Watch out for the centaurs, they're not friendly anymore."
"They too can become French food," Xander pointed out as he headed down to the dungeons. He ran into his cousin letting the students in for detention. "Can I have my long sword? Or even the katana?"
"They're in the new room," Snape told him, pointing down the hall. "Down there."
"Cool. What's the password?"
"At present, it's mugwort."
"Decent. Thanks. Ron's having slight visions of danger." He headed down there, finding three portraits. "Mugwort," he said, watching to see which one opened.
"Further down the hall," Snape called. "The portrait of the garden tea party."
"Ooh, yeah, that's *so* me," Xander called back. He headed further down the hall, finding the portrait in question already open. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," he said as he entered. He found his swords hung on the wall in their sheaths and stuck there with a charm. He pulled his wand and broke all the charms, then pulled his long sword and his katana, putting the later on his back before walking out. He really hated fighting. Why couldn't he have just been a lover instead of a lover *and* a fighter? He waved at Hagrid as he walked past him, heading into the woods. He could feel faint traces of Philip's and Nick's magic so he followed them, finding a spot with a disturbed look. Like a body had lain there recently. He heard hooves and glared at the centaur trotting closer. "I kill anything, got it?" The centaur stopped far out of his reach. "Which one of the Banes was injured?"
"Are you one?" she asked. He nodded. "One of the younger culled stallions turned one of you over to a forest spirit. She's that way," she said, pointing in the direction of the drag marks. "Are you still going to kill me?"
"Only if you attack." He nodded at her. "Thank you, m'lady. May your herd prosper and flourish." He headed that way, tracking the changes in the leaf-litter. He found the cave, but it was blocked off. And he felt really tired still. He grimaced and pushed on. That was how his life was. He tested the bonds as he pulled his wand, grimacing as he felt the strange, external magic. He cut off the flow, which provided a weakness, and then exploited that to gain entry. Gaining exit was going to be harder since it was one-way. He walked into the cave, nodding at the shimmery substance spread on the wall. "Cute. I've never seen decorating with *only* blood before," he noted out loud. A high female giggle happened behind him so he turned to look at the spirit, measuring her against his usual standards. Stronger, killable by spell only; an elemental spirit whose death may well put the forest off balance. "One question before I kill you. Are you an earth or a water elemental?"
She laughed again. "Why do you think you can kill me? You're a human." She shifted closer. "The only thing you can do is suffer."
"Ah, an earth one," he said, nodding and grinning. "Xander Harris," he introduced with a flourish. "White Knight to the Slayer of Sunnydale." She shrugged. "Cool, someone who doesn't know me! Finally!" He grinned. "I'm so happy!"
She grimaced. "This is why I hate you males."
"Technically, you hate us because you died a virgin and you're a horrible creature," Xander corrected. "I'm just annoying you on purpose." She grimaced and floated off. "Oh, come on, I need to free my friend and kill you. My consort will be really proud of me and shag me into next weekend." He followed her, using his sword to cut the bindings holding Philip up. "Hey," he said at the lethargic blink. "You give in yet?" Philip's head lolled to the side. "At least you're not dead." He looked around but the spirit was gone. He shrugged and put up his sword in the special scabbard, then picked up the unconscious man and pulled his wand instead. This was going to be one hell of a fight and he wasn't ready for it yet. Philip would have a better shot than he would. He headed for the entrance and found it missing. "Yay," he said, using his wand to probe the rock. He couldn't find the exit and it was going to piss him off because she was laughing again. He put Philip against the wall and turned to face her. "Come on, just an unfair fight, that's all I'm asking for," he called. She materialized beside him and he looked at her. "Fight me and if you win, you get us. If you don't, then I'll be nice and make your death quick and painless."
"You can't kill me, the forest protects me," she sneered.
He held up his wand. "I can kill you and I'll enjoy it," he countered. "The forest goes on even without your interference." He shrugged. "A hard truth, but necessary. Now, either let us go or let's do this."
