Meetings and Beatings
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 8: Meetings and Beatings
Harry Potter had woken up one day in late November to find his famous scar bleeding. Going over to the mirror the boys shared in his dorm room, he examined it in detail. He decided the cut, which traced the exact lines of the original scar, was minor. It also seemed to have diminished the size and feel of the welt-like bump that had long bothered him. A weight seemed to have dropped off him, he realized. He had no idea what that was all about, but a little bleeding seemed a small price to pay if Voldemort's mark had finally decided to heal itself up properly.
At breakfast, he mentioned this lightly to Hermione and Ron. The redhead was, of course, enthused that his friend seemed to be upbeat about it, but also a little worried that it might have something to do with the famed, missing, and known-to-be murderous Voldemort. Hermione's reaction was completely different. She first frowned, then looked over to the Hufflepuff table, to that odd trio of Americans she occasionally hung around with. Their smiles, nods and winks sent a deep blush to her face, and she simply refused to speak about his scar thereafter. Ron and Harry shrugged. The Americans were considered insane by all other Gryffindors except Hermione. Brilliant, but totally insane. Fred and George, for example, were terrified of them though they wouldn't say precisely why. Hermione was rather brutal in her defense of the trio, however, and it wasn't worth it to inquire what those looks were all about. Hermione would never say, that was for certain.
Several days later, Harry and Ron had switched the breakfast conversation to the upcoming Christmas break. Harry, of course, was excited to be spending the break at Hogwarts, rather than the Dursleys. Ron had just announced that the Weasley children were staying as well. Hermione's face fell at this. Even now that they were fast friends, Harry and Ron still couldn't predict all her reactions. Girls were...odd, they'd realized. Unpredictable. Hermione perhaps more so than most. So they weren't totally surprised when she started in on them from an unexpected angle:
"Harry, don't you think you should go to the Dursley's, after all?" she asked him with absolutely no humor in her voice.
"What?" he asked, in shock. "Why would I want to go on holiday where I'm hated and not wanted in the least?"
"Yes, Hermione," echoed Ron, "Why the heck would he want to go back to those Muggles. Urggh, Muggles!" He shook his head in dismay.
"Technically, Ronald," replied Hermione with frost in her voice, "I am a Muggle. My parents are Muggles. And I asked you to stop using that annoyingly racist term some time ago. The correct phrasing is non-magical persons."
"Okay, okay," said Harry quickly. He could see Hermione's temper was beginning to rise, and that was always dangerous. "Why would I go and visit the non-magical people who hate me more than anyone in the world, other than Voldemort?"
"Voldemort is gone," replied Hermione dismissively. "You should quit pretending that he's going to sneak up behind you any second now."
"I can't believe you said You-know-who's name, Hermione," whispered Ron in shock. "You've never done that before!"
"Well, I’ve been doing extensive research into the topic," said Hermione, "and I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever Hagrid might think," she snorted contemptuously at the mere thought of Hagrid having an opinion on THAT topic, "Voldemort is no longer a threat to Harry. Or anyone else for that matter."
"Hermione, even Dumbledore thinks he's not totally gone. I can't believe you'd go against Dumbledore's judgment in this," said Harry, "he's the greatest wizard in the world!"
"Don't believe everything you read, Harry," replied Hermione coolly. "Dumbledore is very powerful, no doubt. That does not mean he is infallible. I've had my eyes opened a bit in my research about what real power means in a magical sense."
Harry and Ron looked at each other dumbstruck. Hermione was an absolute beast for research and once she'd made up her mind based on the facts of the situation, nothing could change it except direct evidence that she or her sources had made a mistake. They shrugged, and switched the topic back to the break.
"Leaving that juicy tidbit of potential argument alone for the moment" asked Harry, "why should I visit with the Dursleys on break this year?"
"For one thing, if you're in the non-magical world, you could come and visit me at my home in London," she said briskly. "We're going to be having other guests and I believe you'd like them once you've gotten to know them. Secondly, it might be possible that the Dursleys have changed somewhat, given some distance from the circumstances which brought you into their lives. And, lastly, staying mewed up in this medieval Castle during the Christmas season is surely going to be a bore. I think you'd enjoy yourself much more out seeing things, going to Mass perhaps, touring non-magical London and Diagon Alley, going to a football match on Boxing Day, and so forth."
"Those things all sound great, Hermione. And thanks for the invite. But Ron and his brothers are going to be in the Castle with me," said Harry. "Their parents are going to Romania to visit Ron's brother Charlie. And it's simply not possible for the Dursleys to change. Honestly, Hermione, you haven't met them."
Hermione shook her head angrily, muttering something like "stupid little boys," "mindless unthinking gits," and "unimaginative wankers" under her breath for a minute or two.
She recovered, then smiled widely, "Fine, Harry, but you'll be missing a lot. A. Lot. That you really wouldn't want to, if you knew. Do let me know if you reconsider."
She then flounced off, leaving Harry and Ron looking at each other, totally befuddled.
The Scoobies were headed to the kitchens when Hermione came up to them.
"Come on, Hermione," said Buffy enthusiastically, "we're just going to see the house elves about having a proper Thanksgiving dinner served tomorrow."
"Thanksgiving?" queried Hermione. "What's that?"
"National holiday in the US," said Xander, "Fourth Thursday of November. Big feast to celebrate the survival of the Pilgrims, etc., in the New World."
