Notes: S4 of Buffy, afterwards. And book four of HP (any probs with cannon are explained in the story, just wait). Notes After Re-bata: Noticed that I messed up birth years when we did the rebeta. So, um, Xander is actually three years older than Ron, Harry, and Hermione, and one year older than the twins. Sorry 'bout that but a sixteen year old Xander doing all this would be rather difficult. Rating: R, at the most Thanks to Kaiya, my beta and the one who gave me this idea on a bus ride back from Wallyworld.
To The Death It Comes.
By Voracity.

Giles opened the special delivery packet, sitting down hard as the first sentence hit him.
Dear Rupert,
This is to inform you that you've been called back to active duty for us due to a very peculiar case we've recently run across. As your whole group will be needed we've sent with this letter the appropriate documents to get them into the country with you. On the next page is the contact report a young Watcher filed two days before we sent this. Your due haste is required. We will see you within two days of your receiving this.
Council Leader, Mysteries Division,
Giles shook his head and checked the names on the tickets, grimacing when he saw who was included. He picked up his phone as he searched for the contact report, one eyebrow going up and the phone dropping from his fingers as he read further. He picked the phone back up and started to dial everyone who needed to be here by tonight.
Giles looked at the crowd in his apartment. Anyone who might have ever helped Buffy was here in this room, except for Oz. All of Angel's cohorts, even young Cordelia, had rushed up to see what this was about. Buffy and the rest of the scoobies were watching the LA crew with interest, trying to figure out how they got along since they had started bickering moments after stepping through his door. He cleared his throat, stopping the present argument, and drawing everyone's attention. "I've been summoned back to England to deal with a problem." A few of the younger children hissed. "As have all of you." He stood up and looked at Buffy, Angel, and Spike. "It seems, and we've gotten this first hand from a contact report, that one of the younger Watchers was following Druscilla around a rural part of England when they came across something quite wondrous." He coughed. "A school of wizards and an enchanted forest."
Xander was the first to have his mouth fall open. "They exist?" he asked finally.
"Yes, apparently they do. When the ... inhabitants of the school found out what Druscilla was, they had her locked up and asked the Watcher, just a young boy really, to call someone to act as our liaison. The Watchers have chosen us as their liaison."
Buffy raised a hand. "Why all of us?"
"Because it seems that we're part of a vision that someone there had. Spike and Angel are going to deal with Druscilla while I deal with the liaison duties. The rest of you will be there for people to look at and to ask questions of as they've never seen anything like most of you before."
Anya snorted. "I have no doubt. Where'd they end up?"
"A place called Hogwarts I believe it was," Giles said, picking up the report to read it again. "Yes, here it is. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
Anya looked confused, looking at Angel. "I thought that was a myth."
Wesley looked really upset. "I know someone who went there," he mumbled. "They really shouldn't have, but they needed to go, if only to fulfill their destiny." He looked at Giles. "We're all included?"
"Yes," he said with a faint smile. "Your involvement with Lily was noted in your file, that's why you're coming along. The witches are coming along to be checked out and to look at their system. Buffy is along because they decided that maybe they should look at what the muggles, that's their name for the normals in the world, do to fight the supernatural." He looked at Xander. "You've been asked along as well, they didn't give me a specific reason. While we're there, Anya, the Watcher's Council would like to speak to you about what you were saying the other night, about the Slayer which you helped before." She nodded eagerly. "Does anyone have any problems?"
Gunn coughed. "Yeah, I do. I have commitments I've got to meet in LA."
"We'll get them filled temporarily," Angel told him. "I'll need you as a backup with Druscilla. Neither Spike or myself think very clearly about her."
Spike snorted. "It's hard to think about a chit that you made insane," he reminded his sire. He ducked the slap Buffy tried to land. "Ha," he crowed.
"Shut up," Buffy groaned. "Do we really have to take him too?"
"Yes," Giles said firmly. "Cordelia, you're the only one who wasn't really invited to the school, but I've managed to gain you access to the Watchers library as I know that Angel's been desperately looking for something. Is that alright?" She sighed but nodded. "Good, that means that you'll get to go to plays also. The Council is most interested in the group as it was formed, and you'll probably be feted so they can pump you for information about the group's dynamics." She looked a little happier. "If there's time left over, you can always come join us at the school." He took off his glasses to clean them. "Also, that will give us someone on the outside to monitor us in case something happens."
"Is that really necessary?" Anya asked. "From the rumors I've heard, they're very nice and honest."
"Maybe, but it's always best to be safe," Giles reminded her. She shrugged. "Good. Anything else?" Doyle raised his hand. "Yes, you were invited," he said with a smile for the revived man. A botched spell to bring back a demon lord to rule the town had brought this demon from the Powers - the demons raising him had not been happy at all, but Buffy had shown them the error of their ways. "The people at the school especially wanted to talk to you as they've never seen anything like you before." He looked around the room. "Apparently these people deal with magical beings, but almost nothing of the paranormal. We're there to be ambassadors for our cause and to obtain information while the vampires deal with Druscilla, who's apparently been having a few of her visions." He coughed lightly. "It could be worse of course, this should mostly be a pleasant experience."
Anya smiled. "What are you going to do about the clothes situation? They wear robes."
Giles shook his head. "Just pack something decent. Jeans will be fine, but also include some dress clothes if you have them. Xander, your suit's still in my closet, I'll give it to you before we leave tomorrow evening."
"Tomorrow?" Buffy asked. "That's not much time."
"We can do that," Xander told him, giving him a trusting look. "We've had to organize more in less time, a day to pack clothes isn't anything very major." He stood up. "Anything else?"
"Yes, Xander, I do want you to go look at their enchanted forest for me if possible so please bring clothing appropriate to do something of that nature." The young man nodded. "That's all. Oh, Willow, you're to bring all your spell books with you."
She shrugged. "Okay. I'll gather them together. The information ones or the real spell books? 'Cause I've got about twenty now."
"Then bring a good selection to give them both sides," he said with a smile. "Buffy, pack real clothes, none of that backless stuff that you tend to wear. We want them to think that we're upstanding citizens and very good fighters of evil, not that we wear little clothes and party all the time." She grimaced but nodded and left, bringing Willow and Tara with her. Xander and Anya followed after them, going to pack.
Giles looked at the LA crew. "I know this is short notice, but it's got to be done, Angel. The Council has arranged to give us a plane that has shielding so you won't burn up that first day. I'm sure they can rig something up while you're there, as they have for your childe." Angel nodded. "Good. Are there any problems?"
"What should I bring?" Cordelia asked. "You mentioned the theater?"
"There's a possibility, yes," Giles agreed. "Bring what you would to go visit relatives you've never seen before and possibly one or two good outfits for an evening's outing."
"I'll help you," Angel told her, looking at his people. "All right?" Everyone nodded. "Where are we meeting you?"
"We'll come pick you up at the hotel and travel from there," Giles told him. "I have the tickets and everything for all of you, including passports. For whatever reason, the Council had them in storage. Some of the pictures are a bit old, but still acceptable." He smiled. "Thank you." They got up and left, leaving just Spike, who was staring at him. "What?" he asked tiredly.
"They really wanted me?"
"Yes, they do," Giles said, sitting down in his favorite chair, "with one condition. You are not to ask them about the chip in your head." The vampire scowled. "The Council wants to have a look at it, a..and you, before you get it removed." Spike sighed and sunk a little into the couch. "As for anything else, I think I'll use you as an example of your kind as Angel's not typical of most vampires. Would that be all right?" Spike looked happier and nodded. "Good. Go pack whatever clothes you have. With any luck, you'll be able to get some more while we're there." He stood up and looked around the room, deciding which books to bring. "Spike," he said when the vampire hadn't moved. "Now?"
"What about our feedin'?" he asked.
"You can bring some packets for the plane. The Council assured me that you'll be taken care of on that level." He smiled. "They've even offered to treat you to some human at some point during the trip if you behave yourself."
Spike looked a little happier as he left, but he still wasn't convinced.
Giles shrugged off his own ill feelings and went back to figuring out what he was going to be taking.
Giles stepped out of the carriage that had picked them up at the train station, which had been like no other train station he'd ever been in, smiling at the astonished looks everyone was giving the castle. "Well, it looks like we're here," he said confidently, trying to ignore his panicked feelings. This was nothing like he had imagined it, but he couldn't go back now. He was here as an emissary and he had to at least appear to be calm. He smiled as a figure straight out of a myth came down the stairs to meet them. The little old man with a long beard and a pointed hat stopped in front of him. "Rupert Giles," he said, holding out his hand.
"Ah. We are expecting all of you then," he said with a smile and a nod. He looked down the line of people. "Very well. Who's here to take care of the vampiress?" Spike and Angel stepped forward, making him look them over. "A wise choice. Which of you is her daddy? She's been singing for you all day."
Angel grimaced. "That would be me," he admitted. "May we go deal with her now?"
"Of course." He waved a hand and a woman walked out of the entryway. "This is Professor McGonagall, she'll lead you down to where she's being held." He watched as they left and turned back to the group. "They were thorough," he said finally.
Buffy coughed. "Sorry, but where my Watcher goes, I go." She fluffed out the bottom of her braid. "I'm Buffy." She held out her hand, getting it shook. "This is Willow and Xander," she said, pointing at them. "She's a witch, he's Giles' helper. I'm the Slayer, this is Wesley, Gunn, and Doyle, who you said you wanted to meet."
He looked a little stunned and looked at Rupert. "My, you do have a job, don't you," he said with a bit of humor in his voice. "Let's get you settled." He walked them up the stairs and into the massive foyer. "This is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Welcome to it's halls. Peeves!" he yelled as a bowling ball came bumping down a set of stairs off to their right.
Xander caught the ball and looked at it. "Hey, Giles, they've got ghosts," he said, handing it over to the Headmaster. "How many do you have?"
"Peeves is a poltergeist and have you ever run into any before?" he asked the boy.
"One," Xander admitted. "Willow made it manifest so she could try and help it pass on. It didn't work too well," he admitted.
The old man looked at Giles. "Who teaches these children?"
"They do, while I try and limit their experiences to what they can handle," he said conversationally. "I don't think that we have institutions like this on the other side of the pond." He smiled at the Headmaster. "You are the one that offered the invitation, correct?"
"Oh, yes, I forgot. Albus Dumbledore," he said, shaking his hand. "I am the Headmaster of this insanity. Please excuse us, but your friends finding us put us out a little bit. Apparently the vampire girl kept on at the Watcher chap until he saw the actual school, breaking the illusion for him. We're not supposed to be found accidentally."
"Yeah, neither was Willow's diary," Xander said, smirking at his friend.
Willow hit him on the shoulder. "You went looking for it," she accused.
"Did not."
"Children," Giles sighed, rolling his eyes. He looked at Dumbledore again. "You'll have to excuse them, it's been a hectic few days, getting time off work and all that." He glared at Xander, who looked a little contrite. "Settle down, or I'll make you go sleep in the field."
"Eww," Buffy complained, kicking Xander in the shin. "Don't mess this up."
"I'm not," he complained, getting away from both of them. "I was having fun."
Dumbledore smirked. "I think I know who to put him in with. Come, let's go to the feast. I'm sure everyone's waiting anxiously for you to show up." He led the way down a long hallway and into a great room, going up to the raised table and turning to look at everyone. "Students," he said and every little noise in the room stopped. "Our guests have arrived. These are muggles, but they represent an interesting part of the muggle world and they're here to exchange information with us. I want you to welcome them. Your Prefects will be talking to you about who will be getting a new roommate tonight." He smiled at their guests. "Sit, please. Have dinner with us."
Xander headed for a group of redheads, Willow and Tara in tow. He looked at the empty seats that appeared. "Um, can we join you?" he asked hesitantly. One of the redheads, apparently a twin, waved a hand with a smile. "Thanks." He sat down, letting Willow and Tara get their own seats. "I'm Xander, this is Willow, and Tara," he said pointing them out.
"You're the witches then," a young girl across from them said.
Willow smiled. "Yeah, but we don't have anything like this where we come from." She looked around the room. "This is really nice."
The girl smiled. "I'm Hermione. This is Ron, Fred, George, and Percy Weasley, and this is Harry Potter," she said, watching their faces for a reaction.
"Hey, how's it going," Xander said, leaning over to shake everyone's hand. He sat down again. "So, what do you guys study here? I mean, besides spells and stuff."
"Potions," Ron said glumly.
"And Transfiguration," Hermione said, looking a little confused. "You've never heard of Harry?" The young boy identified as Harry blushed. "What?" she asked when Ron kicked her. "I thought everyone had."
"Nope, not at all," Willow said. "What did he do?"
"He defeated someone very bad," Ron said quietly.
"Oh," she said, waving a hand, "Buffy does that all the time. I've lost count of how many really scary demons we've taken out in the last four years or so." She looked at Xander. "How many of them were major so far?"
"Maybe something like fifty with a bunch of annoying ones thrown in for good luck," he shot back. "Tara, you okay?" he asked. She nodded, staring at her plate.
Willow patted her girlfriend's hand. "It's okay, they're good people," she reminded her lover. "Really."
Hermione looked down at the shy young woman. "Are you a witch too?" she asked.
Tara nodded. "Y..yes. Willow's te...teaching me." She didn't brush the hair that got into her face back. "This really nice."
"It is, but you can get lost really easily," Hermione said, trying to get her to talk. "Maybe you'll be in my room. Then we could talk all night and I could learn about your type of magic." She heard Percy cough. "Are they already assigned?" she asked, her face falling. No one was quite sure why the former Prefect had come back after graduating, but it was as if nothing had changed in the time he had been gone. Maybe he would let the reason slip soon, but she doubted it; Percy was not a Wizard who shared much of himself, especially not the things to do with his job.
"Yes, to a private room down the hall from yours," he said with a faint smile. "They're together and they need the space." He saw Willow's blush. "We spelled the door to know where to put everyone once you walked through it." He glanced at the blonde walking over. "Who's that?"
"Yo, Buffy, what's up?" Xander asked, pointing at an empty chair across from him. "What's wrong?"
"Those Slytherin guys are just slimy," she complained as she sat down. She smiled at Tara, then at Willow. "I'm going to be in the Hufflepuff House. You?"
"They're all in Gryffindor," Percy told her. He pointed at a table. "That's where your house is and the girl with the red robe on will be your roommate." She sighed and got up, going over there. Within a few minutes, they were laughing together.
"Hey, the spell worked," Xander said in admiration. He looked at Willow. "Maybe you should learn that one. Then I wouldn't have Spike camping at my house."
She smiled and patted him on the arm. "I'm sure he'll move back to his crypt soon enough," she soothed.
"Crypt?" Fred asked.
Xander nodded. "Yeah, he's a vampire. He's chipped so he can't hurt anyone for real, but that's what he is." He sighed. "He's a pain too. Don't let him get you into a discussion about music, you'll lose. He had *no* taste for greatness."
Fred smiled at Percy. "He's in our room, isn't he?" he asked his older brother, who consulted a list that had appeared beside him then nodded. "Cool!" He looked the boy over. "Are you here to teach or to learn?"
"I'm here to help Giles and he wanted me to go down into the forest and catalog for him." He shrugged. "I'm probably going to get my list tonight."
Willow snorted. "Giles was making it out on the way over but we'll get it at breakfast." She gasped as the food appeared on the plates before them. "Wow, *that's* a spell I want to learn."
"They have a cleaning one too," Hermione offered. "I'm sure living on your own must be a drag. All the cleaning."
Willow nodded. "Yeah, the dorms suck that way." The girl gave her a confused look. "We're in college, except for Xander. He's a construction worker."
"Oh." She smiled at them. "My parents are dentists."
Tara smiled shyly at that. "Then you're like us?"
"More or less," she said, launching off into a lecture on the different classifications of students at Hogwarts.
Xander felt his eyes cross after a few minutes and tucked into his food, glancing over at Fred and George, who were whispering to each other. George caught him staring and winked, grinning at him. They both nodded and started to eat, ignoring their older brother, who was glaring at them.
"No funny stuff from you two, or I'll tell mother after I write you up," Percy warned.
"Yay," Fred muttered, his mouth full.
"We'll be *good*," George added. He looked at Xander. "We were going to tell him all about Hogwarts tonight."
Percy continued to glare at them. "As long as that's all you do," he said finally. He started to eat also, looking at his youngest brother. "Ron, eat," he ordered.
Ron took a bite, still staring at Tara.
Hermione leaned over and whispered in his ear and he turned bright red, suddenly more interested in his food. Willow mouthed 'thank you' at her and she nodded. "We can compare notes later. I want to know about what you've done and I've got all the pertinent history books in my room."
"We brought some of our own," Willow said enthusiastically. "We can trade for a few days."
Tara patted her on the arm. "I'm sure she'll need to sleep sometime," she said quietly. "So will you if we're to learn anything."
Willow smiled at her. "Don't worry, I'm going to *love* this assignment," she said happily. She looked at the empty spot beside Hermione and nodded at it. "Can I move over there and talk to you?" The young girl nodded enthusiastically and pulled the chair out for her.
Xander watched as Willow started on her favorite past time, learning. He gave Tara a sympathetic look. "You should have seen her when she first discovered she could levitate a pencil," he said wryly. "She didn't see the rest of us for *weeks*, she was buried too far into her books."
Tara gave him a gentle smile. "Thanks." She shifted over to sit next to him, smiling at the young redheaded boy sitting next to her girlfriend's new friend. "I'm Tara," she said, smiling at him.
"He's Ron," Hermione said between bites. "You two would work well together. You're both really shy."
Both of them blushed.
Xander shook his head and looked up at the head table where Giles was sitting, giving him a grin and a nod toward Willow. He got an answering smile in return so he went back to eating. He would find out what the twins were up to later.
Angel and Spike looked at the woman lying on the bed in the small cage, grimacing at her swimming hand motions. "Dru," Angel said quietly, bringing her out of whatever part of her mind she was in. "Why are you here?" he asked her.
"They told me to come," she said with a radiant smile. "That we all had to come because these people are naughty and bad." She licked her lips. "I told them that that was a good thing but he didn't believe me."
Spike groaned and leaned his head against the bars. "Dru, who is 'he'?" he asked tiredly.
"The Dark Lord. He sent a messenger. He tasted *delicious*, daddy," she cooed, getting up to come rest against the bars. "Can't I have a hug?" she pouted.
"No, Dru, you've been a bad girl and you can't have a hug," Angel said firmly. "Tell me what the messenger said."
"No," she said sullenly. "You're not being nice. I don't have to tell you, he said I didn't."
A throat cleared behind them and Spike grimaced at Angel. "Let me. Princess, tell me what the nice man said before you ate him," he purred, reaching in and touching her cheek. "I want to know."
"You really do?" she asked and he nodded. She leaned closer and blew a kiss at him. "I can't tell you at all. You like those funny people, the ones that can hurt us."
"Dru, by tomorrow this whole school will know how to hurt us," Angel sighed, losing his patience even faster than usual. "Now tell me what he said!"
She laughed and went back to lying on the bed, staring up at the cold stones above her. "You'll find out," she promised in her sing-song voice.
Angel looked at Spike, who nodded and left. Spike had the better relationship with Giles and his team and Angel could usually get Dru to make sense after a few hours. "Dru," he purred, leaning against the bars. "You have to tell Daddy everything. Spike's gone now."
She laughed but didn't tell him anything.
Spike followed the sounds of humans talking, walking into the great hall. Everyone stopped to look at him but he walked up to Giles, hopping up onto the stage to talk to him in private.
"Oh, dear," Giles sighed, slumping a little.
The Headmaster stood up and joined them so Spike told him what little he knew. The old man shook his head and nodded the teachers over, talking to them. A few of them left quickly, going to do their own thing for a few minutes. Dumbledore faced the eagerly waiting students. "Tonight, we party," he announced, getting cheers. "Tomorrow, you go back to your regular schedule, with our guests occasionally tagging along with you." A lesser cheer, especially by the teachers. "Tonight though, you will be going directly back up to your houses since we teachers have much to talk about with our guests." He waved a hand and the dessert course appeared. "Eat up," he encouraged. He sat down, bringing Giles with him. "I don't like to worry them too much," he said carefully. "Can she be used as bait?"
"It depends on what his plan is," Giles said thoughtfully. "Were I him, I'd use her as a location or as a source of entry into the school. Can you block him from entering?"
"He's a former student," Professor Flitwick, the tiny Charms teacher, sighed. "We can't do a thing about him."
Giles nodded. "Then my group will be at the ready. We have no problem with battling dark forces, we've been doing it now for almost five years together." He looked over at Spike, who looked very unhappy. "What?" he asked warily.
"If I were him, I'd be using her. She's a minion to him," Spike told him calmly.
"Are you going to help her?" Professor Snape, the Potions teacher, asked coldly.
"He has a chip that prevents him from harming humans," Giles told him smoothly. "And Angel has a soul."
"What about that other one?" Snape demanded. "He's not human."
"No, he's a seer," Dumbledore said quietly, aware that everyone was watching them while they ate. "Besides, we don't know about his kind. Wouldn't you like to see how his kind should be classified?"
Snape snorted but he started to eat again.
Dumbledore smiled at Giles. "That's an excellent idea. I'm all for learning new things and for sharing knowledge." He glanced around the room, stopping at the young man talking with the Weasley twins. "Who's that one again?"
Giles looked at where he was almost pointing. "That's Xander. Why?"
"Those twins could get him into a lot of trouble," Dumbledore warned. "They're our resident pranksters."
"Ah." Giles smiled. "Xander could use a little lightening up right now. Things have gotten very serious in his life recently. His girlfriend is with our Watcher's Council."
"Ah," Snape said, turning to look at them. "What do they want you to learn from here?"
"Mostly they want to know what's going on. For my own personal use, and for the use of Watcher's after myself that have need of it, I'd like to learn all I could." He smiled at the man. "I assure you, the Watchers are hide-bound idiots over some things but no one's ever accused them of letting information get out into the public."
Dumbledore laughed. "Yes, we have groups like that among us. Professor Snape, wouldn't you like to lead your house up in a few minutes?" Snape nodded sullenly. "Good. Then you can meet us in the big lecture hall in an hour." He looked at Giles. "Would that be enough time for your group to get it's things together and carry them down there?"
"If we knew where they were, certainly. We're used to mobilizing at a moment's notice." He smiled at Xander, who was laughing so hard he was about to fall over, and Tara, who was trying hard not to laugh. "The few times we've had any warning the plans still didn't come until almost the last minute. It seems to work better for us in some ways." He pointed at the boy with the odd scar. "Who's that? He keeps giving Buffy long looks."
"That's Harry Potter," Snape said coldly. "Resident famous person."
"Oh, really?" Giles asked. "What did he do?"
"He stopped our greatest enemy as an infant," Dumbledore said quietly. "The same one that's trying to come back now."
"Ah. Maybe he and Buffy should get together and share stories. I'm sure he might like to hear about her escapades and lack of finesse some days."
"Maybe," Dumbledore agreed. "We'll figure that out tomorrow." He waved a hand to clear the tables and plates since it looked like most of the students were done eating, nodding at the Prefects to lead their houses back, watching as Snape left with his house because their Prefect had a broken leg and was in the infirmary. "One hour," he said, standing up. "Your things are all up in your rooms and the Prefects are ready to lead you down to the lecture hall." He walked out, followed by most of the students.
Giles looked at the one person who was waiting on him. "Spike, I have no idea where we're supposed to go," he admitted. A student popped back in and waved at them. "Ah, maybe we should follow him." They trooped out of the hall and followed the student up to the teacher's quarters.
Giles came out of the meeting with a keen sense of dread and a sharp biting of his interest. He smiled at the few teachers walking him out. "When should I show up to work on that class?" he asked.
