Exercise and Exorcise
Disclaimer: BTVS owned by Joss Whedon, et. al.; HP by J.K. Rowling. This work is for fun, not profit. I own none of the characters. Any failure on the humor front is, of course, mine.
A/N: Maybe 5 years post-Chosen for BTVS. Ignores Season 8-9 comics. Starts with HP Book 1 and is mostly AU, non-canon after that. All significant action takes place in the Potterverse.
Classes, classes, and more classes. Two full weeks in and all the classes were beginning to meld together in her mind. Buffy couldn't really fault the teachers. This WAS a school, after all, and these kids did need to learn their magical ABCs. But where was the magical equivalent of the Bronze? Why the heck was the first Hogsmeade weekend not until Halloween? The Hufflepuff Common Room could be fun, though most of the jokes and pranks they pulled there were not very inventive. It was mildly amusing to sit there as an adult in a child's body and whip out a remark that scandalized the rather pure Puffy kids. Faith would have gloried in that, of course, but it paled on Buffy after a short time. The Scoobies were here with some key objectives in mind. The only thing that could distract her in full mission mode was some serious, 'R'-rated and above, adult playtime.
The Puffies weren't ready for that and, to be frank, her 11-year old body wasn't ready either. They'd finally gotten out to the Forbidden Forest for some Slayerly exercise just last night. The school had put on a late summer picnic at the lake that went late into the evening. While the fireworks were going off over the water past midnight, they’d drifted away from the group and out for a quick patrol.
It was a satisfying one, too. They'd quickly tracked down and nailed 3 different vampire nests, staking or otherwise slaying about 20 vamps of the 10-50 year old age, but no fledges or masters. On the way back, they'd also found a couple of Polgara demons right at the edge of the wards, looking hungrily at the picnicking crowds. Willow and Xander had taken them on with their new magical swords and had done really well. Buffy had to step in and make the killing strike for Willow; that was s-o-o not Will's thing after all. But a good test for the two of them, while finally providing a well-rounded workout for her Slayerness. A plus was that they'd made it back to the picnic before anyone noticed anything.
Coming back into the area of the picnic, they'd made straight for the buffet. Step 1 of the 'H and H' routine complete, she'd then turned to Willow with look of angst on her face.
"Wills, do you feel it?" she'd asked.
"What, Buffy? Is there something the matter?" Willow had whispered back, "I don't feel anything."
"That's what I thought," she'd replied, "I got nothing here. No tinglies in the naughty bits at all." Her woebegone expression teetered on the edge of tears. "Slaying as a pre-adolescent has got some serious drawbacks!"
Willow and Xander had laughed long and loud at that. "I thought you said it was only Faith who was hung up on the second H," Xander had chuckled.
"I lied," Buffy had pouted. "It's sort of a thing. Can't describe it unless you're a Slayer, but it's part of what keeps you coming back for more."
As if all that weren't enough. They'd also picked up a stalker. One Hermione Granger of Gryffindor. Buffy had seen her often in the Slayer dreams prior to coming here, part of the golden trio that formed the backbone story of this timeline over the next few years. Apparently, she was playing lone wolf right now, as none of the Scoobies ever saw her alone with Pothead or the Weasel, as Xander had taken to calling them.
So, what to do, what to do, with little miss stalker queen? They could confront her and scare her away, but that would put a big hole in their agenda. They could read her into the program cold, so to speak, but that felt wrong, not secure enough. Xander had suggested they do a "false flag" thing, getting her hooked on with them by building a different cover story. This would require the Scoobs to pretend to be working on a different agenda and letting Hermione help. But that would be W-A-Y complicated to figure out and maintain, and any slippages in the cover could drive Hermione away from them. Not worth the risk, judged Buffy. They needed to do something that gave her part of the truth, and then let her make her own decision (not that it was really hers, mind) as to whether to engage with the Scoobs.
She called to Wills and Xander mentally. 'Guys, let's go to our corner and talk about our little stalker friend.'
'What's up, Buff,' thought Wills. 'Decided on a plan?'
'I think so,' said Buffy, 'but let's hash it out in the Common Room. Too much brain talk makes Buffy migraine-susceptible.'
