Spiders and Trolls
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.
Chapter 6: Spiders and Trolls
October came. No one had yet been offered the History of Magic post to replace the unlamented Professor Binns. Hagrid had set in on most of the HoM classes, though only to monitor progress on the assigned reading from the course syllabus. Dumbledore was rumored to be interviewing candidates for the post, but none had come in to "test teach" the class as of yet.
Hermione was keeping her distance from the Scoobies, for the most part. They saw her in Herbology twice a week and at the top of the Astronomy tower when the classes met for the practical observations. They all got along fine, but the elephant in the room was still there. That was all OK to the Sunnydale veterans. Hermione didn't really need to join them at this stage of the game. She needed time and space to adjust, to decide on her own what she believed was happening in the wizarding world. She would be readier than most when her destiny caught up with her, if it came to that, thought Buffy. At least she, to some extent, had a choice. Patience was called for, never one of her better traits. So patience it would be.
Of course, that was the attitude until the Slayer got bored. Research mode had never been Buffy's favorite life setting anyway. With the Slayer, she pretty much had to be action girl. The Slayer/action girl was frustrated because progress had slowed on multiple fronts: sorting out the portraits/photographs couldn't be done without some detailed research on how the demon essences were being captured and used; they still hadn't found an adequate, secure space for a command/training center; they hadn't nailed down an escape hatch from the Hufflepuff dorms; and they hadn't slayed anything inside or outside of the Castle since the night of the picnic.
The last was the real issue. Slayers need to slay. Simple principle, harder to put in practice here at Hogwarts. After slaying almost nightly for 12 years, Buffy was not used to having to wait to work off her demons. Or work out ON demons, more specifically. Since they were stalled now, she wanted to hit the Forbidden Forest again, harder this time. Starting with the spidery blot she'd pinned down the one time they'd gotten into the forest. She wanted Willow to teleport them there, and she thought it would make a good outing for Hermione. She hadn't seen them slay; it was part of making the decision, She wouldn't have signed up knowing what it entailed, given a choice in the matter. She sniffed. As if. Destiny girls didn't get choices.
Willow and Xander hemmed and hawed, but agreed in the end. The Forest was part of their larger agenda, and it was now mid-October. Schoolwork was not proving troublesome, as most of it was practical and their wands made it almost easy. But until they got their HQ settled, doing major Wiccan spellwork in the Castle seemed like a bad idea. They were bound to get caught at some point. Nobody other than Hagrid wandered far into the Forbidden Forest. If they could clean the worst of it up, they could do the more powerful rituals out there, undisturbed.
"I'm not sure about asking Hermione," said Willow. "Don't you think it would be a bit much for her?"
"Deep end, learn to swim," said Buffy. "That's what Merrick did to me. And that's what happened to you guys, basically, when you started following me around."
"Still," said Xander. "It seems rough. What if we run into something really dangerous?"
"Hey!" said Buffy, in and offended tone. "What the heck can possibly be more dangerous than a frustrated me?”
"Ok," sighed Willow, "point taken. But if we get Hermione killed first time out of the box, you are so gonna have to resurrect her, Miss Unresolved Slayer Tension."
"Pot-kettle-black," said Buffy. "You know your Wiccan powers are building right now. They need release as well. You can't bleed it back into the Earth as easily inside the Castle or even out on the grounds 'cause of the wards."
"Busted," laughed Xander at Willow's look of chagrin. "Sorry, Will. We did notice. Just wanted to see if you could work it out before we said something."
"Well," said Willow, "I'm working on it, but you're right. A biggish teleport spell would be a good power release for me."
"Who's gonna ask Hermione?" said Buffy. "Should I do it, or will that scare her off?"
"It's your party, Buffy," said Xander. "You issue the invites, I'll do the planning, Willow will get us there."
"Go for it, soldier boy," smirked Buffy, "I'm just glad I finally get to kill something."