"Tomorrow would be fine," the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher said, nodding at his fellow students. "I think we'd like to know about your versions of demons for a while. It would keep them from being bored with the things that we've already been over."
"That would be fine. I'm sure I can arrange for Spike and Angel to come in and give a few of the lectures also. They're both intimately familiar with the darker side of the paranormal." He smiled as Snape walked out. He had impressed the dark, brooding teacher, but the man still didn't like him. "Would it be all right for Willow to sit in on one of your classes tomorrow? Maybe with one of the first years?"
"Sure," he grumbled, going down the hall to his dungeon. "Whatever."
Giles smiled as the rest of the teachers filed out around Willow. "I've arranged for you to attend one of the Potions lessons," he told his student. "Do be good."
"I will," she sighed, rolling her eyes. "Giles, you know I'm not going to blow up the school. I'm not Xander."
"Yes, well, remember to be on your best behavior and all that." He smiled at the Headmaster as he walked out. "Could you please point me in the direction of my room so I might go sleep and prepare for my lesson tomorrow?" he asked politely.
"Of course." He nodded at Flitwick. "I think you're going to bed soon," he offered.
"Of course," Professor Flitwick said happily, leading Giles away, talking quickly. "We've never had a demon hunter here before. Do you really go and destroy them all?"
"Only the ones who deserve it," Giles said as they started up a back staircase. "How do you keep from getting lost?"
"Memorization," Flitwick laughed. "After the first few months, you pretty well know your way around." He opened a door. "I think you're down there somewhere." He waved and walked away, going to his own room.
Giles walked down the short hall, looking at the doors. Three doors, three possibilities. He tapped lightly on one, hoping Spike was in it, but the vampire stuck his head out from across the hall. "Which one am I in again?" he asked.
Spike pointed. "That one. Have a good go at 'em?"
"It went very well," Giles said with a smile. "The three of us are even going to be teaching a few classes in the paranormal."
"Three?" Spike asked. "You, Red, and who?"
"You, Angel, and I," Giles told him. "It's all set up, but you won't have to worry for a few days. I'll set you up rather well and you can tell them about what you are and some of the demons you've run into." He saw the uneasy look. "Think of it as storytelling, Spike. You get to tell a bunch of youngsters about all that you've done over the years."
Spike pulled his head back in and slammed his door.
"Get over it," he called. "You know more than the rest of us put together about some of the demon branches." He walked into his room, smiling at the bags lying on the bed. He pulled out his journal and a few pads of paper, making notes on what he wanted to teach to the young children tomorrow.
Xander walked into his room and whistled. "Wow," he said, nodding. "These are killer."
"Especially on your back," Fred said as he climbed onto his own bed. He pointed at the empty one. "That one's yours." He watched as Xander unpacked everything and sat down, looking at them. "So, what do you do?"
"I work construction and I help Buffy."
"Besides that," George said as he walked in. "What fun things do you do?"
"Well, let's see. I have a girlfriend who embarrasses me very often. I have a job that pays really well, but I'm usually too tired to do anything anymore." He shrugged. "I haven't had time to skateboard or anything recently."
"Skateboard?" Fred asked.
"What's that?" George seconded.
Xander pulled a book out of his pile of things, tossing it over. "I thought you guys might not know about that stuff, I wasn't sure what they taught you British kids, so I brought the icon of Americana to you." He grinned and came over to help them look at it. "That's a skateboard," he said, pointing at the picture on the cover. "And that's a walkman. Don't you guys have those?"
"Muggles have those," Fred muttered, taking the Sears Wish Book to look through. "How old is this?" he asked.
"A few years. They stopped putting them out about ten years ago, but most everything's up to date, except for the gaming systems."
"Gaming?" George asked, looking interested. "What sort of games?"
"Those would be video games," Xander said, pointing at the old system. "It's an update of what that is."
"What's a video game?" Fred asked, looking up at him. "Is it a sport of some sort?"
"Only to helpless teenagers," Xander said with a smile. He sat down on Fred's bed. "We American's don't play sports like you guys do. We don't do soccer or cricket." Both boys still looked confused. "You guys don't do that? Giles said that you did."
"Oh, those are *muggle* games," George said, shaking his confusion off. "No wonder. Man, our dad would *love* to talk to you for a few days," he said happily. "He's really into the whole muggle thing, especially plugs and batteries."
Xander smiled. "I can do that if he comes up here. Giles didn't say that we would get to go anywhere."
"You've got to go to the village," Fred protested. "It'll be educational."
"Hey, talk to the Giles-type person. I'm only here because of him." The twins looked at each other and smiled. "And if I get into trouble the first night, I'm dead," he reminded them. "Let's wait until the second night for that, okay guys?" he pleaded.
"Sure." Fred looked at the catalog. "Can we send this to our dad?" Xander nodded. "Cool. We'll post it tomorrow." He looked at his brother. "We've got practice tomorrow afternoon," he reminded him.
"Yeah, we do," George said, smiling suddenly. "Hey, Xander, how would you like to watch our sport, the wizard spot?" Xander nodded. "Good. Be outside on the Quidditch field tomorrow after classes."
"What's Quidditch?" Xander asked as he walked back over to his bed. "Is that like soccer?"
"No, it's played with brooms," Fred told him, grinning wildly. "We'll show you tomorrow. You'd better get to sleep, before Percy comes in and checks on you."
"Yeah, he's a bit uptight," George agreed.
"Always," they said together, then laughed.
Xander smiled. "It's nice to have someone that cares, guys, really it is." He closed the curtains around his bed, crowing. "There's a night light in here," he said happily.
Fred and George looked at each other, silently communicating, then they nodded and went back to their respective beds, the catalog safely hidden away from Percy's prying eyes.
Xander looked at the brooms the twins were holding, giving them a confused look. He had slept through breakfast that morning so this was the first time he was seeing them all day, and he really needed a pick me up after listening to Giles lecture all day. "How do you play a sport with those? The swishy part is really thin and stiff."
Fred grinned and waved him over. "Come on, I'll show you. George, lets see if it works for muggles." He climbed onto his broomstick and kicked off, making Xander's mouth fall open. "This is how we play with them," he said proudly.
Xander looked at the broomstick that was being held out. "Doesn't that take magic? Because I don't have any." He looked at George, hope shining from his eyes.
"We're not sure," George admitted. "Not too many muggleborn kids' parents have ever wanted to try and broom. Get on, it'll be okay. We've got the safety features turned on."
Xander carefully climbed onto the broom and did what Fred had done, jerking as the broom lifted off. "I'm flying!" he cheered, making the broom loop around and get higher. He took off on a trip around the school.
Giles looked out his classroom's window just as Xander went flying by yelling 'Wheeeeeeeee!'. He groaned and closed the shades. "That was something I didn't want to see," he told the class, who laughed. "Please, don't encourage that one," he told them. A few of the kids were still laughing and he frowned at them, making them stop. "Now then, where were we? Oh, yes, the classification system." He turned back to the board and went back to writing out the chart. "For the slime-producing ones, we give them a group unto themselves, but divide into the types of slime they produce. Anesthetic, poisonous, normal, harmless, and gooey. And yes, before you ask, that is a real classification. Someone a very long time ago thought that up." He smiled and a few of the students laughed.
Xander floated over to where a few people were gathered around George and Fred. "How do I land?" he asked sheepishly.
"Easy, you just push the nose down," Fred said, floating beside him. "Let's go now, before Madam Hooch catches you, okay?" He landed and Xander watched him, doing the exact same things, only with a rougher landing. "Hey, it was better than my first," Fred told his brother.
George took his broomstick back as the Quidditch referee and flying teacher, Madam Hooch, came out, grinning at her. "It worked," he said as she opened her mouth.
She looked at Xander, who was giving her an embarrassed, sheepish look. "Good. Go sit down," she instructed gently. "I'll let the Weasleys take you up again later." She watched as he walked over to the stands, turning to glare at the two beaters. "What would have happened if he had gotten hurt?" she scolded. "Five points each from your house."
Fred scowled back. "He wasn't going to crash, I was right behind him," he protested. "We don't deserve points off. Besides, we're supposed to be teaching them while we learn things ourselves."
Madam Hooch shook her head. "Don't do it again," she said weakly.
George looked at Fred in amazement. That was the first time they'd ever been able to argue themselves out of a penalty. He climbed on his broomstick and lifted off, going up to join the rest of his team. Except Harry, who was carefully examining his broomstick. "Come on, Harry, we need to practice," George called down.
Fred followed Harry up. Something funny was going on, and the strangers showing up was just part of it. But everyone knew that if you followed Harry around for long enough, you'd be in the middle of it. Just look at their brother, Ron. Harry got him into loads of trouble. It was a good thing their mother hadn't heard of it, she really liked Harry and none of the rest of the family wanted to see her go after him for endangering Ron. So the twins kept an eye on him, hoping to get into some of the trouble themselves.
Xander looked across the table in the great hall as Giles walked past, giving him a big grin. The older man shook his head as he continued up to the teacher's table. Then he looked at his friends, leaning closer. "Can I do that again?" he asked them.
George smiled. "Sure. We've been given permission to give you flying lessons."
"Oh, flying lessons?" Willow asked as she sat down. "Was that you that took a trip around the school? I heard a few teachers talking about it in the library." She smiled at her best friend. "Was it fun?"
"Very," he said, grinning at her. "I got to go around the school and I didn't even crash when I landed," he said happily.
She picked up a spoonful of potatoes and put them onto her plate. "I guess we're not having a feast tonight," she said, looking down at the plates. "Does the cleaning spell still work?"
"Yup," Fred told her, starting on his own meal. "Xander, eat a lot. We've got to do some stuff tonight and you get to come along."
"Cool," he said, piling his plate high. He started in on the meat, digging into the food with gusto.
Willow looked at the twins, giving them a hard look. "What sort of trouble are you getting him into?" she asked them.
"Us?" George asked.
"Trouble?" Fred put in.
She nodded. "That's what I thought. Don't let Giles hear about it," she cautioned her friend. She smiled as Tara and the twins' brother Ron walked in together, patting the empty seat beside her. "How was your day?" she asked happily. "I spent most of it in the library."
"I know," Tara said, patting her on the hand. "Ron took me on a tour of the school."
"Cool," Xander said between bites. "I got to fly," he said with a smirk.
Tara giggled. "So I heard. Someone thought it was a first year taking a joyride." She looked down at the twins. "Watch out for Giles, he's really a parent to him."
George nodded solemnly. "We'll do our best to avoid him," he told her.
Xander giggled. "Yup, we sure will." He scraped his plate clean and went for seconds.
Fred blinked a few times and looked at his brother. "He has a bottomless pit."
"Maybe he's a cousin," George suggested.
Xander snorted. "Nothing like that ever happens on our Hellmouth, at least not to me." He shrugged at the incredulous looks. "What? All I get is possessed and jumped. And occasionally beaten up but I've been working on that," he said quickly.
The twins looked at Willow. "You live on a gateway?" they asked together.
"Yup, it's under what used to be our high school." She smiled at Xander. "He blew it up to save us all from the mayor, who turned out to be a big snake-looking demon who wanted to eat us all, while Buffy fought him."
"Nothing happens to you?" Fred asked dryly.
"Hey, all I get to do is fight," Xander said with another shrug. "That's not exciting."
"It is at first," Tara reminded him quietly. "Then it gets kinda routine."
"True," Willow agreed, smiling at her girlfriend. "After the fifth or sixth staking, it's all kinda the same."
"A tinkling whoosh of dust," Xander added on. He looked around. "Speaking of walking dust, where's Spike and Angel?"
"Trying to get Dru to talk to them again," Tara said matter-of-factly. "I saw Gunn in the hallway and he told me he was going to try and make her uninsane with them."
"Cool," Xander said, drawing the word out. "Hey, Wills. These guys have got a dad that really likes us-guy type of stuff. Did you bring a catalog or something like that with you? All I could find was an old Wish Book from Sears."
She smiled. "Sure. I brought a few of my journals to read on the flight. They've got some ads," she offered to the twins. "You could copy them and send them to him."
"Copy?" Fred asked, shuddering. "That's a punishment."
"Um, as in xeroxing?" Xander asked. Both twins shook their heads. "Oh. Okay." He shrugged. "Never mind." He looked at Willow, who shrugged.
"Sorry, I can't magically xerox anything. I haven't found a spell for that yet."
"You really can do magic?" George asked her. She nodded. "Where's your wand?" he asked suspiciously.
Willow giggled. "We don't use wands." She looked at the ones they held out. "Wow, you guys use *wands*," she said, reaching out to touch one. "May I?" George nodded, holding his still so she could touch it. "Wow." She looked at Tara. "Why can't we use wands?"
"Because we do magic with our wills," Tara told her, giving them all a smile. "We do more with herbs and words, and candles, than anything else."
"I guess that's why you guys are here," Fred said, looking down at his plate. "Do you think they'll start offering classes in what they do?"
"No," George said. "Probably not. The Ministry of Magic would never approve of it." He looked at Tara. "Are you a good Witch?"
She smiled. "I try to be," she said. He looked confused. "Oh, you m...meant good as in good, not as in *good*. Yeah, I'm okay. Willow's more powerful though. She's teaching me."
Willow gave her a brilliant smile. "You're very powerful, Tara, you just need some more practice. After all, I've been doing it longer than you have."
"And for different reasons," Xander pointed out, dropping his fork onto his empty plate. "You learn a lot harder and faster when it's your life that's in jeopardy," he reminded Willow's girlfriend. "You haven't had the same stress that Willow did to learn, so you're going at your own pace. In a few years, you'll catch up to her."
Tara reached over to touch the back of his hand. "Thank you, Xander."
"Welcome, but it's the truth." He looked at his roommates. "Hurry up, I want to go fly again."
George shook his head. "You guys are *strange*," he told his new friend.
Xander grinned his best shiteating grin. "Thank you," he said proudly. "Did you hear that, Will, we're strange."
She nodded. "Good for you," she said, starting on her own dinner. "Tara, eat," she asked quietly. "Please?"
"Sure," she said, taking some of the vegetables for herself. "You too," she reminded her girlfriend.
They shared a secretive smile then started to eat.
The twins looked at each other before going back to their dinners. Something was going on here and they wanted first crack at it this time.
Xander looked up as he heard footsteps approaching, smiling at the dog that bounded up to him. He got bowled over by it, laughing as the dog licked and jumped on him.
"Fang!" the big man said sharply, then stopped to look at the playing. He looked at the twins coming out too, pointing at the boy on the ground. "Do you know him?"
"He's one of the visitors, Hagrid," Fred said, watching Xander and the boarhound play. "Does he do that with everyone?" he asked quietly.
"He usually growls at me," George sniffed, watching the two of them play. "You think he still wants to go flying?"
Xander pushed the dog off and stood up. "Of course I do," he said with a confident smile. "Dogs like me." He smiled at the big man. "Thanks for letting me play with him, it's been a while since I had a dog to play with."
Hagrid nodded, watching them go. He looked down at his dog, who was panting up at him, still looking like he wanted to play. "If we get the grounds secure, we'll play a nice game of fetch, all right?" The dog wagged it's tail and bounded off again, following the trio.
Hagrid lumbered after them, calling his dog.
Xander looped around the teacher on the field then landed, whooping. "That was fun!" he shouted up at George, who had been tailing him this round.
"Get off there!" Professor Snape ordered, trying to take the broom from him.
"We were told to let him," Fred called, jogging over to take his broomstick back. "We were told he could have flying lessons, Madam Hooch said that he was a natural at it."
"Fifteen points off Gryffindor," Snape said coldly. "You're not supposed to be out here practicing and you're not supposed to be letting the *muggles* play with the magic items."
"Hey!" Xander said, looking him over. "Who are you to punish them when another teacher told them I could do this?" He walked around in front of him. "Get over yourself already," he said in an equally cold tone of voice. "You can't tell me what to do and unless you can make Giles appear suddenly and *he* overrules the flying teacher, or the Headmaster overrules the flying teacher, then I'm allowed to do that." He looked him over again. "You're not that much, I've fought bigger and badder than you and won." He looked at Fred. "I'm going to go back inside, the air out here has suddenly gotten tainted. Meet you in the room?"
"Sure," Fred said, stunned. He just nodded as Xander walked away, turning to look at his brother as he landed beside him. "He's *strange*," he repeated.
"Definitely," George agreed. He nodded at the castle. "Maybe we should go inside." Fred nodded and they ran for the castle, their broomsticks bobbing on their shoulders.
Snape finally closed his mouth and seethed. No one had the right to speak to him like that, especially when he didn't understand part of it. He stormed up to the castle to find the boy's guardian. Something had to be done to stop the boy before he did something dangerous and got killed.

Giles smiled at the teacher sitting across from him, sipping his tea. "Xander does have a mind of his own, but he's generally very careful. He hasn't had an accident since he tripped on his last patrol and fell into an open grave." He took another sip. "If the flying teacher said he could go around a bit, I don't see the harm in it. Actually, I'm surprised that a broom would work for him. He's not got a touch of magic around him."
Snape swallowed the last of his tea and put the cup aside. "I can get his permission removed," he warned.
"Then I suggest you do so. It's good to see Xander so carefree again, he's gotten to be such a serious child this last year." He glanced at his watch, which was lying on the desk. "Was there something else you were concerned about? Perhaps Willow's performance in your class today?"
"No, she did fine," he ground out, standing up. "I'll see the Madam Hooch about removing his permission. He could get into a lot of trouble that way."
"Yes, he could, but Xander's very good at getting himself out of trouble," Giles told him calmly. "The boy's actually a trouble magnet, but he does find a way out of it every time."
"So far," Snape replied as he walked out.
Giles smiled. "Oh, I believe the boy's got some time left before the trouble catches up with him." He poured himself some more tea, looking at the little creature that appeared beside him. "Hello, what are you then?" he asked.
"I's is a House Elf," he said, nodding. "You's be wanting more tea?"
"If you wouldn't mind, maybe a half pot more or so," he said kindly. "Do you get a tip?"
The House Elf looked embarrassed. "No, sir, no House Elf gets paid, sir. This House Elf is not Dobby sir, oh no." He disappeared as quickly and quietly as he had come in, taking the pot with him.
Giles went back to preparing for his next class. He was rather enjoying teaching.
Xander looked up as the twins joined him at the table for breakfast, giving them a smile. "Hey, guys, how was your dreams? Mine were *great*," he said as he took another bite of eggs.
Fred looked at him. "Are you *sure* you're a muggle?" he asked finally. "We had nice, normal dreams last night. Ones about opening a joke shop of our own."
"Speak for yourself, I had dreams of winning the Quidditch cup again this year," George said as he sat down. "What did you dream of, Xander?"
"Flying, but without the broom." He grinned. "I had big, glossy wings and everything."
"That's nice," Fred said as he picked up his morning tea and pumpkin juice. He looked up as the owls flew in, holding his arm out for the one heading towards them. "Harry's is back," he noted. "He's not up yet, Hedwig. Give him a few minutes."
The owl cooed at him and hopped over to Xander, talking to him next. She hopped up against his chest, nudging him hard. She hooted as she was scratched on the head, then stole a bite of his sausage before hopping over to Harry, who had just walked into the room.
Willow looked at him, frowning. "When did you start to attract owls? Usually it's just dogs."
Xander shrugged. "I don't know. Was that normal behavior?" He looked at all the owls in the room, his mouth falling open as he tried to count them all. "Wow. Why are they here? Is this normal owl stuff too?"
"Nothing about this is normal," Harry said, sitting down and taking his letter from around her leg. "Thank you, Hedwig. Would you like some of my breakfast?" He dished up some of the things that she liked, watching as she ate. He shook his head when his owl turned to hoot at Xander before flying off to get a proper breakfast. "What was that about?"
"We're not sure," George said, taking their owl's letter and letting it go free too. He handed it off to his younger brother Ron, who was just sitting down. "Xander, I think we need to take you to see Dumbledore."
"He's not in trouble is he?" Willow asked, glaring at Xander. "What did you do this time?"
"He hasn't done anything," Fred said quickly, standing up and motioning Xander to do the same. "I think we've got a puzzle and we need Dumbledore's permission to figure it out." He winked at her. "We're champion puzzle solvers." George nodded quickly, agreeing with his brother was the fastest way to get this settled.
Xander followed Fred up to the main table, smiling at Giles. "They think it's strange that dogs like me," he said with a shrug.
"As do I, Xander," Giles reminded him. "I've never seen anyone who attracted animals like you do."
Fred looked at Dumbledore. "Hedwig went directly to him for attention, sir, and so did Hagrid's dog, Fang, last night."
Dumbledore smiled in a confused sort of way. "Really?" He looked at Xander, then nodded. "I'll talk to him later, after breakfast."
Fred smiled. "Thank you. I'll show him up." He escaped before his legitimate hookey time was canceled, dragging Xander back to the table. "We're bringing him to the boss after breakfast," he told his brothers, including Percy who had just joined them.
"Why? What has he done now?" Percy asked, looking at Xander. "It's a good thing you don't belong in a house, you would have lost it many points last night when you mouthed off to Professor Snape."
"Hey, I was allowed to go flying, what's-her-name said so," Xander defended. "He had no right to tell me I couldn't when the person over that told me I could. Same as he had no right to pick on the twins because I was doing something I was allowed to do."
"You're going to have to excuse Xander," Willow said calmly, shooting him a look. "Sometimes he goes into overprotective mode." She looked at her friend. "Stop it, they're brothers."
"Yay," Xander said snidely. "If I had a brother, I'd expect him to stick up for me, not to snipe at me before I had coffee."
Willow pushed a cup over to him. "Here, drink, it's still caffeine." She looked at Percy, who was looking hurt and shocked. "He was possessed, it's part of that, but he's always had that reaction. Whenever he gets friends, he tends to protect them from everyone, even their families during squabbles." She looked around him at the twins. "You two okay down there?"
George nodded. "We're fine." He looked at Xander. "That's it, man, you've got to be figured out. There's no *way* you're a muggle."
Ron handed over the letter he had been reading. "Dad said thanks," he told Percy, who was staring at him. "Xander sent him a catalog of muggle stuff."
"Oh." Percy blinked a few times. "Yes, I guess Dad would be over the moon about it." He looked at Xander again. "Are you sure you're fully human? I've never met a human that had such a strong protection reaction for someone they've just met." He looked at Willow. "You said he's had this for as long as you've known him?"
"Yup, he was protecting me and our friend Jesse by the end of the day we met him. He's always been like that, it's just worse in the mornings before he gets a little caffeine in him since he got possessed."
Everyone at the table watched as another owl flew across the room from the table it had been delivering a message to and stopped in front of Xander, hooting at him to get some attention too. Xander smiled down at the little bird and carefully stroked down it's back, then scratched around it's neck. "There, how's that?" he asked the bird, who flapped it's wings a few times. "Would you like a treat?" he asked, holding up a bite of sausage, which was taken from his fingers as delicately as the razor sharp beak could. "Off you go," he said, lifting him up and pushing him into the air. "Have a good day," he called after it, waving at the owl.
Willow closed her eyes and shook her head. "I'm never going to understand that," she mumbled, sipping some of the juice in the glass next to her plate. "Eww, what is this?"
"Pumpkin juice," Percy said, looking from his brothers to Xander and back. "He has a meeting when?" he asked quietly.
"After breakfast. Dumbledore said we could bring him."
"Good, George. Ready a report for him of these strange occurrences so he can make a determination." He saw the look Xander was giving him. "I'm sorry, but puzzles such as this tend to make the students nervous," he said quietly. "With all that's been going on around here, not many of us are convinced that having outsiders in to learn from us is the most rational of ideas. Even ones who have fought the dark before." He stopped as Buffy came over and punched Xander on the arm.
