August 1, 2004
The Leaky Cauldron
Giles looked up at the worn wooden sign. In the grand English tradition, it had no words, just a picture of a cauldron that had weathered away over time.
"It's like Willy's without the ambience," Dawn said, "y'know, before Willy's got sucked into the Hellmouth with the rest of the town."
Willow frowned at her. "What were you doing at Willy's?"
"Nothing heavy, just a trick or two a night." The redhead glared; Giles looked scandalized. "Hello, kidding? Spike and me, picking up blood? Not like I would hang out there. Yech."
"I say, can we go in now?"
"Come on, Dawnie. Exasperated guy here isn't having any of your wit today, either."
Willow took the lead, and the three of them entered the dingy pub. Crones in large black hats and men in dark robes seemed to predominate the crowd, but it was the man at the bar who grabbed their attention.
He wore deep purple robes with little embroidery and a matching wizard's cap that looked just out of a fairy tale, with his long white hair and beard reaching nearly to his belt. When he saw the three of them enter, he dropped a few silver coins on the bar and walked straight towards them.
"Mister Giles? Miss Rosenberg?" His slightly hoarse voice was quiet, but nevertheless seemed to fill the room. He offered Dawn a paternal smile and held out his hand. "And you must be the younger Miss Summers. Pleased to meet you, young lady; my name is Albus Dumbledore."
Dawn, completely awed, could only shake his hand and squeak out a hello.
Handshakes and greetings were exchanged all around, and they took a table in the rear corner of the pub. Tom the bartender made his way to them and asked about drinks.
The three guests looked to Dumbledore.
"If I may?"
"Certainly," Giles said.
"Butterbeers for myself and Miss Rosenberg, please, Tom. Firewhiskey for Mr. Giles, and a cherry syrup and soda for Miss Summers," he ordered, pointing out each person in turn. As Tom departed, he said to Giles, "I rather hope you'll like it. It's a bit different than some of the muggle liquors I've tried. I understand you enjoy a good scotch every now and again."
"I certainly do, Professor."
"Please, Mister Giles, call me Albus."
"Very well, if you will call me Rupert," he responded. Giles, who had been wary of this meeting, found himself taking to Dumbledore right away.
"And I'm Willow."
"Don't forget me. I'm Dawn."
"Excellent," Dumbledore said jauntily. "I'm sure that you have a thousand questions, some of which I will even be able to answer, but I think it best that we wait until we are on the train to Hogwarts.
"Train?" Dawn asked.
"Yes. The school has it's own, the Hogwarts Express. I would have arranged for an enchanted coach, but I find the train ride pleasant and I rarely get the opportunity to take it."
"I think so."
At that moment, Tom arrived with the drinks. The three visitors took cautious sips, then smiled brightly as they tasted each concoction.
"That's so good," Willow said.
"Can I have some?"
She held the bottle to Dawn with a skeptical look. "It's butterscotchy, but if you want it, sure."
"Blech. No." Dawn hated butterscotch in all forms.
"So, Miss Rosenberg," Dumbledore began, "I think it would be alright if we discussed my offer to you at the moment. We are, as it seems every summer, in dire need of a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Your reputation in that area precedes you."
Dozens of questions popped into her head. "What age groups do you have?"
"You would be teaching ages 11 through 18."
"What exactly does this Defense stuff entail? I mean, yeah, I'm big with the monster fighting and the spell casting, sure, but my experience against evil wizards is limited to pretty much one."
"One?" Giles interjected. "Who?"
"Rack. Oh, two, I guess, if you count Amy's mom - no, wait, three, Ethan Rayne, except for the last two I didn't really do any magic. Do they still count?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "Don't worry, my dear. I understand your experience is not spread evenly through all areas. I have, in fact, recruited two assistants to help you who have a great deal of experience battling dark wizards. Most of the teachers we get are barely qualified. It is, I'm afraid, a rather difficult position to fill. You will be the most experienced Dark Arts teacher we have had in many a year."