"Fine," she said, floating off a little ways. She raised a hand and Philip moaned, shifting. "We'll fight."
Xander flicked his wand back at Philip. "Armoralis." Philip went limp again and she screamed. "Yay. Now, let's fight like really powerful beings. I'm too tired to put up with you for long. My man is waiting."
Her eyes narrowed. "You unnatural beast! You're no better than I am."
He shrugged. "That's what you think but no one else seems to care." He looked at her power structure. "Wingardium leviosa," he cast, pointing at the altar stone she had set up. He floated it up and then let it crash to the floor, breaking it. She shrieked and he shrugged. "I like doing damage. My old nickname was Carnage, lady. What do you expect when you touch a friend?" He did it again, this time with the solid gold urn he saw in an alcove, slamming it into a wall instead. She shrieked and flew at him and he put up a quick shield, stunning her when she hit it. "Nyah-nyah, can't hurt us," he said in his most childish voice. She beat against it and he took the time to check Philip over. He was kinda gray looking and didn't look like he was going to be walking anytime soon. He turned his attention back to her to find that she was blowing fire at his shield, so he changed it to a mirror, sending it back at her. She absorbed it and sneered at him. He cast the next one in line, using a breeze spell to try and blow her apart. No such luck, it only ruffled her clothes. So this time he used his cursebreakers skills to start warping the energy she was make up of. He didn't want to destroy the spirit, she might actually be a founding element of the forest, but he wasn't going to let her kill him or Philip. She disappeared briefly but reappeared behind him so he spun and started on her again, working on unraveling her connection to the energy she was drawing from.
Draco grimaced as he stomped into McGonagall's room. He was helping her tonight by Filch's orders. "Xander's fighting something in the Forbidden Forest," he announced. She looked at him and shrugged. "Weasley had a reaction so it was a Bane, we knew that much."
She gave him a contented look. "He is very powerful."
"If he dies, I'll go insane," Draco pointed out. "If he's knocked unconscious, I can't guarantee I won't."
"I'm sure we'll deal with it."
Methos came running in and grabbed Draco. "Where is Philip?"
"I don't know, was he supposed to be here?" Draco asked. Methos nodded. "Um, could he be the one Xander and Ron felt odd feelings about and why he's fighting in the forest?"
"Probably," Methos said bitterly. "You stay here. Do not move from this room until I get back. If I'm not back before you are released, go to your new room or go to Severus. Do you understand?" Draco nodded, looking confused. "Whatever's fighting him can affect you, boy, remember that."
"Okay," Draco agreed, nodding at him as he ran out. He looked at McGonagall and pointed. "See!"
She grimaced. "You have plenty of time to clean the room, Mr. Dumass. Do so to take your mind off the fight." She noticed Ron as he went running past the doorway, with Hermione right behind him and Harry nowhere in sight. "That is odd. No Mr. Potter?"
"It's not something he can take on probably," Draco said with a negligent shrug. "You might call the house." He went to start on the blackboard. It was the easiest and least messy job. At least there was only one animal this time.
McGonagall got up. "Stay in here and continue," she instructed, heading up to check on Harry. He always went with Ron whenever there was trouble, or Ron always went with him. She found him in front of the fireplace talking with a man she had briefly met. "What is going on?" she demanded.
"Xander's taking on an earth elemental in the forest over Philip Callahan," Harry said as he listened to the chaos wizard's explanation of how best to fight and find it. "Philip's unconscious, Xander's still tired, and I'm trying to find out how to fight it."
"That would take someone holier than you are, or someone very blessed," McGonagall told him.
Harry looked at her. "Philip's unconscious. He's it around here in case you hadn't noticed." He looked at the fire again. "Anything else, Ethan?" Ethan shook his head. "Great, thanks, man." He cut the connection and stood up, grabbing his cloak before walking around her. "Don't wait up, she's in a sheltered cave and we'll stay there once she's gone if it's too late." She tried to catch him but he was slippery. He ran down the stairs, stopping in her classroom. "Draco, Xander's fighting an earth elemental."