"Yes," said Willow in a whisper, "And Uffy-bay ill-way o-gay azy-cray if it doesn't come off right. She kind of insists on getting her home cooking on in a big way at Thanksgiving. It's sort of a thing she has."
"Ayer-slay earing-hay, Wills," said Buffy, "Not to mention, standing right here. And I grok pig-latin, though our resident geeks better not find out I just said grok!"
Hermione looked amused. "So Xander, Buffy is a little difficult if Thanksgiving isn't smooth?"
"If by a little difficult, you mean the same small problem Pompey had with Mt. Vesuvius, then yes," smirked Xander. "Erupt much? That's the Buff on Thanksgiving."
Buffy scowled at Xander and wagged her finger as they arrived at the kitchens. "Not another word, buster! Gotta lay down the law to my elves now."
Hermione had not been in the kitchens yet. The door to the main kitchen area was fairly near the Hufflepuff entryway. Buffy and Xander had made strategic use of this fact to raid the kitchens for snackage on a regular basis. Hermione had been made aware of Buffy's enhanced metabolism when Buffy had single-handedly wiped out multiple large pizzas after a training session. She didn't have the same urgency about food, so she had avoided the kitchens on principle. She didn't like hearing about the subservience of the elves and the reliance of the Hogwarts staff and students on what amounted to a condition of slavery.
She was therefore surprised when they entered the kitchen to find the elves -- odd-looking little creatures -- literally mobbing Buffy. Buffy had knelt down and they were kissing her hands, particularly a quite pretty ring on her right hand, as well as hugging her repeatedly. Some were even crying. It was rather like the return of a long lost princess to her kingdom, and it went on for some little while, until Buffy finally stood up and started snapping out orders.
"Ok, guys, enough," she said. "I was just down here last night, you know. Where's the Chief Steward? Or the Housekeeper?"
"Mr. Selly and Mrs. Gally is gone visiting, Mistress," replied one of the elves, who was pushed to the fore by the others. "They is spreading the word of your return to all the big Houses in England."
"Ok, Hallie," said Buffy, "That's fine. Where's Cook then?"
"Mr. Rondy is having problems finding your birds, he is," said the nervous elf. "He is going now to America to get them."
"Well, when's he due back?" Buffy rolling her eyes around the room. "Thanksgiving is 12 hours away."
"He is knowing the Mistress is worried," said Hallie, "he is saying to us to reassure you that he'll find the turkeys, but he is wanting to know if gooses will do if not."
"No way!" said Buffy, “He’d better find the real thing! They should have plenty back home. But what about the rest of the goods?" She listened intently as they went over a full recipe for the Thanksgiving dinner she had demanded for tomorrow.
Hermione, Xander and Willow had been pushed off to the side as the elves swarmed Buffy. They were looking on in interest as the Slayer interrogated the hapless Undercook, Hallie. It seemed to be going well as Buffy was nodding her head and looking pleased. It was fascinating to realize how all the elves, no matter what chore they were doing, managed to keep their eyes on Buffy the whole time. The three of them were totally ignored.
"Is it always like this with her?" inquired Hermione. "I mean, those elves were fawning all over her. Is this a Slayer thing?"
"It's more of a Buffy thing," said Xander. "When I come down here by myself, they treat me great, but when Buffy's here, they treat her like she was elected Queen or something."
"There's some back-story," said Willow, "Buffy just won't tell us what it is."
"But all these elves are enslaved down here," cried Hermione, "why don't we just free them? Is that possible?"
"Part of the enchantment they're under binds them here," said Willow. "They can't just walk away from their wizard masters or the house they serve, without certain things happening which are highly unlikely. But they don't want to right now, even if they could."
"Why's that?" asked Hermione in amazement.
"Cause when we get to the End of Days, their service will be over, and they will be judged once more," said Buffy, walking up to them after finalizing things with the Undercook. "Any rebellion or lack of service they're afraid will go against them, though I've told them over and over again that’s not the case."
"Well, I can't believe we're living in this Castle using slave labor for all our cleaning and cooking needs," said Hermione with a reckless glint in her eye, "and I want to do something about it!"
"You can try," said Buffy tiredly. "And raising consciousness about it in the Wizarding community is a good thing for our plans. But the truth is, they were subject to a judgment, a long time ago, and they've just about served their time anyway."
"What was the judgment about?" asked Hermione suspiciously.
"They neglected their duties, and got a lot of people hurt, needlessly," sighed Buffy. "In recompense, they were bound to serve humans of their land until the End of Days was reached. They agreed to their judgment, if it's any solace to you."
"But, I've read that house elves have been in the oldest Wizarding families for thousands of year," she protested. "What exactly did they do to deserve that?"
"Well," said Buffy, "It may be that I was a little harsh on them, but I guess you had to be there."
With that, she would say no more. Willow shrugged her shoulders at Hermione's wildly raised eyebrows. Xander just grinned and shrugged also. "The PTB use Buffy in odd ways," he said in an aside to her, "Someday, maybe she'll be able to tell us all about this. Or not."
They left the kitchen with all the elves bowing out the Slayer and ignoring everyone else.
"Creep-tastic as always, my little elf buddies are," said Buffy, "but the turkey will be served with all the fixings, 1 PM tomorrow."