Buffy sidled up to Hermione after Herbology the next day. "So, Hermy? Got any plans for Saturday night?”
"Plans?" replied Hermione. "I'm an eleven year old girl living in a medieval boarding school with no TV, no movies, no video games, no radio, and no girlfriends to hang out with. What, other than studying, would I be doing on Saturday night?"
Buffy was kind of hurt about the girlfriend crack. She and Willow had been TRYING to get Hermione to believe in them, and they'd happily be her girlfriends after all. Quite naturally, Hermione was still suspicious of their motives. But Buffy plowed on anyway. What she needed was distraction and something with a bit of adventure to it. Buffy had that alright. Just in the store, fresh fall fashions, with the kicky boots to go with it.
"Well," said Buffy, "I thought you might want to see a little Slaying demonstration. Midnight? Meet in the Astronomy Tower again? Waddya say?"
Hermione took in her breath with a gasp. Since Buffy had acknowledged being a Slayer, Hermione had been tormented by what that meant. Her usual source, the library, had nothing, just as it had next to nothing about Wiccan spells. If she wanted to know, the only way she could find out was to ask the trio, which opened the door to a lot of other things she didn't want to talk about yet.
But a demo, what could she mean? She had to know, though. She was Hermione Granger. That was the defining thing in her life. SHE HAD TO KNOW, and maybe this was a way to find out. First things first, though.
"Would I be in any danger?" she asked seriously, looking at Buffy closely. She might not be a Slayer, but Hermione could always tell a lie.
Buffy’s face was completely relaxed, "Everything involves a little danger. Is it any worse that being in your common room with Fred and George Weasley running around like loose cannons? Any more dangerous than Potions with a former Death Eater?"
Hermione was shocked at the last statement, "How do you know Snape was a Death Eater?” she asked sharply. "You can't just make that accusation without proof," she remonstrated.
"Willow mojo'ed the Dark Mark offa his arm," offered Buffy with a smile. She knew she could trust Hermione not to tell. The Scoobies were too valuable an alternate information source for Hermione to give them up for something small, and she was magically bound not to tell the big things anyway.
"But, what, how did she...oohh, you people are confusing me," said Hermione in an agitated voice. Willow took the Dark Mark off Snape's arm? Snape trusted them enough to do that? Or did they do it against his will? Without his knowledge? At whose orders? It really made no sense. How could they have even known Snape had a Dark Mark?
"I sensed it with my Slaydar, Willow used her Wiccan mojo to release the evil magic in it, then removed the tattoo. Snape doesn't remember because I hit him with a forget-me-now spell way back on the train to Hogwarts and he still hasn't gotten over it," said Buffy, reading her mind apparently.
Hermione jumped at that thought. She had to find out more about the Scoobies, about how dangerous they might be, but she couldn't without getting to know them better and...she snapped back to focus when Buffy gave her a light poke with her forefinger.
"You okay in there, Hermione?" asked Buffy. "Blow a microchip or two? Melt your cauldron down?"
"No, no," Hermione replied hurriedly. "Slaying. Saturday night. Ok. I'm in."
"Excellent," said Buffy with a delighted grin. "Come by our Common Room later this afternoon, though. We'll sneak off somewhere and teach you how to shoot a crossbow first."
'A crossbow?' mouthed Hermione, her eyes widening, as the words simply wouldn't come out at this.
"Or an axe, if you like," offered Buffy. "Personally, the crossbow was easier to learn. Just point and shoot. A double-bladed axe, not so much. And it's a lot heavier. See you about 4 today.
Buffy turned and raced away with what was, to Hermione, shocking speed, eager to get to her next class.
Hermione was staring after Buffy and pounding herself on the forehead with a spellbook. "Dumb, dumb, dumb. Brain dead dumb. What have I got myself into now?"
