These people eat what!?
Whooh. Well. So I graduated from college, looked for work for a year, and started my very first career. I am definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of my quarter-life-crisis. Probably. I kept putting off updating until it really hit me that the very kind words just did not stop coming and I was making people sad not
writing and so today I jammed this out in a fit of guilt. I guess reviewing really does work, in a way.
As ever, the Whedonverse belongs to Whedon, and the Potterverse belongs to Rowling.
They all gathered in Giles' living room on the appointed day, packed and ready for the instantaneous cross-country/trans-Atlantic flight. Willow would normally have been surprised at Xander's silence as they visited with their mentor for the last time (the last time in a while, anyway), but at this moment she expected the quiet. Now may be the perfect--the only time to speak, but she knew that they were all tongue-tied with adrenaline. Not that "adrenaline" looked much different from "mildly bemused" on Oz, of course.
It was a bit strange, standing uncomfortably in a semi-row in front of Giles. It was usually the bookish watcher's role to be awkward in this company, with the others prancing around making jokes at his expense. But heartfelt partings are thorny work, no matter the generation. Willow was going to end with a hug, that went without saying. But what of the boys? Do they get hugs? What was she supposed to say to this paternal figure, her quietly strong, positive influencing adult-person of the past two years? What was anyone to say? It was Giles who halted the growing silence, revealing his oft-hidden mind-reading skills.
"To be quite honest, there isn't much for me to say. You all know that you stand in my highest regard." Xander raised an eyebrow of (possibly) feigned surprise that Giles tactfully ignored. "No terrible mysteries stand between us, waiting to be resolved. Most of all, we part planning not for a goodbye, but rather for an 'until next time,' as the saying goes. Therefore, I bid you each the best of luck."
Willow stepped into his arms on the last syllable, sending a slightly watery "Bye Giles." into the front of his soft Oxford shirt.
He held out his hand for Xander, offering him the option of a dignified farewell before accepting the "manly-back-pat-hug" he somehow knew was coming. "So long, Book-man. Take care of yourself."
Oz did take his hand, and though he didn't provide a verbal goodbye, he gave Giles the warmest brief nod he'd ever received.
The eastward-bound stood holding their bags in one hand and one longish bit of rope in the other. Oz held Willow's second suitcase, as he was too bohemian to travel with more than what he could strap to his back. Watching the clock tick down to the portkey departure, Willow tried to cram in everything she forgot to say five minutes ago when it was all quiet in the living room.
"When Buffy comes back tell her that we miss her and that we're not abandoning her and that this is a really great opportunity and that she can come visit and you
can come visit and I'll send you an owl as soon as I find out how to get a hold of one, there must be some kind of owl call you can use so that it knows when you want to get in touch with us, because you have to send us letters so that we know you're safe, and so that we know when Buffy c--"
And with that, the living room was silent once more.
An elf showed up for them just as their breath was returning--that is to say, a couple minutes after touchdown. The little fellow was more Santa's Workshop than Lord of the Rings (though maybe a little less human-looking than claymation cinema would have you believe) and Xander was a little bit disappointed. If there were going to be elves, why couldn't they be elves
? He'd take Arwen over a current-toymaker-future-dentist any day. The little guy wasn't so bad though. Kinda cute in a bizarre way, and obsessively overeager to please. He greeted them by name, showed them proof he was from Hogwarts, gave them a letter from Dumbledore, two room keys, a bank key, and a sandwich each. Apparently they were staying above the pub. Another first for Xander, though his house smelled enough like beer most of the time that he was sure not to feel too uncomfortable here.
Their larger luggage was forwarded to the school, which Xander found really quite luxurious once he managed to convince himself that he wasn't being robbed. He had a fear of anyone who seemed to be nice attempting to relieve him of his earthly possessions, that had been ingrained in him since birth. Not that the house-elves weren't trustworthy in their cuteness. Hell, at the first sight of one, Willow got that gleam in her eye that she usually saved for bunnies and tropical fish. He was sure she was more affected by the elf's departure than he was, even with his lingering doubt in their ability to get all of his meager belongings back to the castle.
