Authors Notes: The same as last story, the birth years are still messed up (otherwise you'd have a seventeen year old Xander teach seventeen year old kids, which doesn't really work all that well). Also, I screwed with another bit of Buffy cannon, with the alti-verse Cordy went to. We agreed that it sounded better this way when he tells the kids, so consider it an embellishment in his story to his students please.
First Year Of Trauma
Xander finished writing out the note and tied it to the phoenix's leg, scratching him on the head. "Go find the nice guy at Hogwarts with the other phoenix," he whispered, sending him up into the air. He found a bench and sat down, mentally checking through everything he had had to buy for his most recent job. Robes, check, both black and more formal ones. Cloaks, check, one dark one for sneaking around at night, one more formal one, and one that was a present from Willow and Tara, who had managed to make it onto the train. It wasn't fair, he should have still been able to get onto the train even though he didn't have magic. He was supposed to be going back to Hogwarts. He needed to get there; the twins, his best friends in the whole world, were expecting him. He checked behind him, watching Buffy nap on the seat. She had stayed with him when he couldn't get through the gateway, wanting to see how he got there.
"Xander Harris, please come to ...."
Xander jumped up when he heard his name called over the intercom, nudging Buffy. "Come on, I think they got my note."
"Already? You just sent it," she complained. The Watchers Council had decided to pull her out of Sunnydale, it was stable enough for now, so she had flown over with him. "Maybe they've found your missing bag," she said dryly, following him and his luggage cart to the security station. "Yup, they found your bag."
"Thank you," Xander said, taking the small bag. "Where was it?"
"The bathroom," the officer said, giving him a smile. "Which train are you waiting on?"
"I missed mine," he said glumly. "I called the people who I'm supposed to meet and they're coming here to pick me up."
The guard nodded. "It happens." He looked Buffy over. "You?"
"She flew over with me. She's got a train in a few hours," Xander said quickly. "Can I wait over by track 10?"
"Sure." He nodded at the map. "Need some help?"
"No, but that's where her train's supposed to come in and where the one I missed was supposed to be." He grinned. "Besides, I can find that again." He carefully tucked the small bag down into his biggest suitcase, letting Buffy help him turn it around. "Thank you." He walked away, taking her with him.
"Chill," Buffy told him. "It's all good. They'll come pick you up. Or Fred and George will."
"Oh, man, I hope Murphy didn't go to them instead."
"If so, they've got an owl that'll go up to the school," Buffy reminded him. "Relax. It'll be okay. I'll provide the Council with a good training example for the future girls and you'll go help Giles teach the stuff we used to do."
"But what'll I teach?" Xander asked. "Giles is *so* much better at that."
"Hey, you can teach a lot of stuff, including the lessons in fighting, combining it with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"Point," Xander agreed, calming down. "I hope I don't screw this up. I might like to teach, if I could handle standing up in front of a lot of people."
"What'll you be teaching?" an older man asked as he walked up to them.
"I'm teaching younger kids about mythology," Xander told him. "Over here I guess high school and junior high are put together. I'll be teaching at a private school, mythology."
"Oh." He smiled, pulling out a badge, showing it to them. "Come with me please?"
"No," Buffy said, looking at the badge. "I have a train to catch in two hours."
"We'll just go to the security office," the officer said, pointing at a small hallway. "Come along."
"Why?" Xander asked as he got up to follow him. "We're normal people. This is my first teaching gig." He let Buffy drag the cart this time, stomping along behind the guy. "What?" he asked finally.
"Relax," the officer warned them. "This is just routine. May I see your baggage?"
"It was already checked," Buffy told him. "By the guys at Customs and by the guys here." He glared at her so she handed over her two bags. "Here, be an asshole. Ask me if I care. I got invited over here to work with a private foundation."
"The same one that he'll be teaching for?" the officer asked.
"No," she snorted. "The people I'll be working with are up near Stonehenge. That big rock thingy?" she said when he didn't look impressed. She pulled out her tickets and the contact card the Council had sent her if she had any trouble. "Here, check for yourself," she told him.
He looked at the card, then carefully searched her bags. "What's this?" he asked, pulling out her stake.
"I'm into Dracula movies but I have horrible nightmares," Buffy said quickly. "I hang it beside my bed."
"Oh." He tossed it back inside. "Young people like yourselves hanging around and babbling are usually trouble." He glared at Xander. "Your bags please?"
"It's already been done once," Xander told him. "It's bad enough I had to put my bird into my friend's cage for the night." The officer didn't budge. "Hey, you search through it, you repack it," he told him, sitting down in a chair. "Go for it." He crossed his arms, glaring at the cop as he looked through his things. "Feel better?" he asked when he was done. He repacked the cart, letting Buffy balance her bags however. "Can we go now? I may have missed my train, but someone *is* coming to pick me up."
"Fine," the officer said. "Snotty kids."
Xander snorted. "You've obviously misjudged my age and how much I care what you think." He turned, letting Buffy get the cart again. Once they were heading back to their track and bench, he glared up at the wall he was supposed to have walked through. "Why did my day have to start like this?"
"Because Fate decided you needed the stress?" Buffy suggested, flopping down on an empty bench. "Come sit. We can wait here. Maybe they'll leave us alone now." She patted herself down and got up, jogging back to the little room to reclaim her ticket and card.
Xander shook his head, relaxing. He was going to have some time to wait.
Xander stepped into the school, giving Giles a sheepish look. "The wall wouldn't let me through," he told his mentor.
"Yes, we figured you might have a problem," Giles said, giving him a hug. "Did Buffy get on all right?"
"Yup, she left about the same time I did." He looked over Giles' shoulder, smiling at the Headmaster, who had his phoenix. "Hi. Did Murphy come right to you?"
"No, but I was down in Hogsmeade. I figured he wouldn't have come to me." He handed the bird back. "How was your trip?"
"Must faster than the plane ride, Professor Dumbledore," he said respectfully. "Did I miss the Sorting Ceremony?"
The Headmaster laughed. "The students haven't arrived yet. The train is much slower than the Ministry cars." He waved a hand. "Come in, let's get you settled. Did you manage to get into Diagon?"
"Yup. I walked right into the pub and asked the bartender, showing him my letter. He just smiled and told me I had stolen it, so I punched him and let Murphy beat him up for me. He opened the gateway."
"Good, good," Dumbledore said, walking away. "Let the house elves get the baggage," he called. "Come along, we'll talk about your curriculum."
"Yeah, I've been wondering about that," Xander said, jogging to catch up to him. "What am I going to teach?"
"You'll be teaching the beginning classes I started last year, while Willow and Tara will teach magic, and I'll be doing the advanced studies for both your classes," Giles told him, catching up to them. "Why did you get a dark cloak?" he asked as Xander took it off.
"So I can sneak out at night and go down to the joke shop without getting in trouble," Xander told him, giving him a grin.
Giles patted him on the shoulder. "You're a teacher now, you don't have to sneak about."
"Yes, he does," the Headmaster told them, opening the door up to his office. "It sets a bad precedent when teachers sneak out in the first week." He waved them up, smiling at the teacher walking down the hall. "I'll be just a moment," he said, heading over to shake Professor Lupin's hand. "How are you?" he asked.
"Much better." He craned his neck. "You're sure about this?"
"Yes, we need them here, even if the boy isn't a natural born teacher, he's very good at defense." Dumbledore smiled at the man walking in behind him. "And Sirius, how good to see you again too."
"Good to be back, sir," Sirius Black said, shaking his hand. "You're sure you want to buck the Ministry and expand the Defense Against the Dark Arts program?"
"Yes, I believe we'll soon need it," Dumbledore said cryptically. "Come, the two Paranormal teachers are waiting in my office." They all walked up together, Dumbledore smiling at Xander, who was leaning down to talk to his phoenix. "Fawkes doesn't usually like other phoenixes or their owners, but he seems to like your Murphy."
"How do you tell if they're females or males?" Xander asked.
"Females lay eggs," Dumbledore told him. "Fawkes is a female. As far as I know, there's no other way."
"Um, will we have a problem then?" Xander asked.
"Not necessarily, and if we do, I'm sure we'll be able to figure out visitation arrangements." He sat down behind his desk. "You do realize that this is an unusual occurrence?" he asked them all. Xander and Giles nodded. "Good. I think we'll need to beef up our defensive classes. That means that you, Xander, will be working with everyone else in this room." He held up a hand to forestall the opening mouth. "Yes, I know, you're not the most knowledgeable, but you've got enough to teach the beginning classes once Mr. Giles gives you his notes. I think you'll do fine, so you will."
"Will it be mine or Xander's classes that will be crossing over with the Defense teachers?" Giles asked, nodding to the other two teachers.
"I think it'll probably be a bit of both, but for right now, we'll plan on just more advanced classes learning that way. Xander, are you all right?"
"I'm kinda in shock," Xander admitted. "I've never taught before. I was the guy Giles aimed at an enemy after telling me how to kill it and got told 'go kill it'." He gave a weak smile to the other teachers. "I think I'm going to freak tomorrow in front of the students."
"Not everyone's comfortable teaching," Sirius told him. "I'm not very comfortable with it, but I can do the physical parts, which is what I'll be doing. Can we split up his classes that way, Professor?"
"I don't see why not, as long as Xander has the necessary materials to do so."
"I think I should. Do we have the weapons I had shipped?" Xander asked Giles.
"Yes, I did get them, and my books also. Thank you for that."
"Hey, anytime, G-man."
"G-man?" Professor Lupin asked.
"Yup, it's a pet name," Xander said, giving him a real grin. "It irritates him."
"Yes, it does," Giles said, glaring at him. "Do try to be serious, Xander. You're a teacher now."
"Seriousness isn't a requisite," Dumbledore corrected. "Often, a light heart conceals a deeper personality." He looked at Xander. "Though, I would appreciate it if none of the new Weasley models end up in the classes."
"I'll try," Xander agreed.
"Good." Dumbledore stood up. "Was there anything else?"
"Rooms?" Xander asked. "So I can sneak down into town." He looked hopeful.
"You can go see them tomorrow," Giles sighed. "Let me give you your materials tonight and go over them with you."
"Oh, let him go," Lupin sighed. "He'll be fine. I promise. I know the Weasleys, they're all in town right now."
"Cool," Xander breathed. "May I? If I'm back by dinner?"
"Yes, go," Dumbledore said tolerantly. "Just get the notes first."
"Yes, sir," Xander said, giving Giles a hopeful look.
"Fine. You've got a room down the hall from mine." He shook his head as he led the way out. "Xander," he said as they started up the main staircase, "I had hoped that you'd take this assignment seriously, not use it as a chance to act like a teenager."
"I'm not," Xander protested. "I miss my friends. Surely you've done that before."
Giles stopped and stared at him. "Yes, Xander, I do miss people, all the time, but I don't go running off as soon as I get near them."
"No, you get to have things like vacations. I've gotten to see the twins for a whole week, Giles. I'd like to see my friends. It's not like I've ever shirked any other duty, and I'm not going to start this time." He started walking again, trying to stay calm.
"Go left," Giles called after him, thinking about what he had said as he walked. "Xander," he said, stopping him from going any father once they reached the landing outside the teacher's quarters, "are you feeling more than friendship toward one of them? The twins and you were very close."
"I..." Xander swallowed. "I'm not having this discussion," he said firmly. "We're friends."
Giles laid a hand on his arm. "They're not that much younger and I doubt you'd get them hurt."
"Not the issue," Xander said warmly. "Room?"
"This way," Giles sighed, leading him through their doorway. "This is yours, I think," he said, tapping on the door.
"Next one down on the left," a female voice called. Professor McGonagall stuck her head out. "Oh, hello, Xander. Welcome back. Did you have a nice trip?"
"I couldn't get onto the train," he said with a shrug. "The Ministry people brought me up."
"I thought we might have to make special arrangements." She walked out, looking his outfit over. "You'll need to change before tonight. Did you have a problem getting robes?"
"Nope," Xander said, giving her a smile. "Which room is mine?"
"Last room on the left. Giles is across the hall from you." She smiled at him. "Have you worked out which area you're both working on?"
"Yes, we have. Professor Dumbledore was most helpful in that matter," Giles told her, giving her a wan smile. "Xander's about to run down to the village to visit the twins."
"Do change first, time always runs away around here," she advised. "And wear a robe. It's more acceptable." She patted him on the side of the face. "It's nice to have some new blood around here." She walked away, heading downstairs.
Xander looked at Giles, then at his room. He walked down, checking the door. "Locked," he grumbled, bending down to look at the lock. He blew in it, just like George had taught him, and repeated the silly phrase, unlocking it. "There we go." He walked in and shut the door.
Giles took a deep, calming breath as he headed for his own room. "I hope he takes this seriously," he muttered, closing his own door.
Xander opened his bags, taking out one of his black robes and a more formal set of clothes. He probably should make a good impression tonight. He tossed the tie back down with a smile and hurried to get dressed. It was only a few hours until dark and he had a little hike ahead of him.
Xander slid into his seat at the high table as the students started to file in, smiling at Lupin, whom he was sitting beside. "The Weasleys all said hi," he told him quietly. "Has Giles thrown a fit yet?"
"No, only looking at his watch." He looked over the young man's clothes. "Not very practical for the more physical aspects of the job."
"I've got plenty of clothes for that," Xander told him. "I thought I'd make a good impression tonight." He smoothed down the hair Mrs. Weasley had ruffled before he left them. "Okay enough?"
"You were fine before," McGonagall told him, coming down to shake his hand. "Don't let Giles get to you, it's nerves on his part too." She looked over his clothes. "Very nice choice. How were the twins?"
"Good." He grinned. "They've got the stock out now and are almost ready to open. They're planning on doing the grand opening the first weekend the students are allowed down there." She chuckled. "Yeah, it seemed like a good idea to me too. Oh, and Ginny is coming up from the town. Ron's on the train but she had to stop and pick up something down there."
"Ah. I know what that was. I'll have a discussion with her tonight."
"She's *real* shy about that stuff," Xander warned her.
"I know. I have a talk with all the girls every year," she sighed. "And the girls from Slytherin too as Professor Snape doesn't like to handle that himself." Her eyes started to twinkle. "Did you really bring a full leather outfit? I overheard the House Elves gossiping."
"Yup. I fully expected I'd need it to fight something. I bought it this summer and I *like* it." His grin got brighter. "George helped me pick it out."
"Then I'm sure you'll find plenty of times to wear it around here. As long as your robes cover it, I don't see a problem." She winked at him before going back out of the hall.
"Did Giles leave you the notes?" Lupin asked.
"Yup. They were on my bed when I went up there to toss my cloak in my room. I've got the basic 'this goes in this group and this is how you kill it' notes."
"Intersperse it with stories," he advised. "If you can tell the kids how you, personally, killed something like that then it'll go over easier."
"And don't make them write outrageous papers, but give them a little homework every week," Dumbledore said as he joined them up at the table. "Have a nice walk?"
"Very," Xander said. "I met Madam Hooch in town, she said I could borrow a broom next time."
"Good, good," he said, taking his seat. "And you have the notes?"
"Yup, and I'll go over them tonight to see where I'll need to make some changes for the more physical lessons." Dumbledore smiled at that. "That's okay, right?"
"It's *your* class," Dumbledore reminded him. He smiled at Professor McGonagall as she walked up with the new first years. "I think we're in for a treat tonight. A new class."
"And Potter," Snape sighed, catching sight of him.
"He's a good boy," Xander countered, looking down at him. "He'd be a lot nicer if you were. He's a great kid."
"I'm sure," Professor Snape said dryly. "I don't cater to egos though."
"So don't," Xander agreed. "He doesn't seem to have too much of one. More of a repressed hero complex in the making, along with wondering why it's got to be him."
"I see." Professor Snape looked down at the tables, not wanting to be caught staring. "We'll see what this year brings."
"It will bring a new year of Quidditch," Dumbledore told them both. "A new House Cup winner, a new set of classes, and a new group of first years." He smiled as they were led in. "Ah, the Sorting Ceremony." He looked at Xander. "I did finally get an answer from your trying it on. It said it'd probably put you in Gryffindor, just because of the symbolism."
Xander snickered. "Thanks, Prof. That's great." He looked attentive at the cough and the glare from McGonagall. "Sorry."
She shook her head. "When I call your name, come up and sit down, I'll put the hat on your head and you will be sorted into your houses." She unrolled her scroll of names, which was longer than usual.
Xander leaned back, stuffed full from the feast. He watched as the students were led out, smiling as the other teachers got up and left to go prepare for the next morning's classes. He smiled as Ron walked up to the dias, forcing himself to get up and walk down to join him. "Hey, saw your parents. They said I was to give you lots of homework and make you sweat your grades this year."
Ron groaned. "They would. Was Ginny in town?"
"Yeah, your parents said she'd be up tonight. They needed to spend some time with her." He ruffled the red hair. "Go up to your dorm. I've got to go plan how to be evil to my first years tomorrow."
"I thought you were going to be teaching us."
"I have no idea yet," Xander admitted. "Anyway, go up to your room. I'll see you in the morning." They walked out together, Ron running to catch up with his housemates. Xander looked around then started to get a silly grin. "I'm a teacher," he said, jogging up the stairs to his room. He opened his door, looking down at the small book that had appeared on his bed. "Hey, what's this?" he asked, flipping it open. "Eww!" He tossed it aside and looked out into the hall, only seeing McGonagall. "Did you see anyone come into my room?"
"No, why?" she asked, her door open.
He grabbed the book and walked out, handing it to her. "That was on my bed."
"I see." She casually flipped through it then handed it back. "Keep it, maybe someone will step forward and you'll be able to use it against them."
"Yeah, maybe," Xander said, frowning down at it. "But it's hateful."
"Yes, it is," she said gently. "There's even people like that among us, Xander."
"Yeah, I guess it's a natural thing to fear what you don't know." He tossed the book back toward his room. "Do we have the schedules yet? I don't even know where I'm supposed to be teaching."
"We've got a meeting before breakfast and I'll help you with that myself." She smiled at him. "Anything else?"
"How much wiggle room do I have?"
"With the studies?" He nodded. "Quite a lot. You're the teacher."
Xander thought then nodded. "Okay. Thanks." He headed back into his room, kicking the book in front of him so it'd land under the bed. "I'm the teacher, huh," he said, picking up the Giles' missive and looking through it. "Well, this is counter-intuitive. Let's just rearrange this." He started sorting the neat, but copious notes out, settling in to set up his first semester of study.
Xander looked around his room, smiling at the nice line of desks and the clean chalkboard. "Wow. All mine," he told himself, starting to hunt for chalk. Willow and Tara found him first. "Hey," he said, grinning at them. "I'm a teacher."
"Yup, you're a teacher," Willow agreed. "Us too. We're down the hall, over top of Snape's classes." She looked around. "But we have a *much* smaller room."
"You guys tag-team teach?" Xander asked.
"Yup," Willow said, taking Tara's hand. "They even gave us a nice room together. Miss Kitty is very happy with it."
"Yeah, Murphy kinda likes my room too," he said, looking around the desk again. "Chalk?"
"Second drawer," Tara told him, pointing. "Are you nervous?" she asked quietly.
"Scared stiff that I'll freeze," Xander admitted. "You two?"
"Very," Willow agreed, squeezing Tara's hand. "But I know she'll save me, the same as I will her."
"Yeah, well, if you hear lots of laughter, come save me, 'kay?" He finally found the chalk and picked up his notes. "I've only got ten between breakfast and first lessons."
Willow sighed. "Us too. But we have classes most of the afternoon."
"Do you get to fly?" Tara asked.
"Yup, Madam Hooch said I could borrow a broomstick." He wiggled his eyebrows. "Want to go flying with me this afternoon?"
"My witch," Willow reminded him. "If she goes flying, it'll be with me." They both blushed when they heard what she had said. "Never mind. Going to breakfast now."
"I'll be there in a few," Xander said, making a quick outline of notes on the clean board. When he was done, he grabbed his robe and walked out, heading for the great hall and food. He really could use some food.
Xander faced down his first class, who were all looking at him. "Um, okay, truth here guys." Most of them nodded. "You're my *first* class, as in ever. So if I freeze or drift off topic, just call me on it without getting mean. If you get mean, I get nasty and give papers. Agreeable?" Everyone nodded. "Good." He raised the map over the first set of notes, then quickly switched it. "Sorry, needed this one first." He stepped out of the way. "This is for the rest of the week," he said as they all started to write. "Give yourself plenty of room."
"Sir?" one of the male students in the back row, a Hufflepuff, raised his hand. "Is this going to become more of a detailed outline?"
"Yup. Giles thinks this is a weeks worth of classes. I say it's two or three."
"We only have class with you three days a week," another Hufflepuff reminded him.
"I meant hours," Xander told her, giving her a smile. "Personally, I hated sitting where you are now." He hopped up onto to the desk, sitting in front of them. "I really never learned anything in a lecture class. I'd like to think that you'll learn something from me, but I'll understand if you cram and only pass the tests." He looked around the room. "Not that Giles should hear me say that, but I'm being practical." He pointed at the first line of the outline. "Categories. I'm going to teach you the basic categories of the muggle version of the paranormal. Some of these things you may be getting in other classes under different names. Some things I'm going to veer away from my notes and give you a better picture of them. And for some things, we'll just slip through them as quickly as possible because I don't like those groups. Any questions so far?" One girl raised her hand. "Yes?"
"Will this be on the test?"
He chuckled. "You never know; for that matter, I never know until I make it. But asking that question usually means that it will be." He gave her a brighter smile. "Anyone else?" No one raised their hands so he moved onto the next point. "Okay, I'm going to break this down into big categories with littler ones later on. The first big category is earth, or plane, bound, versus hell bound demons. Two distinct categories, but with some overlap." He slid off the desk, going to put up the second map and show the better outline. "This is where we're headed today." He gave them a few moments to scribble that down. "Got it?" One boy shook his head. "Okay, hurry up. You've got a minute." He timed it then started into his lecture. "Plane bound, or earthly demons, are ones that are born here, are locked here, and/or will cause the most damage here. This is where they belong. Now, I put the word plane in there because there is more than one plane of existence and reality. I've lived through a spot of alternate reality myself, so I know that it's true. That's where the first side-trip comes in," he said, pointing at the notation in the outline. "Whenever you see this, it means there's something outside of the basic categories that you'll need to know. This time, it's about alternate realities and planes. Ready?" he asked when everyone started to write again. Everyone nodded this time. "Good. Okay, let me give you an example. I landed in an alternate plane due to a wish by a Vengeance Demon, and a former girlfriend."
"Sir, weren't those one and the same?" the girl from earlier asked. "My older sister said that your ex-girlfriend showed up last year and told everyone about being a vengeance demon. She was quite impressed by some of her tortures."
"Not at the time, that's a later story," he told her. "Don't worry, you'll get to hear about that too." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, my former girlfriend, who was very upset with me for what I had done, made a stupid wish to a vengeance demon. Said demon made the wish came true, and created a whole new alternate reality. One in which I, and your later teacher Willow, were demons ourselves."
"What kind?" was called out from the back.
"Vampires. We were both vampires," Xander said quietly. He hopped back up onto the desk, facing his class. "An alternate reality is formed when a certain event, or a string of events, is changed from this plane."
"Sir, isn't that assuming that we're not an alternate plane ourselves?" another girl asked.
Xander looked at her. "Are you related to Hermione?" She shook her head. "Meet her if you can, I think you two'd get along pretty well. And yes, I am assuming that. From everything that I've been taught, it's harder to make an alternate reality off a plane that's already an alternate reality. Too many variables or something like that. Anyway," he sighed. "It can happen. We also know that there are other planes of existence. There's planes where only demons live. There's planes where humans have fallen through. There's even planes where the two have learned to live together peacefully, negating the need for a Slayer." He blinked a few times when his students started to look clueless. "What? Too fast?"
"What's a Slayer?" the one girl asked.
"The Slayer is a muggle who's born to fight the demons and vampires of the world," he explained. "Giles was what was called a Watcher, someone who trained Slayers."
"Do they do this indiscriminately?" the girl asked.
"Not the one I worked with. She tended to take a 'wait and see if it's eating someone' attitude as she got older and figured out there were too many demons in the world and she had to be picky about it. Others haven't been. Their job is to keep down the demon population. There's one at all times, except for now, where there's two thanks to modern medicine."
"But does she just outright kill them, without a trial or anything?"
"We'll get into that later," Xander told her. "Not everything needs a trial." He shifted to look only at her and figured he should probably do this now; it was never too early to burst the fantasy bubbles the kids were growing about how romantic and nice this was. "If you came across a vampire eating someone, what would you do?"
"Stake it," she said promptly.
"Without a trial?" he asked, turning her question back on her. She slumped a little bit. "That's why it's her job. She's chosen to do the hard duty and to take the grief and stress over it. Not everything in life is sweet and innocent."
"Or fair," a boy popped up.
"Or fair," Xander agreed. "Some demons hunt people, so the demons get hunted. You'll find that life really is like a big wheel, and the spokes hurt when you get caught on one." He smiled around the room. "Enough gloom. We need to get through this stuff." He pointed back at the board. "Let's move on, 'kay?" Everyone nodded. "Any questions about alternate realities or planes on the general level?"
"Aren't there people who believe that alternate realities exist without any help?" the philosophical girl asked.
"Yes, there are," he agreed. "That's for a later year, when you can argue about it with Giles. I'm just here to teach the basics. He gets all the harder questions." She nodded, looking a little happier. "Okay. Anyway, plane bound demons are usually stuck on their plane of origin. Meaning, if it was born or hatched there, it stays there. There are portals and ways around it, but I've heard it's not too pleasant for the weaker demons." He got up and started to pace again, going back into his planned lecture.
Xander snuck out to watch the first years in their flying lessons. It was his free period and he *really* wanted to be up there with them.
"Get in line, Harris," Madam Hooch said, giving him a stern look. "You're late."
"Sorry, ma'am," he said sheepishly, taking his spot beside the empty broom.
"Good. Now hold your hand over the broom and say up."
Xander held his hand out. "Up," he said. The broom didn't move. He frowned. "Up?" It wiggled. "Please?" he asked. It came up a little bit. He caught the teacher giving him a look. "Up," he said firmly, and the broom dropped back to the ground. "I think I need a self-starting model," he told her.
She snickered a little and waved his broom up. "Try it now," she said quietly.
"Is he a muggle?" a student asked, glaring at him.
"No, I'm not. I'm a teacher," Xander told him. "Paranormal Classifications and Defense."
"Crap," he heard another student whisper. "We've got him after this."
"Hey, if I get up in the air today, you guys'll have a very happy class."
"Go ahead," Madam Hooch told him, waving a hand at him. "Just get onto it and go take a turn around the field." She watched as he climbed on and the broom suddenly started. "I have no idea why you can't start one yourself," she muttered, going to help another student that couldn't get his broom to come up either.
Xander took a few turns around the field, relaxing. He had no idea that teaching was so hard. He felt responsible for these kids. If they ran into a demon he had taught them and didn't kill it right, it'd be his fault. He forced himself to relax as much as he could, then floated down. "Thank you," he called, landing and hopping off, handing the broom off to the teacher. "I've got to go back to my room now."
She smiled at him, watching as he ran off. "That's one of the new teachers," she told the class. "A very good one from what I've heard. Covered a lot of material but he made it fun." She watched her kids float a foot off the ground, nodding one girl lower. "Down please," she said firmly. "A foot. This is about control, not showing off."
Xander faced off his last class and was very glad his day was five minutes away from being over. "So, any questions?" he asked, starting to erase the board. He heard a panicked grunt and stopped. "Didn't get it all down?"
"No," Hermione said, looking up at him. "This is really all there is to this?" She had opted to take his class along with Professor Giles' class, ,just to get it all. Giles had pre-sorted his classes into those who needed the beginning class, which was being taught by Xander, and those who had gotten enough information in his first classes last year She was also taking Tara and Willow's class, just to see the differences.