Buffy was loving the Forbidden Forest, now that they were finally deep into it. They'd only been in or near the borders before. Dark, twisted, forbidding...this was just like some of the cemeteries back home! And no real hallowed ground; baddie business should be booming if she was any judge! And hey, Vampire Slayer here! Who would be any better?
The teleport from the Astronomy Tower put them about 50 yards from the dark spot Buffy had id'ed as the spider lair. Now that she was here, she realized maybe she'd underestimated the strength of the dark vibes in this area. It had been nowhere near as strong last time they were in the forest. She was getting a bit of a wiggins, but the alpha predator within insisted on action. Oh, well, she thought, the Slayer knows her business. She kept moving forward.
Xander and the others followed Buffy's lead. They were wearing Willow's spelled glasses, which apparently doubled as night vision goggles. Hermione was surprised when she realized Buffy wasn't wearing any, yet she was guiding them through this thicket of tree trunks and tangled undergrowth as easily as a lioness bounding across the African savannah. No missteps, no stumbles, no hesitations, she was leading them...Hermione didn’t know where she was leading them. But apparently perfect night vision and extreme physical grace were part of the Slayer package. All she could do was follow, trying not to stumble, gripping her new crossbow nervously in her left hand, with her wand held ready in her right.
She'd been stunned to realize they were going into the Forest. She was mumbling to herself as they walked. 'Of course,' she said to herself. 'Where else would a slaying demonstration take place. There's nothing (I think) to Slay in the castle. Stupid peer pressure! What is wrong with me that I keep giving in and not asking the right questions.'
"I am such a BLOODY DAMNED IDIOT..." Hermione said this last bit rather loudly, unfortunately, and it rang through the now-silent Forest.
"Ditto," said Buffy. "Wills, would you do that giant night light thingy you can do?"
"Why, Buffy?" said Willow.
"I think we're here," said Buffy, "and there's maybe a few more spiders here than I thought."
Willow shot a "Lumeria" up into the air, which hovered about treetop level. Buffy blinked at what she saw while the others removed their night vision glasses. They were at the bottom of a hollow, which was absolutely filled with spiders. Spiders from the size of small dogs to that of large bulls. The oldest, grayest looking one was the size of a small elephant. Several hundred spiders at least, and goddess only knew how many more might be out in the shadows.
"Eeep," said Willow in a small voice. Hermione mouthed to herself 'A few more?'
"I second that 'Eeep'," said Xander, "and I'll raise you a 'Yikes'!"
Hermione said nothing, she merely breathed heavily. Frozen at the site of so many monstrous, nightmarish forms in front of them.
"Can you swim, Hermione?" asked Xander. "Cause even if you can, welcome to the deep end. The deep doo-doo end."
An odd voice, a spidery clacking from the large elephant-sized spider at the heart of the hollow, reached them.
"I am Aragog. My descendants and I rule this part of the forest and feed on all who enter it. Why are you here, armed as if to attack us?"
"That would be the plan," Buffy said. "I am the Slayer. You wanna know my motto? See monster, slay monster. Simple as."
"Buffy," asked Xander through clenched teeth, "are you sure you want to rile them up?"
"Why not? Just don't call them Attercop or Tomnoddy." Buffy said in a low aside, "Willow can teleport us out if need be? Right, Willow...Willow?"
Willow was looking a bit shamefaced. "Afraid not, Buffy. This glen is too full of dark magic. It's overloading me and if I try to transport us all the way to the Castle, something will go wonky, I'm sure of it. Best I can do for now is back where we landed, which I don't think is far enough. I KNEW this would happen."
"Might've been a good idea to let someone else in on that secret then, Wills," snarked Xander.
Aragog had been watching their byplay. They seemed wary but confident. No human had ever walked armed into their nest and openly stated the aim to kill them. He did not know the title Slayer, but he sensed something different about this small human female in front of the group. What it was he did not know. But perhaps caution might be prudent.
"We will let you leave. Three of you." said Aragog, banging his mandibles together in a frightening way. "There must be tribute for violating our nest. My children and their children are ever hungry."
