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Period of Adjustment

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This story is No. 9 in the series "Shadow and Light". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: The problem with house elves is that they're very quiet when they're going about their work. The problem with Slayers is they don't like being snuck up on.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Xander-Centered > Theme: Real Family(Current Donor)phoukaFR712,3090207,92814 Aug 1114 Aug 11Yes
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter universe, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Pretender, and Mary Poppins are all copyrighted works, and all rights remain with their owners. No infringement is intended. Don't mind me. I'll clean up when I'm done.

Author's Notes: This is in response to the August Fic-a-Day challenge, which I'm doing terribly at. I spend hours wracking my brain for a crossover I can do in under 3000 words and can't come up with anything. Then, this standalone, sequel, whatever snuck into my head earlier today. All changes bring complications, and everybody has a . . .

Period of Adjustment

“GAH!” Buffy yelled, ducking pillows, stuffed animals, and hair brushes as she ran into the kitchen. “XANDER, IT'S NOT MY FAULT!

The house wouldn't let her reach him. In fact, it doubled its efforts, porting objects from throughout the house and dropping them on her. Buffy had all she could do to avoid being brained by game controllers and iPads.

Winky was the one who reached him, as he scrolled through his checklist. The formal Christmas and Solstice ball was the very next day, and while the big stuff was ready, the unending pile of little, bitty details had raised his blood pressure until his ears constantly rang.

“Master Xander! Master Xander!” Winky cried, tears streaming down her face. “Winky is sorry! Winky did not mean it! Winky will punish herself!”

“Whoa, whoa, WHOA!” Xander got to his feet, shouting. “Chataigne! Cut it out! NOW!”

The objects dropping from the ceiling above Buffy's head stopped in midair and then – sheepishly, he would have sworn – disappeared.

Buffy peeked upwards, and seeing that she was no longer under a rain of electronics, the softer things having been exhausted, put her arms down and stood up straight.

“Winky,” she panted, “I am so, so sorry. Are you okay?”

“Winky is very, very, very sorry,” the little house elf replied. “Whatever Winky did to upset Mistress Buffy, she will never ever do it again. How should Winky punish herself?”

The house flexed, enough that Xander worried it might start dropping appliances. Chataigne loved her house elf.

“Stop,” Xander said, taking a deep breath. “Everyone just stop, and we'll figure this out.”

As he said this, several more people spilled into the kitchen, tripping on the debris the house had left.

“Chataigne,” Xander growled. “You will clean this up. Now.”

The house creaked in an angry whine. A game controller disappeared. Then a hair brush. Then a pillow. Then a unicorn. Chataigne had apparently decided to take her time cleaning up.

“Buffy, are you okay?” Jarod asked, wide-eyed. When she nodded, he turned to Xander. “I didn't see what started it, but it was like the room exploded.”

“Is there anything I can do to assist?” Mary Poppins asked.

“Good grief, what a mess,” Giles added.

“Miss Poppins,” Xander said, keeping hold of his temper, “some tea, please. Buffy, you first.”

Buffy took a deep breath and pulled her hair back, trying to straighten it out. “I was on the laptop in my bedroom, and Jarod was watching some TV. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and, Xander, I swear, I just reacted. I didn't hear a thing, so it felt like an ambush. You know Winky's about the same size as a Pitcairn demon, and they've got similar ears.”

He had an idea where this was going. “Yes,” he agreed, “but Pitcairn demons smell like dog poop on a hot day.”

“I did miss that part,” she admitted, “but in my defense, they're smart enough to use Lysol.”

“What happened?”

Buffy took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I backhanded Winky, and after she bounced off the wall, I hit her with spinning back kick. When she started screaming she was sorry, I realized she wasn't an attacking demon. Xander, I'm really, really sorry.”

“Jesu- Winky, are you all right?” he demanded, kneeling in front of her.

Winky looked up at him, her huge eyes starting to brim with tears again. The house creaked ominously. Winky held her shoulders pinched up together and rubbed one arm with the other hand.

“Master Xander,” she said, almost squeaking, “Winky is very, very, very sorry for whatever she did to upset Mistress Buffy.”