So Christmas Break had finally come. Hermione had ridden the very strange Knight Bus to her home in Hampstead, London. The Scooby trio had seen her off with a wink. They would be coming for a visit to her home for the New Year's weekend and beyond. However, they would actually be seeing quite a bit of her throughout the vacation period. The Scoobies were off to the Historical Society first, where they would occupy several furnished suites off the 5th floor, near the office where the Diagon Alley End of the Vanishing Cabinet was located.
Hermione had been fascinated with the concept of the Watchers. When she had visited and seen the training room, she had understood Buffy's enthusiasm for the place. But it was the rare book room and the library of Slayer Journals that fascinated Hermione. Thousands of years of history in those diaries were some of the principal records of a whole age in wizardry. She ached to get her hands on them, though Giles had politely declined access to them unless she trained for, and became, a Watcher. At which point, of course, she would be sworn to secrecy over their contents.
Buffy had scoffed at that. "You don't know Hermione well enough yet, mini-Giles," she'd said, "she'll get her hands on those diaries one way or the other. You can try to deflect her all you want. I'm betting on her."
Willow grinned knowingly at this.
"That's right," said Xander with a wink, "she's gonna have you backed up into a corner over these things practically before you know it."
"Yes, yes," said Giles, "the tiny 12-year old witch will be too intimidating for me, I'm quite sure."
"Famous last words, Giles," laughed Willow, "Famous last words. Plus, she won't be 12 years old forever."
Giles looked at each of the trio in turn, "And what is it you're not telling me? Oh, never mind. We need to lay out the plan for these meetings: now which should be first, the Wolfmeet of Europe, or the Goblin Conference?"
"It's gotta be MUGLTECH," said Willow. "Hermione and I are really advanced on the products -- we've got enough inventory for Diagon Alley, anyway -- and we want to hit the Christmas shopping season hard."
"Right," said Buffy, "this wasn't supposed to happen until next year, but we need to put our foot on the accelerator. I've got an itchy feeling that says 'move, move, move.' Where's Whistler when you actually need to ask the guy something?"
"Fine," said Giles, "We need to get Wesley involved. We'll meet him here tomorrow and I've already made some contacts that will be useful in that regard."
They fell to planning. It was going to be a busy month, that was for sure. Scarcely a vacation. But the sooner they got it done, the sooner they could get back to Hogwarts, and ultimately back to their own timeline. Buffy's itchy feelings usually meant something; they were all more than a little uneasy at the idea of being caught in the wrong reality when an apocalypse occurred.
The meeting with Ted and Andromeda Tonks moved swiftly. Ted, who worked in the non-magical world anyway, was hugely impressed by the MUGLTECH demonstrations. He was quite willing to join the Board of the venture. He would be able to use his many contacts in the world of Muggle broadcasting to help build the advertising, the on-line presence, and the worldwide distribution networks. He would even be able to help directly, by doing the voice-overs that the product campaigns would require and working the cocktail parties for interested investors in the non-magical world.
Andromeda's proposed role, however, was a bit undefined, or perhaps simply miscast. A true member of the Black family, she was less an enthusiast but she saw the potential. Living with Ted had clued her in to the addiction that Muggle entertainment could have on even the purist of pure magical lines. But she insisted on raising a point that she thought they were overlooking.
"You've said that you want me -- not just Ted -- for my prestige as a member of the Blacks before my marriage. Yet I'm rather an outcast in that family you know. You are trying to buy yourself something that won't do you any good."
"My dear Mrs. Tonks," said the senior representative from MUGLTECH. "We are confident that your position will be indisputable once you have taken up your role as the leader of House Black."
"And how," she said with a pitying look, "do you expect me to do that? My cousin Sirius is still in Azkaban, but he can't be guilty or else my position would already be formalized. There simply is no doubt about Bellatrix's guilt, of course."
"We agree that Sirius is very unlikely to have committed the crime for which he was imprisoned," said the MUGLTECH representative, "and we are prepared to petition for his freedom once MUGLTECH is no longer in stealth mode. However, we believe we can present you as the leader of your line and gain full acceptance of that role rather quickly."
"The only way you could do that is for me to be accepted by the wards in Black Manor, which has been shut ever since Orion died. If the wards do not accept me, then it is simply the case that I am not the leader," she said succinctly, "and I have tried to enter Black Manor, as has Narcissa, and we were both denied. I cannot even get into Grimmauld Place here in London, hideous monstrosity as it may be."
"That won't be a problem anymore," piped up the twenty-something redhead sitting at the table. "I had a little talk with the wards at Black Manor. They've accepted you now."
Andromeda looked at the upstart girl disbelievingly, "You talked to the wards? And you are a Black? You look more like a Weasley, so I suppose you could be a distant relation?"
"Nope, not at all related," replied the girl perkily. "Just kinda good with that kind of magic."
"The Black wards were cast thousands of years ago and cannot be changed by mere whim," said Andromeda, "they cannot be tampered with."
"Call your Butler at Black Manor," the girl suggested, "if he comes to you, then you can be pretty sure he's recognized your role and that the manor wards are now tuned to you."
"You are honestly suggesting that I call Delly?" said Andromeda. "Delly, who was in the room watching as my name was blasted off the family tree?"
"Give it a try," urged the young redhead. "What's the harm?"