"What's up with you and the owl?" she asked. "You never did that at home."
"I don't know," he sighed. "They wanted some attention."
Harry looked at Ron. "Maybe he could calm down Pidgwidgeon."
Ron snorted. "Nothing calms her down."
Xander looked around the cluttered office, grinning at all the things he could see. He saw an old hat sitting on a stool and got up to look at it closer, almost reaching out to touch it as the door opened. "Sorry," he said nervously. "I wasn't going to hurt it."
Albus Dumbledore smiled and pointed at the chair. "I know. You're not from the dark, no matter how many students are worried about you." He sat down behind his desk, watching the young man look around the room again. "What in here draws you?" he asked quietly; he didn't want to break the curiosity, he wanted to learn what was behind this strangeness everyone had noticed.
"The hat," Xander said, pointing at it. "And something up on the bookshelf," he said, pointing at the one behind the desk. "I don't know which book it is."
"And what would you like to do with the hat?" the Headmaster asked.
"I'd like to put it on. I think it's neat looking, even if it does look like it needs a little bit of work."
Dumbledore smiled and nodded. "Go ahead. That's our Sorting Hat, it tells you which house you'd be in."
Xander grinned as he jumped up to grab the hat, putting it on his head.
//Hello,// the hat said. //I know it's not time. Are you a late admission?//
"No, I'm a visitor. The Headmaster said I could put you on. How do you talk?"
The hat laughed. //That's my magic.// It went silent as it considered it's wearer. //I can't place you in a house. Mostly, I'd put you in Gryffindor, but you don't have the right sort of spark to be here.//
Xander took off the hat, looking disappointed. "It wouldn't put me anywhere," he said as he handed it off.
He watched as the old man stuck the hat over his face for a second and mumbled something, then it went on his head. After a few minutes, the hat came off and went back to it's normal stool. "Well, that's interesting," Dumbldore said, getting up to look at the books on the shelves. "Which one is drawing you?"
"I don't think it's a book," Xander admitted. "It's something on this side of the shelf," he said, pointing at a grouping of little vials. "I think it's one of those."
Dumbledore pulled down the set of vials, putting them out on the desk. "Which one is it, Xander?" he asked gently.
Xander looked at each one, touching a few of them. Then he got up and walked over to the shelves, looking at it. He pulled down a slim book that had been hiding behind it, handing it over. "I think it's that one."
Dumbledore smiled. "That would explain a lot," he said with a laugh. He waved a hand at the chair. "You don't possess magic," he told the boy, "but somewhere in your past was a being of magical nature." He laughed at the confused look he was getting. "Maybe you should read that book. It might shed some light on why animals like you so much."
Xander shrugged. "Maybe, but will it explain why I got possessed by a hyena?"
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I'm afraid not." He blinked a few times. "You really are like the twins, aren't you?" he said with a smile. He nodded at the door. "Your boss is looking for you, he wants you to go down into the forest. I'll have Hagrid go with you."
"Can the twins come?" Xander asked happily.
"If they want to," Dumbledore hesitated. "Most students aren't happy to go down into the forest, Xander. It's a dangerous place."
Xander snorted. "Dangerous place was in my high school. Besides, animals love me," he said with a grin as he got up and walked out, going to find Giles.
Dumbledore groaned. "I thought that was a legend," he said, closing his eyes for a few minutes. He shook himself and got up, going back to his real work. Fighting Voldemort.
Xander hopped up onto Giles' temporary desk between classes, giving him an innocent look. "What's up with the whole gryphon mythology thing that's been going on around here?" he asked innocently.
Giles looked at him, then at the book in his hands, then back at the boy. "Tell me they didn't find one in your family's background as a servant or comrade in arms," he begged.
"A little more personal than that I think," Xander said, opening the book to the section he had just been reading. "See, they've got this great old hat called the Sorting Hat. It sorts the kids into their various houses." He pulled a foot up under him and looked out the window. "Well, I got to try it on and it told me that I wasn't able to be sorted because I wasn't totally human, so it would have a little bit of trouble and it'd need to think about it for a few days." He shrugged at the look he could see out of the corner of his eye. "That was the only other thing in the Headmaster's office that attracted my total attention, so he's letting me borrow it."
Giles groaned and closed the book, not wanting to read any farther. "It would explain a lot if you were," he admitted, handing the book back. "What are you going to do with this knowledge?"
"Not a thing," Xander said, looking at him as the students started to file into the classroom. "You?"
Giles smiled and patted him on the arm. "I have no intention of doing anything with this knowledge, Xander. It's not my business to do so." The young man nodded and slid off the desk. "You are going to classify some of the creatures tonight, aren't you?"
Xander nodded, rolling his eyes. "Sure, Giles, whatever you want. You know that." He walked out, sliding past a disgusted looking group of students.
"Sit," Giles ordered, checking his watch. "We'll never get through today's lesson if we don't get started immediately." He turned to look at the notes he had written on the board earlier, switching which map he had pulled down so he could uncover this group's outline for the class. "This is today's subject, take it down however you want it." He looked at the young boy still standing in the doorway. "Sit or have points taken off your house," Giles said calmly, staring at him.
The blond boy snorted but he sat down.
"Good, let's get onto the paranormal classification of spiritual entities. I understand that you all happen to have a House Ghost, as well as Peeves." He lit a candle in a circle he had drawn on the desk, not allowing the students to see exactly what it looked like. "Peeves, I summon you," he intoned, calling the spirit down to the small circle to trap it there.
Peeves appeared, looking panicked. "You can't do this to me!" he protested, trying to get free.
"I can and I have," Giles told him, watching him beat on the invisible walls. "As you can see, there are other ways of dealing with spirit entities than just talking to them." He looked at the Headmaster, who was walking in. "I hope you don't mind, I'll release him in a few moments."
"Get a promise of good behavior from him," one student suggested, and most of the rest of them nodded.
Giles smiled at them all. "This is part of the lecture. You have to understand that the spirit will be true to it's nature, most usually the one it had in life."
"You mean he was like Fred and George Weasley in life?" the blond boy asked in horror, looking over at Ron. "Is he a relative?" he asked snidely. "Should we find a way to send him home to your house. I'm sure you could fit one more under your thatched, over-crowded roof."
"Actually," Giles said, glaring at the boy as he overrode his next comment, "I've checked out Peeves real identity with his help. He used to be an accountant with a wicked sense of humor. He used to work for your Ministry and he was always playing jokes on his fellow coworkers." He blew out the candle and cut an opening into the circle holding the spirit. "Thank you, Peeves," he said, bowing to the spirit, who looked stunned before it faded out. "Spirits are like any other creatures, they deserve respect for what they are and their abilities. Even if they do drive you mad," he said with a faint smile.
Dumbledore sat down at a free seat, listening to the lecture. "We have similar spells," he told Giles. "But ours are mostly something of a 'freeze' or 'paralyze' nature."
"Ah, but our version of magic is much more personal to us. When I do a work of magic, I have to be totally prepared for the outcome and the power expenditure. I don't have an insulating force between myself and the magic that I'm using." He nodded at a student's wand. "As I was never taught to use one of those, I have to rely on what my body can produce and how well I've learned to channel it."
"Which is much harder?" Hermione suggested.
Giles gave her a bright smile. "Indeed. Where it takes you a matter of weeks to work your first spell, it can take someone like me years before we're ready to do more than work on the hypotheticals. Unless you're someone like Willow, who found it one day and discovered that she had a natural talent for the working." She nodded and bent to take a note. "Now then, who can tell me why you should respect a spirit?" Hermione raised her hand. "Dear, give the others a chance to reason this one out. It's an important lesson on the path to adulthood and they should all have it too." She nodded, not looking the least embarrassed.
Ron slowly raised his hand. "Because respecting it is a lot easier when you're trying to get it to pass on?" he guessed.
Giles beamed at him. "Brilliant, and correct in part. Can you think of another reason?"
Ron shook his head but a female student in the front raised her hand. "Because everything deserves respect until you've seen that it's proved otherwise?" she asked.
"Yes, that's the other reason," Giles said. "Good. Five points for both of you." He looked around the room, seeing only a few confused faces. "You see, if you respect everything then you'll never be surprised by what's going on," he explained to them. "Part of respecting an object is knowing what it is. In the case of magic-users everywhere, knowledge is power, and respecting what you're learning about is the only way to truly gain the right sort of knowledge." All but a few of the Slytherins were nodding. "Those that don't respect things and try to figure them out will be doomed to be eaten by them," he told them, looking directly at the blond boy that had been giving Ron so much grief. Ron reminded him of Willow when he had first met her, and he wanted to protect the boy from this sort of teasing. "Lack of respect and lack of knowledge are the two things that will certainly land you ill, blasted, or killed by a spell or a creature."
Dumbledore laughed lightly. "Too true," he admitted, smiling at his temporary teacher. "Magic can be very dangerous if you don't respect the powers that you hold and when you're not taught fully how to harness and use it properly." He looked around the room. "Think about this, he does all his magic without a wand and without having been to a school like this. What sort of will and respect must he have for the power?"
Hermione raised her hand. "Don't we have people like him within our wizard community? Ones who don't use wands and are more independent of the process?"
"Yes, Ms. Granger, there are, but they're very few and far between, not to mention short lived. They're not very accepted, but they do happen sometimes." He looked at the teacher again. "Are you going to teach them about the other forms of magic that you've seen?"
"Yes," Giles said with a brilliant smile, "I was going to do that next week before we left. Or at least the day before we left, to give them a better understanding of what the rest of the world holds for them."
"Good," Dumbledore said, getting comfortable. "How did you trap Peeves?"
"We have a few ways of trapping spirits," Giles said, pointing out the first part of his notes. "This one...."
Xander tapped on Hagrid's door, giving him a bright grin. "Giles told me I have to go down into the forest tonight to take pictures of some of the animals," he told him. "I was told to come ask you to take me." He bent down, patting the massive head that had just run into his hand. "Hey, Fang," he said happily, scratching the dog's ears. "How are you today?"
The dog barked and ran out to bounce around some.
"Go play with him," Hagrid said roughly, leaning against the door frame. "Neither of ya will get anything done otherwise."
Xander beamed and went to play with the big dog.
Hagrid shook his head. "I don't know what's gotten into Fang," he sighed. He watched as his now exhausted dog walked into his cabin to take a nap, stepping out to help the boy up from where he was lying in the grass. "Sorry, he can be a bit energetic."
"You kidding, he was fun!" Xander said happily, accepting the help up. "It's been a while since I had a dog to play with and my apartment won't let me have one." He shrugged. "Can you take me into the forest tonight? I got my camera specially spelled so it'll work and I promise I won't take pictures of anything that you say I can't."
"Sure," Hagrid said, patting him on the head, smooshing him a little. "After dark okay with you?"
"Yup," Xander said, grinning. "That means I can go find the twins and talk to them about something." He waved and jogged back up to the castle.
Hagrid shook his head. "I've never seen that sort of energy," he sighed, going in to finish his lunch. He sat down and drank from the beaker next to his plate.
Xander ran into his bedroom and found Fred sitting on his bed. "Hey, don't you have class?" Fred frowned. "What's wrong?"
"My mother's coming up. She really wants to meet you." He handed off the letter. "It came by special owl post an hour ago. We've got to change, I was just lazing about." He looked Xander over, seeing the grim expression. "Don't worry, she'll love you."
"Maybe, but I just found out something today that's *way* weird." He sat down on the bed beside his friend. "I found out that there's a gryphon in my family history."
Fred's mouth fell open.
"That would explain a lot," Percy said from the doorway, smiling at him. "Mother won't care though. She's not like that."
"I'm not sure I'm not," Xander admitted, looking at Fred again. "This is really weird to me."
"To us too," Fred said as he stood up, giving him a shrug. "But it would explain your loyalty and your attraction to animals."
"And his ability on the broomstick," Percy put in. "Come on, she's downstairs waiting on us. Father's here too."
Xander checked himself out then looked up. "Should I change?"
"No, you don't smell so it's fine," Fred said, tugging on his arm to make the older man stand so they could go.
Mrs. Weasley smiled as the last of her children walked in, looking the young man with them over. "My, you almost could be one of my sister's children," she said, giving them all hugs. "Boys, we've got some wonderful news that we have to tell you." They all sat down, looking at her. "Xander, right?" He nodded, giving her a smile. "Well, I guess if you're like the twins at all, this will be good for you to hear also." She looked at her husband, who reached out and took her hand. "We're getting a bigger house," she said proudly.
"Actually, we're getting the house added onto," their father said, smiling at them. "We thought it'd be better for when you older kids came home with friends." He smiled at his troublesome twins. "Is this the one that sent me the catalog?"
Xander grinned. "Yup. Did you like it?"
"I loved it, my boy. It was fascinating how much the muggles can create to amuse themselves."
"Mostly to amuse their children," Giles said as he walked in. "Rupert Giles, Xander's caregiver on this trip," he introduced himself, shaking their hands. "Xander, just a moment please. Did you arrange your trip tonight?"
"Sure. Hagrid said he'd take me and I got to wear out Fang playing too."
"Good." He handed over a book. "I found this in the library, it's an elongated version of the myth you were looking into." He nodded at them. "Excuse me, I must get back to my classes. They're studying Spike right now and there's no telling what he's telling them." He left quickly.
"Was that the magic worker who's here to exchange information with us?" Mr. Weasley asked Xander.
"Yup, him, Willow, and Tara are all here as fellow magic users. I'm here as gopher boy; I fetch, carry, and catalog. Buffy's being looked at as an interesting specimen later today, and so is Doyle."
Mr. Weasley laughed lightly. "My, what an interesting exercise to be in on." He looked at the family gathered around him. "I'm getting a bonus for working with the school on this, children, that's why the twins and a few others of you are have been asked to show the muggles around."
Fred snorted. "Dad, we got given Xander because we're a *lot* alike."
"And he's killer on a broom," George put in. "Ron's got the younger witch, Tara because they're a lot alike. Dumbledore spread it out that way."
"Yeah, Hermione got that one witch, they're definitely alike," Ron said good-naturedly. "I never expected to meet anyone that liked studying as much as she does."
"Willow's good on the computer too," Xander told him. "Besides, it's a connection for her. Willow was feeling a little lost around all you guys when she's got such different skills." He looked at the parents. "Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, I promise I won't get your twins in trouble," he said with his best innocent look.
Mr. Weasley burst out laughing. "Yes, I see now why you were put in with them." He looked at the boys. "Do try and keep him out of trouble," he told them, still laughing.
"Dad, he's just got another thing," Fred said, getting up to talk to him, pulling him over into a corner to do so. Mr. Weasley looked impressed. "Do we have any books on that?"
"Just the small mythology book," he said thoughtfully, looking at the boy. "It would explain a lot though. Percy told me you were loyal to a fault." He walked back over. "I can make some discrete inquiries at work if you'd like," he said, then he looked at his sons. "That does bring up an interesting point. They were the pranksters of all the magical creatures."
"Who are?" Ron asked, looking at Xander.
"I'll tell you later," Percy told him. "When Xander's ready to let it be known."
George looked at Xander. "I dressed too fast, didn't I," he asked glumly.
Xander leaned over and whispered in his ear, earning laughter. "Yeah, so it all kinda makes sense, huh?" he said with a grin.
George nodded. "Dad, you've got the Children's Book of Magical Animals at home, that might be more appropriate right now."
"True," Mr. Weasley said, smiling at his other twin. "And it does explain so much. We used to tease you two about that, didn't we?"
George nodded. "Yeah, you did." He smiled at his mother, who was looking curious. "Remember when he used to tease me about being partially...." Her face lit up and she smiled. "Xander's actually like that."
She came over and hugged him. "No wonder you get along so well with those two," she told him, patting him on the head as she stepped back. "How long are you going to be here, dear?"
"Just for a few weeks I think." Xander looked outside, seeing Anya walking down the hall. "Excuse me, my girlfriend just showed up." He hopped up and jogged after her, stopping her in the hall. "Giles is in class, what's up?"
She looked him over. "You look very well." She laid a hand on the side of his face. "The Watchers have made me see how wrong it was of me to corrupt you with stories of what I've done in the past so we can't be together anymore because I shouldn't hurt you with it. I'm going back home tonight and I'll get all of my things out of your apartment, including a t-shirt I've wanted of yours for a few months now. I've been told it's customary for a woman to take something of her ex-boyfriend's with her when she leaves him."
"Huh?" he asked, holding her still. "You're breaking up with me because a bunch of people who don't like Giles told to you to?"
"Yes, because if I stay, I'll just corrupt you and turn you violent towards other men." She smiled brilliantly. "I knew it was true, it made a lot of sense. So we're through for your own good." She kissed him on the nose. "I've got to go find Giles, I've got a message for him."
Xander waved a kid who was coming down the hall over. "Can you take her to Giles' classroom please? She's got a message for him."
"Sure," he said happily, his round face giving her an adoring look. "Are you one of the other witches?"
"No, I'm a former Vengeance Demon," she said conversationally, following him down the hall. "I used to punish men because of how badly they treat women."
Xander shook his head to clear it and turned to find Mrs. Weasley standing there. "Sorry, but that was one of the strangest relationships I've ever been in."
She gave him a hug. "It's all right, dear. I know how hard breaking up can be." She led him back into the classroom they were using for the family meeting. "His girlfriend just broke up with him," she told George. "Maybe you three should have some fun tonight."
"Mom," Fred whined. "He's got to go into the forest tonight."
"Oh." She looked impressed. "They're sending you down there?"
"Giles and Dumbledore have agreed that they'd like to know what's down there, so I get to start the classification process." He blinked a few times. "That was just strange," he said.
"What's wrong?" Mr. Weasley asked, looking over from where he was talking to Ron about his schoolwork.
"His girlfriend just broke up with him," Mrs. Weasley said.
"Oh, poor boy, but it's probably for the best. You obviously weren't well suited to be together." He smiled. "Besides, you're young, much too young to be dating someone exclusively yet. You've got to give yourself time to learn the world."
George gave Xander a dry look. "Welcome to the family." He held out a hand. "I'm sure we'll be rooming together sometime in the future during a holiday."
Xander shook it. "Cool, man, but I live in America."
George shrugged. "Maybe we'll come visit you then."
"One never knows where a Weasley will show up," Percy said with his own sense of dry humor. "Father, he lives on a ...what did you call it?"
"A hellmouth."
"Oh, dear," Mr. Weasley said, coming over to look at him. "Are you all right? I've heard those can be bad places to live." He stepped back. "That's where I've heard about girls like your friend. They're around to stop the problems of places like that."
"And bad demons," Xander added. "I fight with her, all of us that are here have or do in some way. Well, some of them do the same thing in LA with Angel, but it's mostly the same job. How did you hear about us?"
"A mythology book of all places," he said happily. "I should go inform Dumbledore of this. Do you know where he is?"
"In his office," Fred said. "I saw him going back up there on my way down."
"Thank you." Mr. Weasley walked out, hurrying to go share this new piece of information.
Mrs. Weasley shook her head. "Don't encourage him, boys, he needs to slow down a bit. Work's been very hectic with that muggle and the demon finding the school."
"Hey, the Watchers called Giles out of exile to come over here and talk to them. It's been a lot of long days all the way around."
She smiled and laughed. "I'm sure. What is he doing?"
"He's teaching demon classification and types. Basically what he does with us at home before we have to go stomp on someone."
"Ah." She nodded. "That does make sense. And the witches?"
"They're taking in a few classes and talking about what they do," Percy said. "And one of them has latched onto Hermione for an information exchange."
"Yes, she would be the person to do that." She smiled at her oldest child still in school. "Have you made any plans yet, dear?"
"Yes, mother, and I've done all the paperwork also." He looked at Xander, then back at his mother. "Maybe we should try and get Charlie to come see him."
"Why?" Xander asked. "Does he know something about this?"
"No, but he deals with dragons."
"There really are dragons?" Xander asked Fred, who was on his other side now.
Fred nodded. "Yes, and they've all got bad tempers from what I understand."
Ron coughed and looked out the door, then leaned over. "Hagrid had one," he told his brothers. "That's why we got caught out of our beds that night."
George's mouth fell open. "Hagrid had a dragon? And you didn't tell us?"
"We couldn't," he said with a shrug. "But we sent it to Charlie."
"Ah, that would explain it," Dumbledore said as he walked in. "I thought it was Hagrid's beast you were protecting." He smiled at Xander. "Unlike some, who just like to play with them."
"Fang's fun," Xander said innocently, grinning at the Headmaster. "What can I say, I like dogs."
Dumbledore chuckled. "I guess you do." He looked down at the book then took it and handed over another. "Your mentor was right, that's got a better version of the myth, but this one's got the history," he said.
Xander looked down at it then opened it and started flipping through it. "Wow," he said, stopping to look at a picture. "I always thought they were bigger."
"That's a baby," George pointed out. "How would the mechanics of that work anyway?"
"Magic," Dumbledore said with a grin of his own. He looked at everyone in the room. "So, she's the Slayer? The one in that book?"
"Most likely," Xander said, glancing up. "I'd have to see the book to know, but otherwise probably."
Dumbledore nodded. "That would explain a lot," he told Mr. Weasley. "We had no idea about what their part of the spectrum was like. I've been getting Hermione's notes each night to read over and they do a lot more than we expected. There's whole realms of beings that we don't cover."
"What did Spike tell you," Xander asked. "'Cause he's not usually on our side and all that."
"He hasn't. He was just regaling the students with a story about turning a poor girl."
Mrs. Weasley shuddered. "Really?"
"They were the older students, I'm sure," her husband soothed.
"Shoot, why can't we get that lecture," George said. "Ours have been more of the different types and what kills them and why they act like they do."
"Spike and Angel both get to teach classes," Dumbledore said kindly. "I'm sure you'll get to hear all about the gruesome nature of their existence."
"Or the Initiative," Xander noted, looking up again. "Spike likes to go on rants about them sometimes because they put the chip in his head."
Dumbledore smiled. "Yes, I heard," he said dryly. Xander grinned at him. "Why aren't you taking classes, young man?"
"Because I suck at school," Xander told him. "That's why I work construction."
"Ah." Dumbledore looked at the elder Weasleys. "He's a most interesting boy. He took right to flying."
Mrs. Weasley looked at her twins. "No doubt at someone's insistence," she said, staring Fred down.
"But he's a natural at it." George clapped Xander on the back. "He took a nice long ride around the school and everything, mum."
"As long as you were careful with him. I doubt he's come into anything he might get from his heritage yet."
"Probably not," Dumbledore agreed, "but being here might bring that out."
Xander looked at him in confusion. "Huh?"
"Being in a magical atmosphere might bring out that heritage a little more," Mr. Weasley explained. "That's why the boys told us."
"That would explain him sticking up for them at breakfast the other morning," Percy sniffed. "Against me of all people."
"I'm sure it was just a reflex," his mother assured him.
"He was lecturing Xander about mouthing off to Snape," Fred said. "Xander got into his face when Professor Snape yelled at him for flying."
"Even though I was allowed," Xander added. "He had no right to yell at you two for watching me while I was doing an allowed activity, teacher or not a teacher. That's just wrong."
"Probably," Mrs. Weasley said, nodding. "But you still should be more subtle in your insults, dear. It's much harder for anyone to say anything back."
"Okay," Xander said, grinning at her. "I'll try."
"Good." She patted him on the head. "Boys, we'll be sending care packages later this week."
Ron groaned, "Not another sweater," and put his head down on the desk.
"No, dear," she sighed, "no sweaters this time." She rolled her eyes. "Really, Ron, the sweaters aren't that bad."