Xander had to stop himself and remember the instructions from the book they got along with Winky. House elves were not humans. They responded differently. The writer of the book admitted that some families punished their house elves or even took out their temper on them. Once a house elf accepted a position with a family, she could not quit, only be fired with a gift of clothing. If a member of the household were a short-tempered bully, the elf was a great big target.

Winky wouldn't doubt for a second that she'd done something to deserve Buffy's violence, but house elves could be killed, and Slayers were strong enough to do it, even if it were an accident.

“Winky,” he said, turning her toward him. “Are you hurt at all? Buffy is very strong, and she didn't realize it was you. She thought you were something else attacking her, so she hit you, and then she kicked you. I need to know if you're hurt, Winky. Tell me.”

So neglected and abused by her last family, Winky was at a loss for a moment. The house ported a teddy bear onto the floor in front of her, and Xander handed it to her.

“This is for you to hold onto for a little while,” he said, making it clear it wasn't a gift. “Until you feel all better.”

Winky accepted the teddy bear.

“Winky's face hurts a little here,” she said, pointing to right cheekbone. Sure enough there was some swelling, and the start of a bruise.

“Anything else? It's important, Winky.”

“Winky's chest is a little sore,” she admitted.

She opened her arms, and Xander could see a perfect shoe print on her tea towel toga.

Buffy groaned. “Oh, Winky, I am so sorry. I swear I'll make it up to you.”

“Jared,” Xander said, gesturing with a hand. “Could you take a look? Make sure she doesn't have any cracked or broken ribs?”

“Of course,” Jarod said, getting down on his knees beside him.

“Winky, you let Jarod check you, okay?” Xander told her. “I will be right back.”

“Yes, Master Xander,” Winky said, subdued.

“Mister Harris,” Mary Poppins said in a dulcet tone, “your tea.”

“Thank you,” he said gratefully.

He never would have guessed in a thousand years that he'd ever like tea. He was a coffee man, through and through. He still teased Giles about it when he could. But when Mary Poppins offered you tea, you took it, because any tea Mary Poppins made, made things better.

He sipped it, noting that she'd gotten the lemon, sugar, and cream mixture just right, and felt a little peace settle in his stomach.

Giles was helping Chataigne get the last of the items picked up and returned. Mary Poppins was preparing a cold compress for Winky's cheek.

“Xander,” Buffy started, almost in tears herself. “I am so sorry-”

“It's okay,” he answered, waving her off. “We just need to get this figured out. Faith told me the same thing almost happened to her yesterday. She managed to stop herself before she actually hit Winky, though. I had to send Winky to Giles to dust all the books to get her to feel better.”

“She didn't make a single sound,” Buffy said. “If I'd heard anything like cleaning or whatever it was she was doing, I'd have checked before going Wolverine on her.”

“No one's blaming you,” he told her.

He took another long sip of his tea, set it on the counter, and returned to Jarod and Winky. Jarod was letting her polish his stethoscope while he checked her ribs.

“Some contusions,” he reported, “but no cracked or broken ribs. Same with her cheek.”

Xander breathed a sigh of relief.

“Winky, what were you doing in Buffy's room?” he asked.

“Winky was gathering dirty dishes for washing, Master Xander,” she answered.

“Are you always so quiet when you work?”

Winky looked at him askance. “A house elf should not be seen or heard unless a family member asks it. Winky would not disturb Mistress Buffy.”

And there was the crux of the problem. To be less than silent, efficient, and unnoticed would completely offend Winky's sensibilities as a house elf. But in a house filled with Slayerettes and two senior Slayers who'd seen a lifetime of hand-to-hand combat in a handful of years, it was a recipe for disaster. Buffy, because of experience, and Faith, more due to temperament, were likely to break first and ask “oh, were you putting my laundry away” second.

“Winky, do you think you could sing or whistle or something while you're working around the ladies?” Xander asked. “The problem is, both Buffy and Faith are used to being attacked by people being very quiet around them. They think someone or something is sneaking up on them.”

Winky's eyes moved back and forth in some internal search. “Master Xander, Winky does not know how to whistle or sing. It is not something house elves do.”

Xander rubbed the spot between his eyebrows.

“May I suggest,” Giles said, “belling the cat?”

Winky tipped her head and stared at Giles, baffled.