"I was ordered to stay here," he said bitterly. He looked at Harry. "Take Snape and go."
"That's a good idea, thanks." Harry jogged off, heading for the dungeons. He tapped on the Potion's door, earning a frown when it was opened. "Sir, do you know how to fight the earth elemental in the forest? Xander's trying to get it away from Philip and Philip's presently unconscious."
Snape gaped at him and slowly shook his head. "That would take someone blessed."
"Then I guess I'm as close as we're getting," he noted, swinging the cloak around him as he ran off again. He took a back way out of the castle to avoid being stopped, coming out on the other side of the greenhouses. He could see Ron's wand light and he followed it, heading after them. "Ron!" he shouted, making him and Hermione stop. "We'll need something pure or something blessed. Which means one of us will have to help Philip up." Hermione nodded that she'd do it. "Great," he said with a grin. "Her cave's off to the left I think."
"It's farther than you think," Hagrid said as he stomped closer. "What are you doing?"
"Saving Philip and Xander," Ron said bluntly. Hagrid looked alarmed but he followed the path his wand's telltale was giving off. It was a neat location charm he had found in Xander's library. It slowly gave out, leaving them in the middle of the forest. "Anyone got a clue?"
"Yes, I do," Hermione said firmly, taking the lead. She pulled out her wand and cast a complicated charm, showing them a myriad of pathways. "Those are the paths of each magical creature who has gone this way. Centaurs should all be the same color, as should all spiders." She looked back at their tracks. "We're glowing purple."
"Xander glows green," Harry told her. "Brilliant green. The Hellmouth tainted him a bit," he explained.
"There's no green here," Ron pointed out.
"No, but we were following the spirit's trail, we could be where part of her cave complex is," Hermione put in. "She could be underneath us."
"Or we could be in bigger trouble," Harry pointed out, grabbing his forehead. "Like someone's running interference for her." He took a few deep breaths. "Fine, we'll do this the hard way." He looked at his wand. "Powerus expellaramus!" The lights and Ron's wand light went out.
"Hey!" Ron complained.
"Cast it now, Hermione. Both of them," Harry ground out. The headache was getting worse by the moment. "Hurry."
She cast them both and the telltale latched onto Philip's image zoomed off in the opposite direction, taking them to a spot that looked like someone had been fighting. "There's a trail," she said, pointing.
"It's a drag trail," Ron pointed out. "Harry, you still okay?"
"I'm better actually," he said, looking confused. "I'm guessing we were near a powerful spot before. Let's go. We'll have to break in probably." They hurried down the trail, finding Professor Methos pounding on the rock in frustration. "There's a shield," he announced.
"I know that," Methos said angrily, "I can't find a way to break it."
"It looks like Xander bent the flow," Ron pointed out as he examined the powers. "Can we do what we did to the demon?"
"It's a start," Harry offered. Together they worked on rebending the power flows, and suddenly a hole popped into being. "There," Harry panted. "Hold it or break it, Professor?"
"Break it," Methos said.
Hermione was faster. "Petrificus entrian!" she shouted, pointing her wand at it. It froze and stayed open. "It's a one way," she noted. "I can't see them."
"That's great," Ron said dryly. "I guess we kill her to get free." He looked at Harry, then at the Professor. "Inside?"
"Inside," Methos agreed, leading the way.
Harry was amazed, the teacher was actually *leading the way*! That was something that hadn't happened in all their fights to date! He was so proud, they actually had a teacher that lead the way. He grinned at Hermione. "It's nice to see a back in front of me." He dove into the hole and found himself in a cavern. "They're not here," he called.
"It's a maze," Ron said, looking around. He pointed. "There's an entry spot." They headed for it and he broke this one. This time the hole closed behind them and Hermione was nearly caught.
"Ron, give me longer," she snapped. She looked around. There were a lot of entries in this spot. "Which way?"
"Can we do the telltale?" Harry asked.
"Any magic will alert her where we are," Methos pointed out.