"Oh. Well, good." Her brow furrowed in thought. "Giles explained the basics of Hogwarts to me - boarding school, four houses, best school in Europe yadda yadda yadda. I have a lot more questions, about pay and benefits and stuff like that, but maybe they can wait until we get there?"
"That would be fine." Dumbledore finished his drink and rose. "Shall we catch the train?"
"Remind you of Halloween at all?" Willow whispered to Giles as they entered Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
He nodded, amazed at the simplicity of it. A hidden train platform at the King's Cross station. All of the wizards and witches just blend in with the crowds, he thought. You'd never know they're here.
Dumbledore led them to a private compartment on the train outfitted with a conference table and chairs. Bottles of each of the refreshments from the Leaky Cauldron lined one wall, and as the train noisily chugged towards Hogwarts, they all took seats around the table. Dumbledore extracted his wand from his robes and waved it, muttering an incantation the others could not here. A scroll case appeared on the table.
"That's a ... it's a magic wand," Willow marveled. "I didn't know people used those."
"It's an excellent focusing tool," he told her. "It makes the casting of everyday spells far less draining. Should you accept my offer, I would think you'd pick one up before you arrived. Once you get the hang of it, I doubt you would go back."
"Now, Rupert, shall we discuss the real reason you and young Dawn are here with Miss Rosenberg?"
"That would be fine. Your second message was a bit cryptic."
"I feared its interception, I'm afraid. There are some additional players here who would be happy to prevent any consorting between us. Players, I might add, both on our side and the other. I don't know if you are aware, but prior to the destruction of the Watcher's Council, the Council and the Ministry of Magic were on rather bad terms."
"I had no idea we were even involved with the Ministry," Giles admitted. "I had become something of a pariah after my years in Sunnydale, and before that I was far from highly placed."
"Do you know about Cornelius Fudge?" Giles shook his head. "Fudge was the previous Minister of Magic. He and Mister Travers shared a remarkable personal enmity. By the time Fudge left office and Minister Snyder was installed, the Council had broken off ties altogether. Snyder, unfortunately, is unpleasant and uninterested in reestablishing those severed ties."
"Must be the name," Willow muttered.
"Long story that ends with a giant snake and the eating of authority figures. We don't really have time for it."
"Oh." He looked genuinely interested in the story, but pressed on anyway. "I suppose not. At any rate, Snyder is not interested in these ties. I am. Especially with the new Watcher's Council, which, by all accounts, is a fairly amazing institution."
Giles smiled. Willow blushed.
"As some of our recent history has proven, a secondary network beyond the Ministry is sometimes quite necessary to counter the forces of darkness. I believe another such instance is about to arise because of that scroll." He pointed to the case on the table.
"You would like our help dealing with a scroll?"
"A prophecy, Rupert. A prophecy about one of my students. And yes, I believe I'll need all the help I can muster."
Charlie and Bill Weasley traded a look across the couch as they dug into their eggs and bacon. They both had the same thought.
One more and this house will explode.
They had never seen The Burrow so full. Harry and Ron had been there for eight days recovering from their injuries. Hermione had come with them and never left. After their arrival, visitors started to mount. Remus Lupin and Sirius Black had come straight from the hospital, followed closely by Arabella Figg and Mundungus Fletcher. The four of them had pitched a house-tent on the front lawn, sharing it quite comfortably because Sirius rarely left Harry's side.
All of the Weasleys had come home. Fred and George had closed the shop in London for a week, and Ginny and Percy had been granted leave from the Ministry. Ginny had been the greatest surprise; tiny slip of a girl though she might be, in her auror's cloak and black robes she looked regal and menacing. Neither of them had seen her in full uniform before. Her partner, though he couldn't come, had sent his best for a speedy recovery. Ginny swore he meant it, which shocked everyone.
Draco Malfoy had never wished the best of anything for Harry or Ron.