"For now," he agreed. "Later, probably with Giles, you'll be getting a lot more information and types. I'm here to teach you the archetypes and get you to start thinking. If you ran into a demon with horns, no tail, and really sickening breath, by the time you get out of our classes, you should be able to tell me that it's a Brasthenson demon and shouldn't even be on this plane. Or that if it is here, to look for the nearest concentration of virgins and protect them. Okay?" She nodded. "Any other questions?"
"So, you're setting us up for later lessons?" Harry asked.
"Very. Later, once we've covered this, we're going to be joining with the Defense Against the Dark Arts program and working on your skills over there. These two subjects weave together and you've got to become proficient in both areas to be really good in either." Everyone nodded. "Good, dismissed a few minutes early. Hermione, a word?" he asked as everyone started to file out. "Why did you take this?"
"Because it's been a necessity in my life," she told him honestly. "And if Voldemort really comes back, we'll all have to have it, especially those of us who help Harry."
"Good." He nodded. "Can I get you to give me a little help?" he asked quietly, making sure the room was clear. They bent their heads together, talking quietly.
Xander walked down to Hagrid's cabin, going to meet the man he hadn't had a chance to last time. They'd found out that the Hagrid he had met was under polyjuice potion and a spy. He tapped lightly, smiling at the real Fang. "Hey, boy," he said, letting the dog sniff his hand. "Not going to jump me?"
Hagrid chuckled. "No, he's not feelin' that well. Come in." He opened the door further, smiling down at the muggle. "What brings you down here?"
"I'd like to learn more about the forest," Xander told him, staying honest. "There's some incredible things down there."
"Do ya wanna kill them?" Hagrid asked.
"Not if they're not dangerous to me at that moment. If they're dangerous over all, I wouldn't mind learning how to do it in the general sense. I wouldn't ever hurt a creature that didn't attack me or someone else."
"Good enough," Hagrid agreed. "I'll send ya a note the next time I gotta go down there. Welcome to Hogwarts," he said, holding out a hand.
"Thanks," Xander said, giving him a smile and shaking it. "I met this person the last time I was here that was pretending to be you, and his dog, who liked to jump all over me. Can I come play with Fang when he's feeling better?"
"Sure. He could probably use someone to roll around with." Hagrid pounded the boy on the back, but Xander had braced for it. "Good man," he laughed.
"Thanks." Xander bent down to scratch Fang's ears again. "I'll be back in a few days to come play with you," he promised the dog. He smiled and walked out. "Thanks, Hagrid," he called as he started for the school. It was dinner time.
Hagrid looked down at his dog, who was whining to follow. "No, you'll get to play soon enough. He likes you." He shut his door, going back to his solitary dinner.
Xander looked up as his room's door was tapped on. "Come in?" he called. Sirius Black opened it and stepped in, shutting it behind him. "Hey," Xander said, hiding his present studies. "What's up?"
"I was wondering if your classes were nearly ready to start some cross training?"
"Well," Xander said, picking up the sheet he had written out his schedule on. "We're almost done with the first major group of demons and we'll have a test early next week." He looked up. "I can start it right after that."
Sirius smiled. "That's about when I figured on starting. A few of your first years are in my first year classes and they've said you're about ready to move on again." He pointed at the chair. "May I?" Xander nodded. "How are you finding teaching?"
"It's a lot easier than I thought, but it's so very hard in some other ways," Xander told him. "I started to worry about the kids when they get out of here."
"As long as you gave them the information, then they'll have it," Sirius told him. "If they forget it, then it's their own problem and nothing you can help."
"Had that thought?"
"Oh, yes," Sirius said with a smile. "It's something most of us around here have to push back every now and then." He looked at the dresser beside him, frowning at the book lying on it. "Where did you get that?" he asked coolly.
"I found it on my bed that first night," Xander told him. "It's really sickening, but I'm keeping it to see if I can flush out who sent it."
"That's good," Sirius said, calming down again. "Did you know Lupin was a...."
"Werewolf?" Xander asked, nodding. "Yeah, I've known another. I wonder if he and Oz know each other. Oz, a friend of ours, went off to find control after he tore another were up for touching his girlfriend."
"Oh." Sirius shifted. "Did you have to deal with him?"
"No, he was good. He locked himself up every month. He never got free except for during that incident. Even then, he never ate anyone. Which is much better than I can say about myself when I was possessed that first time." He shifted uncomfortably.
"*You* ate someone?" Sirius asked.
"No, I ate the pig with the rest of the pack. *They* went and ate a guy." Sirius shuddered. "We were possessed at the time. Hyenas are like that. We terrorized everyone around us."
Sirius snorted. "I bet. Who gets to go into the other magic system?"
"Giles does," Xander said, going with the change of subject. "I get to give them the 'respect it all' lecture. He dips into the other form of magic in his lectures." Xander looked at the short stack of things he still had to go through. "What am I going to do for the rest of the year?" he asked.
Sirius snickered. "You'll have to take that up with Rupert." He stood up. "If you have any problems, come get us."
"Does Lupin lock himself up?"
"No, he leaves the school during these times and heads to Hogsmeade to be safe. We've had this set up since he was a student here."
"As long as he's safe," Xander said calmly. "I wouldn't tell Giles, he can get a bit....uptight about making sure people are safe."
"I've heard," Sirius said, patting him on the head. "You're a good man, Xander. Relax about it. We've got it covered." He left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Okay, the two worlds do overlap." Xander pulled out his new wand and his book, studying what he might need to know one day.
Xander stood in front of his class, the class after their very first test, and smiled. "Guys, I'm impressed, and not only with myself," he told them, getting some laughter. "You guys did very good overall. There were a few questions that were kinda vague on purpose, to make sure you were listening in class, and you even got those." He smile slipped some. "Unfortunately, you guys mostly missed two that should have been in your notes." He patted the piles of parchment. "Will someone come pass these back out please?" Two kids came up and halved the pile, handing them out while Xander took up his usual perch on his desk. "Let's go over what you guys missed," he told them. "First, questions?"
"What's this thing with the dark mask?" a boy in the back row asked. "I don't remember it."
"I do now," a girl in the front groaned. "He's right, it was in our notes." She flipped through her notes, coming across it. "A beady eyed, dark masked creature that peers at you in the nights."
"I didn't get that," the boy complained. He looked at the students around him's papers. "They got it wrong too," he noted. "You should give us credit for that. It's obviously a teacher mistake if the whole class got it wrong."
"Ah, but I told you about that," Xander told him. "It was a minor thing that I mentioned, but people do have it in their notes. How many of you remember it now?" he asked. Nearly everyone raised their hands. "How many of you didn't have it in your notes?" Only three people raised their hands, all Slytherins. "Gee, guys, looks like you should take better notes. Thankfully, this test is only a tenth of your grade." He smiled again. "The other question I despaired about because it was badly written, but I couldn't figure out how to write it any other way, not even with some help." He frowned at Hermione, who had also missed it. "Even you didn't get that one. Did you realize it once you got out of here?"
She nodded. "I did. As soon as I saw it in my notes. It was one of the little things that you added into the graphs because it was similar but not quite part of that group." She looked behind her. "It was that 'cousin' thing he was talking about." The whole class groaned and checked their papers.
"Good. Will we remember this for the final?"
"We're having a comprehensive final?" one boy asked.
"Ask the question again and you will," Xander agreed happily. He hated that kid. "If I do do that, it'll come from the tests you'll be taking now. I'll give you the rest of the class to copy down any notes you want from these tests because I want them back. Next time, come prepared to go outside."
"Can we go early if we get done early?" Neville asked hopefully.
"Sure. Just be quiet and respectful. The other teachers are still having normal classes." He clapped his hands. "Like I said, overall you guys did great. There were only two non-passing grades, and another one that I was unhappy with." He smiled at his group. "You guys did great, be happy with yourselves. You're getting the material and are handling it pretty well." He slid off the desk and walked out into the hall, leaning against the cool stone wall. "I'm so good," he told himself happily. He smiled at Giles, who was walking towards him. "Good news," he said happily. "There were only three grades I wasn't happy with."
Giles patted him on the shoulder. "Good. I heard that you're taking the children to cross train next class period?"
"Yeah," Xander said, glancing back into the classroom. "What did you want me to teach after I got done with this stuff?"
Giles groaned. "Xander, that pile was to last you all year," he said gently.
"Gee, but I got through the first classification table already." He held up a finger and stuck his head back into the classroom. "Guys, when you get done, come hand us your tests and go be quiet somewhere." He came back out. "You can even look over them if you'd like. Make sure I covered it all."
"Yes, I think I should," Giles said, smiling at Hermione. "May I also take your notes to look over?" he asked her. "I had planned for Xander to take most of the year to teach what I gave him."
She handed over the pile of notes. "Sure. Those aren't all of them, just from the lectures that I had problems with on the test. I'll get the rest and bring them to you tonight at supper." She handed Xander her test. "I think he's covering it very well. We've learned a lot but it's been pretty easy so far." She smiled at Xander. "Your lesson tonight?"
"Sure, after supper in this classroom," he told her.
"Okay." She walked off, quickly followed by Ron and Harry, who ran out and tossed over their tests to catch up to her.
Xander handed over the tests, watching as Giles read them. "The two she missed most everyone missed but realized what they were today." Giles grunted, going in to collect the rest of the tests. Xander shook his head, starting to worry about how much trouble he was in. He started to fidget, wanting everyone to get finished so he could go up and send Murphy into Hogsmeade to get some reassurance. His friends were good for that. And this weekend, he'd get to see them again. As soon as the last student left, he hurried up to his room and his phoenix.
Giles tapped on Xander's door, walking in at the grunt. "I've got to admit, after talking with Ron, you've covered all the material to my satisfaction." He handed back the tests, watching as they were stuffed into a drawer. "Xander, I'm sorry if I've seemed harsh on you."
Xander glared up at him. "Giles, you all but told me that I was doing everything wrong. That's not harsh, that's mean."
"I'm sorry," Giles said, closing the door behind himself and coming in to look at the boy. "I didn't mean to be so down on you. I never expected you to move through the material so fast. You're not a natural teacher."
"So you thought I couldn't tell funny stories and give out information?"
"No," Giles said firmly, "I knew you could do that, I had doubts that the students were learning any of it." He gave his former student a smile. "I'm very happy with how you've been doing, proud even," he said at the relenting frown. "I'll trust you to come to me from now on if you need anything."
"I'll need more material," Xander told him. "Even if we spend half of the classes in with Sirius, I'm still going to be out of material in the next month."
"I'll see what we have in the rest of the notebook," he said, faintly sounding shocked. "How are the twins?" he asked, desperate to not be mad at. He didn't like it when Xander treated him coldly, he liked the boy, he was like his son.
"They're fine," Xander told him. "Fred said I should mine your bed with stink bombs." He raised one eyebrow. "Will you trust me now?"
"Definitely," Giles agreed, giving him a smile. "I realize you're much better than I thought. We'll figure out what we're teaching for the rest of the year together. All right?"
"Are you going into the other form of magic? Sirius asked me and I told him that was your area."
"Why, yes, I was. I can easily stretch that into a few weeks, the different classifications and the types of magic that are used throughout the world. I'll check with the girls to see what they've covered in that area. Thank you. Would you like the 'other' category?"
"Sure. Or even that one and one other big one would be good," Xander told him.
"I'll see what I can pull out of the binder," Giles agreed, giving him a brighter smile. "Very well done, Xander. I'm very proud of you." He walked out, leaving Xander alone to finish grading the other classes tests.
Giles' scream of outrage made him smile and lock his door. It wasn't stinkbombs, but shaving creme bombs were still of the good and just as funny.
Xander looked down the high table, frowning at McGonagall. "Where's Sirius and Lupin? We're supposed to be running joint classes today."
"Professor Lupin had a few problems last night," she said gently. "Nothing of concern," she said quickly when she heard his groan. "More of a medical concern. They're both up in the infirmary. Professor Lupin doesn't like to stay up there alone."
"Oh. What about their classes?"
"They're getting free study periods," she told him.
"Oh." He thought then started to nod slowly. "I have something I can do instead. We'll still be going outside." She nodded. "It's time to put the things we've learned to use. My first years will have to help me set it up." He grinned and stood up. "I'll be back in a few, maybe," he said, grabbing a pastry anyway. He was hungry and this was going to be a long day outside for them. For some reason, England got cold in October. Maybe he'd have to find one of those House Elves and ask them to bring out a pot of tea for each class. He shrugged his thoughts off as he ran up to his room to get the necessary materials for his next class. He had enough boxes and pictures up there to do that. And if not, he could always improvise and try to draw some of the monsters.
Xander faced off with his second class, who had remembered their cloaks and scarves. "Good. This is the exercise." One of the girls raised her hands. "Professors Lupin and Black aren't feeling well so there's been a slight change of plans," he told her. "Today, we're going to have a practical pop quiz of the physical nature." He pointed at the boxes tacked to the ground around them. "You'll be broken into groups of...." he did a quick head count, "three," he announced. "Each group will take a box, you will figure out how to kill the monster and/or demon pictured in there. You will rotate to the *left*," he told them. "One group will always be free to get warm," he pointed at the tea cart with the large pot of tea being kept warm. "Count off!"
"Sir?" one girl asked. "Huh?"
"Okay, never heard that one?" she shook her head. "Wow. You guys never did that in gym classes? Huh. Okay, each person, in turn, says a number. You're one," he told her, pointing at the boy behind her. "Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Repeat!" he ordered, watching as the kids caught on. Soon he had his eight groups, group number two being the one that drew the tea pot position first from his hat. "You've got five minutes with each," he told them, starting for the group that had just cheered. "Put the thing that you think will kill or hurt that creature from the group of items around it in the box and close the lid. And no cheating!" he called to one of the all-Slytherin groups, who had been looking around. He stopped at the farthest group. "Calm down, you got this right on the test," he told the girl who was starting to shake. She gave him a smile and pointed at the stake. "I'm not going to tell you. This is a group decision. Put it in the box if you think it's right." She looked at her classmates, who nodded, so she put the stake into the box and closed the lid. "What else might have hurt it?" he asked.
"Um, the metal thing," the second girl said quickly. "It's killed with silver." She took the stake out and put the butter knife into the box. "Like that?"
"Very good. Remember, you're a team and you have five minutes in each box." He walked to the next group, checking on them. "I'd drink that tea," he called. "It's going to be a long time before you get back to it." He watched as the students next to the tea pot all poured themselves mugs of tea and started to drink it. "And take the mugs with you, but make sure they all end up back on the trolley," he told them as he nodded at the next group. He made it to the third box, and the group that were looking petrified. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"I don't remember what anything looks like," one of the boys said. "She said it's a vampire but I know it's not."
"Well, what do vampires look like? You remember their characteristics, tell me if that's it."
"Um, it's not pale, it's green," the girl with them said. "So, not a vampire?"
"Very good reasoning. The blush might also have tipped you off. When you don't have much blood in your body, you can't really do that." He patted the boy on the shoulder. "So, what was green that we covered in the class?"
"This is hard," he complained.
"I know. It's meant to be. Just think, I could have asked one of the more magical teachers to make this seem like a dark alley at night and you'd have to do this more realistically, like you will once you graduate." He walked on to the next box, smiling down at the Slytherin guys. "What did you think this was?" he asked.
"We think it's a vampire," the lead boy, the loud one in the class, told him.
"It's furry," Xander pointed out delicately. "Vampires aren't usually furry. You've got a minute left, correct it or get it wrong." He walked in, going to check on his other groups. When time was up, he walked around to each, writing down which person was in each group and which groups had gotten their first box right. "Good, guys, switch to the box on your *left*. Tea people, refill your mugs if you need to and take them with you." He pulled his cloak tighter around himself, smiling at the girl who raised her hand. "Yes, Mary?"
"I'm cold, sir, may I please go back to the classroom and get my gloves?"
"Sure. Hurry up. Tell your group your idea first."
She leaned over and whispered to them then ran inside, stopping when Professor Snape frowned at her. "Sorry, Professor, I need my gloves."
"Who has you outside today?" he asked.
"Professor Harris, we're doing a physical exercise. With tea," she added at his frown. "I need my gloves. The wind's picking up." She ran into the classroom and grabbed her gloves, and the other three sets she found, taking them back out. She found Professor Snape looking down at the boxes. "I found some other gloves inside," she said, waving them. Their owners got up and grabbed them from her and she went back to her group, nodding at their choice. "Good job," she told them. "We get tea next."
Xander smiled at Professor Snape as he walked out, with a great frown aimed at him. "How many times have you ended up needing to do things outside in winter?" he suggested. "I've made sure the kids can stay warm. I even warned them the last class time. I was supposed to have a joint exercise with Lupin and Black." He checked his watch. "Time, let's see who got it right." He grabbed his clipboard and nodded. "Want to come with me?" He walked to the box on the right, they were always fastest. "Good." He stopped at the second group, frowning down at the little vial of water in the box. "Okay, what did you think it was?" he asked.
"A Bezoar?" one of the students suggested.
"Which is killed or hurt most by what?" Xander asked.
"Um, holy water?" she suggested. He shook his head. "Did we get the classification right?"
"Right group, wrong demon," he agreed. "Half for that. That's a wood sensitive one if it helps."
"Oh, I know what it is," one of the girls said, looking down at it. "The number of horns should have told us."
"Very good," Xander agreed, moving onto the Slytherin guys. "Okay," he said, staring down at their box. "That's a vampire," he told them. "Silver doesn't hurt them, they tend to laugh at it actually." He looked at Professor Snape. "I think maybe these three need some study habits lessons. Do you guys do that here?"
"No, but I'm sure we'll be having a discussion," Snape told them. They all looked terrified and nodded. "Good. This is the whole exercise?"
"No, they switch off," Xander said, moving onto the fifth box. "Good, guys," he said, marking it down. He finished his group and checked his watch. "Switch," he called. He watched as the tea group, who had refilled their mugs, ran to their next box.
Professor Snape frowned at the boys who got to lounge around the tea pot. "That's not a challenge."
"No, but I didn't have enough boxes so they get to drink tea for the next five minutes. It also means that everyone gets a chance at tea to stay warm." Xander walked over at the raised hand. "Yup?" he asked, squatting down to look at the defaced picture. "Huh, gonna take points off those guys. Can you tell what it is?" She shook her head and he handed her some tape from his cloak pocket. "Fix it and you'll get this one right." He stood up and glared at the group around the tea pot. "Five points off for defacing one of the pictures," he said as he walked back over to them. "Each."
Professor Snape looked impressed. "You're a hard teacher."
"Actually, I made a deal with the kids," Xander told him, leaning against the outer wall of the school. "They didn't screw with me and I wouldn't assign them extra homework." He checked his watch again. "One minute and then I need to make a note of homework," he called. "Everyone can have tea then." He nodded at the round. "Want to help again?"
"No. Thank you." Professor Snape pulled his cloak tighter around him. "I think I'll go back down to my rooms. I need to prepare for Mr. Longbottom's class. He'll be blowing up the lab this time."
"Let him work with Ron," Xander told him. "Ron complained that he's in the corner anyway."
"So is Longbottom," Snape said coolly. "Trust me, I always put the troublemakers over in that corner, that way the explosions are minimized." He looked down at his students. "We will be talking tonight. Report to me after your last class." He walked back toward the door.
"Time," Xander called, heading over to check their boxes, smiling when everyone got it right. "Good, guys. Now then, for homework tonight I want you guys to write out the exercises that we're doing today and give me reasons why you think each one is what it is."
"For instance?" a boy asked.
"For instance, you thought that one picture was a Bezoar. I want to know why you thought that way and why you know you were wrong, and how you'd fix both problems." He nodded. "Good? Next boxes after everyone has a mug." Xander watched as his students hurried back to their next task, more than ready to get on with this.
Xander looked up as Dumbledore joined his class of sixth years, smiling at him. "Hi. The wind's stopped." He nodded at the groups. "They're doing very well today. Only a few mixups."
"Good." Dumbledore smiled at the pot of warm tea. "You're doing a good job. What did Snape want?"
"He ran into one of my students, who had gone in to get her gloves. He came out to see what I was doing. Apparently he never expected this sort of thing from me." He shrugged lightly. "I think this is a really good training device. We've had a few problems with the kids mixing up demons in the same class, except for a few Slytherin guys this morning." He held out the clipboard. "Want to check the scores?"
"No. It looks like fun," Dumbledore said, smiling at the students. "Do you have time to call them in?"
"Yup, we're half through and I give everyone a tea break at the half-way point." He checked his watch. "I've got to go start checking them. Want to walk with me?"
"All right." Xander walked over to the girl that looked really confused. "Calm down," he told her. "What's wrong?"
"I don't remember which group it goes into," she told him.
"Well, start with the bigger picture. Which class is it?"
"And is it plane or hell bound?"
"Um," she looked at it. "Plane, earth specifically," she said, then she picked up the silver butter knife and put it into the box.
"Good job," he said, patting her on the head. He marked her off. This class was smaller so there was one person to a box. He headed to Hermione next, knowing she had it done already. "How did Neville do in Potions?" he asked her.
"No explosion," she said with a smile. "Professor Snape took five points off me for not helping him." She turned her smile on Dumbledore. "Professor Snape thinks that I helped him but I didn't. Neville and I studied that spell for a long time last night."
"I'll shall have to congratulate him then," Dumbledore told her. "Very nice work, Ms. Granger."
"Yup, just right. Go to the pot. We'll do the homework thing and tea break next." He checked his watch. "Time," he called, watching as one last kid tossed in something and closed the lid. He shook his head when the boy looked at him. "Sorry, Ron. That wasn't what you thought it was." He went to the rest of the groups, then went back to join them at the pot. "All right. Your homework, the same as everyone else's, is to go over this exercise on paper. Tell me what each box was, and if you got it wrong why you thought it was what it was. Tell me what you should have put in there and why you put what you did in the box. Got it?" Everyone nodded. "Good, grab some tea and go back to your next box." He smiled at the Headmaster, after getting out of the way. "I think it's been a productive day."
"I'd say. This was a very good idea," Dumbledore agreed. "Fun yet very easy and reinforcing of what you've taught them. Good job, Xander. By the way, Professor Lupin said you were on for their next class and Madam Hooch said that she wanted to see you during your free period, that the students in her flying class wanted to see you out there doing drills with them. It seems it gave them greater confidence."
Xander nodded. "Okay. I won't have a class after this so I'll pick up at the end and head over there." He preened under the positive attention, just like his bird did. He had to send a note to the village tonight. He watched as Dumbledore walked back in, still smiling even though he was so cold he was nearly numb.
Xander stepped into the joke shop, smiling at the guys behind the counter. "Hi," he said, walking over to give them both hugs. "I'm cold," he said happily. "And Ron can't tell a werewolf from a vampire."
Fred laughed. "You'd think he'd be able to after seeing Lupin change." He tugged Xander into the back room, sitting him down and pouring him a mug of butterbeer that they had gotten earlier. "Here, drink." He sat down across from him. "How was your joint classes?"
"Didn't happen today. Lupin had probs last night." Xander took a sip and hummed in appreciation. "This is good." He looked at George, who was ringing someone up. "So, how's business?"
"Good," Fred told him, giving him a smile. "Did you use stink bombs?"
"Shaving creme ones."
"Eww," George said. "Sticky nasty stuff. Congratulations," he said happily. "Need some more?"
"Nah. But I will need something for classes later this month." He leaned over and bumped into Fred, who had leaned in at the same time. He pulled back quickly, touching his lips. "Um, sorry 'bout that."
"It's okay," Fred told him, standing up. "It's all good here in town." He wiggled his eyebrows. "What mean and nasty things are you going to be doing with the kids this time?"
"The older kids are going to be going through an inside maze where Lupin has set up some minor creatures. I was thinking about adding some fog based ones to it. He thought it'd be cool and he can get some, but no fog."
"Ah, fog we can give you," George said, switching places with his brother. He leaned in and gave Xander a kiss. "It's only fair, Fred got one," he said impishly at the shocked look.
Xander shook his head. "Guys, I'm pretty sure I like women."
"So do we," Fred agreed from his place in front of the register. "When do the kids get to come down?"
"Yes," Fred sighed. "A big take on our first real day."
"Hopefully," George agreed. "How was the test?"
"Good. I put pictures in boxes and laid things to kill the monster in front of it. Except a few Slytherin guys this morning, it went okay. Ron wasn't used to working on his own like that so he got a little flustered. Ginny did excellent in helping me today. She was very good at tracking down a House Elf to get us tea for each class and mugs for everyone."
"Yeah, she'll make a wonderful wife," George sighed. "Nothing special?"
"Only really cold wind, and Professor Snape coming out to look over my shoulder. Oh, and Dumbledore said I was doing very good," he said proudly.
"Good," George said, giving him a hug. "Want to try something new out? We're not sure if it'll work on the muggle born."
"Is it going to hurt?" Xander asked, getting up and following him into the lab. He picked up the little purple grape-cluster looking piece of candy. "What is this?"
"Um, anger candy," George said, taking it from him. "Something we don't want to make any more of." He handed over a piece of candy that looked like a gumball. "Suck on this, but don't bite it," he warned.
Xander put it into his mouth and sucked on it, laughing when his reflection in a nearby mirror showed him turning blue. "Wow," he said, spitting it out. "I'd say it works. Any side effects?"
"Yeah, it lasts for three days if you bite, two hours if you suck," Fred called in. "It's Lupin."
"I'm coming," Xander said, stuffing the ball into his pocket. He could find a use for that. He smiled at the other teacher. "Feeling better?"
Professor Lupin gave him a look but shook himself before he could laugh. "Much. I managed to hurt myself running around my enclosure last night," he said, giving Xander a smile. "Did you include a werewolf in there?"
"And a silver butter knife," Xander agreed. "Not all of you lock yourselves up, but all of you can be injured but not killed."
"Point," Lupin agreed after a few seconds thought. "Are you going to teach them that?"
"In our mutual classes," Xander agreed firmly. "I'd rather see the kids trying to drive it off then have them feel guilty over killing something. One girl asked me if the Slayer killed without giving the demons a trial."
Lupin smiled. "Good. I like that attitude. Driving things off is usually a lot more healthy
"Yup, you get to walk away," Xander agreed wryly. "Fighting leads to bruises and head injuries from hitting walls."
George shook his head. "Only where you come from. We never get that close."
"What happens when you lose your wand in the fight?" Xander asked. George looked at Fred. "Yeah, so I'd rather teach the kids the practical and mundane ways to drive things off if they need to in addition to letting Lupin and Black teach them how to do it magically."
"Which is very practical," Fred agreed. "You've really thought about this, haven't you?"
"No, I've really lived this," Xander told him. "This used to be my life." He smiled suddenly. "Now, though, my life is very odd." He pulled out his wand. "No one else knows I have one of these," he told them. "Well, except McGonagall and Dumbledore, she caught me practicing and told him. Anyway, Hermione has been helping me. I can do little things," he said proudly.
"Good," Lupin told him. "What was Madam Hooch talking about? She said you had problems with broomsticks."
"Only getting them to come up," Xander said dryly. "I can fly on one, but I can't get it to do the whole 'up' thing that she taught the first day."
"None of us use that anyway," George told him. "Put that away," he said, noticing who was walking towards the shop. He looked over and it had disappeared. "How are your witches doing?"
"Better than I am," Xander told him. "But I have gone through everything Giles has give me so far. I'm actually intruding on his next year's classes and he's figuring out what to teach them."
"Maybe we'll realign it so you'll teach the defense parts and he'll teach classification," Lupin suggested.
"Other way around. I cover the material better and he knows how to kill everything," Xander told him. "I'm going to have to find new sources of demons to put into the grouping. Minister Fudge," he said when the man finally walked in. "Just down from the school?"