"Yay," Ron said. "We'll have to face her sometime, better now to spare Xander for a bit." He cast the telltale before Methos could swat him, still on Philip, and they followed it around and through the maze, coming out in a room with the sound of fighting next door. "Okay, now what? I can't feel a connection."
"We make one," Harry said firmly. "Hermione, got a blasting spell?"
"Professor?" Ron asked.
Methos considered it. "It could collapse the wall onto them."
"Philip's against the back wall," Hermione told him, pointing the way. "I can hear him."
"Fuck this," Ron said, pulling up his wand. "Harry, you and I shared a lot of stuff, did you get anything?"
Harry was browsing his table of contents. "Yeah, actually I got a destruction spell," he said suddenly. He walked up to the wall and drew an outline with his wand. "Within these bounds, no more stone or magic shall appear," he hissed in Parseltongue. He held a hand out and Ron put his bootknife into it. "With this the destruction begins and ends." He traced his bleeding fingers around the outline, then made a big 'x' in the center. Then he stepped back. "Praemium Totalis!" The stones exploded into the other room, leaving a gaping hole in the shape of the frame Harry had built.
"Where?" Hermione started to ask.
"I think it was Greg," Harry said with a shrug. "He always seemed so nice, but I got a lot of stuff off him." He led the way into the other room, noticing the spirit was staring at them in shock. "You stole my grandfather, I want him back!" he demanded.
"The priest has children?" she sneered.
"No, the other one is," he sneered back, doing it much better. He mirrored Draco's usual sneer at him. She slowly floated away from them. "Hermione, Philip. Ron, Xander. Professor, do you want guarding or front?"
"I'll take front for now," Methos said quietly. "Good job, Harry." He clapped him on the back. "Stand in front of Xander so he can't get around you." Harry walked that way, keeping an eye on her. Methos crossed his arms. "How dare you!" he said coldly. "You have no hold on any of them."
"She's got some hold on Philip," Xander said weakly. "Hi, guys," he said with a sappy smile. "Don't tell Buffy. She always chews me a new one whenever I have to be rescued."
"I won't," Ron promised. "Or Draco." Xander shuddered. "You rest, Xander. We'll spare you for a bit."
"Hermione, how is he?" Methos asked.
"Something's blocking me," she said, starting to sound frustrated. She shrieked and looked at the spirit. "How dare you!" she shouted, stomping toward it. "It is reprehensible that a female would do that to a male after we've suffered so much as a race! How dare you do to them what the oppressors have done to us! You are nothing more than one of them with a cunt! I will not put up with this! You are betraying all womankind!" she shouted, waving her hands around. "You are not worthy of being a female in any shape!"
"Now there's an idea," Xander pointed out. "Prof?"
"Doable," he agreed dryly. "She does have a temper, doesn't she?"
"Yes, and it's very bad two days a month," Ron quipped. Hermione heard him because she shot a hex at him. "Sorry," he called. "You go for it, Hermione! You kick ass!"
"I'll deal with you later, Weasley," she announced. She glared at the spirit again. "No woman would ever do something like that!"
"The world is not how it seems," the spirit sneered. "Many women take what they need without regard for their victims."
"No *real* woman," Hermione spat. "Real women have no need of victims." She backed up. "You have defiled generations of women in the school and I will not allow another year to pass. You do not belong here!"
"Send her to Voldie," Harry put in. "It'd serve him right and she's probably win."
"Don't be that cruel," Ron snorted. "Voldemort might attack if he heard you say such things. He might even cry because you're doing him proud by being so mean."
"He can take a flying fuck on the Sears Tower," Harry retorted.
"I'd pay to see that," Ron agreed with a grin. The spirit and Hermione both shrieked at them to shut up, they were fighting.
Methos stepped back to help Philip, getting him conscious if not free of her influence. "Can you do a banishment?" he asked quietly. "Granger is becoming her."