Andromeda peered at Ted, who shrugged. Oh, well, she thought, nothing will come of it, but still, might as well prove her wrong. "Delly, come to me in London at the Historical Society, 1st Floor conference room," she called.
A wizened house elf suddenly *popped* into the room, startling Andromeda intensely. The 20-something redhead and her 3 friends -- a blonde haired girl, a bushy haired-brunette, and a dark-haired young man -- merely looked smug.
"That's our girl," said the young man brightly. "Making the impossible look simple."
"You is calling for me, Mistress?" asked Delly.
"Yes, Delly," asked Andromeda, "can this be true? Have the wards been tuned to me so that I am now truly THE Mistress Black, of the noble and ancient House of Black?"
"Mistress, it is being true, yes" replied Delly. "Missie Red over there visited on yesterday and is explaining to the wards what is going on here, and they is now opening themselves to you. You is now in charge, Mistress. Is you wanting Delly to be doing something for you?"
"Apparate me there, Delly. I have to see this for myself," ordered Andromeda.
Five minutes later, she was back, without Delly. She looked at the young redhead and inclined her head gracefully. "Apparently, I owe you a great service, my dear. I accept the offer to join the Board. You can count on me to put the full weight of the Black family name behind this venture."
The MUGLTECH representatives, including the four young looking ones who she presumed were the "techies" in this venture, beamed in delight.
"We have some documents to sign here," suggested their legal counselor. "Shall I call our Gringotts representative to bear witness?"
Andromeda looked and Ted and nodded, "Yes, let's begin, I know you are eager to get started..."
Vernon Dursley was sure he was doing extremely well in this interview. A corporate headhunter had called and indicated that a firm was highly interested in his international distribution expertise. Vernon had founded that effort for Grunnings and had been made a company director for it. Still, there was a very long way to the top of the ladder, and being in a staid industry such as drills, the likelihood of any significant ownership opportunity was very low. The recruiter had hinted about a substantial increase in salary, as well as an equity stake in this start-up which they said was poised to dominate a very interesting niche market.
The MUGLTECH people -- a bit of an odd name there, what? -- had danced around what precisely their products were. But they apparently believed they would be able to move them worldwide very quickly once a UK start-up were to occur. They also seemed to believe they had an untapped worldwide market to sell into. Vernon was just discussing all the different ways he could think of to orchestrate a distribution scheme of this scale on short notice, when the young redheaded girl sitting towards the middle of the table, obviously of the tech geek sort, suddenly stopped the conversation with a remark.
"It's some kind of compulsion," she said thoughtfully. "We'll need to address that." She started muttering under her breath and making hand motions below the level of the table.
"Eh? What do you mean?" asked Dursley, nonplussed for the first time.
"Magic, Mr. Dursley, we like your credentials. But I'm picking up that you absolutely hate magic, which is a surprise seeing whom your nephew is," replied the bushy-haired 20-something next to the redhead.
"What are you on about?" said Dursley, beginning to get red in the face. "I thought this was a respectable business."
"Given what we've told you," replied one of the MUGLTECH senior representatives, "does this not look respectable to you, even if it does involve magic?"
Vernon snorted, an unattractive look given how beet red his face had gone. "I am not fond of the magical world. If you people are part of it, that is a consideration which I wish..." He broke off in confusion as all the younger people winced -- and the blonde girl had even groaned -- at that word.
"Which I would have preferred," he continued, "had been made clear to me from the beginning. I thought this was all about new markets for technological goods."
"Magic is a consideration, Mr. Dursley," said another one of the young girls, "We are aiming to bring non-magical technology to the Wizarding world, which is quite under-served. It's that world of your nephew's which you have been avoiding for years now. Is that a problem?"
Dursley gathered his composure in an almost physical effort. The red-headed girl was still talking to herself at one end of the table. Think, damnit, he needed to think. Why was he so upset about the idea of magic? Yes, his nephew was a prat, always had been. But they'd treated him a bit brutally because of the magic thing. How exactly had that gotten started? No reason that he could see, really. Magic. So what? It looked like there could be big money in this. And who would think of making real money, not Grunnings drill money, but real, start-up, make-us-all-a-fortune tomorrow by selling things into that hokey world he'd of which he'd caught a few glimpses. Robes. Wands. Owls delivering letters. Owls! No wonder they needed technology. It certainly would make Petunia's day to get rich off of the world that had rejected her in favor of her sister.
Of course, they would have to make it up to Harry. They had gone a bit overboard making him unwelcome. Dud had always kept a soft spot for the boy, that was true enough. Perhaps it was time to lighten up. The boy had his share of discipline. Now that he was at school, in this magical world they were talking about, he could prove useful to Vernon, an ear to the ground as it were. Yes, Harry could be useful in this new position. Wait, when had he stopped negotiating? Hmmm, he wanted to take this offer, obviously. But can't roll too easily, he thought.
"If what you're telling me about the opportunity is true, I'd deal with the devil himself to get a piece of it. But I'd need guarantees that this is serious and not some fly-by-night thing. My skills are in demand in many parts of the world these days," he added for good measure.
"Yes," said the senior MUGLTECH man. "We thought you might have those concerns. But if you can accept that this is about magic, we'd like to talk to you about the size of your signing bonus and your overall compensation package. We were thinking roughly... "
Vernon's eyes bulged out of his head at the number they were thinking about. He hadn’t even considered a signing bonus. And relocation to a company house in London proper and out of that bucolic pigsty they'd occupied in Surrey!