"No, just on a small trip up here," he said pleasantly. He looked around the store. "You seem to be doing very well," he told the twins. "Harris, how are your classes?"
"Good. I did an exercise with the kids today that showed that most everyone had actually learned what was on their first test."
"Yes, I heard something about that from another teacher. Outside, today?"
"With a large cart of tea," Xander agreed. "I had told them to be prepared to go outside today anyway. It was okay, except the class where the wind picked up."
"I see. So they were warm?"
"Yup and I let them in early to finish warming up. Almost everyone was fine with just their gloves and the tea though."
"All right then." He smiled at the twins again. "I was wondering if you had anything that might liven up a party I'm throwing tonight."
"Of course, Minister," George said, leading him over to a locked case. "These are the line of party favors we've created so far. The snappers contain lights instead of presents so you can create your own light show. The round things float in drinks and give off screams and fog."
Minister Fudge laughed. "Good. I'll take ten of each. I'll give them out tonight as favors." He handed over some coins to Fred, who had come over with the key. "Looking forward to Hogwart's first weekend in town?"
"Definitely," Fred agreed.
"It's our Grand Opening," George agreed. "And the other joke shop has been very good about accepting the competition."
"Good," Minister Fudge said, taking his small bag. "Harris, Lupin," he said, nodding at them both. "I expect I'll see you later tonight."
"Probably," Xander agreed, waving. He waited until the door closed. "I hate that man, he's such a slimeball."
"He's a politician," George reminded him. "He's supposed to be that way."
"Yeah, well, he's not getting it on the nice meter from me," Xander told him, turning to look at the case. "Screams and fog? You never told me about that one. Great Halloween gag."
"Yup," Fred said, giving him a smile. "We've already heard about that."
"And done something along those lines," George agreed. He looked over Xander's robe. "Did you take the color ball?" He got a happy nod. "Just remember to use it subtly. Otherwise someone'll freak and we'll get into trouble."
"Why would you get into trouble for something that I found somewhere else?" Xander asked, making George frown. "I meant if I got into trouble," he explained.
"Oh. Good." He and Fred shared a smile.
Fred shook his head. "It's not necessary. Things like that still bring in business." He winked at his twin. "When did you guys need the fog?"
"I was thinking that those fog creators would be good for the maze exercise," Lupin told him. "Just the right atmosphere for the class since it's going to be around Halloween anyway."
"Cool," Xander said. "I like that idea. Did you want to sit down tonight and work out everything?"
"Sure. Sirius will probably join us."
"Hey, all good with me," Xander told him. He checked his watch. "We've only got an hour until dinner," he told the twins, coming over to give them hugs. "I'm glad you're happy, but I'd better get back. I'll send Murphy down tomorrow." He grinned at George. "I've got to work on my illusions, which I seem to be pretty good at."
"That's what gryphons were good at," Lupin agreed, waving at the boys as he followed Xander out. "Did you broom down?"
"Yup," Xander said, pointing at his broom. "You?"
"No, I took the tunnel," he said cryptically. "I'll see you at dinner." He watched the young man go, wondering how much trouble certain people were going to be in when they went against him. He shook himself, heading for the Shrieking Shack so he could go home. There was now another entrance to the tunnel and he wanted to try it out.
Xander looked down the table of teachers, giving Willow a grin. He knew she'd run into some problems recently, a few of the students accusing her of not being a real witch and the like. Nothing like he had run into, but still annoying. That's why Dumbledore had called this meeting. And while he was listening to the Headmaster, he was also planning how to get even with the teachers who were pissing him off. After all, it was part of his nature.
He pretty well knew who it was. Snape was leading the group.
"And I'd like to finish by saying a nice word about our new teachers, who have had to put up with a lot of uncertainty this year," Dumbledore said, drawing Xander's attention back to the meeting.
He smiled at the older man. "It's okay, I'm dealing pretty well. Most of my students haven't said anything to me *directly*, but if I find the guys who changed the lock spell on my door I'm going to get them."
Dumbledore frowned at him. "Now, Xander...."
"No. I wasn't able to take care of Murphy for a whole day. Birds have to eat every day, they don't store fat the way cats do. It could have seriously hurt him." He gave the Headmaster a reassuring smile. "I promise not to do anything *bad* to them, just make them wish that their detentions with me were running *much* faster."
Dumbledore hummed. "I can see that. Please don't do more than scare them." Xander nodded his agreement. "Is Murphy all right?"
"Mostly. He needed to be held that next day. He didn't want to leave my side at all. He still doesn't want to be left alone in my room so I've been bringing him with me to class."
"So they attacked your bird too?" Willow asked.
"No, they said something to him. He's acting like he did when Buffy snarked on him that time."
Willow nodded. "I'll find you some pomegranates."
"Thanks, Will." Xander looked up at Dumbledore again. "I promise, I won't hurt them, but the next person who touches Murphy's going to wish they'd been straight and come at me instead."
"I agree that something should be done," Dumbledore agreed, "but you can't be too hard on the students."
"Oh, really?" Xander asked, looking at Snape. "I'm sure we can strike a happy medium. I'll tell you what I'll do before I do it."
"Thank you. I'd like the chance to approve of any punishments beyond the ordinary." Dumbledore looked at Giles. "What you did, while very entertaining, was not wholly appropriate for errant students."
"What did you do?" Tara asked quietly.
"I gave one rabbit ears for an hour," Giles said dryly. "I figured them having bigger ears might mean that they'd listen for a change."
"Let me take over your class for a few days," Xander said quickly. "It might solve some of the problems."
Giles blinked a few times. "All right. We'll figure out where we're each at tonight."
"No, let Willow and Tara handle mine, you go handle theirs."
Dumbledore smiled at him. "That's a very good idea. What do you have planned?"
"I think a fresh set of eyes might solve a few of the problems. And maybe, just maybe, I'll run his class through a training exercise. He can run Willow and Tara's through a minor but tiring spell casting. Willow and Tara can keep my classes, which are mostly all right, in line."
"That sounds reasonable. Showing them that what you do isn't that easy is an appropriate way of countering these recent attacks." He looked down at Xander. "I've heard that you received a most unkind present the night you got here."
"Yeah, I got a book all about how people who were different shouldn't be considered people. Including people like me."
"Ah, I see," Dumbledore said. "Do you still have it?"
"It's sitting on my dresser. I wasn't going to take any hints from it about how I should be turned into my heritage's shape and torn wing from limb," he said dryly.
"Also very good," Dumbledore agreed. "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like that book."
"Sure. I'm tired of watching it to see if it mutates and tries to attack me at night." Dumbledore nodded. "Also, Willow, my class, they're doing the usual ethics lectures. Get Tara to do it so you don't get screechy."
"I don't," Willow protested.
"You do," Giles interrupted. "I've seen you do it when another student asked you if you shouldn't wait to catch the vampire instead." He patted her hand. "Relax and let Tara handle most of that section." He smiled at Xander. "You're going to make my next classes very hard, aren't you?"
"Hey, they're getting the information, I'm sure you can find something else to teach them. You keep saying that this only scratches the surface. Do the unusual cases and the 'other' category of problems that we run into."
"I think I might have to," Giles said good naturedly.
Dumbledore smiled at them both. "The Ministry has requested that we continue this track of learning, thinking that it might be very useful in the future for the students." He looked at Snape. "How are the students in your classes?"
"Longbottom and Potter's group have formed some sort of alliance and are cheating somehow," he sniffed. "Longbottom hasn't blown up the dungeon yet this term."
"Maybe he's finally getting the hang of it," McGonagall noted. "He's been taking a lot of time after classes to study with Hermione Granger. I think that the extra studying is paying off."
"Maybe," Snape agreed dryly. "But I doubt it. He couldn't ever mix a potion right before."
"Yes, well, sometimes students will surprise you," Dumbledore reminded him. "I've noticed how serious Mr. Longbottom has become in the last few months. He's been studying with Ms. Granger you say?"
"I see. Maybe they'll give him some more confidence. The boy could certainly use it." Everyone nodded. "Are there any other problem students?"
"I have one," Willow noted. "One of the Slytherin guys that's been wrecking Xander's class is in mine also. Unfortunately, Tara had to give him detention the other day because he decided to take someone's toad and tried to kill it by skinning it. I was ready to skin him but she caught me and fixed him first."
Dumbledore groaned. "I had hoped that he would calm down. I shall talk to the boy tonight. Anyone else?"
"Potter's planning something again," Snape told him.
"Not," Xander countered. "Ron's planning something for Harry's next birthday. Hermione's planning something for the holidays, which will make everyone wince probably, and Harry's just kinda in the middle of it."
"He's been too quiet recently."
"Harry's not quiet when he's in trouble," Dumbledore noted. "What is Ms. Granger planning for the holidays?"
"Some sort of celebration," Willow told him. "That's all we know. It's for the three of them since they're all staying."
"We might not be staying," Sirius noted.
"Oh, please," Tara begged. "She'll be heartbroken. She's been studying some very interesting spells to make it really cheerful."
McGonagall sighed. "I think I'll stay this holiday, Professor Dumbledore. I'd like to see my house lit up that way." The new teachers, all but Giles, snickered. "Yes, I'll definitely stay this year."
Dumbledore nodded complacently. "You'll be welcome, as always." He looked around the table. "Was there anything else to discuss?"
"One thing," Willow said, looking down at Xander. "Are you going to do that night thing in the forest again sometime soon?" He nodded. "Can you please look for some certain herbs for me? I can't find them in the greenhouse and they're mostly foresty stuff."
"Sure. Give me a list that I can give to Hagrid," Xander agreed.
"Would you be willing to get me samples also?" the herbology teacher asked. "There's been a type of moss I've been looking for."
"Sure. If Hagrid can help me find it, I'll gladly get samples."
"Thank you," she said, nodding at Willow. "I'll take a little bit of your samples and work on growing some for you."
"Thanks," Willow told her. "Can we go eat now?"
"Yes, it's about that time," Dumbledore agreed, standing up. "Thank you for this meeting."
"Welcome," everyone said, filing out to go eat.
Dumbledore stopped Xander, giving him a penetrating look. "Please, keep the damage down," he said quietly. "I know your nature's calling out to you and telling you to destroy them, but we can't afford to lose anyone."
"I'm not going to *kill* anyone," Xander said with a cold grin, "but humiliating them isn't out of the question, is it?"
"No, not at all," Dumbledore agreed, letting him go. He was almost looking forward to this, on some little level that he almost dreaded to touch in himself.
Xander looked out over the Halloween party, smiling at Ron, who was possibly the loudest child in the whole hall. He looked down the table at Professor Snape, who was glaring at the same table. "Relax, it's a holiday," he said, tossing down one of the Weasley's Time Toppers, their snappers. "Have fun," he told him.
Snape pulled open the popper, gasping at the lights that flew out and danced around. "Where did you get this?" he demanded.
"Oh, their Time Toppers," Dumbledore said, smiling at the lights. "Do you have any more?"
"A few," Xander agreed, reaching into his robe and handing them over. "Here you go. They said there was some way to design a whole light show with them, but they didn't share that secret with me."
Dumbledore popped open the next one, watching as the new lights took the place of the old ones. "My, those are fun," he said, handing them down the table. "Do it together," he instructed.
Together the table popped their snappers, and the light show made even Ron quiet down and watch.
"I like those," Dumbledore said, laughing at the lights. "What else did you bring?"
"Um," Xander said, digging around in his pockets. He bypassed the color changing candy and brought out one of the extra smoke bombs they hadn't needed for the maze tomorrow. "I've got one of these. It's a scream." He handed over another, little wrapped candy. "These make your tongue grow." He dug around again for show, coming up with the piece of candy. "And they gave me this. It's candy," he said when Dumbledore looked at him. "You can share it if you want. Just don't bite it, they said it might be a little sour."
"Give me that," Snape said. "It's probably safer than the smoke maker."
"Fog," Xander corrected, watching as Professor Snape sucked on the candy, starting to giggle when peach stripes appeared on his forehead. He fell out of his chair when he heard the crunch.
Willow pointed at him and started to giggle. "Xander!" Tara yelled, reaching over to smack him.
"That's a pleasant shade," Dumbledore said, staring at Snape's new peach colored skin. Snape got up and ran out of the hall, heading up to the infirmary. Dumbledore looked down at Xander. "That wasn't nice," he noted, but he was trying very hard to not laugh himself.
"Turned me blue," Xander gasped.
"Must be wearing off with age," Willow said, taking the fog maker and dropping it into their bowl of punch. "Can you drink after this?" she asked.
"They said you could, but it's been in my pocket."
"'Kay," she said, watching as the fog rolled out of the punch bowl and down off the dias, giggling as the screams started in the fog. "Way cool," she agreed.
Professor McGonagall ran out of the hall, trying to keep her laughter inside.
"Wicked!" Ron shouted in the suddenly quiet hall, getting up to play in the fog. "My brothers did this?"
Willow nodded. "Yup, your brothers did this."
Everyone in the hall started to chatter about going down there to see what else they had.
"A most auspicious bit of advertising," Dumbledore said, helping Xander back into his chair. "How long will he be off colored?"
"A week," Xander said meekly. "I told him not to bite into it."
Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder. "Touche," he whispered.
"Xander," Giles sighed. "He's not that bad."
"He's an insufferable guy to some very nice students," Willow countered. "Someone should stick up for the Neville's of the world."
"He'll retaliate," Sirius warned.
Willow chuckled. "Really?" she asked.
He laughed. "Oh, this is even more fun than when we were children." He looked down at Harry, his Godson, trying to pull Ron out of the fog. "Oh, let him play, Harry. He's had too much sugar for his own good."
"He ate hypercandy," Tara told him. "We saw him stuffing himself full of it today in town."
"Yes, we noticed," Dumbledore said.
McGonagall rejoined them, more in control of herself now.
Xander looked up as an owl tapped on his classroom window, not stopping his lecture to answer it. He took the note, giving the owl a piece of dried fruit from his pocket, and looked down at it, but it didn't fly away. He smiled at the class. "Give me a sec, okay?" he asked, unfolding the note and reading it. He snickered and wrote on the bottom of the note, putting it back into the owl's pouch, along with a coin. "Thank you," he whispered, lifting it up and sending it back into the air. "All right, where was I?" he asked.
"Reaming us good for not doing any homework last night," Ron said helpfully.
"I was?" Xander asked, giving him a smile. "Me, who never did a bit of homework if he could get away with it?" Everyone nodded. "Huh, guess that means I want better for you than I had before I got here. Do you guys have things like fast food?"
Harry raised his hand. "They have taverns, but nothing like McDonalds."
"Makes it a little harder then. Let's just put it this way, imagine yourselves working in the local tavern forever. You're the one who cleans up after everybody. You clean up the spilled food, the spilled beer, and the puke, every night for the rest of your lives. All because you didn't do your homework."
"I'm sure that won't happen to some of us," Hermione sniffed.
"No, you're right. But you did your homework." Xander looked around the class. "Remember when I first took over this class and I said not to screw with me?" The students all nodded, looking pathetic. "Guys, I've seen kittens make that look better. My phoenix, Murphy, does pitiful better." He clapped his hand and gave them his brightest smile. "Since almost none of you did your homework, then you can do it tonight and add tonight's homework on top of it, and I will be taking it up tomorrow. And," he paused, "I'm assigning a paper. It will be on one thing that you think you cannot respect as an independent entity and why you'd better rethink your position." Hermione raised her hand. "Yes?"
"Does that mean that you want us to rationalize why we're being arses?"
He nodded. "Yup, sounds like it," he agreed. "Your paper will be due in one week and I'll expect the demon or entity to be a *real* one." That got a second, even deader groan. "Good. Now, who at least did the reading and can tell me what is one creature you always want to respect because they're trapped in their own forms." He gave Hermione a look. "Anyone but you, who did the homework, dear. Let them suffer for a few minutes." A Hufflepuff girl in the back raised her hand. "Yes?"
"Werewolves?" she suggested. "They had no choice in their curse so are technically trapped."
"Good," Xander said, nodding. "Five points. You obviously thought about that answer. Do you feel pity for weres or do you feel respect for them?"
"Both," she said honestly. "And I'm very glad it's not me."
"That's not nice," Harry noted.
"No, it's human," Xander told him. "Having had a friend that got bitten in high school, I can tell you every month he locked himself up, I was very glad it wasn't me. It's all part of being human, Harry. Why do you respect them though, Harry?"
"Because they didn't have a choice," he said, getting a little huffy. "They didn't choose to be routinely discriminated against by everyone, even by muggles."
"Muggles don't believe in them," Xander pointed out, "but you're right. They didn't choose this. They got bitten on the butt by Fate and now they have to live with it. Can you see why people would pity them?"
Harry nodded, slumping in on himself. "I can," he agreed. He put his head down on the desk.
"Good, that means that you're able to see it from everyone else's point of view. That's all part of growing up." He reached down and patted Harry on the back of the head. "You have to overcome the pity to firmly get the respect in place." He looked back at the rest of the class. "Do you understand why I had to make this point?" Everyone but one girl nodded and she was staring off into space. "Melissa?" he called.
Hermione turned around in her seat. "Melissa?" she asked.
Xander tapped her on the head. "Me teacher, you student. You get minus five." She pouted. "Deal with it. Life is a big set of stairs of power. Teachers are higher than students." He walked up to her, tapping on her desk, and when he didn't get an answer, squatting down beside her. "Melissa?" She finally looked at him, her eyes full of tears. "What's wrong?"
"It's all too much," she whispered.
"Crap, I've seen this before." He stood up, helping her up. "Hermione, finish the lecture, Harry and Ron make sure her stuff gets back to the Prefect for her House." He led her from the room, taking her up to the infirmary. "Hi," he called as soon as he walked in. He didn't get an answer so he sat her on the bed, making her look at him. "Is it emotions or thoughts?" he asked quietly, trying to keep his own thoughts to himself.
"Feelings," she told him, giving the nurse behind him a hopeful look. "Can you make it stop?"
"She's suddenly started to pick up on others' feelings," Xander said, turning to look at her. "She froze in the middle of class because we were in the middle of a charged discussion."
Madam Pomfrey nodded. "I've seen it before in the muggle-born children." She pushed the girl down. "We'll let her rest up here, where it's quiet."
Xander looked down at her. "Giles knows something about shielding that stuff. Buffy went telepathic and he tried to get her to put one up."
"I'll talk with him later," she told him. "It's all right, you can leave her here. She's safe."
"She's very calming," the girl agreed.
Xander nodded. "Okay. I'm going to go relieve the class of Hermione's lecture. Call on us if you need us," he told her, heading back down to the classroom. He stepped in and looked at his watch. "Released," he said when Hermione took a breath. He got out of the way of the running students. "Sorry," he told her, giving her a little shrug. "I'm going to go see Giles. Be right back." He jogged down the hall, heading down to Willow and Tara's classroom, sliding in. "I found an empath," he told his former mentor. "She spazzed in class while we were doing the respect lecture."
"Did you remove her from the classroom?" Snape asked.
"Yeah, she's in the infirmary." He looked at Giles. "She's gotta have some shields."
"I'll go up and see her after this lesson," Giles agreed . "Which one?"
"Melissa, the Hufflepuff girl with the big red streak in her blonde hair."
"All right. I had suspected something was up with her before," Giles told him.
Xander looked at Snape, a growing suspicion. "She's not going to be expelled is she?"
"No," Professor Snape said, standing up. "It's not a very common occurrence, but it's seen among the muggle-born sometimes. We do accept those like her here."
Xander relaxed. "Good." He looked at Giles. "She said the nurse was calming but maybe some tea?"
"I'll handle it," Giles told him. "I've done it before. Even when Buffy went telepathic for a bit, I did manage to handle it."
Xander nodded and headed back to his classroom.
"That boy interferes too much," Snape complained.
"It's because he gives a damn," Giles told him. "Xander has always given too much of a damn about those that needed protection." He gave the other teacher a smile. "Now, was there anything else?"
"No, I think that should be about it," Snape told him, going back to his own classroom.
Giles frowned at his back. "He didn't know about the attacks?" he asked himself. He checked his watch and smiled. It was his free period. "I'll go up and talk to her now, I think." He pulled out his office drawer and grabbed the little tin of tea. "Yes, a nice cup of tea and some gentle discussion should help the poor girl." He headed up to the infirmary.
Xander looked up as his door was knocked on. "It's open," he called, putting down the book he was reading. "Yes, Professor Snape?"
"I want to know why you hate me so much," he said as he closed the door. "I've done nothing to you, and while you're annoying and interfering, I have no animosity towards you."
"You mean like that book that appeared in my room?" Xander asked, sitting up.
"I didn't put it here. I've known about Lupin since we were both students here." He glanced around the room then focused on him again. "Where's your bird?"
"With the twins right now." Xander stood up. "You didn't send me that book? Not at all?"
"I have nothing against people like yourself. What you are isn't any of my concern, though it's very obvious what you are." He sniffed. "I wouldn't have sent you that book. If I wanted to work against you, I would have done it openly."
Xander considered it. "Good enough. Then you have nothing to fear from me." He looked him over. "I turned blue," he offered.
Snape sniffed again. "Yes, they told me that when I went down to demand a cure." He glared at the boy. "If I do find out it was one of my students, I will hand them over. There's no reason for such animosity. It's very far back in your past."
"True," Xander agreed, "doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. I'm not the only one who got the book."
"I've heard," Snape said grimly. "I will search my students. You will not act against me again?"
Xander grinned. "Not unless you piss me off."
Snape snorted and walked out, shutting the door gently.
Xander laid back down on his bed, considering this new twist. Who had sent him that book and who was trying to piss him off that badly?
Xander looked across the basement room at the students. All of the paranormal classes had joined together for this exercise. Even Willow and Tara had sent their students. Close to a hundred students, all needing to get through this maze. "All right," he called, getting their attention. He checked with Professor Lupin, who nodded. "We're going to break you down into small groups because there's so many of you."
"Three or less," Lupin said quietly.
"We'll be doing this in pairs." He stopped and considered the maze. "Anyone in my upper classes, step out, you're doing this individually." That almost halved the group. "Groups of two, spaced about a minute apart. That means you won't be able to hear the person in front of you, but you also won't run into them and hurt them." He took a deep breath. "Break into your houses. We're going to go mixed groups this time. My students, take Professor Lupin and start through the maze." They headed off, moving to the entry point. He waited until they had started then started to pull out students one by one. "Good. Now, one Slytherin, one Hufflepuff. One Hufflepuff, One Ravenclaw. One Ravenclaw, one Gryffindor. One Slytherin, one Ravenclaw. One Hufflepuff, one Gryffindor. One Slytherin, One Gryffindor, not you three," he said as he excluded one of the Slytherins who stepped forward. "We don't want you to try and kill each other in there." He continued to pull out groups, sending them to wait in line. "And no switching," he called, not looking but knowing someone had already. "If I find out that you switched, you have to go through the maze by yourself." Xander jumped when he heard the scream, turning to look at the maze. "What was that?" he asked Lupin.
"One of the fear creatures," he said lightly. "It turns into what you fear most. You have to defeat it. I have Sirius standing there in case they need something."
"Thanks." He gave the other teacher a smile and turned back to the remaining students. Five of them. "Okay, you four break up. Melissa, how are you feeling?" he asked her, pulling her a little way away.
"I'll be okay," she said bravely. "I can go through by myself."
"Okay, you go last. We'll hold you back so more of the kids are out of the maze." He gave her a bright smile. "I think you've handled all this really well so far. If you need anything, feel free to come to Giles or myself, okay?" She nodded. "Good. Go get into line." He watched her go, turning to find Lupin standing beside him. "She's going through by herself. Give her an extra minute of lag time," he said quietly.
"Sure." Lupin looked over the group. "I've even made sure the problem students don't have the ability to scare the people coming after them."
"If they try, I flunk them," Xander said simply. "Even Professor Snape has agreed they've gotten out of hand. He's asked to have their conduct reported to him weekly."
"I have a few things I'd like to include in there," Lupin said simply.
"We talk on Thursday."
"All right, I'll give you a list." He smiled at the teacher walking over to join them. "Madam Hooch. Come to try the practical test?"
"No," she said, giving them a smile. "I have no desire to work that hard on anything right now." She looked Xander over. "When were you getting a broom of your own?"
"When I can find Willow and get some of the reward money out of her," Xander told her. "I've been talking to the twins about what I should buy. They said a used Nimbus would be okay."
"It should be," she agreed. "I was asking because I know of someone who's wanting to sell their old model broom and buy a newer one."
"A student or teacher?" Lupin asked.
"Student, which is why I'm doing this." She looked at Xander. "I have the broom if you'd like to try it out tonight."
"Sure," Xander agreed. "I'll come to the field after the tests." She smiled and headed back to her fields. "Wow. Where did you stick Willow?"
"Near this end, but you'll have to walk through the maze to get there," he warned. "I'd wait." He glanced around to make sure they couldn't be overheard. "How did you get a wand? You don't have magic like we do."
"I have a little," Xander told him. "Very, very little." He smiled. "I made a deal with the guy at Olivanders. He said he could fit me with one, but he needed core materials. Murphy sacrificed three feathers to him."
"Ah," Lupin said, nodding. "How are your studies going?"
"I'm very good at illusions and lock spells. Nothing else. Were gryphons thieves?"
"Sometimes," Dumbledore said as he walked up to them. "If I may ask, who's been teaching you?"
"Hermione," Xander said quietly.
"Ah, a good choice. Only illusions and locks?"
"So far. I can almost levitate, but not quite. I seem to be missing something."
"It's probably for the best," Dumbledore said, patting him on the arm. "How are they doing?"
Xander checked his watch. "The first group should be coming out in a few."
"Good, good." He smiled at the group of students waiting to be put through the maze. "You broke up the houses?"
"And the troublemakers," Lupin said gently. "Professor, we've got to do something about that one Slytherin kid. I swear he's trying to become the next you-know-who."
"I've talked with his father and his uncle, to no use," Dumbledore sighed. "How is Professor Snape handling it?"
"Every week, I report to him," Xander told him. "It means he comes up with new things to try." He looked at the Headmaster. "If I was being me, I'd do something really nasty to them while they were in the maze and scare the crap out of them, but I don't think that'd be appreciated?" he made it a question.
"No, it wouldn't be appropriate," Dumbledore said firmly. "There are other ways to skin a student, especially the bad ones," he said quietly. "I'll have a talk with Professor Snape myself, see if he can find something to do with the boy. He wouldn't want another Voldemort either." He walked away, heading to where a few more teachers had wandered down to watch the exercise progress. "I need to talk to you about that one boy," he told Snape quietly. "Even Lupin agrees that the boy's gone bad."
"He has," Snape agreed quietly, stepping away from the other teachers. "I've warned him and punished him with all the strength that I dare, if I push any harder, he'll try to retaliate."
"Yes, I've thought of that." Dumbledore looked toward the maze as another scream came out of it. "I'd say that someone put a fear creature in there."
"Lupin did." Snape looked at the teachers again. "I have a great fear that these classes have given the boy more of an idea on how to ruin some of us."
"I know," Dumbledore said quietly. "But even if we didn't have them, he'd already know. His father's step-sister is a Watcher like Rupert was. She's adopted and all that."
"Oh, dear God," Snape sighed. "He already knew?"
"Most likely. Which is why we're giving such importance to this. If he succeeds, the coming students will need to know how to counter him. I don't want to have another mass killing of Wizards."
"Me either. I'll gladly work with Rupert's witches if you want."
"I think they've got a pretty good idea of your area already. How are they doing in the advanced classes?"
"Both of them are doing very well. Willow is doing much better than Tara of course, but that's experience showing itself. Rupert himself sat in on a class and he did fairly well, not up to my standards but passing nonetheless."
"Good," Dumbledore said. "And Harris?"
"I'm worried about him," Snape admitted. "He's not a Wizard. He's got some very odd gifts, but he won't be able to protect himself."