"I vote we leave Buffy behind," said Willow helpfully. "She's the one who wanted to come here."
"Ha, ha," said the Slayer, "Don't you just wish. Xander, you're the planner. I need options."
"Option A." said Xander quickly. "Kick ass. Option B. Run like hell."
"Uh, Xander," Hermione breathed uncertainly, "the spiders are behind us now too."
They all looked and saw it was true. Buffy's grin, which had never wavered, got even bigger. "Option A it is then."
She turned to Aragog, who was regarding them hungrily. "We reject your offer and replace it with one of our own. Here it is: I kill you all and, if you hold still, I'll make it quick."
Before there was any kind of reply, Buffy called the Scythe and then accessed her Slayer power. Hermione winced at the light and power rolling off the Slayer, while Willow threw a shield around the whole hollow. All the spiders moved slightly forward. As they did, Buffy dove forward like a snake striking and with one blow struck the massive head from Aragog's body.
"It is so on, spider kids," Buffy snarled as Aragog's body slumped and the Slayer within took full charge, "Papa's dead, now come to mama!" Then she was off in a deadly whirl of motion.
"Shoot for the eye clusters, Hermione," said Xander calmly. "The Buffster's going to do the heavy lifting here."
Hermione put her wand in her robe and started shooting the crossbow, noticing as she did that Willow was standing still, casually maintaining the dark shield around the hollow. Hermione was a bit freaked to notice that Willow's eye's had gone jet black, along with her hair, and that she appeared to be levitating off the ground several feet. Willow began using hand motions to hurl crossbow bolts at any spider that came close to the trio.
Meanwhile, Hermione only got glimpses of Buffy as she stormed around the circle of spiders in a devastating display of speed and power. Keeping the quips to the minimum, she was using a simple strategy to keep the spiders off her and her friends. Any head that was presented near her she instantly lopped off, with a motion so swift, fluid and practiced that even the quickest spiders could not avoid it. If she saw a body in front of her instead of a head, she hacked off the legs on that side, then ran up the body and over to the head to finish it as it struggled to move. When a spider attempted to strike, she would simply leap up in the air with the Scythe swinging; by the time the spider knew what had happened its head would be off.
The power pouring off Buffy was so intense that most of the spiders couldn't face her directly anyway. They kept trying to get behind her or above her, but it was no use. She was faster, more agile, and above all else, she was the Slayer. The victor of thousands of nightly battles against tough, fast, strong demons. This world hadn't had a Slayer for 2000 years and pent-up power poured in like a river and out of her through the Scythe. Despite the lopsided odds, the Slayer was in her glory in a fight like this.
The spiders themselves were trying to confuse things by throwing webs left and right, but the Scoobies had done impervius spells on their robes, meaning the sticky ropes wouldn't hold them. Willow's and Xander's magical swords, glowing red when they were this near evil creatures, cut any that blocked their movement. The Scythe, of course, slashed through everything with a deadly whistling of sharpened steel not unlike the sound of a threshing machine in a wheat field. The spiders tried to flee when they recognized the slaughter to come, but Willow's shields kept them penned into the hollow. Xander took care of any spiders that tried to attack the threesome directly, deftly wielding his sword or his axe alternately. Otherwise he kept up a continuous accurate fire from his crossbow, Willow magically retrieving the bolts and refilling it as time wore on.
Finally, after some 40 minutes of rampage back and forth around the dell, Buffy took her last, leisurely hack at a dying opponent, then halted and wandered back to the group. She suppressed a yawn, before looking down at her robes, which were now completely drenched in spider gore.
"Some things never change," she said, "a good Slay is always hard on the outfit. Not that I care much about these asinine robes anyway."
"I can fix that," said Hermione, quietly. "Scourgify." The cleansing spell removed all the blood from Buffy's robe, leaving just some rips and tears for Buffy to take care of. She did the same for the others, in a markedly controlled manner.