He only barely noticed when the pretty young red-haired girl stopped mumbling to herself and sat back with a satisfied smile. He flashed her a small grin. But no time to flirt. There was money to be made. When he got back from this he'd find an owl -- where did you get those he wondered -- and contact Harry. Time to bring the boy back into the fold. This was going to be very, very big, and it appeared that Harry’d been key to MUGLTECH's interest in him. Well, no one would say that Vernon Dursley couldn't show loyalty when it had been shown to him.
Not when there was this much money in it, anyway, he amended.
"It's a little-known fact that if you drink Polyjuice Potion with your own stuff in it," Willow was saying, "you can transform into any age you like. All you have to do is think of the age while transforming and voila! A seventy-year old now looks 35 again."
"That's three parts of the Ick to only one of the sorta cool," said Buffy. "I will never date in any community where word of that gets out. Still thinking ‘rob the cradle juice’ in a big way."
"What," snarked Xander, "the fact that your first boyfriend had a bicentennial putting you off older guys?"
"It would almost be worse to think of it the other way round," said Buffy. "Imagine being groped by some 16-year old dressed up in his 30th birthday suit.
"Or a maybe a 12-year old looking 25 in your case, Hermione," laughed Xander. Hermione blushed at that.
"Well, we got a few hours where stylish and sexy clothes actually looked good on me again," yawned Buffy.
"I thought you looked a few inches taller too, Buff," grinned Xander evilly. "What's the what with that?"
"Yes, well, who knows? Maybe I'm going to be Dawn's size this time around," replied the Slayer hotly, "then she'll be in for a shock when we get back."
"You know," asked Hermione quietly, "Willow let the cat out of the bag about you not really being my age, but she never said how old the three of you are. Should I be worried about hanging around with my elders and betters?"
"Hermione," said Willow, "Believe me. YOU have no betters, not in the magical world. And, technically you were born like 15 months before any of us."
"That's right," added Buffy, "we were all born in 1981. So we really shouldn't even be first years."
"Then why do you all act so much older and know so much magic?" asked Hermione reasonably.
"Most of the magical knowledge is Willow's," said Xander.
"That's right!" said Willow, "go magical me!"
"But otherwise," Buffy said sadly, "maybe we've just lived our lives a bit faster than yours." She crossed her fingers about the need to explain in even more detail. Hermione would know the truth soon enough. No need to freak her out before then.
"Yep," said Xander, "life on a Hellmouth: grow up fast, or don't grow up at all. That pretty much describes it."
"Anyway, I think we're making fabulous progress on MUGLTECH," said Willow. "You were excellent in the meetings Hermione."
"You were unbelievable, though, Willow!" gushed Hermione. "It was obvious despite all the solicitors and so forth that you were the brains of the operation."
"Well, brains or not," said Willow, "the thing I'm most pleased with is the Dursleys."
"Right, Wills," said Buffy. "You didn't really explain that one. What was the weird there?"
"Well, it WAS kinda hinky alright," nodded Willow. "Someone put some kind of compulsion on them years ago to hate anything related to magic. I don’t know who; kinda felt Snapey but I don’t see the connection."
"So they've been beating Harry up for it all this time for something Snape or some other evil guy did to them?" asked Xander. "I'll have to stop calling him Pothead, the poor kid."
"Yep," said Willow, "whoever did this must've put the hex on both his Aunt and his Uncle. I reached out to her and I think I got it off of her too. The cousin was just going along with his parents; nothing there to remove."
"That is all kinds of peachy keen then!" declared Buffy. "Harry won't be harassed as much and we've got a good distribution man for MUGLTECH."
"Plus," said Xander knowingly, "that company house of ours is just down the street from your parent's place, Hermione. Now you can REALLY get to know the famous Harry Potter."
"Oh, stop it, Xander Harris," blushed Hermione. "Really! How much better can I possibly know him after spending the last 4 months holed-up with him in that common room...and don't answer that because I resent the implication!" she said hurriedly as she saw the evil glint in Xander's eye.
Buffy was still miffed at how much time Hermione had spent with Harry and Ron recently. She looked over at her and nodded cynically. "That's right, Hermy. Play it cool. There are plenty of other hotties our age in London this time of year. No need to get your Gryffs on just 'cause Harry and Ron are all over you all the time."
Hermione desperately tried to change the subject. "Ok, there is an image there that I do not want in my head. Not at my age, anyway. Can we talk about this meeting with the Goblins instead of my hypothetical social life which I'm not even old enough to have yet?"
That changed the tone considerably. "Ok," sighed Buffy. "Back to work..."
The tangible reality of Grishlahk’s Mace had the Goblin Conference frozen in fear, thought Wesley. He was quite familiar with Gringotts and the type of goblin that worked there, given the long-secret association between the Watchers and the bank. However, there were many other members of the secretive race who had nothing to do with the money business. The Chief Goblin was one of those. His very existence was generally kept a secret from the Wizarding world. The Watchers, obviously, knew all about his reign and his rather decisive control over all goblin activities, worldwide. But they had no occasion to meet in the last 2000 years, so to be face to face with the head cheese of the goblin world was interesting. To find that goblin in such a state was almost mind-boggling.