"You'd be surprised how much a nasty temperament and survival skills can make up for true gifts. Moody was the same way when he was younger."
"Yes, but he did eventually learn to use his wand to do more than create pretty lights in the air," Snape reminded him.
"Xander's got some things up his sleeve if he needs them," Dumbledore told him. He looked around the small room as he heard wings, lifting his arm up so his phoenix could land on him. "What's wrong, Fawkes?" he asked her. She squawked at him. "Ah, Murphy has mating on his mind." He smiled at the students. "Xander, please call Murphy, he's chasing Fawkes again."
"Murphy!" Xander called, sounding frustrated. "Come down now. You have to ask Professor Dumbledore's permission before you pounce on his phoenix." That got some laughter but his bird came down and landed on his head. "Thanks," he whispered, reaching up to scratch his bird's stomach. "Just behave. I'm sure you'll go have a nice mating flight later. I'll even talk to her daddy for you. Just behave for a few more hours." His bird looked down at him and nibbled on his fingers. "Thanks." He reached into his pocket and got out a piece of dried banana, which Murphy loved as a treat. "Here you go, boy. Nibble to your heart's content, just don't crap down my back." He handed it up, smiling at the happy humming he received in thanks.
Dumbledore walked closer, but kept the birds apart. "Did you want them to mate?"
"I was going to leave that up to you. Yours is the one who'd have to worry about her reputation," he said, grinning. "I'd even let you figure out who got the babies."
"Hmm," Dumbledore said, but he was smiling. "I suppose I'll think about that this afternoon." He looked up at Murphy, who was giving him a pitiful look. "How did you teach him to do that?" he asked.
He looked up. "Pitiful starving kitten look?" Xander asked. He got a nod. "He came already equipped with it. That's why he runs rings around me most of the time." He grinned again. "But if they do get it on, they'll be pretty babies."
"Very true," Dumbledore agreed lightly. "I'll consider it this afternoon. Though, I have a feeling my Fawkes has been flirting a little bit."
"Nope, Murphy's a big, strong guy who's ready to chase down what he wants. He kinda reminds me of an uncle who was a cop and like that." He reached up to scratch at the soft stomach feathers again. "But we'll be good, won't we?" he told his phoenix.
Murphy trilled and lunged at Fawkes, who flew out of reach just in time. Their chase led them out of the basement and up the stairs.
"Oh, no," Xander sighed, shaking his hanging head.
Dumbledore laughed. "It seems they've worked it out for themselves after all. We'll talk about all eggs that might come from this match." He walked away, going to see if he could find the love birds.
Lupin started to laugh. "Well, it's an interesting thing. I wonder if they flew out by the magical creatures classroom."
"Probably not. Murphy hates the cold. He refused to go see the twins last night."
"You're sure it was the cold?" Lupin asked, still smiling. He waved the first couple of students coming out of the maze over, patting both of them because they looked so pale. "Go rest," he told them, pointing at a bench he had brought down for this very purpose. "You finished, be thankful."
"That was hard," one of Xander's students complained to him.
"Welcome to the real world," he told her dryly. "People have done this for years without magic. Be thankful you have some."
The female nodded. "I realize that. I'm never going to laugh again. If you did that without magic, I'm in awe of you, Professor Harris."
"Yeah, where did you find two vampires?" a boy asked.
"Two?" Xander asked. "I only got one and I had Willow spell it so it couldn't eat any of you." He frowned at the maze. "Two?" he asked Lupin, who had set it up that morning before breakfast.
"There was only one when I set it up," Lupin said with a shrug. "Willow?" he called. "Call out to Sirius, ask him to check out the *two* vampires?"
"Okay," floated out of the maze.
"Huh," Xander said, watching as more of the kids walked out. "What did these guys look like?"
"One was really pasty and nasty looking," a boy said, grimacing. "I hope I look better when I'm dead."
"He's a fledgling. He's not supposed to be following fashion," Xander told him. "He's too young. What about the other?"
"Nice woman, talked a lot liked Professor Trellwany, the Divinations teacher, when she gave me a reading on my future," he offered. "Long dark hair, very nice dress."
"Dru," Xander sighed. He looked at the maze. "Willow, I think it's Dru!" he called out.
"Dirt!" she called back. There was a pause and then. "She's coming. She was found and is being drug out by a few students."
"Thanks." Xander walked over to the end of the maze, peering back inside. "Man, it's dark in there."
"Tell me about it," Willow said, sticking her head out. "The twins did a good job with the fog stuff. It's still screaming." She smiled as she felt something tug on her shirt. "Give me a few." Her head disappeared then reappeared a moment later, and Dru was pushed into his arms. "She tried to bite Tara," she said with a frown.
"But she's a purrfect kitten," Druscilla purred. "She'd make such a pretty little dolly."
"That's nice," Xander said, grabbing her and pushing her against the nearest wall. "Why are you here, Dru? You're not welcome here."
"I need my Spike," she told him in her best little girl voice. "I miss my Spikey."
"He's still in Sunnydale."
"No he's not," she said with a smile. "He's in London. He's whole again and my dark hero is back."
"Whatever," Xander said, pulling her away from the wall.
"He's not here for you but he's been given a calling," she told him, singing it to him actually. "He's here for the bad boys. He's taking over Daddy's place, only over here where he's more comfortable." She smiled at the Professors walking over to them. "Hello. You don't look like a pretty lunch," she told Snape, running a fingernail across his neck. "But you'll do." She vamped out and lunged at him but her keeper held her too tightly. "Oh, shoot," she pouted. "I just wanted a pretty luncheon. Daddy said I could have one."
"Your Daddy's bad again?" Xander asked.
"No, but he used to promise me we could have pretty picnic luncheons. Some very pretty ones we had for a few years, and the stars were so happy with us." She smiled at Xander. "You wouldn't make a very good luncheon. You're not nice anymore."
"I never was," Xander told her dryly. "I think we need to put her back in the cage," he told Snape. "If she's here, there's a reason for it."
"But the stars told me I had to come here to pick up my dark love," she purred, turning to look at Xander, leaning in to lick down the side of his face. "Tasty kitten," she sighed. "But not for me."
"Nope, not for you," he agreed. "Why did the stars send you, Dru?"
"They said Spike was here," she told him, "and that he needed me again. He was going to take care of me." Her eyes brightened. "Do you think he's come back? My dark love?"
"No, I don't think so," Xander told her, shaking her lightly. "What else did they say?"
"That, since you were a gift to my dark love, that I should protect you like I did his other precious gifts." She smiled at him. "They said I was to keep you safe, but that I couldn't eat you, only Spike could do that because Daddy gave you to him."
"Uh-huh. He's not of the owning variety," Xander noted, handing her off. "Watch her, she's slicker than new dress shoes." He watched as the vampiress was walked off. "Oh, man," he sighed once she was gone. "This really sucks. Murphy!" He heard a pleased squeak above him and looked up. "Fawkes, I need Murphy for the rest of the day. Can I have him back now?" She trilled at him. "No, huh? Well, as soon as you get done with him, I need him to go see Spike." A red, purple, and gold head peered down from the rafters. "Yes, the guy who fed you those flowers. He's in London." Murphy flew down and landed on his arm. "Anyone got paper?" he called. A paper was handed to him, and a quill already dipped in ink. He wrote out a quick note and put it in Murphy's pouch. "Here, take this to the Spike and come right back with his message and I'll have Willow create some fruit for you tonight. All right?" His phoenix sang at him so he kissed him on the side of the head. "Go," he said, launching his bird up. "And no stopping or Fawkes won't like it." Murphy made his displeasure known by letting loose his bowels as he flew away. "Eww." He turned around, looking at the other teachers. "Someone that understands her should probably go talk to her sometime soon."
Professor McGonagall frowned at him. "You really should learn to ask first."
"Nah," he said with a grin, "if Dru's here, then we've got problems. She always brings problems. And she snuck into the school this time," he reminded her. "She could have eaten a few of the students by now."
She blanched. "I see. Why don't we stake her?"
"Before we find out why she's here?" he asked. "Would you rather be in the dark?"
She shook her head. "I'll go tell the Headmaster," she said, hurrying up the stairs, narrowly missing the mess.
Xander turned back to see a few more of his students coming out together. "Didn't I say to do that alone?" he called.
"We're waiting at the end to compare notes," a female Hufflepuff called back. "I promise, we're not cheating."
"Uh-huh," he said, pointing at the bench. "Sit. No sharing notes with the kids that have to go through it." He looked over at the line, seeing it was just the one girl. "Melissa?" he called. She shook herself and stepped into the maze, starting her half-hour test.
Dumbledore looked at the nice woman inside the cage, giving her a comforting smile. "How are you today, Druscilla?" he asked.
"Fine," she sang. "I like this place."
"Yes, so we can tell," Snape said from against the opposite wall, where he was waiting with a stake. "Why did you come?"
"To save my Spikey. He's going to be called and he'll need me to help him," she told him. "Just like before, when he was in the chair for being naughty."
"Did your...daddy put him there?" Dumbledore asked.
She laughed. "No, the bad Slayer did. She made a church fall on him." She danced around the cage. "I miss my Spikey," she sang. "He of the fair hair and blue eyes.
"Enough!" Xander said as he walked in. "You're singing off key and it's giving me a headache." She pouted at him. "Keep it up, I know your Daddy's number."
"Oh, poo," she said, sitting down on the small bed. "You're no fun, even if you are a kitten."
"Why does she keep calling you that?" Snape asked.
"Because, to get her Spike, her Daddy once tried to give me to Spike as a diversion. She thinks Spike owns me now and she thinks he's going to give me to her as her new kitten/playtoy. Not gonna happen," he told her. "There's enough people here who'd play with me better than you."
She glared at him. "I take good care of my kittens."
"I'm sure they end up all nice and dead," Xander agreed.
"Of course. They're best that way." She smiled at him. "Is Spikey coming? I heard you send your pretty birdie out. May I play with it?"
"Nope." He glared at her. "My Murphy. You touch him and I stake you myself." He leaned closer to the cage. "And I'll have *fun* doing it," he warned her.
"Poo, you're no fun," she told him. She smiled at the Headmaster. "I could use someone like you," she told him. "My army needs a good wizard, especially one that I can put knots in his beard."
Xander put a hand on Dumbledore's arm. "She's screwing with your mind," he said quietly. "She wants the world to be as insane as she is." He glared at her. "Dru, if you had an army, then Buffy would have taken care of it already. I've called her you know."
"You didn't," she accused. "You're lying, just like Daddy does."
"No, he isn't," Snape said, catching on. "He's not lying, I heard him." She caught his gaze and they locked stares. Eventually he had to pull away before he walked in there and offered himself to her.
"Come along then," a familiar male voice said from the top of the stairs. "Dru, baby," he said as he skipped down them. "Why did you come back? They told you they'd stake you next time."
"I need the kitten for the army, and I wanted to help you," she said, walking over to him. She ran a hand down Spike's cold cheek. "You came? Then he'll get you."
"I don't doubt it," Xander said dryly. "Murphy?"
"Is upstairs, gawking at a chit like him." Spike grinned at him. "I got called. They even *fed* me."
"Good job," Xander said, patting him on the arm. "She's swearing that she's got an army that you're going to be called by a dark force. She said she's here to save you. Scared the crap outta some of my students."
"I didn't touch them," she pouted. "The voices said I couldn't or you'd be even more mean." She smiled suddenly. "I like mean, would you please?"
Xander groaned and stepped away from the cage, leaning next to Snape. "Welcome to my usual nightmare," he said quietly. "I hate her."
Snape looked down at him. "How could you not?"
"I started to like Spike while he was helping us, but I could never get Dru."
"Yes, well, being kept by her might not be as much fun as she thinks it would be," he said dryly, looking at the Headmaster. "I've never experienced evil like that one, and I've seen the darker side of wizardry."
"Dru's not our most evil, she's just insane, complete with visions," Xander told him, looking up with a faint grin. "There's more evil vampires. And more insane ones. She's a little above average."
Snape shuddered and walked up the stairs, heading up to get away from them.
"Professor," Xander said quietly. "Get away from the cage please. She's hungry and more than willing to turn you."
Dumbledore backed away, coming over to lean next to him. "Do you think she's right about him?" he asked quietly.
"She *knows* Spike. She turned him. She raised him, and he took care of her for over a century. If there's something wrong or going to happen to Spike, she knows." He looked toward the doorway as he heard running feet. "It's okay," he told whomever was coming. "She's safely chained.
"I have no doubt of that," Giles said as he appeared on the stairs, Willow right behind him. "What's going on now?"
"She said she's got an army and she's here to protect Spike from being called by a darker power," Dumbledore told him. He looked at Willow. "Can you make her harmless, like the one in the maze?"
"No!" Spike said firmly. "S'not fair to any of us to do that."
"It's a spell, and it's only for here on the school property," Willow told him, walking over to get a hug. "You became a good guy," she taunted.
"Yeah, but I can eat you now too," he growled.
She giggled and threw some powder on Dru, saying two words. "Okay, she's harmless to humans while we're here." She glanced at Xander, she wasn't sure the protection would be extended to him. He grinned at her. Spike grabbed her. "Do it and end up harmless too," she warned. "I'm not the little witch I used to be."
"True, you've advanced very far," Dumbledore said, giving her a smile. These children needed some self-confidence and someone giving them praise. It was like they'd never gotten any in their life. "Druscilla, you're now dependant on us feeding you," he told her. "We won't release you until we get straight answers."
"I'm here to save my poor dark hero," she said, reaching out to run a hand down Spike's face. "He's going to be called to a darker force's side and I can't have that. He's supposed to lead my army with me."
"What army, luv?" he asked her.
She smiled brilliantly at him. "The one I made. They were all very sweet and nasty little boys who needed to be punished."
Xander groaned. "She's made a legion."
"We always wanted a family," Spike told him, smiling at his sire and lover. "Dru, baby, no one can touch me now."
"Yes they can," Willow told him. Everyone looked at her.
"Just because you work for the powers doesn't mean that you're invincible, Spike," Giles answered. "Quite the opposite in fact. You're working against your nature." He rubbed a hand across his forehead. "We need to send them somewhere safer."
"Somewhere far away?" Dumbledore suggested.
"Not even sending us home like naughty children will stop this," Dru told him. "Are you sure you won't join? Your beard would make pretty tangles once I'm done with it."
"No, thank you," he told her, smiling at her. "I have enough troubles here without worrying about knots in my beard."
"You're no fun either," she told him, turning her attention back to Spike. "He will come for you too, love." She ran a hand across his face again. "I can't protect you this time. Not even the kitten can."
Xander looked at Dumbledore. "Why do I think that means we've got another fight on our hands?"
He patted the boy on the shoulder. "There's always a struggle going on. It's nice to have some warning though."
"Indeed," Giles said dryly. He looked at Spike and Dru. "If no one needs me, I'll get back to my shielding lessons with Melissa."
"I'll go with you. I'd like to talk to her," Dumbledore said, following him up the stairs.
Willow looked at Xander. "Turns?"
"Sure. I'll take first shift. Come get me before supper. Did everyone pass?"
"Yup," she said, smiling. "Even the Slytherin idiot. He actually staked the fledgling." She walked out, leaving him alone to watch the couple.
Xander settled himself on the floor for a long watch.
Spike looked at the boy, frowning at him. "Why do you care?" he asked. They were walking into the nearby village to go see the boy's friends.
"Because I've been teaching fighting all year so far," Xander told him quietly. "I don't want my students to have to face up to this until they're older. They should have a better chance at a normal life than I did."
"They're wizards," Spike pointed out.
"Exactly. That's their normal life. I'd like to see the kids wait until they're adults to kill anything, even a vamp." He laid a hand on Spike's arm, stopping him. "I'm sorry about Dru, Spike. I had no idea she was going to stake herself."
"Me either," he sighed, patting himself down for a light. "Got a light?" Xander snapped his fingers and his cigarette lit. "Handy trick that," he said in appreciation.
"The school uses candles for light," Xander said self-consciously. "It's one of the few things I've mastered." They started walking again. "So, the army?"
"She built a legion, like you thought," Spike agreed. "Got to go find them now. Might even take a few minions from the lot."
"Be careful that you don't become the new general," Xander pointed out.
"Yeah, forgot about that." Spike stopped to look back at the school. "Felt someone up there. Someone badder'n me."
"That's because we've got a student who wants to be that bad," Xander said quietly. "We've been trying to change him but it's not working very well so far."
"Won't. He's like that." Spike took a deep drag. "What now?"
"Now, you go back to London and I go visit my friends, giving them the warning. They've got a way to get a backward warning to Buffy. She's with the Watchers." He started walking again. "Coming?" he asked when he didn't hear Spike.
"Yeah," Spike said, following along. "The boy?"
"Isn't your concern. Stop the army before Buffy gets killed doing it," Xander told him. "There's not a lot we can do against an army but we can deal with the kid before he turns someone to his side."
"Got it," Spike said. "Thought you'd be flying by now."
"I do," Xander told him. "I spend lots of time flying. I can't fly double though."
"Ah. Makes sense I guess." Spike took one last drag and put his cigarette out under his boot. "So, you fancy one of the twins?"
"Spike," Xander said, his voice holding a warning. The vampire just smiled. "I don't know," Xander admitted. "I have no idea what I'm doing right now." He smiled when he saw the light coming towards them. "I have no doubt that either that person will stake you or it's one of the twins."
"That Fred one didn't like me much," Spike reminded him. "Might be both."
"Good point," Fred said as he got nearer. "We heard. You okay?"
"Very okay," Xander said, giving him a smile. "This is where I leave you, Spike. Have a good trip."
"Yup," Spike sighed, heading off into the town to hit the railroad tracks. There was a human settlement a few miles down the track.
"How did you hear already?" Xander asked, moving closer to Fred.
"Easy. Ron told us. Sent Pidge down to us." He looked around. "Are you sure it's safe?"
"I removed the last vampire and it got staked earlier today by the bad kid." Xander shrugged. "Dru offed herself in the cage. Her army's another matter."
"Gonna send Murphy?"
"To the Watcher's Council?" Xander asked. "I doubt I'd get him back. Besides, he's just knocked up Fawkes."
"Knocked up? Why did he wake her up?"
"Um, Americanism," Xander told him, giving him a smile. "They've been mating most of the day. The Magical Creatures class got quite a show earlier. They had to come inside and chase after the couple, but it was apparently interesting."
"Oh, she's stuffed up. Good on Murphy." He looked around again. "Are you supposed to be out?"
"Yeah, I'm okay. I told Dumbledore I was going to escort Spike to town and make sure he left. Willow sent a compulsion with us. He's going."
"And this army?"
"From what she said, it's not around here. I doubt you could hide a legion of minions in Hogsmeade."
"Point," Fred admitted. "George has the sniffles so he sent me." He handed over a package. "Said that was to go right to you. Said it was for the bad kid?"
"Oh, hey," Xander said, putting it into his pocket. "Thanks. Tell him I'll put it to good use." He hugged his friend. "Be safe on your walk. I have a feeling we've got a strategy meeting tonight with the remaining scoobies."
"Yeah, that was what we called ourselves when we helped Buffy." He winked. "Later, Fred, I'll send Murphy down with some of Giles' tea tomorrow for George." He turned and ran back towards the school, not knowing why but he had to get back there now. He ran in the front door, stopping when he saw the teachers staring at him. "What?" he panted. "Spike's gone."
"Good," Snape said, looking him over. "Did you escort him all the way back to town?"
"No, Fred met us just outside of town. Spike headed down the railroad tracks to the nearest human town." He looked at Willow, who smiled. "It worked. He didn't even brood about Dru."
"Good," she said firmly. "I didn't want to hurt him, just make him go away."
Snape looked between them. "We've got to talk," he said, drawing Xander a little way away. "Dumbledore's come down sick since this afternoon."
"Crap," Xander muttered. "She touched me too."
"We found one scratch on him," McGonagal said as she walked over. "But it was on his arm. Did she touch him there?"
"Not that I remember," Xander said. "He left right after Professor Snape. He was on the wall beside me by then." He thought back then shook his head. "No, I don't have a clue. She didn't scratch him, or touch him on the arm that I know of."
"Then we've got a very large problem," McGonagal told him. "If it wasn't her, then the poison had to be administered some other way." She looked at him. "He left when?"
"He went with Giles to look at Melissa." He looked around at the gathered teachers. "Giles?"
"Is sick too," Willow said lightly. "He's not as sick though."
"Oh, someone's going to pay then," Xander told her. "Can you tell what type of poison?"
"Non-magical," Snape said. "Of either kind. We've already checked for that. And we've talked to Melissa, who started screaming for us to come find them."
Xander thought about it. "Have we checked Melissa?"
"She's been sedated," McGonagall noted.
"Which means I was the last one that saw them healthy. Me, Willow, Spike, and Dru." Willow nodded. "Okay. But I didn't do anything. I'd never hurt Giles, he's like my father. And I *like* Professor Dumbledore. He's like a grandfather sort of guy."
McGonagall nodded. "We know. We're more interested in stopping you from doing as your ... nature dictates, Xander."
"Ah, got the point now." He smiled at her. "I'll make you the same deal I made the Prof. If I do anything, you'll know first."
She nodded. "That's acceptable to me." She looked at the teachers. "The rest of us have been checked. As that vampiress also touched you, we'll need to check you over also."
"Okay," Xander said. "Hold on, I've got the latest prezzie from the twins in my pocket." He handed it over to Willow. "Can you please send George some tea? He wasn't feeling great, that's why Fred met me. Oh, and they've heard she was up here. Ron sent Pidge down to warn them that I was probably going to be late or wouldn't be able to go."
"That's fine, Xander," McGonagal said, walking him up to the infirmary, Willow following behind them. "What's in that anyway?"
"I get to try a lot of the practical jokes," Xander told him. "I don't know what's in there." He accepted the package as he sat on the examination table, opening it while they waited on the nurse. "Huh, more of the color changing candy." He put it aside, pulling out the grape-cluster candy. "Anger candy." He put it aside too. "And the rest of the dangerous stuff?" he said when he got to the note at the bottom. He read it quickly and handed it, and everything in the package over to her. "Here, they needed you or the Prof to have it," he said quietly.
"Why?" Willow asked, trying to get a peek at the note.
"Someone broke into the store last night," he told her. "They sent me all the dangerous stuff." He took out the single snapper, nodding her out of the way, opening it. He smiled at the words that appeared. "That was so nice," he sighed.
"Love spell," Willow said, looking at Xander.
"Not quite," Snape told her. "Not a true love spell, just one to see if it was love or not." He took the remains of the snapper and put it into the package, helping close it up. "These should be put somewhere safe."
"Yes, they should," McGonagal noted. "I'll hide them myself tonight." She smiled as the nurse walked in. "How are they?"
"They seem to be asleep," she said, looking at Xander. "Out of the cloak please."
"Sure," he said, stripping it off. He held his arms out, letting her check under his shirt. "She only touched my face."
She peered up at it, waving her wand across it. "I don't see any spells or residue." She looked up at the fading lights. "That's a quaint charm."
"The twins sent it with their most dangerous stuff," Willow said helpfully. "They got broken into." She covered her mouth. "You don't think," she asked, looking at Xander.
"I'll fly down later and check on him myself," Xander said, catching her thought. Not well enough to come out after having the store broken into? One which they lived above? Hopefully a coincidence.
"I'll arrange for a broomstick," McGonagall said lightly.
"I have one now," he told her. "Madam Hooch found one that a student was wanting to sell. Oh, Willow, I need ten gold."
"Sure," she said. "I'll go get it and find her." She looked at the older teachers, who nodded, so she left.
"Where's Tara?" Xander asked once she was gone. "She should be beside Willow."
"She's another that got affected," Snape told him. "Another reason to check you."
"She wasn't down there," he said. "Not at all. We didn't run into Tara."
The nurse frowned. "So it's aimed at your group."
Xander frowned. "Oh, I have an idea." He looked at McGonagall. "I think it might be the same person who sent the book."
"He wouldn't attack Dumbledore, not openly," Snape pointed out.
"Why not? And this isn't an open attack. You can't trace this back to him, right?" Snape frowned. "Then it's not an open attack." He smiled suddenly. "I have a theory. What if there's not *one* bad person, but this is a contest?"
"Where did that come from?" the nurse asked.
"Not a clue," he admitted. "The thought just came to me. But, if I'm right, then we could probably find some escalation. Not everything that's been done could have been done by one person. Who has enough knowledge to make Dumbledore ill? And who knew enough about gryphons to know what would piss me off the most?"
"Both can be found," Snape pointed out.
"Yes, but evil is *lazy*," Xander reminded him. "Why research when you can get the information easier? Frankly, the only people that I know of that research are Hermione and one of the new girls in my first years class."
"So, you're saying that we should be able to monitor who is spending a lot of time in the library?" McGonagall asked.
"Yeah, maybe," he said. "That'd be a flunky though. Hermione does the research for Ron and Harry because she's better at it."
"But if this was evil, they could very well be getting someone else to do it for them," Snape agreed thoughtfully. "Yes, were I evil and powerful enough to do this, I wouldn't spend my time in a library either. It'd be stupid of me of course, but as he said, that's the nature of evil." He looked at McGonagall. "All of that should be in the restricted section."
A feminine cough came from behind them. Everyone turned to look at Hermione. "No it's not. There's a big book of curses and illnesses, but it's in history format. There's a book on magical creatures and their temperaments, Xander's had it out before." He nodded. "There's been a girl down there studying both of them in the last few weeks, but I don't think she's voluntarily part of this." She looked at Xander. "Pidge just came back and George said for you to not come down tonight. He knew you'd try but he's not beaten up. He's got a cold from putting up the trees outside." She smiled at him. "And Murphy's hiding in Harry's room, soaking up all the fruit we can conjure for him."
Xander gave her a smile. "Thanks, Hermione. Question, if you had to pick students who scared you, who would they be?"
"Easy. The girl in the library. I think she's playing with things she shouldn't be yet."
"A lot like you?" McGonagall asked.
"Yes, but without the reason," Hermione said. "I had good reason to get into some of the things I did. She's not fighting an evil wizard." She shrugged. "There's a few kids in Slytherin that scare me to death, but I have to say this is above them. I also have to say that the boy you're probably thinking about isn't in this. He'll be the one who *stops* this when he takes control." She looked at Snape. "He wants his cousin's spot in the hierarchy."
"Who's his cousin?" Xander asked.
"Malfoy," Snape said lightly. "You really think he wants leadership?"
"Yes, I do," she told him. "Letting the first years do this and complaining to him about it, or accusing him of it, might force him to take more of an active role in the leadership."
"Which would put him back in the middle," McGonagall told her.
"Not necessarily." Xander looked at her. "Have you heard of the muggle Mafia?" She nodded. "Well, where Mafia leaders live, where their houses are, there's no crime in that neighborhood. They don't tolerate it. I think Hermione's making that same point." He looked at her and she nodded.
"Exactly. He wants it, give him the power over the others. He's not the most wealthy the way Draco was, but he's definitely one of the most powerful."
"And by him cleaning it up, it saves us a lot of stress," McGonagall said, smiling at her student. "An excellent idea, if we could prove it."
"Ask him," she snorted. "Why would he lie about something like this? He and Draco both have open invitations to Drumstrang. Why would he want to share his power with his cousin though? Here he can be ring leader and live the high life. There, he'd be another transfer and be on the bottom of the pond."
"Can you suggest it to him?" Xander asked. "It'd look wrong for us to do it."
She blushed. "I already did," she admitted quietly. "He was not pleased to hear what the other kids were doing. I made it seem like I was gossiping with Ron and he overheard us. He actually stopped us to ask what I was talking about." She smiled at Xander. "I think we'll have a solution sooner instead of later."
"But only to one problem," McGonagall told her. "We still have the present illnesses."
