Giles set his keys down on the kitchen counter. Gribles, who would have thought they’d have gribles on the Hellmouth? It was possible Severus was wrong, although the odds were better that Buffy would declare astrophysics as her major than that Severus was wrong. Unwilling to sleep before he knew for sure; he picked up the phone.
After two rings, he heard a perky “Hi Giles!” on the line.
“How’d you know it was me?”
“Oh, we just got a new phone.”
“This one is way better; it has caller id.” Willow chirped. “So what’s up? Hopefully no slaying, since Buffy just went to take a shower.”
“Ah. Well, I highly doubt there’s an immediate problem. I just had a question. By any chance do you have the Guide to Magical Creatures with you?”
“Yuppers, it’s on my desk. I told Buffy I could bring it by the Magic Box tomorrow, since you needed it. Is that okay?”
“Well, actually, that may not be necessary. Can you please look something up for me? Can you look up the word ‘grible’? ”
“Grible? Is that like a gerbil on a bad hair day?” Willow muttered. “Okay, I’m flipping, flipping, wohoo, this book has an index! It’s probably the only book you have with numbered pages.” Giles tuned her out as Willow flipped through the book. “Ah! Here we are, gribles.”
“Are we lucky enough to have a picture of the creature on the page?” Giles crossed his fingers.
“Um, there’s a drawing. It’s not in color, but hey, the legend is in English, so bonus points there.”
“Excellent. Do you know how long Buffy is going to be?”
“Not a clue.” Willow answered. “Oh, wait a minute. She’s back.” Giles heard Willow muffle the receiver and tell Buffy he was on the phone. There was some muffled grumbling in the background before Willow came back to the phone. “She says that if you’re with that monster pretending to be your brother, she doesn’t want to talk to you, unless you want her to slay the evil thing.”
“Ah, yes, well, she can rest assured that I am away from … the evil thing.” Giles winced at that almost accurate description of his step-brother. “Could you have her look at the picture and say whether she saw that on patrol today?”
“Sure, just a min.” He heard a clunk as Willow set the phone on the desk.
A minute later, Buffy picked up the phone. “You know, they’re much cuter in color. That book really doesn’t do them justice.”
“Ah, well, I suppose not. Is that what you saw on patrol then?”
“Yup, that’s the beastie. So is it a slay-now or a slay-later beastie?”
“Actually, you may want to read through that section in the book to make sure, but I don’t think Gribles are particularly harmful on their own.” He hedged.
“Come on, Giles, out with the Sir Mix-a-lot.”
“I can hear the big ‘but’ coming; just tell me what the problem is.”
“Well, gribles on their own do very little damage, the problem is,
they tend to be an indicator species of dark magic.”
“Something’s trying to open the Hellmouth again? What kind of demon is it this time?”
“Actually, it’s more the human kind of magic.”
“You mean Ethan’s back in town?”
“Ah, no, Ethan works a different sort of magic, so that is highly unlikely, thank goodness.”
“So, there’s a wizard out there, casting dark magic?”
“Well, more of a gray sort of magic. Even relatively innocuous spells such as scrying could trigger a grible infestation as long as there was a proper focus.”
“Should I pass the phone back to Willow so you guys can all geek out with the details?”
“Oh, sorry.” Giles apologized before catching himself. He really was a pushover. What other watcher would let their slayer off the hook without a proper lesson in the magical theory? “I guess we just need to keep an eye out for any new wizards or witches in the area.”
“So we’re on a witch hunt? That sounds so wrong.” Buffy muttered.
“Actually, we’re looking for anyone who is wielding a magic wand.” Giles replied.
“Right, a magic wand, sure.” Buffy rolled her eyes.
“I’m quite serious.” Giles answered. “In any case, it can wait until tomorrow. I just wanted to confirm my suspicions.”
“Well, consider them confirmed. Those were definitely the wiggy gerbils behind the theater.
“Thank you. I apologize for interrupting your evening. Good night.”
“Night, Giles, and hey take care of yourself. I’d hate for your brother to rub off on you.”
