The New Girl.
Dawn looked at the older woman staring down at her, giving her a patient look. "You can't tell?"
"No, I cannot, not yet," she sighed. Professor McGonagall turned to look at Ron, who was escorting Dawn around with the Headmaster's permission since Xander was off doing something in Diagon for the girl. "Has she shown any magical abilities that you can *document*?"
"I flamed a vamp," Dawn offered. Xander had told her she could tell this woman everything but she was feeling something off and hadn't decided to trust her yet. She was going to be paranoid for a bit longer, probably for a long time after the last few weeks she had lived through. She looked at Ron. "Plus, I helped you with that book."
"That's true, she can use the magical books," Ron agreed. "They flip and speed past, all the links work for her, Professor." He shifted, crossing his feet in the opposite direction where he was leaning against the wall. "I know she's got power, but I'm not sure about anything else."
Draco strolled in like he owned the place and Dawn smiled at him. He had adopted her fully from the moment they had gotten together. She was officially his little sister now. "Tell her I have magic."
"I've got one better." Draco looked at the professor. "If you could show her your area?" he suggested. "She reads magic like I do."
McGonagall arched an eyebrow up but caught the hint. She rolled her eyes and shrunk down, becoming her cat form.
"That's what it was!" Dawn said excitedly. Now everything made sense! "Wow!" She picked up the cat to look at. "That is so cool. I'm the Key." She put the cat back down at it's meow, watching as it turned back, but still grinning. "Xander said I could tell you and his cousin, who'd know what to do about me."
"With you?" Ron asked.
"No, about me," Dawn corrected, giving him a wicked grin. "Something about driving him insane...?" Ron and Draco both laughed at that. She turned back to McGonagall. "I used to be a magical being."
"I see." She tested the girl again, now that she had relented, and found all sorts of power, but it was different. It was almost how she felt Xander anymore. "Did you mark Mr. Dumass in some way?" she suggested finally.
Dawn shrugged. "He was around. I had a major crush on him a while back. I don't know if the monks planned it that way to give me more protection after Buffy died or not, but I thought he was all that and then some way back when."
"I see." McGonagall shrugged. "Mr. Dumass?" Draco coughed and shrugged. "You don't know?"
"Would *anyone* know?" Dawn asked.
"Severus," Draco said with a shrug. "My cousin Emilia."
"Ollivander," Ron put in.
"I think we should see Severus first and then go see Ollivander," Draco decided. "Emilia will be up in a few days anyway, no need to bother her more." He escorted her out, holding onto her arm like a proper gentleman would. "How did you like the room?"
"Everything but the paintings were very nice. They were kinda chatty while I was trying to sleep," Dawn said with a shrug. "That and they glow."
"They do," Ron agreed, catching up to them. "They glow with the magic that went into creating them. That bit of personality that's in there sticks out when you view it magically."
"Hmm," was Draco's answer. He tapped politely on the dungeon's door, smiling brightly at the Potion's master. "I know you have class, but can you spare us a moment between to talk to Dawn? Xander wanted you to know some things about her." Dawn waved. "Plus, we need your evaluation of her abilities. She's awash with power but we're not sure if she's a wand user or the other sort."
Snape looked at the young girl, then *looked* at the young girl. He frowned. "Take her down to Xander's meeting area. I've got the period after next free." He closed his door, going to brood about this situation while he glared at the students messing up. The next class wasn't any better and as soon as they left, he walked down there. He found Dumbledore taking tea with the young lady and Draco, Weasley had evidently been forced back to class. "If I may have a private word with the young woman?" he suggested. Draco looked at him and he gave him a slight nod. Draco stood up and walked the Headmaster out with a forceful hand on his arm. "Young lady, what are you?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"I am Dawn, Xander and Draco's newly adopted little sister." She glanced around. "Will they gossip?"
"Probably," he said dryly, stepping closer. "You are a flood of power and I do not understand why Xander asked me to help you."
Dawn picked up one of those cute quills and wrote out a short note, handing it to him. "I was told to tell you so you could figure out what to do about me."
Snape read the note, his lips pressing together. "That should be a ball of...." He looked her over again and groaned, shaking his head. "Why?"
"The same person who destroyed my town was trying to get to me. The same one that my sister sacrificed herself to save me from," Dawn said calmly. "I can't be used for another millennia, but Xander wasn't sure if I could go here or not."
"If you *should* go here or not," Snape corrected arrogantly. He sat down and examined her. "What did Professor McGonagall say?"
"Nothing to me personally. She spent a lot of time watching me, and I knew something was off until she turned into a cat, then I knew I could trust her. I figure Xander knows who I can trust around here."
"He should. He hangs about enough," he snorted. He got comfortable. "Do you want to learn magic?"
"I scare myself each time I use my magic in an unplanned way. I once flamed a vamp who was bothering me without consciously wanting to. I thought I just wanted to get away from him."
"I see. And do you feel you have the control necessary?"
Dawn shrugged. "I don't know. Do I?"
"That is something only you can answer," he pointed out. He glanced around the room. "What about the external magics? Things like your friend Rosenburg used to do?"
"I've done some," she admitted quietly. "They were successful, but something felt off. Willow taught me and she wasn't exactly a follow the ritual exactly person. Tara did it a bit more ritually and I liked it," Dawn admitted. "It felt more like there was a framework and an authority behind it to me if that makes sense." He nodded. "All I know is that Xander's getting me some clothes at the moment, and some books, but he wanted an unbiased opinion on my chances of attending here versus what he was thinking about and having some nice wiccans teach me how to use my innate gifts since I'm still around."
Snape nodded again. "That is understandable and perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. He has a lot of uncontrolled magic around him these days with his consort." He held in a sneer at that situation. They were so cute it was nauseating.
"Hey, I like my Draco buddy," she complained. "He was my sister's shopping buddy and we get on great too. He adopted me immediately once he found out what was going on, even more forcefully than Xander did. He didn't have to you know. Xander kinda did but Draco did it because he wanted to." She sniffled, refusing to cry in front of this man.
He handed her a napkin. "Here." He relaxed himself. "Headmaster?" Dumbledore and Draco came back in. "If you think it suits her, I believe we can teach her control. She has told me she's used magic unconsciously and consciously in the past. Since it seems she has a preference for the ritual, the wand use should suit her."
"Can I combine them?" Dawn asked. "Just out of curiosity."
"You can," Dumbledore admitted. "That would take many years of study, Dawn." He looked at her and finally nodded. "Fine. I will admit her." He looked at Severus. "Even if she is not sorted into your house, will you help the girl? Xander would feel more comfortable if you did it instead of it being me I think."
"I will," Draco said firmly. "She is my family and my concern. If something's needed, she can come to me and I'll find her the help."
"That's fine, Draco." He smiled at him. "She's what, fourteen?" Dawn nodded. "Then she's only three years behind. Can you help her catch up?"
"Definitely," Draco agreed. "Even if I have to tie the mudblood Granger up and have her help." Snape coughed to keep from laughing. "We should take her shopping today, yes?"
"Bring her back in time for dinner," Dumbledore ordered. He saw Draco's stance and sighed. "Fine, you may go with her. Take your cohorts with you so they quit acting up in Charms." Draco nodded and grabbed a dagger off the wall, handing it to her. "Is that necessary?"
"Hell, yeah," Dawn said firmly. "Buffy taught me to never go anywhere without a weapon."
"The school is safe," Dumbledore assured her.
She snorted. "So you haven't had bad guys breaking in here in the past and you totally trust everyone in that alley place?"
Dumbledore walked out, shaking his head. It didn't pay to argue with the paranoid. It would be like arguing with Moody.
Snape tipped his chin up. "I believe Potter and Weasley have Magical Creatures now and Charms next." Draco nodded, walking Dawn out. Once the door shut, he sat down and had a good, long laugh. That girl was going to break Dumbledore's complacency yet.
Dawn looked around in awe as Ron led the way into Diagon Alley. "Wow." She twirled in place, looking at all the nearby shops. "Do we have to visit all of them?"
Harry, who had been talking with Tom, joined them and forced them out of the entry so others could get to it. "Xander's been back a few times. He's dropped things off from the bookstores, the clothiers, and the herb shop, with Wesley's name on it. Tom said he was heading to get something smelly and nasty."
"Knockturn then," Ron said. "C'mon."
"Is that where we get eyes and things?" Dawn asked as she followed him.
"No, you get those at the component shop," Harry told her, pointing it out. "Draco, can you feel him?"
"A bit," Draco said, heading between two buildings. He tapped on an unmarked door and it opened, showing the twins. "Good evening, is my consort here?"
"He's testing something for us," the twin noted, letting them in. "Xander, she's here."
"Hi, Dawn," he said as he stared in the microscope. "Come look. This one creates cute little germies that do the whole Joker with the makeup thing from the movie." She bounced over to look down in the microscope, whistling. "Pretty, isn't it?" he asked with a grin.
"Yeah, it is," she agreed, grinning at the twin. "That is so cool."
"Movie?" Harry asked.
"One of the Batmans," Dawn said with a handwave. "The tall, scary, gloomy guy decided I should be admitted since I like the ritual stuff better. Dumbledore agreed and did you know McGonagall turned into a tabby?" Xander nodded, taking the list from her hands. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I wanted to see if you could sense it yourself," he said with a bright grin. "Did you?"
"I knew something was off and I wouldn't tell her anything until I figured out what. Gloomy guy was put in charge of me."
"Severus is a stand-up guy," Ron admitted dryly. "If a bit mean, cruel, and obvious about his favoritism for his own house. He's the head of Draco's house."
"Will I go in there?" Dawn asked.
"That all depends on where you get sorted," Xander said, putting an arm around her shoulders. "Okay, so we've got to go to the bank, again, and then we've got to do some shopping. When are you guys due back?"
"Dinner," Harry said helpfully.
Xander looked at the timepiece on the wall; you couldn't really call it a clock, it was oblong, only had one number, and the hands moved in opposite directions, but it was a wizarding standard timepiece. "That means we've got two hours."
"I'll hit the bank, you can pay me back," Draco offered. Ron and Harry stared at him. "What?"
"Nothing," Harry said quickly, shaking his head. "Not a thing." He looked at Xander, then shrugged. "Let's head for Ollivander's first. We can do uniforms after that and books last?"
"She'll need a familiar," Ron pointed out as he took Dawn's arm and walked her out with a wave for his older brothers, Harry on her other side. "But I agree, wand first. At least we won't have to wait anywhere."
Xander kissed Draco gently. "I'll pay you back when we get home. My money pouch seems to have disappeared in the last few hours."
"That's fine. Were your keys in it?" Xander shook his head, handing one over. "Thank you, but why am I getting it?"
"Because I put your name on the vault," Xander said as he walked out. "I can't wait to see how it goes in practice, George. Thanks for the test run. I hope the new shop does very well." He grinned wickedly. "Think we can spike dinner?" George chuckled as Xander led his husband out the door. "Go ahead and get a bunch so I can finish my shopping too. I'll be in Ollivander's with Dawn, I think this is going to be the longest stop yet." Draco hurried off and Xander followed the chatting he could her, stalking after Dawn until he could grab her and make her squeal and bat at him. "What?" he asked. "Just testing your reflexes, Dawn. I do it to the guys too," he said with an unrepentant grin. He let Harry open the door to Ollivanders and followed his little sister inside. "Hi, Mr. Ollivander," he said happily. "This is Dawn, my newly adopted little sister and the last member of my crew. She needs a very special wand."
Ollivander stepped around to start his tapemeasure going. "You definitely are special," he agreed, smiling at her. The tape measure fell to the floor and he looked at it, then at Xander, who shook his head.
"Sorry," Dawn said hesitantly. "It happens around me sometimes."
"That's just fine," he promised, going back to the special vault in the workroom. He came out with six boxes, laid side by side. "Start with whatever one you want," he offered.
She picked up the second box from the left and waved it, getting a pretty cascade of sparks. "Whoa," she said, highly impressed with herself. "Is this it?"
"Try the next one," Ollivander said, suspecting something was up with the way Xander was smirking at him. The next five did the same thing. "Very interesting." He looked at Dawn again. "Let me try one more before you choose," he said, going into the back and bringing back a hollow one. He handed it over handle first and again, the sparks flew, this time in bright red and blue. "Hmm." He looked at Xander. "You bring me some very interesting cases, Mr. Dumass. That one had no core."
"She can use a wand without a core?" Ron asked.
Xander nodded. "I suspected she might be able to since she's got so much energy. Should she though, Mr. Ollivander?"
He shrugged. "I would say that might be for the best. If not, this one," he said, touching the middle of the first six boxes, "should be hers. The colors were in the closest harmony."
"Then we'll take that one and let her pick out a hollow one of whatever wood you like best."
Ollivander led the girl back into his sacred territory, showing her all the wands he had ready to make. "Choose," he suggested, getting out of her way.
Dawn looked at all the woods, noticing the differences in the colors and grains. Some of them she rejected because they didn't feel right. Some she paused over because the blonde wood looked just like Buffy's hair as she remembered it. Then one caught her attention and she pulled it out to look at it. "What's this?"
"That is not a wood," he admitted. "It is a stone. It is obsidian. It was meant to hold energy for future use, not as an actual wand."
"Cool." Dawn put it down but she kept coming back to it. Finally, one wood one joined it because it too called out to her. "Which one should I pick?" she asked, holding them out.
"Take them both if you want," Xander called. "We're going to be late, Dawnie."
"Don't call me that!" she snapped. Then she sniffled. "Sorry, Xander."
He walked back and gave her a hug. "I'm sorry, Dawn, I didn't mean to make it worse." He looked at the wands on the table. Then at the shop owner. "Obsidian?" Ollivander shrugged and nodded. "That's fine, she'll take all three. I'm sure there's something she can do with the obsidian one." He waited while they were boxed up then paid the man before leading Dawn back to the boys' side. "Okay, where to next?"
"Clothes," Draco pointed out. "It'll be the next longest and you can always buy her books for her."
"Clothes, familiar, books, cauldron, herbs," Harry agreed. "In order of longest stop."
Ron shrugged. "Anything's fine with me. I'm going to get a piece of candy to suck on while we wait." The others laughed and followed him out, Dawn pausing to wave back at him before she walked away. Ron led the way into the candy store and picked out a piece for himself and a piece for Dawn, paying for them himself before they moved on.
Madam Malkin looked stunned that they were in there but she quickly got Dawn fitted and measured, grabbing clothes for her under Xander's watchful gaze. She gave Xander a look when Draco helped by picking out underwear for the girl and adding a formal, gauzy robe. "That's too light for the holidays," she told him.
"We might be spending part of it in LA," Draco told her. "Fit her with something impressive for the Yule Ball." The boys groaned and hung their heads, slowly shaking them. "It's going to happen, even if you don't go. I'll escort Dawn so it won't bring up any hopes."
"No fair," Harry pointed out. "I was going to ask her so I didn't have to stumble over talking with a girl."
Ron nudged him. "Hope we don't have another disastrous ball, like in our fourth year when the girls abandoned us for paying attention to Hermione."
"Can you fit them really fast too?" Xander suggested.
"No!" Harry and Ron said, backing away from him.
"I'm not going," Ron said firmly.
"I'd have to deal with girls, and I don't want to," Harry agreed.
Xander snickered. "That's fine, boys." He looked at Dawn as another outfit was put onto her, giving her a smile. "You look just like every other student, dorky and uncomfortable," he said proudly.
She laughed. "This is why the states are fighting so hard against uniforms," Dawn told him. "There's no way to prove who you are without interaction." She looked down at her chest. "I have to wear a tie?"
"Yup," the boys said in unison, all of them grinning at her.
"Fine," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "I totally look like a butch lesbian."
"It's the shoes," Draco offered. Dawn swatted at him, making him laugh. "We'll get you some cool shoes in a moment."
"We've got the normal loafers against the wall," Madam Malkin informed him.
"Loafers?" Dawn asked. "Those are so geeky. What about heels?" she asked hopefully. "I wear the chunky ones."
Xander giggled, putting his head onto his arms on top of a rack of clothes to laugh into them. "We'll deal with that too," he gasped. "God, I could almost hear Cordy saying that."
"Yeah, well, she did teach me how to dress myself to attract good attention," Dawn reminded him. The last outfit was fitted to her and she was allowed back into her usual clothes. She gave Draco begging eyes. "Please?"
He gave her a hug. "Of course." He smiled at Xander. "Card?" Xander looked skeptical as he pulled out his wallet. "What sort do you like, princess?"
"Chunky heels and stylish," she told him. "Boots are fine."
"I think we can do that. I know just the spot."
"No apparating in my shop," Madam Malkin said quickly. Draco pouted. "No." She let Xander pay for the young lady's clothes, stopping him for a moment. "Don't let her show up the other girls, she'll make enemies."
"She'll make them anyway," he pointed out. "She's not exactly like them." She nodded. "She'll be fine. My boys will be watching out for her and she's part of my crew." He kissed her on the cheek. "Can you send the rest of mine to the house?" She nodded patiently. "Thank you, Madam Malkin." He hurried off to catch up to Harry and Ron, looking around for Draco and Dawn. "Where did he take her?"
"That high-end mall he disappears to every now and again," Ron told him, stepping away. "She's armed."
"Good." He nodded at the component places, handing them some cash. "Get her the full starter set for herbs, including the more common wiccan ones. Wes will be teaching her personally. I've already arranged it." Harry nodded, heading that way. "Ron, can you get her the cauldron and her books? All the ones for every class for the first three years?" He nodded and shrugged. "Thanks." He handed him more money. "Meet me in front of the paper shop." They hurried off, going on their own errands while Draco took his little princess shoe shopping.
