A/N: So sorry about the long wait. I moved TWICE and then I participated in NaNoWriMo, and stage managed a play. I promise to update more frequently in the future. I hope you are still reading.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I realized while re-reading Echo's "Snake Charming" for the dozenth time that I had inadvertantly copied her idea of the location and reasoning behind the tattoos on Draco and Dawn. I wanted to make sure that I told all of you that the credit for the idea goes to her, and that I have her permission now to use it, as long as she is acknowledged. Thanks again, Echo!
And, as always, thanks to RyianaT for betaing. Now Herein is posted the BETAED version!
The three teens heard the pounding music before they’d even reached the bottom of the stairs that led to the hotel’s training area. The music was cranked so loud that the walls shook with it, and the teens could feel the heavy bass pounding through their bodies.
The room had been a good place to train when Angel and company had occupied the hotel, but since Champion Industries had moved in and Xander had attacked the place with a ferociousness that seemed to indicate that he was working so hard to keep from thinking of other things, the place was something that anyone who regularly worked out would drool at with envy. The fact that they had had a lot of Watcher funds that Willow had ferreted out to furnish the place after Xander’s renovations certainly didn’t hurt.
Xander had knocked out most of the dividing walls, though he’d had to leave the support columns in. The result was a very large open area under the hotel.
There was an open area on the floor for sparring, and a punching bag hanging in the corner. Another area was filled with a ton of exercise equipment and one wall was covered in various weapons. The wall opposite had floor to ceiling mirrors, allowing the slayers to watch themselves as they trained.
Missing from its spot at the bottom of the staircase was the big steel cage that had been there when they’d moved into the hotel. Angel had actually sent a crew over to help Xander destroy the thing, even though Buffy had protested its removal. A cage could always be useful, she’d said, but Angel had assured her that they could use the basement of Wolfram and Hart if the occasion ever arose that they should need to imprison someone. He’d seemed to hate the cell with a passion.
And though Draco hated to admit that he agreed with anything that Angel said, the removal of the cage had given them way more room to practice. And another vacant wall to install a really good stereo system, the likes of which was currently occupied blaring out the rock music that Luna liked to train to.
One would think that the pounding guitar of the song, the volume of which one could describe as deafening, would cover any and all noise that the trio of teens made when entering the basement. In spite of that, the blonde girl who had moments before been pummeling the punching bag turned towards them, as if she had heard their arrival. A person looking in on them would have said that they’d made some kind of noise to alert her to their presence, despite the music. But the teenagers facing each other in the basement knew better.
Luna was some who had the appearance of a normal, if slightly dreamy, girl. Or normal witch, one would say if they could tell that the wooden stick holding her hair up was, in fact, a magic wand. But that person would have probably been a witch or a wizard themselves, and would have found Luna normal enough. But those people would have been wrong. For Luna had not heard them, she had simply sensed their presence, probably from the moment that they had opened the door at the top of the stairs. And that was unusual, even for a witch.
But it was not unusual for the hotel. Hell, it was not even that unusual a talent for the people in the room. After all, with Cassidy present, there were two slayers in the basement. And it was the fact that Luna was such a creature that had sent her to the training room in the first place.
Because being a slayer was, although an everyday occurrence to the people that occupied the Hyperion Hotel, something quite extraordinary for the people that were now upstairs in the library. Those people, fellow Hogwarts students and the people who were with Luna during that battle at the Ministry of Magic, were certainly not accustomed to having a slayer in their midst. Hell, Luna wasn’t even sure that they were aware of the existence of Slayers. Well, Hermione would be, but that didn’t mean anything for the others.
However, from what Giles had told the blonde, the Gryffindors would know all about slayers, and the events of the Hellmouth, by the time that Buffy sent them up to their rooms in Witch Wing. When Luna finally saw them again, they would know it all. All except for the story of Diana. Giles had left the telling of that tale to Luna .
And so, with the thought of the upcoming conversation, which Giles had informed her she had to have with them tonight, weighing heavily on her mind, Luna had gone down to the training room. Right before the other teens had entered the lowest level of the Hyperion, the slayer had been taking her anxiety out on the heavy bag. But it hadn’t really been helping.
It just hung there limply. It didn’t defend itself. It didn’t fight back. All in all, it made Luna feel like a bully. The feeling hadn’t improved her mood.
Her mood hadn’t been that bad when she had spoken with Mr. Giles. She’d truly been okay with it then. In fact, she’d kind of been looking forward to having her friends come to California.