"Thanks," said Buffy cheerfully, "That's gonna cut down on the old Slayer wash, repair and replace bill."
"Xander," she called out more loudly, "it's time for some sugary goodness. You in?"
"You betcha, Buff," said Xander enthusiastically.
"Let's get our teleport on, Wills," urged Buffy, "I've got the house elves waiting for a late snackage run."
"You people are crazy," Hermione kept muttering, "you people are bloody starkers."
Buffy just smiled. Willow leaned in to Xander and said in a low tone, "I think we may have broken her."
Hermione had been severely shaken by the Fall Slayfest, as Buffy had taken to calling it. She had been absolutely terrified of the giant acromantulas, but that was before the action started. Now she actually almost felt sorry for them. Though she could still taste the evil that had been part of that dark dell, the sight of the Slayer ripping through them was shocking. She'd wondered what a Slayer really was; now that she'd seen it, she was rocked to the core. Hermione had read about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for war vets. She rather felt she was suffering from it herself, though she'd been mostly an afterthought in the battle itself.
Her relationship with the Hufflepuff trio though, oddly enough, had advanced substantially. While she stoutly resisted Buffy's suggestion that they take another "slay-cation" sometime soon, Hermione was spending more time with them than before. While the Slayer had been -- as Xander commented -- the heavy hitter, each of the others had performed like the well-oiled team she'd imagined them to be. The shield, the quips, the swords, the bolts from the crossbows, all imaginatively intertwined with the ballet of death performed in front of their eyes by Buffy.
What had brought Hermione closer to them, however, was the memory that, despite her abject terror, and the somewhat mechanical way she followed orders, she had felt not only intensely alive, but very much a part of their team. She had fit right in with the rhythm they were weaving in the dance of destruction. It was the oddest sensation to feel like she knew these people better, almost intimately, just because they could have been killed together. She mentioned this to Buffy, who explained it was common to bond in these types of fights. She didn't have the heart to tell Hermione she'd never been in any really serious danger. Willow would have gotten Hermione out, at a minimum. They wouldn’t have really risked her for the sake of the mission.
Hermione had also taken Buffy up on her offer to show her some of the physical arts that she could improve at. In doing so, Hermione realized perhaps for the first time how wildly superior Buffy was to anyone at the school in a physical sense. Despite her tiny stature and her first year status, Buffy hit harder, moved faster, jumped higher, and knew more martial arts than Hermione had even known existed. Buffy started in training her with a staff, which was an excellent weapon for a smaller person to use against taller opponents. Hermione was actually getting pretty good at it; she had a feel for certain things and the staff turned out to be one of them.
They snuck away to deserted classrooms after dinner and practiced almost every evening the rest of the month. Xander and Willow were there as well, taking turns in the sparring and showing off magical skills different from anything Hermione had yet seen. Xander and Willow made interesting sparring partners, as Xander was very strong and fast and not reluctant at all to "school" her as he called it. Willow was different too, quick and tricky and not above distracting her with magic. The workouts were getting her into outstanding physical condition, a point generally lost on the Wizarding world. She was finding her spellwork and wand control were improving with the increase in strength and stamina, and she had some real moments of pride when getting hits on Willow and Xander in sparring. Once she even disarmed the redhead for a second before Willow magicked the staff back into her hand.
But she had never seen anything like Buffy. Twirls, backflips, front flips, an array of unbelievable gymnastic moves poured out of her, fully mixed in with the punches, kicks, holds and reversals of an experienced martial artist. Sparring one on one, it was all Hermione could do not to drop her staff when Buffy hit it with hers, and she knew Buffy was holding back quite a bit. The revelation, however, was when they all sparred together, 3 versus 1. That feeling of teamwork came back to Hermione and she, Xander and Willow moved like parts of a single body, quick, relentless, and focused.