Dawn walked into dinner that night, smiling brightly at the Headmaster. The boys were sneaking in behind her so she could have her grand entrance. Every woman should have one grand entrance in their life. "See, I made it," she said as she walked up there. She stood in front of him. "Now what?"
"Now, we sort you," the Headmaster said, giving her a smile. "I see someone took you to a muggle shop for shoes."
She looked down at her Gucci heels and then up at him with the brightest grin. "My big brother did. He understands about having good shoes." She clasped her hands behind her back. "How do you sort me?"
Dumbledore stood up. "As many of you are aware, Mr. Dumass has adopted a friend's sister so she could start attending school with you," he announced. "This is Dawn Summers. You will treat her the same as you would every other student."
"They'd better treat her better," Harry said firmly, glaring at the Slytherins. Dawn smiled and waved at him. "Cute shoes."
"Thanks." She beamed at the Headmaster again. "So, what do I have to do? Latin? Small spell? Small conjugation of a demon?"
He laughed. "No, my dear, it's nothing that hard, and please don't do the last within the school's boundaries." She nodded and he pulled forward the Sorting Hat, handing it to her. "Put it on, Dawn."
Dawn put the hat on her head. "Hi."
"Hello. Most unusual." The hat considered her. "Well, you're not exactly in either class, are you?" he asked.
"Nope. I'm kinda odd that way. I'm kinda both but neither."
"Very well. You are also, generally, a happy person. Would you rather be with the brave or with the happier people? Your grief has been noted and I will give you a choice since you are so different. I never expected *you* to attend," the hat said with some amusement.
"Yeah, me neither." She lifted the brim up. "He's asking me a question and I'm not sure how to answer," she said, looking at McGonagall. She liked the older woman a lot. The woman waved her up so Dawn hopped up and whispered in her ear. "Which one should I go with?"
"The first is my own house," McGonagall told her. "You'd be with Harry and Ron."
Dawn looked at them, then up at the hat. "Well?"
The hat chuckled. "It is a hard decision, I know. If I place you, you will find many new friends, and some enemies."
"I've had plenty of those."
"I can see that. Then I will give you an easy school life. I sort you into..." The crowd quit talking. "Hufflepuff." Everyone stared and the hat smiled. "As such, please watch out for her grief," he said as he was handed to the Headmaster. "Quite unusual."
"Yes, purely an original," Dumbledore agreed. He pointed at the table. "Go sit there, Dawn." She shrugged and waved again, heading over to sit down. He smiled at McGonagall, who was frowning. "My dear, the hat said he wanted to give her a break. If she had been put into your house, I'm sure she would have been following Harry immediately."
Minerva McGonagall nodded. "I can see that happening. Perhaps it is best if we do sort her there," she agreed quietly. Draco Malfoy-Dumass' groan carried across the room. "What is wrong?" she snapped.
"I have to associate with a Hufflepuff," he said miserably. "Dawn! Couldn't you have been a Gryffindor?"
"The hat said I should be here," she told him, pouting at him. "Are you going to abandon me?"
"Fuck no," he said harshly. "Let it be known that Dawn is as much my sister as can be. *Anyone* who bothers her bothers me."
"And me," Ron and Harry pipped up.
"She's like an extra cousin or something," Ron added.
Dawn smiled at them. "Thanks, guys."
"You're welcome," Harry said firmly, glaring at Malfoy. "That means you can't upset her by picking on them anymore, Draco."
Draco glared at him. "Do you really want to prove who absorbed more knowledge, Potter?" he ground out.
Methos sent a shot of power at both of them, turning them both into pink bunnies. "I've had enough. There will be no fighting among you three, or four," he said with a nod toward Dawn. Dumbledore looked at him, giving him a pleasant smile that said that was enough so he changed them back. "Am I understood?"
"You are," Harry and Draco mumbled, looking at their plates.
"Thank you. Welcome, Dawn. Xander has told some of us much about you and I look forward to helping you catch up."
She beamed. "Thanks, Professor." She looked at her housemates. "Hi. I'm Dawn, as I guess you guys heard. I just want to be a normal student."
The girls on either side of her hugged her between them. "Welcome to the house," the table called, waving at her.
"We'll chat later," one of the boys assured her
"You can tell us about America."
"And the fashions over there," another added on quickly.
"Oooh, and about any cute boys," one girl said, making cow eyes at Ron.
Dawn giggled. "Sure. I can even help you ambush him. I'm good at small group tactical maneuvers."
The table giggled nearly as one and leaned closer to their friends to make plans and most of them included getting to know Dawn a lot better that night while she set herself up. It was so great, and she was the one who could make a real name for Hufflepuffs so people would quit thinking they were duffers and squibs.
Draco finished quickly and went to owl Xander at the house about Dawn's placement. This was going to be terrible.
Xander opened the message and winced, handing it to Wesley. "A Hufflepuff?"
"Your consort said the hat was trying to be nice by giving her an easy place to be," Wesley soothed. He didn't really understand all the different house things but he knew this one was not what Xander would have wanted for her. "Is that a bad one?"
"No, it's the house of the nice and sweet people who *giggle*," Xander told him, letting the letter drop from his hand. "I guess we'll have to find our way around Hufflepuff again then," he said with a shrug. He looked at Wesley. "Okay, those are Dawn's textbooks for the first three years, everything she has to catch up on. I'll be bringing them to her tomorrow morning so whatever you need to know from the first year books," he said, pointing at that row, "you need to have done by then. Any additional magical practice you want her to have should be noted by then too."
"I believe she should acclimate until after the holidays. It would let her get used to her new wand first and give her a firm foundation for what's to come later. We'll need to push her a bit but not that much yet, Xander."
Xander nodded, that sounded okay. "Good deal. We can do that. What about extra things she'll need? Special herbs or things?"
"Just a few candles for the moment. As soon as she gets those, I want her to start meditating to see if she can touch the key's energy patterns. If she can then it would make everything a great deal easier for her." Xander nodded again, that still sounded smart. "I'll write out my instructions for the next few weeks and have you take it with you. I'll check with Dawn over the holidays when you bring her around to see Cordelia and all of them, and then I'll check on her progress and decide how fast we're moving then."
"You know there are others who know about the key now, right?" Xander asked.
Wesley gave him a gentle pat on the arm. "Of course there are. If Ethan Rayne didn't tell anyone, then I'm sure some of Glory's minions did. For right now though, we need to build slowly or we'll have another case of Willow on our hands."
Xander relaxed. That did make a lot more sense. "The school should be safe enough," he said quietly, thinking about it. "Especially with Ron, Harry, and Draco hanging around her. Plus, the Hufflepuffs go everywhere as a group. There's no such thing as a lone Hufflepuff because they're such pack creatures. Of course, I expect Dawn to rule the pack, but I'm sure she'll find a few very nice people in there with her." He grinned. "Plus, she'll be able to protect them from some of Draco's housemates. I'm sure the first few fights are going to be a disadvantage because of how little she knows but she'll catch up and everything will be fine."
"I'm sure it will as well," Wesley agreed, smiling at him. "Thank you for letting me have the extra few days."
Xander snorted. "If I was working with Dead Boy and Cordy all the time I'd need a long vacation now and then too," he quipped. "Just so I wouldn't stake one and then expose the other to sunlight." He stood up. "Have a good night, Wesley, and I don't care if you read the textbooks." He headed to his office to finish the day's mapping.
Wesley smiled as he picked up the Charms textbook, flipping through it. He knew an alternate way to do a great many of these, but the theory on the ones he didn't may just help him achieve the others.
"It's no use, I'll never get it," Dawn whined, sitting down on her bed. It was really plush and comfy. "There is no way to memorize a castle like this."
Her nearest roommate gave her a pat on the arm. "Don't worry about it, Dawn, we all learned within a few weeks. By the time we come back from the holidays you'll look back and laugh about how you kept getting lost."
"Just don't get lost by the Slytherins," one girl pointed out from across the room. She was admiring Dawn's Prada boots. "They can be really mean when they want to be."
Dawn looked at her and shook her head. "I kick butt. Let them start. I may not be great for a few months but I will kick ass and they will feel it if they pick on us." The girls giggled and looked at more of her outfits. She wasn't used to not having a closet and a dresser of her own, but she guessed it'd be okay. Her roommates said they had a pressing spell. She had a bottomless trunk so she could bring *all* her clothes and everything, plus the boys had said that she could do some wizard shopping in Hogsmeade when they went next time if she wanted to. She pulled off her tie and looked at it. "Why do we have to wear these things?"
"Because it sets us all on the same footing, supposedly," the girl in the next bed on her right offered. "Not that you don't know who's rich and who's not. I mean, Malfoy came in with a velvet school robe for the winter his first year and Ron's always had hand-me-downs from his brothers. But supposedly it's to make us all the same."
Dawn shook her head. "Making us all uncomfy and ugly isn't making us good students and it's not helping those who are getting picked on. If *I* were doing the school robes, I'd pick different materials and different patterns. I mean, hello, the skirts are sickening." The girls laughed. "They look like we're playing hooker for the boys."
"What's a hooker? Is that an american sports term?" one girl asked.
Dawn looked at her. "You guys don't have prostitutes over here? Wow, that is really forward thinking of your society."
"Oh, those." She nodded. "Now I get it." She grinned. "And I think you're right." She held up the boots with the high heels. "Are these actually comfortable?"
"Once they get broken in. My sister hated me wearing such little heels, said they were impractical, but she's dead now." She sniffled. Nearly instantly her whole room was hugging her. "Thanks, guys, now I know why the hat put me over here. It's not just my sunny nature." They pulled back and one girl went to get her a damp cloth to wipe her face off with. "Sorry about that," she said when she was cleaned up.
"Don't worry about it. With the war, we've all had some nights where we've cried," her bedmate on the left pointed out.
"There's a war?" Dawn asked. The girls got really quiet. "Was Xander hiding stuff from me?" They nodded. "What? Tell me now so I know how I can help best." She shifted until she was sitting cross-legged. "Please, guys, my sister died at the hands of a hell-god and she was a Slayer." They looked awed by that. "So I can and will fight if I need to. Now, what's going on?"
Slowly, the girls started to tell her about the current conflict and what they knew about what was going on in the real world.
Dawn found the Slytherin door by following one of them down there, then pounded on it as hard as she could. "Let me the hell in!" she yelled. The door opened and a *big* guy smirked down at her. "Where the fuck is Malfoy? He's trying to keep me out of the fighting and I won't have it." She stomped her foot.
"Oooh, look, an upset Hufflepuff," he sneered.
She shoved him back into the room and walked in after him. "No, the brassed-off sister of a former Slayer and best friend of vampires. Now, where is my big brother?"
"He's in his new rooms," one guy who looked to be Draco's age offered. "Please don't kill us."
"Slayers aren't real," the boy who answered the door sneered.
Dawn thought about pulling her knife but left it alone and went for kicking him in the nuts instead. "Shut up, asshole, before I wipe the floor with you. The hat wanted me to be relaxed and heal my grief, not put up with whiny bastards who want to be bottom boys and can't let go." She looked at the other one. "Where are these mythical rooms?" she asked more politely.
"I'll show you," one of the girls said, waving off the guys as she walked closer. "You're pretty tough for not knowing anything before you got here," she pointed out dryly.
"Who said I didn't?" Dawn crossed her arms. "Did a redheaded witch come here earlier this year to be looked at?" They all nodded slowly. "That's Willow. She was my sister's best friend when she was alive. I started studying under her before my town got ripped apart." They looked stunned. "I was sent over here because I seem to have more of a gift for this sort of magic than that sort. Now, would you please show me where Draco might be?"
"Sure." Pansy walked her out, deftly questioning the girl as they walked. She got a lot of information out of her, but mostly minor details. She tapped on Snape's classroom door. "He's got extra credit he's doing tonight," she assured Dawn. Snape opened the door. "She barged into our house and demanded to see Malfoy, sir. Said something about people keeping a war from her."
"Really?" Snape said, looking her over. "And what can you do?"
Dawn crossed her arms. "I'm the sister of a former Slayer, Professor Snape, what do you think I can do? I may be a *nice* person but that hasn't kept me from kicking people down before and Buffy did start to train me before she died." She lifted her chin. "Is Draco here? I'd like to hear from him why they're keeping it from me."
Draco came to the door. "So you wouldn't have to stretch your grief out longer," he said simply, pulling her closer to hold her. "We don't want you to have to relive your last few months, Dawn. It'd be cruel and Xander wanted you to be happy here. That's why you weren't told."
"As mushy and emotional as this is, I'd better make sure MacMillan is off the floor and able to move," Pansy said, starting to turn away.
"Why was Mr. MacMillan on the floor?" Snape asked archly.
Pansy smirked at him. "Because this new sister of Malfoy's pushed him and then kicked him in the nuts when he wouldn't tell her where he was," she said snidely. "It was a very pretty sight, sir."
"Ms. Summers," Snape said, closing the door. "I do not know how they did it in your town, but you may not attack the other students."
"I didn't *really* hurt him, I only threatened him," Dawn said, trying for helpless and cute. "It's my first day, Professor, and I was really upset. I'll do better in the future."
"I'm sure you will, but you will also be spending the rest of this detention period learning correct behavior while in this school," he said firmly. "Sit." She sat and gave him an attentive look. "Mr. Dumass, did you not have an assignment due a half-hour ago?"
"I gave you that one, sir, I'm working on something else at the moment," Draco reminded him. "You told me to do so." He sat down and went back to his chopping. He hated this potion, it made his hands smell bad. He listened as Snape laid down the law of conduct for students, smirking when he got to the 'thou shall not enter another house, especially without permission' part. If that was really enforced there'd be a lot less shagging going on.
Dawn was woken by the scream of terror from above her, hopping out of bed and grabbing her wand. She looked at the other girls. "What's going on?" she asked when she saw them cowering in their beds.
"It sounds like we were broken into again."
"Snape said that's not supposed to happen," Dawn pointed out.
"It's his goons that do it," one of the girls told her.
"Fine, then I'm gonna finish this. I need my beauty sleep or my hair will never go right tomorrow." She strode out, going down to stop the screaming in the common room. She saw the people harassing the younger kids and took a flying leap at one's back, landing on it to kick him in the kidneys and beat him. He fell and she moved onto the next one. A few of the older kids came down too and they tried to help her but they weren't really fighters. That left two in the room with her, both of them now focusing on her. She let out a battle scream and grabbed the nearest thing to hand, which ended up being a pillow. It didn't do much damage and one of the boys managed to pin her arms while the other held his bleeding nose. She struggled against him and then she felt the power rushing up to help her. "No!" she said, wrenching free, panting to try and control it. "Get out!" she screamed. "Now! Before I hurt you!"
They sneered at her. "Oh, are you gonna cry?" the boy asked.
"No, fucker, I'm about to do to you what I did to a vampire last year. Do you think you're as bad as one of them?" she sneered back. The boys looked confused. "Hello, raised on a hellmouth with magic," she pointed out. "Uncontrolled and uncontrollable magic." They still looked clueless and she had to release it. She let it go, bending it to her will so it'd only knock them out instead of taking their heads off. She fell to her knees, hugging her body. "Help," she croaked. "Oh, goddess, I hate that," she complained when one of the older boys came over and wrapped a blanket around her. She looked at the bodies. "They need the nurse," she said quietly, letting them help her into a seat in the corner where she could spaz in peace. She had nearly flamed them like she had Spike's minion. She shouldn't be around nice people, she'd only get them hurt. She barely saw the nurse, the head of her house, and the Headmaster come running to stop the fighting. She was berating herself for letting go.
Finally, Snape walked in, glaring at his students. "Tie them to their beds, Poppy, I'll deal with them in the morning." He looked at Dawn and had started to walk over to her when Draco and Ron both ran past him, shoving him out of the way. "Weasley! Fifty points for shoving a teacher," he said harshly.
"She snapped," Ron said angrily. "Your idiots came in here and threatened her! Last year she *fried* a vampire for doing that! Earlier this year she did as well! Fucking get off your ass and knock her the hell out!" Snape stood there, too stunned to even say another word to the boy.
Poppy looked stunned. "Weasley," she said firmly. "Do not swear in my presence."
Draco blinked a few times. "Well said," he pointed out, getting down to be in Dawn's line of sight. "Dawn?" he whispered. She sobbed and fell into his arms, letting him hold her. He let Weasley help him into the chair, letting him hold Dawn for a moment, then she came back to his lap while Ron stood guard over her. He looked at Snape. Then he looked at the boys. "How many of the casualties are hers?" he asked calmly.
"Most of them. A few were already down when she did...whatever."
"That is why she is here to be trained," Snape said firmly. "Until now, her training has been spotty and fight oriented. We had been hoping that she would be able to calm down here and learn control," he told Madam Sprout. He pulled her back to the Headmaster's side. "She has to know." Dumbledore looked at him, then nodded. Snape looked at Madam Sprout, glancing over her shoulder at Dawn. "That girl, Willow, trained her so far." Madam Sprout's eyes went wide. "She probably did not use her wand." One of the older boys handed it to him, making him nod at him. "The sister she lost was a Slayer, the one in California."
Madam Sprout gasped. "No wonder!" She walked over and squatted down, stroking Dawn's back. "I'm sorry you had to fight them, my dear. We didn't want you to have to go through any more battles. From now on, we will increase the house's security."
Draco nudged Dawn, making her look at him. "They will never do this again," he swore. "Not even Xander will hold me back this time." She gave them a tentative smile. "That's my sister."