All those years at Hogwarts and she’d never really had friends until last year, and the events and the department of mysteries. Situations of peril seemed to bring people together, Ginny had told her the summer after fourth year. After all, it was fighting a troll that had fostered the friendship of Harry and Ron with Hermione. Fighting Death Eaters could do no less for the rest of them.
As a result, and as Ginny had assured her would happen, Luna had been invited to Harry’s sixteenth birthday party, as had Neville. After that, the trio had quickly become, more often then not, a group of six.
They’d become very good friends before Easter had come and her watcher and her father had decided to pull her out of school. She’d missed them terribly. It would be really great to see them again. Ginny had been right. Fights to the death really did forge true friendships.
And it was when that thought had crossed her mind that Luna’s mood took a turn for the worse.
Because in the past year, Luna had had to fight for her life more than once. And had made more than one set of friends while doing so.
One that was, in fact, standing in front of her at that moment. And this one boasted an individual that the other group of her friends considered an enemy. This was only one of the problems that had sprung up in Luna’s mind.
All in all, the train of thought had put Luna in a decidedly unusual foul mood, the likes of which not even the punching bag could improve. As a result, she was far more snappish at her friends then she would have been otherwise when she finally spoke.
“Are the three of you just going to stand there gaping at me all day? Or are you going to try to talk me out of my sulk, like Mr. Giles sent you to do?”
“Giles didn’t send us.” Cassidy protested. Luna glared at her with a stare that was nearly physically palpable in its disbelief, and Cassidy relented. “Okay, so Buffy might have.”
“Well,” Luna said dismissively as she turned her back on them and resumed her abuse of the punching bag, the fact that she was now putting more power behind each punch visible even from across the room. “As you can see, I’m fine. Just doing a spot of training. Feel free to leave. I’m really not in need of the group support.” Her words were interspersed with the steady sound of her hits landing on the punching bag. She was also adding a kick every now and then and the momentum with which the bag was swinging due to the impact was enough to tell the three newcomers that though Luna denied the fact, she was decidedly upset. “I told Mr. Giles, and I’ll tell you. I’m really fine with it. We’re in danger each day as it is, so a little bit more of that won’t hurt, and it’ll be nice to see Ginny and the others.” Her words sounded sincere, but the hard slaps against the heavy bag gave her away. “Don’t look at me as if I’m going to break down,” Luna said, not even turning from the bag, “I don’t need a group hug.”
While she had been attacking the bag, J.J. had made his way over to the stereo, and now he turned the volume down to a level where he could be heard without shouting. That done, he approached Luna and grasped the bag that she was smashing about with both of his hands, forcing her to stop her attack. Realizing that she couldn’t attack the punching back with the same ferociousness that she had been using without hurting her friend, she simply stepped back, crossing her arms and staring at him pointedly.
“Did it not occur to you, Moonshine, that I might be the one in need of a group hug?” He cocked one eyebrow at the girl in an expression so patently Spike that Luna had no choice but to give up her anger and smile a little at the sight.
“I’m the one who had to spend the day with three of his enemies, you realize?” he pointed out. And Luna noted the conspicuous absence of Ginny in that statement. She was going to have to have a talk with him about that. If J.J. was going to be that obvious around Ginny, it would be no time at all before even Ron, daft as he could be, would know how the Slytherin felt about the youngest Weasley. “Think of how I feel. At least you get along with them.” J.J.’s tone was so affronted that Luna couldn’t help but laugh. “You actually like those people. Of course it’ll be fine for you.”
Her eyes dropped to the ground at his last words. Though she had denied being upset before, it had been obvious to all three of her friends that Luna was far from all right. “You really think so, huh?” Her eyes snapped up with the harshly asked question, and she fixed a glare on J.J. “”Sure, I might be fine with them, J.J. But a hell of a lot of things have changed since Hogwarts, including me.” She strode over towards J.J. and shoved him in the chest. “It’s easy for you, Mr. Big Shot Slytherin. No one expects you to like them. Everyone expects there to be animosity and perhaps some downright loathing between you. You’ve got nothing to lose.” She shoved him in the chest again. “But what about me, huh?” Again, her hand shoved at him harshly. “I was their friend, but that was a lifetime ago for me. You all expect me to just pick right back up where I left off with them like nothing happened.” She shoved him again, and this time she had put enough power behind it to make him stumble backwards. The action didn’t faze the blonde slayer in the least, though. She just kept right on ranting, and even though her ranting included the occasional shove, the likes of which J.J. was quite sure would leave him with a sizeable bruise on his person after she was done, the boy just let her do it. She needed to vent about this turn of events just as much as he did. And if the impromptu shoving that Luna was doing now turned into a sparing match, all the better.