Buffy got to their comfy corner first by a minute or two. The Puffies working there all got the cutest pre-occupied looks on their faces as she arrived and left quickly. Great spell from Wills, thought Buffy admiringly, hiding them in plain sight. Major kudos for that. Even the Sunnydale High library had been rife with eavesdroppers and wandering walk-ins. Trust Wills to learn from that experience!
Willow and Xander arrived. Pulling her stray thoughts together, Buffy started in, "Ok, guys, I think I know how we play this."
"Lemme guess," Xander said with a wide smile, “I become her red-hot love machine diverting her from all other inquisitive thoughts about us Scoobies?"
"EWWWWW and can I just add a major Ick to that," said Willow. "Xander, SHE is 11. YOU are a 27-year old man in the body of an 11-year old. Can you say 'robbing the cradle'?”
"Buffy is always talking about getting some evil smoochies from those Slytherin punks," said Xander defensively.
"Talk, yes. Action, no. Red-Hot-Love Plan #1 vetoed, Xander," said Buffy. "Now, let's focus on my idea."
"Well, give it to us, Buffster. You're plans are ALWAYS s-o-o-o good," snarked Xander.
"Down, boy," said Buffy dismissively, "I've gotten way better and you know it. So listen up. I think the key thing about Hermione is she has a monster jones for being the smartest/bestest at everything."
"Boy, does she," said Xander. "I thought she was gonna cry when Willow beat her to the punch on that question about Mandrakes in Herbology last week."
"And," said Buffy, "Who are the only three in this school capable of competing with her for smartest & bestest?"
Willow and Xander looked thoughtful at this, turning it over in their minds to see if that agreed with their own assessment of the situation. In their joint classes, Hermione'd been the only one besides them to win points from answering obscure questions. She'd also looked somewhat furious to be outnumbered 3 to 1 by the Scoobies. Was this potential for an alliance or outright war?
"Yeah," said Wills slowly, "I think I see where you're going."
"Right," said Buffy. "We won't read her in per se, but we'll draw her in slowly by doing stuff and showing her things to learn that she can't possibly do herself. Willow, you'll be key to that."
"Ah, so," Xander intoned, "Mistress Willow will be Sensei to young apprentice Hermione. Nice plan!"
"Yep, kills multiple birds with one stone," agreed Buffy. "By the time she's in deep with us, it'll be too late to back out. We just need to make sure she doesn't disconnect with the soon-to-be golden trio because of us. Can't rock the timeline too badly over the next 7 years or we'll never get finished cleaning up the fall out."
"Ok, I can do this! I love playing teacher," said the red-head excitedly. "Now when and how do we start?"
"Well, how about with a little exorcism," said Buffy with a dark grin, "No self-respecting witch can resist a good casting-out spell. And I know just how we can play it with her..."
Willow hurried forward to walk alongside Hermione on the way to Herbology the next day. Hermione was straggling behind the other Gryffs, who were still treating her rather meanly for no good reason that Willow could see. She felt for Hermione, she really did. This plan might be a shock to her system, but it would be good for her in the long run, thought Wills.
"Hi, Hermione," she said brightly, "do you want to partner with me in Herbology today?"
"Uh, why?" said Hermione suspiciously. "Don't you want to work with one of your friends, Willow?"
"We're the odd ones out in Hufflepuff," said Willow, "we're Americans, you know. Which always leaves one of us looking for a partner. I thought it might be more fun to work with someone who can hold her own with us than one of the other random Gryffs. And that person would be you."
"Well," said Hermione a little defensively, "I'm not quite sure about that. The three of you seem to know an awful lot of magic for first years."
"We grew up orphans on the Hellmouth, in good ol' Sunnydale, USA," said Willow proudly. "We had to learn stuff on our own just to survive. And no one told us we couldn't use the wands that were left to us when we were little, 'cause almost everyone else there was non-magical. So we've been using practicing for years!"
Hermione's eyes grew big and round, "You lived on the Hellmouth?" she squeaked. "No book I've read even believes you can use magic there without it going crazy on you!"
"Yup," said Willow with a smile, "it's tricky, for sure. Wand magic is tough. It goes wonky. So we also taught ourselves serious earth magic. White stuff, for the most part, but the Hellmouth tends to put a dark tinge on everything. Very powerful stuff, but it can get out of hand if you're not careful."