Ron stole her for a hug. "I'm sorry the bastards bothered you," he whispered, patting her gently. "If you want to talk about it, or if you get tired of being pampered and cosseted, Harry and I have agreed to help you with your Defense work."
"I think I should," Dawn agreed, looking at Draco, who nodded. "You'll help too?"
"We all take the same extra lessons," he assured her as he stood up. He heaved Madam Sprout up since she was at an ...indelicate height. "Now, let's put you back into bed," he said gently, taking her hand. Madam Sprout stopped him and took the girl's hand, leading her back up to her room. Draco looked at Snape, then at the older Hufflepuffs. "She wouldn't want any of you to be afraid of her."
"She's a very protective and nurturing spirit," Ron told them.
"You two are really working together?" Madam Pomfrey asked.
"When it comes to Dawn, we are," Ron told her. "Dawn is one of my best friends. She's the only girly girl I can stand to be around." He shrugged. "If the putz is protective of her then we're good on it." He crossed his arms, looking at the older boys. "Don't mention it to her and don't talk about it with others. She did it because it was necessary, not because she thought it was a good idea."
"Like earlier, when she stormed down to Slytherin and kicked MacMillan's arse," Draco agreed in a lighter tone.
"'Bout time," Ron snorted. "I'll tell Hermione that Dawn took her fun."
Madam Sprout came down the stairs. "She's all tucked in and you two can go back to your own rooms," she ordered. Draco raised an eyebrow. "You will not have access to this house, Mr. Malfoy. I do not want you in here. She can come see you in your rooms."
"That's fine," Draco agreed, leading the way out.
"Protect her, huh?" Ron asked, following and going back to report to Harry how Dawn had left them lying limply on the ground.
Madam Sprout looked at the Headmaster. "Is there going to be a problem?"
"No, I believe that she did what she felt was necessary to protect her housemates," Dumbledore told her. "You'll have her tomorrow. We'll be putting her with the second years for now to split the difference."
"I noticed." Madam Sprout watched as the boys were removed from her house, then looked at her own boys. "She really is grieving and it made her feel like her sister was closer again," she told them. "If you make a big deal of this, she'll only cry more." They nodded, knowing how to make sure the girls around them were happy. "Good boys. I'll see you at breakfast." She strode out, going back to her own rooms. There she sat down and shook. It could have been so much worse if that girl hadn't been willing to jump in. This was the second time and nothing had been done yet. Perhaps a little rumor would be enough to discourage the boys from trying it again.
Dawn hid behind her roommates as they walked into the Great Hall for breakfast. She wasn't sure she wanted to face the entire student body but she had made herself come eat because she knew it'd be a long day. She sat down delicately and saw the note appear beside her plate. She picked it up and read it, smiling at the head of her house and nodding. When the morning mail appeared, she frowned because she didn't have any letters from anyone but she supposed she'd be seeing Xander this morning. She pulled over a good breakfast and listened to the gossip going around her, smiling at a few of the older girls when they looked at her.
After breakfast, she walked out with her classmates, running into her own personal knight. "Xander," she said, happier now as she gave him a hug. "Why did you take so long?"
"I had to drop Wes off at the airport," he said, tweaking her nose. "I heard you kicked ass very well last night," he said with a grin. "Was it as fun as dusting vamps?"
"No," she said, starting to frown. "I totally lost it. The power came out again and snapped on me."
"Yeah, but there wasn't a fire this time so you're getting better," he said happily. He gave her another hug. "I bring books, first and second year, and a letter with instructions from Wesley. He wants you to meditate for now." He handed her the charmed bag. "I got this specially for you since you won't have time to run upstairs. It's like your trunk." He kissed her on the cheek. "Good work, Dawn. You're a great Hufflepuff and you protected those other kids from some very bad idiots."
"Speaking of bad idiots....war?" she asked pointedly, letting him walk her outside. She had Herbology today according to the note.
"I wanted to give you time to grieve, Dawn." He put an arm around her shoulders. "Besides, we've pretty well got a kick-ass force to fight if we can pull everything else back together again. We shouldn't need any of you little ones to fight. So you can protect Draco for me, got it?" She nodded, smiling at him. "You're such a good girl, Dawn. You're going to be a killer witch who'll knock the socks off everyone around here with how fast you learn things. Just remember, Severus doesn't like anyone really, especially not in class." She laughed and shrugged. "Good girl. Now you go to class. I'm going to be in the basement today working on the foundations. They're smaller than they should be so I'm finding hidden rooms. You'll find your place and you will be stunning. Besides, you're so pretty you'll have boys begging to take you around to Hogsmeade by the end of the week probably."
"I need a permission slip," she pointed out.
"I've already put it on file with the Headmaster. Now go, before you're late," he said, giving her a gentle swat. She hurried off to the greenhouse with all the students, then to the one with the students she knew. Xander smiled as he headed back inside, running into the Headmaster. "Is she in trouble?"
"Not in the least. Those boys are however." He smiled. "Do not threaten them, Xander."
"I'm sure Draco and Ron have done very well so far." He strolled off, going down to find the hidden rooms that had been frustrating him for a few weeks. There was too much of a discrepancy for it to be anything else.
Xander looked up from his meticulous search of a wall as he heard noise and found his students standing there. "Hey, guys. Still looking for the hidden rooms," he said with a self-depreciating grin. "Sometimes they're really well hidden."
Harry walked over and thumped on the wall, then pulled out his map and tapped it with his wand. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good," he whispered. It lit up and he showed it to Xander, who frowned. "Single entrance, through the girl's bathroom."
"You mean the Chamber's over there?" Ron asked.
"The way down," Harry agreed. "Where the rockfall happened." He shrugged and tapped the map again. "Mischief managed." It went blank and he put it back into the hidden compartment in his bag. "Can we work on the sensing thing today, Xander?"
"Sure," he agreed, leading the boys, and single girl, to the maze he had found earlier in the week. On the other side was a garden grotto underground and beside a running stream. The five students were all wanting to be curse breakers and had shown that they had the skills and right touch to do the job. Now he was giving them a bit of real-world training. "Go for it," he said, waving as they walked down. Even he had taken one or two wrong turns. At least there weren't any monsters in there. Where he was standing was on a slight rise so he could see the majority of the maze. Ron had gotten trapped first. So much for his prize pupils. Harry had pulled him out of there and was leading him around. The single female in the class was going pretty well. She had sensing down really well. She also had better skills that would make her invaluable in the workshops. He'd talked to her about doing that part and she was stubborn so he let it go. As soon as everyone was where he couldn't see them, he headed in himself. A cursebreaker never forgot his route. That's why he made the same two mistakes as last time, picking up Harry and Ron as he went.
Draco was already waiting on him, as was the female. That left the one male. "Goyle?" he called. Draco had asked for the boy to be tested so he had. "Goyle?" he called patiently. He sighed and went into the maze, seeking out the non-native magic. It led him right to the sleeping boy. "Hmm. I hadn't seen the sleepy time plants." He picked the boy up with a grunt and carried him out. "He sniffed some Dreamers." He put the boy onto the grass and left him there. He'd get up soon enough. "Good job," he told them. "Even I got confused by two of the turns." They clapped and produced sweets. Xander let them have sweets after every good job as a method of reinforcement. This time it was cookies from Ron's bag. "How did you get those?" Xander asked patiently.
"Secret tunnels to Hogsmeade," Ron said smugly. Harry nudged him. "Sorry." He shrugged. "It works."
"I'm sure it does. Don't get caught." Xander took a cookie. "The one I used to use fell in." He nibbled for a few minutes. "Hey, Harry? Who made the map?"
"The Marauders. They were a group of students in here from the last generation."
"Hmm. Interesting. Are any children here?" Harry grinned at him. "Ah! No wonder you have the map." He nodded. "Can I look at it later?"
The girl looked at Harry. "Your father was a Marauder?" Harry nodded. "My mother told me that they used to pick on her horribly."
"My father was a bit of a bully sometimes," Harry admitted. "Sirius was too."
"Sirius Black was one of them?" she asked. He nodded. "Wasn't your daddy like you? A white-lighter?"
"So was Sirius," Ron told her. "He didn't betray Harry's parents." Harry nudged him. "It's just between us," he told him. The girl shrugged and so did Draco. "Sirius wasn't the betrayer, he wasn't their secret keeper. Pettigrew, another member of the group, was. Black turned down that honor. He found them."
"Oh." She ate another cookie before saying anything. "But Black killed all those people and Pettigrew."
"No, Pettigrew killed all those people and sacrificed a toe," Harry told her. "He framed Black so he could go free. That's why his nickname's Wormtail."
"Oh." She nodded. "Okay, I guess you'd know the truth." They nodded. "Why couldn't you get him free then?"
"In case you hadn't noticed, the Ministry isn't really about listening to the truth sometimes. Like all humans, they overreact. I remember the trials," Xander told her. He watched as Goyle woke up and joined them at the table. "There were a lot more prisoners than there were trials. They also broke nearly every law under the sun at some of them, including the one that said they don't torture people." He grabbed another cookie. "In fact, at one point in time they rounded up all the pure-bloods to 'question' them. I remember those few days really clearly," he shared. "I was in Germany retrieving a Lost One. They sent a strike team in after me. All because my family hadn't mixed blood for six generations. Without any proof or even a hint that I supported Voldemort." There was some silence. "Like I said, they overreacted before and they could do it again. So be careful and if you have to, you can run and hide."
They nodded and it was Goyle who asked the next question. "How did that cursebreaker get lost, Xander? Didn't they have sensing or anything?"
Xander gave him a sad smile. "There's a difference between lost, with a little 'l', and lost with a big 'L', Greg. Lost with a little 'l' means that they're lost, injured, and need help. That used to be my second speciality. I was called to retrieve others who were missing all the time. Including a few who had been kidnaped to retrieve special things for people." Greg nodded. "Lost with a big 'L' means that they're dead. That something in the cave or wherever they're working killed them. In that case, it was tiny poisoned darts." Greg shuddered. "It happens. Most of the ancients guarded their tombs and favorite places very well. Traps, tricks, mazes, and deadfalls abound. More than once I've had to move a rock pile and found a trap within it." He pulled off his shirt to show the few scars he still had. "These six here," he said, pointing at the small group. "I got these in Egypt. There was a light beam that we couldn't see because there was also a skylight. I tripped it because I wouldn't let Bill go first. Six pinkie-sized arrows shot out and I narrowly avoided being a pincushion for eternity. It's not an easy job but it can be rewarding."
The female coughed. "Were they poisoned?"
"Yup," he agreed. "And wherever I went I had six vials of counter poisons. They worked on nearly everything herbal. Which the ancients excelled at." He put back on his shirt. "When I was deaged, most of my scars disappeared. Fortunately, otherwise Draco would never cuddle me again," he sighed, shaking his head. "The single line from opening my chest would have grossed him out."
"Why was your chest opened?" Ron asked.
"Because they needed to retrieve the thing that got pushed into it and broke. It was field medicine and your brother leaned a lot from the team I was working with. That was during his first week, while I still had him doing maps in the safety of the tent. Have you ever seen bird shot for a rifle?" Ron nodded, he'd seen it in a magazine once. "It was like that, only with magical pebbles. It was not pretty. Or pleasant." He saluted them with the remains of his cookie. "Those are also very rare occurrences. Most of us die of normal things. Alcoholism. Sleeping with the wrong man's wife. The normal accidents of people who live a hard life."
The girl laughed. "At least I won't have to worry about either of those. I don't really drink."
"You're going to be spending a lot of time alone on the job," Xander warned her. "The only place that foreigners are really welcome in some of the places you'll be going are bars. It's also where you'll go to pick up some information when you need it. You might have to bend that one a bit," he warned. She shrugged. "As long as you know that." He gave her a pat to the back of the head. "Okay, enough gloom. Everyone, back through the maze so you can make it to your next classes."
"Fat chance," Draco said, pointing at the maze, which now had no entry point.
"Okay, then we go *over* the maze," Xander told him. "And there's still an entry there." He grinned. "Ron?" Ron frowned and shrugged. "Harry?" Harry shrugged. "Draco?"
Draco stood up and walked over, feeling along the wall. "It's an illusion, I can't tell more than that." His hand disappeared but it was grabbed by something. He squeaked and pulled hard, bringing Snape through. "Sorry, sir." He hurried back to his seat.
"Hi, Professor Snape, did they miss the change bell?"
"Yes," he said as he pulled himself up. He glared at Malfoy. "Do not do that again."
"I'll try not to," Draco agreed. He grinned at Xander. "Now we know there's an exit."
"True." Harry focused on the wall. "Sir, could you please move so I can try and find the doorway for myself?" Snape raised an eyebrow and moved the wrong way. "Excellent," Harry said, grinning at him. "I can tell the difference between the wall and you, and the difference between the illusion of the wall, which mimics it, and you."
Ron looked at well. "That's really a good idea," he said, sensing the power flows. He nodded. "Thank you, sir. That was a great idea and I'm sure I'll use it in the future." He looked at Xander again. "Can't we stay down here?"
"Don't you have a test right after lunch?" Xander reminded him.
"Yeah, so?" Ron asked with a grin.
"You still need to graduate if possible, Ron," Xander said patiently. Ron sighed and stood up, Harry following him back through the hole. "You guys too. Draco, make sure Greg makes it." He got a hurt look and gave him a short, intense kiss. "We'll picnic later," he promised quietly. Draco nodded, taking Goyle and the female Ravenclaw with him. Xander looked at his cousin. "Problems?"
"Summers is picking up on the magic very quickly." He walked over to sit down.
"She should. She is magical in nature," Xander pointed out. "Plus," he said as he leaned closer, after checking on the kids' progress, "her wand doesn't have a core," he said extra quietly. Snape looked stunned. "She has one that does," he said as he sat back. "And an obsidian one, but the one she had on her earlier was the one that didn't."
"Interesting." Snape flicked his wand and produced glasses of water. "How much longer do you think you have?"
"Probably a bit," Xander admitted. "The foundations aren't only off-size, Harry's showed me what's on the side that was frustrating me. That leaves the other side and I'm not sure Dumbledore wants me to figure that out. There's a few skeletons in there. I'm waiting until the kids are in Hogsmeade for that room so only the teachers have access to it."
"Good. I doubt they'd want to see such things."
"Yeah, but it's an ingenious trigger that I've seen numerous times," Xander told him. "I need to show it to them, but not until after I've checked the room. I'm only letting them see things after I'm done with them."
"That makes sense. Who know what Potter and Weasley will find."
"So far, they've found a portal to a special vault in Gringott's. Ron's got a precious metal affinity," Xander said smugly. "Harry's got a dead and dying affinity so I really don't want him near that room until I'm ready for him. I'll test them on the upper levels. The foundations hide a lot of sins."
"I suppose it would be the perfect place to plant the bodies," Snape agreed as he sipped his water. "Would you like to come to dinner tonight? Destina has asked me over and told me to drag you."
Xander grinned. "Tell her I've got a picnic planned with Draco. If she's insistent then she'll have to take both of us."
"That's fine," Snape agreed. He stood up and finished his water, taking both glasses and sending them back to the kitchen. "Will you lead me back?"
"Sure," Xander agreed, taking him by the sleeve to get him into the maze. "That was a great idea Harry had, to measure the wall against an external signature so the minor discrepancies showed up. I haven't used that trick in years." They were quickly out of the maze so he let his cousin go. "I've got a meeting tonight too."
"I remember," Snape said dryly. "What shall it be tonight?"
"Dancing, I think," Xander said fondly. "That way the guys have time to practice before the Ball. A few of them need it." Snape laughed, shaking his head as he walked off. "They do," he called after them. He was smiling as he went back to his work, marking what Harry had told him was on the other side. Then he picked up and moved to his next spot. This time it was easier. There were six doors here, three closets, one bedroom, one sitting area, and one room where there was torture implements on the walls. "Another one?" he said in disgust. "How many torturers did the school employ?"
"I'm taking her," Harry said as he and Ron walked down the hall to their next class, and the test.
"No, I am," Ron said firmly. "I saw her first."
"Yay. She smiles more at me and I need it more. People act weird whenever I ask someone to dance," Harry complained.
"Yay! I don't like most of the girls in the school. They're irritating and whiny about dances and clothes," Ron reminded him.
"Oh, give it up," Dawn said from behind them. "Ron, one of my fellow young ladies wants you to ask her. I'll introduce you later. Harry, you're going to have to get over the press, they don't go away, ever."
"Dawn, will you go to the dance with us?" Ron and Harry asked at the same time.
She blinked. Then she shook her head. "Won't that make it hard to dance, if I went with both of you?" They glared at each other and she swatted them. "Behave." She crossed her arms, scowling at them. "Ron, seriously, one of my girls is giving you major eye action. Can I introduce you?"
"Fine," Ron sighed, slumping a little bit. "But I don't like most girls. They whine and they act up and all that stuff."
"I think she'll be really happy with a kiss. You've really got to start hanging with the nicer girls, we don't do things like that. You've got a whole house full of Cordy's." Ron shuddered and Harry winced. They had met Cordelia, they knew the source of the reference. "See?" She smiled at them. "If you agree to see her, then I'll think about taking whichever of you I can't fix up with someone who won't brag."
"Fine," Harry agreed, nodding. He pulled Dawn close, giving Hermione, who was behind her, a glare. "Thanks, Dawn."
"Hey, Dawn, this is Hermione, we wanted you two to meet anyway," Ron said, pointing behind Dawn.