“Yeah,” Xander said, nodding. “That would work. If Winky can stand it. The house is lousy with jingle bells. I'm sure we could-”

“Mister Harris,” Mary Poppins interrupted, which she never did. “I must beg a favor and ask you to find some other device. I can barely stand jingle bells for the length of the season. Miss Winky is through the entire house night and day. I'm afraid I would be quite . . . uncomfortable.”

“Jingle bells . . . are bad?” Xander asked. This was news.

“Jingle bells are, in themselves, neither good nor bad,” she replied. “However, their sound tends to . . . put my nerves on edge.”

He tried, and he actually couldn't visualize Mary Poppins with her nerves on edge.

“Okay,” Xander said. “No jingle bells.”

“I'm sure we could find some very small decorative bells of the regular shape,” Giles said.

“Tonight? It's getting late, and all the stores are completely bought out,” Xander replied.

He thought for a minute, tapping his thumbnail against his teeth. Then he took out his cellphone.

“Chataigne,” he called, “I know it tickles, but just put up with it. I'll make it short.”

The house harrumphed at him.

It was a long shot. He'd given it to her as a birthday present when she turned eleven and had a thing for fairies and jewelry. It was a fad, and he hadn't seen her wear it since she'd started high school. They'd only been able to take so much with them from Sunnydale. It's not like there'd been a lot of time to pack. Still.

“Dawn.” He smiled when she picked up the call. “I'm sorry to bug you when you're in the middle of packing. I have a favor to ask.”

Dawn liked Winky as well. A lot. Even then, she was downstairs in less than a minute. She hadn't hesitated when he'd asked, which meant that she had brought it, she hadn't forgotten it in the last seven months, she knew exactly where it was, and she could lay hand on it almost instantly. Xander felt a nostalgic smile tug at his lips. You never knew, did you, what one small thing might mean to another person. He was surprised he'd remembered it.

“Got it,” Dawn announced, striding into the kitchen.

She held up her right hand, and from it, on a long fine chain was a metal ball about the size of a marble. It had a little decoration of golden circles around the sphere, but other than that, it was quite plain. It was silver, and Xander noticed there was no tarnish.

“What's that?” Jarod asked.

Dawn smiled. “Fairy bells.”

She shook the ball, and there was a tiny tinkling of little bells, like something out of a Disney movie.

“Hey,” Buffy said, straightening up. “That'll work. I remember when Dawn used to wear that every day. Bugged me a little the first day, and then I stopped noticing it.”

Winky watched, back and forth, with no idea what was going on.

Jarod made way for Dawn. Dawn knelt and held out the necklace.

“Hmmm. Have to quadruple the chain to make it work around your neck. How about we put it across your chest, from shoulder to hip?” Dawn asked.

“What is it, Mistress Dawn?” Winky asked, studying it.

“This is safety equipment mandated by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Agency,” Dawn told her. “So anyone in the house, but especially Buffy and Faith, know that it's you and not someone sneaking up on them.”

She dropped the necklace over Winky's head and then maneuvered her left arm through the chain as well. The metal sphere dropped into place with another high pitched chiming.

“Work for you?” Xander asked Mary Poppins.

“Indeed,” she said, smiling.

“Adjust that the way you want it,” Xander told Winky, “but you are responsible for wearing it at all times, Winky. It's not clothes. It's safety equipment.”

Winky twitched it into place, causing two notes to chime just on threshold of hearing.

“Winky is not noisy?” the little house elf asked.

“Nope,” Xander said emphatically.

Winky thought about it for a moment, and then took a loop from one of the tea towels and secured the bell to her waist.

“Winky wears safety equipment so Mistress Buffy and Mistress Faith are not snuck up on,” she agreed.

Happy and ready to go back to work, Winky began to bounce, chiming, out of the room, when Mary Poppins caught her and held out the compress.

“Twenty minutes with this on your cheek, Miss Winky,” Mary Poppins instructed. “And another twenty with it on your chest. Then you may resume your work.”

“Yes, Mistress Mary Poppins,” Winky answered.

She still bounced out of the room.

Xander let out his breath in a slow exhale.

“Thank you,” he told Dawn. “I owe you.”

“You sure as he-heck do,” she answered. “I want a new pendant for my next birthday. Swarovsky or better. Got it?”

“What's a Swarovsky?”

The End.

The End

You have reached the end of "Period of Adjustment". This story is complete.

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