"Oh, my God!" said Hermione. "You can do Wicca? I can't even find any real texts about it. It's not even listed in the card index of the restricted section of the library."
"That's right," said Willow. "We had to use a lot of Wicca spells just to stay safe from the baddies that roam around the Hellmouth. You know, vamps, demons, zombies, etc. We were fighting those guys on almost a regular basis."
"You've got to be kidding," said Hermione. "Eleven-year old kids fighting vampires?"
"Uh, huh," said Willow, nodding her head. "Around a Hellmouth, it comes down to fighting, hiding, or getting eaten. We've practiced major wand spells to help us hiding -- like disillusionment spells -- and we've trained with swords, axes, stakes and knives in case we have to fight. But Wicca spells -- warding, exorcisms, summoning, glamours of all sorts, dimensional portals, hellmouth closings, re-ensoulment of vamped-out friends -- those have been a huge part of our gameplan."
"You can do a re-ensoulment spell?" said Hermione faintly.
It looked as if Hermione had been hit with a troll hammer. Despite growing up non-magical and reading all the fantasy classics before finding out about her own magical powers, she still didn't believe children could be heroes. And what Willow was talking about was nothing less than heroic! She hadn't even realized there were normal people living on the Hellmouth. It was not an encouraged topic for study in the references she'd found. Wand wizards, even Dumbledore, had refused to study Hellmouths in detail because of the effect they had on their own magic. Hermione's mind was in a whirl. What were they even doing at school here if they'd had to accomplish all that just to survive?
She was taking the bait well, thought Buffy, and it was about time for Willow to set the hook. She winked at Willow who nodded imperceptibly, giving a sharp tug on her line, playing Hermione like Xander's bass fishing video game.
"So, anyway, partners?" she asked Hermione, "we really don't know much about Herbology except where we've needed items for spells. You seem to have a real handle on it."
"Will you teach me?" cried Hermione. "If I partner with you, will you guys teach me Wicca? Can you really do disillusionment spells? Do you know more things like that? NEWT-level magic?"
Willow glanced rearward towards Buffy and Xander, giving them a thumbs-up behind her back. Hook, line, sinker. Time to boat this one -- a weird image of a fish with a Hermione face flashed through her mind -- thought Willow.
"Sure we can do disillusionment, just ask Draco Malfoy. We did him on the train," said Willow. "We'll show you tonight after dinner," she offered, "and we're planning on doing a big Wicca spell too after curfew. An exorcism. We could use a fourth power source. You can help if you want."
"An exorcism?" Hermione was flabbergasted. Three first-years doing an exorcism? She had to see this, to see if it was real, if nothing else.
"Yeah, we found a really nasty ghost in our Common Room the other day, a soul-sucker, almost like a Dementor." said Willow. "You've heard of those, right? It's focus is in a chamber in the basement right in the heart of the school. It could be real trouble if it's allowed to hang around here."
"Why don't you go to Dumbledore?" cried Hermione. "Or McGonagall or any of the other teachers?"
"We don't wanta bother them with the small stuff," smirked Willow. She could see Hermione mouthing to herself, 'exorcism is the small stuff?' She almost laughed out loud at the eagerness she could see in Hermione's shining eyes.
"So, are you in, or what?"
Now they were in the Scooby corner of the Hufflepuff Common Room. There were a few remarks about inviting a Gryff in when they'd come back right after dinner, but mostly light-hearted ones. Hufflepuffs weren't very judgmental unless their loyalties were put to a test. After they got to their usual spot, of course, the spells kept everyone away. Hermione had no clue about that, but she was too fascinated with the speed the Scoobies were doing their homework to notice anyway.
She had never been part of a group that was so quick, thought Hermione. They were bludgeoning their way through the homework and essays for about 6 classes in just a few hours. She was struggling to hold her own, to be honest. But intellectual stimulation brought out the best in her. She felt like getting to know Willow, Buffy and Xander like this was going to be a major high point in her life. She was completely exhilarated, to tell the truth, and they hadn't started in on the spellwork yet.