On this particular morning, Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and the Creevey brothers had all apparated in to see their friends, adding to the crowd. Hardly a seat could be found anywhere in the house.
Much to Bill and Charlie's amazement, none of it seemed to matter. Despite the visitors and a stack of letters requiring a fleet of owls, they had never seen either Harry or Ron in worse spirits.
"When Cedric died," Hermione had whispered to Bill the night before, "remember? That's the only time I've seen Harry like this. Ron? Never."
"Wish there was something we could do," Bill muttered, taking a bite of his breakfast.
"You know there isn't, big brother," Charlie said grimly. "They need to heal at their own pace. Hogwarts'll be good for them that way."
"What's Dumbledore got cooking, d'you think?"
"Somethin'. He's as crafty as ever, I'm sure."
"I hope. I think Hermione's right about Ron, though. He's never been like this. Not even over her." Which, Charlie knew, was saying something. The end of Ron and Hermione's torrid romance had been jagged and bitter. Only the continued threat of Voldemort had been enough to bind them together and save their friendship. The brothers knew how brightly his torch still burned for her. Something affecting Ron more deeply than that...
"No. Not even over her." He turned back to his breakfast, letting his thoughts linger on his youngest brother.
On the floor above them, Hermione and Sirius stood shoulder to shoulder, wands out, staring at the latest arrival.
"A bloody menace, that's what this is," Sirius muttered.
"Damn right," Hermione swore. Two days and four wheelchairs had her extremely angry, and she had long since passed the point where language bothered her. "Why won't this charm work? It's so simple."
"It's okay, Hermione," Harry said from the bed. "Really. I can do it the muggle way."
"You may have to, if we don't figure this out."
"We'll get it," Sirius growled.
"We better. My father said he'd try, but melting the first three makes getting more of them problematic."
"You tried a simple direction charm, right?" Colin Creevey asked.
"We did. The motion charm mixes badly with it, though."
"What about some sort of charm that pushes the wheelchair, instead of directing it?" Dean suggested.
"No control. He needs all four directions."
"Bloody hell, why don't you just bring the damn thing to life," Ron barked. He was sick and tired of debating the best way to make a wheelchair work. The whole room turned at his outburst. He ignored them and half-pushed, half-rolled himself out of bed. "Sod this. I'm gettin' breakfast." With his good hand, he grabbed a shirt and slipped it awkwardly over half his body. When he tried to twist his bound arm under it, he flexed something he shouldn't have.
The searing pain sent him to his knees. Even the Cruciatus curse hadn't hurt him so badly.
Before the thud could register in his legs, Hermione reached his side.
"Come on, Ron. Try and calm down, okay? Let me." She took the free end of his shirt and he batted her hand away.
"I'm not a cripple, Mione. Don't treat me like one." He looked at the floor as he tried to fit the shirt over his cast.
"I know you're not," she said in the most soothing voice she could. Her anger at the wheelchair dissipated at the sight of Ron in pain. "That doesn't mean you don't get some help, okay?" She wrapped the shirt around him and started buttoning it loosely. One of her knuckles slipped and brushed his chest. The contact jolted them both, an electric reminder of things past. For a split-second their eyes met. Then Ron was off the floor, across the room, and out the door with a hasty "I'll grab yours" to Harry.
Hermione sighed. "That was unnecessary," she muttered under her breath.
From the bed, Harry offered her a sympathetic glance. In his wan condition, it looked pathetic.
"That's it. We're doing this now," she said forcefully, rising to her feet. "Bring it to the center."
Dennis Creevey and Neville pushed the chair into the center of the room. Hermione shooed them back a few steps and walked a circle around it.
"Here's what we want it to do," she said, talking herself through the process. In school, she had done this with hard assignments in transfiguration and found it useful every time. "We want it to move of its own accord. We want Harry to be able to direct it with his wand. We want it to be able to levitate."
"We do?" Neville asked.
"Stairs," she said dismissively. "Hogwarts is not handicapped accessible."