"He's just at that awkward stage," Xander told her. "The one where everything seems off because you're trying to find yourself."
Her face brightened up. "I hadn't considered that. The other boys never really went through that hard of a transition that way." She looked at her youngest son. "Dear, I understand fully. Would you like me to change the color of the sweater this year? Maybe a nice blue instead?"
Ron looked up, a lot happier. "Maybe," he said, giving her a smile. "Or can I have a new student robe instead? All of mine are getting too small."
"Of course," she said, coming over to kiss him on the cheek. "I had no idea that you were having such a drawn-out adulthood discovery time." She gave him a hug. "We'll figure it out over the holidays, all right? We'll come up this year."
"Okay," Ron said happily, smiling at his brothers. "I really don't mind the sweaters," he told his mother, "just the color."
"Of course, dear," she said, still smiling at him. She looked at her lone daughter, who had been hiding in a corner. "Dear, are you feeling any stirrings that way?" She blushed but shook her head. "All right, when you do, you write immediately because there's plenty of things we'll need to talk about as girls." Her daughter's blush got brighter. "Xander, that was an excellent bit of noticing. Do you have many siblings?"
"Nope, I'm an only child, but I had to watch Willow go through it." He grinned. "She had everything all planned out and then she became an adult and it all fell apart on her."
Mrs. Weasley laughed. "I remember that feeling. Ginny, just remember, anytime you need to talk to someone about this sort of thing that I'm here, dear." She looked at her husband. "Did you have any more business up here?"
"I wanted to stop in Hogsmeade on the way home," Mr. Weasley told her.
"Of course," she said with a smile. "We'll eat lunch there." She smiled at her children. "Be good. We'll be in touch next week." She waved and left, her arm wrapped in her husband's.
Percy looked at Xander. "Well done," he said, looking impressed. He looked down at Ron. "That means that you won't be complaining for a while, right?"
"It's hard being younger," Fred pointed out. "You used to hate Charlie and Bill for what they did too." He looked down at Ron. "At least you're not being compared to us," he said happily.
Ron started to laugh. "No, I'm not," he agreed, smiling at Xander. "Thanks, that was decent." He looked at the Headmaster, just realizing he was still there when the old man stood up. "Oh, sir. I guess I'd better get back to class." He and Ginny got up and ran back to their classes.
Fred and George looked at Xander. "We like you," George started.
"But we're not going into the forest with you," Fred finished.
"That would be a suitable punishment for what you two did last month," Percy pointed out.
"No, I'm giving them to Giles to help him prepare his last lecture, complete with show and tell," Dumbledore said, smiling at them. "I'm sure they'll be able to help Xander quite a lot without going into the forest." He laughed and left, leaving them alone.
"This is a great book," Xander said, going back to reading. He stood up. "I'm going to go back upstairs and read for a while. Have fun in classes, guys." He walked out, stuck in the book. It just seemed so alive to him.
Percy looked at his twin brothers. "Go back to class," he told them as he stood up.
The twins got up and headed back to their class, which was outside right now.
Percy shook his head. "This is an interesting twist," he agreed, going back to his own class.
Xander looked up as Willow bounced over to sit next to him at the table, giving her a hug. "I just found out some amazing stuff," he said, handing over the book he had been reading.
Willow read the first few pages, smiling up at him. "This sounds a lot like you," she said thoughtfully. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"There was one in my past." Xander beamed at her. "Everyone says it explains a lot."
"It does," Willow agreed, handing him the book. "Can I go into the forest with you tonight?"
"It's supposed to be dangerous, Will," Xander reminded her.
"You're going into the forest?" Hermione said as she sat down. "Why?"
"Because someone wanted to know what was in there officially."
"Then why didn't they ask Hagrid?" she asked reasonably.
"Because Giles didn't know who to ask so he told Xander," Willow explained. "He gets a lot of that sort of assignment." She put a hand on his. "I heard about Anya. I was in Giles' class when she came in and told everyone." He grimaced. "You okay?"
"Yeah, it's probably for the better. Oh," he said, changing the subject to get happier again, "I got to meet the twins' parents, who are *way* cooler than either of ours."
She looked impressed. "Cool. Were you on your best behavior?"
"Our mother adopted him," Ron said as he sat down, smiling at Xander, then at Willow. "He even got my mother to change the color of my sweater this year."
"Ron," Hermione sighed.
"What? I don't like orange."
"None of us do," Fred said as he sat down, followed by George. "So, how was your reading?"
"It really does explain a lot," Xander said with a grin. "Including why the dogs and owls like me." He pushed the book over. "You can read it if you want, I finished it."
"No thanks," Fred said, pushing it back. "We try to avoid doing things like research."
"Why?" Willow asked. "Research is fun and informative."
"And lifesaving," Tara said as she sat down, smiling at Xander. "Are you all right?"
"Yup, very okay. Let me guess, you ran into the Anya person too?"
"Yup," she said, nodding. "So did Buffy. Who slapped her for it."
"Ooh," Willow said, wincing. "That wasn't nice."
"That's what Buffy said," Tara told her.
Xander snickered. "Maybe things will be back to normal at home for her. The Council must have put some pretty heavy pressure on her to make her change her mind."
Willow snorted. "Yeah, you could say she's a little stubborn," she agreed, patting Xander's hand before starting to dish herself up some supper, and helpfully filling Tara's plate for her too.
Tara looked behind Willow's back at Xander and rolled her eyes, getting a smile in return. "Is Buffy going with you?" she asked him.
"No, she's got a meeting tonight with some minister or another. She and Wesley are going to show off."
"Ah." Willow nodded. "He's better at that."
"Yeah," Tara agreed, "he can translate Buffy tactfully into British."
Xander snickered. "True," he agreed, reaching over to shove her lightly. "So bad," he laughed.
"I didn't think she's that bad," Percy said quietly from where he had been sitting and studying some notes. "She's a bit set in her ways and loud, but she seems like a nice enough girl."
"Don't let her hear you call her a girl," Xander warned. "She's really not into that." Percy looked at him in confusion. "Trust me on this, *never* call Buffy a girl."
Willow nodded, her eyes round. "Really, *really* never call her a girl. She hates it."
Percy blinked a few times then nodded. "All right. I won't. Thank you for the warning, Xander and Willow. Did the book answer a lot of questions?"
"Everything except the main 'how did it happen' one," he agreed, smiling at the Prefect. Willow looked at him. "Will, it's in my *family*," he told her.
She shuddered. "I *so* didn't need to know that." She dished up some more potatoes then she hit him on the arm. "Don't give me mental buggers like that," she complained. "I'll be stuck thinking about that all night."
Hermione looked at her. "I have a book that might take that image out of your head. It's a history of our most famous wizards and witches."
"Okay," Willow said happily. "That'd be cool. Most of ours are just legends and myths and things." She started to eat, leaning slightly against her girlfriend's side.
Tara leaned into her a little more, letting her apologize for ignoring her.
Xander dug into his dinner, eating faster than normal. He finished and stood up, taking his book with him. "I've got to go change and finish packing my pack," he said before leaving.
"He seems a bit too happy to go into the forest," Percy complained.
"He'll get fixed when he walks into it," George reminded him.
"True," Percy said, his mood brightening a little. "The forest isn't what he'll expect at all."
"Are there dwarves in there?" Tara asked. Everyone at the table within hearing distance looked at her. "One of our fairytales is a story about a girl who runs away from a wicked step-mother and finds dwarves living in the forest. She shelters with them until she's poisoned then the dwarves help her find her dashing prince," she explained quietly.
Percy shook his head to clear the image. "You muggles do certainly come up with some of the most outrageous explanations for things," he said, smiling at her. "It's a fairy tale, you say?"
"Yes, I heard Snow White when I was younger also," Hermione said, looking around the twins and Ron to look at him. "It's a really old fairy tale, it comes out of Germany."
"Oh." He smiled at her. "Do you have a book of them too?"
"At home. They're children stories."
"Now that the Church cleaned them up," Willow noted. "In their original form, they never could have been for children. They had all sorts of icky stuff in them that it's better not to say in front of younger children."
Hermione looked interested. "Really? Are original copies available?"
"I'm not sure," Willow said. "I found an old book of Giles' that had them in there."
"Was that before Hansel and Gretel came to town?" Tara asked.
"During," Willow told her. "We had to find the original story to figure out how to banish them." She smiled at her girlfriend. "You are so lucky you weren't in town then. You might have ended up on the pole next to me."
"I'm sure you would have saved me too," Tara told her, giving her a shy smile.
"Yup," Willow said firmly. "I would have saved you too."
"Your lives are never dull, are they?" Fred asked. "Xander got to blow up his school and you got to take place in persecutions." He looked at Percy. "Is all of America like that?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Percy told him. "From what I've heard it's like a looser version of England. I'm sure it's tied to their gateway somehow."
Willow nodded. "Usually," she agreed. "Everything comes back to the Hellmouth somehow."
Tara nodded. "Really, it does." She looked at her girlfriend. "How does Spike relate back to it?"
"All the demons are drawn to the Hellmouth so the Initiative was sent there because of the concentration. The town keeps drawing Spike back too, so they had a run in."
"Oh." She nodded. "That makes sense."
Percy shook his head. "I'm just glad I don't have to work with your Ministry of Magic."
"I'm not sure we have one," Willow told him. "Our government's not quite like yours."
"I'm sure you do," Percy told her. "I think every country has some sort of Council over it at least, someone to set standards and the like. Your type may not be recognized by them, that may be why you haven't noticed."
"Maybe," Tara agreed, touching Willow's hand to keep her out of the argument. She gave her a look then started to eat. "Thank you," she said quietly.
"Welcome. I like feeding you," Willow said with a smile, going back to her own food.
Willow looked over at Giles. "Percy raised a point I wanted to debate," she told him. They were all sitting around, except for Buffy, Wesley, and Xander, talking about what they had learned so far. "Do you think we have some sort of Ministry of Magic?" He shrugged. "If we do, why haven't they done anything about the Hellmouth?"
Giles looked startled. "I'm not sure, but it does seem like they would have," he agreed. "I'll ask the Headmaster tomorrow when I see him. If we don't, I'm almost certain Canada does in some form or another."
"Maybe Britain's extends to them," Angel suggested. "It does seem like they'd have to have known about the Hellmouth if there was one though."
"Maybe we can get in touch with the Canadians and have them block the opening for good," Tara suggested. "With our help of course," she said at Giles' frown.
"I'd hope we got that solved after that last time," Giles said stiffly. "I really don't want to have to close that blasted hole again."
Angel relaxed. "I'm sure it's fixed permanently," he said, trying to sooth the ruffled feathers. "Dru still isn't giving up a game plan."
"Maybe she's not in on it," Gunn suggested. "I hate to say it, but Spike has a point. Whoever this Dark Lord is, he's using her as a minion and a messenger. He probably didn't expect for her to live this long."
"Maybe," Doyle agreed, looking at the tapestries on the walls. "Giles, are you going into the seein' part of the lecture?"
"I think I'll have time," Giles agreed, giving him a smile. "Did you want to come talk about yours?"
"No," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "I doubt that they'd understand the sort of pain they cause."
"Possibly, but you might talk to the teacher that does that here," Willow suggested. "That have a whole speciality on seeing."
"Maybe," Doyle agreed. "I tried, she's a bit flighty." He grinned. "More like a bat actually."
"She's had a few visions," Giles pointed out, "otherwise she wouldn't be teaching divination."
"Point," Doyle agreed, "but I can't talk to her, she's not all there."
Giles smiled. "Yes, but can that really be said of any of us in this room?"
Doyle shrugged. "I'd like to think so."
"Me too," Gunn agreed.
"We all have problems, but not all of us seem to be lacking in the reality department," Willow protested.
"I yield the point," Giles said with great humor. "How was everyone's lectures today?"
"Professor Snape thinks that I'm using my 'unique and odd magic', his words, to do well in his classes." Willow shrugged. "I haven't been, it's just really easy to mix the potions when you're used to it."
"Yes, it would be," Giles agreed. "You've had a few good years of practice at that already. Is he allowing you to sit in on the older classes?"
"I did that today and I did learn a new ingredient and how to smoosh it up," she said proudly. "Bat testicles."
Gunn and Angel both looked a little paler than usual. "That's nice," Angel said.
Spike laughed. "Gonna work your way up to human ones, chit?" he asked her.
Willow gave him a faint smile. "I haven't seen a spell that called for them yet, Spike. Are you offering yours when I do?"
His smirk fell away. "Oh, you're too cruel tonight," he told her, then he started to laugh. "Good one."
Tara patted Willow on the knee. "Maybe you should take some Midol," she whispered.
Willow nodded and got up to go take some medicine.
Giles smiled at her. "Thank you, dear. That might have been a nasty argument. Spike, how was your part of the class today?"
"Interestin'," he said jovially. "I got to tell the kids about makin' one o'us."
"Spike," Angel warned.
"What? That's what they asked me about." Spike looked at Giles. "Did you ever find out what the chaps at your home said to the demon chit?"
"No, but I'm sure we'll straighten all that out when we get home." He looked at Angel. "Anya did bring a message for you from Cordelia. She said she's found it and faxed it back home, along with a list of books she thought you might like to find a copy of."
Angel nodded. "Good. Is she having fun?"
"More fun than she would be here," he agreed with a smile. "She's going to London tomorrow to stay there for a few days."
Angel nodded. "It's a good thing that you called and told me to get her tickets. Maybe she'll find something to do in London. It's a large city."
"Museums," Tara offered.
"There's plenty of plays," Gunn reminded him. "I'm sure she's going to be soaking up the culture." He looked at Spike, who looked uncomfortable. "What's wrong with you?"
"Just a thought about the Princess." He looked at Giles. "If she's a harbinger, are we fighting beside these kids?"
Giles looked grim. "It may well be up to us to turn the tide in their favor. We do have skills that they're not prepared for and can't guard against. Tara, did you and Willow bring the offensive spell books with you?"
"She copied a bunch of them into a binder," Tara assured him, "but we've got them memorized by now."
"Good," he said, looking at Angel and Spike. "Are you two willing to help?"
"Sure," Angel said, nodding. "I have no desire to see this school being overrun by the dark. Doyle had a vision before we came so we snuck a few favorite weapons over, including some stakes."
Giles looked at Doyle. "Right after you called," he said, glancing around the room. "It was a fight, a big one, mostly in the front halls and outside. And there was somethin' strange going on with Xander too."
"He's got a gryphon in his family history," Tara told them all.
"Really?" Doyle asked. "I thought those were just myths."
"They have dragons here," Tara told him with a shy smile. "The groundskeeper had one."
"Oh, hell, no," Gunn sighed. "Are we going to have to fight one of those?"
"Probably not," Professor McGonagall said as she walked in and closed the door behind her. "As far as we know, you might not have to fight too many of your own kinds of demons, but our source of information has been very slow in getting back to us." She sat down next to Tara. "You actually brought offensive spells with you?"
"One never knows when one has to fight," Giles reminded her. "I had no idea what we were getting into so I planned for every contingency."
"A wise plan," she agreed. "You'd be willing to fight beside us when and if the attack comes?"
"If we're still here, you have my word on it," Giles told her, holding out a hand. "And actually, I might like to stay close by for a bit to study some with you. It's fascinating how the two branches of magic have split off."
"Giles, you wouldn't *believe* how fussy that guy was," Buffy said as she walked in. She saw all the bothered looks and sighed. "Who do we have to fight this time and how do I kill it?"
"It's mostly a matter of magic," Wesley said, patting her on the back as he walked past her. "I'm sure you'll be more in a guarding capacity this time."
"Hey, I always get to be on the front line," Buffy complained. "Even against bad things like Ethan."
"This would be a bit different," Giles reminded her gently. "We'll figure out the battle plans when and if we need them. How did it go?" he asked Wesley.
"I toned down her complaints as I translated it for the Minister." He sat down beside Gunn. "Are we sure that we'll have to? Doyle's vision notwithstanding."
"Nothing's certain yet," Professor McGonagall said as she stood up. "Thank you, I know it isn't your fight, but this may be just what we needed to turn the tide this time." She left the room.
"Tara," Giles said, "there's a project I have for you and Willow. I'll need to discuss it with you tomorrow. It involves a young boy and his Godparent."
She nodded. "Sure. I only have transfiguration tomorrow." She looked around. "Do you think Xander's okay in that forest? I've heard horror stories all day about what's out there."
"I'm sure he's fine," Wesley told her. "Xander has this incredible knack of getting out of whatever trouble finds him." He looked at Giles. "Did you hear the rumors about him? That he's gryphon-born?"
"It's in his family's lineage," Angel told him. "A long time ago."
"Well, that would certainly explain a few things," Wesley said, looking at his boss. "Especially about that boy and trouble."
"Hey!" Spike complained. "Gryphons were mischievous, not demon magnets." Tara threw a pillow at him. "They weren't."
"I'm sure it would explain that somehow," Giles said calmly. "Maybe he's resonating on a frequency that attracts some of the demons." He shrugged. "We'll figure that out eventually. He has a book I'll be reading later."
"He offered it to Willow," Tara told him. "He's finished it."
"Then I'll read it tomorrow during classes," he said, giving her a smile. "Has anyone approached either of you about your training?"
"There's been questions of what we're learning and how," she admitted, "but nothing else." She gave him a happy look. "Giles, didn't the Council give us a spending allowance? There's supposed to be a magical village a few miles away."
"Yes, I know," he said with a smile. "We're all taking a trip to it in a few days when the students are allowed to go."
"Cool," Gunn said. "There's this stuff I want to try, a kid was explaining it to me. Every Flavor Beans?"
Giles shuddered. "Those I've heard of. One of my students was snacking between classes and got a dung flavored one."
"I guess it's literal," Angel told him. "Be careful, okay?"
"Sure," Gunn said, smiling at him. "Aren't I always?"
Angel nodded. "Still, be careful." He looked at Giles. "What about us?"
"I'd be happy to get you something from there," he offered. "Or I'm sure you could leave some night and go down there. Just warn a teacher first so they can call down there. The village is very protective of itself."
Angel nodded. "We will." He looked at his childe. "You coming with me?"
"Yeah, maybe a prezzie would loosen Dru's tongue a bit." He stood up. "Now?"
"Sure," Angel said, following him out of the room.
"So, what's to be had down there and how much can we spend?" Buffy asked.
Xander looked at the big man walking beside him. "You know about a lot of animals, right, Hagrid?" he asked as they walked down toward the forest.
The big man nodded. "Yup, know lots about lots of 'em. Why?"
"What are gryphons like?"
Hagrid stopped and looked at him. "They're extinct. Do you think you're going to find one in the forest?"
"No, there's supposed to be one way back when in my family," Xander told him. "I thought you'd know some more stuff than the book did. All it said was that they were loyal and playful." He shrugged. "Sorry if I'm bugging you."
"That's okay," Hagrid said, looking down at him. "Yeah, they're that, but playful is a bit mild. They're the jesters of the magical creatures. Always playin' pranks and such. But, ya go near a nest and you'd better pray," he said, starting to walk again. "They were considered the king of beasts back when they were around. There's really one?"
"That's what the Sorting Hat told the Headmaster," he said quietly. "Would that explain why demons like me?"
Hagrid laughed, a great booming sound. "Sure. They attracted the oddest lot of creatures to them when they were around."
"Odd women too?" Xander asked.
"Almost always," Hagrid agreed, clapping him on the back. "What's your woman like?"
"She dumped me today," Xander said with a slight shrug. "She's a former Vengeance demon turned human. I was helping her become more human, but she never quite fit in."
"Yeah, I know the sort," he sighed. They walked into the first line of trees and Hagrid looked down at the boy beside him. "You sure you want to do this? It's not a fun place to be."
"Not really, but it's my job. After all, they could have asked you but I guess no one thought about asking the person who deals with all this stuff." He grinned. "So, lead on. What should I note and see, and what shouldn't I see?"
Hagrid smiled. He liked this boy. "There's a lot in here that's never been mentioned that it'd be okay to note, but there's a few things that we'd like to see never get out." Xander nodded. "And if you see a centaur, ignore it."
"Okay," Xander said, following him through the thickening trees. "This is really great. There's not many places like this in the US anymore. It's kinda commercial to cut down the forests right now." He took a picture of an odd bird that flew past them. "Just yell if I break a rule."
"Sure." Hagrid led the way deeper into the forest, stopping to let Xander take some pictures of some of the things he pointed out. "So, if there's a gryphon in your line, are you playful?"
"Mostly," Xander said with a grin. "I'm always accused of not being serious enough, unless I'm fighting, then I'm always serious."
"That would be the gyphon way," Hagrid agreed. "They were always supposed to have been playful."
"Good playful or bad playful?"
Hagrid chuckled. "I guess that'd depend of if they liked you or not," he noted. "I've heard them called the 'great fluffy troublemakers', and I've heard them called 'jesters'." He looked down at the boy. "You gonna have a go at your girl again when you get back?"
Xander shook his head, taking a picture of a plant. "Probably not." He stopped to change film in the enchanted camera, stuffing the old roll into one of the pouches in his pack. "We were okay together, but we never did anything but get together, ya know?"
Hagrid shook his head. "Not really."
"Oh. Sorry. Anyway, it was like we were chained to my apartment. She never wanted to *do* anything but watch tv and stuff."
"Must be nice to have someone to talk to though," Hagrid said.
Xander snorted. "Sure, but we never did that. The closest we got to talking was her telling me about how she used to punish men when she had been a demon." He pointed at a suspicious plant. "Is that something I should note?"
"Sure. That's a new on one me too."
Xander took a few pictures of the plant, then shook his head as he heard a howl. "Man, that sounds familiar," he sighed. "I miss Oz."
"What's an Oz?" Hagrid asked. "A dog?"
"No, a werewolf I knew. He left a few months back, he had to so he could get himself straightened out."
"We've had a few of those here," Hagrid mentioned. "Even a student once. Good boy that one, usually anyway."
Xander smiled. "You would have liked Oz. He was always so quiet. He was always thinking, but he was also a musician. Life got in his way though and he had to leave." He snapped a picture of a tree next to Hagrid. "Why is that one blue?" he asked.
Hagrid patted the trunk of the tree. "It's got injured when it was little, some of the boys spread some magical ink into it's roots and made it spread. Now it's a blue sapling." He smiled at the boy. "How do you feel in the woods?"
"I'm kinda torn. I'm feeling like this is home in some ways, but in others I'm feeling really closed in." Hagrid looked at him funny. "I was possessed by a hyena spirit a few years back," he explained.
"Oh. That would explain it then," he agreed, leading the way to the path he took when he had to come out here and check on the forest. "Over here is where we found your friend's friend and that demon girl," he told Xander, pointing at a stone. "She was jus' sitting there, waitin' on us."
"You don't know Dru," he said with a faint smile. "She's very not right in the head. The stars talk to her and things," he explained.
"Hey! We've got people here that do that too!"
"No, I'm not talking about her visions and stuff, I'm talking about her normal times. They sing to her and tell her stories."
Hagrid shook his head. "So she's a seer in addition to being insane?" Xander nodded. "That must have been fun for her sire."
"He's the one that made her insane," Xander said with a shrug. "That was before Angel got his soul. Now he's just broody."
Hagrid snorted. "I've seen his lot before," he told the boy. "Thinks too much of what he's done and who he used to be."
"Yup, but that's how he keeps his soul."
"Which I guess would be good," Hagrid said.
"Yup. Last time he lost it, he killed Willow's fish and tried to suck the world into Hell. He was the only one who went." Xander leaned closer to the rock, taking pictures of the carvings on them. "Have these always been here?" he asked.