"He's fine," the nurse announced. "Probably could use some food, but otherwise fine." She smiled at Hermione. "Which book was the history one? This sounded familiar when I first saw them."
"I'll go get it," she said, but the nurse walked out with her.
"My, isn't she the manipulative one," Snape told McGonagall.
"Yup, that's what the people with the real power do," Xander said as he slipped off the table and grabbed his cloak. "You notice, she got everyone to basically do what she wanted and to approve of what she'd already done?" He smiled at McGonagall. "I'm going to go find a House Elf and get supper in my room. Unless you need me further?"
"No, go ahead and eat," she said kindly. "We'll know where to find you. Are you up to teaching both classes?"
"Sure. Not a big." He waved and walked out, heading back to his room to think about everything, especially that snapper.
Xander walked into his next morning's joined class in his favorite leather outfit and a cloak. "Everyone ready to go outside?" he asked. The kids all stared at him in shock. "Yes?"
"Sir, did someone turn you?" she asked. "You told us some vampires had a rather large fondness for leather."
"No, this is my hunting outfit, I need to do laundry." He looked around the room. "Good, all you who owe me papers drop them on the desk before you leave and head out to the flying field. Professor Lupin was nice enough to find us something that flies and Madam Hooch is willing to help us learn how to go after it." He watched as the class filed out, noting who didn't turn in a paper, including Hermione. "Paper?" he asked her.
"Ron has all of ours," she told him. "Harry and I left them on the table and he said he picked them up. Isn't he here?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No, and I don't believe you'd mislay homework either." He patted her on the head. "You're a good kid, Hermione, but I know stronger people. Don't try to manipulate me, you'll end up with a really nasty practical for finals." He walked away, leaving her there to consider that. She was old enough to be learning how to use her powers, both political and mental, but she wasn't going to use it on him. He didn't play that way, not since Willow had tried it. He walked out and handed Madam Hooch the money he owed her for the broom, taking it with a smile. "Okay, where's Professor Lupin?" he called. Everyone pointed up. "All yours."
"Ms. Granger?" he asked.
"Is running and getting the paper she owes me because it seems she forgot it in her room." Xander got onto his new broom and joined the other teacher in the air, giving him a smile. "She tried it, you were right."
"A taste of power and all that." He held up a sack. "In here is today's challenge. You are to *catch* it," he told them. "You will not damage it's wings or the class will flunk. You will not kill it or the class will flunk and you will be sorry," he announced. "Everyone who does not have a broom, grab one from Madam Hooch."
"What is it?" Xander asked.
"It's a lot like a fairy, but it's very nasty. Tends to bite and the like," he said with a smile. "Very fast and frustrating." He looked at the class as it slowly drifted up to where they sat. "You have all practiced your net spell, correct?" he asked. Everyone nodded. "Good, that's how you will catch this." He opened the bag and a few little shining creatures flew out. "Go!" he yelled, watching as everyone took off after the various creatures. He laughed when someone yelled about being bitten. "Part of respecting a creature is knowing about it," he called to the boy.
"We never covered these," he whined. A few people nodded.
"Oh, a Glittering," Hermione said as she flew up to join them. She handed Xander a roll of parchment. "Here you are, sir," she said, nodding at him. "What's the exercise?"
"Catch it without hurting or killing it," Xander told her. She nodded and took off. "Think she's been using her brains to barter for power?" he suggested lightly.
"She's in the year where status becomes too important," Lupin told him. "Her personal abilities, her status in her house and her class, and her scores are now some of the things that will give her power. She might even be looking for a powerful relationship to hook herself into."
"She might as well be dating Ron," Xander noted. "Not much power there."
"Not much *wealth* there. Mr. Weasley has a semi-influential position in the Ministry of Magic. Some of the older brothers are climbing the ladder of success in their chosen fields."
"Yeah, but it's not a *power* relationship," Xander told him. "She could get just as much from dating Neville. Or from just being best friends with Harry." He turned to watch a few of the students zip past, still trying to get a net around the Glittering. "If she wants real power, she'll have to make a play for one of the power players behind the scenes. She'll never be the obvious power."
"But the power behind the power, she'll be excellent at," Lupin agreed. "There was a rumor of her dating a Champion Quidditch player."
"Still not a power player," Xander told him. "If she wants that sort of power, it'll have to come from an old family. A well respected family because of who she is, but an old family."
"Which brings us back to Harry," Lupin noted.
"Nope, not even," Xander said, grinning at him. "He'd never go for breaking up the trio."
"Together, they are formidable," Lupin agreed. "Brains, destiny, and strategy."
"Only if they can work together," Xander noted. "But you'll never have to worry about them going bad." He giggled as one of the kids caught one and held it up by the leg, without having used a net spell. "Very good, Harry," he called. "Five extra points."
Harry let it go, after letting Lupin check it out. "Good, now use a net spell," he chastised gently. "That's what the exercise was about."
"Yes, Professor," Harry said, flying off after the creature again.
By the end of the class, only six students had caught the Glitterings. Most everyone had at least had fun and gotten out their frustrations by flying after them. And there had only been two accidents needing medical attention, when the kids had collided while trying to catch the same creature. All in all, a productive morning to wear the students out and get them ready for the harder stuff that was coming.
Xander looked up as his door opened without a knock, frowning at the boy standing there. "Hermione's becoming a manipulative quim," Ron said in greeting, slamming the door. "Harry doesn't even see it."
"She's realizing that brains can equal power if you use them right," Xander countered. "Everyone has to come to the realization of how much and what sort of power they wield in the world. She's recently come to realize that she's got some, if she wants to use it." He shrugged. "It happens. She'll either get tired of it or she'll figure out that using it means that she loses it." He smiled. "Any notes from your brothers?" George had sent him a long note about a hard day at the shop. Not that he believed it....
"No, not a one," he said, sitting down on the foot of the bed. "I was thinking about asking if I could work down there during break."
"I don't think child labor laws would cover that," Xander said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, but I could go help them during our trips down to the village," Ron pointed out.
"Sure you can, I'll ask them when I sneak down there tomorrow if you want." Ron nodded, looking happier. "Buying her gifts won't help that."
"I know. I just wanted some money of my own." He smiled at Xander. "Do you still have any of the reward money left?"
"About half of it," Xander admitted. "Not that I get any of it, but yeah."
"Don't teachers get paid?"
"About thirty gold a month," Xander told him. "Because we get free room and board we don't get paid that much."
"Beats not havin' any," Ron sighed. "My allowance hasn't even went up this year."
"Maybe your parents have been too busy to deal with that." Xander nudged him with his foot. "Next time you get them alone, or semi-alone and in a dealing-with-the-kids-mode, negotiate with them over that stuff."
"Negotiate?" Ron asked.
"Yeah, start out reasonably. 'Mom, Dad, I'm sixteen now, and I've been thinking about a few things. Things like my allowance, which hasn't changed since I was ten.'"
"Eleven," Ron corrected.
"Eleven then," Xander said with a smile. "I think I'm ready for more responsibility and with it more perks. With the older boys gone, I know you need more help during the holidays that I'm here. I'd be willing to take on a *few* extra chores, for some consideration in the area of my allowance.'"
Ron got up and grabbed a piece of parchment and a pen, writing that down. "Brilliant," he said, giving his favorite teacher a smile. "You're going to sneak down to the village tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Already got it covered and everything. I'll ask them for you. Anything else you needed?"
"What sort of power do I have?" Ron asked.
"That's for you to figure out," Xander said gently. "It's one of the things that you do on the way to adulthood. Most people usually call it finding your strengths and path in life."
"Oh." Ron grinned again. "Thanks, Xander. Gotta go back to my room." He opened the door and ran out, heading back to his house.
Xander got up and closed his door, then grabbed his wand to do some more practice. George was so going to be in trouble if he was lying about not being injured in the break-in. Of course, the people who had hurt him were going to be in even worse shape by the time he was done. He grinned and opened the book he had been writing down his spells in, practicing a few of them.
Xander stepped in through the broken door of the joke shop, looking at the glass on the floor critically. "Well, gee," he said as he headed for the back, "looks like someone didn't like the door." He stopped when he saw Fred, and his black eye. "Want to give me a clue where to aim myself at?"
Fred frowned. "We didn't want you to know," he sighed. "George is upstairs."
"That's what I figured. Hermione and Ron are coming down tomorrow to help you clean up."
"Why? We've got to close." Fred handed over the note that had come through the glass door wrapped around a brick. "Even the repairing spell isn't working."
"Then you use something else," Xander said, going for the bookshelf with the spellbooks. He pulled down one and handed it over. "Try this," he suggested, handing over the book, opened to the force field spell. "It should at least help some."
George came down the stairs, frowning at his friend. "Relax, Xander, we're dealing."
"What are you doing out of bed!" Fred demanded.
"He's going to come up to the school with me," Xander said calmly, " and get some medical attention."
"We've already had his ribs looked at," Fred told him. Xander just nodded and walked over, checking them for himself. "See, just bruised."
"Wrong, broken. One's out of place." Xander stepped back. "Your choice. You can go up there yourself on my broom or I can knock you out and drag you with me."
George hugged him. "This is why we didn't want to worry you."
Xander snorted. "This isn't the biggest of worries, I know you'll be fine as soon as you get taken care of. Worry is wondering when Giles and Dumbledore are going to wake up." Both of the twins looked at him. "Oh, and Ron wants to know if he can work down here on his days off. He's starting to realize he's broke."
Fred snorted, then started to laugh. "This just can't get much better," he said finally. "The only better thing would be if the parents showed up."
"Ginny wrote them yesterday," Xander told him. "She got worried. Expect an owl."
"Oh, man," George sighed. "We're so dead."
"No, you are so going to go get those checked out by the only medical person in this whole area, who is up at the school. You're going to let me help you pick all this up and sort everything out. You're going to let me help you fix this, and then you're going to...." He stopped and put a hand over his mouth. "Never mind, just leave it to there, 'kay?"
"I'm going to what?" George asked, his eyes twinkling. "Kiss you for all this when it's over?"
"Not going there," Xander told him.
"Uh-huh, knew it," Fred said, going back into the back room. "Tea, Xander?"
"In a little while," Xander said, looking at George again. "Are you going or am I knocking you out?" he asked quietly.
"If I can have a kiss, I'll go," George teased.
Xander shrugged. "Maybe once you're better."
George frowned at him. "Why are you fighting this?"
"Because where I come from, it's not that acceptable."
"Oh." George nodded. "I can see that. We've heard muggles aren't that accepting of alternate ideas."
"Some aren't," Xander agreed. "I'd like to think I am, but I'm having a hard time lying right now."
"Deal," George agreed. "Whenever you're ready, you'll come to us, and I'll go up to the school on my broom. How's that?"
"Good deal," Xander agreed, helping him down the rest of the stairs. "Is there even a doctor around here?"
"No, there was a nurse passing through town and she came over to check him out," Fred said as he came out of the back room. "Broom's in the front closet."
"That's what I like about flying brooms. They store so much easier than a car," Xander quipped, grabbing some of the glass and picking it up. "Trash can?" Fred pointed. "At least you have a carpenter handy," he noted as he continued to pick up the mess.
"Forgot you'd done that," Fred agreed, finishing his tea and helping him pick up. "You really think that we can do this?"
"Yup. Because whomever did this just violated their own safety." He grinned, leaning closer to whisper to the good twin. George would go along with it, Fred would usually take some convincing.
Xander smiled as he walked into the school, getting met by Madam Pomfrey. "Did I do wrong sending him up here?" he asked innocently.
"No, we do emergency medical for the town too. When did that happen?"
"Few days ago," Xander admitted. "Fred said a nurse looked at him and said his ribs were only bruised."
She snorted. "I've got him on the mend, he'll be able to go home tonight hopefully."
"Any word on Giles and the Prof?" Xander asked as he took off his cloak and wrapped it around the handle of his broom.
"They both moved while someone was talking to them," she reported. "Tara woke up earlier."
"Ah, I was wondering where Willow was." He grinned at her. "Gotta go, pranks to plan, revenge to deal out." He hopped up the main staircase, heading up to his room.
She glared at his back. "Oh, really?" she asked, heading for Professor McGonagall's classroom. She really needed to hear about this.
Professor McGonagall pursed her lips in agitation. "Really?" she asked.
"I think we'll find out how true to his nature he can be," the nurse agreed. "This is not going to be pretty."
"True, but it's sure to be interesting," she said dryly, then she smiled. "Is George all right?"
"He's healing. He should be perfectly fine. What did you want me to do about this."
"Stock up on bandages," she sighed, getting up and heading up to talk to the young teacher. She found him in Gryffindor's common room. "How did you get in?" she asked him.
"Lock spell. The fat lady was really not nice to me." He grinned up at her. "Ron's on his way down. I wanted to give him the news myself. He's getting Ginny."
"Thank you. I don't like giving bad news to students." She smiled at Ron and Harry as they walked in. "No Ginny?"
"She had to put on a shirt," Harry said as he sat across from Xander. "How can we help the store?"
"Besides going and spending a lot of money so they can pay for repairs?" Xander asked. Ron opened his mouth "Ginny, come sit," he ordered, pointing at a chair. She sat down, giving him a petrified look. "The twins are fine," he assured them. "I made George get some attention for his ribs. The store is trashed though," he told them. He looked at the young girl. "Good job of getting the 'rents into this. I'm sure they'll be up this weekend too." He looked at Ron. "I need to find a way to help them rebuild. Want to help?"
"Sure," Ron said quickly. "They had some extra wood if I remember right."
"This is the second attack," Xander said dryly, handing over the note to him. "Harry, are you going to town this time?" The boy nodded. "Want to get everyone to buy stuff at the store? The guys really could use the funds. And stop by Willow on the way out, tell her what I told you. I think she can help a little with this too."
Harry nodded and stood up, after patting Ginny on the shoulder. "It'll be all right," he told her. "Xander wouldn't lie if they were really hurt."
"Broken ribs," Xander told him. "One black eye. Wounded prides and hearts."
"I'll kill them," Ron said, stealing the note from Harry to read it. "Who did this?"
"Got an idea about that," Xander said carefully. "Well, I've got it narrowed down to two actually. Other than that, it's all good. We'll get the store fixed up this time. If I have to, I'll pay you for your help if the guys can't." He looked over his shoulder as the door opened, admitting Willow. "Hey. He's fine."
"I saw," she said, giving him a hug. She took the note Ron held out, reading it and getting her 'someone's going to pay for this' scowl. "What are we doing?"
"We are spending money to give them some money to fix things with," Xander told her. "You've got the money though."
"We can talk to the other Gryffindor's and ask them to buy from the twins too," Ginny suggested. "They were from this house, they should do that much."
"I'll talk with them myself tonight," McGonagall said lightly. "I think we'll need to check and make sure no students had anything to do with this."
Xander looked up at Willow. "Did you get that funny trunk I found at the auction?" he asked her. She nodded. "Good. Can I have it back tonight? There was something in there that I wanted to give to them."
"Okay," she agreed, looking clueless. "What was it?"
"It was a carpenter's trunk. The guy who made it was a Wizard like the ones here, but he put things like a door in there. They really could use a door right about now."
Willow nodded. "I'll go get it out from under our bed and drag it down to your room tonight." She hugged him. "Tara woke up."
"I heard," he said, giving her a squeeze. "Is she okay?"
"She doesn't remember any of it," she said with a light pout. "We can't find out who did it because she doesn't remember what happened that day at all."
"It's okay," Xander told her, pulling her around to sit in his lap so he could give her a real hug.
"Taken witch," she squeaked, getting up. "Bad Xander!" she scolded, but she was smiling. "I'll go get that trunk." She hurried out of the common room, heading back to the safety of her own room. Xander was in a strange mood and she wasn't sure she wanted to be around him right then.
Xander looked at the remaining group. "Anything else that needed to be set up?"
"They're gonna be pissed," Ron warned. "They don't want charity."
"Which is why a bunch of you guys are going to go in there and lighten their inventory," Xander told him with a smile.
"Which isn't charity, it's support from their house," Harry said, smiling at Ron. "And us helping would be..."
"Family helping each other out," Xander finished for him. "They can't get pissed at you two for helping them fix stuff, the same as they can't be upset with me about it. After all, I'm a carpenter," he said, sucking in a deep breath and posing with his chest out for a moment, getting a laugh. "See, not a bad at all," he told them. "But we can't tell them about this, okay?"
Ron and Harry both nodded, and Ginny just gave him an adoring look. "Okay," she agreed. "May I go?" she asked McGonagall.
"Your parents signed a release form," she agreed. "You may go."
"Thank you." She hugged the head of her house and then ran up to her room.
"And you two, I'll expect your minds to be on your work tomorrow," McGonagall said as she stood up. "Xander?"
"Food," he agreed, standing up. "Later," he said, waving at them as they walked out together. "Any change in Dumbledore's status?" he asked her as they walked down the stairs.
"No, not yet," she said sadly. "I think he needed the rest, that's what's taking him so long to wake up."
"After running this insanity for so many years, I'd need a rest too," he told her, giving her a smile. "Can I convince you to buy some treats too, Professor?"
She laughed. "You might. I had thought of it anyway, for my niece you know, but now I'm more sure about it now. It will drive her mother batty." She smiled as they walked into the Great Hall, going up to the main table so they could start the dinner.
Xander continued to plan how he was going to get back at those horrible people who had hurt his friends.
Fred looked up in shock as the bell over top of the temporary door rang, getting up to help Xander drag the trunk through the door. "What's this?"
"Tools and stuff. I bought it at an auction, the guy who owned it had been a Wizard too." He pulled out the set of keys. "Here, open them," he panted. "Couldn't carry that on the broom."
"You didn't have to," Fred complained. "We had tools."
"I need professional tools, not a bent hammer and a shoe," he said, smiling at the disgruntled man. "Ron's on his way down to help too. He demanded."
"Good," George said from the back room. "What's that?"
"He found it at an auction," Fred told him. "It belonged to a carpenter wizard."
"Must have built houses," George said, coming over to look down at the various compartments. "Hey, a door," he said in delight. "We needed one of those."
"Which is why I brought that down," Xander told him. "The third compartment has some tools. I can sand down the door if it's too big, or whatever if it's too small." He stood up, looking down at where they were looking. "Oh, hey, what's that?" he asked, reaching down to pick up the piece of fabric. "An invisibility cloak," he said, after draping George in it and he disappeared. "Nice."
"I know who this belonged too," Fred crowed. "There's all sorts of rumors about this wizard who used to build houses, and then come back to peep at the new owners."
George frowned. "Wasn't he peeping at the kids?"
Fred shrugged. "Who cares, it was bought at an auction, not from the guy's family."
"That is a consideration," Mr. Weasley said as he walked in. "Oh, dear," he sighed as he looked at the remaining mess. "Who did this?"
"Xander had the note." Fred looked at him.
"Ron had it last I knew. I told them you were okay."
"Good, thank you," Mr. Weasley told him. "Now, what happened?"
"Competition," Xander told him. "Unfair, but localized."
Mr. Weasley frowned. "I see. What's this?"
"Something I bought at an auction. I was going to give them the trunk for Christmas, if I ever got it all cleaned out."
"It's got a door in it," Fred said, showing his father the door.
"Good, you need one," Mrs. Weasley said as she walked through the temporary door. "Did that belong to that horrid peeper?"
"Probably," George told her. "Does it matter?"
"Not at the moment," Fred told her. "We can always say that we got it as a present."
"True," George agreed. He looked at Xander. "Are you willing to help us, Mr. Carpenter?"
"Of course," Xander agreed lightly. "Your other kids are on their way down," Xander told Mrs. Weasley. "I got out early."
"Is there any break in the horrible thing that happened to Professor Dumbledore?" she asked.
"Tara's woken up but her memories of that day are gone," he told her. "She doesn't have any idea what happened. Everyone else is still asleep as of when I left." He pointed at the trunk. "Shall we?"
"Yes, we should," Mr. Weasley said, getting down to help the boys pull the door out. "This might actually fit."
Xander looked at it. "Just a little too wide and a little too short. But who knows, maybe there's another door in there. The thing looks bottomless."
The doorbell jingled again and Professor McGonagall walked in, smiling at everyone. "Where did that come from?" she asked, pointing at the door.
"An auction of the estate of that carpenter wizard who used to peep at people," Xander told her. "Or at least we think so."
She laughed. "Only you, Xander," she said, giving him a bright smile. "Boys, I need something for my ten year old niece's Christmas present, something to drive her mother batty. She's quite into the outdoors and animals if that helps."
"She's a wizard?" Fred asked, standing up and leading her back to their back room.
"Why yes, she's to start school next year."
Xander got down and started pulling out stuff. "And hey, what will I need with most of this," he said happily. "Anything we can't use, we've got to get rid of. I'm not carrying this heavy thing back up to the school."
Mr. Weasley patted him on the head, knowing what he was doing and appreciating it.
Fred collapsed, looking around the newly recreated store. "Wow," he said finally. He looked at his twin, who was counting money. "Did they really clean us out?"
"Yes," George told him. "That was very sweet of Ginny, to get everyone in the House to come down and buy from us." He looked at his brother.
"Xander," they said together, then started to laugh.
"He's a sweetie," Fred told his brother, "but he needs subtly."
"Too true," George agreed, calming down. "We'll be up all night making more stock."
"We could open a little late tomorrow," Fred suggested. "Or start out slow and make it through the day. That might thrill some of the local kids. We used to stand and watch the joke shop make things."
"We'll see," George told him, stretching. "I haven't been this tired since we did this the first time." He looked at the door, smiling at the improvised top portion that Xander had connected to it. "He is rather sweet."
"Yup, love can be like that," Fred said as he forced himself to stand up. "Are we going to put out that new trick we thought up?"
"Is the original still here?" George countered. "I thought I saw Xander raiding our workroom."
Fred walked into their workroom and spotted the small bag and the note sitting on the table. "Need this, thanks, even paid for it this time, and so will they," he read out loud. "He's going to do something stupid," he called.
George's laughter floated in from the other room. "Really?" He walked in and looked down at the note. "Really?" he repeated, opening the bag and pouring out the gold coins. A large handful of them. "He must think we mark things up outrageously."
"We'll put it toward the other stuff we've given him to try out up at the school?" Fred suggested.
"No, he's our best tester of jokes. We'll put it on a tab for him. Or I'll go have a discussion with him later this week and make him take the extra back." He pushed aside three coins. "That much he owed us?"
"Nah," Fred said, pushing over another five. "That many is how many he owed us."
"Heavy markup, but I guess he deserves it for not asking," George agreed, putting the six remaining coins into the pouch. He felt something else in there and pulled out another note, smiling at it. "He is sweet," he said, handing it over.
Fred read the note suggesting that the guys put the extra into a fund for kids who needed to play jokes but couldn't afford them or their parents were too uptight. "Well," he said finally. "He's a sweetie." He took the money and went to put it away in the safe. They could give their friend hugs and yell at him the next time he came to town.
Xander wound the last turn of wire around the pin and nodded at Sirius, who was helping him test this out. They stepped away and Xander flipped the switch. Nothing happened for thirty seconds then all hell broke loose. Fireworks shot up. Smoke poured out of the small canister. The canister started to scream and shake. And then the contents bubbled up and melted the whole thing. A puddle of goo was left.
"Hmm," Sirius said, watching the puddle evaporate. "Pretty neat."
"Thanks." Xander grinned at him. "All I needed was a few props from the twins and it's all going well." He looked at the other two canisters he had made, nodding. It was time. "So," he said casually. "Anyone gloating yet?"
"Oh, yes," Sirius said, smiling at him. "The other joke shop was laughing it up during the reconstruction. Even said something mean about the new door." Xander frowned at that. "I think it's a pretty neat idea myself. And you say it'll open?"
"Yeah, I made it so if they needed to, they could open the top portion too." Xander shrugged. "It's a good thing when you have someone as big as Hagrid around. Why make him stoop down?"
"Good idea," Sirius said, patting him on the back. "Any idea what Hermione is planning for the holidays?"
"Nope, ask Willow. She's been helping her." He grinned. "Anything else I can do today?"
"No, it's Sunday," he said smoothly. "But I want to hear about this."
"I'm sure you will," Xander said, picking up the other two canisters and carrying them inside.
McGonagall spit her juice across the table, continuing to read the article that had caught her attention. "Xander!" she said sharply.
"What?" he asked, swallowing his bite of breakfast quickly. "What? I've been good."
She handed over the paper. "That," she said sharply.
He read it then handed it back. "Yeah, and? Wasn't me. I've been here the whole time."
She frowned at him. "Can you swear to me that you had nothing to do with this?"
He took back the paper and reread it. "Nope, it's my design," he told her, handing it back again. "But I didn't plant it." He took another bite, looking very innocent.
She frowned at him but dropped the subject. That way wasn't very subtle. She'd catch him at it. She continued to read the Daily Prophet, smiling at the nice horoscope she had for the day.
Xander smiled and petted his bird, who had decided he wanted to come to class again today. "Good boy," he cooed. "Such a good boy." One of the students shushed him. "Sorry," he said, grinning at Harry. He continued to pet his bird, feeding him pieces of dried banana. He accepted the tests as they came in, noticing how many of them had left a certain question blank. "Freeze," he told Harry and Ron, holding up their tests. "Wanna finish answering it?"
"No," Ron said, pulling Harry with him.
Xander looked at the question; totally fair and perfectly worded. He frowned at the other papers but most of them had answered the question. He decided to run that question past someone else that night. He wrote out a note, including the question in question and put it in his pocket for later. He looked up as someone tapped on the doorframe, nodding at the teacher standing there. He put Murphy down and walked out into the hallway. "What's up, Prof Lupin?" he asked quietly. "And can I have you look over a question?" he asked.
"Sure," he said, taking the slip of paper. "It's a werewolf, right?" he asked, handing it back. Xander nodded. "How many got it wrong?"
"Harry got it wrong," Xander said. "He and Ron refused to answer it. There's been a few others on there too."
"Ah. You promised you would give the scaring it away lecture."
"I've given the short version twice," Xander told him. "I can give a longer version if you want me to."
Lupin nodded. "Please. I've had a student threaten me recently."
"Oh, really?" Xander asked. Lupin nodded. "Which one?"
"One of the Ravenclaw girls, which shocked me." He turned and leaned against the wall. "I have no idea what she was trying to do."
"Is she flunking?" Xander asked. Lupin nodded. "Um, Tanya or something?" he asked. Lupin looked at him and nodded again. "She's flunking in here too. Her and two of the Slytherin guys." He frowned into the classroom. "No cheating," he called, going in to take the papers. "Detention and fifteen points off each. Get out." He slapped the papers down onto his desk, watching as the three students left his classroom. He walked out and grabbed the girl hissing at Professor Lupin, making her cry out from the grip on her arm. "You will not threaten another teacher," he said coldly. "You will not do it in my class, you will not do it outside my class. You will show the respect due to each teacher or I will start procedures to have you tossed out." He let her go. "Go back to your house and tell your Prefect I want to see them." She walked off in a huff.
"Not wise," Lupin said quietly.
"Very wise," Xander countered. "I'm not known for being nice." He looked at the older teacher. "I made a deal with the kids. They don't screw with me and I don't make their lives hell. I count that as screwing with me."
Lupin patted him on the shoulder. "Thank you. I'm going to have a talk with McGonagall tonight. Please, give the long version of that lecture next class."
"Definitely," Xander agreed. "Good luck."
"Thanks." Lupin walked off, heading for the pro-tem Headmistress' office.
Xander leaned against the wall and glared at the one across from him. "Oh, you will not like what I can do," he whispered. He walked back in, going to pet his baby, Murphy. They had to check on Fawkes tonight and see whether or not she had clutched yet. He had time to get to that girl.