The blood drained from Harry's face when she said handicapped. Sirius put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "It's temporary, Harry. Temporary."
"What if we got Flitwick?" Seamus suggested.
"I owled him. He doesn't know what to do, but he's looking. He'll apparate in if he finds something before we do."
A soft knock at the door interrupted them. Ginny came in, wearing a blue sweater and jeans and carrying a tray with breakfast foods on it.
"Ron forgot he couldn't carry it and open doors," she said apologetically. "There you are, Harry." She placed the tray on his lap and he smiled gratefully.
"Thanks, Gin. Thanks for coming back, too," he added. With all the commotion, they had enjoyed little chance to talk. He hadn't seen Ginny in months.
"Of course." She looked him over, lingering on his leg, and leaned over. "I shouldn't tell you this, but you should've seen the fit Draco threw when he heard. He felt terrible for you, though he'd never admit it. He wanted you and Ron to take the league and play for England."
"I don't believe it."
She nodded. "He doesn't think I know, but he put ten galleons on Chudley at the start of the season."
Harry raised his eyebrows. Most of the Malfoy fortune had been seized long ago. Ten galleons was not a pittance for Draco. "Wow."
"Don't tell him I said anything. Please?"
"I won't," he assured her. He looked even more downcast, though, and she wished she hadn't mentioned it.
Desperate to avoid his eyes, she turned to the wheelchair, which Hermione was now on her hands and knees inspecting. "What are you trying to do?"
"We need to enchant it to follow Harry's commands," Hermione said.
"I can do that."
"Sure. You can, too. Remember? Self-aware defenses? Same thing, just use the word for chair."
Hermione could have slapped herself. In the second year of auror training, they had learned to enchant weapons to follow commands as defensive measures. She had completely forgotten.
"It's been awhile," she said ruefully. "I'm so foolish sometimes. Your brother even suggested we bring it to life." She laughed. "Would you mind? I'm out of practice with that particular enchantment and we really can't afford another mistake."
"Sure," Ginny said, drawing her wand. She swished and flicked, then said "Animo curulis."
A fine blue mist sprayed from her wand and settled over the chair, seeping into the joints and wrapping around the metal. In seconds, the glow disappeared. Ginny strode over and sat down. She pointed her wand up. The chair floated off the ground. She pointed forward. It crept forward a few feet. She pointed down, and it landed with a slight thump.
Everyone spoke at once.
"Well done." Hermione.
"All right!" Dennis and Colin.
"Thanks, Ginny." Harry added. "Now can I get out of this bed? Please?"
Everyone laughed, even Sirius and eventually Harry, and for a moment the mood was once again happy and light.
The Hogwarts Express
"So let me see if I understand," Giles said. He, Willow, and Dawn were slackjawed at Dumbledore's interpretation of the prophecy. "One of your students, though you have no way of knowing which one until he or she fulfills the three parts of the prophecy, will willingly entreat the goddess Anephram, who we know nothing about, to grant them her power, then use it to somehow revitalize the dark movement in the wizarding world."
"An excellent summation, Rupert. That's exactly it."
"What are the three, whatchamacallit, tripwire thingies?" Dawn asked.
"I have been unable to translate that section of the scroll. To be honest, none of us even recognize the language. I had hoped you might help in that regard."
"We can certainly try, though most of our language experts are gone. They were housed in the building itself at the time of the bomb. There are some consultants we could bring in, I suppose."
Willow looked pensive. "Y'know what I'm thinking, Giles?"
"The translation program. The gypsy one that ..." she paused, knowing this would hurt him, "that we used for Angel's soul."
"Jenny's program," he said dourly.
"Uh huh. If we can't figure out the language, I could modify it, maybe, and try and run it on the prophecy. Computers are way faster now. I bet I could beef it up. We could be talking hamburger to Big Mac, even."
"I'm sorry," Dumbledore broke in, "a program? What do you mean?"