Hagrid got down to look, frowning at them. "She defaced the stone," he muttered. "No respect at all."
"Nope, she's not highly into that." Xander stopped as he heard a slithering noise. "Um, what was that and is it dangerous?"
"Yes, and you really don't want to know."
"Okay then," Xander agreed, putting the camera in his pack. "Where to next?"
"Next, let's go visit the spiders. They're friends'o mine."
"Okay, as long as I don't get tangled up in a web. That's *way* too close to a praying mantis for me."
"They're totally different," Hagrid argued.
"Not when you have a bug woman try to eat you," Xander told him.
Hagrid stopped and looked at him. "It tried to eat you?"
"Yeah, it changed shape into this really beautiful woman, who was pretending to be a teacher. Me and another guy almost got used as mates." He grimaced. "Which really sucked."
"I don't doubt. I can go see the spiders alone if you want," Hagrid offered.
"No, that's okay. Just as long as I don't get tangled up in a web I'll be fine." He followed the big man further into the forest, stopping to take a picture of the carvings on a tree. "Did she do this too?" he called out to his guide, who was a few feet away.
Hagrid came back and looked at it, tipping his head to the side since the writing was written sideways. "No, looks like your friends the Weasleys have been down here again."
"That's not their style," Xander complained. "They wouldn't hurt the tree for fun."
"No, they wouldn't," Hagrid said, tracing a few of the scribbled words. "It's almost legible. Did you take a picture of it?" Xander nodded. "Take another for me, okay?"
Xander took a few more pictures and walked around the tree to make sure there wasn't anything on the other side. "Hey, there's a door here," he exclaimed. Hagrid came around and looked at it, shaking his head as he opened it. Inside was a few little bottles, a little table, and a little man drinking from the little bottles. "Whoa," Xander said, stepping back. "Forgive us, we didn't know this tree was inhabited."
The little man laughed. "No problem, boyo, it's a new retreat o'ours." He smiled at Hagrid. "You be the groundskeeper then?" he asked.
He nodded. "Yeah, I'm Hagrid. I live in the shack down a ways from the school. If you need anything, just come yell. My Fang'll tell me you're there if I don't hear you." He nodded again and closed the door. "That makes the markings all right I guess."
"Markings," the little man said, opening the doors. "Someone wrote on my tree?"
"Yeah, on the other side," Xander told him. "Sideways." He held a hand out. "I'll carry you around if you want." The little man crawled into his hand and Xander went around to show him. "Hey, the words changed," he complained.
The little man ran his hand around the bark. "It's a simple spell. A warning to the centaurs and like." He flew off the offered hand, smiling at the two men. "Thank ye for the company."
"You're welcome, have a nice day," Xander said, waving at him. "He was kinda nice," he told Hagrid. "What was he?"
"He's a Leprechaun. We don't see their like here often." He looked around. "Fang!" he called. "Where'd he get to?"
"Last time I saw him was at the rock," Xander told him, looking around. "Hey, Fang, want to play fetch?" he called. The dog came bounding out of the underbrush with someone on it's back. "I think he found the tree first," he told Hagrid, smiling down at the dog as he scratched his ears. "Um, hi, ma'am," he said, nodding politely at her. "Did you miss the tree?"
She snorted. "I have no quarrel with that man," she told him. "Can I borrow ye dog?" she asked Hagrid. "I heard ya tell him who ye were."
"Sure. As long as you treat him well and he's home around the same time we are," Hagrid told her, bowing to her. "Have fun, Fang, and guard her well."
Xander gave him one last pat and they walked on. "That was kinda neat," he said finally.
"You were nice to them, I thought Americans weren't so nice."
"Some of us aren't, but Giles always told us to respect something that you don't know about. At the least, it'll be less inclined to eat you and at the most it may become an ally at a critical moment."
"Ah, he's a good one then." He slapped the boy on the back. "You should always respect everything around you, you never know when it's not what it appears."
"We don't get that much of that at home." He stopped to think, tipping his head up. "No, just demons and vampires mostly. Anything that's pretending to be something else at home usually is something bad." He looked at Hagrid. "That's not true for everything, right?"
"Nah," he said with a smile. "Plenty in the world ain't what it appears to be. Take animagus for example. They can change forms."
"Wow. That's a neat trick," Xander said softly. "Do you think...."
"If it were possible, it'd have been the first or second generation, not now," Hagrid said, making it sound like he was sorry. "There's not many of your kind in the world anymore, Xander. You'd best be careful who knows. Even around here, there's people who'd be better off not knowin'."
Xander nodded. "Only the gang, a few of the teachers, and the Weasley's, and Hermione, know."
"That's good, then Harry'd know and it's safe with him too. Generally, any that don't like Harry, keep away from 'em." Xander looked confused. "Trust me, those that don't like Harry won't help ya at all. They're *his* people."
"Oh. Is that the same *he* that might be invading in a few days?" Xander asked.
Hagrid nodded. "Yeah, it is. How you gonna fight him?"
"I'm not, I'm a defender, same as always," Xander told him, looking up at him. "Don't worry, Hagrid, I've faced down worse and won. We *always* win, one way or another."
Hagrid nodded. "Good ta know." He led the way farther into the forest, getting a little ahead of the boy.
Xander stopped to take a picture of a plant he didn't recognize, and looked around. "Hagrid?" he called. He blinked a few times when there wasn't an answer. "Okay. Not funny," he called again. There still wasn't any answer. "Fang!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. The dog came running up to him, panting hard. "Hey, boy," he said, getting down to scratch the big, black dog's head. "How are you?" he asked, giving him a hug. He noticed the little woman still riding on his back. "Sorry, but Hagrid seems to have left me."
She snorted. "We know the gamekeeper, boy, that wasn't him." She climbed off the dog's back, waving a hand at him. "Nothing is as it appears in this forest."
Xander nodded. "I'll take that to heart. May I take Fang with me?"
She nodded. "As long as you tell Harry he said hi."
"Can do," he said, giving her a smile. "Thanks. Um, do you know which way?" She pointed to her right. "Thanks. Come on, Fang." He walked that way, the dog close beside him. When Xander finally made it out of the woods, he found Wesley and a small boy standing there. "Hey, you're Harry, right?" he said, holding out a hand. "The little woman who was riding Fang here said to tell you he said hi." He looked but the dog was gone. "Hey!"
Wesley shook his head. "The dog ran off to the lake."
"That wasn't Fang," Harry said quietly, looking up at the older men. "That was my Godfather. We've got to go see Dumbledore."
"Yeah, we probably should. Hagrid left me in the forest."
Wesley nodded. "Doyle saw, that's why we're here." He nodded back at the castle. "You ready to go?"
"Let me check something first," Xander said, taking off his pack to check on the rolls of film he'd already taken, putting the new one in with it and slipping a clean roll into the camera. "Okay, let's go," he said, zipping it up. They walked up to the castle together, Harry very on edge. Dumbledore and McGonagall met them at the great doorway, and Xander frowned at them. "Something was seriously wrong with Hagrid," he told them. "He tried to leave me in the forest."
"And the dog he was with wasn't Fang," Harry told the Headmaster. "It was a big, black dog, like the one's that's been in the village."
Dumbledore nodded. "Good work, both of you. Do you have the film?"
Xander nodded. "Yeah, is there somewhere I can develop it? I know how, someone taught me last year."
Professor McGonagall shook her head. "We don't need to do it that way." She took his camera and walked off.
Xander shrugged off his pack and headed for the stairs. "Okay, I'm going to bed. Harry, Wes?" he called.
"Coming," Wesley called, following him, making sure Harry was in front of him. They walked into the common room to find all the Weasleys and Hermione waiting on them. "That was definitely odd," he told Giles, who was coming down the stairs with their group.
"I know," Giles told him. "Xander, did anything happen out there?"
"Yeah, a few things."
Harry walked over to Ron, looking at him. "They're enchanted," he said, reaching for his wand but not pulling it.
"We know," Giles said grimly. "We found them earlier. It appears that Professor McGonagall was also." He rubbed his forehead. "I hate to say it, but we've got to do something sooner than we thought. Tell me what you ran into out there."
"We ran into two little people, the rock Druscilla defaced, and a few odd plants. Why?"
"Because any of those might be a clue," Doyle said quietly. "What did the rock say?"
"If you can get me somewhere to develop film, I'll show you," Xander told him.
Doyle nodded. "I brought stuff with me, just a touch but it might be enough." He led the way back to Xander's bathroom, where everything was set up. "Was that Giles?" he asked quietly. "He was actin' funny."
"No, but I made double pictures of everything," Xander told him, equally as quiet. He looked around the bathroom. "No chemicals?"
"No, but we can send stuff to Cordy."
"True," Xander said, smiling. "And I know just the owl to do it too." He walked out, finding Giles and Harry in his room. "Harry, can I borrow your owl? I need to get one specific chemical here to do this and Doyle didn't bring it."
"Hedwig can't carry a lot," he told the older boy.
"She doesn't need to," he said confidently, giving him a smile. "Take me to her?"
"Sure, she came to my room a few minutes ago with Pigwidgeon." He led the way to his room, stopping to close the door before Ron's tiny owl could get out. He looked at Xander. "Where are you sending her?"
"London, to a friend of ours. She can get the chemical the fastest." He tied the little bag he had been storing film in around Hedwig's neck, bending down to look in her eyes. "Can you find a muggle for me?" he asked, pulling out his wallet to show her a picture. "This is her and she's in London." Hedwig hooted and bobbed a few times. She flapped her wings, twisting her neck around. "Okay, let me put this behind your wings." He retied the bag, using the straps attached to the Crown Royale bag to form a harness that wouldn't interfere with her wings. "There we go, how's that?" he asked as he opened the window. "Take off," he told her, watching as she flew off, as did Ron's owl with the note Harry had tied to it. "Home?" he asked him.
"Home," Harry agreed. He looked at the door he had bolted. "This isn't good," he noted quietly.
"I know. Can you find Willow and Tara?"
"They're with Professor Snape, I think," he said, glancing around the room. He closed the windows before Neville could complain about the breeze. "Why?"
"Because we need her and we need Angel and Spike. And we need them now, Harry." Harry nodded and pulled a cloak out of his trunk, putting it on and disappearing. Xander walked out the opening door, making it seem like he had opened it, and ran into Doyle, who looked grim. "It's gone."
"What is?" Giles asked. "Where's the film?"
"Gone to be developed. Cordy's got it," he told him, looking into his eyes. "You used to say that there was a counter to every spell, Giles. You'd better find one soon." He walked away, but allowed himself to be herded down to the common room. He looked at the family standing around. "At least make them comfortable," he complained. "Make them sit or whatever."
"Sure," Buffy said, looking up from her magazine. "Sit," she ordered.
Xander sighed. "Why did I think it was you," he told her. "What weakness was it this time, Buffy?"
"Who, this muggle?" she said, standing up. "She's very easily enchanted." She looked him over. "As you should be." A wand appeared in her hand and started to wave, but a spark of Buffy tried to regain control, fighting over moving the wand.
"No, let him," he said calmly. "It won't work." The wand waved and he felt a wave of heat flow across him. He shook his head a few times then smiled. "See." He stood up. "Gee, I guess someone forgot to tell you, it's really hard to spell me with the protections Willow's been putting on me." He looked at the portrait that was the doorway into the house as it opened, letting in the House's teacher. "Hey, Prof. Are you okay or not?" he asked. She waved her wand and another wave of heat went across him, more heat this time. He shook it off, but it took longer. He checked his watch. "Ten minutes. I'm impressed," he told her.
Giles cleared his throat. "I told you it wouldn't work," he told Buffy.
"Yay." She sent a bolt of energy at him. "Shut up." She looked at Xander again, walking around him. "Hmm, very well protected for a muggle. And not a magic that I recognize either." She stopped as the portrait opened again, this time admitting the two witches and Harry. "Well, what have we here?" she asked, looking them over. "Ah, I see who put the enchantments on him. No wonder the broom worked for him."
"Wrong again," Xander said, turning and catching her in a headlock, kicking her in the back of the knees to bring her to the floor. He let Willow handle everyone else. "Get Giles!" he called out when the fireplace poker went flying over his head. "Just knock them out. It's a possession of some sort."
Tara squealed and pulled a piece of chalk out of her pocket and grabbed a candle, going to start doing glyphs on the walls.
"What are you doing?" Xander called, working on suffocating Buffy long enough to knock her out.
"Doing what Giles did with Peeves," Tara called, finishing the last one. She lit her candle and joined hands with Willow chanting something in a language he had never heard before. Everyone in the room went limp and pretty streams of smoke drifted out of them, gathering in the middle of the room.
"Who are you?" Willow called out. "Tell me or I'll destroy you."
The spirit laughed. "Not even one such as yourself can destroy me," it hissed, sounding kinda male. "I have what you need. Not even that owl can get past my guardians."
"We'll see," Xander said, letting Buffy go. He walked over to Willow and Tara, taking Tara's hand. "You can drain energy off me," he told her. "Willow's had to do it before."
"Just suck at him like a straw," Willow whispered.
Tara closed her eyes and concentrated, pulling some of Xander's energy within her and sharing it with her girlfriend. The spirit quit laughing and looked at Xander. "No, you leave *after* you tell us," Tara told him, her voice and manner changing to more of Xander's.
The spirit shrieked and tried to get out but another spirit joined it in the circle, fighting it.
"Way to go, Peeves," Willow shouted, sending their friendly poltergeist some of her energy. "Beat him up, he's nothin' but a bully."
Peeves looked shocked for an instant but went back to fighting the other spirit pretty quickly. Soon, there was only one spirit and Peeves was grinning. "Thanks," he said, smiling at Willow. "You aren't bad, for firsties." He disappeared as soon as the spell was broken.
"Wow," Hermione said from her position on the floor. "That was..." She looked around. "Was that Peeves helping?"
"Yeah. Giles was the first one who asked him his name," Xander said with a shrug. "He likes Giles."
"And Spike," Willow told him. "Spike laughed at one of his jokes earlier today."
"Ah." Xander thought about it. "Yeah, I guess those two would get along." He looked at Tara, who had flopped into a chair. "You okay? You kinda went all 'me' back there."
She looked up at him. "I am never doing that again," she said, showing that she still had a little bit of him in her.
Xander grinned at her. "Oh, come on, why not?" he whined. "I'm a nice guy. Fun and everything."
Willow smacked him on the arm. "Mine, get your own witch." She bent down to check on Tara, then looked at the rest of the group. She made her way around to each of them, smiling at Ron since he looked the most shaken. "It's all right. Possession happens sometimes." She stood up, making Giles her last stop. "You normal again?" she asked him. He gave her a pained look. "Good. Go see Dru." She looked at Xander again. "I'm going to figure out which protection it was that saved him."
Xander grinned. "Don't worry about it, I doubt you'd be able to put it on everyone." He nodded at the portrait hole. "I'm not sure the Headmaster's free or not."
"He is," Professor McGonagall said quietly, looking up at him. "I'm sure he was just pretending. He made too many slips." She stood up. "He's right about something though. Putting that sort of protection on everyone would be too tiring for you."
Willow nodded. "I know." She looked at Xander. "Did you get anything in the woods?"
"Lots, including pictures of the stone that Druscilla defaced." He glanced at the teacher. "That wasn't Hagrid that took me into the woods, and Harry said the dog wasn't Fang."
"Was it the same dog that got you last time?" George asked tiredly.
Xander thought back then nodded. "Yeah, it was." He walked over to where his friends were relaxing. "Why don't you guys go to bed and rest. Being possessed takes a lot out of a guy." He stood up as the door opened again and Professor Snape and Angel walked in. "Hey, Cordy's got our pictures."
Angel sighed. "Good work. Dru just gave up part of the plan." He looked around the room. "Are they clean?"
"We just de-possessed them," Willow said, flopping down into a chair to rest. "One of my protections on Xander kept it from working on him."
"It worked for about ten minutes," he corrected, "but I fought it off." He looked at Angel again. "I got pictures of the rock she scribbled on in the package too."
"Good," he said, smiling. "What else?"
"Um, two leprechauns, the tree hiding place of one. Some odd plants. Even a blue tree." He looked at Professor Snape, who looked stunned. "What? That's what I was sent out there to do."
"Who guided you out of the forest?" Snape asked.
"The dog we thought was Fang."
Snape looked at Harry. "It's him, isn't it," he said coldly.
Harry nodded. "Yes, he's here to help us."
"Are you *sure* of that?"
"If he hadn't been, then why would he have led me out of the woods in time to come back here and stop this?" Xander asked reasonably. He looked at Willow, who nodded. "I've got an idea. I know that there's something going on here and we'd like to provide a further spell once this is done. A truth spell." Snape gasped. "One in which there's no hope of getting past. She's used it on me and I couldn't even fudge about simple things like what color my underwear was."
Snape nodded. "We have a potion like that. Where is the Hagrid impersonator?"
"He walked off and left me," Xander said. "Can the spell and the liquid work together?"
"Yes," Willow said. "It'll work on anyone, even someone who's accused of something. As a matter of fact, it'll even work on Dru."
Angel smiled. "Let's do it," he said, helping her up. "This was just a playful salvo in the battle. He was testing us."
"Yeah, and he found a few open people," Xander pointed out. "How are we protecting the kids?"
"Easy," Dumbledore said as he walked in with a fidgeting man behind him. "We don't allow the fight into the school. Please do that truth work on the vampiress," he told Snape. "Figure out how to manage your potion with it, we might need it later if there's a trial to be held." Snape nodded and walked away. Dumbledore looked at Xander. "Well, you're a very resourceful man," he said finally, giving him a smile. "I got an owl from Hagrid almost an hour ago. Seems he was called to someone he know's side to help her." He looked around the room. "Did someone tell their parents?"
"I did," Harry said. "I sent Pidge to them."
"Good," Dumbledore said, giving him a smile. "You're going home with them."
"No," Xander said firmly. "That'll move the attack to their house. They've already been used once, that makes them more open for it. Trust me, it does," he said at the fidgeting man's opening mouth. "I've been there. Willow had to over-protect me to make sure it wouldn't happen again." He looked at the boys. "I think that moving some of them somewhere safer for the night might be best, the attack can't be long coming if they sent this sort of opening move."
Giles cleared his throat. "No, it's not far off. I do remember that much. I had one of the more senior spirits in me, as did Buffy." He looked down at his charge, then at Xander. "You did a good job knocking her out."
"Thanks. When?"
"Not tomorrow, but soon afterwards. Dumbledore has a point, Xander, they're going to be in danger here."
"They're going to be in more danger there," Xander pointed out. "There we can't ward them against this sort of stuff."
"True," McGonagall sighed as she stood up. "Professor Dumbledore, I request that I be put with the Weasleys when they're put up for their own good. I won't be of any use in the fight but I can be a hindrance."
Dumbledore nodded. "Of course." He looked at Giles. "Can your three ward a room?"
Giles thought about it then nodded. "Definitely. Between the three of us, we can put shields on a room that will be nearly impenetrable."
"Plus we'll have Buffy in there," Xander pointed out.
"True," Giles said with a smile. "And you."
"No. I'll take a position between them. A last resort position if I have to."
"Good," Dumbledore said. "You'll be at the front door with a few of your friends and the teachers. How long before the pictures get back?"
"Depends on how fast Hedwig finds her and if Cordy can find an all night photo development place."
"Where is she anyway?"
"London. Anya said so." Xander looked at him. "You should have known that." He looked at Angel. "You too." He saw the illusions come off and grabbed a stake from Buffy's belt, tossing it at what had looked like Angel. He grabbed a wooden table and faced off with what had been Giles before, looking him over. "Never send a minion to do a Master's job."
"That's right," Spike said from the doorway, after firing off a crossbow bolt into the minion's chest. He looked at the boy. "Cordy won't be in London until tomorrow."
"Hedwig can find her by other means. Even if she's told to go to London, if her target's not there, then she won't go there," Harry said tiredly. "I'm going to bed. Ron?" Ron nodded and followed him, and shortly afterward so did most of the Weasleys.
Xander looked at Spike. "Where were you?"
"In town." He shrugged. "The pouf's downstairs talking to his girl and so's Giles." He put the crossbow on his shoulder. "So?"
"We plan," Xander said, waving him in. "Come in, Spike."
Spike stepped through and looked around. "This is nice, gotta get me somethin' like this at home."
"Most crypts don't have fireplaces," Xander sighed, sitting down on the now empty couch. He looked at Percy, who was still sitting there. "What's up?" he asked. "You okay?"
"I was asked by the Ministry to come back and pretend to be my old self." He swallowed hard, looking at the boy. "You did a good job, much better than I could have."
"My first fight, I almost dogged out too," Xander said, patting him on the arm. "Don't worry about it."
"I like my desk," Percy declared as he stood up. "Professor Dumbledore, with your permission, may I go back to my former job?"
"Of course," Dumbledore said kindly. He looked at the fidgeting man beside him. "If Minister Fudge agrees."
"He does," Minister Fudge said, looking at the witch collapsed into a chair. "I think that's why we use wands."
"Yeah, but you can't do what she did with a wand," Xander told him. "Spike, can you give me an hour for a nap before we plan?"
"Sure," he said happily. "Just gonna sit here and enjoy the fire."
"Cool," Xander said through his yawn, closing his eyes. He fell asleep quickly, joining Tara in the land of Nap.
Giles shook his head as he walked in, looking at the vampire. "He's to be at the door, Spike. You with him."
"Good," Spike said. "I doubt I'd be able to go outside in the daylight."
Giles smiled. "Good. I'm going to bed also. You'll protect the house tonight." He got flipped off. "Thank you." He walked out, past the two wizards, who followed to ask him questions.
Spike relaxed into the comfortable but worn chair. "Yeah, this is the life," he sighed, smiling at the room.
Xander looked at the battle plans that had been drawn up, frowning at the weak spot he could see. "Um, Giles?" he asked, pointing out the obvious gap.
"We don't have anyone to go there," Giles told him. "It's against a wall with few windows and classes won't be being held in there."
"What about magical defenses?" he asked. "Man eating plants or something."
"I've asked Professor Dubmledor for help of that nature and he said he'd try and get us something. Most of the teachers will be busy keeping the students away from the school. Including Professor Snape I'm afraid."
"It's probably better that he's not here," Willow reminded Giles. "It seems like he's got a past with this sort of stuff." She looked at the plans. "Which witch am I?" Giles pointed out the double dots. "Tara and I?" Giles nodded. "Okay." She looked over the plan. "That leaves this area open, I can't get a spell off there," she said, pointing at the same area Xander had. She tracked across the map. "How about putting us here?" she asked, pointing at a spot that would put them between the two areas. "I could see both sides and we can cast where we can see."
Giles nodded.
Xander coughed. "Then you need to move a wizard closer to the water," Xander pointed out. He tapped a dot and it moved over to where he wanted it to; he really liked this magical battle map which had been found in the library. "That'll give us better magical coverage." He tapped a few of the archers around the doorway, spreading them out. "How about that for a night assault?"
"That would be best," Giles agreed, giving him a smile. "You still have memories from the soldier, don't you?"
"No," Xander told him, "I've done this before." He looked up, seeing the confusion on his face. Everyone knew something was controlling Giles, but they also knew he was harmless to their side, so they were letting the whatever stay for now. He looked at Spike, who was sleeping in the corner. "I want Spike beside me and Angel in front of us," he decided, moving the dots around. "Spike and I are both endgame fighters, that's what we do best." Giles nodded and so did Spike, who woke up partially. "You're with me, Blondie."
"'Kay," Spike said. "Pouf's in front?"
"Yeah, Angel's in front of us and we're in the foyer. Even during a night attack." Spike nodded, he understood why. Xander looked at Willow. "If it comes down to a night attack, I want you to find a comfy spot and produce light," he said.