Buffy, of course, sat there with the Mace in front of her as if she faced off with a small army of goblins every day of the week. They were meeting in the bank, deep below the surface in a large cavern which could, and did, hold literally thousands of the small but dangerous goblins. If anything, Buffy appeared to be bored, though the veil she was wearing made it hard to determine for sure. The fact that the Chief Goblin kept going over and over the same ground was wearing on them all, but everything he'd read about Slayers suggested that this was more tiresome to her than to most.
"You say that this is the Mace of Grishlakh, Chief Goblin and ruler of the race in the ancient days," started the current Chief once more. "By presenting it to us, you are saying the Treaty between Goblins, Elves, and Humans is at an end?"
"That is correct," said Wesley, "as I stated the last 6 times you asked that question. And as you well know from your own oral histories."
"I must keep asking it," said the Chief Goblin grandly, "until I receive the answer I am looking for."
"Which would be what, precisely?" inquired Wesley, with more than a touch of asperity in his tone.
"That this does not mean what I believe it to mean," said the Chief. "We are ill-prepared for such a drastic change. We would prefer the Treaty remain in place."
"As you have averred repeatedly," said Wesley more tiredly than ever. "It is not an option."
"What would you have us do, Watcher?" asked the Chief Goblin, rhetorically. "After thousands of years of the balance, what would you have us do?"
Wesley had been correct. Buffy WAS getting bored. Pesky goblin-types had caused her a great deal of problems over the years. Now, here was a CIVILIZED goblin, supposedly one with the sophistication to manage his entire race in a complicated modern world, and he was about ready to pee in his pants about a Treaty ratified in pre-history?
"What we would have you do, Goblin," she said acerbically, "is not a consideration. What matters is what you CHOOSE to do. You are entering the End of Days. Shall I run over the choices again? Become human, forget your history as goblins, and enter the world of men. Leave this world through any convenient portal to any dimensional reality you are allowed to reach, and plot your own destiny. Or join the Darkness, become demon, and face the Slayer."
"We do not like the choices," said the Chief. "We would prefer another. Remain as we are, peaceful goblins supportive of wizards and other races in a relatively peaceful world."
"That choice is not on the table," said Buffy angrily. "We can jump right to door number 3 now if you like."
"Willow," said Wesley in an aside, "can you handle this gently before Buffy loses her patience entirely?"
Willow nodded and stood. Gathering her powers around her like a heavy robe, her small hooded figure began to levitate off the floor. Magical forces pulsed through the room, alternating between dark and light. She moved slowly, her hands making small motions as she rose to a position above and between the massed goblins and the five human figures at the head of the room.
"I am the Supreme Sorceress, steward of magic across this meta-reality. No power of dark or light shall be allowed to dominate; where the balance is broken, it must be restored. Wizards and goblins have conspired to break the balance by excessive and thoughtless use of power. The balance will be restored," Willows voice was almost unrecognizable as the magic rippled through it. Her robes were billowing and her hood had fallen back, revealing hair and eyes that were cycling between jet black and blinding white.
"Take the Mace of Grishlakh, Chief Goblin," intoned Willow, using her magic to hurl it towards him so rapidly he was forced to grab it to stop it from cracking his skill.
"The Mace is once more yours; the race of Goblins is bound no more," said Buffy formally. "You've been given time to prepare yourselves, but in May of the 12th year from now, the year 2003 by our reckoning, the choice must be complete. It can be as individuals, as groups, or as an entire race. It doesn't matter. But a choice must be made."
The Chief Goblin was trying not to stare at the Mace in his hand. The goblins massed behind him were muttering and shifting. He focused on Buffy's words instead. "And what if no choice is delivered?"
Buffy stood, patience at an end. The Slayer within leapt forward like a wild beast released from a particularly confining cage, radiating power outwards. She smirked as all the goblins froze in place. "You don't choose, then I choose for you." Her menacing gaze swept the massed ranks of creatures before her, a predator focused on her prey. "And I'm betting you won't like the option I pick."
For Remus Lupin, the European Wolfmeet was always a sad reminder of the reality of his situation. The call to the Wolfmeet was irresistible for virtually every wolf or were-creature of any sort. The Alpha of Europe exerted a magical pull that simply had to be answered, whether you were in a pack or not. This year's meet, coinciding with the onset of the winter solstice, was charged with even greater magical significance.
Lupin had been dealing with his "furry condition" for years by ignoring it. Except, of course, for the approximately 36 days a year he was subject to the whims of the rising moon. He did not associate much with other werewolves and tried to maintain positions within the Wizarding world. His lone wolf status was rarely challenged, though he had been confronted by Fenrir Greyback more than once, who claimed him as one of his "made" wolves. Remus was alpha enough himself to resist that claim, a fact which made Greyback even more furious on the rare occasions their paths crossed.
He had been wandering the fringes of the enormous gathering, which was being held in a secluded forest near Prague. A low profile was his preferred approach, so he wandered the edges of the giant Wolfmeet, talking to other loners or visiting the camps of the lesser were-beasts. He was sitting around a fire with a group of were-hyenas when he was startled by a group of wizards that had apparently apparated almost into their midst.
One skill that Remus possessed in abundance was the ability to identify fellow lycanthropes almost instantly. He sensed at once that this group had no were-creatures among them. This was extremely dangerous around any pack. At Wolfmeet, it was invariably fatal. He popped up from where he was sitting and moved towards the lone man and four pre-teens in this odd party.