But for now, ranting was what she was doing, and as J.J. was quite in the mood to utter more than a few choice words himself, he just let her go.
“What does Giles expect?” The blonde shoved J.J. again, but her words and her glare were both directed at Dawn. “Is he completely off of his rocker, Dawn?” She turned away from J.J. and he let out a relieved breath when it was apparent that the slayer was done using him as a target for the moment. “Does Giles really think that I’ll be able to slip back into an easy friendship with the Gryffindor four, as if nothing at all has happened? As if I’ve just been gone over spring holiday and not for over five months? As if they wouldn’t have a thousand questions for me? As if they wouldn’t realize that I’m not the Luna Lovegood that they grew to know and trust, but that I’m somebody else completely?”
“Oh, like I’m not a completely different person from the one that they thought I was?” J.J. spat out. “They’ve seen me as I am now,” he told Luna as her gaze swung back around to glare at J.J. once again. “And other than seeming a little confused, which, as far as I’m concerned,” he pointed out, “is pretty much a perpetual state of being for them, they didn’t seem at all fazed by it, Lady Di.”
“No offense, Malfoy,” she spat back at him, the name one she hadn’t used since long before the collapse of Sunnydale, “but you know that they don’t give a rat’s arse about you. It won’t matter to them one bit that you’ve changed. Me, on the other hand, me they trusted. And I lied to them. I lied to them about where I’ve been since I left school, and I lied to them before that. About who I was. About my very character.” The blonde slayer shoved him yet again, and J.J. just took it. “Giles told me that they were my friends, and that nothing will have changed. How the hell can that be?” She thrust her hand out to collide with his chest once more, and the former Slytherin realized that her pushes were becoming more and more forceful, and that if he didn’t put a stop to it soon, she might very well become overzealous enough to break one of his ribs. “How in Goddess’s name can that be?” She nearly screamed the question. “It may be that nothing’s changed for them, but everything’s changed for me. What if they hate me?” She sucked in a shuddering breath and looked crestfallen at the thought. “Harry’s always hated lies, hated people who kept things from him.” The fight went out of her with the thought, and the hand that she’d had raised, the one that kept accosting J.J., dropped suddenly to her side as if in defeat. She looked at him earnestly, tears already filling her pale blue eyes. “What if I lose them, J.J.?”
The young man hated seeing that look in her eyes. He hated that look in the eyes of any of the girls in the room, actually, but more then that, he absolutely hated the fact that he couldn’t do anything to remove it. Diana was in pain, and he didn’t know how to fix it.
That kind of protectiveness, that kind of empathy for someone he actually considered a friend, was something quite foreign to J.J., and he didn’t quite know how to deal with the emotions.
That uncertainty caused him to fall back to his old Malfoy upbringing, which meant that he lashed out, somewhat irrationally, at the thing that had caused him pain. Or, in this case, the thing that had caused his friend pain.
And that thing was the Gryffindor four.
Dawn and Cassidy’s eyes widened in surprise when J.J.’s response to Diana’s questions was, instead of the soft sympathy and reassurance he had been slowly learning to offer, especially with the girls in the room, a harsh reprimand snarled in that cold voice he’d so often spoken with when first coming to Sunnydale.
“Who gives a rat’s arse, Lady Di, if you lose them? If they’re going to be like that about it, they don’t deserve you. You’d be better for it, I’d say.”
The tears that had been silently slipping down Diana’s dace, released in front of her friends when she had hidden them from Giles, having tried so hard to convince both he and herself that she was fine with the sudden return of the only friends that she’d ever had at Hogwarts, dried in the face of J.J.’s sudden anger. Her eyes widened at his harsh words. “What?” she questioned quietly, her voice incredulous.
“You heard me, Loony Luna. It wasn’t just the Slytherins that called you that, you know? The Gryffindors did it too, the Golden Trio included. Why do you give a shit what they think of you now?”
Diana shook her head, unbelieving that this was her friend J.J. He was suddenly Draco Malfoy again, and Diana didn’t understand quite why.