She nodded. "I can do that, at least a little bit. The teachers with wands can do that too."
"I want them shooting at the people. Even if you two switch off, one of you produces light and the other fires off spells." Willow nodded again. "Good. Any questions?"
"What about this?" Willow said, tracing a small underground pathway.
"I asked the twins, who said it was blocked off. Is their room ready in case it's a night attack?"
"All ready," Willow assured him, giving him a smile. "I warded that room for everything I could, even down to spider attacks."
"Good. Has Buffy calmed down yet and accepted it?"
"Yeah, as of breakfast she was down to minor griping but she understood why."
Xander rolled up the map. "Good." He looked up as Professor McGonagall walked into the classroom they were using to plan in. "Hey, how you feelin'?"
"Fine," she said with a bright smile. "Are the plans done?"
"Yeah. We'll give the teachers their assignments as they run out. Willow?"
"On it, Generale," she said, rolling the 'r'. She saluted him and took the map, going to tell the teachers where they would be with Snape, their liaison. Dumbledore was in too many meetings to be part of this right now.
Xander looked at the few people still in the room. "I'd go rest people, even if the fight isn't until tomorrow." He glanced at Doyle, who nodded. "Good. I'm ordering a nap." He clapped his hands and everyone started for their rooms but Professor McGonagall. "What's up?" he asked, hopping up to sit on the table.
"Have you really done this before?" she asked quietly.
"I fought during an Ascension," he told her. "Buffy's job was to get the demon into place while I blew it up. I also got the other students into place to help her." He got comfortable. "Even that wasn't the first time we've had an organized fight. The better organized your fights are when it's a major evil, the more people come out of it alive." She nodded, looking somber. "I did my best to minimize everyone's exposure while giving them the best advantage for firing. Your teachers will be okay," he assured her. "No one should die during the fight. Getting hurt is something else though." She nodded again. "Okay enough?"
"Much," she said, giving him a little smile. "I'm going with the children tomorrow during the daytime excursion."
"Hey, have fun. Giles promised we could go this weekend." He slid off the table and grinned at her. "The boys have been telling me all sorts of stuff about Hogsmeade and I can't wait." He patted her on the arm as he walked past, going to take his own advice and catch a nap. He walked into his room and stopped when he saw the owls sitting there. He undid both their packages and fed them both some of the treats he had gotten off Harry. "Harry's in his room," he told Hedwig, opening the door. "Harry, visitor," he called. She flew out as Harry stuck his head out of his room. Xander left his door open, going to sit at the desk and pet Pidwidgeon. "Hey, little one. Did you have a nice trip home?" He took that note to read, smiling at the curses on it. "I know," he said. He fed her a treat. "Can you go back?" he asked.
"Let her rest," Ron said from the doorway. "We can use one of the post owls in the tower." He walked in and petted his owl. "My parents didn't send a Howler?"
"No, they sent a message full of cursing and promises to come up and get you tomorrow," he said, handing it over. He wrote out another note and rolled it up, handing it to Ron. "Put it with whatever you guys decide to send home, but get it out soon so they know to go to Hogsmeade and wait for you."
Ron nodded. "Thanks." He blushed faintly. "Xander, thanks. For last night and all that. It was kind of creepy."
Xander smiled. "Ron, I've been there. Mine was a hyena." Ron's mouth hung open. "Yeah. So don't worry about it. Go send your mother your love."
Ron nodded and left, walking past his brothers in the doorway. "Should I tell Mom anything?" he asked them.
"We just sent her a note," Fred said, taking the one Ron held out. "You really told them?" he asked Xander. "She'll never let you come home with us now."
George snorted. "You're kidding, right?" he asked, taking the note to read. "She's got a feast already planned for whenever we can pull him home with us." He smiled at his brother. "Don't worry about us or Ginny. We just sent something to her. Percy's already gone too."
Ron nodded. "Okay. I'll go get one from Harry and Hermione then." He walked back to his room and got a note from Harry, then went to go find his other friend.
George and Fred walked in and closed the door. "Xander, we're helping," Fred declared.
Xander turned to look at them, giving them a smile. "Of course you are. You're helping guard Buffy, your brother and sister, and the Professor, who's majorly upset about all this." George frowned at him. "Guys, I don't think they're going to try another possession trick, but we need you safe."
"Tough," George said. "We're helping."
"Okay." Xander pulled out a secondary map of the school, one with the classrooms marked on it. "You guys will be here," he said, pointing at the rooms. "Whatever you guys can hit out the windows are fair game." The twins nodded. "Personally, I think something's going to be coming through the forest, but that's just me." He looked up, seeing the understanding in their eyes. "Whatever you do, don't beat Buffy up too hard. She's had a bit too many problems recently." They all nodded. "Good. Everyone else is napping and we're still on for this weekend for Hogsmeade. Do something while I look at these pictures." He opened the packet from Cordelia, smiling at the note. "Um, can one of you guys go find Wes and give him this packet?" he asked, holding it up with the note. "That's their copy."
Fred took it and went to go find the shy British muggle.
George leaned over, looking at the pictures Xander had spread out on the desk. "What's that?" he asked, pointing at a picture of a tree.
"That and this one," he said, picking it up, "were the ones I really wanted to look at. Most of the rest just need to be checked for anything really strange and then they can go to Dumbledore." He picked up his tiny magnifying glass, then took the one his helper handed over. "Thanks, man. Those dime store ones can get really fuzzy." He examined the writing, searching through the remaining pictures for the blow up Cordelia had promised him. He found one but not the other.
Fred came back in, smiling. "Did you know vampires snore?"
"Only Spike," Xander muttered. "And he does it really loudly." He looked up, smiling at the picture Fred was holding out. "Oh, man, you're a dream." He looked over it carefully, reading the small writing. "Oh, yeah, this is priceless," he said, smiling coldly. He got up and left everything but one picture there, going down to talk with their one link to the dark side.
Wesley looked at the pictures that had just been delivered and swore, getting up to show them to Angel and Giles, who were playing chess. "We've got a few problems," he said, meeting Doyle in the hall. "Druscilla knows more than she let on." He walked into Giles' room, tossing the pictures down in front of Angel. "She knew."
Angel picked up the pictures, shaking his head. "She's always been a seer." He looked at Doyle, who shook his head. "Did Cordy send anything else?"
"A note," Wesley said, going back for it. He came back into the room and found Xander standing there with a magnifying glass to check one of the pictures. "What's wrong?"
"This tree changed between pictures," Xander said, showing it to him. "The first one had a warning about the forest and the denizens rising up to fight for the school. This one has something else entirely." He smiled. "I'm going down to talk to Dru, give me ten minutes." He left them alone.
Wesley looked at the photo again, then at Angel, who shook his head. "Do you think someone's helping us this much?" he asked.
"Yeah, I do," Angel said after thinking about it. "I think someone planned this from before Dru was sent here." He got up, checking his watch. "I'll go down." He left their room, going down to watch Xander from the shadows. After all, Dru was his childe.
Xander smiled at the vampiress locked in the cage, moving closer to the bars. "Druscilla," he called, waking her up. "Hi, will you talk to me?" She got up and came over, rubbing down his stubbly cheek. "I found your rock," he told her.
She smiled. "The Dark Lord has no idea whom he's dealing with," she said in her usual sing- song manner. "I'm not his toy. I'm my daddy's toy." She smiled at him, slowly letting her feeding face come out. "I could be your toy," she offered.
"No thanks," he said, stepping away from her, getting a small cut on his cheek. "Dru," he sighed. "I'd like to let you out, but you know so much more than you're letting on." She smiled at that. "And I can't let you out if you don't tell me all of it. That's what your daddy told me." She hummed an old song. "Dru, focus," he said, his voice slipping into a command tone. She looked at him, her eyes going wide. "Focus on me," he said, stepping closer again. "I need to know what's going on in that head of yours, Dru, and I need to know what the plan is."
She laughed. "Of course you do," she said, smiling at him. "But I want a taste first. I'm oh so hungry," she purred, coming closer again. She ran her finger over the shallow cut then licked it. "You taste nice," she told him.
Xander nodded. "I know. I'll let you have a little more if you tell me everything you know about the attack."
She backed away from the bars. "Why should I do that?" she asked. "Just a taste isn't that much of an incentive."
"It's that or a stake," he told her.
"The cow sort?" she asked.
He shrugged, smiling at her. "Maybe."
She laughed. "No it's not, the stones tell me it's not." She moved closer again. "I'll whisper it in your ear," she offered. "Daddy's just come down."
Xander leaned his head against the bars, one hand on the stake in his belt. She leaned in and whispered in his ear, then bit it, making him yelp. She laughed and backed away. "That wasn't nice, Dru," Xander told her. "I want the truth, is that it? Because that's not what your stone says."
"That's not my stone," she told him, giving him a smile. "I do so love these games."
Xander snorted. "Games? Dru, if I don't get a straight answer, they're going to be finding your dust in a few hundred years, right where you're standing now."
She frowned at him. "That's not nice," she pouted.
"Who said I was nice?"
"But you are, you're a nice kitten," she said, flowing back over to whisper in his ear again. "I promise not to nibble until I'm through," she said when his ear wasn't pressed close enough.
Xander pushed his head back against the cage and smiled at everything she was telling him. "Okay," he said, letting her bite his ear again. He pulled back after a moment of her sucking hard on his earlobe. "Enough?" he asked her.
"No, but it'll do." She smiled at the shadow Angel was hiding in. "He's such a naughty daddy, don't let him out of your sight. There's no telling what he'll do if you do." She smiled and laid back down on her bed, going back to singing to her new friends, the stones.
Xander nodded up the stairs, letting Angel follow him. She was good. He went to find Spike, there had been a cryptic comment in there and if anyone knew Dru-speak, it was Spike.
Spike looked at the modified plans, smiling at them. "Does anyone know yet?" he asked.
"No, not yet." Xander frowned and moved a dot, then moved it back. "We still have a weak spot," he grumbled.
"Too true, but we've got it covered from above," Spike noted, tapping the archer's position, where Gunn and Wesley would be.
"They're just too fragile of a line," Xander said sullenly. He looked up at Spike. "I don't want anyone to die, Spike, a bunch of kids are counting on it."
"Then count on a bunch of those same brats to get involved. Hell, whelp, they're all wizards and such. They'll fight if they have to."
"Which isn't healthy for a kid to do," Xander reminded him. "Kids who have to fight too young end up wrong as adults." He sat down in a nearby chair, looking at the map. "If we only had one more really good wizard, I'd be happy."
"What about that Harry boy?" Spike asked. "You know he's gonna be there."
"I know. Same as I know the Weasleys will be." He frowned. "Same as I know a few of the Slytherin kids will be there and not on our side." He looked at his co-conspirator. "We don't have enough troops."
"Can I help with that?" Harry asked from the doorway. Xander waved him in. "I've fought him before."
"I know," Xander told him calmly. "I was told." He patted the boy on the shoulder. "You've done more than your share of fighting, Harry. We don't want to risk you."
"So give Hermione and I a hidden spot. Ron won't be there." His face looked harder than his years should have allowed. "I won't let him be hurt this time."
Xander nodded. "It's always hardest when they come along because they like you and then get hurt." He looked at the plan. "I don't want you there, but if you happen to show up, I want you here," he said, tapping a dot. "And I want Hermione here," he said, tapping another one, both on either side of the main doorway. "It's going to be an early evening attack, so I want you to produce some light, some fireworks, something like that. I know you know some curses, but use them in self-defense to get into the castle during the fallback."
Harry thought about it then nodded. "All right. I won't attack."
"Good." Xander gave him a smile. "Go eat and rest. It'll be tomorrow, during supper."
Harry sighed. "Right after we're all back and sated from running through the village. Did you plan that part?"
"We weren't sure if it was going to be a daytime attack or not, so yeah, I did." He smiled. "Go and relax during the day, Harry, you're going to need it later. If you're tense before the fight starts, then you get too tired during it and you end up making fatal mistakes."
Harry smiled. "I realize that now. All right. I'll tell Hermione and Fred. George will be making sure Ginny and Ron are safe."
"Good. I don't want to risk them either." He looked the boy over. "What we really need is at least one more experienced wizard at the rear of the attack," he told him seriously. "And I mean one that's experienced in fighting."
"I might know someone," Harry admitted then he turned and ran from the room.
Spike smiled at him. "Useful, that knowledge was."
"Yeah, it was, but I think we've got this planned too tightly. There's always a loophole and I don't know what it might be."
"Unless he's gonna possess all the kids, I don't know what it could be," Spike told him.
Xander sat up straight. "How much magic would it take to stir up trouble in the great hall?"
"Not much," Spike noted. "Why? You think he's gonna provoke a fight?"
"Which the teachers would have to stop," Xander pointed out.
Spike sat down hard. "Yeah, that might be it." He shook himself. "Can we counteract that?"
"Yeah, maybe," Xander said thoughtfully. "Go tell Willow and Hermione about that thought, let them start working on it." Spike nodded and got up, leaving the mostly dark room for the mostly dark hallways. "That would be a great play, especially with those Slytherin kids," he muttered, getting up to see how he could counteract a charge coming from behind.
George looked up from watching his brother and sister sleep the sleep of the heavily drugged, giving Xander a hard look. "Are you sure this was necessary?"
"What would happen to Harry and your parents if Ron got hurt this time?" Xander asked as he walked in. He was dressed in his favorite patrol outfit, black jeans and a tight enough t-shirt with a utility belt around his waist. "I promised your parents that at least Ron would be safe this time." He patted him on the shoulder. "Go hide them, George, and go with them."
"No," he said firmly, standing up. "I'm in this fight. Voldemort tried to take me over, it's personal now."
Xander shook his head and squeezed George's hand. "Never make it personal, George, you don't survive the fight that way." The young man winced. "Anger is a great weapon but it's one that's used on you, not one that you use on someone else. Unless you go into a blind rage and destroy everything in sight, including yourself. Got me?" George nodded, swallowing hard. "Think of it as defending. You're protecting your brother and sister. You're protecting your school and your twin. You're protecting everything that you believe is right, but you can't be more than pissed about it."
George nodded. "Thanks, Xander."
"Any time. Hide them now, George, and then get ready." He gave the hand another squeeze then left to check on Willow, who was finishing up the last rune in the calm and quiet spell for the great hall. "We set?" he asked as he walked up behind them.
"Almost, one last line," Willow said, drawing it. Inside, the voices went from a happy pitch to a somber, mellow, and calm pitch almost instantly. "That should restrict all fighting to low key verbal assaults," she said as she stood up. She looked him over. "This is going to be bad, isn't it?"
"Possibly, but not as bad as graduation. Here we're actually on top, your sort of magic isn't well known." He tweaked her nose. "Go get ready and take up your position. The kids are hidden." He walked away, going to find Spike. He was chain smoking in the foyer and pacing. "It could be worse," he said as he walked up to the nervous vampire. "Some of them aren't human."
"True," Spike mumbled, looking up at him. "What about those that are?"
"Spike, he's got creatures with him and humans that have given up on their humanity. Try to take at least them out."
Spike nodded, crushing his last cigarette under his boot. "All right. I'll do my best."
"Good. If you can't do it, then fall back and guard the hallway. I'll take over the front duties." Spike nodded again and handed him his crossbow and quivers. "Cool. Thanks. Where did you get the money to get weapons?"
"They were waiting for us," Spike said with a shrug and a smile.
"As long as they're not stolen and we won't have to deal with the magic police," Xander sighed, going to take up his spot. He could see most of the rest of everyone in position, including Willow, who was just walking around the castle. Everyone looked so casual and relaxed. That was good. As long as they were taking this seriously. He straightened up as he heard hooves coming up the driveway, squinting out into the faint light. "Spike, is that a horse?"
"No, it's not," Spike said, raising his crossbow. "Want me to hit it?"
"No, I'm betting it's a messenger. Let Dumbledore handle that one. Remember, hit on the arms, the wand arms." He smiled at the great room behind him. "At least no one can just appear in here," he told himself. "That's blocked, which is of the good." He watched as the messenger said something to the Headmaster, not getting off his deer. When he didn't get the answer he wanted, he threw something down and rode off, back into the forest. Where screaming was soon heard.
Xander checked with Spike, who nodded, then walked out to talk to the Headmaster. "An 'I'm giving you an hour to let us have it' message?" he asked jovially.
Dumbledore smiled. "Something like that," he agreed. "Lemondrop?" he asked, making one appear.
Xander shook his head. "I'm no good in a fight if I'm hyper." He looked over at Giles. "Who is that in him?"
"That's a little help that's not supposed to be here." He looked at Xander again. "I will hold you and your witch to the promise of that truth spell."
"Cool by me. I'll be more than happy to help someone get free or get caught." He shrugged and jogged back to his post just as a few riders came out of the woods. Xander turned around and looked at them, then ran for his position, not wanting to be caught outside during the opening salvo. Just as he dove inside, a massive wail went up around the building and all the ghosts floated out to help too. "Go over to the west side," Xander called to Peeves. "Harass them."
Peeves smiled and went to do what he did best, cackling the whole way.
Xander winced as he heard various curses floating out from the hidden wizards. Then he heard Willow's voice off to his right. "Gee, isn't that handy," she complained. "So much easier than chanting spells and playing with herbs." Xander almost laughed, it sounded like she was pouting. "Maybe we should try and learn their ways, Tara. It's got to be easier than what we do."
Xander didn't hear Tara's reply, he was too busy firing at a deer that was running his way.

Spike fired at a few of the boggles that were being sent their way, cheering as he saw the ghosts stop a few by floating through them. He let one get close enough to look them in the eyes then fired at it, bringing it down right in front of him. "Mind if I have a snack later?" he called out to Xander, who was switching quivers.
"Spike, we win this and I'll personally let you take a pint off me."
Spike chuckled, going back to his beating back the bad guys. "This isn't so bad," he called over, then smiled at the groan.
"Never say that," Xander complained.

Willow heard Xander and Spike's banter and smiled at her girlfriend, sending a zap of power at any wizard they caught trying to cast something. It was an effective but annoying approach. "Want to?" she asked.
"Willow, we'll be too tired later," Tara cautioned.
"If we do it right, there won't need to be a later," Willow reminded her.
"Let's keep doing this for now," Tara said, zapping another one that was raising a wand, knocking it from her hand.
Willow kissed her girlfriend on the cheek. "Okay, I like your way. Go for the wands," she called out to their people, getting the wizards hidden around them to switch tactics.

Xander cursed as his string broke, tossing the now useless weapon behind him. "I really wish I had magic," he cursed, glaring at the tall figure on the horse behind the new troops of wizards. "How many more can he pull out?"
"Kids are comin'," Spike said quietly.
Xander got out of their way, watching what the six kids would do. All of them Slytherins. He watched as one of them stepped out but the door slammed and pushed him back in. "You can't go out," Xander told them. "It's not your time to fight yet. Save it until you won't die on your first casting." He glared at the blond boy that stepped out in front. "Malfoy, get your ass back to your house or I'm going to beat it for you."
"I'm a minor," he sneered. "You can't do that and not go to jail. That's the muggle law."
"Who said you're going to tell anyone," Spike asked, coming up behind him. He grabbed the boy and spun him around, cold-cocking him, knocking him out. "The one problem with evil, most of us can't fight worth a damn," he muttered, going over to a window that opened to continue firing out. "Xander, get the door open and shove those brats somewhere."
Xander grabbed a few of them and shoved them in a nearby closet, locking them in. The rest were grabbed and taken into an empty classroom against the outer wall and locked in there. He came out and looked at the unconscious boy, shaking his head. "Where do I put him?" he asked Spike.
"Out on the lawn for all I care," Spike noted, firing another arrow. "Give me yours, I'm about to go out."
Xander handed over his quiver and picked up the boy, going to put him in the closet with his friends. "Here, have him and keep quiet or I'm finding duct tape," he warned as he locked them in again. He walked out and opened the door, staring up at the man standing there. "Hey, Spike, look it's a *bad* guy!" He pulled out an obsidian knife he had found in Dumbledore's office earlier in the day and held it at the ready. "You get in through me."
"And me," Hermione said, standing up. "Xander, the rest of the wizards are all stunned."
"Okay. Theirs?"
"Are gone too," Harry said as he too stood up. "Voldemort, you're uglier than you used to be. Did your body not suit you this time?" he sneered.
"Kid's good," Spike said in appreciation, looking up at the dark wizard. "Xander, kill the squirt. He's not worth this teasing. It's a waste of genius."
Voldemort looked at the vampire then dismissed him. "I have no use for you," he sneered, starting to get down.
"Gee, feeling's mutual," Xander said coldly, stabbing the horse he was riding in the shoulder, making it buck and throw him off. "Harry, can you unfreeze the wizards?"
"Not without getting them all free," Hermione said, looking at the still battlefield. "What about your friends?"
"Coming," Willow panted, appearing. "Sorry, Tara got buried." She looked at the horse, then at it's rider. "Poor horse," she said, glaring at Xander. "You had to hurt it?"
"It's between muscle groupings and it's easily healed," he complained. "Don't give me that look, stomp the asshole."
Willow grinned. "Of course I will," she said, holding out a hand at the trapped wizard, the one with the now broken wand. "Metamorphose rubberi," she said harshly. There was a shimmer and the figure started to change but his own magic came out and tried to stop it. "Well, shoot," she said, stomping her foot. "Screw this. Distende evoluso," she yelled, putting all her power behind it.
The wizard started to shift but again, his magic defeated her.
"Try somethin' smaller," Spike said as the other wizards started to wake up. "Round two," he called out, running out to get into the fray with the wizards.
Xander shrugged. "Just light him up."
She smiled. "Illuminate!" she yelled, pointing at him. Suddenly, the wizard on the ground became very bright. Very, very bright. She giggled and dodged his weak attempt to hit her. "Yay," she said, "you can't harm me. You tried and you *lost*!"
"Morte," he hissed, pointing his finger at her.
Willow stiffened but then she relaxed after a minute. "Hey, that felt good," she told Xander, giving him a grin. "I'm going to have to remember that spell for when I'm having an alone moment."
Xander groaned. "Willow, take him away." He picked up Spike's crossbow and fired at two wizards who were pointing their wands at her, shooting them in the thigh.
"Why the thigh?" Willow asked.
"Too painful to cast?"
"Not in this type of magic," Willow told him. "Get the wands, that's their source and forming tool. Sorta like my candle and herb set in one."
Xander nodded and aimed at the wands, hitting one and making its owner drop and point it at the other person. He watched as it went off, shooting a rocket of power at the other wizard, who now had a very large hole in his stomach. "Whoa," he said in appreciation. "Think they'd show me that? It'd be killer for dusting vamps."
Willow shrugged. "Not a clue." She dragged the bad wizard away, taking him over to Dumbledore. "I think I broke him," she said as she dropped the crying wizard in front of him. "I'm going to check on Tara, unless you need me?"
He shook his head, giving her a smile. "Take her up to the infirmary. It's better to get the flow started now so we don't clog it up later." He looked down at his enemy, then at the young girl running toward him with his obsidian knife. "Ms. Granger, I did not give you permission to get that from my office," he told her gently.
"Xander had it," she explained. "Here, I think you need it more. That's not Voldemort. Harry said so."
"I know," Dumbledore sighed. "I have known. This is his first emissary." He cut the string of beads holding the illusions on 'Voldemort' and the troops. Down the field, Spike howled in pain. "Well, that does have an out clause," he said happily. He looked down at his former student. "Wormtail," he said in greeting.
"My Lord will save me," he called. "Retreat to fight again!" he called out. A few of the wizards heard him and left, apparating to another location. The rest saw what was going on and ran away. Peter smiled cruelly. "You can't even prove I'm me," he told him.