"Granger is a scary bitch," Xander agreed, sounding loopy. "I had no idea she was worse than the time Willow, Buffy, and Anya were on the rag together." The other males glared at him. "She is," he pointed out. "I expect tears soon."
"Yeah, yours," Harry said, pushing him against the wall. "Stay there and be quiet, Xander."
Ron put Xander into a full-body bind then turned to watch his girl go at it. Now if only there was jello....
Methos, as if he could read Ron's thoughts, suddenly reached over and slapped him across the back of the head. "Don't even consider it."
"Sorry. All I wanted was jello," Ron said miserably. Harry groaned and shook his head. "It's not like I have sex on demand," he pointed out miserably. "I'm dating Hermione and she's still looking at me like I'm a creature."
Methos looked at Philip. "Please, finish her off so we can get them back to the hospital wing. They're obviously demented."
Philip smiled. "It's the dreaming. They got too much from Tim and Tip Top." He leaned on Methos as they stepped closer, raising his wand. "I banish thee," he started, but she put up a hand and he gasped.
"Fuck me," Harry said suddenly. He looked at the witch, then at the spirit, then at Philip. "Fine, we'll do this the hard way," he decided, taking Ron's hand. Together they found her power line and started working to sever it, making the spirit go indistinct and fully fleshed, back and forth as they fought.
"Methos, sword," Philip moaned. "Bless it and use it."
Methos looked at Xander, grabbing the katana off his back. He let Philip pour his small bottle of holy water over it, then went to face off with the creature. He stuck once she became solid, making her scream and try to hit him, but he ducked out of the way and around the still-raging Hermione. Hopefully this would wear out all the 'female rage' in the girl. He struck again, and again, and again, until she slowly started to phase out. "The entry!" he called.
Ron turned and looked at the wall behind them then looked at Harry. "Can you blast it?"
"It's not solid," Harry told him. "It feels like it echos." He pointed at the wall behind Xander. "Try there." Ron nodded, starting on that while Harry sucked more energy from her. Harry got a bright idea and fed it toward Methos' sword, watching as it glowed. He saw the startled looks and shrugged. "Better it than her," he called, going back to funneling it.
Methos bared his teeth in a sneer and suddenly struck, taking off her head. It totally faded out and suddenly the way was open, making Xander fall out of it. He backed away, carefully wiping off his face. He was sweating horribly. Hermione came over to help him out the door while Ron got Xander and Harry got Philip. The three younger ones were on guard as they headed back to the school, only going in the wrong direction for a few minutes before Ron got smart and cast the telltale on McGonagall. They made it out of the woods and saw the door open to the castle, then slam shut.
"Fuck," Harry muttered.
"Harry!" Hermione said sharply. "That language is not appropriate."
"Hermione, you're not my mum," Harry pointed out as he walked that way. Philip leaned against the door as he broke the locking charm, letting them all in. "Hello," he called.
"Harry," Flitwick called in distress. "What did you do to the door!"
"Someone locked us out," he said in disgust. "Stretchers, maybe?" he suggested, catching Philip before he fell.
Professor Flitwick tutted as he summoned floating stretchers and lifted the injured ones up to the infirmary. "We will be discussing your disregard for the lock charms tomorrow, young man."
"I already have detention with Filch," Harry pointed out. "He's doing opposite days with me and Ron."
"Tough," Flitwick said firmly. "I do not appreciate Mr. Dumass' casual disregard for the lock charms in this school, nor do I appreciate yours. You will not ever break another one within this school again. You could have knocked."
"I keep telling him he's using an axe where a chisel is better," Hermione said firmly. "Harry, you're using too much power."
"Hermione, shut up," Ron begged. She gasped. "You're nagging." He looked at her and decided to be brutal about it, hoping to break up her problems quicker. "No one likes a nag, Hermione, and we've found other girls who want to help who don't nag us about who we are and what we do. You're not a teacher or our mother, it's not for you to correct us. Flitwick can bitch us out all he wants, but I won't have it from you." Harry gave a few, short claps. "Thanks, mate." He looked at her again, giving her a sad grin. "I don't know what's come over you recently, but I don't need civilizing. I get enough of that at home. If you don't want to help, don't." She stomped off. "We'll be here whenever you're ready to talk," he called after her. He turned and found Madam Pomfrey and Professor Flitwick both looking at him in shock. He shrugged. "Girls always want to talk about things." He went to look at Xander, grinning at him. "You're in deep when Draco finds out you're up here."
