“Hold up, Giles. What’s with the running?”
Willow and Faith struggled to keep up with Giles. The older man was all but running down to the designated platform.
“Man, I’m surprised Giles knows how to run,” Faith panted as they raced after him. “I hope he doesn’t break a hip or anything, ‘cause I sure ain’t carrying him.”
Willow would have laughed if she wasn’t concentrating so hard on keeping up with the former watcher without getting winded. Plus, holding onto her bag at the same time was no mean feat. She was really starting to regret bringing along all those reading books. Why, oh why, did Tolstoy have to write such long novels?
They finally caught up with Giles, who now slowed down to a brisk stride. Willow snuck a look at his face. He did not look happy. She was so caught up with watching his increasingly tensing features that the redhead was completely unaware that the older man was leading them towards a wall.
This didn’t go unnoticed by Faith. “Dude, what are you doing?”
Giles didn’t answer. He just kept walking.
“We’re walking towards a wall.” Faith stated, staring at him. Oddly enough, she still followed him. “A strong brick wall. I know you’re not psyched about going back to Hog school, but there are other ways to deal with it. You know, do that English thing and go have a cup of –“
“ –tea,” Faith finished bewildered. She looked around. “Fuck me, we just walked through a wall.”
Willow just blinked.
“What’s with the kid in the dress?” the Slayer went on, indicating to a teenage boy rushing by. He seemed to be having trouble holding onto his cat. “Is this some kind of trend?”
Giles didn’t reply. In fact, Giles didn’t even look as though he was paying attention. He was now even more tense than before, pursing his lips so tightly. That there was now just a white line where his mouth was. His grip on his carry bag was so tight that his knuckles were white.
Oh, he so didn’t want to be here.
“Giles?” Willow said softly. “Should we get on the train? These kids are giving us funny looks.”
That was a bit of an understatement. The hundred or so kids on the platform weren’t just looking at the trio strangely, they were pointing and whispering as well. Willow could tell Faith was getting agitated at the stares. Of all the looks they were receiving, not one was appreciative or even remotely nice.
Giles kept his eyes focussed off to the distance as though looking for something. Then they noticed a huge, hairy man approaching them. He had to be at least ten feet tall.
“Rupert!” he boomed cheerfully, making his was through the crowd on the platform. He didn’t pay any attention to the younger kids staring up at him in awe. “Good ter see yeh agin!”
He reached Giles and pulled him into an enormous hug, pounding him affectionately on the back. Willow heard an “oomph!” coming out of the former watcher with each pat.
“How are you, Hagrid?” Giles asked when he pulled away. His face was a little pink from being held in the other mans grip.
“Fine, fine. Good as can be, I s’pose.” The huge man turned his attention to Faith and Willow. “An’ this must be the army Professor Trelawny was on abou’. The name’s Rubeus Hagrid, but call me Hagrid.” He stuck out one beefy hand.
“Faith and Willow.” The Slayer replied, accepting his hand. Willow shook hands with the man after Faith, and even though she could tell he was trying to be gentle with her, her fingers were a little numb for a few seconds after she withdrew her hand.
Hagrid beamed at them. “Pleasure ter meet friends of ol’ Rupert ‘ere. But if yeh don’ mind me sayin’ so, yer awful small girls ter be an army.”
“You’d be surprised.” Willow smiled at him.
Hagrid’s eyes brightened at the smile the redhead offered him and was about to respond when Giles cut him off. “Hagrid, perhaps we should board the train before continuing this conversation.”
“Oh! Right yeh are!” Hagrid clapped a hand on Giles shoulder. The former watcher nearly buckled under the weight of his hand. “Right this way, jus’ follow me.”
He led the three to the front of the train, all the while still talking. “I don’t normally come ter the station,” he explained cheerfully,” usually I wait on th’ other side ter greet the kids. But today Dumbledore asked me specially ter meet yer here on the platform.”
They entered the carriage and sat in a car booth, with Faith and Willow seated across from Hagrid and Giles. The burly man was so large that Giles was squashed up next to the window.
Faith peered out onto the platform. “Those kids are still looking at us funny.”
“Ahh, some of the kids just ain’t used ter seeing muggles,” Hagrid replied. “’Specially lovely ones as yerselves.”
The Slayer grinned at Willow. “Oh, I like this guy.”
Willow smiled. “So what do you do at Hogwarts, Hagrid?”
“Me? I’m the keeper of keys and grounds. Gamekeeper, I s’pose yeh could call it. I also teach the Care of Magical Creatures,” he added proudly.
Giles looked up with surprise. “Do you really? That’s wonderful, Hagrid! When did you get that position?”
“Abou’ a year ago,” he answered, a big grin on his face. “Dumbledore’s a brilliant man the let me do this. He’s been lookin’ forward ter seein’ yeh agin, y’know.”
“Ahh, yes.” A pleased look passed over Giles’ features. “I wouldn’t mind seeing him again myself. It’s been quite a long time.”