“Because of what happened at the ministry. They’re the only friends I have.” Her voice was gradually rising in volume as she spoke back to J.J. “And of course I care about them. I almost died with them. Harry saved our lives, much that you hate him.”
J.J. turned red, and Dawn knew that after the day they’d had, Diana had managed to push exactly the right button to set him off. “Potter? Perfect fucking Potter damned near got you all killed. And he did get his godfather killed!” he yelled harshly.
The movement from the blonde slayer was so fast that none of the teens knew what had happened until J.J. was lying flat on his back, his mouth bleeding, Diana standing over him and shaking out the hand that she’d just used to flatten the boy.
“How dare you, J.J.? How dare you! You know damn well that Harry didn’t cause Sirius’s death. Voldemort did.”
J.J.’s eyes widened, showing his surprise at hearing the timid Ravenclaw use the word for the first time. But moments later Dawn saw his eyes harden, and he swept his legs out, knocking Diana, who had been too wrapped up in her anger at him to anticipate the move, to the floor with him. He quickly pinned her to the ground. “How dare I?” he snarled, his face nearly pressed into hers. “How could you?” He shook her a little. “How could you say that they’re your only friends?”
Using a move that she’d learned from the elder slayers, Luna flipped him over her head so that he landed on his back. He sat up and turned back to the girl, who was blinking at him in surprise.
Dawn and Cassidy were surprised to discover that J.J. was now shaking with suppressed rage. “The Gryffindor four are your only friends? What the hell are we then, scotch mist? Cornish pixies? Crumple horned snorkacks or whatever the hell it is that you call them? Funny, I always thought that we were your friends. But I guess that goes right out the window now that Perfect Potter comes back. The minute he shows up he gets everything, just like he always has.” J.J.’s eyes flashed silver with his emotions, and Dawn and Cassidy also suspected that there might be a glitter of unshed tears shining in them as well. “What did he do to earn your friendship, Moonshine, tell me that? Other then lead you into danger? And yet, he gets your loyalty, without even trying. Like always. Like with Granger, and Weasley. Friends who picked him for him and not for his family or the power he wields. Friends like you, and hell, even Longbottom.” J.J. jumped to his feet then and began to pace back and forth, his movement an outlet to release some the pent up emotion he was now letting to the surface for what his friends highly suspected was the first time.
As Dawn watched J.J.’s agitated movement across the room, she pondered how really very similar he was to the vampire he had adopted as his father. His ranting about Harry Potter very much reminded her of Spike’s legendary rants about Angel. It also occurred to her as she watched him closely that the driving emotion behind Draco’s proclaimed hatred for Harry was the same as Spike’s for Angel.
Sure, there was an abundance of animosity and loathing on the surface, but in the end, that was really a front to hide behind, a way to make sure that no one could see what they were really feeling, which was envy. Simply put, Spike and J.J. saw in Angel and Harry the things that they had always wanted. Saw their rivals receiving the things that they had always desired, but that they had never quite managed to get.
The theory was proven for Dawn with J.J.’s next words.
“And should I even mention Ginny?” Luna, who had just finished getting to her own feet, whipped her head around so fast that had the girl not been a slayer, Dawn would have worried that the girl had given herself whiplash.
He really was making his feelings for Ginny deadly obvious. Luna had always had her suspicions that the Slytherin harbored feeling for her fellow soon to be sixth year, most of them stemming from his seeming infatuation with Willow and her resemblance to Ginny, but he really was confirming them all tonight. He’d have to be better at hiding his feelings, or Ron was going to kill him.
The boy’s next words served only to further support the fact that J.J. Summers was completely hung up on Ginevra Weasley, and as Luna thought back to Ginny’s unusual quietness after the Slytherin had disappeared from Hogwarts shortly before the slayer herself had, Luna thought that maybe, just maybe, Draco Malfoy may have been just a little mad for Ginny himself. He certainly ranted as if that were the case.
“I mean here’s this girl that’s completely toe up for him, and that’s before he managed to save her life, a couple of times. After that she completely worships the ground he walks on. And did he do anything to deserve it? No! Did he appreciate it? NO! Did he even notice that he had this goddess throwing herself at his feet? Of course he didn’t, the bloody pillock!!”
J.J. was now practically wearing a hole in the floor with his frantic pacing, and the girls looked at each other, each clearly worried that this could go on all night.