And yet Buffy tore them apart. She anticipated every move, every combination, every trap as if she'd seen the movie and simply knew what was going to happen beforehand. Slayer eyesight, speed, and reflexes combined to make her unstoppable when unleashed. Her "spidey sense," as she called it, would allow her to catch or deflect multiple unseen missiles thrown by one or the other of them without even looking back for them. It blew Hermione's mind to realize that Buffy could literally fight the other three blindfolded and still win. She could spar longer, more often, with less fatigue, and with faster recovery time than the other 3 put together.
Hermione was a bit in awe of Buffy, and not a little jealous. Just exactly HOW did one become a Slayer, she wondered? A spell of some sort? Combined with wand magic, a witch slayer would seem to be the next best thing to invincible. Hermione wouldn't say no to a bit of that, mind you. Then she could really show the other Gryffs what-for. Potter and Weasley had been either ignoring her, teasing her, or begging for help with their schoolwork, in turn. Yet neither of them acted the least like her friend. The first year girls were impossible, condescending and needy at the same time.
She sighed. She knew she had quirks. But the Gryffs had just been plain mean to her about them. Unlike the Hufflepuff trio. ‘Quirks,’ Willow had said, ‘are what makes someone interesting and fun to know.’ Goddess knows the Scooby group had plenty of their own! She wondered if she would ever find friends in her own House. Neville, perhaps? He was sweet, but the poor boy was such a stick-in-the-mud right now, scared of his own shadow. Maybe he would improve over time? Oh, well, she thought, there was always the library...
Last class before the Halloween feast, Weasley had insulted her once more and she stormed off to the bathroom. She set there in the stall, crying it out a bit, before breathing deeply and letting go of her hurt and anger. Boys will be boys, she thought grimly. When I'm older, I'll be holding the whip hand, just you wait and see. She mulled this image for awhile. Maybe Buffy could train her on a few hand-to-hand techniques as well. She smiled wickedly. That whip hand might be there sooner rather than later.
Time to head to the feast she thought, when suddenly Willow stuck her head in the door and hissed, "Come on, Hermione, time to saddle up."
"Eh, what? What's happening?" asked a surprised Hermione.
"Buffy sensed something in the dungeons," said Willow sprinting down the stairs. "We need to check it out."
"Why us?" asked Hermione, once she'd caught up with the crew, "why not tell one of the professors?"
"Because Quirrell let it in, I think," said Buffy quietly. "Which means it is of the bad."
"But Quirrell IS a professor," said Hermione in bewilderment.
"Yep," said Buffy, "Too bad about him having Voldemort sticking out of the back of his head."
Ok, thought Hermione, need to breathe. Remember to breathe. It's important. But Voldemort? VOLDEMORT? She suddenly burst out with, "The real Voldemort? The Dark Lord? Are you sure?" she said in a tone that plainly implied they'd all gone mad.
"Calm down, Hermione," said Xander. "Yes, Buffy overheard him talking to Quirrell. He's possessed or something and Voldemort has sort of co-occupied his body. That's why Quirrell's always wearing that turban."
"Shhh!" said Buffy, "In here!" She opened a closet and shoved the other three in, cracking the door just a tiny bit.
"There goes Quirrell, he must be off to the feast to create a diversion," she said. "But why?"
"What about whatever that 3-headed dog is guarding on floor 3," asked Hermione surprisingly.
"Oh, ho! You know about it too? Good for you!" smiled Willow.
Buffy shushed them again. "Let's go," she said commandingly, “through that door to the dungeons at the end of the hall. There's something big there."
Just as they reached the door, it burst open and they saw the "something big" Buffy was referring to. A mountain troll slammed through the door. Thinking quickly, Willow put up a glamour hiding them from view as it rushed off down the corridor; though it WAS a troll, so more of the lumbering than rushing, actually. Buffy waited until it passed before leaping towards the doorway to the dungeon. Yep, she was right!