Dawn turned and grinned at her. "Hi." She waved. "I've got Charms and I'm moving through there at a fantastic rate. Oooh, plus, Hagrid's letting me come down later and look over the first year's animals so I know what they were. That way I can catch up. He said there's even pettable stuff in there." She strolled off, heading to class.
Ron grinned at her. "Ready for the test, Hermione?"
She grimaced at him. "I'm always ready for tests," she pointed out. She walked between them. "Are you two fighting over a girl?"
"No!" Harry said, looking disgusted. "Dawn's like my little sister. I didn't want the press to jump up with 'are they dating' rumors again."
"That would be funny," Ron grinned at him as they walked into Transfiguration.
"What would be so amusing?" Professor McGonagall asked as they sat down.
"Ron and I both asked Dawn to the dance. Him so he doesn't have to deal with a stressed out girl and me so I don't have to deal with the press. It'd be funny if they thought she and I were dating since she's like my little sister."
"It would," she agreed. "Though I don't believe you'd suit each other at all. Ms. Summers seems to like her comforts a bit more than you do, Potter." She headed to the front of the class. "As you know, we have a test today." A not-often heard noise went off. "That is the evacuation alarm," she pointed out. "Outside and stay a group," she ordered. They grabbed their bags and headed outside, gossiping about who blew up what.
Ron looked around. "Dawn's class isn't out," he noted.
Harry grimaced, looking at the mass of students. "Do you think someone tried something with her?"
"No," Ron said, shaking his head. "They wouldn't dare." He waved McGonagall over. "Where would Flitwick's class be? We wanted to check on Dawn and we can't find her."
McGonagall searched the crowd. "I don't see any of the second years," she pointed out. "They should all be here. Even Potions meets out here." She strode over to where Snape was glowering at the students. "Where were the second years?"
"Ours were in Herbology," he pointed out, pointing at them. "The others were in charms. Why?"
"Flitwick's not out here."
He nodded. "Then we should check on him as senior professors." He waved Sprout over. "Flitwick didn't come out."
"I'll stay," she offered. McGonagall nodded as they walked inside. "Students, please back away from the school some more," she called. She shared a look with the other teachers. "Back them toward the greenhouses," she suggested.
Ron and Harry shared a look then sprinted for the school in the moving mass of students. It was only the last few feet where they might be seen and no one was looking their way. They ran up to the Charms classroom and found everyone passed out, including the two new teachers and Dawn. Ron went running for help while Harry dragged McGonagall out of the room by her ankles. "Professor," he said anxiously, patting her on the face. "C'mon, we need some common sense," he pleaded. She was warm, still breathing, so it would be fine. She moaned. "C'mon. You've got to wake up." He started to feel lightheaded himself so he dragged her further down the hall. She started to wake up and he let her go. "C'mon, Professor. Everyone in there is unconscious and we need to know what's going on," he pleaded.
She groaned and sat up with his help, holding her head. "What hit me?"
"I was hoping you knew," he told her. "You and Snape both passed out with the rest of the Charms class."
She shook her head, trying to clear it. "I ... I don't remember," she told him. She looked up as the nurse and the Headmaster came running. "Don't go in there!" she ordered, holding up a shaking hand. "We passed out as soon as we walked in. Severus went down first because he's smaller." She blinked a few times as the nurse checked her over. Then she looked at Potter. "Why are you up here?"
"We came to check on Dawn," he said with a small grin. "I dragged you out and Ron went to get help." He helped her stand, bracing her. "I thought it might have been an attack."
"You're much too focused on that sort of thing," Poppy admonished. "Did you inhale in there?"
"I felt a little lightheaded, that's why I pulled her farther away," Harry admitted. The nurse pushed them both against the wall and gave them another once over. "I'm fine."
"You're stubborn, stupid, and arrogant," the nurse corrected warmly. "You could have died!" She turned and went over to help summon out the students into the fresher air. As soon as they had all the students out, she floated them up in pairs to the infirmary, letting the Headmaster catch them at the halfway point. "You both, upstairs," she ordered. They walked up, Harry supporting his head of house. She walked right behind them, berating and ranting about heros in general and young ones in particular.
Dawn rolled onto her side and was promptly sick. "Eww," she complained between heaves.
"Welcome to the infirmary, we spend a lot of time here," Ron quipped from her other side. Madam Pomfrey glared at him and he smiled and waved. "We do, even when we're being good."
"Don't give her any ideas," Madam Pomfrey ordered, helping Dawn lie back down and putting a cool cloth across her forehead. "It's a reaction to the gas used," she explained. "It'll stop soon," she soothed. "Do not listen to these two." She went to help someone else.
Harry flipped onto his side so he was looking at her. "She ranted at us for nearly an hour, she's really upset with us this time," he shared. "How do you feel?"
"Rotten," Dawn retorted. "That's not normal, right?"
"No, it's not normal. That was someone trying to be the twins. Thankfully, they finished up their remaining time and have left already. Otherwise they'd be going off on the two Ravenclaws."
"As someone should," McGonagall said firmly from behind Ron. She opened the curtain. "Dear, how do you feel?"
"Rotten," Dawn told her. "Can I have some water?"
"You'll only get more sick," Ron explained. "It's happened a few times already. Give it twenty minutes then you can have juice." He patted her knee. "So, what do you remember?"
"Just the Professor making a noise and turning to look behind me. Then there was fog and fumes and then blackness," she told him. "Are they in big trouble?"
"Dumbledore had them removed to his office before they could finish recuperating," Harry told her.
"Their parents are already on the way up and he's considering expelling them if the rumors are right," Ron added. He leaned forward, giving her a part on the stomach. "You just rest and get better. Xander runs a class in courtly graces and we can go hang out down there tonight. He said so." She smiled and nodded. "Good girl." Ron stood up. "Now, I'm due for an asschewing of my own since I wouldn't leave until you were awake." He waved and walked around the curtain, closing it again.
Harry grinned at her. "McGonagall was not impressed by how we came in to help. She's trying to discourage further action on our part."
She giggled. "I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun in detention."
"We've already got detentions," Harry told her. "She just added to them."
"I never pictured you as a trouble maker," she said, giving him a smile. "Now, Ron, I think it's genetic for him, but you?"
"Then you've obviously never heard about our first four years," Harry told her.
"No, Xander refused to tell me and Buffy said it'd give me ideas."
"Hmm. I'll tell you some later," he promised. "Why don't you try to nap? You've got a bit before dinner."
She nodded and closed her eyes, still smiling. This adoptive family stuff was kinda nice in a lot of ways. Buffy would have been throwing fits.
Harry looked over at the nurse. "Will she be able to go down to Xander's room with us tonight?" he asked quietly.
"She should be fine," she said gently, giving the girl a small pat to the foot. "You on the other hand, will be in front of the Headmaster for breaking yet more rules."
"She's like our sister, Madam Pomfrey. Though I think Ron likes her a bit more than that," he admitted with a grimace. "But she's like my sister. I'm not leaving her in here. You'd see the same among the others."
"Still. That was a dangerous thing. What if there had been a fire?"
"Then we would have turned back and gotten more help," he said reasonably. "This wasn't about saving everyone, this was solely about Dawn. We promised to be there for her and we adore her already."
"You'd better explain that to the headmaster then," she said firmly, going to save Ron before McGonagall passed out. She interrupted their surprisingly quiet talk. "The Headmaster wants them if you're done with this one."
"I believe I am, for now," McGonagall said. Ron gave her a hug. "Thank you. Now go. You can always come back."
Ron nodded and went out to help Harry off the bed and up to the office. He knocked politely and then walked inside at the amused-sounding 'come in'.
"You wanted to chew us a new one as well for looking after our little sister?" Harry asked brashly.
Dumbledore looked taken aback by the bluntness. "Do you have feelings for her?"
"Only of the brotherly sort," Harry said, sitting down. "Buffy was a very dear friend and Dawn and I have always gotten along. It was totally my idea, sir. Leave Ron out of it," he said when the Headmaster looked at Ron.
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Harry. You both disobeyed explicit orders in this instance, ones that were set down for your own good."
"And we probably weren't the only ones," Ron said, patting Harry on the shoulder. "If there had been other little brothers and sisters I'm sure others would have went."
"Be that as it may, you created a dangerous situation."
"Please," Harry snorted. "You didn't even realize that Flitwick wasn't outside until we mentioned it to McGonagall and she mentioned it to Snape. You weren't running to help until Ron found you. I got McGonagall out so she could be checked over first so the nurse could find whatever was wrong and take appropriate measures."
"Why are you two defending her so hard?" Dumbledore asked, looking them both over.
Harry looked up at Ron, who shook his head. Harry sighed and looked at Dumbledore. A half-truth. "Ron's got a bit more than brotherly feelings for her, Headmaster. If he has his way, she'll be his. And she's still like my little sister."
"Hmm." He looked the boys over, then sighed. "I cannot fault you for your intentions but you could have caused a situation to get much worse. What would have happened if it had been a lethal gas?"
"Then there would have been hell to pay and we would have realized it long before getting to the door," Ron pointed out. "The paintings would have reacted to that, Hermione's book said so."
"You actually read the book?" Harry asked, looking up at him.
"Well, no, just that part. The defenses part was really interesting," Ron told him. "I wanted to know what we could expect to happen if there was a real attack."
"Hmm. Good. I'll have to steal it from her later and go over that myself. I didn't know it had anything on defense in it," Harry noted, looking back at the stunned stupid headmaster. "What? It is a function and a reality of our lives," he said as he stood up. "The same as we weren't sure it wasn't an attack. You have to admit, anyone that either of us are fond of is a target."
"Mr. Malfoy did not go rushing up there," Dumbledore pointed out.
"Xander probably had him locked tightly while he scanned," Ron said with a shrug. "He's got caution down more solidly than we do, sir. It comes with age and experience. Since he's had to learn caution or die from a trap, and we haven't, we're still at the rushing-in stage."
Harry nodded. "It's always worked in the past for us."
The Headmaster glared. "Do not remind me of that, Harry."
"Yay." Harry crossed his arms, glaring at him. "What's this year's battle?"
"We're not sure yet," the Headmaster admitted more gently. "Whatever it is, you're staying here unless it looks like we'll absolutely need you."
"You mean, unless the Banes tell us we're going," Ron corrected. "We fight with them, Headmaster, and if the teachers want to help, so be it. I almost think they'd rather that the school be protected in case it's a feint." He patted Harry on the back. "We'd better get back before Dawn wakes up alone. We'll be bringing her down to Xander's room tonight and have arranged our detentions to be spent tomorrow night instead." He pulled Harry from the room before the older man could say anything else. "I need to send my brothers a letter."
"We'll floo from upstairs," Harry promised, leading the way back up. He walked into the infirmary first and opened his mouth but Madam Pomfrey already had a headache potion for him. "Bless you and all your future children," he sighed in relief. He went back to his bed and laid down while Ron pushed Draco out of his chair. "How's Xander?"
"Ready to rip the two second years a new orifice," Draco said dryly. He looked at them. "Were you two actually arguing over who got to take her?" Ron nodded. He rolled his eyes. "Why?"
"Because the press hounds whomever I take out," Harry pointed out. "They haven't bothered her yet."
"And I kinda, um, like her," Ron admitted. He shot a glare at Harry. "Thanks a lot."
"You'd rather I told him everything?"
"Well, no," Ron admitted. He grinned. "I'm leaving that to Dawn and Xander."
"Smart of you," Draco admitted. He patted Dawn gently. "She woke up briefly, had some juice and a headache potion, then went back to sleep."
"Thank you, Draco," Harry told him. "Did you want to pull a chair over on this side? I won't mind."
"Possibly," he admitted, going to get one for himself. He loathed the infirmary but he would be there for Dawn, he had promised her.
Dumbledore looked up as Xander walked into his office. "What is going on with your little sister?" he asked plainly.
"Isn't she all right?" he asked back. He sat down. "Draco told me she was fine since I couldn't get up there yet myself."
"She probably is, but I wanted to know why the three boys have taken to guarding her like she's some national treasure."
Xander relaxed, snorting. "Because Draco sees a lot of Dawn in him. Or him in her, whatever; I never get that saying right. Ron likes her. I'm expecting bad poetry and songs any day now from him. Harry was Buffy's best friend outside of the original group and had a good crush going on her. He's taken to Dawn as a little sister because he told Buffy he would and because he started to see her that way." He stood up. "I thought something was really wrong," he sighed, shaking his head. "Don't worry me like that, Albus!"
"It is, Xander. Harry and Ron ran back inside the school after we had it cleared to check on her."
Xander snorted. "I know it's been a long time, Albus, but if the woman you wanted more than anything was missing, wouldn't you go looking for her?" Dumbledore glared at him. "Seriously. If Minerva was missing, or even just absent and was supposed to be somewhere, wouldn't you go looking for her?"
"Be that as it may, they still risked themselves unnecessarily. They could have created a much worse problem."
"Headmaster, with all due respect, the boys have a feel for rescues. They knew what was needed and they told the appropriate authorities. Who then succumbed. If they hadn't, then who knows who would have died. If you check, I'm sure even my cousin would be thankful to have not died up there from those two little idiot's stunts. Madam Pomfrey said that if they had lain up there for over an hour, it would have been fatal. Less for some of the students. So no, I'm not going to yell at them for protecting their little sister. I would have done the same, as would have Buffy if she were still alive. So would Willow if she had been here. Being the fighting good guy is like that. You rescue your friends at all costs. That's not just a slogan for the Marines, you don't leave anyone behind."
"This isn't the Marines," Dumbledore reminded him.
"No, this is a war and you're talking about the kids you pushed to do the fighting," Xander reminded him, glaring down at him. "You blatantly all-but gave Harry orders to go fight in his first year by manipulating what little he knew. Now they've got something to fight for besides each other. If you don't like that, then I can gladly pull all four of them out of school and set up my own. At least then they'd get a *real* education."
"They get one of those here, the same as you did," Dumbledore pointed out, looking hurt.
"I didn't get much," Xander snorted. "I did more papers than they do now. Anything I learned I had to teach myself in every class but Defense and Charms. Your class was fun, but nothing that gave me a solid foundation to grow off of."
"Your nature isn't really the sort to use transfiguration," Dumbledore pointed out, still looking hurt.
"Do you know how many times I could have used the basics? Turning a rockfall into a pile of feathers would have made it much easier to move. Also it would have made it easier to find the traps buried in them. It also would have made doing laundry in the field a bit easier as well."
"Fine, so you've forgotten your entire third year," Dumbledore told him. "That doesn't mean you didn't learn anything."
Xander leaned down. "The only reason I learned anything was because I read it out of the textbook, Albus. Really. And you've got three kids who are exactly the same way." He stood back up. "Now, are you going to punish Harry and Ron or not?"
"Are you pushing for me to? It sounded like it. Also, I would like to know why it took two students and Ollivander to make sure she could get in here."
Xander shrugged. "She was born on the Hellmouth. There was always a fear of tainting. Ask Minerva if you don't think so. She glows green."
"Fine. You won't tell me."
"Dawn's a normal little girl with an extraordinary history. I'd like her to have a good future as well. That's why I sent her here instead of Beaubaxton's. Besides the fact that I'd have to actually learn French if I did. The question still stands."
"No, I cannot find myself able to punish them for wanting to look out for that young woman. It would be foolish of me to think that they did it out of familial feelings, but I don't think they were *trying* to get into trouble."
"They weren't. And Harry does think of her like a little sister, as does Draco. As do I. She was formally adopted into the clan Dumass by my father if you wanted to talk to him. Ron's the only one who's got different feelings for her."
"I think you'll find Ms. Granger does also."
"Ms. Granger has a stick up her butt that needs to be pulled out before she ends up like Severus." He nodded. "I'm going up to check on her." He turned and left, heading up to the infirmary as stated, with only a quick grab of Hermione from the Great Hall. "Come on, let's talk as you walk me up to check on Harry and Dawn," he suggested smoothly.
"I don't think you'd want me," she snorted.
"Honey, I've got Draco for that. I wanted to talk to you about helping Dawn and to suggest that you quit glaring at her for stealing your friends." She pulled away and he turned to look at her, seeing the furious expression. "Dawn thinks of Harry like a big brother, they're friends. She thinks of Ron that way as well, even if he's got a crush on her and I think they'd make a good couple. She's not doing this to hurt you and she's known them now for a little while." He sighed when he saw she wasn't listening to reason. "If you actually sat down and talked with Dawn you'd find she's a really neat girl who has a lot of strange knowledge from her prior life. You'd also find someone who can commiserate about missing your soaps. You'll also find that she was almost one of you and the hat genuinely wanted her to be safe and calm for a bit." Still nothing. "Besides, if you don't, you're going to force your supposed best friends to choose their other friends or you and I think you'll find that even if they choose you they're going to upset about it sometime in the future. Now, would you like to come help me check on Harry and Dawn? Ron and Draco are also up there."
"She's not normal," Hermione said. "She can't be."
"She's the little sister of a former Slayer. What part of that life do you see normal in?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I mean beyond that. She soaked up a year of Charms in two days."
"She soaked up more than that in the past. She does have some training, Hermione. Now, come along." She followed him. He walked in, smiling and kissing the nurse on the cheek. "How are my boys and my sister?"
"She's still got a headache and your boys are annoying. They're sniping at each other again." She nodded at the closed curtains. "You can have them all if you want."
"Thanks." He walked over and interrupted Hermione asked Ron what was going on. "Madam Pomfrey has generously released you into my custody for the rest of the night if you're able to walk all the way down to my rooms," he offered. "I'll have dinner brought down if you don't want to eat in the Great Hall." He looked at Hermione. "You can come too." He helped Dawn up and off the bed, giving her a hug. "I'm so glad you're all right."