"Not as deep as you are when your mother finds out what you said to her," Xander returned with a grin. A metallic 'beep' went off and he looked around. "What is that? It sounded like my phone's voicemail beep."
"It was a message," Madam Pomfrey relented. "The Headmaster sent it for you." She grimaced. "He wanted you to know that Sunnydale is nearly in shambles at the moment and the not-you is bringing something to you for safe-keeping."
"Thanks," Xander said, relaxing again. "Something or someone?"
"I don't know. The message said something." She smoothed the sheets. "Should I call your consort?"
"He'll be pissed," Ron pointed out.
"He'll be more so if he isn't told immediately. The fit will look like his ones in his first year," Flitwick retorted. "I'll have him sent up." He looked at Ron, then at Harry. "If you had knocked, we would have let you in."
"The door slammed as we came out of the forest," Harry told him. "I didn't know what was going on."
"Then we'll be doing far-seeing charms with your year soon," Flitwick said firmly. "I will have you better-trained than that soon enough, Mr. Potter. I have enough work dealing with your boss's problems with locks."
"Don't lock my swords," Xander begged weakly.
"That was the house elves and they did it at the Headmaster's insistence," Flitwick said, giving him a gentle smile. "If you promise to quit breaking the house doors, I'll make sure they're unstuck and able to be used at a moment's notice, plus I'll let you teach the rest of the class the far-seeing charms."
"I suck at them," Xander admitted. "They're the only charms I never mastered." Harry gave him an amused look. "It's a handy thing to have, but not necessary." He gave a weak shrug. "Learn those if you can. They're really hard."
"It's like Divination. If you have a talent for it, it is well worth the effort and easy after the first time. If you don't, you may not even understand the theory," Flitwick told him. "Don't worry, I will aid and abet their skills." He walked out, going down to McGonagall's classroom. "Mr. Malfoy, you are needed in the infirmary," he announced as soon as he saw the boy. "Your consort is tired, but not injured. You are also needed to see if you can help break the influences on Philip Callahan." McGonagall looked at him. "It is a skill of theirs to see power flows and energy pattens. It would help immensely."
"He can go once he's done in here," McGonagall said firmly.
"Minerva, the boys helped Professor Methos destroy an earth elemental who was holding Philip hostage and slowly eating him. We need to remove it before her death can harm him."
"Fine. He can have an extra hour tomorrow," she told him.
Draco nodded. "Yes, Professor. Thank you, Professor Flitwick. Is he really fine?" Draco asked as he put things back.
"Simply tired. He fought for a long time before they got there. Then the boys and the DADA teacher apparently saved them both."
"I'll have to thank them later," Draco decided as he walked out, heading up to the infirmary at a sedate pace. It would not do to be seen running. His mother had reminded him of how unseemly some of his behavior had become when she had chewed him a new one over his sudden leave-taking to help in New York. He walked in and gasped when he saw Philip. "He's totally contaminated," he announced, walking over to take off the man's collar, something that the spirit had laid her powers thickly over. "Get him stripped, that should help some. I'll call Mr. Boyle."
"No," Philip said.
"Shut up," Draco ordered. "You'll need someone here that you trust. Spell cleaning is often hard on a body." He went to do it anyway, getting a very sleepy Nick up. "Philip was contaminated by some sort of spirit. She laid her power all over him," he said quietly. "He needs you."
Nick nodded. "As soon as I can, Draco. How bad?"
Draco picked up the collar and tossed it through the fireplace to him. When it got to the other side, Nick stared at it in shock. "He was wearing it. He's tainted and it's going to take a lot of power to help him. I might even have to call Ethan because Xander's tired."