"There's 5 more messing around down here," yelled Buffy. "That must be the smart one that got by us! Willow, get me the troll hammer and seal the door behind me! Xander, take Hermione and keep that troll occupied. The old bait-and-confuse routine. Willow, bounce up to 3 and see who tries to get past the Cerberus."
Willow waved her hands and a massive troll hammer appeared, on the floor. Hermione bent down to pick it up so she could pass it to Buffy, who was still eyeing the trolls. She could not move it. Not an inch. She might've been trying to lift the whole Castle for all the effect she had on it.
"Oh, thanks, Hermione," said Buffy distractedly. Buffy took the hammer lightly in one hand. "Let's move people," she said, "Trolls aren't really dangerous but people are so scared of them they get themselves in trouble. Let's not let that happen."
Buffy dove down the stairs into the dungeon. Willow sealed the door and then teleported away, presumably to the 3rd floor. As Hermione and Xander raced after the escaped troll, it suddenly popped into her head. 'Bait and confuse,' she thought. 'What's the bait?'
After the whole mess was over, she was rather grateful for what Harry and Ron had done. They'd screwed up Xander's "bait" plan by locking her INSIDE the bathroom with the troll. Their attempts to fight it had been rather pathetic, but pathetic in an endearing way. She was never going to tell them it was Xander who'd hit the troll with a particular strong Confundus-type thingie that made him more confused than normal. Or that she had actually levitated the troll's club as Ron's "Wingardium Leviosa" had still been rather poorly executed.
But they had come for her, they had fought for her. She felt proud to take the blame for them (she had come to get rid of the troll, after all, just with the 3 first-year students who undoubtedly COULD take down a mountain troll). It had been a little awkward going back to their Common Room, but for the 1st time since getting to Hogwarts, she felt like maybe she had some hope of finding friends in her own house. Xander, hiding behind a suit of armor, had given her a quick wink. She'd caught a blurred glimpse of Buffy, once more covered with Ick, as they were wont to say, sneaking back from the dungeons. She'd given Hermione a nod and a thumbs-up in answer to her silent look of inquiry.
Most surprising of all, after going to bed, Willow suddenly communicated to her mentally, causing her to startle badly and almost fall out of her four-poster.
'Are you Ok, Hermione,' she'd asked. 'Just think to respond.'
'Willow? Yes, I'm fine. How are you doing this?' wondered Hermione.
'Old Jedi mind trick, padawan,’ smirked Willow. 'And your friends, they're OK too?'
'Do you think they are my friends now?' asked Hermione.
'They always have been, I think,' replied Willow. 'They just didn't know it until you went missing.'
'Does that make it harder for me to be friends with you three?' inquired Hermione.
'Nope. We'll always be there for you. Besides, Buffy had a dream and knew all this was coming. It's totally cool. Totally.,' thought Willow.
'Buffy saw this. And she didn't tell me?' gasped Hermione.
'It was a good thing too,' replied Willow. 'If she'd told you, it might've messed things up. Prophecies are tricky.'
'And what happens next then?' inquired Hermione.
'Not 100% sure, except that you guys become good friends,' thought Willow. 'It's all peachy keen with us. We can keep doing our things with you, and they can be your house buddies. You need friends your own age, after all. 'Night, Hermione!'
'Night, Willow,' thought Hermione. She was so nice. Hermione had been whipsawed a bit by the Hufflepuff trio, but the more she got to know them, the nicer they all were to her. They were really becoming something more than friends. They were partner, a team. The Scoobies, as they called it. Now she was finally making friends with the Gryffs too. Things were definitely looking up, she thought drowsily.
Suddenly she sat bolt upright. 'Friends your own age?' She knew she was going to have trouble sleeping after that one.