"It's a computer program, a fractal algorithm she developed to read stuff we couldn't read. It worked on a gypsy spell we needed to read."
"You must forgive me, I'm not what the muggles refer to as computer literate."
"That's alright, Professor. I think we could nail it down for you. If anyone can, anyway."
"What do you need me for?" Dawn asked. "I don't even know what a fracture goth thing is."
"Fractal algorithm, Dawnie," Willow said, shaking her head. Sometimes Dawn could be so like Buffy it was frightening. "College math."
"Oh. Not there yet. But still, what's my deal in this?"
"Before we get to that," Dumbledore said, "I need you to try something for me." He drew his wand and took a glass from the side table. After a few whispered words, the glass filled with water from his wand. "When I hand you my wand, I want you to do this," he made a swish movement with his hand, finishing with a dainty flick, "and say the word arefacio. She won't be hurt, even if it goes wrong," he said to Giles, who nodded his assent.
He handed the wand across. Dawn mimicked the movement and said "Arefacio."
The water in the cup vanished.
"Excellent," Dumbledore said with a merry clap of his hands. "I thought that might work."
"Whoa, check me out. I can do spells."
"How?" Willow asked. "She never ... before ..."
"The wand, Willow," Giles said, his brow creased in thought. "It's a focusing tool, and Dawn is a living battery filled with mystical energy. Don't you see? The wand taps into her power."
"Yes, that's it exactly," Dumbledore said. "I had hoped it might be the case, of course, but you never do know until you try. Since it is, however, I can dispense with my contingency plan and simply offer you admission to Hogwarts, Miss Summers."
"Admission? To a wizard school? Aren't I kind of ... well, old, Professor?"
"You are slightly older than our normal applicants - in fact, you are as old as our oldest students. I thought what we might do, if you join us, is place you in with the seventh years for basic classes, then allow you to take additional personal instruction with some of our professors instead of our elective courses. Unlike most of our students, you have a career already chosen, and it has little use for something like Arithmancy or Divination."
"You mentioned a contingency plan?" Giles asked.
"Yes." A hint of something flashed in Dumbledore's eyes. Months later, Willow would recognize it for what it was: deviousness. "You see, I would like to borrow Miss Summers for the year, Rupert. I hoped we could simply enroll her, but if not, we could have made some allowances for her lack of magical abilities."
"Yes. Given your age, as I just explained, you would not be a typical student. Nor," he added with his eyes twinkling, "am I enrolling you to be. We need someone among the students who will be able to warn us, should the prophecy be triggered early. Unfortunately, I know no one of an appropriate age and level of training that could be trusted if things got a bit messy." He had found himself thinking longingly of the days when Harry, Ron, and Hermione could not only be trusted, but could be expected to learn everything on their own as well.
Dawn picked up on his thinking instantly.
"And I'm Hellmouth girl, plus mystical energy ball with magic powers, so if ... stuff ... hits the fan, I'm not going to freak."
"It would mean a leave of absence from the Council and from your Watcher training, Dawn," Giles said seriously. She was already behind because of the effort to rebuild the organization.
"This is way more important, Giles. Besides, I'll be learning to use a freaking wand. Tell me that won't be useful when I get a Slayer?"
"Minus the naughty words, I gotta agree. This isn't training. Not really. It's an assignment that no one but Dawn can do," Willow argued. "Plus, I'll be there. We can still do some Watcher-type stuff."
"We can do without her if we must," Dumbledore said. "I've gotten some unexpected help from other sources for the next year. If you truly can't spare Dawn ..."
"No," Giles said, removing his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose, "we can. I don't want to, and we'll have to clear it with Buffy, but something of this magnitude will no doubt merit our best efforts."
"That's Giles-speak for yes," Dawn assured Dumbledore. "You learn these things when you spend six months on a school bus with him."
Dumbledore chuckled. He felt the train slow and glanced out the window.
"Well then Miss Summers, Miss Rosenberg," he gestured to the door, "welcome to Hogwarts."