"Me too," she admitted. "If I haven't said it, thanks, guys."
"You're welcome," Harry told her, stealing her for his own hug, but Ron stole her from him.
"We'll always come after you when we can," he promised. Hermione burst out in tears and ran off. "What's wrong with her?" he asked Harry, looking really confused but not letting go of Dawn.
"I think you just dashed her crush," Dawn offered. She looked up at him. "If you want, you can run after her."
"No, I'll do it," Harry told her. "I'll see you down there." He hurried off, going to chase Hermione down. She always hid in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom whenever she was upset. He walked in and tapped on the only closed door. "Hermione?"
"She's not in here," another girl's voice called. "What are *you* doing in here?"
"Um, this is where she usually goes to cry and she just ran out crying. Sorry, didn't mean to intrude."
"That's all right, Mr. Potter. I think she's probably headed outside this time."
"Thanks." He ran out, heading outside. He caught her going into Hagrid's hut and stomped down there, knocking politely on the door. "I came to find out what's wrong with her," he told Hagrid as he slipped past. He pulled Hermione up and held her while she sobbed. "Tell me what's wrong?"
"She's breaking up the group."
Harry pushed her back a bit. "If that was all, you'd be making plans to show that she was mean. You're crying, it's got to be worse than that," he said gently. "Do you like Ron that way that much? I thought you two had broken it off again." She glared and hit him on the arm. "Ow! Hermione!"
Hagrid held her for a long hug. "It's hard when your dreams come crashin' down," he pointed out. "You three have been so close and all for so long that it's almost seen as natural."
"Yeah, but I don't want...." Harry shook his head. He stole Hermione back and sat her on the bed. "Herm, think about it. Could you *really* put up with Ron for the next five years, let alone forever?" She sniffled and wiped her eyes off, nodding. "Really? Even though he's going to be making bad jokes, swearing, and all that for the rest of his life? What little you see of it if we do go on to do cursebreaking full time?" She looked stunned. "Think, Hermione. Ron's not changing. Never. This is Ron as he's always going to be. Can you put up with that, or even come along and help us do things?"
She shook her head. "No," she said weakly. "But Dawn...."
"Dawn is a killer researcher. She and Draco will be guarding our basecamp and making sure that everything goes very well. She's got a lot of management skills from watching her sister lead a small group into battle nearly every night. She's not just the nice clothes and good shoes she shows. Or didn't you hear what she did to those Slytherins?"
She nodded, looking at her hands. "I did."
"See." He gave her a nudge and a grin when she looked at him. "Ron's not your type. You'd hate having to restrict the number of books you bring with you whenever we have to move. Plus, the sand and all that sort of stuff. Even if we worked here in Britain we'd still have to leave you alone at the house most of the time, or with Dawn and Draco the rest. Can you actually see that being your life?"
She shook her head. "No, I can't," she admitted. She gave him a hug. "I'm sorry I scared you."
"No, finding a different girl in the bathroom scared me," he said dryly. She gave him a weak laugh, which is what he had wanted to hear from her. "Now, c'mon, we'll go find you a real man of the sort that you'd like. One who'll sit there and read with you all the time. Maybe one who wants to live in a library."
"I don't live in there," she said as she slid off the bed. She gave Hagrid a hug. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Hermione. You know I love you three like my own. And now Dawn of course since Ron's so taken with her." He winked. "Just think, you could have help in the library if she's so good."
"I suppose I should try to become friends with her," she agreed. She took Harry's arm and let him lead her back up to the school, and even down to Xander's rooms, where dinner was waiting on them. "Hi," she said as they walked in. "I'm sorry about that."
"Not a big," Dawn assured her. "We all have days like that. The guys get angry and we cry." She handed over a plate. "Dish up some stuff. It's the same as upstairs." She gave her a grin. "Wanna help me pick out what I'm wearing to the ball? I'm not exactly up on wizarding fashion standards and I trust Draco, but he'd put me in something without a neckline."
"Yes, I believe turtlenecks would be a nice look on you," he agreed. Ron kicked at him.
"If you tip the table, you're licking everything up off the floor," Xander said patiently. "Hey, maybe you can help each other with hair and stuff," he suggested.
"Maybe," Hermione agreed, sitting next to Dawn before Harry could. "Would you like to go for a walk while the boys learn how to be gentlemen?"
Ron snorted. "I'm only down here so I can raid the library for the more interesting charms."
"And the Hustler collection," Draco said smugly. Xander popped him on the back of the head. "Ow! Spousal abuser!"
Xander looked at him. "I put those here so the boys could take them and you didn't have to see them. If Ron wants to look at naked pictures that's up to him."
"Speaking of naked pictures," Dawn said, grinning at Xander. "Willow took a picture of you while you were on the swim team." Xander groaned and whimpered, hanging his head. "Poor baby. It's upstairs."
"It is?" Draco asked. "What's a swim team?"
"It's where swimming is considered a competitive sport and schools form teams so they have more than one swimmer. Xander was on his school's for a few months."
"And we had very tiny bathing suits," Xander added. "Burn it, Dawn?"
"Nope. Willow entrusted it in my care before they sent me on."
"How is Darth Rosenburg?"
"Darth Rosenburg," Harry and Hermione laughed, they got the joke.
"Doing better. She's got some control. Tara's decided to talk to her again. Thanks for delivering the mail."
"I like you, kiddo. I'm not keeping you from your other friends." He looked at Hermione. "Or any new ones." Someone knocked on the door. "Enter!" Professor Snape walked in. "Hey, Professor. We're filling the human body cavity with things. Want some?"
"I ate at dinner." He pulled a chair over. "Some of your boys suggested I sit in on your lessons to correct any un-Slytherin behavior." He looked at Draco.
"Don't look at me, I knew most of this before." He looked at Dawn. "If you stay, you'll have no end of dance partners tonight."
"Hmm. Dancing. Getting my feet stepped on while being held by sweaty and nervous guys. Eww."
Ron laughed nervously, glancing at Harry, who nodded. "Dawn, I meant what I asked earlier. Will you go with me?"
She looked at him, then around at Harry. "You're going to cede without some heroic contest of wills?" He nodded, grinning at her. She smiled at Ron, giving him a kiss on the nose. "Then I'd love to. Though you've got to protect me from the hordes of girls who drool after you when they get jealous."
"Sure," he agreed. "I have hordes?"
"At least three Hufflepuff girls and one Ravenclaw that I've noticed," Dawn told him. Ron looked stunned. "I'll let you reconsider if you want."
"No, I want you. I mean I want to take you," Ron corrected quickly. She giggled and swatted him gently, making him grin. "Please?"
"Sure. What are you wearing?"
"I don't have a thing to wear, unless you count the blue robe I have. Whatever color you want I'm all for."
"I can probably do blue," she agreed. "We'll look at it and see." He beamed and dug back into his dinner. "Harry, can I help you find someone if Hermione doesn't want to go?"
"Nope. Any girl I take would be hounded to see if I'm dating her."
"Then I guess I'm going to have to pull out some very impressive magic and call Juliette. Her daughter will be up for a test and interview around then." Xander grinned at him. "She would be the daughter of a friend of your father's. Therefore no bad press and she's pretty enough that the press likes her already."
"I ...." Harry said, eyes wide.
"He gets stupid around girls," Hermione said helpfully.
Xander grinned. "That's the best part. Henrietta, the daughter coming this way, is a super brain. Stunning, brainy, and second in her school in Defense. She goes to Italy." Hermione looked impressed because the school in Venice was a school geared toward Defensive training. "She's also the sort that boys lock up around anyway, or they speak in tongues around, so she's used to making them come out of their shells. Her mother's already bragged on you, Harry, and she asked that I introduce you while she's up here." He beamed. "See, settled."
Draco snorted. "I can see him passing out as soon as he sees her," he said, wiping his hands and mouth off. "I've seen her picture. Her mother was a stunning beauty in her day but Henrietta is a darling."
"What's she look like?" Dawn asked.
Draco considered it. "Take every painting you've ever seen of the Goddess Aphrodite that you thought could be her and bring it to life. She's got a wonderful smile. Reasonably built but not well-endowed. She's very chummy with everyone and she likes girls." Harry snorted his water, coughing.
"That's okay. That makes it even better," Harry agreed. "Are you sure?"
"Her mother's picture was of her and her girlfriend. They've been together now for three years."
"Then I'll gladly escort the Goddess Henrietta to the ball," Harry told Xander. "If she wants to go."
"I think she does," Xander agreed. "I'll write back to her tonight on your behalf and ask her about that, then let you have the letter when she writes back if she says yes."
"Thanks, Uncle Xander." Harry grinned at him. "You're fairly cool for a match-making relative."
"It's me or Des, kid."
"I prefer you," Harry assured him.
"Isn't she the ambassador's step-daughter?" Snape asked Xander.
"Yuppers." He grinned and winked. "I think they'll get along fine."
"Then I look forward to meeting her. She seemed interesting enough in her last interview."
"She's done interviews?" Hermione asked.
Xander nodded. "Yup. A few. Being the daughter of the ambassador means that she's had a lot of press. So maybe she'll tell Harry how to manage his." Harry groaned. "Sorry. Did you want me to start making you a scrapbook of your exploits in the press?"
"No," Harry squeaked, starting to cough again.
"He hates reporters," Ron told him.
"If they wouldn't lie, it might not be so bad," Hermione pointed out, glaring at Draco.
Xander looked at Draco. "Did you get him bad press?"
"Hell yes! I had half the wizarding community thinking he was going insane." Draco gave him a smug look. "It was a fitting reward for doing so well in the Triwizard Tournament."
Xander looked confused and opened his mouth. "Someone put my name in to try and kill me," Harry said quickly. "Another story of a death eater with a plan." He quickly stuffed his mouth. "This is really good. I wonder what seasoning they used."
Dawn ate a bite, nodding. "It's not like we do steak at home. Is that garlic?"
"Probably," Xander agreed, looking at his cousin, who rolled his eyes. Severus would be telling him *all* about this later. One way or another. He looked at the kids again. "Draco, do I have to go shopping or did you want to take someone else?"
Draco picked up his steak knife and looked at it, then at Xander. "Unless you want a nice, new, painful scar on your chest, you'll retract the question," he suggested.
Xander gave him a smile. "I thought I'd be nice and let you decide that."
"I'll kill you horribly," Draco reminded him. He put down his knife as his eyes started to water. "What is that?"
"Incoming," Harry said, rubbing his right arm. "Ow."
"The charm was on your left," Snape told him.
"Harry was our apprentice, he's got it on both," Xander pointed out, taking Draco's hand to steady him. The anchoring worked and Draco soon got control of himself. "Which Bane?"
"All of them. And they're heading this way," Draco told him.
Xander shrugged and made the table expand, putting more chairs around it. "Okay." When someone knocked on the door he smiled. "Come."
Tip Top walked in with the twins behind her. "Was that an order or a suggestion?" she teased.
"Sweetheart, you're married, I can't give you that order anymore," he pointed out dryly. He gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Back your puppies down."
"Down, boys. He couldn't keep up with me the way you two can." They grinned meanly at Xander and hugged her between them. "So, we got your owl."
"My owl?" Xander asked.
"Yours," George agreed.
"I don't own an owl," Xander said.
"That's right, he had a horrible pet experience when he was younger," Dawn agreed. "Who're you?"
"I'm Tip Top Ramvette and you probably know my boys, Forge and Gred," she said, waving back at them. "You're Dawn, right?" She nodded. "They described you nearly perfectly. What're you doing here?" she asked as she sat down and shook the girl's hand.
"Let's just say Sunnydale's in a shambles and she's now my little sister," Xander said calmly.
"My sister took on a Hell God over me and had to sacrifice herself to save me," Dawn said calmly. "Xander took me in and is having me trained here."
"Welcome to the community," George said, giving her a hug. He grinned at Ron, who was glaring at him. "Relax, I'm not taking your friend."
"More than friend," Tip Top said knowingly. Dawn blushed and Ron glared at her.
Fred laughed. "Oooh, Ron's got a girlfriend," he teased.
Hermione shot a hex at him. "Leave your brother alone. They're cute and even I can see that they belong together because she can put up with his mouth."
George freed his twin and looked at her. "Sorry to have your hopes busted, Hermione," he said dryly. "We'll help you find someone if you want."
"Before you do that, you three should talk to the two second year Ravenclaws who nearly killed their Charms class today," Xander told him. They looked stunned. "They were trying to be you."
"Where are they?" Fred asked.
"Ask the Headmaster," Xander said, turning to look at his cousin. "Are they in suspension?" He nodded. "Then they'd probably be in their tower."
"We'll be right back," Tip Top noted. "Save us some pie or something sweet." Her boys followed her out. They would go have a talk with the boys. How dare they hurt others while testing things! That was not how it was done!
Xander looked at Severus. "My owl?"
"I believe Philip sent it," he noted dryly, but he was nearly smiling and clearly amused. "I suppose the rest of them are talking with the Headmaster?"
"Hopefully not. Emilia's in Slytherin," Draco said, scraping his plate. "Shall I call one of our house elves and see if they've got pies?"
"We already did that," Blair called as he walked down the hall. He was carrying a large box. "We've been there most of the day. We didn't think you'd mind if we figured out how to fix the Bane marking at your house." He grinned as he set everything onto the clear part of the table. "Where's the trio?"
"Chewing two Ravenclaws a new one," Dawn said. "Do I know you?"
He looked her over. "No, I don't think so."
Dawn shrugged. "Sometimes I get echoes from my former life. Don't worry about it." Ron gave her a pat on the knee. "Ron, skirt."
"Sorry," he said with a blush.
"That's okay," Xander soothed. "Dawn."
"Sorry, but these skirts ride up. I feel like I'm offering whenever I'm wearing them."
"Then go change. It's after hours," Hermione suggested.
"I'll walk you back that way to make sure none of my other housemates are lying in lurk for you," Draco announced, pushing back from the table. "Save me something sweet as well," he told Xander, taking her hand as soon as she stood up. He walked her up the stairs, leaving her at her painting.
Dawn hurried into the house and up the stairs. "Hi," she said as she walked into her room. "Xander said I'm to sit in on his group tonight. He suggested I change." The other girls were really quiet so she looked around. "What?"
"Do you like Ron?"
Dawn sat on the end of her bed. "I think so. I like him a lot as a friend and he's crushing hard on me, but I'm not sure how I feel about him really. I've never felt quite this same way before. It's like we're friends but we're connected somehow maybe." She shrugged. "Time will tell. Why?"
"Because one of the fifth years came in crying when she heard Ron had walked you downstairs."
"Then tell her I'm really sorry and I didn't mean to poach. Ron and I have known each other since last summer and we're really tight."
"Yeah, but he asked you to the dance, right?" another girl asked.
Dawn nodded. "Yeah. He did." She grinned. "Tell her I'm sorry." She stood up and grabbed some jeans and a belly shirt from her trunk, then added jewelry and a pair of sneakers. She quickly changed and headed back out after brushing her hair out again. She saw Draco's look. "This is what the modern girl in Cali is wearing these days," she assured him. "It's totally fashionable."
"If you say so," he agreed, escorting her back down there, but with a hand on his wand this time. "She says it's fashionable," he said when he walked her back inside.
"It is," Xander agreed. "Belly buttons are hot in the muggle world."
Ron finally got his mouth working and gallantly offered her his robe.
She grinned. "No thanks." She kissed him on the cheek. "It's really my usual outfit. This is me, Ron."
"And you're hot," he blurted. The twins, who had returned a few minutes before Dawn giggled until their wife shut them up the old fashioned way. "Um, sorry," he stammered.
"Hey, I like that idea." She gave him a quick peck on the lips. "Did you know that I broke someone's heart by agreeing to go with you?" Ron shook his head. "I did. One of the fifth years in my house came back from dinner crying because she heard that you had asked me to the dance."
"Do you still want to go?"
"Yeah, I think I do," Dawn agreed. "We'll see if we're more than buddies then." He grinned and let her have his seat. She counted heads. "Hi. I'm Dawn."
Draco coughed. "Dawn is now part of the clan Dumass. She is my little sister."
"She's also a very special witch with powers on both sides," Xander offered, grinning at her. "Did you read Wes's letter yet?"
"Sure did. I'll start the meditation stuff tonight."
"Good girl." He looked at the group. "In a few years she'll want access too."
"She's mine," Ron put in.
That seemed to satisfy all the curiosity about Dawn and they went back to outlining how they'd reapply a communication charm that night. It was going to be a large undertaking. The twins left halfway through to retrieve the boys that McGonagall was getting for them for their little ...talk, but came back shortly to add their thoughts to the mix. Their victims were now very sorry and some of the teachers were having a good laugh at their expense.
Dawn walked into her house later that night and found the girl who had been crying earlier waiting on her. "Hi."
"Do you know what you and your trampish ways have done?" she demanded.
"Listen, I'm not poaching. I've known Ron now for a while and he's comfy with me. This way he doesn't have to sweat while talking to any other girls. If you're upset, I'm really sorry. I'm really not poaching."
"You're going around like that and you say you're not poaching?" one of her friends asked snidely.
"Yeah, what's wrong with my outfit?" Dawn asked, glaring at her. "This *is* the fashion statement where I'm from, thank you. All the *best* girls wear it, especially those with the bodies to carry it off. I've got the magazines in my trunk if you want to see."
"You're not over there anymore, girl. You'd better learn that," the lead girl sneered.