The warm Hufflepuff Common Room was also a nice change of pace. Leather, brass, copper, and other warming elements were livened up by plants of all sort selected by Professor Sprout. There were a number of habitrail type environments for small animals in the room, and the liberal windows made you feel as if it really were not a basement at all. As Buffy had said, "So not a dungeon, and believe me, I'm thankful for that." And not nearly as rowdy as Gryffindor’s, as much as she enjoyed that, thought Hermione.
As the room began to empty out, Hermione got quieter and quieter. They didn't exactly do bed check in Gryffindor, and she really didn't think her roommates would realize she wasn't there, but it was a bit unnerving to be so far off the reservation. For the first time since she'd come to Hogwarts, she was out of the dorms at regular curfew time, and it worried her a bit.
She decided to bring the elephant into the room, as an icebreaker if nothing else. "So, did you guys know I was watching you," she asked somewhat tremulously.
"Stalking us, you mean," smirked Buffy. "You're not destined to be a Watcher, anyway, Hermy."
"TMI, Buffy," warned Willow gently, "watch the TMI!"
"What do you mean?" asked the now-slightly scared Gryffindor girl. "What's this about my destiny?"
"Oh, nothing," said Willow, "except you're gonna make a great witch, and great witches are doers, not just researchers."
"So will you explain about the Owlery, then?" said Hermione, "And the Forbidden Forest? And the Slayer and the End of Days?"
"Busy, busy girl, I see!" laughed Buffy. "Don't worry. The Owlery was just a little payback for the pranks those owls were playing on me. No harm, no foul there."
Then Willow said, "And the Forbidden Forest was just a little vamp business. As in ‘a-little-vamps-turning-to-dust-for-sneaking-too-close-around-the-school-type’ business. We don't tolerate that at the Hellmouth; we aren't going to put up with it here."
“You really fought vampires,” Hermione asked, her eyes huge.
“There’s an old Hellmouth saying, Hermione,” said Buffy. “See vampire, slay vampire. It’s a good rule no matter where you are.”
Xander was smiling, enjoying the way Buffy and Willow were dancing around the truth. If Hermione knew the references, she would be hot on the truth now. Gotta keep it on track though. "So, when do we do the spell, Willow?" he asked.
Willow nodded, knowing what he was doing. "1 AM, the witching hour," she said. She saw Hermione shiver at that. It did SOUND quite spooky put that way. "Why don't we work on our disillusionment charms now. We'll need to use them to get to the spell location without being seen anyway."
They worked on disillusionment for awhile. They could see how talented Hermione was with her wand work; she mastered it in less than an hour, despite her lowly first year status. They were all very pleased with her -- they had all done it faster but with a Wand of Sineya in your hand you could do most charms without even practicing. Hermione had been brilliant, they had to admit. Now, if she took the next bit okay then they were gonna be 5 by 5.
"It's time to move," said Buffy, putting on her command persona like a suit of armor. Hermione was a little startled. She would've thought maybe Willow was the leader of the group, but Buffy just smiled and let a little power roll out towards Hermione, who jumped in shock at the strength of the touch.
"Easy, Hermione," Xander said, putting a hand on her shoulder, "Buffy's just our take charge gal, no worries."
"Ok," said Buffy, "do we have our supplies? Yes? Good. Now, around the circle, disillusion the person next to you. Wait one, first, Wills, you got those glasses you charmed?"
"Here they are, Buffy," said Willow cheerfully, passing out a pair of stylish sunglasses to each of the night hawking first-years.
"Ok, do the charm, then put on the shades." ordered Buffy.
Each of them did so, Hermione suppressing a gasp as she realized that the sunglasses were charmed to allow them to see her disillusioned partners. That, that was simply unheard of, at least according to the texts she'd read while looking up disillusionment after Herbology. 'Where did they learn all this?' she thought anxiously, ‘How can I compete with them if they're going to casually do magic everyone else assumes is impossible.'
Their trip through the halls to a chamber under the exact center of Hogwarts went smoothly. Xander had cast another spell on the group called 'Muffliato' that she had never heard of, and they could talk freely as they moved. They were mostly silent, though, except for orders from Buffy. She was moving through the halls like a predator, the look on her face saying there was nothing in this basement that could stop her. Hermione was stunned by how dynamic Buffy looked.