But none of that mattered now. Now they were (as the letter explained) safely situated in the largest shopping neighborhood in the Wizarding World. Shopping had never really appealed to Xander and Willow as they were growing up. He didn't like it because he had no money to spend. She didn't really care about the wares in any store within walking distance, mostly Cordelia-clothes and some housewares. Xander had sometimes suspected her disinterest was partly a show of solidarity, but mostly, she'd grown up too close to sloppy, crazy boys to really have caught the clothes-horse bug. She had gotten really excited about a computer store that almost moved to the neighborhood, but the district manager sensibly backed out of Sunnydale-ward expansion. So yeah, Willow and Xander were the anti-shoppers.
But no more. Now they were standing what must have been miles underground staring at the largest pile of gold they'd ever seen outside of Scrooge McDuck's swimming vault. Xander was more than tempted to take a few laps himself. Willow was muttering what might have been volume estimates converted to weight converted to dollars based on the current international prices of gold, silver, and bronze. With a pile this big, Xander didn't have to do the math, thankfully. It was pretty clear to him that, even split between all three of the current generation of Potters, he, Xander, was a rich man.
Willow's disinclination for shopping was also put to the test as they resurfaced, making their way down a bright, cheerfully supernatural street, lined as it was with shop windows filled with things she'd never seen before. At least, not in this context. Brooms in this world were a good deal more expensive than the ones she was familiar with. A basket of kittens was not labeled “cats” but “familiars”. And then there was the truly, fascinatingly bizarre. Animals she'd never heard of; twisting metal devices of mysterious use. She spun in the street, wanting to see everything twice. But the letter from Dumbledore that the adorable little elf had brought for them included a checklist: things they needed to buy and do before they left the city. And the top of the list was—Visit Olivander's, buy a wand.
Even the mildest mannered teenage boy appreciates a little destruction now and then, especially in the event that no one he cares about actually gets hurt. As a founding member of a band called “Dingoes Ate My Baby” Oz was pretty clearly as laid back about mayhem as he was about most things. And this
mayhem was just hilarious.
To save time, Willow and Xander were doing some synchronized wand testing, or rather, some synchronized devastation of Mr. Olivander's shop. Were this a Muppet or Warner Brothers production, it would almost certainly be backed by the 1812 overture. There was wind and rain mingling with tiny fires and explosions. Even Oz wasn't completely safe from the wild and wacky ambient magic. He'd be raised, dropped, teleported, turned all manner of fun colors, floated, spun, grown, shrunk; he’d seen dark smoky shapes in the windows and very realistic, though inexplicably chartreuse thunderclouds overhead—it was never anything truly serious, but usually fairly unsettling. Or rather, he would be unsettled if he wasn't so amused. He felt better about his amusement now that Olivander had managed to convince Willow that none of this was her fault, nor permanent, thereby calming her considerably. Though how Mr. Olivander could afford to keep his store in repair was a bit of a mystery, if this was the standard amount of punishment it took for every sale. He trusted that magic could fix things just like... anyway; but the chair on his left was pretty thoroughly in splinters. He didn't think that even it
would remember that it had ever been a chair.
Somehow, bubbles meant that Willow had found her wand, and some kind of golden sparkles meant that Xander had found his. Oz couldn't really tell what made these results different from any of the other wand reactions. Willow had accidentally created a really top-notch fireworks display a couple of wands back, and that seemed like a good thing to him. But she was content with her yew/unicorn horn--with the special ingredient--a phoenix tear--(though the fact that a mythical bird had to cry to make her wand was apparently something Willow would need time to get used to), and Xander was doing alright with his oak/dragon heartstrings mix, so they left Mr. Olivander with two hands full of gold and silver coins and were on their way.
Willow was glad to get back out on the streets, out of that musty shop and away from that weird old guy that made innocent birds cry. Sure she thought her wand was perfect, it made her feel warm and content and chosen, but it was hardly cruelty-free. The fact that they were off to pick up some dragon-hide gloves and rat spleens from the apothecary really completed the anti-PETA trifecta. She wondered whether the Wizarding World had a PETA.
It was warm as they made their way back down to the Leaky Cauldron, decked out in what they were assured were the latest in wizard fashions. Willow was rockin' her blue-green robes like nothing was new, but come on, she was used to wearing dresses. Even Oz was doing all right, the set he'd bought looking mostly like his usual overshirts, if a little longer. He wore it like he always did, confident, unbuttoned, and flapping in the breeze behind him. It's not like Xander's robes were different. They looked like Oz's, moved like Oz's, but somehow he couldn't be as comfortable in them as Oz was. Xander didn't like having anything billow around his legs as he walked. It felt like some kind of cloth demon had come to trip him up. It would have been pure paranoia on anyone else, but on Xander, maybe not so unlikely. Willow had tried to reassure him as they'd left Mme. Malkins by telling him that he looked handsome and mysterious, like Angel. This only made Xander want to tear his robe off in a fit of "Gwah-uh!" but he restrained himself. They'd bought the robes to try and blend in, after all, and kicking his new clothes away from him in disgust was sure to turn a few heads.