Dawn shrugged. "Why should I care what *you* consider fashionable? I saw the most fashionable looks here and they still looked a lot like this. Just because you can't carry it off doesn't mean I can't. My body's trained very hard to look this way. And if you want, I've got the wizarding mags upstairs too. Teen Witch Weekly said bellybuttons are in too." She pushed past her, going up to her room. She sat on her bed and grabbed a pillow to pout. "I hate people," she told her newest friends.
"Don't worry. They're just scared you'll take more attention off them," one of the others said. "Besides, you're nearly her age."
"Yeah, I am." Dawn straightened up. "I'm not twelve. I'm fourteen. I should behave like a fourteen-year-old. Maybe I'll skip my third year next time and go into the fourth or fifth. Be with my actual age group." They pouted at her. "Not that I want to, but wouldn't that create less problems?"
"No. They're going to pout because you've got a better body and better shoes," one of her roommates offered. "They're like that at their ages." She shrugged. "We keep our heads down and move on."
Dawn nodded. "That's a good thing to do. I don't want to fight with any of the girls. I've already got friends and that's all that matters." They grinned at her. "So, what do we get to do for fun around here?"
The next morning, Draco sat down in his usual seat and heard Pansy's rumor going. He grabbed her by the hair and slammed her face-first into the table. "Dawn is not like that," he hissed in her ear. "She is a kind, sweet, and genuinely nice young lady who is not a whore, nor a tramp. She is still very pure and just happens to be the sort of person that boys like because she's an open and interesting young woman. You will leave your flapping and gaping lips off her before it is known what you do for fun."
"Release her," Snape ordered as he walked down from his seat.
Draco slammed her face down again and left it there. "Is that clear?" The other students nodded. "Thank you." He looked at Snape. "Apparently my little sister is having a bit of problems because Weasley's admirers are putting it around that she's doing strange and unusual things."
"She has to be to trap him," Pansy mumbled.
"She does not. All she had to do was to be herself. As I said, she's the sort that young men who have brains like to talk to. She's interesting. She has an opinion. She's also got a sense of humor." He stood up. "I believe I'll take my fruit and go," he told Snape. "Before I get ill from proximity to such trash." He saw Harry watching him and nodded at him, heading over there with his morning orange. "You might warn Granger and Weasley that rumors are spreading about Dawn because of him."
"Tell me yourself," Ron said from behind him.
Draco turned to look at him. "One of your admirers has put around that Dawn's sleeping with you and Potter already." He bounced his orange a few times and glanced at Pansy. "Jealousy rears its ugly head." He strolled out, looking very unconcerned.
Ron glared at the Hufflepuffs, including the few who were smiling at him. He caught Dawn's eye and she gave him a 'don't' look. He walked over anyway and leaned down to hug her. "Good morning, Dawnie." She frowned at him so he grinned. "Sorry. I can't call you that?"
"No." She pouted at him. "You know it reminds me of Buffy."
"I'm sorry, Dawn." He saw the hurt looks of the fifth year and stood up, heading down to talk to them. "Dawn was the little sister of one of my best female friends and Dawn and I are now *friends*. If you so much as hurt her, you're going to face me down in a duel, girl or not. I know very well what girls can do because of my sister and I'm not afraid to give an ass-whooping magically to any of you who need it." He stood up and walked past Dawn, giving her a pat on the head. "Hey, Dawn, I need help with Charms later, can I get some?" he called as he walked.
"Thanks." He sat down and looked at Ginny. "Stop the spread of that now," he ordered.
Lavender looked at him. "It's not true?" Ron shook his head. "But that shirt...."
"It's what they wear in America. Ask Dawn, she's got the fashion books." He pulled over some eggs.
Lavender and Pavarti walked over to talk to Dawn. "Hi. Ron said you have fashion magazines from America. Can we look at them?" Pavarti asked. "I think it'd be really cool to compare styles."
"Sure, but they're muggle ones."
"So?" She shrugged. "It's comparative over here."
"Then I'll get them during my morning break and bring them to lunch." She held up a finger and grabbed her bag, searching through it. "I thought I saw that." She pulled it out. "Willow sent me one from LA with the new Paris Spring collections if you wanted to see it now."
"Thanks." Lavender looked in it. "How do you keep up a dress like that?" she asked, looking at the one that had a dip down to the navel.
"Double sided tape," Dawn said firmly with a grin. "My sister said so. It also keeps prom gowns from sliding."
"Wow. Thanks. We'll give this back at lunch." They went back to their table to flip through it.
Dawn smiled at Ron's sister. She barely knew the girl. "You can look too," she offered.
"Thanks," Ginny told her. She bent over to look. "What's that one made of?"
"Ooh. Soft and slinky," Ginny said with a giggle. The other girls looked at her and giggled too. "Maybe I should get my robe made out of that."
"Only if you want to be tied to your bed," Ron put in.
And breakfast went on. The rumors died by lunch and Dawn was once again the center of attention from some of the boys. She actually laughed at their tired jokes and didn't tell them to behave like some of the girls. So when Malfoy came down the hall, they glared at him as he got closer to Dawn.
Draco pulled Dawn closer for a hug. "Xander said we can go robe shopping this time in Hogsmeade. We'll take Weasley to make sure he doesn't embarrass you with his usual taste."
She swatted at him. "I like Ron's clothes. They look really comfy to sit around in." She blushed. "Didn't mean it that way," she said at the laughing. "What should I get?"
"I'll help you with that," he promised, kissing her on the forehead. "I've got to see the Headmaster over breaking Pansy's nose." He glared at the boys. "You behave with her," he told them. Then he walked on, seemingly unconcerned.
"That's great," one of the boys said. "How can we compare with him."
Dawn hit him with her book. "He's like my big brother!" she said in disgust. "I don't think about Draco that way!" She frowned at him. "That's just nasty!" She walked off and the rest of the boys learned their lesson so they caught up to her to continue chatting her up.
Draco faced down the Headmaster. "I couldn't let her say such things about my little sister, sir. She was spreading filth and lies," he said coldly. "Even if Dawn wanted to, she couldn't have done all the things Pansy was insinuating in as much time as she's been here, she'd be unconscious. And I dare say that she will not run her gaping and overly used lips near my sister again." He tipped his chin up. "Was there anything else?"
"Yes, we still have to decide on your punishment." Dumbledore faced him down. "Why do you three feel so strongly about protecting the girl?"
"Because she needs it. She's an orphan. My consort took her in and her older sister was my friend. Dawn is also my friend and I consider her my little sister. Merlin knows that I'd do the same for a real sister had the Fates given me one. Of course, Pansy would be sucking up to her instead of running her always-open mouth."
"I see. There's nothing...unusual about the girl?" Draco shook his head. "You do know I can sense the magic around her?"
Draco snorted. "It's a fair bet the Hellmouth warped her energies, Headmaster. It's even tainted mine I suspect and I only spent a few weeks there." He looked at the man. "What did you expect? Sweetness and light?"
"Fine. You now have another week of detention with Mr. Filch. I should take away your weekend as well."
"If you do, I'd have to sneak out and help Dawn anyway, if not assign someone to help her personally." He shrugged. "May I go?"
"Leave, Mr. Malfoy." Dumbledore sighed. There was a mystery there and he wanted to know. Someone obviously didn't trust him and he didn't want to think it was the young lady so it must have been Xander. He summoned him up from the basement to talk to him once again. "Xander," he said when the boy opened the door. "I've noticed some anomalies about Dawn's magic. Do you have a few moments?"
"Sure." He closed the door and got comfortable in the chairs. "What's wrong with her?"
"She's learned the first year's worth of charms in about a week, Xander. You never told me she was a genius."
"I suspect it's mostly like what Willow and Tara had taught her so far."
"I was hoping it was something like that but then I took a look at her wand earlier. Did you know it didn't have a core?"
Xander nodded. "I sure did, and I know that she's got one that isn't a practice wand that does have one. Along with an obsidian one."
"It's a practice wand?"
Xander nodded. "Definitely. Her actual wand came out of Ollivander's safe. One of his testing set." Dumbledore looked impressed. "Since she's got the other sort of magic, I assume she can do some stuff with the empty wand as well. Were you picking up on that?"
"Quite possibly. How much training did she have in that form of magic?"
"I honestly don't know. She picked up a lot watching Willow and Tara work. Also watching Giles, Anya, and Ethan work. I know Willow and Tara taught her the basics. I know Dawn did a resurrection spell at one point in time on her own. It worked but she canceled it at the last moment because she understood that her mother wouldn't really be coming back."
Dumbledore looked even more impressed. "She's powerful?"
Xander nodded. "That's why I've taken the liberty of having a man I trust send her letters to help her with the other sort of magic at the same time. I'd rather she learned it all together so she didn't have to balance it out later. This way it's more natural to her since this is all she's ever really known."
"A good idea. How is he helping her?"
"By letter. Right now he's having her meditate to see how and what she sees. He's going to be doing more with her after the holidays, after she's acclimated. How is she doing otherwise?"
"Charms and transfiguration are nothing for her. Herbology is going slowly from what I understand. Care of Magical Creatures is going well enough. She's apparently picked up on Hagrid's attitude that they're all pets." He grimaced. "Severus says she tries very hard in his class but hasn't quite caught on. That could be where she's still behind in there. I would have thought that she would have done a lot with potions using the other form of magic."
"We're talking about Rosenburg, who only did some minor herbal work. Tara did more of it and had a greater feel for it. How does she do on the herb part, not the blending?"
"I didn't ask."
"Then I'll ask Severus that myself later." Xander shrugged. "That's about what I would expect. I'm hoping she'll have the basics by the end of the holidays with the hard things out of the way."
"Hmm. That would be nice for her. Though she did say she'd never done a banishing charm before."
"Really?" Xander looked impressed. "It's something she could use tactically. I suppose she's learning those things first. How is her defense score, you never mentioned it?"
"Adequate. Professor Methos isn't forcing her to move ahead. He seems to think that she's moving at a decent enough pace. They're covering things that she's used to anyway."
"Cool. I'll tell her she's doing really well when I see her later. I did give you her permission slip, correct?" Dumbledore nodded. "Good." He grinned. "I wanted Draco to take her shopping later for something stunning. I like her and Ron. They make a cute couple." He stood up. "Was there anything else?"
"No, thank you, Xander."
"Anytime. When did we want to move the skeletons?"
"During the town-time. I'll have the Ministry people up to remove them for us." Xander nodded and left. "Now if only you would tell me the truth," he muttered, making notes for himself. He hadn't learned anything new.
Dawn looked up as Hermione joined her at the table. "What's up?" She was helping her catch up in herbology today.
"Word is that Dumbledore's trying to figure you out," she said quietly. She pulled out all her past notes and handed them over. "I'll need those back but you can copy them."
"Thanks, Hermione. I really appreciate this. Everyone in my house is killer in there but me it seems." She glanced around. "What do you know about me?"
"What I got from Harry, nothing."
Dawn pulled a book out of her bag and handed it over. She had talked it over with Xander and Harry and they had agreed that she could know because it might help, but that it was still up to her. "The green ribbon." She worked on copying the notes while the other girl read. Until the librarian came over.
She cleared her throat. "What book is that?"
Dawn looked at her. "One of my sister's set. I have most of it at Xander's house but I was researching something in this one, ma'am," she said respectfully. "Did you want to see if you wanted a copy? It's pretty old and obscure. I've always liked myths of magical artifacts."
Hermione closed the book and handed it over. "Here you are, Madam Pince. May I introduce you to Xander's little sister? Dawn Summers, this is Madam Pince, one of *the* best librarians in the country."
"You only say that because I let you get away with odd research, young lady," she said tolerantly. She flipped through the ribbon-marked spots. "It seems harmless enough. I thought it was one of our Restricted books." She handed it back. "I would be most interested in seeing your collection later."
"Sure. I inherited Buffy and Giles' demonology collection and most of their occult books, what Ethan didn't take first." She started to tear up. "Buffy would be really proud of me."
"There, there, dear, I'm sure she's very proud of you," Madam Pince agreed, giving her a short hug. "You go wipe off your cheeks and come back. I'm sure Ms. Granger will be here for a few hours yet." Dawn nodded, leaving to do that. "That poor girl."
"Yes, but I'm sure she'll slowly get better," Hermione pointed out. "Her sister died saving her from a very powerful spirit."
"Then it's important that we help her until she can see that her sister loved her enough to do that." She walked away, going to have a word with Professor Sprout to make sure she knew that the girl could use some counseling now and again.
Dawn came back, her face still a bit damp, and sat down. "Sorry about that, it just kinda hit me."
"That's all right," Hermione promised, patting her on the hand. She gave the girl a genuine smile. "We understand. You're allowed to grieve. Your sister loved you and it was obvious you loved her too, no matter how many fights Ron and Harry said you had over you stealing her clothes."
Dawn laughed. "Thanks, Hermione." She put the book back into her bag. "Do you understand now?"
"I think so," she admitted. "You know where it is? That key?"
Dawn wiggled a hand in the air. "Not quite. I know it very well, you might even say...intimately. Like I can look in the mirror sort of way."
Hermione gasped. "You are...." Dawn nodded. "Where are you wearing it?" she hissed.
"I'm not wearing it, Hermione, I am it."
"Oh." Her eyes went wide. She hit herself on the head. "No wonder!" She shook her head. "All right, I can keep that secret. Why are we keeping it from Dumbledore?"
"Because the old guy's hiding stuff and I don't trust him. Xander left it up to me. Since you help Ron and Harry, and they know, I thought you'd understand."
"I do," Hermione agreed. "Thank you for trusting me with that." She grinned. "Still, you should appear more confused."
"Why? I'm confused enough about this and potions."
"Good point." Hermione shifted closer. "Okay, let's start going over this. Herbology wouldn't be as simple for you as charms would. It's not about the energy flows the way charms and transfiguration are. " She paused. "What about Creatures?"
"I always wanted a pet," Dawn said wistfully.
Hermione laughed. "Then I'm sure you and Hagrid get on very well. Watch out for some of his more deadly pets. We've been bitten before."
"That's cool. Even the biting things seem to like me." She shrugged. "Maybe it's because I'm so nice until I'm provoked." She had noticed the fifth years coming in. "Then I can turn into the snarky bitch from hell." She nodded. Hermione turned and grimaced, then looked back at her. "Any ideas?"
"Stay out of their way. They were the ones the boys liked before and now you're cuter, their age, and nicer to them. Speaking of which, the boys haven't learned new material in *years*. You'll get tired of the same jokes over and over again."
"I brought joke books," Dawn said proudly. "Xander said I should get some before I started high school back *there* because being able to tell jokes means that you make new friends easier."
"What a good idea," Hermione agreed happily. "I'll have to remember that when I move on to further my education." She grinned. "Okay, let's go back to the plants. I've still got to do a paper tonight for Defense. It's due next week."
"I've been told to do them the night they're assigned," Dawn said with a shrug. "Doesn't that make me seem too eager?"
"No, it means you won't get overloaded," Hermione told her. "Otherwise you can find yourself with six papers due in a week."
"Eww." She shuddered. "I guess I'll do that then. I've got one for Herbology. Just a foot on the plant of my choice from the first six chapters of the first year book to prove I know it."
"Then do this one," Hermione said, finding it quickly. "It's got a lot of stuff and you can do a foot easily."
"Cool." Dawn went back to her copying. "I wish there was a charm for this."
"Scribinus," Hermione said, waving her wand. The words started to glow and were transferred to where Dawn had been writing, doing it themselves in neat, precise, and very readable handwriting.
"That is so cool!" Dawn said happily. She hugged Hermione. "Thank you! You've saved me wicked carpal tunnel."
Hermione smiled. "Don't worry about it. Remember, you're going to have tests sometime and you'll have to study it. Change the page for it."
Dawn flipped the pages, letting it move onto the next one. "Wow. This'll make it a lot easier." She grinned at her new best girl friend. "Do you know anything for those days when the static just takes over your hair? I've apparently picked up all the static in the castle and my hair's not doing anything anymore."
"A good hairdo helps that," Hermione told her. "I can't do a thing with mine unless I put it up."
Dawn grabbed two pencils from her bag and quickly twisted up her hair. "There, how's that?"
"Casual, yet very darling," Hermione assured her. "Ooh, Ron and Harry." Dawn blushed. "You've got it bad." Dawn whimpered and started to fuss. "Don't you dare. I won't give you my hairdressing charms book if you do."
Ron beamed at Dawn. "I like your hair like that. It makes your neck look really pretty and glowy." He sat down, changing the page for her. "There, now it can start again." Dawn just giggled nervously. "Hermione, did you do something to her?" he asked.
"The fifth years are watching," Harry said as he joined them. "Hi, Dawn."
She coughed. "Hi, Harry. Hi, Ron." She beamed at them. "Hermione's letting me copy her notes from herbology."
"She always takes notes," Ron admitted. Hermione rolled her eyes. "Speaking of, did you take notes today in Hagrid's class? I was watching the animals rut."
"Of course I did, Ron," she sighed, handing over a copy to each of them.
"They were doing what?" Dawn asked.
"They were mating behind Hagrid's back," Hermione told her. "He yelled at them to stop it once he heard the bellowing going on but they kept right on going and he quickly moved us to another animal."
"It was interesting," Harry admitted. "I never knew that's how animals did it." He changed the page this time.
"Yeah, it's just like humans in some ways," Ron agreed.
"I've seen the Discovery channel and Animal Planet specials," Dawn told them. "I've seen all sorts of animals doing the old pounce and jump routine." They laughed. "Really, cable is very informative. I've watched surgical shows that showed how they did medical procedures and cooking shows when I got really bored, and all sorts of stuff." She looked up. "I wonder if Willow's gotten to watch TechTV recently. She used to always watch it."