The three of them together were like a well-trained military team, thought Hermione. Who knew that growing up on a Hellmouth, or having close friends like this, could be such a magical advantage? It was all a bit overwhelming but she was so excited it was all she could do not to bounce up and down in glee. This was why she had come to Hogwarts! She knew it!
An hour later, she was not so sure. The prep work for the Wicca exorcism had been extremely satisfying to Hermione. Willow explained to her all about the magical balance, how power cannot be used in one place without paying a price in another. This was a new concept to Hermione, but it had seemed instinctively clear. It made her question the use of wand-related powers though -- who was paying the price, and how high was it? Maybe these three knew the answer because she was sure her teachers were not going to address this Wiccan concept.
But after the first two pentagrams were drawn -- a protective pentagram for the foursome, she thought and the exit pentagram for the ghosts -- a third and fourth pentagram were drawn, so that the interior pentagram for summoning was enclosed by a triangle made by the other three. This made Hermione nervous. Why three, she thought?
Then Willow explained the spell. She and Willow would be in the 1st outside pentagram. The one in the middle would be the summoning/exit pentagram. And the two other pentagrams would be where Buffy and Xander sat.
This seemed odd to Hermione, though she wasn't an expert. First of all, "summoning" had an ominous term to it. The fact that Buffy had used a silver knife to cut herself, then drained about a half-pint of her own blood into the summoning pentagram did nothing to make her feel better about it.
That Xander and Buffy were expected to be sitting in separate pentagrams seemed dangerous. Why would they not all be together in one pentagram?
"Willow," she said nervously, "could you explain how this is going to work, please? Why is Buffy's blood in the middle of the pentagram where the ghost has to leave this place?"
"I knew you'd ask that," chuckled Willow. "And you have practically no experience with this type of spell. Go British primary school system!"
"Look," she said, "I know you're nervous. Here's how it works. You and I start chanting. Our power flows through that connector line there -- notice that it's a one-way connector -- into the summoning space. Ghostie appears there, drawn by the chant and Buffy's blood, which is way magical for reasons I won't go into. Once in the pentagram, he is trapped by our spell and has two choices: be destroyed by the power or exit to the astral plane."
"So why are Buffy and Xander sitting in pentagrams that have two way connectors?" asked Hermione. "Won't the ghost just join them in their pentagrams? And isn't that dangerous?"
"Again, good thinking Hermione, but no," said Willow. "Xander and Buffy are not going to use their power to help us per se; those two are going to move to the astral plane, though their bodies will remain behind. The ghost will have no choice but to follow them or leave through its own pentagram. As the ghost comes through to the astral plane, Xander will, as a representative of this earth, help judge whether the entity there is worthy of redemption, which means it may move onward. Or in the case of the soul sucker, most likely be hurled into one of the lowest hell dimensions."
"Which are not pretty, believe you me," interjected Buffy.
Hermione turned to Buffy, "How would you know what a hell dimension is like?" Only for Buffy to roll her eyes, as behind her Willow was mouthing 'not helping.'
"Just trust me on that," said Buffy. "Been there, done that, got the demonic t-shirt."
Willow snapped her fingers to get Hermione's attention again, "Don't listen to Buffy, Hermione," she said, "she's just trying to spook you."
"She's succeeding!" Hermione said rather wildly.
"Look, this is a major spell," said Willow. "We really could use your help on this. You are very powerful and that's an advantage in cases like this. You're probably the only one in this school who can help balance my power one-on-one."
Xander snickered at how the mention of her power straightened Hermione's spine. It also got her thinking about how this was going to work. Even better. He thought to Buffy and Willow, 'she's going to do it, just explain about the balance of the cores when she asks.'
'Good idea, Xan,' thought Willow and Buffy nodded.
And Hermione did ask, "So you need my power as a balance? How does that work then?"
"Another great question, Hermione," said Willow, looking pleased with Hermione's aptitude. "You and Xander have pure white magical cores. Which is of the good, believe me. But Buffy and I have twin cores, one white, one dark. Which means we have the ability to attain balance within ourselves. We need Xan here for the redemption thing, but we needed a fourth because to balance across the spell, Buffy and I are going to be using only our dark cores."
"Um, what?" muttered Hermione. She was totally confused now.