They got dinner in the pub, carefully combing through the ancient menus looking for some combination of ingredients that wouldn't turn their stomachs. These wizards put the weirdest foods together. The barman had seemed surprised that they needed a menu at all, which they took as a good sign. Maybe they were blending in at last. Maybe any trifling lack of familiarity could be attributed to their nationality, and they'd never have to be worried about being pegged for muggles. Sure, and maybe Oz would yell out across the bar for another round of beers while Willow sang karaoke and Xander gave up comedy. It could happen.
The school had arranged for two rooms above the bar, one for Xander and Oz, and one for Willow. They'd only need them for one night until someone came to retrieve them and bring them to the school. While Willow appreciated that their benefactors might find it inappropriate for a girl to spend a night in an inn with her boyfriend and another guy, she wasn't too thrilled with the idea of sleeping alone in a strange room, in a strange neighborhood, in a foreign country, and so she opted to ditch her place around ten, bringing her luggage and blankets with her. The mirror sounded scandalized, but she'd never worried about what inanimate objects thought of her before, and she would become even more neurotic if she started worrying about it now. They draped a sheet over the spluttering pane of glass, and snuggled in for their last night before the start of their new adventure in education.
A shabby man met them in the bar the next morning. He introduced himself as Professor Lupin, but Willow knew him as "that guy that did a lot of shopping yesterday without ever seeming to buy anything." Oz didn't seem to think of him as a new acquaintance either; evidently he'd noticed their shadow as well. He really didn't make a very good spy. On the other hand, it was more likely than not that he was sent to make sure their shopping extravaganza went smoothly and non-violently, so she could probably forgive his lack of subtlety in exchange for his guard-dog services. All that aside, he with the ironic wolf name was going to be Oz's mentor, so Willow decided to make nice.
"It's good to meet you, professor. What do you teach?"
His wince was only slightly more subtle than his escorting of the previous day, but he answered, "Defense Against the Dark Arts... was my class. Though it has been over a year since I held the position."
"Show and tell got a little too messy?" Xander offered unhelpfully.
"Ah, no. My, condition was revealed to the student body at the end of term last year and the parents were understandably concerned. I resigned shortly after."
With a sidelong look at Oz, Xander muttered, "Professor-man, could ya ix-nay on the "orced-to-quit-fay"? It's kind of a downer for our fuzzy buddy here. Focus on the positives, right?"
Willow was, as ever, ready to change the subject. "So, what are we using for a portkey today? Old sock? Plastic bag? Half an ice cream cone?"
"Actually, we won't be needing a portkey today. If you'll come along we'll make our way to the train station to pick up the Hogwarts Express. A much more comfortable journey, you'll find, even if it is a bit longer. This way, now."
But instead of exiting into the tricky brick alleyway, they left the Wizarding World altogether. After a day filled with robes and wands and goblin bankers, it was an odd transition to mingle back into the crowd of grey-suit normals. Posters didn't move, pet stores wouldn't sell you an owl, and hats were never pointy.
Oz was the only one of the three to have ever traveled by train. No tracks went near Sunnydale, the little berg not being a rail destination in high demand. And even he was impressed by a people that could decide to paint their train a bright red and still manage to keep it secret as it wound its way through the very green British and Scottish countryside.
Lupin went to have a chat with the conductor, leaving the others to find their own compartment. As they wandered down the aisle, it quickly became clear that no one else was aboard. Quick mental calculation brought Willow to a conclusion she didn't like.
"Ok, so I definitely saw steam coming out of the chimney in the front of the train; meaning that it's coal powered; meaning that the nice clean air is getting all mucked up as bajillions of pounds of iron move four people to Scotland! We're accessories to a crime of massive wastefulness!"
"This is a magic train, Wills, I'm sure runs on rainbows and cheerful thoughts," Oz soothed.
"Yeah, cheerful thoughts, right? So calm down before we get stuck out in Upper Nowheresville, Scotland!" Xander less-than-soothed.
Willow panicked for a micro-second, realized she was being teased, and glared.
Thus, Xander was not allowed a window seat.