Luna couldn’t allow that. She had things that she had to do before school in the morning, not the least of which was speaking with the four Gryffindors who were newly ensconced at Slayer Central. An although she knew that what J.J. had said about her friends, well, the part about them not being worth her time if they turned their backs on her, at any rate, was completely true, she was still nervous about the talk.
J.J. was right in the fact that if they couldn’t accept her as she was now, that it was their loss. However, it didn’t mean that she’d take it very well if that was the way that things turned out.
She didn’t need to be listening to J.J. rant on and on about how Ginny was too good for Harry, the way that Luna was sure he would if she didn’t interrupt him.
In the mood that he was in, there was only one thing that Luna could think to do, and it was much the same tactic that Dawn had employed earlier at Wolfram and Hart.
She stepped in front of him and shoved him one last time. Hard. “You’re the bloody pillock, Drake! Just because Harry knew better in first year then to make friends with you, it doesn’t make him a git.”
“Oh yeah?” J.J. approached her, shoving her back with all his might. But they both knew that Luna, as a slayer, would not be hurt at all by his actions. Instead, she was a safe way to vent his frustrations. And in turn, he could help her work out hers.
After all, wasn’t that the reason she’d told Mr. Giles that she’d be down here? Because J.J. would be upset after spending that much time in the company of Draco Malfoy’s rivals, J.J. would need to release all of his animosity? Even if he wasn’t Malfoy anymore, the Gryffindors would still have treated him as such. It was obvious by the way he was acting that they had done just that.
“Yeah!” Luna retorted as she returned his push, shoving hard enough to send him stumbling to the floor. “He’s not a git, like some people I could name!”
J.J. did a kick up to land on his feet, ignoring the smirk that Dawn threw Cassidy’s way and indicated that both girls knew Luna was egging him on as he strode towards the blonde slayer. He stopped mere inches from her face, glaring at her. “If you were referring to Weasel boy, I couldn’t agree with you more.”
Luna threw an elbow in J.J.’s gut, pushing him back enough so that she had enough distance to throw the right hook that she followed it with. J.J. managed to dodge it and attempted to sweep Luna’s feet out from under her. She saw the move coming and managed to jump over his outstretched leg while she continued to taunt him.
“Ronald’s not a git!” Luna shouted, and the other girls returned their focus to J.J., sure of what was to come out of their friend’s mouth next. After all, it was plain as day that Luna was goading J.J. into a fight so that he’d work out all his aggression physically before they’d have to go back and once again face the Gryffindors.
“If he isn’t, who is then?” J.J. demanded, the exasperation evident in his voice.
“You are!” she yelled as they continued their attempts to hit each other, neither teen having had any luck at connecting yet.
J.J. was going to respond when he caught sight of Dawn and Cassidy’s expression of amusement, the distraction allowing Luna to connect a light kick to his stomach. Both the gentleness of the blow and the smirk Dawn was wearing allowed J.J. to finally realize what it was that Luna was doing.
“Are you trying to goad me into a fight, Moonshine?” he asked her as she ducked the right cross he’d thrown at her face.
“Wow, glad you finally caught that train, Drake?” Luna laughed. “Is it working?”
“Well, yeah,” he admitted, “but why?”
“You’re always less angry after you spar,” she pointed out.
J.J. thought about all the times he’d felt angry since coming to the States. He’d always lashed out verbally at Hogwarts, only managing to infuriate himself further that his words seemed so useless. But since Spike, Faith and finally Buffy had all begun teaching him to fight like a muggle, and Dawn, Luna and Cassidy sparred with him, he’d always found himself less angry after a good physical fight. Diana had a point.
He laughed a little at the thought. “Okay, Moonshine, you may be right.” The heel thrust to her solar plexus he launched with his words managed to catch her unaware. “But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to win.”
She grabbed the fist that had swung out to hit her again, and used it to pin his arm behind his back.
“In your dreams, Dragon.”
All words were abandoned then when they began to spar in earnest.
“Wanna join them?” Cassidy asked Dawn. “I promise I’ll go easy on you.”
Dawn’s foot swept out, and before the brunette slayer could blink, she was flat on the floor.
“Forget who my sister is, Cass? She is, after all, the one who taught me how to fight.” Dawn stretched out a hand to pull Cassidy off of the floor. “No going easy on me, deal?”
Cassidy shook the hand that she’d yet to let go of that had aided her in standing, sealing the agreement.
“Deal,” she said. “C’mon then,” she headed towards the mats where their friends were still fighting in earnest, “can’t let the lady Di and the Dragon have all the fun, can we?”