Disclaimer: All characters and institutions are the property of whomever owns BtVS and the Harry Potter series. I just borrowed them, and make no profit from their use.
It took Xander Harris almost a minute to recover from the sick wrenching behind his navel as the tug of the portkey dissipated. He focused on the warm hand of his mentor on the small of his back, the cooler touch of his guide stabilizing his shoulder, the brisk wind that carried wholly unfamiliar scents and sounds, until he could pull himself upright and open his eyes.
When he finally did, the view was so unfathomably different from his expectations that it sent him staggering back half a step, catching up against Giles’ solid shoulder. The older man laughed, low and rough, and Xander blinked until he could tear his eyes away and grin up at him.
“It’s not exactly Hellmouth High, is it?”
Giles chuckled, settling an arm companionably around Xander’s shoulders and shrugging the knapsack that holds their shrunken luggage a little higher on his own. “And that’s all you have to say?”
“Hellmouth High?” Their guide, tall and thin, sallow, with lank black hair and an unfortunate nose, asked with a raised eyebrow. His voice, Xander thought, was the most attractive thing about Severus Snape, rich and dark and lush, more considered even than Giles’ initial reserved tones.
Xander risked a smile at him. Professor Snape had been pleasant enough, in an austere, uncomfortable manner, and Xander had been trying to accommodate that discomfort by moderating his own exuberance. He thought it was working when the harsh inner corners of Snape’s eyes relaxed slightly in response. Not a smile, but an acknowledgement.
“Well, of course you know all about the Hellmouth. And High School. Well, the one was under the other.” He grinned again. “At least until we blew it up.”
Giles tightened his arm around Xander’s shoulders in admonishment for his flippancy, but Snape’s only outward response was a few sharp blinks.
“Blew it… up?” He cocked his head, and Xander would almost attest to a sense of humor flickering behind the quirk of his mouth. “The Hellmouth or the High School?”
“The High School, of course! Every schoolboy’s fantasy…” Xander sighed dreamily, then laughed. “Didn’t Giles explain graduation?”
Snape shook his head and looked to Giles, who cleared his throat.
“Yes, well. I’m afraid that I was a bit distracted during our initial communication; a local sorcerer – the mayor of Sunnydale, in point of fact – sought to ascend to true demonhood during the eclipse at Xander’s graduation ceremony. We had difficulties inhibiting the process, and ultimately were forced to deal with him after his ascension. Xander has some familiarity with demolitions and warfare so he arranged the graduating class into an impromptu army, to hold off the demon’s attacks until the Slayer could lure him into the school itself, at which time we detonated enough explosives to demolish the rear of the building and to kill the demon.”
“Oh.” Snape considered both of them for a moment. “Please refrain from similar behaviors here at Hogwarts, if you please.”
Xander, reminded of where they were, looked at his surroundings again. They were on a dirt-and-stone road, with heavy iron fencing running to the left and right. Intricate, shining gates stood open, their curves buzzing with the visual hum of magic that he had only recently learned not everyone could see. Beyond the gates the road dissolved slowly into a handful of paths that led across wide grounds, curved around a shimmering expanse of lake, carefully avoided the brooding forest to one side, and embraced what looked like a distant sports stadium of some sort, before reconvening at the disproportionately tall castle.
“I don’t think I will, thanks. That place was not
designed to withstand any sort of attack, and I don’t have the expertise to bring it down safely.”
Giles made an inquiring noise, while Snape stared blankly.
“Just look at it!” He explained, making a broad sweep of his hand to encompass the view. “There’s no surrounding wall, just these gates, and the entire thing isn’t designed properly from a non-magical perspective. Even if the place wasn’t pretty much vibrating with magic I’d assume there was something unusual about it; I don’t think regular people could build something that looked like that and would stay up. But it is
ridiculously magical. I’d assume that the magic would have to be dissipated before the castle itself could be damaged, and without that magic the weight of the stone would bring the whole thing tumbling anyway!”
Snape smiled, slowly and unexpectedly. “You are not what I imagined, nor what you appeared to be.”
Xander replied with a questioning noise, and looked to Giles.
Giles returned his own soft smile and another squeeze about the shoulders. “You know as well as I that you never express such competence or self-awareness around the girls, and Professor Snape has only ever encountered you in that context.”
Xander shrugged ruefully and pulled away. “They are a bit over-protective, aren’t they.”
Snape began to respond to the non-question with one of his own when Giles caught his eye and cut him off with a curt shake of his head and a gesture to the castle ahead of them.
“Shall we proceed?” He asked instead, sweeping his hand forward in invitation. Giles and Xander both nodded and the three of them began to follow the road up to the castle.
Snape had been surprised by the boy’s apparent disinterest in anything but Hogwarts’ defensive prospects – though he himself never felt the first years’ wonder at seeing it, he was struck by its grandeur every time he returned – and found himself gratified as they progressed and Harris’ eyes grew wide and his mouth lax. His breathing even changed, first speeding up with excitement, then mellowing as he seemed to drink in and almost incorporate his surroundings. Snape took pleasure in the realization that, like it had a handful of students he had known, Hogwarts was welcoming Harris home.
He wasn’t entirely sure why Albus had chosen him to liaise with the group of teenagers in Sunnydale and accompany one of their number back to Hogwarts; he had, in fact, railed against the command up to the point he actually apparated to London and the Council Headquarters. After the fact, however, he was almost glad for the opportunity to meet one of the legendary Slayers, a true ritual witch, and a werewolf who was significantly less infuriating than Lupin – he was considering offering the boy monthly doses of Wolfsbane in exchange for allowing him to experiment with the formula; werewolves were not particularly hard to come by in the wake of Greyback’s rampage, but few seemed so quietly intelligent or accommodating. And of course there was his present company: Rupert Giles, considered a rogue by the Watcher’s Council for his absolute devotion to his Slayer’s well-being, and Xander Harris.