In the second hour of the journey, they'd taken a long walk from one end of the train to the other, hoping to see some other surprisingly everyday magical feature of rail travel. They'd looked through every window, into every nook and cranny. Other than its being, according to Oz, cleaner and better-kept than any West-Coast train he'd ever ridden, it was actually pretty mundane.
Later, long after Lupin had found them through process of very tedious elimination (they couldn't just sit up near the front like normal people?), just as Willow was beginning to tire of her and Xander's game of "Spot the Sheep" an old woman knocked on the compartment door. Lupin waved her in like he was expecting a visit, but the other three were a bit more surprised. In their explorations, the only people they came across were Lupin and the conductor. Now here was a woman they hadn't seen, pushing a cart they hadn't seen, full of snacks they'd never
seen, and their professor was all laid back like he'd seen it all before. So despite the fact that this was proof of some pretty amazing secret compartments on board, Willow tried to follow suit, affecting a blase air and hoping that any escaping hint of zeal could be attributed to hunger.
"What'll you have, luvs?"
Willow looked to Lupin, who was admiring some squishy package on the second tier, before asking, "Well, what do you have?"
"Oh, the usual: Bertie Botts, Pumpkin Pasties, Chocolate Frogs--"
"You serve chocolate covered frog
"Oh, dearie, no. It's chocolate in the shape of a frog. Very lifelike. Hops and everything."
"And people eat them?"
"Do you have sandwiches?"
"Do they have frog in them?"
The woman looked around like she wasn't sure whether Willow was serious.
"Well... not all of them..."
Willow stood, looking pale, and kept the cart as far away from her as possible as she made her way to the door. “Oh, well, I’ve just remembered. I’m really, violently allergic to-to food. Yep, brings me out in hives and, and, and I’m also claustrophobic. Very. And hoo boy. This cabin. I’ll just be...” and she fled.
Lupin and the food cart lady looked mystified and concerned. Oz nodded at Xander as he exited behind his girlfriend. Xander glanced at the professor, and the witch, and tossed a nonchalant shrug.
“Frog fear.” he summarized, and started to rifle through the cart. “So, what’s good?”
Oz found Willow curled into a corner a few cars down, and crouched down in front of her.
“Allergic to food, huh? And here’s me, all this time, taking you to dinner, never knowing I was endangering your very life.”
Willow unwrapped an arm from her waist, to better bury her face in her knees.
“They think I’m insane, don’t they?” she asked, turning the “a” into a moan of deep embarrassment. “He’s your new wolfy mentor, and here I go making him think that you date crazy people.”
“Don’t worry. Xander’ll explain it all out.” Willow’s eyes widened. Oz tumbled to sit on the floor beside her. He raised his eyebrows. “It’ll be fine.”
The horrified disbelief was not quick to leave Willow’s face, and when it did, it was replaced with taut, breathless nerves. “What are we doing, Oz?”
‘Not sitting in any of the hundreds of available seats on this train.’ was not the correct answer, so Oz kept silent, waiting for her to continue.
“We don’t know these people. Not really. But here we go telling them all of our deepest and darkest secrets, and going to live in their big scary castle, in a town we don’t even know the name of, in a foreign country. And we’re voluntarily going to join a culture that eats frogs! Frogs! What kind of people--I can’t even--can we trust these people?”
“You always wanted to go to France. French people eat frogs.”
“Well--well, I’d never thought about it that way and now I can never go to France. I will never see all the French monkeys with their little hats and monkey pants. Oh, yes, I feel much better now and not sick at all, thank you.”
Oz’s girlfriend was cute when she was snarky, but she was also cute when she was more relaxed, so he pulled them both to their feet and wrapped his arms around her. “These people can help us. They want to help us, which is a rare thing. And one of them is your brother, who needs you. I can’t tell you not to be nervous, and I can’t promise that this is going to be easy. But you have to know, everything really is going to be ok.”
Willow burrowed deeper into his hug with a sigh. She could feel his warm smile on her temple, as he buried his nose in her hair. “Ok.” she repeated. “Ok.” She began to lean in the direction of the one occupied car, just enough to get them walking, slowly, back to the middle of the adventure in progress.
As the door slipped closed behind a sheepish Willow and an indulgent Oz, a shadow deepened in the hall. It billowed and stretched and contorted, finally coalescing into an almost solid shape, filling the space where, not moments ago, a witch and a werewolf had been sitting in the hallway.