"I'm sure whomever's got her is letting her do that," Harry promised.
"Maybe not, because she's been bad with the magic. Ethan ended up stripping it from her because she did something to Xander." Ron and Harry's faces hardened. "What?"
"She nearly hurt him a lot," Harry explained. "It broke the Bane binding on him."
"Darth Rosenburg to the rescue," Dawn said snidely. "She messed with Tara's memories too. So she's without most of her abilities and Angel's watching her."
"The vampire?" Ron asked. He casually stretched his arm across the back of Dawn's chair, making her jump. "Sorry." He flipped the page.
"That's okay. And yeah, him. He took her and what's left of Giles and Tara in. He thought Wes might be able to help Tara if Ethan couldn't."
"How was Ethan?" Harry asked.
"Doing okay I guess. He went back to Sunnydale to see if the energies were going to blow out of control."
Draco walked up to them. "Weasley, move the arm. You do not cuddle in the library."
"Bite me," Ron told him.
"Don't fight," Dawn warned. "I will go sit in Harry's lap instead."
"Sorry." Ron gave her a pat on the back. "It's habit to fight with Draco and sometimes I forget."
"Forget all you want, but do it away from me," Dawn ordered.
"Yes, Dawn," Harry agreed with a grin. "So, herbology? And change the page." Dawn changed the page, coming to the last few words. "At least you're learning pretty quickly.
"Yeah, but I suck in Herbology apparently." She shrugged. "I guess it's too good to be true, I can't be great at everything."
"No, but in your area you're brilliant, just like Hermione is," Ron promised.
"Sap alert," Draco muttered. He pulled a chair over, sitting next to Dawn. He knocked Ron's arm off the back of the chair. "There, I feel better now." He smiled at Dawn. Then frowned at Weasley. "What color are you wearing again?"
"Medium blue," he said with a frown. "I didn't bring it down, I don't want to have to hit you after you try to make fun of me again."
"*Medium* blue?" Dawn asked. "With your coloring?"
"Madam Malkin said I looked good in it," Ron defended. Dawn gave him a begging look so he summoned the stupid robe, handing it to her. "There, that."
Draco looked at it. "It's not dark enough."
"But I'd look good in that color," Dawn told him.
"No, I'd rather you went a bit darker too," Draco told her. "We tend toward darker colors." He looked at her pink shirt and shuddered. "Promise not to get a robe in that color and wear it around me."
"Fine, Draco," she agreed, rolling her eyes as she held Ron's robe up against his face. "I guess it does go," she admitted with a smile. She put it on the table and refolded it before handing it back. She then hit it with the ironing charm, making Draco chuckle. "There," she said proudly. "How's that?"
"Just fine," Hermione assured her proudly. She smiled at Ron's disgruntled look. "You're dating someone who likes clothes, Ron. You can't be a slob any longer."
"Good point. Can't I go in my leathers?"
"Oooh, can we?" Dawn asked, bouncing in place. "I've got the most kick-ass pair of leather pants."
"No," Draco said patiently. "Nor may you wear them to Hogsmeade this weekend. I'd rather not have to hex everyone in town while they watched you walk."
"Isn't she a bit *young* for him?" one Ravenclaw seventh year asked.
Dawn shook her head. "I'm fourteen. I was put into the second year because I'm really behind. Not having a standardized education in magic before now meant it was a bit spotty. I can do a resurrection or a summoning spell but I can't do some of the simpler household things."
"Oh." She frowned. "Then you may want to stop some things about your age going around. I heard you were eleven and you were admitted early."
"Eww," Ron said with a frown. He noticed Malfoy grimacing as well. "Rock/paper/ scissors like Xander showed us?"
"No, I've got something more subtle planned," Draco admitted. "Dawn, isn't your birthday next month?" She nodded. "Then we'll be celebrating it." Harry burst out in giggles, bending over so he wouldn't spit on anyone. "I can plan a party, my mother did tell me how," he pointed out dryly. He looked at the Ravenclaw. "Thank you for that most interesting information."
"I believe in upholding good taste." She nodded at Dawn. "Those shirts of yours, did they shrink?"
"No, that's the way we wear them at home if you have a good stomach. I worked really hard on mine," she said nicely. "It's fashionable and only for the really hot."
"Fine. Try to keep some of your housemates from emulating you. They don't have a workout regimen." She walked off.
"And there you have met our decency and morality director for the school," Hermione quipped once the girl was gone. Harry started to giggle again. "Did you eat something funny, Harry?"
Harry shook his head and pointed at the table she had come from. Pansy had stolen her seat and had two black eyes, and a large bandage on her nose, the tape making arrows on her cheeks pointing directly at the bandage from where they crossed over the bandage. "Couldn't Madam Pomfrey fix it?"
Draco shook his head. "No." He smirked. "That does look interesting on her, doesn't it?"
"Is she the one my roommates said was a cheap blow?" Dawn asked. The boys looked at her in shock. "Yes, Dawn had real cable tv too," she pointed out. "She knows more about sex than a lot of people thought. Was she?"
"She is," Draco admitted. "Free is more accurate than cheap, unless she wants something."
Hermione coughed, looking embarrassed. "I heard her propositioning a teacher with it to help her grade. He gently turned her down."
"Flitwick?" Draco asked. Hermione looked stunned. "She sucks in Charms and Transfiguration. You said male." She nodded. "That doesn't really surprise me." He smiled and waved at her, and didn't say anything when Ron put his arm back around Dawn's shoulders. He looked at her notes, then pulled a notebook out of his bag. "Here, my copy. That way you have a complete set." She beamed at him and cast the copying charm, watching it this time so it would go faster.
"I've got good ones in defense," Harry offered.
"I'm doing okay in there so far," Dawn admitted. "Maybe over the holidays?" He nodded, grinning at her. "Thanks you guys, I know you guys hate Draco, but it means a lot to me that you're getting along."
"We feel a lot less about him now than we did before Xander civilized him," Harry noted.
"There's not near as much hate any more," Ron agreed.
"He's almost tolerable," Hermione agreed. "Though I was told something about tying me down?" she asked.
"I suggested that I capture you, tie you down, and force you to help Dawn," Draco said smugly. "It's nothing personal and not meant to make you warm or wet."
"Thanks, but that's not really my fantasy situation."
"Hmm, library sex?" Draco asked.
She shuddered. "That is disrespectful, Mr. Malfoy, and I will hit you again if you mention it."
He raised an eyebrow, looking very amused. "The sex or the location, Ms. Granger?"
She shrieked and got up, stomping out.
"Draco!" Dawn said, hitting him on the chest. "You mean bastard! Don't do that to her!"
He sighed. "Princess, I am a mean bastard and I enjoy it," he pointed out. "This is just harmless fun between us."
"That's why we hate him," Ron agreed. "It was the location, definitely." Harry nodded, backing him up on that opinion.
"Eww. I like books and all but that was a seriously Gilesy thought. Which is shudder worthy because he was grossly old and incapable of doing things like that, no matter what Ethan said about their history."
"Ethan and Giles?" Harry asked. Dawn shuddered again and nodded. "Well." He looked at Ron. "Now we know."
"I agree with Dawn, I'd rather not," Ron pointed out. "Giles is very old and not exactly a stud at his age. He should have retired that desire by now."
"Even Dumbledore gets some now and again," Draco told him. "Just because you get old doesn't mean that stops."
"Yeah," Dawn said, looking disgusted. "Remember watching that Odd Couple show?" Ron nodded. "The dark haired guy had a kid with a twenty-something while he was seventy."
"That impresses the hell outta me," Ron said, patting the table with his free hand. Draco knocked his arm off Dawn again. "Hey!"
"Tough," he said with a smirk. "No groping in the library, especially not of my sister. If you want to grope in a library, go find Granger."
"I don't want to grope *her*," Ron pointed out. "And I'm not groping, I'm merely... cuddling."
"Not in the library and not in front of me," Draco reminded him.
"Where would one go to do that, so I know not to go there?" Dawn asked.
"The Astronomy tower, the greenhouses," Harry told her.
"The dungeons, outside of the classroom of course," Draco put in.
"McGonagall's classroom," Ron added. "Also, I heard some were really brave and used the room that's in the hallway up to Dumbledore's office once."
"That's a closet," Harry pointed out.
"Yeah, and?" Draco asked. "It was convenient."
"So, no closets, no classrooms after hours, and no inviting boys in. Got it," Dawn said, nodding. She smiled at Ron. "How about long walks? I've always wanted to be wooed romantically, even for a night."
"Long walks are permissible unless we're tied to the building," Draco told her. He took down her hair and lifted his wand. "Finite Incantantum." Her hair laid down. "They're screwing with you, princess."
"I noticed." She put her hair back up.
"Wow. If you can do that so quickly, why does it take girls forever to get ready?" Harry asked.
"Because we want to make sure you're willing to wait for us," Dawn told him. "Any guy who can't wait ten minutes for us isn't worth dating."
Draco nodded. "I can see that."
Ron groaned. "At least she can explain this stuff to us." She nudged him and he grinned at her. "I'd wait."
"A whole half an hour?" she asked.
"I'd bring a book and wait," he promised. She grinned at him.
"And with that charming and witty repartee, I'm going to be ill now," Draco announced as he stood up. "Have fun, and no wooing tonight, Weasley, or you face off with Xander." He strolled away, going to do something about his own homework.
"Hey, we drove him off. Be more mushy so we can do it again," Harry encouraged. Dawn kicked him under the table, making him laugh. "Sorry."
"It's okay. I like you guys as long as you don't snark any harder than you did tonight. Anything harder than that and I get to wade in and show you why I'm the queen of cranky since Cordy moved to LA."
"Yes, Dawn," they said obediently.
"Harry, you can't teach her how to fly," Ron whined.
"Why not? She should know," Harry pointed out. "Besides, I think she'd do great on a broom. She's naturally graceful."
"Yeah, but if you teach her too well, we'll have to play her," Ron said anxiously. "At least wait until after we've played Hufflepuff this year, Harry!" He followed the boy and his broom out the door. "Please? For my sanity? She'll kill us on the field."
"Ron, go get your broom, you're helping me," Harry ordered.
"Fine," Ron said, trudging back to do that. He walked out and found Draco and Dawn waiting on him. "Hi. Harry said we're teaching you how to play Quidditch."
"No we're bloody well not," Draco said warmly. "Not until after we've played her team." Dawn looked at him. "You'd kill us on the field. We're teaching you how to fly for right now. If Xander wants you to learn how to play before then, he can teach you."
"He used to play?" Ron asked as he walked beside Dawn, on the other side from their chaperone.
"He used to play beater," Draco told him. "He was damn brilliant I heard."
"The twins would love that and I guess we could have him up for a friendly family game once in a while to give them a break." He nudged Dawn. "What did you want to learn how to play?"
"I don't know. What do you think I'd be good at?"
"I think you'd be great at anything," Xander said as they rounded the corner and joined him. He had a brand new broom in his hand and one over his shoulder. He handed Dawn hers. "There you go." She grinned and squealed, hugging him. "Now, let's teach you how to beat up on the boys in the air." He put his arm around her shoulders as they walked out. Ron grumped behind him, mumbling how he was gonna die if he had to play against her. Especially if she played beater. She'd get him on purpose and laugh about it. They met Ginny and her friend Luna Lovegood on the field. "Come to help?" he asked.
"Yup," Ginny said, shaking Dawn's hand. "We haven't been formally introduced yet. I'm Ginny, Ron's sister, and this is Luna, she's a Ravenclaw in my year, so we're both about your age."
Dawn shook their hands. "Hi. Is it hard?"
"No, even I can do it," Luna told her. "We even talked Madam Hooch out of a few school brooms so we could help." She and Ginny followed behind the group but she was humming some song.
"Lovegood, I swear I will sew your lips shut if that's Weasley is our King," Ron warned.
"What's that?" Dawn asked.
"Draco's way of irritating me in our fifth year," Ron said patiently.
Dawn turned and hit Draco on the arm as hard as she could, making him yell 'ow'. "Leave my Ron alone!" Xander gave her an amused look. "Yes, my Ron," she said firmly, dropping the broom to put her hands on her hips. "I'm going to pull a Daffy Duck when he finally got the spotlight. Mine, mine, minemineminemine, all mine!" she yelled happily. Then she kissed Ron, making him go weak in the knees. "There, any doubts?"
"Not a bit, or a comment," Xander said, reaching over to stroke Draco's bruised arm. "Don't bruise my man, Dawn, or I'll spank you next time. Tie Ron down and spank him instead when you want to get violent." Ron and Ginny both spluttered but Luna cackled. Xander grinned at her. "I like you, you're cool." He took her by the hand and led her out to help her with her flying.
Ginny patted Dawn on the shoulder. "Welcome to the family, watch out for the twins and Percy. He has no sense of humor and little common sense. He'll piss you off quickest." She continued on to see if Harry could let her try out for an alternate position. "Hey, Harry? Can I try out for an alternate?" she pleaded. "To replace you next year or something?"
"We'll see," Harry said with a grin. "We're only sixth years, Ginny. I'll be playing next year, the war willing."
"Cool." She grabbed one of the school brooms and faced off with Dawn. "Okay. Hold your hand over it and say 'up'."
Madam Hooch laughed from her seat. "Are you sure I'm needed?" she asked.
Xander grinned at her. "We always need adult supervision. Otherwise Dawn might really spank Ron and he'd enjoy it a lot and have to beg for it in the halls." She and Luna both cackled at that one. "What?" he asked innocently. "Dawn grew up around a neutered vampire. We're trying to unwarp her."
"Who looked a lot like a dressed-down Draco," Dawn put in.
"Spike," Draco groaned, shaking his head. He looked at Xander. "Kiss it and make it better?"
Xander gave him a gentle kiss. "Behave or not treats later," he promised. His mate's eyes lit up and Draco took to the air. "Good boy. You deserve many treats."
"Oh, go shag him already," Dawn said in disgust. "And he complains about my mushiness?" she asked Harry.
"They calm each other down," Harry told her. "Please, Madam Hooch?"
"Of course, Harry." She walked over to correct Dawn's grip on the broom. "Now swing across and grip it tightly with your knees." She saw the girl's look at her boyfriend and smiled. "That is a later lesson, young lady," she said quietly. Ginny and Dawn both blushed but did as she said and they were soon in the air. "Very good. I'll leave you in Mr. Potter's capable hands while I check the balls." She strolled away to watch them. That new girl was quite fun. She watched as Harry and Ron flew the girl through some basic exercises, and how the other two girls were helping. Very interesting.
Dawn was called up to the office. "Yes, Principal?"
"It's Headmaster, dear," he said kindly. "I wanted to talk to you about your progress."
"I'm doing the best I can," she pointed out, closing the door behind her.
"You're doing phenomenal," he assured her, earning a smile as she sat down. "I wondered if you could share your secret with me?"
She swallowed. "I did a lot of watching while Willow and Giles worked and some while Tara and Anya worked too."
"I see." He nodded. "And the other one?"
"That I'm dating Ron?"
"No, dear, that's not a secret." He gave her a fatherly smile. "You really can trust me."
Dawn lost her smile. "Sir, with all due respect, we've both got secrets and I'm not letting mine out for anyone I don't trust fully."
"I don't know what Xander told you," he started.
She held up a hand. "Xander didn't tell me anything. I can see it quite plainly for myself. There are things I don't understand about you and I'm not sharing personal things until I do. I'm not putting my life in danger by doing so." She stood up. "I'm taking my time to see who I trust and who I don't. So far, the people who need to know do. The others don't. Professors Snape and McGonagall know and I feel that's enough at the moment."
"And Harry, Ron, and Draco. They knew a while ago. I did tell Ms. Granger just in case it became pertinent. It is also the reason that I am taking their extra self-defense lessons with them."
"You are being hunted?" he asked.
"I'm the sister of a slayer. There's always someone who thinks they can use that to their advantage. The very truth of the matter is that any child of mine has a higher than average chance of being a slayer herself so the Watchers are trying to monitor me. I am also, as you've realized, fairly powerful and others want that as well."
"I had noticed your affinity for magic, especially anything that had to do with power flows. Do you have a special gift?"
"Again, Headmaster, until I'm sure I can trust you with my existence, I'm not saying anything else. The people who need to know do and the people who I know I can trust with it absolutely do as well." She shifted some. "I'm sorry if this upsets you but I don't know you well enough to have a sleepover and share secrets with you yet. Maybe I will trust you because Harry does. Maybe I won't because you're hiding a lot of them already and I don't know enough at the moment to know what's the most important thing you carry. For now, leave it as those who need the information know it. Was there anything else?"
"Answer me one thing before you go. Are you dangerous?"
"Have I been yet?" she asked. "I'm a normal fourteen-year-old girl, Headmaster. I have a combat history that rivals Harry's in some things. I've got training that can help him and Xander. I'm also very strong willed. I'm thankful that I didn't fry those idiots that night, like I did a vampire, kinda literally, but I'm just a normal girl now. That's what I want."
"That's fine. As long as we keep it that way," he told her. She nodded. "If I asked, have you bound them from telling me anything?"
"No, but they do know how important it is."
"Could we get attacked because of it?"
She shrugged. "They can't use me for a while but I'm a handy-dandy source of energy and skill. You tell me." She walked away, going to her next class. Which oddly enough was Potions. She walked up to the teacher. "Sir, may I have a moment of your time in private to talk to you?" she asked politely. He nodded and let her into his private office. As soon as the door was closed, she hugged him. "That's like hugging Xander. I'm sorry, but I just got done with the Headmaster," she said as she pulled back. "He wanted to know what you know about me and I'm really upset."