Hagrid beamed at the two girls sitting across him. “Ruper’ and I used ter be good mates when we were younger. I was watchin’ the grounds at that time and he was a student. This rascal here used ter get into all sorts o’ trouble. Caused riots, he did.”
“Giles, didn’t you say you never went to Hogwarts because you couldn’t do magic?” Willow asked.
“I couldn’t do magic, but I did attend Hogwarts for some time,” the former watcher answered. There was a hint of bitterness in his tone. “The status and reputation of my family made it so they tried all they could to de-squib me. It never worked, of course. ”
Hagrid waved a huge hand dismissively, narrowly missing Giles’ head by inches. “That didn’ matter none, now did it? We still had our fun. Now, let me tell yeh girls abou’ the time Ruper’ put a rat that some kid forgot he Vanished into this girls bag. . .”
Faith leaned forward eagerly to hear the story and the train lurched into motion. As the gamekeeper told the story, his voice grew louder, bouncing off the walls. His hand movements became more animated with his large arms waving wildly about with descriptive force. Poor Giles was nearly getting battered.
“. . . and then the whole class got detention, b’cause none of th’ teachers could figure out who did it. An’ Rupert here got off, because they all knew he couldn’ of gone and Vanished the rat! Cheeky fella, now ain’ he!” Hagrid let out a rumbling chuckle. “Rupert, ol’ boy, what are yeh doin’ there?”
Giles was squashed up next to the window, the glasses perched at an angle on his nose due to the fact that his cheek was pressed firmly against the window. Throughout Hagrid’s story, he had been pushed further and further to the side. If he had been sitting next to the aisle, it was certain he would have been unintentionally pushed off the seat by Hagrid’s size and excitement. “Nothing. I’m fine,” Giles managed to get out.
“Don’ be silly. Yeh need ter sit properly otherwise ye’ll do yerself an injury.” With an easy tug, Hagrid sat the other man in an upright position, patting him on the shoulder. Giles tried not to grunt at the impact.
“Hagrid, do you know what we’re going to be doing at Hogwarts?” Willow asked.
“As a matter o’ fact, I do. But I best not be sayin’ nothin’, on strict orders from Dumbledore ‘imself. All yeh need ter know is that ye’ll be told what ter do once yeh get there.” Hagrid seemed satisfied with the answer, and it was clear to the redhead that he wasn’t about to say any more.
“And how is my sister doing?” Giles asked. It sounded like he was almost reluctant to find out the answer.
“Professor Trelawny bin in a bit of a state lately, always askin’ if yeh’ve arrived yet and all that sort. I ‘spect she’ll be a bit better now she knows yeh here.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Giles said dryly. “She’s still predicting, I assume?”
“Too right. Jus’ yesterday she told me twice that th’ shadows ‘round my head meant I was goin’ ter meet a nasty end soon. Now I told her it was probably jus’ me hair she was seein’, but she didn’t believe me.”
“Man, I can’t wait to met your sister, Giles,” Faith said. “She sounds like such a freak.”
“Yes, well. . .yes.”
At that moment, a woman pushing a cart stopped at the door. “Like anything off the cart, dears?”
Faith and Willow declined, but Giles pulled out a silver coin and bought a box of something. “It’s been years since I’ve had one of these.”
“Bertie Botts has really bin boomin’,” Hagrid told him. “Added five new flavours over th’ past year, with three more on the way, I hear.”
“Really?” Giles’ face lit up with interest. He held out the box to Faith and Willow. “Would you like some?”
Faith eyes the box suspiciously. “What is it?”
The Slayer nudged Willow in the ribs. “Old man’s offering us lollies. Something’s not right here.”
“Well, if you’re too scared to try new types of food. . .” Giles began to pull back his hand but Faith stopped him, eyes flashing indignantly.
“I am not too –man, just give me that.” She reached into the box and grabbed a handful of the beans. “I’ll show you too scared.” She raised the fistful of lollies to her mouth.
Giles’ eyes widened. “No, wait –“
But it was too late. Faith had already shoved all the beans into her mouth and was now chewing furiously, a slight scowl on her face. It was when she suddenly stopped chewing that Giles knew the mixture of odd flavours finally hit her. He waited for a reaction.
There were tears in her eyes. Faith didn’t want to lose face by spitting the foul lollies out of her mouth, so she did what any other proud slayer would do.
Willow was looking at her with concern, having no idea of what the brunette had just eaten. The looks on the faces of Giles and Hagrid were a mixture fascination and awe.
“Faith, are you okay?” Willow asked.
The brunette didn’t answer. She did, however, blink furiously.
“Five by five,” Faith finally croaked out. She glared at Giles. “You trying to kill me or something?”
Giles was trying his best not to laugh. “You didn’t have to eat them.”
Faith just kept glaring.
“Is all the food here going to be like that? Because if it is, I’m going home.”