Interlude 6: History of Magic Classroom
Hagrid was happily surprised when Professor Dumbledore strolled into the HoM classroom accompanied by a rather pleasant, studious-looking young man. He appeared to be in his late 20s, clean-cut, with eyeglasses that were usually an affectation in the wizarding world, but seemed to belong on him. Hagrid looked expectantly at Dumbledore.
"This wouldn't be the new History of Magic teacher, now, would it, Perfessor?" he asked. "Because sittin' in this classroom not knowing what's goin' on reminds me too much of me own days as a student here."
"Yes, Hagrid," twinkled Dumbledore, "I have found a truly esteemed replacement for you. Let me introduce you to Mr. Robert Giles, of the Historical Society. Mr. Giles is a well-known and widely published expert in magical history, despite his youth, and we are very lucky to have him for this course."
"Nice to meet ya, Perfessor Giles," nodded Hagrid warmly, "if you kin do all that and handle a shovel as well, you'll fit right in here at 'Ogwarts."
"A shovel?" asked Mr. Giles somewhat nervously, Hagrid thought.
"For all the manure these kids are going to throw at ya, tryin' to get out of class or assignments," chuckled Hagrid.
"Yes," said Dumbledore, clearly amused, "mischief and misdirection are a grand old Hogwarts tradition."
"Ah, I see," said Giles, "I plan on being firm but fair. My own education was via private tutoring, but it was also an unfortunate lesson in harsh discipline. I have my own ideas about how this class will run, and I'm hoping a more open, flexible and interactive approach will bring dividends to Hogwarts."
"Just watch out fer the Weasley twins," Hagrid said warningly, "they'll steal your eyeteeth and sell 'em back to you for double the price."
"Fred and George Weasley," Dumbledore informed him. "Third-years. Their reputation for pranks is reaching legendary status already."
"Yass," said Hagrid, "I caught them selling buttons that said, 'I was there at the End of Days - Hogwarts 1991' just the other day."
"The End of Days?" said a startled Giles. "What's that about?"
"A rumor, Mr. Giles, an uninformed rumor," said Dumbledore more seriously. "Hagrid, come along. We'll leave Mr. Giles to prepare for his first class. Who is it this morning, Hagrid?"
"Hufflepuff, Perfessor," said Hagrid. "A gentle bunch, no worries there," he said in an aside to Giles.
"Nice to meet you, Hagrid," said Giles. "I'd like to invite you for a cup of tea sometime to talk about the students, if I may?"
"Of course, Perfessor!" said a beaming Hagrid, "I know a lot of 'em in ways that the other teachers really don't, if ya know what I mean," he winked conspiratorially at Giles.
They filed out, nodding their goodbyes. Giles opened his satchel and sat down at the desk on the teacher's platform. He did not plan on lecturing today, but he'd brought a variety of props -- a stake, a goblin's mace, an ancient map, and an urn of Osiris -- to spark conversation about the magical pre-history he planned to cover for the next several months.
He leaned back in his chair with his feet up and his eyes closed; 10 minutes ‘till class time. How on earth was he going to find the slayer out of some 400 or so young girls? She would undoubtedly be one of the older students, but she'd been active at least two months now. If she'd been here that long, she'd probably learned to hide what she was. Well, he had plenty of time to find her, unless...
"Well," he said aloud musingly, "if the End of Days comes before I find her, then I guess it won't matter anyway."
He was shocked to hear a student's voice coming from right in front of his desk, "Won't be a problem, Watcher-mine. Standing right here."
His startled eyes opened to the sight of a tiny blonde girl who looked more like an 8 than an 11-year old. "Whatsa matter?" she said bitingly. "Never seen a California girl before?"
Giles tipped over in his chair, banging his head hard enough to see stars.
A small, but immensely strong hand grabbed his and snatched him to his feet. "Aw, isn't that sweet," said another girlish American voice, "mini-Giles has his first concussion!" He opened his eyes to three grinning faces -- a blonde girl, a redhead, and a dark-haired boy -- and groaned. He desperately needed to floo Wesley.