"Ok, Simplified version. Buffy and Xander are both going to ascend to the astral plane, Buffy using her dark and Xander his white magic. You and I are going to summon the ghost using my dark and your white magic. Buffy's blood draws any dark forces resident including the ghost, but the power forces the ghost to the astral plane, through one exit or another. Since you and I will balance here on Earth, and Buffy will balance Xan in the astral plane, the ghost will be unable to do anything except accept its judgment and move on in one direction or another. It won't have anything out of whack to latch onto that lets it stay here, or avoid judgment 'upstairs,' if you will."
This seemed to satisfy Hermione, though Buffy could tell she was really just taking things on faith. That crack about her power had re-energized her enthusiasm. A little honest admiration is all it takes, she thought. That was a lesson she'd learned the hard way over the years.
Willow went over the chants once more with Hermione. Then they began the spellwork, altering the rhythm and intensity of their chanting as each candle around the large area flamed into life. Buffy slipped out of her earthly shell easily, then reached over to help pull Xander through. He still got a wiggins doing astral plane stuff. He was bound to get over it; they were going to be practically living here in a few years cleaning this dimension up, she thought.
Buffy could sense the chanting becoming more powerful, more demanding. They hadn't told Hermione that the draw from Buffy's blood to her astrally-projected form was going to be too strong for almost any ghost in range to resist. They'd shown her how they'd made the spell as specific to the soul sucker as possible, but they were cheating: they knew it was going to bag a lot more ghosts than just that one. Hermione was going to be pissed when she heard about the results. Even more when she found out she was bound to the Scoobies now. Well, 6 years and about 9 months to fix that problem, she thought.
Ah, here come the spirits, she said to herself, as a great swarm of ghosts started plowing up through the bottom of the lower planes. Hope Xan is ready! She spoke mind-to-mind to him, 'You're up Judge Lynch, standby for incoming ghosties!'
"Just getting my containment beams, ready, Ghostbuster!" he laughed. "Who ya gonna call? Little ol’ me…"
Hermione awoke in her bed in Gryffindor. She felt slightly exhausted, magically speaking, but otherwise fairly normal. What a tremendously strange experience that had been. Buffy and Xander reported complete success, but Willow had advised her to keep her eyes shut, so she hadn’t seen much. But she'd actually felt the soul-sucker go by -- she'd never imagined anything as dark and evil as that -- and they had continued chanting for some time afterwards. There’d been strange ripplings in the air, palpable to her consciousness, but nothing as nasty as the soul sucker.
Once the spell was complete, Willow had waved her wand and vanished the pentagram and all their supplies. Hermione had been startled, but suppressed her exclamation of awe. These California kids seemed to be able to do any spell, no matter how advanced or complex! She barely blinked when Willow teleported her and all the books and papers she’d left in the Hufflepuff Common Room directly into her Gryffindor dorm. Now that was a trick she wanted to learn!
It was only at the end of breakfast that she'd learned she'd been had. Or used. Or something. Dumbledore came in and announced that, for some reason, every ghost in Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and possibly all of England had disappeared in the night. They believed it was a massive but previously unknown spell, possibly centered on the Castle itself. He requested that anyone with any information on it to report to their head of House or directly to him regarding anything they may have seen, heard, or done along those lines.
Hermione was literally horror-stricken. Sir Nicholas? The Fat Friar? Binns? Gone? She put her head down on the table and started crying. She knew Ron and Harry were looking at her in contempt. How little they knew, she thought. The spell had gone wrong! How could it have overshot by so much? Willow had explained all the steps. Maybe the two of them were just too powerful together? She had to tell McGonagall, who had just walked by and patted her on the back.
That was when she'd gotten a severely unpleasant shock. She tried to turn and speak to McGonagall, and she literally couldn't! She stopped and thought, then turned slowly to her and said, "Hello, Professor," but nothing about the spell would come out! She'd been hexed! She couldn't talk about what she'd done. Hermione looked over to the Hufflepuff table and saw the Scoobies, looking at her with concern in their eyes. It was them! They had done this! She was utterly enraged. I thought they were going to be my friends! Bloody Americans had used her power and made her participate in something horrible, and she couldn't even tell anyone about it!
Hermione stalked towards the Scoobies, the clear intent of verbally (or possibly physically) assaulting them written all over her face.