Tanya, the girl who had pissed Xander off, walked into his classroom and promptly got frozen. "Good," Xander told Hermione. "Now, you will listen to this, all of you," he said, nodding at Hermione to freeze everyone else. "There have been reports of students threatening teachers," he said coldly, "using what I have taught you. This will stop." He slammed his hand down on the table, startling both phoenixes. "Sorry, guys," he said, petting them both. "We will have a *long* discussion today about what it means to fight evil, and why your best defense is actually to scare the demon/monster/whatever off." He took a deep breath and nodded at Hermione again, watching as everyone unfroze. "Sit down!" he yelled. "Sit and shut up!" Everyone scrambled for their seats, staring at him in shock. "Now then," he said, broadcasting quite clearly into the hallway. "We will set down rules for safe conduct, something I should have done before. Students, such as yourselves, are helpless and weak. Your powers are not at full strength. Your minds are not at full capacity. Your spirits are high and you've got not a *clue* what you're doing with what little you've learned." He leaned forward, putting his hands on the desk to brace him. "You are not capable of fighting off *anything* more than a nightmare. Even if you were adults, most of you couldn't fight off anything because you'd freeze. The purpose of these classes is to teach you how not to freeze and how to scare off the things attacking you. Part of *respect* is learning about what you're trying to get rid of." He looked around the class again. "Apparently, that's gone over all of your heads. I'll drive this point home a little better. You now have a two roll paper due on why you respect *every*thing, even whatever you're fighting. In addition, there will be a new practical test as soon as you get back from the holidays. I'm personally expecting a student to at least pass out, and I'm expecting to have to save at least one of you. As *someone* has decided to use their knowledge for the ill of all of you, you will *all* suffer." He looked around again. "Until you can prove to me that you deserve this knowledge and have learned the cardinal rule of fighting evil, which is *RESPECT*, you will all be held in check. You," he said, pointing at Tanya. "What is the cardinal rule of fighting evil?"
"To get it before it gets you?" she suggested dryly.
"If that's your opinion, then you're already dead," he told her coldly. "Getting it before it gets you," he mimicked. "That means that you're willing to give up your life to stop it from getting you. Are you?" She glared at him. "Are you? I asked you a question. Answer it or lose fifty points."
"No, I'm not," she said, standing up. "I refuse to stay here for this."
"You will *sit down*!" he ordered. "If you walk out of this classroom, I will make you sorry." She sat down again. "Good. Now then, who in this class is willing to give up their lives to stop something evil?" He noticed everyone was looking at the dynamic three. "Besides them," he noted dryly but still coldly. "They've proven they have the point of the cardinal rule of fighting evil. Who else knows it?"
One boy in the back, the Slytherin boy they'd been having so many problems with, stood up. "I understand what it means, Professor Harris," he said quietly. "I even understand why it's necessary, but Tanya does have a point."
"Yup, she has a point. It's called getting dead. If you attack something, then it will fight back, even if it's peaceful." The boy looked a little stunned. "Didn't think about that? Every creature or demon I've taught you has a very strong survival instinct. If you try and attack it, it will fight back. Nothing in this world will lay down and let you kill it unless it's got a serious problem." He pointed at the chair. "Unless you have another comment, sit."
The boy sat. "Yes, sir."
"Understanding that everything natural and unnatural has a survival instinct and will kill you if you attack it first is part of respect. It's part of knowing and knowledge is the real power in life." He looked across his class again. "Have we got the point now?" he asked coldly. Everyone nodded, some looking a little stunned. "Good. I'll expect your papers on the first class back, before I decide if the practical is going to be potentially something more than you can handle, since some of you are that overconfident." He glared around the room again. "I have went up against over sixty of the creatures I taught you and never *once* was I not scared, but I realized that what I knew about it was how I was going to fight it. I realized that being overconfident was what had gotten a lot of people, including a lot of Slayers, killed at a very young age. One as young as *nine*. And if they're born for it, what do you think you're going to do?" He stepped back. "Get out of my sight, write your papers, and come back prepared to write one a week until I'm no longer pissed."
The class walked out, giving him sideways looks as they slid past him, hoping he wouldn't reach out and catch them.
Xander took a deep breath to calm himself down. "Kids like that die," he told himself. "It was necessary so they doesn't die over the next five years." He took another breath then picked up both phoenixes and put them on his shoulders, grabbed his broom and cloak, and headed out into the day to go for a short fly.
"He said what?" McGonagall asked sharply. She looked at Hermione. "What was your part in this mess?"
"He had me freeze the whole class once everyone was in for a few seconds, just long enough to tell us that he was going to give us a loud lecture," she admitted. She looked miserable. "I'm sorry, Professor, but there was something very off about him."
McGonagall nodded. "Yes, I'm aware of it." She stood up. "Thank you. Do you know where he is?"
"Out with the phoenixes," she told her. "Flying."
"I'll go see him. Go to your next class." Professor McGonagall waited until she was alone to smile. "Good," she said quietly. "Maybe it will teach those children enough to stay alive." She grabbed her cloak and went out to talk to him. Freezing the students was not an acceptable way to start off a lecture, nor was threatening their lives. She smiled when the boy landed beside her, both phoenixes landing on his shoulders. "Xander," she said calmly. "You shouldn't have frozen them."
"I didn't want to, but it was necessary," he told her, leaning against his vibrating broom. "The kids have been trying to sneak out lately."
"I know," she said calmly. "But the thing with the practical exam?"
"Hey, all I said was that I expected at least one to pass out and to save at least one person. In that class, that's a practicality. Sirius had to save three of them during the maze exercise." He shrugged a little, not wanting to bother the birds. "As for me being mean to them, I think it was warranted. One of the girls threatened Professor Lupin."
McGonagall sighed. "He told me." She looked at Fawkes. "She doesn't look good."
"She's ready to clutch and doesn't want to without her father. I was going to have Hagrid help me set up a nest in the infirmary tonight."
"Good idea," she praised. "Do be more careful how you yell at the students in the future," she told him. "I don't want to have to reprimand you officially."
He nodded. "Okay. I had Willow record it magically if you want to review it." She nodded. "She's in her classes right now, but she set it up to start at the beginning of the spell."
"All right. Thank you." She walked closer, reaching up to scratch Fawkes' chest. "I think you should think about putting up the nest sooner."
"Cool," he agreed, handing her over. "Keep her for a few while I go get Hagrid. He's got everything we'll need." He flew off, heading down to find the Groundskeeper. "Hagrid?" he called as he landed in front of the cabin. "Hagrid, Fawkes is ready to lay eggs."
"Is she?" he asked as he walked around the side of the hut. "I'll bring up the nesting material," he said happily. "How'd it go?"
"I went off on the class," Xander admitted. "I'm being reviewed to make sure I didn't overstep my authority." He grinned. "I'll meet you up there." He took off again, Murphy following him.
Hagrid shook his head at the energy the boy had as he went to get the nesting material.
Xander checked the nest again as he put Fawkes into it, sitting down to scratch her on the head. "Hey, girl," he said calmly. "I know you wanted your daddy to be awake, but he's right beside you. I know you'll make them both wake up and you'll be safe up here. I'll even leave Murphy if you want." She sang at him as she dug herself into the hay. "You like that?" he asked her, giving her a smile. "We've even got Hagrid getting you some mice for the young if you want." She chirped at him again, burying herself into her nest. "Okay. I'm going to be across the room and Murphy will be hanging around all the time," he told her as she disappeared into the large box. He got up and walked over to where Giles was lying on his bed, so still under the tucked-in blankets. "Hey, G-man," he said quietly, touching his hand. "I know it's been a while since I've been in, but I've had a lot to do. Students to terrorize and all that." He laughed sourly. "You wouldn't believe how bad things have gotten since this spell happened. Or whatever it was." He picked up the dry hand, holding it so he could squeeze it. "I've sent a letter to Buffy, lying the whole time, about how you were fine but too busy to write yourself. She sent back a picture of herself. I put it beside your bed," he told him, looking at the small picture. "Pidge was really pleased that he found her. He got major treats that night." He felt a small flutter of the hand, nothing unusual. "So, how's it going in there? Good dreams? No dreams? Ethan dreams?" Another flutter. "If you'd wake up, I'd even get you something nice for Christmas instead of the thing that I planned on getting you," he offered. He looked down when the hand gripped his, smiling. He looked at the other bed, Dumbledore had shifted too. "Wow," he whispered. "THEY'RE WAKING UP!" he yelled, bringing the nurse running. "Giles squeezed my hand and Dumbledore shifted."
She checked them each, shooing him out into the hall while she did so. Finally, she let him back in. "They're a little closer," she agreed, giving him a smile. "Very good catch. This is the second step closer to coming back that they've done this month." She tucked in the blankets again. "What's in the box of hay?" she asked.
"Fawkes, she's nesting. She refused to lay any eggs unless she was near her daddy."
"Oh, all right then. Will you be coming up to take care of her?"
"Hagrid and I are splitting it. He's getting her the meat she needs to do this and I'll be doing the daily care stuff. We even put in a removable tray for wastes," he said proudly.
"Birds can't control that," she reminded him.
"I know, but it's in a convenient spot if she doesn't want to soil her nest." He looked over to see a slim beak poking out of the hay. "It's all right, sweetheart," he cooed, going over to pat the top of the hay she had arranged around herself. "Your daddy will wake up before your babies hatch and he'll be so proud of you."
The nurse smiled at him. "You're very good with them." She checked on them again, her smile getting a little brighter. "This might be the day," she noted. "Both of their heartbeats are still coming up." She hurried away to summon the people who needed to be here.
Xander sat down beside the nest and waited, congratulating her on each egg, even after everyone arrived.
Snape finally snapped at him. "Do you have to make that noise?" he asked.
"Yes," Xander told him. "Phoenixes are very interactive birds. She needs the love and attention right now more than ever. That's part of what makes them so special." He glared at the older man. "Don't even think about kicking us out. She won't lay without him and it'll kill her if she doesn't lay soon."
"Fine," Snape sighed, going to stand as far away from him as possible in the small room.
McGonagall looked down into the box. "How many has she laid?"
"Six. Four flourescent, two plain colored. I'm wondering what the difference is but I'm not going to get up until she decides to send me away."
"A noble sentiment," the quiet voice on the bed said. Dumbledore rolled onto his side and looked down at the nest. "Hagrid helped build it?" he asked. Xander nodded. "Six eggs? How long has she been laying?"
"A little over an hour," Xander said respectfully. "She refused to do it anywhere that you weren't."
"Good, good," he said, rolling back onto his back and smiling at the teachers. "You all look wretched," he told them.
"It's nearly Christmas," McGonagall told him. "You've worried us all sick."
He patted her on the hand. "It's all right. If it's nearly the holidays most students will be gone soon."
"Three days," Snape said, sounding relieved.
"I've been asleep that long?" Dumbledore asked. Everyone nodded. "Why?"
"All we know is that there was some sort of drug or poison in your system," McGonagall said lightly. "We never figured out what it was or how it was given, but it appears to have worked it's way out of everyone's system now."
"Giles isn't awake yet," Xander noted.
"I'm sorry," McGonagall said automatically. "I'm sure it will be soon though."
"Hopefully," the nurse said, smiling at them all. "And hopefully you'll be able to go to your own room tomorrow, Professor. After a very thorough examination."
"I hope I pass," he said lightly.
Xander stood up and gave him a hug. "I'm sure you'll ace it. I'm going to go get her some food. Yell if Giles wakes up." He walked out, heading down to the kitchens. Fawke's daddy was awake, he could go for a bit.
"He's an odd boy," Snape declared.
"Yes, but he's a decent one," McGonagall noted. "Even if he was very harsh with his students today." Lupin sighed. "I already knew," she told him. "Even if I hadn't heard the tapes of his lecture myself."
Snape snorted. "I heard the whole thing, I was down the hall working with the witches. Most harsh with the students."
"Why was he harsh?" Dumbledore asked.
"A few of the students have decided to threaten the teachers," McGonagall told him, patting him on the hand. Dumbledore looked at Lupin. "Among others," she agreed. "Xander took offense at it and gave them a very loud, very stern lecture. We've discussed it already."
Dumbledore smiled. "It sounds like you've got it well in hand." He looked at the nurse. "When did I get drugged, or poisoned?"
"Do you remember a vampire showing up?" Lupin asked.
Dumbledore thought then nodded. "Yes, I do. Both of them actually. Why?"
"It was that day. The girl who also got poisoned didn't have any memories of that day when she woke up."
"That was after her second waking," the nurse told him. "I couldn't keep her awake when she first came to."
"Is she all right?"
"She's fine, Professor," the nurse said. "No memories of those days, but otherwise fine."
"Good, good," he said, yawning. "I would like to sleep again also."
"First, can you remember being scratched or fed anything unusual," Snape asked quickly. "We need to know."
"Well, one of the House Elves fed us some wonderful tea. I had a cookie from them also." He thought back. "No, I don't remember anything. Who else was targeted?"
"Rupert and Tara," McGonagall told him. "She's been awake and we're waiting on Rupert."
"All right. Tell me what happened when I wake up," he ordered, rolling onto his side. He noticed the curtain being closed around him, but he was nearly asleep.
Xander looked down at the man lying on the bed, sighing again. "Giles, why won't you wake up? What's the kick that'll make you come back to us?" He looked down at his bird, then shook his head. "I don't want to do that. It's too big of a risk." He looked at the man on the bed again. Giles heart had slowed back down earlier that evening. The nurse was starting to give him hints that she thought he wouldn't wake up. But he shouldn't expose the school.
He finally decided he needed to do something so he got up and grabbed some paper and a quill, dipping it in ink to write out the note he knew would motivate the one person that could get into Giles' mind, as proven the first time they'd been at the school. He clicked at Murphy, who had been asleep. "I know you don't want to go," he told him, easing the message into the pouch, "but I need you to go and do this. Otherwise, your grandfather will not wake up." He kissed his phoenix on the head. This was a big risk. The sorcerer might not listen to the note. He might try to trap his bird. He might laugh it all off as a joke. But it had to be done. He walked Murphy over to the window and opened it, holding him out. "I need you to go find the bad man," he told Murphy. "The one in Grandfather's picture." Murphy cooed at him. "Yes, him. I think he's in London, but I'm not sure. Hurry back," he said, launching his bird into the air and watching him fly away as he closed the window. He turned to find the nurse standing behind him. "I only know of one person that can get into Giles' mind," he told her.
"I understand. Don't put the school at risk though."
"I didn't. I didn't say a thing about the school or even what was going on. Just that Ethan needed to check on Giles' mind. I'm hoping that whatever's going on that he'll see it and be able to send him back up."
She gave him a hug. "I'm sure it will work itself out." She walked out, going back to check on the students in her care.
Ethan Rayne looked up at the heavens and swore, "I will never work for the Powers again, no matter how flashy their package is, no matter what the enticement is, no matter what." He started to close his flat's window, but he saw a bright bird heading for it. His mouth started to open and he started to babble the word 'no' but the bird kept coming. It landed on his windowsill and looked expectantly at him, puffing out its chest and the leather pouch on it. He carefully reached inside and took out the letter. "Whatever I have is yours," he told the magnificent bird, watching as it flew in and nibbled at his fruit basket. He opened the small note, reading the words on it. "You've decided to test me already?" he asked, looking up again. "I won't do it." He looked down at the note again, noticing the sort of paper it was on, the sort of ink it was on, and his resolve crumbled. He looked at the bird. "Tell them I'll try," he told him, holding out an arm. The bird flew out the open window and into the night, heading for home presumably.
Ethan closed the window and went to get his working equipment. He had to do something about this. It wasn't often that he was begged to help anyone, much less Rupert Giles.
Giles moaned and started to thrash around, bringing the nurse and Xander to his side instantly. He started to mumble and moan, but he didn't open his eyes. Until he sat straight up and screamed. He looked around, then glared at Xander. "Why did you make him do that!" he demanded.
"Because you've been asleep for over a month," Xander said quietly, staying calm. "You were drugged or poisoned, we're not sure which, and you haven't woken up since the day we did the maze." He checked on the birds, both of who were looking up at them. "I had to do something," he rationalized. "You might never have woken up."
"But to call Ethan," Giles sighed. "Xander, that was dangerous."
Xander walked out of the infirmary, going to his room.
Murphy hopped up onto the bed and cooed at his third-favorite person, getting head scratches. He nodded at his nest, wanting to show off his new chicks.
"Yes, that's very nice, Murphy," Giles said, petting the bird. "Would you please go tell your father I want to see him, to apologize?" he amended when the nurse glared at him. Murphy took off, going to bother his father until he came back. He needed his human to watch over his chicks and mate.
Giles allowed himself to be laid back on the bed, looking up at the nurse. "I've been out for a month?"
"Closer to two really. The winter holidays start in two days." She brushed some of his hair back, checking his temperature. "Well, you seem fine." She glared down at him. "He's come up every day, even forgoing flying some days to see you. He did what he had to do. You weren't going to be waking up if he hadn't." She stepped back. "Maybe you ought to try to be nicer to the boy. He risked quite a lot to send off that note. Including Murphy." She walked away, hearing footsteps in the hall. "Professor Snape," she said lightly. "What brings you up here?" He showed off his cut finger. "We'll get that fixed right up," she told him cheerfully. "He's awake now. Whomever the boy sent the note to did it."
"Does he remember anything?" Snape asked, looking into the recovery room.
"I haven't asked him." She led the way into the room. "We have to ask you, do you remember being scratched by anyone or fed anything strange on the day you fell ill?" she asked him.
"No, I don't," Giles said, reopening his eyes. "I'm sorry. If he comes back and I'm asleep, please tell him?"
"I will, but it'd be best coming from you." She frowned. "Not a thing out of the ordinary?"
"No. Druscilla didn't scratch me. I had nothing to eat that day. What did the medical tests find?"
"A drug we couldn't trace," she said, looking him over. "None of you have remembered anything after you've slept the second time."
"I doubt I'll be sleeping anytime in the near future," Giles told her. "I had the most horrid vision while I was under."
"The whole time?" Snape asked.
"No, that's what woke me up. Xander sent a note off to someone who knows me well enough to get into my head, and this person sent me horrible visions about all my students dying."
Snape nodded. "That'd do it for me too." He held up his finger. "We'll be back. Remember what you can, we need to know." Giles nodded so he walked away.
Murphy flew back in, making sad noises. "Couldn't find him?" Giles asked. The bird curled up on his chest. "I'm sure he's just sulking in his room. He'll let you in later." He yawned. "He still loves you, Murphy." The petting he was doing lulled him back into sleep.
Xander snuck in a few hours later and picked up his bird, cuddling it close. "I still love you," he whispered, "I needed some time alone but I still love and want you." He walked his bird back up to his room, going to bed for the night with Murphy above him on the headboard.
Xander walked into his last class before the break and smiled thinly at the group. "Does anyone have anything they need clarified?" he asked. No one said anything. "This would be the time to do so. Otherwise, you're free to go." The students all walked out, not looking happy in the least.
One of them, the Slytherin boy that had given him so much trouble at the beginning, stopped at the desk. "Sir, we're sorry we've disappointed you so. We had no idea that some of us had gotten so out of hand."
Xander sat down in his chair, looking up at the boy. "That's good that you realize that now."
"The whole class wanted to apologize for what Tanya did to Professor Lupin. We've all come down on her, and we didn't want to disappoint you."
"If you've learned the lesson, you haven't disappointed me," Xander said calmly. "If you didn't, then you have."
"It's that simple?" the boy asked.
"It is now," Xander told him. "I'm not going to get up a lot of hope for you guys, not any more. I came into this thinking that I would be teaching you guys things that would save you when you ran into something in an alleyway at night. Now I'm starting to see how much of this is something to use against other people." He looked out his window. "I can only hope that some of you got the real point of the lecture, Bradley. No matter how many Tanya's there are in the world, there's got to be someone who gets the point. Hopefully two for every one of her, but I'm not that optimistic anymore."
Bradley nodded and walked off, leaving the teacher alone with his thoughts, and him with his.
Xander got up and cleaned off his chalkboard, realizing he wouldn't have to do it again for another three weeks. He gave it a little smile and walked out, heading up to the teacher's section to go check on the phoenixes. Murphy hadn't wanted to leave Fawkes alone after the move so he had stayed in Dumbledore's room. He knocked on the door. "Coming to check on the birds," he called as he walked in.
"Good," Dumbledore said from his couch. "They're quite fussy right now."
"You messed up the carefully shifted nest," Xander said with a smile. "She's very picky about each piece of hay and how it should stick out." He bent down to look inside, mouth open when he saw how many eggs were in there. "She's got ten now," he told the Headmaster. "Six of which are shiny."
"Not a good average," Dumbledore sighed as he got up to come look for himself. "Well, it's her first real clutch, I'll give her credit for that much," he said, after getting up. "I'd move them closer to the fire, but I'm afraid of an ember coming out and wiping them all out." He sat down again. "How are you today?" he asked
"I'm kinda not real happy," Xander admitted.
"Would some time off this holiday help? Teachers are allowed to leave for the holidays."
"Nope," Xander said, curling up beside the nest to pet the bird inside it. "It's not going to help. I've lost my optimism." He pulled his hand back when he got nipped. "Sorry," he told her, switching to Murphy, who was lying beside the nest guarding his mate. "I used to feel like I was making some sort of difference, that what I was teaching was going to save someone."
"And because they used the knowledge to torment someone else, you've lost that hope?" Dumbledore asked. Xander nodded. "I can see that. Most teachers have to go through that sometime. A good teacher doesn't let it defeat them though." He handed over a letter. "This made it to us this morning, I'm not sure what your friend was doing with an owl."
Xander opened the letter, smiling at the familiar handwriting. "She's in over her head," he told Dumbledore, folding it back up. "I should probably go help her after all." He looked at Murphy. "You won't come with me, will you?" His bird hissed at him. "Didn't think so." He stood up. "With your leave, I'll go help her."
"Just be careful who sees you flying," Dumbledore said patiently. "I'll take good care of them both."
"Thanks." He gave the older man a smile and went to pack a small bag. Maybe some hard fighting would cheer him up again.
Giles walked into the dining hall, looking at the small number of people still there. "Did Xander leave to go see the twins?" he asked as he sat down.
"No, the young girl, Buffy? She needed some help and he went to help her," Dumbledore said casually. He had heard the fight that night, and he knew what part of the boy's apathy was, but not how to cure it. "He'll be back in a few weeks."
"Has Murphy gone?"
"No, Murphy has decided he's staying close to the nest, even when Fawkes screeches at him and sends him across the room because she's tired of him staring at her." He handed down a bowl of potatoes. "You two really should have a talk when he gets back. He's most disheartened about what one of his students has done."
"More than one," McGonagall noted. "There's the whole group of them. Though, Hermione's idea has worked wonderfully. That one boy, Bradley, has taken over the reins as we hoped and is reeling them in even now. I think we'll be able to count on him to keep that one girl in control from now on."
"Tanya?" Giles asked. She nodded. "Yes, I felt something was about to go very wrong with her. What did she do?"
"She threatened a teacher," Dumbledore said calmly, looking down at Professor Lupin. "Are you all right? She didn't actually hurt you?"
"No. She had a little silver dagger and stuck it into my desk, right next to my hand." He shuddered. "Then she gave me this look and warned me not to flunk her again."
Giles patted him on the arm. "I'm sure Xander has tried to straighten her out also."
"We nearly reprimanded him for it," McGonagall said. "He's been most harsh with the class since then. Threatened them with a practical exam that would make at least one pass out."
"The maze did that," Sirius noted.
"Which is why he didn't step over the line," she told him. "He has assigned extra homework. I believe that class has a paper due the day they come back. Two parchments if I remember right." Everyone hissed. "And he's promised that they'll have one a week,"
"He's lost faith in the students," Dumbledore told them all. "He came in thinking that he was going to be able to give them good information, and realized he was teaching a bunch of petty teenagers."
McGonagall sighed. "I remember when I came to that realization. I nearly quit teaching."
"You don't think he will," Giles said quietly.
"He promised me he'd come back after the holidays," Dumbledore told him. "I'm sure he will."
"One of his students apologized to him," Lupin told him. "Willow overheard it and told me. She said what he told the boy was enough to make her violently ill. Or violent, she wasn't sure which." He picked up a roll and buttered it. "He told the boy he'd lost his optimism."
"Oh, dear," Giles sighed. He stood up. "Do we know where he is?"
"Fighting beside that girl of yours," McGonagall told him. "Somewhere in the north. He has a map of the local wizard shops up there. We're expecting an owl full of anxiety about his phoenix."
Giles sat down again. "I'll never catch him then."
"Probably not," she agreed. "He flew up there this morning." She passed him the meat tray. "Eat, you'll need your strength. The twins will be looking for him."
"He stopped in to see them," Dumbledore said with a smile. "They sent me an owl card. Their parents will be up just before the beginning of school to see everyone."
"I hope he's back by then," Sirius noted. "He'd hate to have missed them."
"I'm sure he will," Giles said firmly. "He's very good at fighting what he needs to." He looked at the contents of his plate then pushed himself back. "Excuse me, but I think I need some more rest." He got up and walked off.
Dumbledore looked not very happy with himself.
"He'll have to apologize to the boy eventually," Snape told them all. "If the boy comes back."
"He'll come back," McGonagall told him sharply. "I've seen that boy fight and plan."
"Yes, but this is totally different."
"Yes, this was his life before he came," she told him. He looked stunned. "That's what he used to do every night. I'm sure he'll come back this time also. That man once said that Xander had an extraordinary gift of getting himself out of trouble."
Xander walked into the school, two days late, limping, arm in a make-shift sling, and still ready to go rip his class a new one. He headed up to the office, nodding at the birds as his launched himself at him. "Hey, Murphy, I could have used you out there," he whispered, hugging and cuddling his bird the best he could. "I missed you too," he said, finally letting him go and putting him on the back of the chair he flopped down in. "Would you please go get Dumbledore?" he begged. "I'm not moving, I promise." His phoenix flew off, heading down to find his mate's father. His human looked bad. Xander allowed himself to relax for the first time in nearly three weeks, and promptly lost consciousness. He missed Professor Dumbledore running up the stairs to see him, and he missed Giles running up and trying to hold him. He even missed his baby crying on one of his worst wounds, closing it for him. Phoenix tears had healing properties that he wouldn't be able to appreciate for days.
By the time he woke up he was in the infirmary and most of his aches were dulled at least. He blinked a few times as the images around him settled on one instead of four or so. "Giles," he said, reaching up to touch him. "She's fine."
"I wasn't worried about her, I was more worried about you," he said, giving the boy a fond smile. "Xander, I have to apologize. I'm an ass and I shouldn't have yelled at you for getting Ethan to help me."
Xander patted him on the face. "It's the drugs, they're very good," he said, then he closed his eyes again.
Giles sighed and sat down beside the bed. "I'll have to tell you again, when you're not in pain." He picked up the boy's chart and looked through it, thoughtfully examining all the wounds he had. "Madam Pomfrey?" he called. "May I take this? I think I need to drive a point home to our combined classes."
"I'll make you a copy of the pertinent injuries," she said, taking it from him.
"All of them if you wouldn't mind," he corrected. "I think it's time they learned a little more about what life was really like when you fight evil on a daily basis. Has he mumbled anything about the fights?"
"No, but that strange girl did send us another owl, warning us Xander had fought and was injured." She handed over the letter. "The Headmaster thought you might like to see that."
Giles read it, shaking his head. "Will she never learn," he sighed, getting up. "I'll be back in a moment. I need to find a copy of a human body to illustrate my point."
"No, just read them," she said, waving her wand and copying the document before her. She handed it over. "Read it to them. Don't tell them anything else."