"Oh, I get it now," Willow said. "You want me to truth spell *him*!"
Dumbledore smiled at her. "Him and someone else. We'll do that tonight." He whistled, bringing an owl down to him. He pulled a note out and sent it with her, watching the snowy white owl fly away.
"You took Hedwig?" Hermione said. "How? She won't listen to me."
"She likes me," Dumbledore said with a shrug. "Come get this," he called out to Snape. He walked away, sure that the two girls had the bad wizard well in hand for a few minutes. He walked over to where Spike was standing. "Your thoughts are very interesting my friend," he said as he walked past him to where Xander was sitting on the steps drinking a glass of water. "Are you all right?"
"Yup and I've got six students locked up for you."
Dumbledore nodded. "I know." He patted him on the head as he walked past. "If you had magic, I'd admit you as an adult student," he called after him. He smiled at the soft swear. "We'll see what we can find for you," he called as he walked up to his office and the nervous Minister of Magic sitting behind his desk. "We caught Peter."
"What?" Cornelius Fudge shouted, jumping up. "He's dead!"
"He's not dead, he's who did what you accused another person of. We can prove it, if you're willing to listen and call a trial together."
"How?" he asked warily.
"The new witches have a truth spell. Along with our own truth serum, we can get it all out and he won't be able to hide anything. Not even the color of his underwear." His eyes twinkled and he smiled. "Call a trial together."
"I'm the Minister. I'll call the dementors."
"You do and I'll see that you're taken out of your job," Dumbledore said quietly. "Because I can prove what I'm saying. He turned and left the room, going down to find Harry. He found him right where he expected him to be, beside Hermione checking to see if she was injured in any way. "Harry, we need him now," he said quietly. "We can prove he didn't do it now." Harry looked up at him and nodded. "Will he allow it?"
"He will," Harry said, standing up. "He's down at Hagrid's house."
"That's fine. Go tell him and we'll be up here waiting on the trial." He nodded at Hermione. "Go with him," he told her. She nodded and jogged after him.
Xander looked up from where he was still sitting. "How many got hurt?"
"A few, mostly spell related. Except for that nice girl, Tara. Some stones from the castle fell on their position and she's got a slight concussion I think." He patted the boy on the shoulder. "On your way home, I'm going to make sure you can stop in Diagon Alley. There's some things down there which might be able to help you." He smiled at Giles, the real one, as he walked up. "Where's your spirit helper?"
"Gone back to where he had been." He smiled down at Xander. "You did an excellent job."
"Cool. How did Ethan take you over?"
Giles smirked. "I'm not going to tell you, dear boy, but I will say this much. Sometimes it pays to form strong bonds." He smiled at the Headmaster. "I would like to arrange to stay and study here if I may."
"I'll see what I can do," Dumbledore said. "But I thought you were staying until we could find a full time Paranormal teacher."
"Wow," Xander said, holding out a hand. "Good job, Giles. Want us to watch your place for you?"
Giles shook his head. "I'll find a new one once I get back." He smiled. "And I will be back."
"You're telling Buffy, right?" Xander asked warily. "I'm not even wanting to go near that one."
Giles chuckled. "Of course. Right after I take you all to Hogsmeade and she's full of Chocolate Frogs." He walked past them, going up to help in the infirmary.
Dumbledore smiled at Xander. "He'll be back. Give him a year or so." He stood up as an official car, only used by top members of the Ministry, floated down with another high member of the Ministry of Magic. "Are you here to hear the truth?" he asked.
"Yes, Albus, I am. I want to hear about this truth spell first."
"Willow could put you under it," Xander offered. "It's not that hard."
He looked at the boy. "He's not a wizard," he said harshly.
"He organized tonight's event," Dumbledore said with a shrug. "Our new Paranormal teacher brought him over."
This new man frowned but followed the Headmaster inside the school, shutting the door behind them.
Xander finished off his water and looked around at his troops, smiling at Spike. "Hey, how's the head?" he asked.
"Better. Bloody illusions."
"It's all a state of mind," Xander quipped, getting up to go inside. "I'm hungry, wanna go eat with me?"
"Sure," Spike said, following him into the school.
Albus smiled at the group, looking around the room. "Today," he said, once the students were all quiet. "We lose a few new friends to their own lives." A few kids, namely the Weasleys, booed. "Now, now," he said gently, "you'll be seeing them again soon, boys." He smiled at the twins. "Tonight, we also celebrate a travesty of justice being reversed and the real culprit being caught and given life in Azkaban." A few of the students cheered at that, namely the Weasleys and their friends. He laughed lightly. "It's good to know that you have your priorities straight. Now, raise your glasses of juice in toast to our new friends, some of who we will be seeing very soon."
The students all stood and raised their glasses to the people who had helped them defend their schools, cheering for them.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "As for why we have a few seats open, it saddens me to say that a few of you were found wanting to go out and join the attack on the school. Those ones have been sent home and are hereby expelled from this school of wizardry." There was a loud gasp. "Yes, truly, it bothers me too," he said, smiling at the young blond woman who had just been pinched by Ron, trying hard not to laugh. "As for them, we will from now on consider them former students." He put his glass down. "I won't lie to you this time either, children. It was close out there, and this may not be the last fight, but we will do our best to protect you and everyone who is with us at the time. Thanks to our new friends, we now have some warning of when evil is coming for us. Also thanks to them, we have a way of defending ourselves and a plan in place to quiet the hall when it gets too noisy." There was a loud booing at that, but it was in good humor since it was followed by laughter. "I hereby do proclaim tonight to be a feast in honor of our friends and a new holiday for Hogwarts. The day we defeated our first open attack!" He sat down to the clapping, looking at his teachers. He stood back up. "One more thing, when you think about next year's classes, we have added on a new temporary position. Mr. Giles has agreed to stay and teach the Paranormal to any who want it." He sat back down, watching as the students all talked to each other.
Willow smiled at Tara and took her hand to hold. "I'm happy, are you?" she asked as the food appeared on their plates.
"Yep," Tara said, giving Willow her brightest smile. "But I want to see if there's a school like this at home. I'd like to know and maybe petition to get in."
Willow grinned. "Me too." They looked at Xander. "What about you?" they asked.
"Me?" he asked, looking at the girls across from him. "I go home and go back to work, and at night, I go patrol or go find good books about gryphons." He shrugged. "That's my life. But I do hope that you find a school like that. We'll be waiting on you two and Giles to get back."
Willow blew him a kiss. "Thanks, Xander."
"Welcome, you know that. Silly girls," he told them. "This is what friends do." He grinned at them then looked at the twins, who looked really sad. "Hey, you two can always come visit me," he offered.
George smiled at him. "Just you wait, Xander Harris. I'm sure that something's going to be coming to visit you." He winked and looked at Fred.
"And it'll probably be our parents," Fred said, giving him a smile of his own.
"I'd better stock up on catalogs then," Xander joked. The twins laughed and patted him on the shoulders. "Just as long as I get a letter every now and again and I'm invited to graduation."
"We don't really do that here," Fred told him.
"We do," George said, "but it's not really an invite everyone to it the way you Americans do it." He saw the confused look. "I asked Tara."
"Oh." Xander nodded and shrugged at the same time. "Yeah, ours are more of a picture taking time." He looked over at Tara, who was blushing, then at Willow, who was looking smug. "Keep it up, girls, and I'll make you sit next to Angel on the way back."
Willow shook her head. "Uh-uh. I'm sitting next to Tara, who's sitting next to Wesley so we can get some sleep. You can sit next to snore boy and broody."
Xander shook his head. "I'll be as far away from the noise as I can get while I'm reading." He looked at the twins again. "I will be getting letters, right? And I'll figure out a way to get one to you too."
"Send it to Hogsmeade," Willow suggested. "Care of the twins and the school."
"True, if the post office delivers there," Xander reminded her.
"We'll figure it out and owl you," Fred told him, giving him a hug. "Are you sure you have to go tomorrow?"
"Yup, otherwise I lose my job and then my apartment." He gave them both hugs. "We'll stay in touch guys, and I promise you can come over and visit me sometimes. I'll even clean my apartment before you come."
George laughed. "All right then, we'll plan for this summer sometime. Dad should be able to figure out how to get us on a plane."
"Oh, that's easy," Willow said, giving him a smile. "You'll have to change to Pounds though. I doubt they take Wizard money."
"Will, I'm betting that there's some sort of wizardly travel agency somewhere around London." She shrugged. "They'll come visit all of us. And they can bring Ron to woo Buffy."
Willow snickered, hiding it behind her hand so Buffy wouldn't catch it. "I think they make a great couple," Tara said.
Xander nodded. "Me too. Maybe he'll make her settle down a little bit."
"Maybe he'll make her wear real clothes," Giles said as he walked up to them. He smiled at his children. "I have some news for you all. Tomorrow, you'll be taken to Diagon Alley with the Weasleys." They all looked confused. "It's the wizards shopping area," he explained, handing over a large bag. "This is your reward for catching one of the major players in Voldemort's prior reign of terror." He patted Xander on the back. "Split it with the rest and spend it wisely. Trust the Weasleys to help you pick out any books that you might need." He smiled at the girls. "And make sure he gets a good owl so he can write to the Weasleys. Mr. Weasley was adamant that he be allowed to do that much."
"Sure," Xander said, still shocked. "How will an owl get over here? It's a really long way."
"Maybe they have better birds than owls," Willow offered. "We'll look." She looked back up at Giles. "Can I get more spellbooks?"
"As long as you're careful," he sighed, shaking his head. "Not that it will do you much good. You won't have a wand to work with."
"Ollivander's Wand Shop is in Diagon," Ron told him. "They could get a wand if they're allowed."
"Not yet, Ron," Willow told him. "We're not ready for that yet. Maybe after some more learning." She smiled at Xander. "Can I use your bird to talk to Hermione?"
"Sure," he said, pushing the bag over to her. "Hold that for me, okay?" Willow nodded and put it in her lap. "Thanks, I don't want to drop it everywhere." He looked back up at Giles. "We're all set for tomorrow?"
"Day after," Giles told him. "Tomorrow, you shop. The day after, you go home. After you find Cordelia." He smiled and gave them all hugs. "Be good while I'm gone. I will be back in another year or so and I'll expect to find the town not only standing but also flourishing and all of you doing the same."
Xander grinned. "Sure, I'll keep Buffy in line." He looked down at the Slayer, who was giving him a frown. "What?" he asked innocently.
Buffy glared at Giles. "Are you sure you want to stay here for a year? It's going to be boring. No crisis, no problems. Nothing major happening."
"Which is it's brightest selling point," Giles told her, giving her an extra hug. "Be good, dear, I'll be home soon enough." He walked away, going back to the teacher's table.
Xander looked at the bag in Willow's lap. "We'll spend it together, but I'll make sure you two have a good book allowance."
She grinned. "I think there's enough in here to manage that." She looked up at the teacher's table, smiling at the man now sitting next to Giles. The new Defense Against the Dark Art's teacher, Harry's Godparent. "Maybe this has a happy ending for all of us," she suggested.
Xander shrugged and went back to eating. He was going to miss the school, but if he kept thinking about it, he was going to cry. Which he refused to do in front of his friends, old or new.
Xander woke up at the insistence of the shove he was being given, frowning at the person shoving him. "Will, this is a guy's room," he told her sleepily, rolling onto his back. "Is it time?"
"Yeah, it's time," she said, sitting on the edge of his bed. "Why did you want up so late? We leave in another hour or so."
"Because I hate saying goodbye," he told her, climbing out of the bed to go shower and get ready. He came back and she wasn't in his room, but his bags were packed and an outfit was lying on his bed. He shrugged, it was a Willow thing to do, so he put it on. He checked to make sure everything was in there, then carried the two bags down to the foyer. He met the Weasleys there, giving them hugs and smiles. He turned to look at the twins, who were both grinning. "Guys, I really don't want to go," he told them.
"They're going with us," Willow said cheerfully. She picked up his bags to carry them out to the carriage. "I've got the reward money in my purse," she called back.
"It fit in there?" he asked.
She stuck her head back in. "Yeah, it did. I brought a bigger one." She disappeared again. "Come on, Xander."
Xander shrugged and walked out with the twins on either side of him. "Guys, you make the best honor guard," he joked.
George punched him on the arm. "Someone has to protect poor Percy from you." He got in first, then Xander sat next to him, then Fred and Ron got in. The door of their carriage closed and it followed the other two down the driveway. "We've got large cloaks for the two vampires."
"Good. What about Dru?"
"She's being kept until a decision can be made," Ron told him. "Dumbledore passed that on to us this morning to tell you." He handed over a bag. "He said you'd need breakfast," he said with a grin.
Xander chuckled and pulled out the food. "Guys, I hate goodbyes," he told them.
"Good, because you're not getting rid of us yet," Fred said cheerfully.
Ron leaned over. "Dad's gotten a temporary appointment to the Canadian Ministry. We learned that last year," he said at the frown. "All us kids get to stay here for the school term, but then we get to go see him during our break." He grinned. "Mom's got to stay at home though because the Ministry is only allowing him a one room apartment."
"I guess your parents are going to be very long letter writers soon."
George snorted. "Mom said this'll be the first time the house has been completely clean in almost a decade."
Xander laughed. "I bet. How do you all fit?"
"We share rooms," Ron said, shaking his head. "I get my own, it's in the attic, right next to the ghoul."
"Percy's getting ready to move out," Fred reminded him. "He's got an apartment in town so he doesn't have to commute so often."
"True," Ron said, cheering up a little. "Maybe I can have his room."
"Maybe she'll give it to Harry," George told him.
Ron shook his head, grinning. "Harry's going to live with his Godfather, who's getting a house down the road from us."
Fred and George laughed. "Good job," they told Xander, both of them punching him on the arm.
"Owww," he said, rubbing his arms. "Guys, don't beat me, I tickle."
George laughed and gave him a hug. "Good." He leaned back as they stopped next to the train. "It's really funny to see the Express with only one car," he said, climbing out first. He helped Ron and Xander out, leaving his twin to follow them to the train.
Willow waved from the doorway, nodding. "They changed the decor," she said happily.
"Someone took her perky pills," Xander muttered as he got onto the train, sitting down next to a very heavily cloaked Spike for a minute. "You gonna be okay on the ride in?" he asked.
"Sure." Spike pushed him. "Now go away. Your buds and you need to spend some more time together."
Xander got up and finished stuffing his breakfast into his mouth as he walked down to where the Weasleys were all sitting. "Hey, had to check on Spike."
"Is he okay?" Willow asked from the seat across the aisle.
"Yup, gruff and needing a nap." He looked around. "Where's Angel?"
"He and Dru...." She blushed. "Um, he and Dru took off this morning. We didn't want to tell you until we were away from Hogwarts. Buffy and you might go hunt him down and drag him back."
"Hey, if he wants to go get some with his childe, then that's his business. How's his crew taking it?"
"They're not coming back with us either," Tara said. "They're going to stay in London for a few weeks to do something for the Council." She shrugged at his surprised look. "We found out this morning, but I don't think anyone told Buffy."
"Does anyone know where Angel is?" Buffy called as she got on the train. "I have Doyle, but no Angel."
Xander stood up and waved her down to them. "Yeah, we do, and it's not a happy moment." He looked at Doyle. "You're taking Giles' place, huh," he said flatly.
"For his tenure, yeah," he said with a grin. "Don't worry, I'll be nice to ya all." He sat down across from Willow, looking at Buffy. "They've been called on by the Council. They'll be in London for about a month yet." She glared at him. "Sit. The Powers decreed it. Not even you can argue with them."
Buffy sat down and pouted at Willow. "You knew," she accused.
"We knew but Xander didn't. Someone thought he might get upset." She smiled at her. "They'll be back."
"Minus Cordelia," Doyle mumbled. "She's in a play."
"Wow." Buffy looked at Xander. "First you took on a wizard who dealt death to a lot of people and then we got Doyle. This has been a strange trip."
"Yes, but we're getting souvenirs," Xander told her calmly, reaching over to pat her hand. "Why isn't the train going?" he asked Fred.
"Because we're waiting on someone," he said lightly. He smiled as Wesley got on. "Here he is. Did you sleep in?"
"No, Rupert kept me, giving me an enormous list of instructions for the care of his children." He sat down beside Buffy on the bench. "Dear, not only have you gotten Doyle to help you, but you've got me as a temporary Watcher again. Would that suit you?"
"I guess," she said sullenly. She jumped as the train started to move. "Okay, it really was waiting on you."
"Yeah, it was," Willow said, grinning at her. "It won't be so bad. And it's only for a year," she reminded her friend.
"Yeah, and I can go tell Mom all about this," Buffy sighed, relaxing into her seat. "Wes, no offense, but move. I'm crowded."
He smiled as he stood up. "Of course. I'm going to go sit with Spike." He walked out of their end compartment and went back to the small sleeper that Spike had chosen.
Ron looked at Buffy. "I'm not sure how you'll explain all this to your mother," he told her. "Would she understand? Hermione can't tell her parents about it at all because they get confused."
"My mom's used to the strange now. She's way into my life as the Slayer." She smiled at him. "So, you going to come down and visit with your brothers? I'll show you my Hellmouth."
"Sure," he said happily. "If Mom lets me." He grinned at her, nodding down the hall. "Want to get a separate compartment so we can talk?"
"Sure," she said, standing up. "I doubt these guys want to hear about what I want to look for down this alley place." She followed him down to one of the spare compartments.
Willow shook her head once the door was closed. "I don't believe it."
"They'll make a good match when they both grow up," Xander said with a smile.
Willow snorted. "True," she agreed, laughing and leaning against Tara's side.
Tara looked at Xander, smiling at him. "Don't encourage her."
Xander grinned back. "Why not? She's at her best like this." He looked at the twins. "So, what's down this alley?"
"Lots of stuff," Fred said.
"Unfortunately, our mother never lets us go near most of it," George sighed. "I'm sure we'll be able to see more of it if *you* wanted to go, Xander."
Xander smiled at them. "Sure, I'm all for exploring."
Xander looked around the alley as the group walked through the archway, smiling at Willow. "It's just such a you place," he told her, giving her a hug.
"My witch," Tara said calmly. "Get your own."
Xander chuckled. "She said the same thing." He looked at the twins, who were watching them. "What's first, guys?"
"Well, how about the bird?" Willow suggested.
"We'll have to carry it," Xander pointed out.
"We can go pick it out and pay for it," Tara suggested. "Then we can pick it up on the way out."
Xander thought for a moment, glancing at the twins, who nodded, then nodded himself. "Okay. Lead on, Ron."
Ron laughed and led the way to a food stall where his mother and father were sitting. He leaned down and kissed his mother's cheek. "We're getting Xander a bird," he told her.
His father got up and gave all his boys a hug, including Xander. Then he turned to look at the two girls, Buffy had already disappeared with Doyle and her part of the money. "Who are these two gorgeous women, sons?"
"This is Willow and Tara," Ron said, making the introductions. "Buffy's somewhere with Doyle and Wesley is keeping them both out of trouble."
He shook his head. "I'd better go find them before someone figures out that they're muggles." He walked off, heading for the nearest clothing stall.
Willow smiled and shook Mrs. Weasley's hand. "Hi. I'm really glad that you're taking Xander under your wing. He could use a really good mom sometimes. Especially if you can nag him about pizza not being a breakfast food."
"Hey, I only had ten minutes to get to the site. What else was I going to eat?" He shrugged it off. "Would you like to help us shop for a communal bird?"
Mrs. Weasley paid the check then got up, walking them down to the Eeylops Owl Emporium.
Xander looked at all the birds flying around the store. Big birds, shiny birds, loud birds. Little tiny birds like Pidge. He looked at the store keeper, who was giving the twins an interested look. "Hi, I need a bird and I live in California. In the United States?"
The shop owner looked at him, then at Mrs. Weasley who nodded. "He does," she agreed. "He helps out that new Paranormal teacher at Hogwarts so he'll need a good bird for correspondence."
The owner looked around his store and whistled, bringing down a song bird. "This one could probably get from New York to here in about a week," he said. "We got it in yesterday by mistake, just flew in the door."
"I live on the other coast," Xander said apologetically. "And I'm thinking I'm going to be doing a lot of letter writing to Canada sometime in the future too."
The owner nodded. "You got your own place or do you have understanding parents?"
"I've got my own place, but it has a quiet hour clause in my lease."
"Okay then. You'll need a quiet, fast, long distance bird, of which most are myths. Except for this one," he said, holding out his arm and making a clicking noise. An iridescent bird flew down and landed on his arm, looking at the grouping. "They're very smart, usually very quiet, though they do sing, and they're pretty clean. This one was left to me by a wizard who recently died, he wanted him to find a good owner." He looked Xander over. "The bird decided it's owner."
"What do I feed it?" Xander asked.
"This one likes fruits. Mostly things like seeded fruits. Seems to love those watermelons you Americans eat so much of."
Xander looked at Willow, who nodded. "Can I hold her?"
"Sure. It's a him."
Xander grinned. "Okay, it's a him." He held out his arm and the bird sniffed it then jumped over. He put his beak into the boy's face and stared into his eyes for a second then started to sing.
"I think he likes you," the store owner said, smiling at Mrs. Weasley. "He's good to go for a lot of miles too."
"Is there some sort of care book on his type of bird?" Willow asked.
"Not really, but I can write one up for you if you'd wait."
"Actually, we were going to purchase the bird and come back for him in a little while. I've got some stuff I've still got to get," Xander said, giving him a smile. "Would that be okay?"
"As long as you don't forget him, he'll be fine," the shopkeeper said with an appraising look. "You're not a wizard, are ya?"
"Nope," Xander said, putting the bird down. "You're going to take some getting used to," he said, patting him on the head. "You're pretty though. And you're nice."
"And he likes you," Willow pointed out, "which is always of the good."
"Very of the good," Xander agreed.
"Say, are you the boy that was just at Hogwarts? Found that bad wizard and all?"
Xander blushed. "Yeah, I am."
The shopkeeper laughed. "Well, bless me. I thought the day Harry Potter came in was a good one. Now here you are, gettin' a phoenix." He smiled at Mrs. Weasley. "Arthur is showing around the others then?"
"He's trying to keep Buffy out of trouble," Willow confided with a smile. "Would a bird do good on our coast for short messages?"
"He can do those too," the shopkeeper said. "He's good for all sorts of traffic. And they're hardy birds, regenerating every year."
Xander smiled at Willow. "Pay the man so we can go get the rest of our stuff."
Willow opened her purse and took out the reward money. "How much?"
"Eighty galleons," he said. "He's a fine phoenix, he is. Even used, he's a fine bird. What're you gonna name him?"
"I think we'll figure that out on the way home," Xander told him. "But he does have the prettiest eyes."
"We'll figure it out on the way home," Tara said as she took the purse to hold. It was her turn after all. "Maybe a mythological name since they're not supposed to exist and all."
"Ah, muggles," the shopkeeper sighed. "They've managed to ignore a lot of the good things in life."
"Actually, we're witches of another sort," Willow told him. "That's why we were invited to Hogwarts with our mentor and teacher." He looked interested. "We do it with candles, herbs, and our wills instead of wands, which is something that's hardly ever seen today I guess."
He nodded. "You don't hear about too many like you these days," he agreed. "You," he said, tapping the bird on the head, "will be picked up in about an hour so let's go find you a cage."
The bird gave Xander one last longing look then hopped up onto the storekeeper's shoulder to be taken and caged.
"Make it a big one," Xander called as he followed Willow out the door. "Okay. We need to get you two to the bookstore and the twins wanted to show me something." A handful of the gold coins were handed to him. "Thanks, mom," he said sarcastically.