"She does the rage monster-thingy exceedingly well," said Buffy.
"Looks a bit like you when you're worked up," conceded Xander.
"We've gotta talk to her," sighed Willow. "She knows we pulled a semi-fast one on her."
As Hermione got over to the table, Buffy said immediately, "Not here. Not now." She followed that up with, "it wouldn't work in front of a crowd anyway. We’re all magically bound not to talk about it to anyone who wasn’t involved."
Hermione opened her mouth to argue, then stopped. Damn them! She wouldn't dignify that with a retort.
"Tonight, top of the Astronomy tower. 10 PM. We'll go somewhere you can yell at us."
Hermione looked each of them in the eye. None of them even flinched. Whatever had happened, they weren't grieving or even upset. They surely knew what they were doing all along. She gave Buffy a furious nod then stalked away.
Interlude 4: The Staff Room
"Well," said Minerva McGonagall, "more interesting than the first few weeks usually are, don't you think?"
"Agreed, Minerva," said Pomona Sprout. "It feels really strange knowing the Fat Friar is gone for good. Not to mention Binns, though the old fool simply could not be allowed to teach much longer anyway."
"Are they gone?" asked Filius Flitwick. "Are we completely sure of that, Severus?"
"I have told you and Dumbledore repeatedly," ground out Severus. "Someone -- possibly someone in this building -- cast a hugely complex spell with massive amounts of power. THE HOGWARTS GHOSTS ARE GONE. Onwards or downwards, who knows which. Along with every single ghost in Europe. Possibly even some of the weaker ones from Africa and America."
"What's Dumbledore's opinion?" asked Hagrid.
"He thinks it signals the beginning of the End of Days," said McGonagall. "Ever since that happening at Gringotts, he's been obsessed with it."
"What Gringotts event?" asked Snape.
"Er, he didn't give me the details, Severus, you'll have to discuss it with him," said McGonagall cagily. "So, how about the new students, Pomona? An interesting incoming class don't you think?"
"Absolutely," said Sprout, "those American Hufflepuffs of mine are simply amazing!"
McGonagall nodded. She'd seen much the same in transfiguration. "I think Hermione Granger is their match though. What a voraciously intelligent student she is. And such power!"
"I agree with you Minerva," said Flitwick, "the Americans are more advanced, and perhaps just as intelligent, but I don't think the power is there. Outrageous skills for their ages, but if they're exceptionally powerful, they've got it well-shielded and that kind of shielding is a complete impossibility for a first year."
"Well, all of their marks are off the charts! When is the last time you had four first years with perfect marks earning that many House points so early in the class year?" asked Sprout.
"Never in my memory," said McGonagall.
Snape interjected, "I quite agree with you about Granger. But what American trio are you talking about? Are they skipping Potions or something?"
Sprout looked offended. "Severus, you just reported them to me with perfect marks in potions." He gave her a blank look. "You don't remember? Summers - tiny blonde girl? Harris - tall brunette boy? Rosenberg - small red-head, looks a bit like a Weasley? American as they come?"
Snape checked his grade book and looked flabbergasted. While they were amused to see him this way, what in the world was going on with him? Every teacher eventually cracked at Hogwarts, of course. It was built into the tour here, basically. But completely forgetting 3 brand new, interesting, and incredibly talented students? Maybe they needed Poppy Pomfrey down here.
"Am I going crazy?" Snape asked seriously, "I can almost visualize them, but every time I think about them, my minds starts to drift...what was I talking about again?"
"Severus, are you confunded?" cried Flitwick. "How long have you been like this?"
"Like what?" a befuddled Snape answered.
"Get him up to the infirmary, Filius" ordered McGonagall, "I'll find Dumbledore. That's a spell of some sort, or my underwear’s not tartan plaid."
“I'll never get that image out of my head, Minerva,” groaned Hagrid, putting his hands over his eyes.
"Maybe it really is the End of Days," Sprout said to the table after Flitwick and Snape departed, "seeing Severus Snape in that condition is a long-due comeuppance. At the same time, anyone powerful enough to do that to him almost has to be bringing the apocalypse with them."
That evoked a good laugh from the remaining professors at the staff table. A good laugh, but a very nervous one as well.