He nodded and headed down to the classroom. He smiled as he walked in, nodding Hermione back to her desk. "Thank you, dear," he told her. "Ten points for you for babysitting." He stood up in front of the class and read the list before him. "Arm, broken in four different places, two of them compound, one of the simple, one of them a shatter. Head injury, minor damage done to the side of the head, but nothing serious. Broken ribs," he said, forcing himself to stay calm. "Fourteen breaks in six ribs. Ligature marks, old and partially healed, on wrists. Shoulder strain, probably from the same cause as the ligature marks. Ankle, dislocated. Back, sprained, three small muscle tears. Neck, severely sprained, no permanent damage done, but will need some time to heal fully. Jaw, bone bruises in five places. Pelvic bone, three bruises. Both arms, bruises from hard objects. Chest and abdominal area, multiple bruises too close together to count. Back, multiple bruises on lower half, looks like boot marks on one, too close together to count. Foot, broken metatarsal bone." He put down the paper, not willing to read the last part. "That was your teacher's status when he finally got here," he said quietly, getting a gasp. "He got here two days late because he was fighting beside the Slayer, because she needed him." He looked around the room, noticing the pale faces. "This wasn't meant to scare you off, it was meant to be a warning. Even Xander, who has the greatest respect for his enemies, managed to get that hurt during his time off." He cleared his throat. "I have heard of what happened while I was asleep, and I must say it was better that you got him than me, as I probably would have harmed you physically." He stared around again. "This is why he moves you so hard and why his exercises are so very real. This is the reason that Professors Lupin and Black's cross training is so important to us. Xander was probably only fighting vampires. Vampires are stronger and faster than the average human, which Xander is, and yet he still fights. This is why those piddling little papers are not enough from you." He leaned against the edge of the desk. "While Xander is in recovery, some of those injuries can't be magiced away by the way, I will be your instructor. I've been in the same situation he was faced with. I didn't come home walking like he did though." There was a small gasp from one girl. "Yes, he came in walking and passed out in Professor Dumbledore's office while waiting to report back here to you ungrateful lot." He stood up again. "I will not tolerate the disrespect levels that he did. If you think he worked you hard, you have no idea what the rest of this year will contain. You will have a practical examination every two weeks. Most of them will be more like the maze than like your first one, which I heartily approved of at the time. Unfortunately, you've proven to me that you're immune to the lesser methods of teaching and will need everything I've ever learned from training the Slayer." A boy in the back raised his hand. "Yes?"
"Is Professor Harris all right, sir? Those injuries sounded very serious."
"Those that could be healed have been. The rest will take time." He smiled at the boy. "It does me good to hear that some of you do care about your fellow man, it's a rare occurrence these days." He looked at the doorway, where Dumbledore was standing. "I know I won't make you into the man he is in just half a year, but for those of you who are coming back and plan to pursue a career in stopping the dark arts, then I will mold you into Xander's image." He looked at his watch. "Next class, we will be setting out the rules for our time together. The class after that, expect your first practical." He patted the desk. "Put your papers here and leave."
The kids all filed out, putting their papers down and leaving quietly, not able to look at each other.
"I don't think that was necessary," Dumbledore said as he walked in. "The children were getting a very good idea from Xander about the harsh realities of life. We'd like them to remain innocent for a while longer."
"These were all fifth and sixth years," Giles reminded him. "It's time they realized how very rough the outside world is. This will also cement anyone's career options quite firmly."
"Yes, but we'd like some of them to do that job too," Dumbledore reminded him. "It's not all bruises and broken legs."
"No, it's not. It's long hours waiting on those injuries, waiting to see which one of your friends will fall next and wondering how long it will be before it's you. It's a lot of training that doesn't ever seem to fit the situation and improvising a solution. It's a lot of making sure you don't make mistakes because you won't have the time to correct them."
"You still do," Dumbledore pointed out. "He's not dead."
"No, he's not. He just told me that he was hallucinating though." He sat on the desk. "I have no idea why I said what I did that night."
"Maybe you ought to tell him that," Dumbledore said gently, coming in and closing the door. "Rupert, you're right about one thing, that boy is the most loyal and stubborn creature on this planet. If I had any idea the sort of trouble he'd get into, I never would have given him the note from the girl." He looked at the empty seats. "You and Xander are some of the best teachers we have. I'd hate to lose you, but if you want to leave, you can. I'm sure Willow and Tara can fill in while you go check on her."
"I have no need to check on her, she's surrounded by people like me," Giles told him. "I'll send her an owl later." He looked over. "I don't think he'll take my apology."
"You might try again, once he's not hallucinating and passing back out," Dumbledore said lightly. "I'm sure he'd like to hear it when he's sane and whole again."
"Yes, but will he be either?" Giles picked up the form and handed it over. "I'm not sure who it was, but apparently Xander went to talk to them."
Dumbledore read the whole report then handed it back. "It happens, Rupert. We both know that. Being captured is often the same as being killed. The boy knew that."
"Yes, but his sense of trust beat him this time," Giles reminded him. "That same damnable trust that would make him forgive me."
"Even when you don't deserve it?" Dumbledore asked. Giles nodded, still staring at the paper. He walked in and sat beside his teacher. "You do deserve it, the same as the boy didn't deserve the yelling that night, and mostly for the same reason. He's like a son to you, Rupert, and the sooner you explain that to him, the sooner you'll both feel better." He patted his teacher on the shoulder. "I do believe Murphy wants to go visit his father. Would you sit with him? He hates the infirmary now."
"Of course," Giles said automatically. "Have you notified the twins? I'm sure one of them would be most interested in coming up to see him."
"I've told them he's back and that he's in bad shape. They'll probably be up anytime now." He smiled. "Murphy's probably already up there. Please go sit with him."
"Yes, I think I will," Giles said, handing over the report. "Please, destroy that." He walked away.
Dumbledore said a word and incinerated the paper. No one should know what else was on there.
George walked into the infirmary, smiling at the bird and man curled up together on the bed. "Hey," he said, then realized Giles had woken up too. "Sorry."
"It's all right," Giles said, giving him a weak smile. "I'll go get some tea. Have a good visit." He got up, letting the young man have his chair.
George sat down beside the bed and reached out to touch Xander's shaking hand. "Hi. Dumbledore said you were in pretty bad shape." Xander nodded. "Don't want to talk about it?" Xander shook his head. "Just the whole quiet and be nice visit?" Xander shrugged, and winced. "Who did this to you?" he asked.
"Old friend," Xander mumbled. He grabbed George's hand before he could move, giving it a squeeze. "I hurt," he whispered.
"I'm sure you do," George said, giving him a smile. "From the way you're holding Murphy, I'd say you're in a lot of pain. Should I go get someone?" Xander shook his head. "There's no need to be brave."
"I hallucinate," Xander told him. "Giles apologized to me."
"For being an ass," Giles said as he walked in, holding a tray of tea cups. "I meant it you know. I shouldn't have yelled at you that night." He handed over the cup of tea the nurse had given him. "Here we are, your next dosage of medication and then I'll be out of your way again." He watched as Xander drank the foul brew, then handed over another of the cups to George. "Here you are also. Would you like me to take Murphy up to the nest?" Xander nodded and let go of his bird, watching as it uncurled. "Murphy, come, we'll go check on your chicks." The phoenix hissed at him and curled up closer to Xander's side. "I promise, right there and then you can come back. I'm sure your mate wants to hear about this also." Reluctantly, Murphy waddled over to him and up onto his arm. "Thank you. We'll be back in a few." He and the bird walked out, leaving them alone again.
"That was strange," George agreed. "My father would never outright say he was sorry to me about yelling like he probably did." He squeezed Xander's hand. "Are you all right otherwise?"
Xander shrugged. He saw the hurt look. "Not really," he admitted. "Sprained muscles and bone bruises can't be healed by magic. The nurse said I could leave in a few days."
"Good, then we'll expect you to come down for a cup of tea and some sympathy."
"No sympathy," Xander said quickly, keeping him from moving again. "Not going. Please?"
"All right, I won't leave," he agreed, settling back in.
"About what?" George asked. "You're in a hospital bed, you've got horrible injuries, and you're sorry for something?"
"Christmas card in my pack," Xander offered.
George leaned in. "You didn't have to get me a card, Xander. We like you anyway." He saw the begging look so went to empty out the pack and search for the card. He found it under the treasured leather outfit, which was looking a little shredded. "Dear God, what did you run into?"
"Old friend," Xander repeated.
"You were friends with a rotating saw?"
Xander snickered. "Ow," he complained, rubbing across his ribs.
George smiled at him and sat down, reading the card. He looked over at his friend and smiled. "If you insist," he said, kissing him on the tip of the nose. "How did that feel?"
"Didn't hurt," Xander said in amazement. "Only place, but it didn't."
"Good. See, I'm good for you."
"Yup, you're the original good," Xander said, reaching out to him again as he fell asleep.
George sat there, resisting the urge to pick up the chart and read it. Whatever he needed to know, Xander would tell him. When Giles came back, without Murphy, he looked up at the older man. "Who did he run into?" Giles shrugged. "All he would tell me was that it was an old friend."
"I've sent Buffy a letter, asking her what happened. As she's sent one to us warning us that he was coming, I hope that she'll be able to answer this one as well." He sat on the edge of the bed, looking the boy over. "George, I've been bad to him. I have no excuse other than I was ill at the time, but that's not really a good one is it." He glanced at the boy again. "I really did mean my apology."
"I know you did," George told him. "So did he." He stood up but the hand clutched him tighter.
"Stay," Giles offered. "I've got to go check on Willow and Tara anyway. They haven't been up to see him yet and that's very odd."
"It's still the class day," George reminded him. "I'm sure they'll be up as soon as they can." He got comfortable again. "Could you find my brother and ask him to send a message to Fred, telling him that I'm going to be here for a while longer?"
"Of course." Giles walked out, heading down to see if he could find Ron, or Ginny. Either one would do. He found both of them with Willow and Tara in the library. "Ron, your brother George wanted you to send a message to Fred saying he was going to be here for a while." Ron nodded and got up, heading up to go find his owl. "Willow, Xander's been awake."
"We heard," she said, looking up. "We were waiting for you to go make it all right. I didn't need the angst overload."
Giles frowned. "I've apologized to the boy." He leaned over. "All he said was that this was an old friend, the one who hurt him so badly."
"Can't be Spike," Tara said quietly. "We saw him during break."
"He was in town," Willow agreed, looking at her lover. "Do you think he knew?"
"Possibly," Tara agreed. "He was negotiating for a crossbow." She looked back at Giles. "Do we need to do anything?"
"As long as Buffy answers me fairly quickly, probably not. I'm supposing that the Watchers have it well in hand."
"That many injuries and it's well in hand?" Willow asked.
"Buffy was well enough to send a note," he countered.
"That probably means it was Angel," Willow said with a grimace. "Why else would Xander run off like that."
"Because he felt he needed to," Giles said tiredly. "That was my fault also."
"No, it was both of yours," Tara told him. "You should admit that you see him like a son. It might help some of this." She smiled at Willow. "We're getting to help take care of the chicks once they hatch," she said proudly.
"That's why we're in here instead of up bothering him and Fred," Ginny told him.
"It's George, dear," he said, giving her a fond smile. "Fred's still in town."
"Oh. I thought he liked Fred," she said, looking at the older women.
"He might," Willow said with a shrug. "Xander's not been in the sharing mood over his relationship." She looked at Giles. "Why are you hovering?"
"Because I need a place to be," he said coolly. "I even went down and yelled at the joint classes again."
"Feel better?" Snape asked as he rounded a corner. "Do you have the book on baby phoenixes?" Willow handed him the one she had been reading. "You get to help too?"
"I think Dumbledore thinks that he's going to need all the help he can get," Willow said dryly. "Baby chicks are very dependant and demanding. They have to be fed every hour."
"I had no idea," Snape sighed as he joined them at the table. "How's the boy?"
"Better, he's been awake and mostly aware," Giles told him. He sat down across from them. "Can I help in the research?"
"If you want," Snape said, passing the book over. "Nice job by the way, the lecture to the students. There's an air vent down into my office." All three girls looked at him. "It was very disturbing but very real, just like Harris likes to give them."
"What did you do, Giles," Willow asked.
"I gave them an overview of Xander's injuries and told them I wasn't going to be as soft. That I had every intention of each of them being able to fight the dark like Xander has."
"Oh, man," Willow sighed. "I'm staying *far* away from that fight."
"He won't like that," Tara told him. "He hates to be sick and weak around people. He hides when he only has a cold."
"I gave them the major injuries," Giles defended. "Standard ones, all of them."
"Ligature marks are standard?" Snape asked. "I thought the idea was to stay away from the creatures so you can fight them or drive them off."
"Old friend huh," Willow said, looking at Tara. "That narrows it down. Spike was with us. What about Angel?"
"I hate to say it, but Oz?" Tara asked. Willow looked sad. "If he were turned," she amended.
Willow nodded. "It could be. Or Buffy herself."
Ron walked back in. "George said that he keeps saying the name ..." He shook his head, "I don't remember. But George keeps hearing it."
"I'll go up and check on him," Willow said, getting up and heading up to listen to Xander. "Hi," she said quietly. "Ron didn't remember the name he keeps saying," she whispered.
"He keeps saying Wesley," George told her. "He also was worrying about his classes."
"Giles was a butt and told them about his major injuries to scare them," she admitted. "I think maybe they're broken now. I'm going to take over those duties while he takes my classes."
George smiled. "I'm sure you'll do very well keeping them in line." He shifted a little and the hand on his tightened. "Is he usually this injured?"
She shook her head. "We've all been injured but none of us this badly." She smoothed the sheets over the warm body. "At least he came home." She checked his wrists, humming to herself. "They didn't turn him."
"No, they didn't," George said, sounding a little relieved. "Did someone owl Fred?"
"Ron did. I'm sure he'll be up here tonight to give you some time off."
"Maybe," George sighed, moving his chair closer. "Xander, who did this to you?" he whispered. "Willow's here and wants to make it better."
"Gotta talk to Wesley," Xander repeated.
"Then we'll talk to Wesley," Willow agreed. "Was he the old friend?" Xander shifted uncomfortably. "Xander, was it Buffy?"
"No!" he shouted, sitting up and grabbing his chest. "Ow!"
"Shh," she said, sitting beside him to hug him. "I know it hurts." He buried his face in her shoulder. "I want to know who I have to go kick," she said quietly. Xander lifted his head and looked at her. "You keep saying Wesley, that you have to talk to him, did he do this?" She ran her fingers over his swollen jaw. "Just nod, Xander. As much as you can anyway."
Xander shook his head. "He's the new knight," he mumbled. He looked over at George and held out his arms. "Hug too?"
"Of course," George said, getting up to hug him also. "Tell her who did this, Xander. Let her help me beat them up."
"Vampires," he said lightly.
Willow pinched him. "Which one, silly? We had no doubt it was vampires." She helped George cuddle him between them. "Old friend?" He nodded. "One of the scoobies?" He hesitated but nodded again. "Oz?" she asked, her heart breaking. He shook his head frantically, grabbing his neck. "Calm down," she whispered, rubbing her warm fingers across his sore neck. "Not Oz, but was he there and helping?" Xander nodded. "Good. Who else was part of the group?" she asked herself.
"Cordy," he whispered. "And she went after Buffy when Oz got me free."
"Crap," Willow sighed. "It's okay. Wesley was there?" He nodded. "Good. Then I won't worry about it. Oz and Wesley may have been quiet, but they can both kick ass when they need to. Wesley can even stake Buffy if Oz can't." He squeezed her hand. "See, it'll be okay." She kissed him on the cheek. "I'll go tell Giles and Tara, he's sent an owl back to Buffy to ask what happened."
Xander snorted. "She'll eat it."
"Did she know you were captured?" He sighed. "Oh, man, tell me she didn't," Willow told him. He shrugged lightly. Not even the pain killers were killing the pain in his neck and back.
"What did she do?" George asked.
"She sent Xander out to get captured to keep Cordelia's attention while she worked on the army. Is it Dru's army?" He gave her a pitiful look. "All right. I think Spike was going up there to help too," she said semi-cheerfully.
Xander snorted. "Fun."
"Yup, for him. You know how much he likes to beat up demons. Maybe he'll even save Buffy from herself." She gave him a light hug. "Giles needs to know, did you accept his apology?" Xander nodded once. "Good, because he went down and reamed your class again. He told them about your injuries." Xander sighed. "Only the big ones," she told him. "He was trying to scare them into realizing this isn't a game. I think everyone that's heard about it has already yelled, if that helps," she offered.
He looked at her. "Slap him for me, just once," he asked.
"Sure." She slid off the bed. "We're all down looking over the care of baby chicks books so we can help when the chicks are hatched."
"Hagrid?" Xander asked.
"Yup, he's got one too," she said happily. She winked at George. "I'm going to leave you two alone," she said, forcing him back onto the bed, technically on top of George. "You rest," she told him. "I'll be down in the library and Murphy should be trilling up the hallway any time now." She slid back onto the floor and headed out of the infirmary. She had spent too much time there.
"So that's what you meant by an old friend," George said quickly. "I started to worry."
"Cordy's an ex," Xander mumbled, rubbing his jaw. "I hurt," he complained.
"Madam Pomfrey?" George called. She walked in and looked at him. "He said he still hurts. Willow was just up here asking him questions."
"All those visitors are not allowing him to rest," she complained. "And if you move," she warned George, "he'll never rest. I'll have them bring up supper for you," she said with a smile, heading off to get the poor boy some drugs. He obviously needed some rest.
George stroked through the dark hair. "I'm here, I'll protect you from the rampaging students," he said quietly. Xander laughed, but he closed his eyes.
Dumbledore walked into the infirmary, doing his nightly check, and smiled when he found George wrapped tightly around Xander's obviously sore body. He pulled the blankets up over them both and walked out as quietly as he could. He'd send an owl to Fred.
Xander woke up as he heard someone walking up to the bed, giving the student standing there a small wave. "What?" he whispered.
"Sir, we all made you some cards," Bradley said, setting them on the tray at the end of the bed. "We want you to know that we want you to get better and that we understand now." He smiled at George. "Your brother did a good job of yelling at us all after Professor Giles let us go think. Even Hermione was impressed with Ron." He touched Xander's foot gently. "Get better, sir. We want you to come kill us in the exercises." He slid back out, heading down to breakfast.
"Wow," George said. "You've really made an impact on those kids." He kissed Xander on the tip of the nose. "Will you be all right long enough for me to go borrow your shower? I must smell."
"Sure. You can even bum clothes," he offered.
"Thanks," George said, sliding out of the bed and standing beside him. "I'll be back as soon as I can. You rest a little more, okay?" Xander nodded and blew a kiss. "Thanks." He grinned and headed out of the infirmary. He saw Professor McGonagall in the hallway and stopped her. "Where's Xander's room? He said I could borrow his bathroom and clothes."
"Has been a few times, but he's still very loopy from the pain, even to the point of asking for affection," he said as he followed her. "Accepted an apology from Giles. Got some information to Willow. One of his students came in and told him they'd rather have him come kill them in training than Giles."
McGonagall smiled. "I'm sure. Does he know that Giles told them about his injuries?" She saw the nod and shook her head. "Those two will have to have another fight then."
"I doubt it," George said, smiling at the familiar territory. "I remember these stairs."
"You've only been gone a year," she reminded him, nearly teasing. "How's he doing otherwise?"
"All right, though I think it being his ex-girlfriend that did this to him is wearing him more than anything else."
She stopped him. "His ex-girlfriend?"
"Yeah, that's what he told Willow. Someone named Cordelia?" She shook her head. "Willow said she was part of the original group. That and someone named Oz and Wesley were going to stop her, that Buffy might have been turned." He turned and punched a wall. "Willow picked up on the fact that Buffy sent him in as a diversion."
"I see," she said calmly. "Come, we'll get you cleaned up for the day. Have you sent a message to your brother?"
"Yeah, I sent one yesterday afternoon."
"Good. I'll send him another one," she said, opening the door to the teacher's wing. "Here we are," she said, pointing at Xander's door. "That's his and he shares the bathroom with the room next to him. You should be able to find everything. I'll have breakfast sent up to the infirmary for both of you." She left him there, heading back down to give Dumbledore the good news. They could all use some.
George bent down and blew into the lock, repeating a little phrase to unlock it. He walked in and shut the door, looking over the homey furniture in appreciation.
Xander looked up as someone walked toward him. "Fred?" he asked.
Fred sat beside him, giving him a hug. "Of course. I closed the shop for the day, putting (up) a note that there was a medical emergency in the family." He looked at the pile of cards. "Want to read any of those?"
"No. I still can't see straight," he admitted. He curled up on his side, looking at his best friend. "You guys are great."
"Thanks," Fred said, giving him a smile. "What still hurts?"
"Neck, back, jaw," he told him. "Little aches otherwise."
Fred whistled. "They really roughed you up, Xander. Do you need us to go get them for you?" The boy on the bed shook his head. "You're sure?"
"Yup. It's handled," he said with a weak smile. "The guys who got me out did it." He tried to sit up. "I'm supposed to be sending a message to Oz," he whispered.
"I can do that for you," Fred offered. "I'll write it down and send an owl."
"I've sent one that way already," Giles said as he walked in. He looked at Xander for a minute then grabbed him for a hug, letting him go when he grunted in pain. "I'm glad you're all right," he told the boy. "Willow told me off good for you." He helped the boy lay back down in a comfortable position. "She also told me what you told her. Wesley was handling it?"
"And Oz. Oz got me out and put me on my broom," Xander said quietly. "Need to tell him I'm okay."
"I'd send Murphy but he's being very attentive. It seems the eggs are growing now."
"It'll be almost six months before they're all hatched," Willow said as she walked in. "We just got the owl you sent back. Oz got the note, he wrote this for you," she said, handing it to Xander. She hit Giles on the arm. "He told me to give that to you if you were still here."
Xander snickered as he opened the message, looking at the careful, small writing. "They're okay, it's handled," he sighed, handing it off. "Buffy got free."
"I'm sure she'll be taken care of," Willow said optimistically. She read the message and went pale. Her view of handled and Xander's must be very different. "Spike's probably heading that way," she announced. "He was buying weapons over the holidays." Giles snatched the message and read it, giving Willow a hard look when she tried to get it back. He went totally pale and sat down. "Madam Pomfrey!" Willow yelled. They all watched as Giles was fussed over. Then she looked down at Xander, who had fallen asleep. "Take good care of him," she told Fred, squeezing his shoulder. "I'm going to go run his class into the ground." She walked out, heading down to take care of the necessary things.
Fred looked down at the boy on the bed. "You have some very strange but loyal friends, future brother-in-law." He leaned back in the chair, getting comfortable for his vigil.
George walked in and smiled at his twin. "How's he doing?" he asked as he grabbed an extra chair and pulled it over.
"Not great," Fred told him quietly. "He's got a problem with his vision."
"He lied about being able to read. Willow caught it." He handed over the note. "He said that was handled."
"Oh, no," George said, reading the short note. "Is anyone going to help them?"
"Willow and Tara snuck out earlier to go up there. They didn't tell him or Giles. Giles snuck out a few hours later."
"Knew they'd go," Xander mumbled. "Ow." He rubbed his sore jaw lightly. "Being hurt sucks." He opened his eyes and blinked a few times. "Tell me it's both of you," he begged.
"It is," George told him, giving him a reassuring smile. "Are you still having problems seeing?" Xander nodded, putting his head back down on the pillow. "Is this something you've reported?"
"I told her, she said it should come back to normal soon," Xander mumbled. "Hug?" he asked pitifully, holding up an arm.
"Of course," the twins said together, getting up to hold him.
The nurse walked in and smiled at them both. "Now, boys, he needs his rest."
"He moves and wakes up," Fred told her.
"We did all right last night," George told her. "He didn't wake up hardly at all while I was holding him."
"See, there's the solution then," she said cheerfully. "If I can check you over, then you could even go rest in your room tonight."
"Still can't see," Xander said, relaxing his death grip on the other two. "Still really fuzzy."
"Do you still have the dark around the edges?" He nodded carefully. "Hmm." She checked him over, spending a long time on his eyes. "One more night in here I think," she told him. "Just to make sure that your head injury's better." She pushed him back down onto the pillows. "You must rest, Xander, or you'll never get better." She smiled at the twins. "Have one of them hold you and the other read to you or something." She pulled the curtain around the bed and walked off, giving them all the privacy they would need.
Fred coughed lightly. "You'll hold and I'll read?" he suggested to his twin. George nodded so Fred picked up a book someone had thoughtfully left on the bedside table. "The Hobbit? What's that?"
"A muggle work," Xander said through a yawn. "Ow."
"Did you need some more medicine?" Fred asked.
"No, just a statement of fact. I have bone bruises on my jaw." He yawned again. "My muscles will eventually stop aching and so will my jaw and ribs."
"I'm sorry your holiday went so badly," George told him, settling in to help Xander rest. "Go ahead, Fred, read it. It can't be that bad."
"It's a classic," Xander offered. "Decent book."
"All right, we'll try this," Fred agreed, opening the cover. "What's it about?"
"A quest. A really long trip." Xander grinned. "You'll have to read it to find out."
Fred looked up at him. "Keep it up and I'll call our mum to come fuss over you." Xander's grin got brighter.
"We should probably owl her and tell her that he's all right anyway," George noted. "She was worried when he didn't show up at Christmas."
"Sorry," Xander told him. "Did you show Fred the card?"
"You stopped and bought us a card?" Fred asked.
"On the way up. Buffy didn't sound that desperate." He tried to shrug but he was being held too tightly. "I got one for the both of you."
"I left yours in his bag," George told his brother. "Mine was rather sweet."
"I'll look for it in a few moments," Fred said, turning to the first page. "Frodo? What sort of name is that?"
"The guy was British," Xander told him. "Great imagination."
"Just read. This is making me curious."
The curtain was tapped on and Dumbledore walked in. "Ah, good, you're both here. Your parents are downstairs. They saw the note about the medical emergency and knew one of you had gotten into trouble. Should I send them up?" he asked Xander.
"Sure," he said lightly. "Do I still look that bad?"
"No, you're looking much better," Dumbledore told him, giving him a bright smile. He looked at the book. "What's that? Never seen that one before."
"It's supposed to be a muggle classic work of literature," Fred told him, handing it over. "Xander said it was about a quest."
"Willow left it. Every time I've been really sick she's pulled that out and started to read to me. We've never gotten through it yet." He yawned again. "Sorry if I fall asleep," he murmured, his eyes starting to get heavy.
"I'll go down and meet the parents," Fred said, standing up. "You two stay here." He followed Dumbledore down the stairs. "Does his behavior seem odd to you?"
"Yes, but he is ill. It's natural to want comfort when you're that sick. He did nearly die from what we can tell. He's got an amazing constitution. Here you are," he said as he walked into his office. "One son."
"Mum, dad," Fred said, hugging them both. "It's Xander, not us."
"We figured as much," Mr. Weasley told him dryly. "We asked your neighbors and they hadn't heard so much as an explosion recently." He looked his son over. "You look well."
"We're doing really well. The kids really liked our stuff after Ron had the whole house buy something from us before the holidays." He smiled at his mother. "He's fine. He's been awake. Rather pained but he's awake."
"Good," she said, standing up to touch him on the arm. "How did this happen?"
"He went to fight with that one girl, didn't he?" Mr. Weasley asked.
Fred nodded. "Yes, and then he was used as bait because the vampiress was his ex-girlfriend."
"I met her," Mr. Weasley said, frowning.
"Not that one, another one," Fred told him, leading the way out of the office and up to the infirmary. "From back when they were in high school." He let his parents walk in first, staying back to watch their reactions. Xander might look better and most of his bruises were gone, but that didn't help any of the swelling go down. "He passed out in the Headmaster's office," he told his mother.
"He had broken bones," George told her. "I'd give you a hug," he said with a smile, "but he's been having nightmares. Every time he moves he wakes up." Xander proved his point by shifting and then grunting in pain, reaching down to rub his sore foot.
"Hi," he said, opening his eyes. "It's not that bad," he said when they remained quiet.