"I'm sorry," Lupin said to the man, "but you really shouldn't be here. Despite its size, this is a meeting restricted to werewolves and other lycanthropes. Even wizards should not try to interfere in Wolfmeet."
He trailed off uncertainly. There was something odd about this group. He had no idea what it was, but the power that he was feeling from them was compelling, more compelling perhaps than anything he'd ever felt, even from the Alpha of Europe. The look on his face had shifted from concern for them, to confusion, to a sagging jaw of wonderment as he considered them. Who, or better yet, what were these children?
The one adult in the party looked at him sympathetically. "They have that effect on most people, lycanthropic or not," he said. "I'm Robert Giles, of the Historical Society. We have a meeting with your Alpha. Can you take us to him?"
"Remus Lupin," he replied in a daze, "My Alpha? I am a loner."
"He means the Alpha of Europe," said the tiny blonde girl, "It would save us a lot of trouble, honestly."
She looked around at the camp. "Hyenas, huh? Xander, you should feel right at home!"
"They do seem almost familiar, Buff," replied the lone boy in the foursome, "but I'm not good with the wicked transformations with the moon and teeth and claws and fur and such."
The little redhead laughed. "I could give you a sample if you like, Xander. Maybe you'd enjoy it. Who knows, maybe they've got a pet pig around here somewhere!"
"A low blow, Willow, low indeed," replied Xander, "that was a once in a lifetime thing. Not getting the raw pig urge again anytime soon."
As this odd conversation transpired, the hyenas’ alpha had appeared, drawn by the group that had wandered into the edge of his circle. He sniffed the boy called Xander.
"He is one of ours," said the Alpha hyena. "Boy, join our circle or else fight for your right to leave this place as an alpha."
The small blonde turned to him. "Ya think so, huh? Wrong! He doesn't belong to anybody and he's not a were. So back off!"
"Who are you girl?" scoffed the Alpha in contempt. "I rule the hyenas here! I take no orders from wizards or women. Especially not young girls who look like tempting and tasty treats for the Wolfmeet of Europe."
"Who am I? Who AM I? Hmmm, let me try to express this in a way you'll understand," replied the girl. "I'm your worst nightmare, that's who I am. The terror of every sexist demon's darkest thoughts. I'm the thing that makes you wanta crawl in the corner and hide when the full moon's up. Do you know what that is? Do you really wanna know?"
"You are nothing but a girl," lashed out the hyena chief, "a single foolish girl who is in way over her head, endangering herself and her friends. Submit the boy to me or feel the wrath of the hyenas."
"You're right. I'm just a girl. Just one girl in all the world. One girl chosen to fight the powers of darkness, given the strength and skill to stop the spread of evil. Are you evil by any chance, Mr. Hyena man?" she inquired politely.
"Evil," he barked, "what would you know of evil, little girl?"
Remus had been getting a bad feeling from the direction of this conversation. The girl had been mouthing words that seemed strangely familiar. She was too casual, facing a rampant alpha who seemed willing to change and attack her on a moment's notice. He noticed how the others in her group were following the exchange with quiet amusement. They obviously noticed how worked-up the hyena camp was getting, the growling, the prowling, the eyes shifting restlessly from person to person, but they seemed to feel no alarm. That was unnatural, even for humans unfamiliar with lycanthropy. What did they know that he and alpha hyena didn't?
The blonde girl said, quite simply. "I know all about it. I destroy it. On a nightly basis for the last 12 years. And despite what I am sure is awesome stick-fetching potential in your hyena state, I'm beginning to feel it on you."
Light burst into Lupin's brain. It couldn't be...but what else could she be talking about? He said quickly to the hyena alpha, who was still barely containing himself, the banter starting to disrupt his control. "Stop it you fool! Can't you see she has no fear of you? I think, I think she's the..."
Before he could say it, the blonde girl herself finished his sentence. "I hate to interrupt your growling, Mr. Hyena, but your wolfie pal here has figured it out. What I am is simple. Slayer, comma, The. At your service."
The girl moved then, more swiftly than anything he'd ever seen or imagined. Impossibly fast, faster than any were-creature could think of moving. Her casual kick to the midsection sent the alpha hyena flying fully 50 feet backwards. She swept her eyes around the circle, no longer holding back the remorseless feral gaze which had all of the hyenas in a submissive posture in seconds.
"You, come with us," she pointed at Lupin commandingly. "The rest of you stay here and take care of Bozo the hyena over there. Then come to the center circle in about an hour, if you've got the guts."
The rest of the Wolfmeet was a revelation to Lupin. A Slayer had not attended a Wolfmeet in 2000 years. In less than 20 minutes, she had the weres of Europe at her feet. The power was startling and the beatings she handed out to the 10 Alphas who were chosen to test her were chastening in the extreme. She and her equally impressive team had laid out the were-specific agenda for the End of Days. Top of the list -- Fenrir Greyback and his ilk. Within the month. Or she would start hunting.
Remus shuddered. He wondered if Dumbledore had the slightest idea what was going on. Or what to do about it even if he did. He couldn’t break the sanctity of Wolfmeet to tell him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk the consequences the Slayer had spelled out even if he could.