He still wasn’t sure what, exactly, to make of the boy.
Apparently, in the observation period precedent to a ritualized trial for the Slayer called the Cruciamentum
, one of the observers – a wand-wizard who had gone to work for the Council – had noticed Harris’ anomalous reactions to magic in his vicinity. He unconsciously followed the passage of silent, invisible spells, he twitched in the presence of charmed objects, and a simple test jinx cast at his back – an itching hex – he brushed aside with a twitch of what looked like accidental magic. The wizard in question had arranged an encounter with the boy at a local coffee shop and attempted to use Legilimancy – breaking more than a handful of accords international, local, and British – and found the boy’s mind to be completely occluded. Harris did not register the assault, nor unconsciously throw the wizard from his mind. He simply had impenetrable shields.
The wizard included a note about Harris’ possible affinity to wand magic in the final report, and the Council’s board had dithered for several months over whether or not to turn the matter over to Albus Dumbledore and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Apparently they had considered contacting the appropriate Wizarding authorities in America, only to find that they were virtually nonexistent; the insular Ministry had never really considered the matter, presuming that the Americans were keeping to themselves out of pride or paranoia. Wizardry – or wand magic – was a relative unknown in the Americas, however, overwhelmed by the different methods through which power had been channeled by various native populations for millennia. An affinity for wands bred out quickly, within a generation or two, and inherent magical capability was either routed through an alternative medium or lost altogether. But the Hellmouth complicated all assumptions about proper magical theory, resulting in an untrained teenage wizard where none should be. Thus the Watcher’s Council had suggested that Albus contact the boy’s mentor, Rupert Giles, in the hopes that he could convince the boy to attend proper training before his accidental magic interacted with the Hellmouth in an unfortunate manner.
While Giles himself was a sorcerer – if no longer practicing – rather than a wizard, he was still capable of utilizing Floo Powder. The Council had warned him of their findings and notified him that Albus would be in touch. Severus had not been included in those early meetings; the only time he had spoken with Giles had been the final conversation before he made his way, via portkey and apparition, to California. Harris himself had only spoken to the Headmaster once before Severus’ arrival and, though he had agreed to attend Hogwarts’ for at least a summer of abbreviated training, had preferred to defer his questions until he could ask them in person. That alone had garnered Severus’ hesitant respect, as he too felt that conversations by Floo were rather more stilted than otherwise. There was always a subtle assumption of power by the one who was not
on his knees with his head on floor level, and the green flames obscured details of facial expressions on both sides.
Albus had warned Severus before his departure to be unusually accommodating – it was clear that the Headmaster knew more than he was telling about Harris, but Severus was more than used to remaining in the dark until Albus decided to be obliging – but his first impression upon arriving in Sunnydale had been to despair. He had portkeyed to Los Angeles, as the Hellmouth disrupted most means of magical travel, and been met by Giles and his aged automobile. Giles had spent the two hour drive providing Severus with what he knew of Harris’ background: a sunny-natured boy with an uncomfortable home-life with unpleasant, alcoholic parents, a long-term friendship with the burgeoning ritual witch, taking it upon himself to stake one of his only friends after the boy had been turned, and his consequent stoic determination to fight at the Slayer’s side. Unfortunately, all of that was contrasted with a warning about the boy’s rash decisions, dubious fighting technique, poor performance in school, and blind, jealous devotion to his friends. At least, that had been Severus’ interpretation of the facts presented, which had been seemingly borne out by later observation. Then again, both Harris’ remarks and Giles’ quiet support since the two had arrived on Hogwarts’ grounds had implied a masque of sorts, and Severus and Giles had arrived in Sunnydale to be greeted by a boisterous mass of teenage anxiety which might have skewed his perspective.
Buffy Summers – ridiculous name for a Slayer, really – had burst through the door immediately upon their arrival in the small courtyard. She had made demands of Giles and cast aspersions on Severus’ own character, locking him in with a suspicious, cynical glare even as she ostensibly welcomed them both into the Watcher’s townhouse. He had made his silent way past her with little more than a brusque nod and had noticed Harris first, perched on the edge of the couch with a pretty young redhead half in his lap, rolling his eyes at Giles. He had been somewhat taken aback by the disrespectful behavior until he had noticed Giles’ smirk and realized that the two were commenting on the Slayer’s actions. The redhead, Willow Rosenberg, had been all grasping hands and big eyes while her werewolf boyfriend, one Daniel Osbourne, stood by in laconic resignation. It had been obvious from the interrogation that commenced – notably, his major inquisitors had in fact been the two women – that Harris’ friends were immensely protective of him. Considering what the small group actually did
, Severus had gained the impression that the boy was quite nearly incompetent. He had joked incessantly, grinned, hugged ‘his girls’ close, and peppered the others’ conversation with off-color commentary. Occasionally he would say something genuinely witty, Severus suddenly recalled, and the werewolf would snort in appreciation, but Harris would mark the blank looks on the girls’ faces and quickly draw their attention to another line of frenetic babble.
A sharp noise ahead drew Severus’ attention. When he saw what awaited him he gave a sharp, impatient huff and turned his attention elsewhere. He would simply have to withhold judgment on the boy; his blatantly Hufflepuff attributes were honest in their own way – he truly appeared to be absolutely devoted to his small circle – but did not comprise the entirety of his character. He would bear watching.
***Alrighty, there were complaints because I set this as an intro to a series of stories, so now it's just the first chapter instead. Be happy!