"That's so you don't spend it all on sweets," she complained. "A hyper you with a new bird on the plane will be heck." She and Tara walked away, taking Mrs. Weasley with them.
Fred looked at the handful of gold coins and whistled. "That's really a lot. You can stock up on chocolate forever," he noted. He looked at the bookstore. "You sure? They might have something on gryphons."
"Willow will ask," he said with a shrug. "That's how she is." He grinned. "Okay, now where?"
"This way," George said, heading for a snack shop. "I want a chocolate frog."
"They aren't...real frogs, right?" Xander asked as he followed them.
The twins gave him a dirty look. "Eww," Fred said, having picked it up from Xander the night of the battle.
"Okay, just checking. It's always good to check where I come from." He swallowed his mouthful of saliva as he looked around the candystore. "Wow. What can I get with this much?" he asked.
"About half the store," the man behind the counter said with a smile. "Let me guess, you're new?"
"He's just come from Hogwarts, he was part of the party that went up there to learn," Fred told him. "Unfortunately, none of us had been able to get to Hogsmeade recently so we didn't have any wizard snacks."
"Ah. Then he'll be wanting a sample case?"
George pointed at the biggest one. "That one, with only a few of the Bertie Botts All Flavor Beans. We don't want to scare him off."
The shopkeeper laughed and took down the big box, going to fill it. "Will he want chocolate?"
"Yes, he likes chocolate a lot, it's his personal God," Xander called out. He smiled at the twins. "You guys are *so* great. Where are we going after this?"
"Well, mom's going to be taking Ron to the robe shop probably. We could go there and get you a real set of robes to remember your trip to Hogwarts by," George offered. "Or we could go visit Ollivander's and see if he's got a wand for you."
"How much are wands?" Xander asked.
"Much less than your phoenix," Fred told him. "Mine was about five galleons."
"Mine was about five and a half," George admitted. "For some reason, mine had a strange core." He shrugged. "It's up to you."
"But I'm not magical like that," Xander told them.
"He's not one of the witches?" the shopkeeper asked as he brought the mostly full box up to the front. "Why not?"
"He's gryphon lineage," Fred said proudly. "Way back when."
"Ah, that'd explain it then. How much of this do you want to be frogs since you don't want that many beans?"
"Give him a lot," George said with a grin. "If he doesn't like them, there's three women and a vampire in his party. And if none of them like them, well, I guess we're going to have frogs for the rest of the term," he said happily.
The shopkeeper snorted. "You boys," he said, rolling his eyes. He plucked a good sized handful of chocolate frogs out of the case and stuffed them into the box, gauging what would fit and what wouldn't. He added a few more and then put the top on. "Six galleons," he said, handing it over.
"Those are the gold ones," Fred said helpfully.
Xander counted them out with a grin. "Will I be able to get them past customs?"
"Same as you would the bird. If they don't see it, who's gonna know," the shopkeeper said with a shrug. "They tend to ignore things that were bought here in the alley. No matter which country they're from."
Xander nodded. "Thanks." He let Fred carry the box as they walked outside. "Can we have a frog in a minute?"
"Sure," George said, pointing at the fussy blonde woman walking toward them. "Maybe we should go find Mom in the robe store."
"She's probably still in Flourish and Blotts," Fred reminded him. "Willow likes books."
"Whatcha got?" Buffy asked as she walked up to them.
"Stuff for later," he told her, smacking her hand when it reached for his treat. "Willow's in the book store. Oh, and I've got a phoenix to send messages with," he told Mr. Weasley. "It was the only one that could get here from our home without keeling over. It was in the owl store because its old owner died."
Mr. Weasley smiled. "I'm sure it was a good choice, Xander. They're very picky about who owns them, so you must be rated very highly in its book." He looked around. "Boys, did your mother take Willow and Tara?"
"And Ron," Fred agreed. "To look for books."
"Xander," Willow said happily, running over to give him a hug, big bags bouncing in her hands. "We found you *two* books. One's a mythology book and one's a book on gryphons." She smiled at Buffy. "How was your shopping?"
"Doyle found weapons," Buffy said happily. "I got a new one and it's pretty. Wanna see?"
"She bought an enchanted sword," Mr. Weasley told his wife, who rolled her eyes. "Maybe she'll be able to handle it," he said.
"Hopefully. If not, it can always be taken by her from someone in your new position," she said. She smiled at the size of the test box Xander had gotten. "Boys, did you remember to warn him about the Every Flavor Beans?"
"Yes, ma'am," Xander told her, giving her a grin. "I have a lot of chocolate frogs instead." He checked the alley again. "Now where?"
"Now, I say that we go get your bird," Willow said, checking her watch. "It's been half an hour."
"Okay," Xander agreed happily. "Then what?"
"Then, we can get robes and visit Ollivander's," Tara suggested. "We do wear them to work in too," she told Mr. Weasley, who was looking confused. "Ours just have to be special."
"All natural and handmade to work the best," Willow agreed. "Which can be a pain if you can't sew."
"We can do that," Xander agreed. He looked down a connecting alley but Mr. Weasley pulled him away before he could go down there. "What?"
"That's not for you," he said kindly. "We don't allow the boys down there either."
"That's Knockturn Alley," George explained. "Home of bad wizards and icky things."
Ron shuddered. "Harry ended up down there one day. He said he saw floating skulls and things."
"Definitely not of my taste," Xander decided. He saw the disappointed looks. "Who wants a floating skull?"
Fred nodded. "True, but there's supposed to be a lot more down there too."
"Not for any of you," Mrs. Weasley said harshly. "The only reason we go down there is for slug repellent."
Xander gave her a 'sorry' look. "I didn't want to get the boys in trouble."
She patted him on the side of the face. "You just didn't know, dear. Don't worry about it." She waved a hand at Madam Malkin's robe shop, which was across the street from the Owl Emporium. "I'll help Xander get his phoenix while you let them all get new robes," she told her husband. He led everyone in there and explained what was going on, letting Willow explain what they needed specifically.
Xander walked over to go get his bird, smiling as he came flying out and landed on his shoulder. "Hey, you," he said, petting him on the head. "Shouldn't you be caged?"
"Yes, but he doesn't like it," the shopkeeper said, handing Mrs. Weasley the cage he had selected. "It's the biggest we got. But you can't put him into a muggle cage, your customs people will notice him. Let him fly free until you're almost there then cage him, but let him out as soon as you can afterwards."
"Okay," Xander agreed, walking out with his bird on his shoulder. "Let's go see what sort of trouble Aunty Willow and Aunty Tara have gotten into." He walked across the street, people stopping to look at his bird, but he didn't notice it. He saw Willow looking at the racks, then backed away from Buffy as she came running over. "No touching. He's had a long, hard day and we need to rest."
"Okay. Can I pet him later?"
"As long as you're nice to him."
Willow held a robe up for him to look at. "For Tara?" she asked when she saw his head shake.
"Nope. Get her a pretty one and get yourself a pretty one too. You both deserve it after what you did day before yesterday."
She shrugged and went back to looking. "None of the pretty ones are in my size."
"What about the dark blue one?" Mr. Weasley asked. "We tend to wear that color a lot in our family."
Willow held it up, looking at how big it was. "I'm not going to grow anymore," she told him. "Otherwise, it's good."
"They could probably hem it," Tara said quietly, two robes folded over her arm.
"Oh, I like those," Willow said. Tara pointed at the rack she had been browsing, watching as she ran over.
Tara picked up the dark blue one and added it to her pile. "I like her in baggy clothes," she told them when they all looked at her.
Willow squealed and came back with a pink one, a skin-tone one, and a baby blue one. "I like these and they're in my size," she said happily.
Tara patted her on the arm. "Let's get these and then we'll go see what else we can get."
Doyle handed over the money. "You should be savin' that," he told them. "Maybe you'll be back someday."
"There is Gringotts," Mr. Weasley agreed. "It's the wizard bank, but it's only got an office here."
Doyle shrugged. "Like I said, they may be back some day." He smiled at Xander, who was staring at him, tapping his forehead slightly.
Xander nodded. "Yeah, you two don't splurge too much. We'll save some of this. After all, ten thousand little gold coins won't go that far."
Willow waved him off. "We've got plenty," she told him. "Quit worrying."
Tara smiled at him. "He who paid eighty little gold coins for his bird shouldn't complain about us spending ten."
"True," Xander admitted, "but we can all use him."
Tara smiled. "Okay." She took the package with their robes in it with a shy smile. "Thanks."
"Ron, we're leaving," Mrs. Weasley called. He came jogging out with a robe in his hands. "Dear, did you like that color?"
"Maybe a nice green," Mr. Weasley suggested.
"I like paisley," Ron complained. "It's very different."
"Yup, it is," George agreed, smiling at him. "Very, very different."
"Some might even say odd," Fred added. "But that shade of tan might look good on you."
"The gold," Xander told him. "With your shade of red, it might go really well. So would that deep blood red and that sapphire blue that's in the pattern." He shrugged when everyone stared at him. "He's got almost the same shade hair as Willow and those are colors she looks good in. That and about any shade of green, pink, or baby blue." He shifted his phoenix to his other shoulder. "Thanks," he said, reaching up to scratch his bird's chest ruff.
"That's a pretty bird," the girl behind the register said. "You must be either very powerful or very lucky."
"Lucky," Xander said with a grin. He looked at the new robes Ron was holding up. "Get the green or the gold one," he suggested.
His mother looked at them then nodded. "Get whichever one you like most, Ron," she said with a smile. "That bonus is coming in very helpful right now."
Ron looked at the tags and showed them to his mother since one had a mark down sticker on it.
"Then get both, son," Mr. Weasley said. "That's less than my next one will be."
"Maybe we should get you one now since they're having a sale, Dad," Ron suggested.
"I probably should," Mr. Weasley agreed. "But all of mine are broken in just right."
"With frayed hems," his wife said gently. "Dear, go get a few new ones. Ron's right. This is a sale and we need them right now. You too, boys."
George handed the box of sweets off to Willow and went to search for his next formal robe, Fred right behind him.
Mrs. Weasley walked over and smiled at Xander. "You're very good at that."
"Hey, I had to put up with Willow going 'does this look good with my hair'," he said in falsetto, "for almost eight years before she gave up on fashion." Willow blushed. "I know my redheads."
Mrs. Weasley gave him a hug. "Good job, my boy." She looked at the ones her sons were holding onto. "Fred, that's much too short for you. Go find one in the right size. You too, George."
They measured their robes against them then shrugged and went to get them in the right size. "We didn't know we'd grown," Fred complained.
"Your school robes are too tight in the arms," Buffy called after them. She jogged after them to help. After all, she was the queen of shopping.
Xander leaned against a counter and relaxed, enjoying the weight on his shoulder for now, and enjoying watching his friends look for new clothes.
"What about you?" the salesgirl asked. "Don't you need a robe?"
"He doesn't do magic," Willow told her. "He's got magic surrounding him but he can't touch it."
The salesgirl looked really sad. "I'm sorry. That's got to be rough."
"Sometimes," Xander agreed. He gave her a slight smile. "But that also means I don't have to pay for a lot of spell components."
She nodded. "Which can be expensive."
Willow looked startled. "That's what I wanted to do."
"No," Tara told her. "Giles said you couldn't go into the herb shop without him."
Willow shrugged it off. "Oh well, I'll go once we get home." She looked at what the boys were carrying up, smiling at the small blue one. "For Ginny?"
Fred nodded. "Yeah, she'll need one within the next year and this one's going to be too big on her even then." He showed it to his mother, who nodded. "Dad picked it out." He held up his own, which she approved of too.
George held his up. "I wanted something unconventional," he said to ease the growing look.
"Go for the dark purple then," his mother sighed. "Really, George, that's a girl's robe." She watched as he jogged back and picked out another one, smiling at this one. "That one I like," she told him, putting it on the counter. "Are you almost done?" she asked her husband.
He came back with five new robes, holding up a sixth one. "I'm not sure if I like this one or not," he told her, showing off the radical new cut of the robe.
"I'm not sure either," she said, taking the first five. "Try it on."
He slipped out of his old robe and tried this one on, but shook his head. "No, I don't like how this feels," he said, taking it back off. "Just those five then. I'll have to learn the Canadian way of dress and I'm not sure if they wear robes to work or not."
Mrs. Weasley dug into her purse and came up with money for all of their new robes, taking the carefully wrapped package. "There, anything else, dears?" she asked.
"Just one thing," Xander said, giving her a hug. "I like you. You're nice." He smiled at her. "You can have one of my chocolate frogs if you want."
She laughed lightly. "I may take you up on that. Come on, boys. We've all got rooms at the pub tonight."
"We still have to find Cordy," Buffy reminded Wesley.
"I have an idea I know where she is," Doyle told her. "Besides, it's not like she's coming back with us this time." He took the package of sweets. "Come on. Let's get all this stuff back."
"Oh, can I at least go look in the window at the wand shop?" Willow asked.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley shared a look. "I don't think it would hurt," she said.
Doyle pulled them aside and said something very quietly. They both smiled and nodded. "Not this time, dear," Mr. Weasley said. "Next time you come up, you can go wand shopping." He led the way back into the alley, looking around. "Did Ginny need anything?"
"I got her a new book," Mrs. Weasley said with a blush. "I found it quite informative."
"Mom," Ron said, blushing.
"Sorry, Ron." She patted him on the head. "Come on, let's go back to the pub. If we have to, we can always come back later." She led the way, everyone following her.
Xander stopped at a fruit vendor to get his phoenix something to eat for the night, then hurried to catch up.
"Professor Dumbledore has a phoenix," Ron said conversationally. "Her name's Fawkes."
"Cool," Xander said, putting an arm around the boy's shoulders. "He's really heavy."
Ron grinned. "That's because you're not used to him yet. Give it a few weeks, you'll start to miss his weight." He accepted the phoenix onto his shoulder with a grunt. "Yeah, he's a little heavy," he agreed, still smiling. "What are you going to name him?"
"I think we're going to have a long talk on the eternal plane ride home tomorrow and he'll tell me his name," Xander told him with a smile. "I like to get to know a pet before I name them."
"That's very reasonable," Willow agreed. "We waited on naming Miss Kitty Fantastico."
"We're still waiting on what to name her," Tara reminded her. "We need to pick her up from the kennel tomorrow too."
"Yup, we do," Willow said with a grin. "I miss my kitty. She's such a nice back warmer when I'm trying to sleep."
"She likes to stalk you too," Tara reminded her. "It was kinda weird to go to the bathroom and not be serenaded with panicked calls."
Willow nodded. "Yeah, it was. But it was nice too."
"Yeah, it was," Tara said, touching Willow's hand with hers.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley smiled at each other. "Girls, it's acceptable here," he told them.
Willow stopped and kissed Tara, hard. "I've been wanting that since we got up," she said happily, going through the archway into the alley behind the pub.
Tara had to shake herself but she followed her girlfriend.
Xander reached up to make sure his phoenix wouldn't bump his head as he walked through.
Xander looked embarrassed as he looked around the first class lounge, praying that his friends were really not paying any attention to him. "Guys, I'm going to miss you," he told them, giving them both hugs. "Fred, George, I'm *really* going to miss you both. It's been like having a real... really big family this last week and few days." He glanced around again. "And I don't want to leave but I have to."
George clapped him on the upper arm. "Don't worry about it, we've adopted you. You're an honorary Weasley now. You can't escape us."
Fred nodded, grinning. "Yup. The first time we've got to go visit dad, expect us to pop down and see you too. Oh, and send us pictures of your apartment so we can apparate when we're allowed to."
Xander grinned back. "As long as you two don't appear before I've had my coffee," he told them. He winced as his flight was called. "I gotta go guys. I'll send ... him when I get back and name him." He gave them both another hug then picked up his bags and ran for the door after his friends."
Fred looked at George. "How long do you think before he'll realize he left the cage and the box of treats?"
"The cage? Almost immediately." He pointed at where Xander was running back to get the cage. They watched as he opened the treat box and left a pile of stuff on the seats, then laughed at his outrageous wink, going to pick up their share of the treats.
Xander settled into his seat, his phoenix in the seat beside him. He stared out the window, watching the twins leaving the terminal. He felt really sad, he liked them. He liked being an honorary Weasley. If he had his way, he'd jump off this plane right now and go back with them.
"They're going back to school, you couldn't go," Doyle said, sitting down in the seat on the other side of the bird. "You'll see them again soon enough," he reminded the young man.
Xander looked at him. "Yeah, but I want it to be now," he complained. "I felt like I had really good friends, ones that laughed at my jokes and things."
Doyle nodded. "Finding what should have been your family can be like that," he told him. "Don't worry, you'll be seeing them again soon enough."
"A vision?" Xander asked.
Doyle nodded. "At the same time as I saw the other thing happenin'." He got up and went back to his seat.
Xander put the top of the cage down over top of his sleeping phoenix so the stewardess would quit staring at him, then went back to watching out the window. His stomach churned when he saw George and Fred making funny faces against the glass, making one of his own against the small window as the plane pulled away from the gate. He waved until he couldn't see them anymore, staring at the airport as the plane took off.
EPILOGUE: That Summer.
Willow squeaked as she opened the letter she had received, getting up to jump up and down. "I get to go back!" she shouted finally.
Doyle looked up at her and nodded. "I know," he said with a smile. "The both of you. Do you know where your money's at?"
"Yeah, I do," Tara said breathlessly. "Willow, we get to take classes while we teach," she said, showing her letter off.
Willow hugged everyone in the room, except Xander because his phoenix was sleeping in his lap. "Oh, I need Murphy," she said. "We've got to send a message back."
"He's ready to flame out," Xander told her. "Call Mr. Weasley in Canada and share the good news. He'll tell his wife, who'll make sure it gets back to Giles."
She nodded and grabbed the phone, dialing the number taped beside the phone. "Hi, Mr. Weasley. No, guess what? Tara and I got asked to teach at Hogwarts! We get to teach our kind of magic!" She squealed lightly. "Yeah, it's so cool!" She shook her head, looking at the tired looking phoenix. "No, Murphy's about ready to flame up and we had to share the news." She grinned. "Yeah, we're all happy. We get to take classes too."
Doyle took the phone from her. "Hi, Mr. Weasley. No, he's fine, just babying his phoenix. It's his first flame up after all." He smiled. "I'll tell him that if you can tell your wife for us." He laughed and hung up. "He said he'd do one better. He has to be there for the twin's graduation next week and he'll personally tell them that you're honored and that you'll take it."
"They're graduating?" Xander asked, looking up. "I thought they had another year."
"Nope, seems they're done already." Doyle went back to his book. "So, what're you going to do this summer, Xander?"
"Sulk?" he guessed.
"Nope," Buffy said, looking at him. "We've got some massive patrolling to do so you and Murphy get to help me."
"Buff, get Spike to help you. Murphy won't be able to go on patrol for another few weeks." He continued to stoke the lackluster feathers. "I hope this is normal," he said quietly.
"It is," Willow told him. "I found that book you were looking for and it said that this was supposed to be happening. He might even be running a fever for a few days before he flames out."
"How do we know the bird's a he?" Buffy asked. "I think Murphy's a female all the time."
"We won't know unless Murphy starts to lay eggs," Xander told her. "There's no other way to tell." He kissed Murphy's head and set him down on the pillow next to his chair, getting up to get a drink. "What else was there to do today?"
"Not much," Doyle noted. "Just a report on last night."
Xander gave Willow and Tara hugs. "Then I'm going to take Murphy home." He nodded at Doyle and gathered up his bird, carrying him out the door.
"He *really* likes his bird," Buffy complained.
Willow shook her head. "Hey, that bird likes to hunt with you and it saved your life a few weeks ago."
Buffy nodded. "I know, but Xander's not usually that into animals."
Tara smiled. "It's all part of his heritage coming out. Gryphons are birds," she explained when Buffy stared at her.
Buffy shrugged it off and got comfortable. "As long as it stays a good bird, I'll like it and let it come with me."
Willow looked at Doyle and they shared an eye roll. "Tara, we have to figure out what else we'll need, besides a wand." She took out the list and looked it over. "I think we can do that," she said after reading it.
Tara nodded. "Just a few things to pick up. We can handle that."
Xander opened his door at the rapid knocking, smiling at the man on the other side. "Mr. Weasley?" he asked.
"Yup." He walked in and set something down on the carpet next to the door. "Step back." He and Xander stepped back, and promptly fell over the arm of the couch, landing on his back.
"We're home!" Fred said as he and his brother appeared.
Xander hopped up and gave them hugs. "Yes!" he said happily, turning to grin at Mr. Weasley, whom he gave a hug to also. "Thank you, this was a great surprise."
"We know," George said, putting an arm around Xander's shoulders. "And we're here for a while."
"Yup, Dad's got to go out of town on business so we get to come haunt your apartment while we try to get our joke shop started."
Mr. Weasley cleared his throat and pulled out a letter. "There was one other thing," he said, smiling at his sons, who took the letter and ripped it open.
"We got it!" Fred shouted, hugging everyone, including the cage. "Xander, what happened to Murphy?"
"He's about to flame out." He came over and looked at his bird, reaching in to touch him on the beak. "The cage is comforting to him right now so we're on a waiting vigil."
"I'm sure it'll be over soon." Mr. Weasley laid something down on the table then hugged all of his boys. "I'll see you in a *week*," he told them, getting nods. "Good. Xander, I'll see you then too." He apparated out of the apartment.
"Gee, guys, if I had had some warning, you might have beds," Xander said, looking around at the meager, old furnishings of his small apartment. "You guys can take the bed and I'll sleep on the couch."
"Why?" George asked, going into the bedroom and closing the door. He came back a few minutes later and flopped down. "It's your turn," he told his brother, who was trying to cheer Murphy up.
Fred walked into the bedroom and shrieked, "George, not plaid!" He waved his wand as he muttered something, completing the spell to change the bedroom into something larger that would fit them all. He walked out and smacked his brother across the head. "That wasn't nice."
"I liked it," George complained.
Xander shook his head and walked in there, then screamed like a girl. "Guys!"
The twins grinned at each other then turned to look at him. "Yes?" they asked.
"It's great," Xander said, grinning. He noticed the silver paper sitting on his coffeetable and went over to open it, eyes going very wide. "Guys," he said, waving it. "Guys!"
Fred took the letter and smiled at George, who stole it from him.
"Hey, cool," George said. Xander looked at him. "I've been studying American from your TV shows this last week. The Canadian Ministry is much more into the muggle world than ours is." He reached over to give Xander a hug. "Way to go," he said. "We'll be down in Hogsmeade."
Xander grinned, laying the letter out on the table, showing it off to the world.
Xander Harris, you are invited to take up a teaching position at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry under the newly formed Paranormal Experiences track. Please let us know immediately if you will take this position.
"Dad said you would," Fred told him with a grin. "The letter's just a formality."
"Cool," Xander said, still staring at the letter. He squeaked as Murphy fell apart, getting up to look at his poor bird.
"Take the top of the cage off," George warned.
Xander undid the top of the cage and put it aside, staring at the ashes. He saw a little movement and looked hopeful, smiling as his bird exploded out of the ashes and flew up, screaming it's resurrection. "Hey, Murphy," he said, bringing him down to pet. "How are you?" he asked, stroking down the gray feathers starting to show gold, scarlet, and dark purple highlights.
"Hey, Fawkes isn't that color," George said, getting up to look at it. "Harry saw him flame up and he said it was just scarlet and gold." He touched the purple feathers, accepting the face rubbing against his shoulder. "Yes, we love you, Murphy," he said with a smile.
Fred relaxed on the couch, watching his brother work his charm on another creature.