"I'm not sure that's possible," Nick said quietly, glancing behind the boy. "Sunnydale had a major quake earlier. It destroyed part of the town. I know someone in his group went to LA and they're on their way, but I don't know who it was. Our last intelligence had Ethan there."
Draco nodded. "Then we'll deal. Thank you. Was it destroyed?"
"Just the downtown section," Nick said quietly. "Most of the residential sections were all right. It was centered around the former high school."
"That's where the hellmouth is," Ron said as he walked over. "What happened?"
"It was reported as an earthquake. No one's sure. Derek went with Alex to check it out."
"Is there another priest who can help Philip?" Ron asked. "Someone who can touch the unholy stuff? Ethan said earlier that it would take something holy or blessed to fight her best."
"I don't know," Nick admitted. "Let me call the London house. We can transfer him there if necessary. Ron, I don't know what happened in Sunnydale."
"We were talking with Ethan before we left," Ron told him.
"Yeah, but the quake happened in the last hour."
Ron looked at the clock on the wall, then back at Nick. "We've been gone over two hours." He rolled his head around to loosen up his neck muscles. "Okay, we'll deal. Do we need to go there?" Nick shook his head. "Thanks. I don't think we could handle it right now. Yell our way soon."
"I'll be there within two hours, boys. Hold it steady until then." Nick's head disappeared.
Draco stood up. "I'm not telling Xander until we know what happened," he said quietly. "Not a word, Weasley."
"I wouldn't. He'd want to climb out of the bed and go there to fight some more," Ron agreed. They went back to their respective tasks, working on getting everyone healthy.
Nick opened the connection with the London House. "Is Sloan up?" he asked. The person answering nodded and ran to get him. William Sloan, head of the Legacy, appeared a few minutes later. "Hey, we've got a few problems at the school."
"Another battle?" William asked.
"No, worse. Philip was attacked by some sort of spirit and totally infected by it. I've got his collar here and it's giving me the willies," he said, pointing at the case. "Dumass' consort wanted me there, but Derek's in Sunnydale at the moment checking on what happened there. That leaves Rachel here and Philip might need someone holier than him to help him."
"There are a few," Sloan noted, sitting down. "Is he conscious?"
"I didn't ask. I assume that they're keeping him sedated somehow. It's got to be eating him up."
Sloan nodded. "That's fine, Nick. Call Derek, tell him what's going on. Then go to the school and bring Philip to me. We'll do what we can. Hopefully we can route the group traveling from Sunnydale at the same time." Nick smiled at that. "We don't know why, but word got back to us that we needed to make sure they made it to Mr. Harris' side."
"Mr. Harris and Mr. Dumass are the same person," Nick told him. Sloan looked like he suddenly got it. Nick nodded. "He's probably in the infirmary as well."
"That's fine, see if you can bring him to us. We'll try to route that group here for a few days rest. I'll see you in a few days." He signed off and the Legacy 'L' appeared on the screen, rotating slowly.
Nick gave himself a moment to relax, then called Derek. "Hey, it's me. No, we've got a small problem. Philip was fighting some sort of spirit and got infected. No, I got a call from the school. He was attacked there. Draco sent me his collar and it's giving me the willies it's so tainted, Derek. I put it in the case so it could be declared an unholy relic now." He grinned. "Yeah, I'll be careful. I'll call Rachel and have her come out. You be careful. Can I pass on a message since I'm heading to the school to bring Philip to the London House?" He laughed. "No, Sloan said he could find someone to help untaint him, someone holier." He grinned. "Thanks, bossman. Yeah, you be careful too. There's no telling what's going on." He hung up and looked up at the 'L' before dialing the next number. "Rach? It's Nick. I've got to leave and I'm the only one here. We need you to come out and mind the shop while we're gone. Derek's in Sunnydale. Because it's a mystical convergence of chaos energy. He wanted to know what had happened so he and Alex are there and I'm heading back to England to help Philip. Thanks. Yeah, an hour'd be great. Thanks." He hung up and went upstairs to pack, including his usual weapons.