The busy winter break slowed a bit at New Year's. The trio visited the Grangers at their stately home in Hampstead. Hermione's parents were far from simple dentists. They owned a chain of endodontic and orthodontic practices that had made them acutely wealthy. As head of this chain, Mr. Granger's business acumen had made him a natural for the board of MUGLTECH. He could advise them on retail outlets, territories, commission sales, partnership operations, etc., as readily as any standard business consultant.
Buffy, Xander and Willow were fascinated touring London with Hermione. They'd seen it all before, of course. But this time they were touring it as kids with only a modest workload on their plates; world saveage was on a much longer timeline in this temporal dimension. It was amusing to visit the attractions and the palaces as pre-teen children. And their reception by the Grangers was brilliant. Hermione with friends from the magical world, involving her deeply in profound events, was vastly satisfying to the Grangers. They'd always known her to be special, but MUGLTECH promised to be epic and Hermione's role was certainly significant. They lavished food, praise, and more food on the Scoobies, much to Buffy’s satisfaction. The holiday was enjoyed by all.
The only minor note of strain was when Buffy was turned loose upon the London department stores. Her shopping beast had been restrained even more than the Slayer. Hermione, who lived pretty simply despite her parent's wealth and lush home, was somewhat stunned by Buffy's relentless assault on shoe departments in specific. They left behind them a wasteland of ruined shop girls, harried assistant managers, and depleted, wilting stocks of the latest fashions. Willow and Xander had opted out of these trips, but as the hostess, Hermione had felt compelled to accompany Buffy from store to store. Never again, she said to herself, never again, as she surreptitiously shrunk down another stack of shoe boxes so she could carry them easily. It must be a Slayer thing, she thought. But, seriously, what is she going to DO with all those shoes?
Interlude 8: Christmas Day in Gryffindor
When Harry Potter woke on Christmas, he had a pleasing pile of presents at the foot of his bed. But he was astonished in particular by a rather large section of the gifts. They were from the Dursleys. He looked at Ron in shock, who shrugged, not having the slightest understanding of how epochal this was to Harry. Presents? From the Dursleys? Eh, what?
Before unwrapping the gifts, he opened the large card -- really a letter -- on top of the Dursley pile. To his growing astonishment, he read the following from his Uncle:
Happy Christmas! I hope this card finds you well (and that the silly owls actually get this stuff to you). We were sorry to hear you decided to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas. We recently realized how unfair we have been treating you and want to sincerely change that behavior. I am not an ingrate, and neither is your Aunt, and we are truly excited by my new position and ownership stake with MUGLTECH (see the enclosed advertisement.) I believe your place in the magical world was quite important to MUGLTECH's interest in my qualifications and the ownership stake they offered to me. We may all need to get to know each other again, but Dudley misses you and would like to visit at Hogwarts some time, if he is able. Anyway, we hope you enjoy the enclosed presents. First-generation MUGLTECH! Dud helped pick out the games.
Yours, Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley
PS: We are moving to Hampstead to a company-owned house that is quite grand. Please plan on returning there for the summer.
PPS: It's right up the street from your friend Hermione's home. Great for keeping up with any summer work you may be assigned. Brilliant girl, from what we hear. Keep making friends like that and you'll do alright in this world!"
In utter shock, Harry turned to the paid advertisement article, apparently clipped from the Daily Prophet:
"MUGLTECH presents the finest of non-magical technology for entertainment purposes, now re-imagined to work anywhere in the Wizarding world. Offering a complete line in televisions, cell phones, radios, stereos, computers, and video-gaming systems, MUGLTECH brings the telly out of the Wizard's closet and into the parlor with systems guaranteed to work under any set of magical conditions and despite any wards that might normally make non-magical technology unreliable. Be one of the first in the Wizarding world to take advantage here in the exclusive Diagon Alley roll-out this Christmas. See our retail outlet there as well as our floo-order distribution service for gifts that will stand out this season..."
He turned to Ron in utter consternation after opening his gifts and finding a television, a gaming system, a computer, and numerous video and computer games of the sort that Dudley had never let him touch in the past.
"Am I dreaming, mate, or what?" asked Harry with a pole-axed look in his eyes.
"I dunno Harry, but let's try it," said Ron eagerly. "It doesn't even need eckletricity it says. All battery and solar-powered charging, enhanced by magical means to last almost indefinitely."
"But the Dursleys," said Harry, "being nice to me?"
"I know it's a shock, mate," said Ron, "but if this hits big, you could be rich. Wouldn't mind a bit of that myself."
"Yes, but..." He quieted as Fred and George burst in, eager to know what they'd gotten. They were agog at the MUGLTECH items.
"Lee Jordan wrote us about this stuff," said George. "It's brilliant. Almost every Wizarding family has tried to wire up Muggle entertainment at some point or the other, usually without much success. He says these things were selling out like hotcakes in the store at Diagon Alley."
"Whoever came up with this is going to make a fortune," said Fred, "and apparently you are going to be our main source for the goods, Harry. Respect. Major respect."
Harry simply had no idea how to respond. After showing the boys how to set up the systems, and how to load the games, he sat lost in thought. He couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. Oh, well, he said to himself. Only one way to start, I guess. He pulled out parchment and his quill. Whether they'd really changed or not, a thank you note to the Dursleys was certainly in order. And maybe a letter to Hermione, because he was guessing that only she could possibly explain what in God's name had gotten into his Aunt and Uncle.