He took a deep breath. "I understand. Do you wish me to tell him?"
"Will he freak and throw a hissy?"
"In plain English?" he suggested.
"Will he be upset and kick me out?" she corrected dryly.
"No. It's no worse than some other secrets."
"Then I'll leave it up to you. He's carrying some guilt and some secrets that I don't want to trust personally. I told him about being really powerful."
"That's fine. Go back to your seat. Please refrain from doing...that in the future, Ms. Summers."
"Yes, sir. Sorry. But you really are like Xander." She walked out and took her usual seat, putting her head down.
"What's wrong?" her friend asked.
"I'm just down. The headmaster asked me some questions that upset me."
"You poor thing," she said, patting Dawn on the back. "I'm sorry. He can be an awful grump some days."
Snape came out of his office after straightening himself out. "Today we will be working on what we did last class. Whoever had theirs removed start over." He sat down to watch them begin their work.
Dawn trudged to the sink to get her clean cauldron, going to start over. This really was her suckiest subject.
Snape walked into the Headmaster's office without knocking. He closed and locked the door. "Albus, I will have to ask you to leave Ms. Summers alone," he said calmly. Dumbledore looked stunned. "The secret she is hiding is for her *own* health and security. You are upsetting her and she will leave untrained and under-qualified to do what she does."
"You're shielding the girl?"
"Not exactly, I'm more suggesting that you need to leave her alone. There is much you do not understand about her history. The Hellmouth is a different and strange place. Things there are much different than they are here. One of her caretakers was a fixed vampire. One of her guardians was Rosenburg. The girl is not one you want to trifle with. Nor is she one that we want out of our sight for long periods of time. Treat her like you would any particularly strong student and leave it at that."
Dumbledore sat up straighter. "Is her secret dangerous to the school?"
"Only to her. The people who would use it wouldn't dare step onto the grounds. Nor would they hurt other students. With one exception. Voldemort can and will try for her. He can and would attack the school for her and what she knows."
"Then it's a secret of knowledge?"
"In part." Snape started to pace. "I cannot tell you much without revealing it. Needless to say, Ms. Summers is very interested in magical artifacts, and has had contact with a very powerful one in the past. In part, that has tainted her. In part, her sister's life has tainted her. She is more than capable of protecting herself and those she looks to for help will be there undoubtedly." He stopped to look at the older man. "What she is and what she knows is hunted, but very few know enough to want to hunt her. By keeping her here, Xander has not only protected and helped her, he has shielded her from others knowing. It's not something she's going to let out into the general populace. If it should get out then we'll have to deal with it and you'll know at that time because of the panicking some of us will be doing."
"Are you certain having her here is not a danger to the students and staff?"
"No one who does not know would come for her. Only a few people know and those wouldn't dare. The only ones stupid enough to try are like Rosenburg, chaos mages of the external sort. They and Voldemort are her only worries and even having her strictly home-taught wouldn't help either of those."
Dumbledore sighed. "Then I will take your word on it. How ancient was this artifact?"
"It predates written language," he said firmly. "It is what tainted her magic and made her so strong. All she wants is to be a normal young girl and Xander will see that she gets it. And Weasley apparently," he said with a touch of humor. "Minerva and I do know and we are protecting her while you look after Potter."
"Fine. I'll accept your word on this, Severus. What if he asks you?"
"That would mean he'd already know and Dawn has plans for that," he assured him. "Even if the Dark Lord asks, I've got it behind a secret keeper." He walked out, heading down to tell McGonagall.
Dumbledore sat back and thought about it. What sort of artifact could she had come into contact with in Sunnydale? It had to have been a chaos-related one, but the girl wasn't like that. He would consider it later. Perhaps it would come to him.
Wesley Wyndham-Price stepped off the plane feeling relaxed after his second vacation. He had left from Xander's house and went to Jamaica to see a few friends of his down there, his tickets paid for by Xander for dealing with his family for him. It had been wonderfully relaxing, even if he did have to help unpossess someone who got stuck while talking to their family's ghost. He quickly realized it was night when he saw who was there to meet him. Angel and his childe were both glowering at the humans around them. He made his way through customs and out the other side, stepping in front of the lurking vampires. "Did you miss me?" he asked with a smile.
Spike grabbed him by the arm, hauling him off. "I want to hear what Dawn's going through now," he ordered.
Wesley pulled himself away from the vampire and headed for the baggage claim. "First, Xander took her in and made her a part of his family. Harris...."
"Dumass," Spike corrected.
"Whichever he is this week," Angel said, breaking up the fight. "Go on, Wesley."
"Xander met her just outside London. Some of his friends had some friends and they met there while Xander handed one of his friends to them for some treatment options. He had been tainted horribly during a fight. His clothes are now considered unholy relics, especially his collar." He grabbed his bag and walked toward the exit with the vampires skulking behind him. "Secondly, Dawn met her friends, the ones Xander works with. His apprentices are wonderfully nice to her. His consort accepted her immediately and declared her *his* little sister instead of Xander's." He coughed when he hit the dirty air. "Someone really should find a way to clean this up. Surely something within the supernatural must be affected by the smog."
"So she's with Harry bloody wanking Potter?" Spike asked. "He pulled her from our careful grasp to set her in the middle of a bloody war!"
Wesley looked back at him and smiled. "Not exactly. I got an email from Xander just last night about her. Apparently she's dating Ron, has caught up in all but three classes for her missed first year at the school, and is very popular. She's also taking extra defense lessons and Draco is still very protective. He broke a housemate's nose because the girl was spreading rumors about Dawn." Spike looked satisfied at that. "Also, I suspect that she'll not be as active in the fighting because of where she was sorted." He smirked as Angel pointed which way they needed to go to find the car. "She's a Hufflepuff," he told Spike.
Spike burst out in giggles. "Oh, damn!" he said, leaning against Angel's side.
"Is that good?" Angel asked hopefully. His implanted memories had him liking Dawn most of the time.
Spike wiped his face off. "The wankers in Hufflepuff are the nice little kids. They're the huggers and the cuddlers of the school. Anyone who needs some positive comfort goes to them." He started to laugh again. "I'm sure the Hat loved her."
"The letter Draco sent said it gave her a choice and she decided to let it choose for her. She said it was trying to give her an easier time." Wesley waited until Angel got free of Spike and opened the trunk. "I've got a message for you saved on my laptop. Without reading it as requested. Apparently Xander's run electricity to part of his house and he snuck her back for a few hours."
Spike leaned against the side of the car. "She's dating Ron? That brash little guy?" Wesley nodded. "Is he treating her good?"
"She's running him over but they seem to be mutually enjoying it. She said she's gotten very popular because she laughs at the boys' tired jokes. Apparently even the Slytherins like her. Since Draco's been nice to her and she kicked another in the privates they've grown to like her a bit." He closed the trunk and saw the astonished look. "Draco did declare, in front of the school, that she was his little sister. He and Harry have even worked together to stop someone from gossiping about her. Also," he added with a naughty grin. "Xander's asked for our suggestions about her birthday present. He doesn't know what to get her this year. He figured you'd know the school codes and could help him figure out something magically suitable for such a girl."
"What's her wand made of?" Spike asked.
"She's got a hollow one that works, she's got one that's got a dragon core, and she's got an obsidian one." Spike looked stunned. "She tends to use the hollow one most of the time from what Xander said."
Spike blinked a few times. "We need to have us a longer talk," he said firmly, pushing Wesley into the car. "Drive, peaches."
"Spike," Angel warned.
"Now! That's not normal."
"Fine," Angel sighed, getting in and starting the car. They took off, going back to the hotel.
Spike had to wait while Wesley fended off Tara and Willow with promised messages, but he soon pulled Wesley into a room and had a long talk with him and retrieved his own message.
Harry caught up with Dawn three classes after Dawn's interview with the Headmaster. "I heard Snape and McGonagall talking about you," he said quietly. She stopped and looked at him, taking a deep breath. "The headmaster is going to leave you alone for now. They told him they're managing it." He pulled her into an alcove. "I want you to think about telling a few other Banes. We trust each other, Dawn," he said at her instant head shake. "We share knowledge anyway. By keeping it back, it could hurt Xander or Ron."
"I don't know them."
"Then have Draco, Xander, or Professor Methos introduce you to more of them," he suggested.
"I don't like him."
"I don't either. He's a pushy bastard, but he's got a lot of skills. He's very good at what he does," he explained. "But he's got a big secret too." She nodded. "I'm not doing more than suggesting, okay?"
"Sure, Harry. I'll take it under advisement." He grinned at her. "Now, I've got to get to Charms." They walked out together and she noticed a few of the girls looking at her. "Harry was telling me something about a letter he had gotten," she explained. "Family business." She walked off, smoothing down her vest and skirt so she looked perfect. The static spell had come back earlier. Oddly enough, she trusted this teacher more than the Defense one. She'd ask Xander his opinion later.
Time went on as it usually did and Dawn found herself turning a year older. She woke up that morning to a horrible singing card from her roommates, for which she thanked each one with a hug. It was kinda cute, even if it was singing opera. She got dressed in her best outfit and headed down the stairs, bag already on her shoulder. Once in the Great Hall, she waited patiently for an owl to arrive. When six showed up, her squeal was heard around the hall. She gathered all the presents, but one of them was wiggling so she opened it first. "Oh my god!" she shrieked, getting up and dancing the ball of fur around. "Oh my god I've wanted one of you forever!" she squealed. The ball of fur made noises and wiggled. She hugged it to her chest, cooing at it. "You are so adorable!"
"What is it?" Ginny asked as she came over.
Dawn carefully held out her bundle of fur. "It's a Chow."
"A what?" one of the older girls asked.
"A Chow-Chow, it's a dog, well a puppy," she babbled. "It's so adorable!" The little blue tongue came out and licked her. "Yes, you are adorable and just what I wanted," she told him, rubbing noses with it.
Hermione looked at the tongue. "Is it supposed to be that colored?"
Dawn nodded, grinning at her. "It's a breed trait. That means it's all or mostly Chow." She hugged her puppy again. "What should we call you?" she cooed, sitting back down. The puppy wiggled so she let it stand on the table, in her plate. It barked at her, wagging its tail. "You are so cute!" she cooed.
"Gee, I only got you something little," Ron said dryly, handing over his present. "Happy fifteenth, Dawn." He kissed her on the forehead and snuck in a pet of her new friend. "He's very soft."
Dawn looked at his undersides. "Yup, it's a him." She grinned at him. "This was a great present from Xander, Wes, and Spike."
"How did you know who it was from?" Ginny asked, sitting down on the bench to pet the puppy.
"Because, I told Spike that I'd always wanted a Chow while I forced him to watch a dog show with me on tv. It was kinda the only thing on and he kept wanting to see them fight but it's not like that and he was kinda disappointed. So he made a joke about getting me a long-haired Chihuahua. So I told him about always wanting a big fuzzy Chow. He pointed out that they were very good protectors, some sort of protective temple dog, and that he'd trust one to take care of me. And I know, because Xander told me, that Xander asked Wes what I'd like best so he could pass it on. So I'm guessing that Wes asked Spike, Willow, and Tara and they came up with this, and passed it back." She grinned at everyone staring at her. "What?"
"Most people breathe during explanations," Draco pointed out gently, but he was smiling. He picked up the dog to look at it. "You're a pure-breed?"
Dawn stole him back. "Yes, and he's my pure-breed. Just like my other fuzzy cuddle puppy is, Draco." He snorted but let it go. "So, what should I name him?"
"He's pure black, how about Midnight?" Neville suggested.
"You could check the card, see if he's got one," Ginny suggested, handing it over.
"Hmm. He's not only got a long show name, he's from a champion line. His dam and grandsire both won Champion status and his dam won best in breed at Crufts." She hummed. "What about you? Got a preference?" She looked at the tag. "King George's Royal Fittingman. Show names are horrible. They have to be individual and can't be repeated," she explained at the disgusted looks.
"Call him Midnight," Ron suggested. "I like Neville's idea."
Dawn looked at him, then at Neville. "Since you named him, would you like to hold him while I open the other things?" He nodded and took the dog, cooing at it. She quickly opened the other packages, Ron's next. "Ooh! Candy!" She hugged and kissed him. Then came Draco's, a gift certificate for next season's shoes. She hugged him. Harry had given her a book on artifacts and the wizarding world's museum. Xander had sent her a leash and stuff for her Midnight. The last package didn't have a tag so she ripped into it. Suddenly, Harry snatched it and took it up to the head table. "Hey!" she complained.
"There's a reason," Harry called back. "That's....a very dangerous prank," he told her. "It's not allowed in the school." He and Ron shared a look. Ron's eyebrow went up and Harry tapped his forearm. Ron's scowl became very noticeable, even Draco noticed. Draco walked over to look at it, then went to make a call. Ron strolled back over and helped Dawn put the collar on Midnight, then the leash as well. "C'mon, let's take him for a short walk and then we'll finish breakfast." She gathered up all her cards and put them into her bag, then took her dog outside for his first excursion. The house elves were more than nice enough to bring them breakfast since Midnight was busy exploring.
Back in the Great Hall, Snape and McGonagall were looking at the small square of fabric. "It's not authentic," he said. The headmaster relaxed. "This means it was a particularly mean prank."
Madam Sprout took the square of fabric to look at it. "Who would do such a thing? Especially now? That's just cruel!"
"Dawn has made a few enemies by taking up with her boyfriend," McGonagall reminded her. "I think the answer to who would be found among them."
"Then I'll definitely be talking with my fifth year girls," she said warmly. She looked down as another girl walked up to them. "Do you know anything about this?"
"I overheard Parkinson saying she could draw a design for one of them," the Ravenclaw who was the moral monitor offered. "I don't know anything else."
"That's fine, I'm sure she'll tell me if she was involved," Snape said coolly. "Go back to your seat." She nodded. "I'll call the girls to the office in a bit?" Madam Sprout nodded. "I'll bring Parkinson, you get yours."
"Definitely," she agreed. "This should not go on. Dawn is such a nice little girl. And that was an adorable kitten."
"It's a dog," McGonagall told her. "Chows are temple guardians in the Far East." She stood up. "Ms. Granger, you will find her training manuals if Professor Hagrid does not have any." Hermione nodded. "Mr. Potter, calm yourself. We are handling this."
"As long as I don't have to," he muttered, glaring at her. She nodded, reading his lips. He forced himself to look calm even though he wasn't and listened to the rest of the gossip. Most of it was about Midnight. Some of it was about what that mysterious prank was. A few girls though, they were saying they had wished she could have opened it, but that she probably wouldn't have known what it meant. He caught McGonagall's eye and nodded at that group.
She disappeared, changing to her cat form, and trotted down under the tables, deftly avoiding feet. She listened to them plan their next stunt and who to bring in this time since Pansy was probably caught. She looked up, catching them even though they didn't see her. Then she went back to her seat and wrote out the girls' names on a sheet of paper for Madam Sprout and Snape. They both nodded. It would be taken care of. Such bad taste would not be allowed.
Xander looked up when he heard the screech, catching Dawn as she launched herself at him. "Hi, Dawn." He pushed her back to look at her. "Where's Midnight?"
She pulled him out of her bag. "He was a good boy all day." She grinned.
Xander pulled him over to look at him. "Dawn, you can't keep him in there," he said sadly. She pouted. "I know, but you can't. That's why I got you the leash. Puppies need to eat four times a day at this age and they need water." She nodded. "You need to treat him better or he'll become my dog."
"Got it. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt him."
"I didn't think you did," he promised. "I didn't figure you'd ever dealt with a puppy before and we used to have hunting dogs." He took the leash and put it on the dog, letting him wander around them and pee to his heart's content. "Do you have any water?"
"Yup. I got a few bottles to fill for him. I've been letting him out between classes for walkies and I've been playing with him during class. I've been feeding him lots and lots of stuff at breakfast, lunch and dinner."
"Then you're not as bad off as I thought and you're doing wonderfully," he said, giving her a smile. He watched as she put down water for the dog, then stood back up. "What's this I hear about some girls pranking you on your birthday?"
"They decided to be butts and send me a dark mark for my birthday. McGonagall and Snape yelled at them, then Madam Sprout yelled at them, then the Headmaster yelled at them, which of course Draco, Harry, and Ron broke in on and yelled themselves hoarse during. I treated them by making brownies."
"Why would they even try?" he asked.
"Because they're assholes," Dawn said fondly. "They thought I had stolen boyfriends. When it was pointed out that I only like Ron and Harry and Draco are just friends, then they decided I was okay and they apologized, vowing to never do it again. Of course, their six months of detention are going to drive home the point. With Snape since he offered the best punishments." Midnight barked and she picked him up to pet. "You are such a good boy. Yes, you are. You even like to knock over Professor Flitwick."
Xander laughed. "I'm sure he adores your dog, Dawn." He put an arm around her shoulders and let her gather up the stuff so they could all go back inside. The dog trotted ahead, exploring the paths it already knew. It sneezed near the potions classroom but that was to be expected. Xander sneezed too.
Dawn laughed. "It makes me do that too," she noted.
"It's a Dumass clan trait. The Snape side of the family is good at potions and we're good at defense, charms, or transfiguration. That's why you're a Dumass."
She giggled and hugged him hard. "I'm glad to be a Dumass. It's a neat family to belong to."
He patted her on the back. "We love you too, Dawn. Never doubt it."