"You're lucky you didn't die, running off like that," Mrs. Weasley said, leaning down to carefully hug him. "Did you win?"
"I got sent home from the front lines. You'll have to ask Willow when she gets back," he said, shifting onto his back some, and pinning George to the bed. "Sorry," he said, moving to let him get up. "I didn't mean to make you my permanent body pillow."
"There's worse things to be," Mr. Weasley said lightly. "Did we meet this girl while she was here?"
"No, Cordy never came to the school. I think she's done for now though." He frowned at the window. "Willow should have already been up there and be on her way back."
"I'm sure they're fine too," George said quickly. The boy worried about his friends.
"And even if they're not, there'll be someone else to help you the next time," Mr. Weasely said firmly. "We will not have any of our children running off and leaving the others alone."
"But, dad," George said quickly.
"Thanks, dad," Xander said with a weak smile. "I'm doing better. I get to go rest in my room tomorrow night."
"Xander, you spent three days unconscious in here already," Fred told him. "We were owled when you first reappeared, Dumbledore wanted to know if we'd come up and sit beside your bed and try to make you wake up." He touched the warm hand gently. "Promise us that you won't go alone next time."
"I promise," Xander said, looking at them, then at George. "Want to go flying later?"
"No, not until you're better," the nurse said as she bustled in, right up to the bed. "Why are you awake, young man?"
"We'll leave in a moment," Mr. Weasley told her. "We just wanted to check on our boys since we hadn't heard from them in a bit."
"Harry wrote you didn't he?" George asked.
Mrs. Weasely nodded. "Yes, dear, he did. He was most nice about telling us all the latest gossip. He even said that Ron yelled at his classmates for what they'd been doing."
"So has everyone else," Snape said as he walked in. "Here you are," he said, handing over the ball of feathers he had been holding. "He flew downstairs and started to shriek at the top of his lungs like he couldn't find the way out." He watched as the bird, who had balled itself up, uncurled and chirped at his father. "Are you going to let your classes go with Black tomorrow?"
"He's in no shape to teach yet," the nurse chastised. "Even if he does get to go back to his room, he's going to stay in there for about a week. I'm sure everyone else can work with his class."
"We've been cross-training," Xander told Professor Snape. "I think they'll do fine. They both know what I wanted to cover this time."
"All right then. I'll expect no more of your students to come to my class with a bloody nose then." He looked at the nurse. "Did that girl get up here?"
"No, but their youngest son did," the nurse said wryly, pointing at the Weasleys. "Ron bloodied her nose and broke a finger."
"Oh, dear," Mrs. Weasley sighed. "Why would he hit a girl?"
"Tanya?" Xander asked Snape. He nodded. "What did she do this time?"
"She apparently tried to attack Professor Black over her grades."
"Good on Ron," Fred said firmly. "He's become quite a good manager from what I hear."
"He's doing really well in my classes, when he's not flustered because he's working alone," Xander told everyone. "He does best in a group, or in a pair."
"Have you been keeping him with Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I know those two work well together."
"Actually, there's a Slytehrin girl, who's said very loudly on many occasions that she was missorted, who he works well with. They seem to compliment each other. She makes an excellent fourth when it's the usual three, and together they seem to be able to beat nearly anything. Even Hermione likes her."
"My," Mrs. Weasley said, smiling at him. "You seem to have your class well in hand."
"All except for a few troublemakers," Snape said quietly. "We've all had problems from this girl. She wants power and she's not careful how she gets it."
"Is she in your house?" George asked.
"Ravenclaw. She's quite studious, but very mean tempered." He pulled his robes tighter around himself. "I'll go back to my lessons. Is he all right?"
"He's fine. Someone probably said something mean to him. He's got a very fragile ego," Xander told him, giving him a weak smile. "Thank you for bringing him to me."
"You're welcome." Professor Snape walked away. "He was causing a ruckus anyway."
Xander cooed at Murphy, calming him down again. "What happened?" he asked. "Did someone say nasty things to you?"
"Someone should go check the nest," George pointed out. "Willow said he's not left the area for a bit now."
"I'm sure someone's already done that, son," Mr. Weasley said, patting him on the shoulder. "How many in the clutch?"
"Eleven that we know of, but Professor Dumbledore thinks Fawkes hid at least one. We've got six shiny ones and five normal egg-color ones. We're not sure what that means."
"I'm sure they'll all be fine," George told him, pulling Xander close again. "Why don't you two nap," he said as he slid out of the bed, "and I'll go check on the nest? Let Fred read to you?"
"Sure," Xander said, giving him a grateful look. "Thanks, George."
"I've always wanted to see a phoenix egg," he said cheerfully. He led his parents out of the infirmary, after they gave him hugs and kisses, and down the main stairs. "I'm not sure why he's allowing so much attention," he said quietly. "That worries me."
"I'm sure it's all about how ill he is," his mother said.
"Yes, but what about when he's better?"
"Well, then I'm sure you'll be able to yell at him and make him feel bad enough to get over it," his father offered. "Either that or he's made a decision to allow you closer, George."
"Maybe," George said, thinking about that. "He does seem changed."
"But it's a good change," his mother told him as they walked into the library. "The nest's in here?"
"Ron probably is and he's been working on the nesting project," George explained.
"Yes, we moved it," a male voice called. Harry appeared around one of the bookcases. "We're back here by the stove." He led them back. "How is he?"
"Better. The nurse said he'd be able to go up to his room and rest tomorrow, hopefully. There's still the problem with his sight, but otherwise he's healing."
"What problem with his sight?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"He's got a dark area around the edge and he's seeing multiples," Hermione said, smiling up at them. "I was taking Ron up earlier when I overheard the nurse giving Professor Dumbledore an update. Did you come to see the nest?"
"Yes, dear," Mrs. Weasley said, getting down to look inside. "Hello, dear, may we have a peek at the chicks?" The other phoenix shifted, showing off the edges of a few shells. "Are they all right?" Fawkes squealed and squeaked at her. "That's good, dear. Your mate's upstairs again if you need him." She got out of the way, letting everyone else get a look. "They are rather pretty."
"According to one of the chick-care books," Hermione told her, "phoenixes were almost wiped out because people used to want their shells and feathers for decoration."
"Thankfully, a few smart ones hid their nests and now the species is only mildly in danger," Ron agreed. "Mum, I'm sorry about the fight."
"That's not why we're here," she said, giving him a hug. "Did she deserve it?"
"And more," Harry agreed. "That girl went after Professor Lupin." He looked upset. "That's what started this whole mess off."
"What mess?" Mr. Weasley asked, standing up after looking at the eggs. "Very pretty, Fawkes. Congratulations." She squeaked at him. "You'll make an excellent mother." He looked down at Harry. "What happened to Murphy?"
"Another of the problem students came and tried to disturb the nest," McGonagall said as she walked up to them. "Are they all right?"
"Fawkes is eagerly showing off her young," Harry reported. "Murphy's around somewhere."
"He's upstairs. He headed down to Professor Snape's classroom and started to scream at him," George told her. "Professor Snape brought him up to Xander."
"That's good then," McGonagall said, smiling at the group. "How's he doing?"
"Better," George told her. "He still has problems but he'll probably be released tomorrow to go rest in his room."
"Even better," she said happily. She handed over a small wrapped package. "Here, for him. It was sent by owl before Christmas."
"All right. I'll give it to him when he wakes up." George tucked it into his shirt. "I'm sure he'll be fine."
"I'm sure also," McGonagall said. "After all, he came back." She smiled at Ron. "Are you having a free period, Mr. Weasley?"
"Yes, ma'am. The nurse said I wasn't supposed to write this class because of my finger." He showed it to her. "She said it needed time to completely heal."
"Next time, watch for shields," she reminded him. "We've decided not to take points off you for the incident earlier. The teachers mostly think that you did what was necessary to stop that girl from getting hurt."
"Oh, no, ma'am, I did it so Professor Black wouldn't be hurt," he told her. "He didn't have his wand on him."
"I know." She smiled at the brightly colored head that was peeking out of the nest. "Your father will be down later," she told the bird. "I'll leave you to talk to your children," she told the Weasleys then left them alone.
"My, things are quite different this year," Mrs. Weasley said, looking at her son. "I'm proud of you," she told him, kissing him on the cheek.
Xander allowed himself to be led to his room, his sight still wasn't back to right and he was having problems with things like stairs. He flopped onto his bed, watching the bright colored blur land above him on the headboard. "Back again?" he teased, reaching up to scratch the soft feathers. Well, the usually soft feathers. "What's wrong, Murphy? You don't feel right." He sat up carefully and checked the feathers he had been feeling. "Oh, you're shedding," he said as a few of them came off in his hand. "Not good, Murph." He got cooed at. "What?"
"They should probably be lining the nest," Hermione said from the doorway. "How do you feel?" she asked as she walked in and closed the door.
"Better," he admitted. "They found a way to make the bruises hurt less." He handed over the feathers. "Here, put these down in the nest for him."
"Of course." She tucked them into a pocket and sat at his desk. "Xander, we're all very worried about your vision. How will you teach if you can't see."
"It's getting better," he told her, sounding almost defensive. "The dark ring's gone. Everything's still really fuzzy though."
"Maybe you should get your eyes examined. Many of us do wear glasses you know."
"I know," he said, pulling Murphy down to groom him some more. "It's getting better."
"All right." She shifted some. "When do you think you'll be able to come back?"
"Not this week, but I'll at least be able to go watch next week."
"Good," she said cheerfully. "The class really does need to see you again. They're all miserable. Even Professors Lupin and Black are miserable."
"Because we are," she said reasonably. "We're all very greatly moping and ready to kill a few of the other students." She leaned closer. "Even Harry almost went after one. That one girl, Becca, the one that's their studious one. He nearly cursed her yesterday when she started mouthing off to Lupin."
"Hmm," Xander said, continuing to pet his bird. "I'll be down again in a few days," he told her. "And Hermione, did they bring up my bag?"
"The House Elves confiscated it last night," she told him, standing up. "They'll bring it back tonight. Why?"
"Because I can't feel my wand under my pillow and I know I didn't pack it."
Hermione looked around the bed and frowned. "I don't see it either. Shall I ask someone?"
"No, I'll do that," Xander told her. "Thanks. Don't worry about people like Becca, Tanya, and Anthony. They'll get what they deserve from someone, preferably someone who won't get detention over it." She gave him a hug and left. "So, Murphy," he said, putting another handful of feathers down beside him. "Shouldn't you be giving those to your woman and not me, old guy?"
Murphy nipped Xander on the nose and then sang at him, making him feel better, and sleepy. He was in charge of his father now and *no* one was going to bother him that he didn't like.
McGonagall smiled as Xander walked into the Great Hall, stopping some of the conversation. She helped him to his chair, giving him a fond pat on the arm. "How are you tonight, Xander?"
"Better, but I think someone was in my room while I was gone," he said with a little shrug. It still hurt to move too much.
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, you know that piece of *wood* I was working with?" She frowned but nodded. "I can't find it and I didn't bring it with me."
"Oh, no," she sighed. "All right, we'll deal with that problem if it comes up." She patted him on the hand again. "How are you feeling really?"
"My sight's still a little off, really fuzzy mostly, but otherwise I'm not as sore. I plan on going and scaring my students personally tomorrow by standing there while they do their exercise."
"Maybe give them a few new war stories?" Dumbledore asked as he joined them. "How are you this evening?"
"Better," Xander told him. "Did Murphy go give all those feathers to her?"
"No, but the House Elves did gather them off your bed and bring them to me so I did," Dumbledore said, giving him a fond look. "Are you ready to return to classes?"
"Partially," Xander admitted. "I'm not ready to do anything more physical than lecture. I think I'm going to go bug Giles for more stuff. I heard him moving around in his room earlier."
"He's not back yet," McGonagall said.
"But someone was in there you say?" Dumbledore asked. "You're sure?"
"Yeah, pretty sure. Someone slammed his closet door, which makes my door rattle."
"Oh, my," he said. He looked at McGonagall. "Have there been any other strange occurrences on your floor?"
"Just the missing piece of wood I was *working* with," Xander told him. "I can't find it anywhere. Hermione even looked when she came up to gossip last night."
"I see." Dumbledore looked across the students. "All right, we'll see what can be found. Murphy is back at the nest, which is up in my room again. We felt safer with it up there instead of moving it around all the time. Fawkes was getting quite upset each time we moved it." He smiled as their female couple walked in. "Hello, girls, back already?"
"Yes, sir," Willow said, grinning at Xander, "and I have to report that the situation is fully handled now. There's no more threat from anything that needed fixing still." She walked up onto the table and hugged her best friend ever. "Oz said to give you that because you lived. And this," she said, pulling a piece of paper out of her pocket and stuffing it into his. "Look at that later." He nodded, giving her a smile, but she could see that he wasn't focusing on her. "Still off?"
"Still off," he agreed. "Just fuzzy though. Less double images and more of one really fuzzy one."
"Good," she said happily, sitting next to him, Tara siting next to her. "That means that you're getting better."
"Better is good," Tara said, giving him a smile too. "At least you're out of the infirmary."
"Too true," Xander told her, reaching over to touch her too. "You're really okay?"
"I'm fine," she agreed. "We're both glad you're better." She touched his hand too, joining theirs with Willow's. "Giles will be back in a few hours. He needed to talk to Wesley."
"Good," Dumbledore said firmly. "It's high time he got back to normal and started his teaching again." Everyone looked at him. "It's the only way we'll ever get through this year."
"I've already covered everything Giles wanted me to cover," Xander told him.
"I know," the Headmaster told him. "That doesn't mean everyone else has though." He looked out the window, frowning. "I'll be back, please excuse me," he said, getting up and walking out.
Willow looked out the window. "Cars," she said grimly. "Probably not good news."
"It will be fine," McGonagall said complacently. "Professor Dumbledore can take care of whatever comes our way. Xander, did George give you the present?"
"Yup, but I haven't opened it yet. What did the card say?"
"It said 'this one should fit you better. Bring it back if it doesn't'," she told him.
"Okay. Should I go do that now?"
"Maybe," Willow said, letting go of his hand and helping him up. "Need help upstairs?"
"No, I've memorized the way."
"The stairs were changing when we came in," Willow told him.
"Okay, you can help me then." He took her arm, letting her lead him up to his room. She was right, the stairs had changed themselves again. He sat down at his desk, opening the nicely wrapped present carefully. Inside the small box was a wand. "Oak?" he asked, swishing it around. A trail of sparkles followed his hand.
Someone tapped on the door. "Xander, I think we need to speak to you," Dumbledore said.
Xander smiled at Willow. "Coming," he called. He grabbed one of his more formal robes and put it on instead of the black one he was wearing, sliding the wand into his pocket. "I'll be back," he promised her. "Yes, Headmaster?" he asked as he opened the door. "Oh, more people," he said, grimacing. "Is there something wrong? I was just reminded to come up and open the late present I got." He smiled at Willow's back as she slid out between them and went back to the Great Hall. "Did you need to see me officially about what happened while I was fighting?"
"No, boy, we have other things to talk to you about," one of the three men in the hallway said. "Come with us."
Xander closed his door behind him and followed them down, gripping the railings of the stairs tightly so he wouldn't fall. "Yes?" he asked once they were locked in a classroom. "And for the record, who are you?"
"These are two of the top people in the Ministry, Xander," Dumbledore said calmly, "and Becca's father."
"Oh, I know her. She's been helping the bad kids this term." Her father snorted. "Maybe you should ask your daughter about attacking two of the other teachers."
"We're not here for that right now," one of the Ministry people said. "We were informed that you were doing magic with a wand, boy."
"I have a name," Xander said calmly. "And yes, I can do a little." He heard a scratching and pitiful noise and walked carefully back to the door, letting his phoenix in. "Hey, Murphy. Did Fawkes send you away again?" His bird nuzzled his neck and chirped at Dumbledore. "As you can see," he said as he closed the door, "I'm not a normal muggle." He looked at Dumbledore. "You can tell them if you want."
"Xander is gryphon born," Dumbledore told them all.
"Which means he's violent," Becca's father shouted. "I've heard about some of the things he's said to my daughter."
"Your daughter aided another student in trying to attack Professor Lupin over her grades," Xander told him. "And I only yelled at them so far. What she and her little group have done is inexcusable. Not only to me and I'm not the only one who yelled at them."
"Harris, we'd like to test you if we may," one of the Ministry men said reasonably.
"I can do a *little* magic," Xander told him. "Mostly of the illusionary and lock picking sort."
"Which is perfectly in line with his heritage," Dumbledore said proudly. "Xander, was that a wand in the box?"
"Yup, which is a very good thing considering someone stole my other one." He looked in the direction of Becca's father. "Would you like to go search her things for me?"
"We'll be doing a full-scale search tonight," Dumbledore said quietly. "Can you see well enough to guide yourself?"
"I can try," Xander said, pulling the new wand out of his pocket. "Only opened this one tonight," he explained.
"What's wrong with his vision?" Becca's father demanded.
"I went to help a friend over the holiday break," Xander told him. "I've been fighting with the Slayer ever since tenth grade, so about six years now." He lost his smile. "Over the break, she had to take on a small vampire army, a legion actually. I was the bait because the new leader was an ex-girlfriend of mine."
"He's only out of the infirmary and should still be resting," Dumbledore told them all.
"You're *that* boy?" the first Ministry man asked hotly. "And you let him teach students?"
"I teach in the Defense Against Dark Arts, Paranormal Side, sir. My students are the best trained there are, with a few exceptions. They've faced down their fears in a foggy maze, where nothing could honestly hurt them, and came out of it. They'll all live if they encounter anything that I've taught them, or that Professors Lupin, Black, or Giles have taught them."
"He's one of the most engaging teachers we have," a female voice said from the doorway. "Professor, sir, there's an owl here for you and Professor McGonagall said I should come get you."
"Thank you," he said kindly. "I'll be back in a moment. Xander, do sit before you fall over." He walked out.
"Stacy, right?" Xander asked. She nodded, looking excited. "I do believe these men might want to know what you've been studying in my classes."
"Well," she said, coming in and shutting the door. "I'm only a second year so I didn't have to go through the maze, I heard him mention that," she said with a light blush. "I did have to participate in the other practical exercises, which ran from identification to actually facing something down." She bounced a little. "He's got a good way of getting information across. I'm not a great student, but I'm passing his classes with flying colors. He's even helped Professor Lupin to teach his class. We're cross-training right now."
"I had no idea these two were so intertwined," the second Ministry man said thoughtfully. "Can you run and get your notes?"
"Sir, that's about sixty parchments, just from Professor Harris' class, most of which are at the bottom of my trunk because I was cleaning my part of the room." She blushed again. "You could try asking Ms. Granger. She's very well organized and would probably be able to get them all right away."
"She's put them in a binder," Xander told her. "Very organized. If you want, she can go and get Hermione."
"No, that's not necessary," the second Ministry man said, pointing at the desk. "Wouldn't you rather sit?"
"I'd rather stand and face my enemies," Xander said calmly. "Now, about this test? Stacy, go back to dinner," he told her. She left quickly, shutting the door. "What can I do for you? I haven't had much time to study, just a few weeks out of the whole term so far."
"Do an illusion," the first Ministry man said. He watched as Xander said the quiet incantation, but nothing happened. "Try it again," he said patiently.
Xander focused on the wand, noticing it starting to feel warm in his hand. His bird cooed at him, trying to keep him calm. He started the movement again, focusing totally on it.
"I must object," Madam Pomfrey said as she walked in. "Professor Harris should still be in bed, not having to ...." She broke off when she saw the very real vision of a bookcase where Xander had stood. "Well, that's good," she said finally.
The first Ministry man walked around him, looking the illusion over. "You said he's to be in bed?"
"He's *supposed* to be in bed," she said firmly. "He's still recovering from a head injury and multiple other injuries. Stop it now, Xander, or you'll end up on the floor again." The bookcase disappeared and Xander stood there, sweating and swaying. "That's enough," she said, taking hold of him. "Sit, right this instant." She sat him behind the desk, checking him over. "Where did Professor Dumbledore go?"
"He got an emergency owl," the second Ministry official said, looking at his cohort. "Well, I'd say he's got a gift at least."
"Not much of one," Xander admitted. "More than anything, I depend on my physical fighting skills. That's what I've been using my whole life." He looked up at the nurse. "Could you please go get his daughter for him? I'm sure he'd like to talk to her."
"Professor Dumbledore said not to," Professor McGonagall said from the doorway. "Are you all right?"
"He's got the skills in line with his heritage," the first Ministry official told her. "We have no doubt of that now."
"Is that a problem?" Xander asked.
"Gryphons were known for their violent tendencies," Becca's father sniffed. "He shouldn't be allowed to teach."
"They're more known for being practical jokers," Xander said dryly. "The only time they got violent was when someone harmed their circle, what they considered their friends and family." He shrugged. "I'll admit to liking to prank people, and I'm getting better at it. I can also say that I haven't gotten violent yet. Cold, cruel, and rough on the students when they screwed up so royally, but not violent. A Weasley got violent," he said with good humor. "Punched one of your daughter's friends very hard, but he was protecting a teacher that was wandless."
Becca's father glared at him. "How would you know?" he asked coldly.
"Because we've told him about it," McGonagall said calmly. "Does he need to go back to the infirmary?"
"No, he should be fine after eating something," the nurse told her. "Would you mind?"
"No, not at all," McGonagall said, tapping her wand on the desk and creating a plate of sandwiches. "I hope ham is acceptable?"
"It's great," Xander said, giving her a hug, and nearly knocking the plate off the desk. "Thank you."
"You're welcome; eat, Xander. You'll need your strength if you're going to go surprise people tomorrow." She frowned at the Ministry officials. "Should I make something for you also?" she offered.
"No, thank you. We ate before we came." The second one smiled at her. "Professor Harris has leveled a complaint against a few of the students, attacking teachers?"
"We have taken this matter up a few times," McGonagall agreed. "We've done what we can, but most of them are power-hungry and are very vicious in their attacks. The one on Professor Black, where one of the Weasley boys helped the teacher, was an unprovoked one. He had just given out tests on the field before an exercise and turned his back. She growled at him and said he shouldn't have flunked her, and went for him. She got a bloodied nose for her troubles." She smiled down at Xander. "His methods are rather unusual, but while the students were doing well and not trying to do such things as attacking teachers, he was very good to them. As soon as the attacks started, he started giving extra homework papers, became a bit more cold to the students, and decided that the upperclassmen needed to know more about what it was like to fight the darkside all the time." She looked back at them. "Since he was injured, his students have mostly been very well behaved again, except for those few. Even one of the Slytherin boys that had been giving everyone problems at the beginning of school stopped misbehaving where he could be caught and reprimanded."
Becca's father glared at her. "Are you saying my daughter's power-hungry?"
"See, he's lying!"
"But she's the strength behind the power. She's their knowledge source." She sat on the edge of the desk. "Eat, Xander, before you have to go back up to the infirmary and I have to call Arthur to come lecture you."
"Why would you call Mr. Weasley instead of Mrs. Weasley?" Xander asked, blindly searching for a sandwich and picking it up. He looked up at the nurse and motioned her down, whispering in her ear. "And I'm not going back up there," he told her when she stepped back. "Murphy hates it." He reached up and scratched his sleeping bird's chest. "Can you do something about his shedding?"
"I'll have Hagrid look at him tomorrow," the nurse said, giving him a frustrated look. "After this, you go *right* to bed, young man."
"Yes, ma'am," he said meekly.
McGonagall snorted. "I see you've decided to behave."
"No, the single spell set him back a few days progress," the nurse said, glaring at the Ministry officials. "You should have waited."
"We had no idea he was recently injured," the first Ministry official said, pulling something out of his pocket. "We received this in a letter recently, with a note saying that she had proof that a muggle was using magic."
"I'm not the average muggle," Xander said between bites. "This is really good, thanks."
"You're welcome," McGonagall said, patting him on the head. "Was there anything else you needed to talk to him about?"
"Just to ask if he's done any research on the subject," the second Ministry official noted.
"I've done all I can," Xander told him, putting down the last piece of his dinner. "Every book I could find I've read through."
"I was talking about talking to one, young man," he said gently.
"Some gryphons still exist?" Xander asked excitedly.
"A few," the first official said grudgingly. "Three or so but they're all very old. They won't usually talk to any humans."
"But I might be able to get an audience?" Xander asked.
"I'm not sure, but you could try," the first official agreed. "You'd probably have better luck than most anyone." He smiled as Dumbledore walked back in. "I think we've solved this to our satisfaction."
"Wait, where are they?" Xander asked.
"In a portal in Stonehenge," Dumbledore told him. "I was going to give you a map at the end of the year and let you go search them out." He looked at the Ministry officials. "It's all settled?"
"Yes, we consider him a proper teacher," the second one said. "No worse than a light ability wizard or witch really." He pointed at the wand. "We've returned that also."
"Good," Dumbledore said pleasantly. "May I ask, which one of the students you're about to see sent it to you?" He looked at Becca's father. "Did she say she had stolen it in her note to you?"
"What? My daughter does not do these things," he fumed. "You obviously have something against my daughter. I should withdraw her."
"She's up in my office awaiting the search of her room," Dumbledore said. "Would you like to come up and wait also?" He smiled at the nurse. "Get him back to bed. Oh, and Xander, Giles crashed your broom in town. He'll be up tomorrow."
"Shoot," Xander sighed. "I wanted to go flying soon."
"He can operate a broom?" the second Ministry official asked.
"Very well," Dumbledore agreed. "He can't start one but once he's on it, it'll go very well. With some training and practice, he might make a passable Quidditch player." He saw his fellow teacher's shocked look. "If we started a team for the teachers, my dear Professor McGonagall." He led everyone that needed to go up to his office, leaving Xander with the nurse and his dinner.
"Finish this bit, Xander, and I'll help you up to your room." She watched as he quickly ate the last two bites and helped him up, grabbing the second wand to take with them. "I'm amazed Murphy can stay on you like that."
"I'm amazed you haven't seen the blood yet," Xander said dryly. "He's got his talons inches into my shoulder."
"I'll look at it once you're upstairs, dear. Really, you young men are always getting hurt."
He laughed. "I suppose so," he agreed.
"I guess I'm a little late for class," Xander said as he walked into their practice room. He smiled at his students' shocked look. "What? You expected me to not come in ever again?"
"But...but you're supposed to be on bed rest," Harry told him.
"I know. I'm just observing today," he told them. "And handing out these." He pulled a pile of papers out of the bag he wore. "Giles was good enough to help Tara grade these for you." A few students hurried forward and grabbed the papers, handing them back to their owners for him. "Thank you, guys." He leaned against Lupin's warm side. "Hi. By the way, the grudge is over with." Everyone cheered. "And you still have to pass this practical and everything else we send your way."
"We'll do our best," Ron told him. "Did you get to see the twins?" he asked as he walked closer. "They've added a few new things to the store."
"No, I haven't gotten a chance to see much," Xander told him. "I'm back to fuzzy vision again so I'm not allowed to go flying, even if I had a new broomstick." He sighed. "I've really got to get Giles trained on one of those things. It's a very good weapon when you're fighting, staying above their heads."
Ron smiled up at him. "Just wait 'til you see it. George took this canister thing from you and they've figured out how to mass market them as a revenge toy," he said proudly.
"Seems fair," Xander told him, "I used their stuff to build it and I took plenty of their stuff to try out. Did they take them both?"
"No. George said he left you one, but that he disarmed it, whatever that means."
"It means he took the wires off," Professor Black said as he walked over to them. "Are we still doing this?"
"Yup, and I'm going to stand here and watch like the good boy I pretend to be," Xander said sweetly. All the students laughed and lined up for the exercise, which was an identification one. "I'm so happy," he told Ron and the other teachers, wiping a fake tear out of his eye. "They're all growing up so *fast*."
Everyone laughed and Ron went back to take his place in line.
The End, and I mean it this time.