Two days later, two separate groups met in the entryway to an older mansion just outside London. Xander hugged Dawn as hard as he could. "I'm sorry," he whispered. She teared up and cried on him.
"I tried," the not-Xander told him.
Xander gave him a gentle smile. "I know you did, don't worry about it, kid. You did as well as any of us could have." He patted him on the arm. "Relax. It's a long, hard ride from here to the house. Or you can give up now and go back to your normal life?"
The boy took off the illusion choker and handed it to him. "As much as I'd like to, there's nothing there to go back to. The house is gone, sir." Xander nodded. "I'll leave Dawn in your care."
"No," she said, turning to look at him. "I'm not being abandoned again."
"And you're not," Xander assured her. "You'll be staying with me, Dawnie." She glared at him. "Buffy and you both knew that I had things I *had* to do before I could come back full-time, that's why I sent Brad. Now, you're my little sister and we'll work on getting you set up over here within my family. They'll like you if only because you're still young enough to fight back." He gave her a small smile. "Don't worry, you're not being put onto the street and I *refuse*to leave you in danger." She slumped and nodded. "Besides, how else are you going to get owls from Brad, Ron, and Harry regularly?" She gave him a look and he nodded. "Really. You'll join the team."
"Yes, Xander." She gave Brad a hug, then him one. "I'll miss you, Brad."
"Don't worry, pet, I'm still around. When you're older, I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more of me," he said with a wink. He looked at Xander. "If that's okay."
"I leave that to her unless it's some absolute shitbag," Xander said with a shrug. "Have you got an account?" Brad nodded and handed over a sealed envelope. "Then go have a rest before anyone else can pounce you. I'm sure your parents want to know you're all right." The boy grinned and disapparated from the spot. Xander gave Dawn a squeeze. "Come on, let's go help Draco, Wes, and Ethan. They're still trying to help Philip." He led her up the stairs, letting the others chat among themselves.
Draco looked over at her and smiled. "Good morning, sister-in-law. Did you get any sleep yet?"
"Not yet," she admitted.
"Then let someone knock you out and hog a couch," Xander told him.
"I will," Nick offered, bringing her off to where he had been watching and putting her down onto the couch, then knocking her into a deep sleep. "What happened?"
"Someone came for Dawn and the battle destroyed most of the town," Xander told him. William Sloan looked at him. "There are things you don't know and don't need to know," he pointed out. "Nick, we've got to get Dawn tested, can you remind me?" Nick nodded quickly. "Thanks. My mental 'to-do' list is not what it used to be." He went to stand beside his consort and help him. The very least he could do would be to feed him power.
Dawn looked up at the house in awe. "This is even bigger than your other house," she said quietly. She looked at Xander. "Do I get my own room?"
"Honey, you get your own suite," he assured her with a pat on the back. "Come on, let's see if any more of the mysteriously appearing family have shown up." Wes coughed and looked at him. "No?"
"No, they're in another house making plans to help you. Only your father should be here. They've decided it would hurt you more if they're around," he said gently.
Dawn walked in the front door and looked at the things on the stairs. "What are you?" she asked with a touch of disgust.
Xander walked in and looked at her. "That's a really dirty house elf," Xander told her. "They're the servants."
"Hopefully it bathes?"
"It does," Wesley said with a smile. "Xander's father set them to cleaning the floos." He tugged on her arm. "Is she in your younger sister's room?"
"Alex?" an older man asked as he came out of the library. He smiled at them. "Hello. You must be Dawn." He walked up and hugged her. "Welcome to the family, young lady. I know you'll blow us away with your nature." He led her up the stairs, Wesley following as they chatted about something from a book.
Xander frowned at the pair. "Don't I get one?" he called.
"In a minute, son, let me settle her. We've got all night."
Xander pouted and scowled, going to his rooms to get changed. He found Draco waiting on him and was pounced, much improving his mood by the time he was released.