“Ah, thank you, I think.” Giles answered as Buffy hung up.
“You know, star charts would be much better if they were in color.” Evan muttered, trying to keep his teeth from chattering. At the beginning of the year, astronomy labs on Thursday nights were the highlight of the Slytherin schedule, but as the semester progressed, the Astronomy Tower became more unbearably cold.
“How would that help?”
“Well, because it would look nicer.”
“Have you tried turning the page?” Severus muttered, glancing over at the open book.
“What good is that? The stars are in black and white, you git.” Lucius upbraided his friend.
“Actually, stars do have associated colors.” Severus pointed out. The other Slytherins turned to stare at him. “What? It’s the next chapter. It has to do with what elemental magic was around when they formed.”
“Really?” Rupert muttered while polishing the lens of his telescope, “I had always heard it had to do with the size of the star and what element of gas was in its’ core.” Now it was his turn to earn the stare of death from the Slytherins. “What? It was on the BBC.”
“Muddy, one of these days, you’re going to learn not to believe everything the muggles tell you. They just made that up because they couldn’t cope with the truth about magic forming the universe.” Lucius once again patronized the sole muggle-born in the house.
“Of course Malfoy, silly me.” Rupert rolled his eyes.
“You’re right.” Severus whispered to his step brother once the other Slytherins had gone back to their telescope set up. “The color comes from the size and composition of the star. However, the size and composition are due to magical resonances of quantum strings. A friend of my mother’s studied it in University.”
“That’s pretty impressive.”
“The scary part is Mother’s friend thinks the muggles may uncover magical resonances by the end of this century. If that happens, it will shake the whole fabric of reality.”
“Do you really believe that?” Rupert asked, rubbing his gloved hands together, trying to stay warm.
“Not a bit, but it sounds impressive, doesn’t it?”
“Alright class, does everyone have their telescopes assembled and star charts out?” Mademoiselle Sinistra’s voice cut off the general chatter in the tower. “Tonight we are going to start the unit on star composition. We’ll start with the stars of Orion, which I trust all of you can find by now. On your charts I want you to note your observations of each of the stars in Orion. Include characteristics such as size, color, twinkliness, and apparent distance to its neighbors.”
The Ravenclaws and Slytherins worked quietly for several minutes, chatting to each other as they adjusted their telescope directions. The best part of Astronomy Lab was the fact that Mademoiselle Sinistra let them talk during the class. Just five years out of university, Sinistra was young, hip, and by far the favorite teacher on campus.
“So, as I was saying,” Lucius started back up again, “my family is going to Austria for the winter hols. I don’t suppose the rest of you going anywhere worthwhile?”
“I think my parents are going to Austria too, which part?” Evan replied.
“Vienna, of course. There’s supposedly a wizard there who’s hoping to develop a salon for enlightened wizards. Naturally my parents were invited.”
“Hey, I may see you there.” Evan grinned. “My parents got the same invitation.”
“I suppose that’s to be expected.” Lucius sniffed. “Your parents were Slytherins, they must have some quality blood in them.”
As the Slytherins discussed their upcoming vacation, Rupert took a step away from the telescopes. He never could understand why he was the only one who seemed affected by eyestrain, staring through the telescope for so long. Glancing over the back edge of the tower, he noticed something moving across the grass. “Psst, Sev.” He whispered, getting his step-brother’s attention.
“What is it?” His brother muttered.
“What’s that?” Rupert nodded towards the running spot on the lawn.
“I’m not sure.” Severus frowned. He turned his telescope around and quickly adjusted it to focus on the lawn. “Oh, they have to get caught now!”
“What, who is it?”
“Look.” Severus stepped back so Rupert could look through the scope.
“Dumb Gryffs. Not only are they out after dark, they’re heading straight for the forest.” Rupert grinned.
“What are you looking at?” Rastaban cut in.
“Your mother.” Severus snapped back.
“Funny, ha ha.” Rastaban rolled his eyes. “Really, what are you looking at?”
Rupert stepped back so Rastaban LeStrange could take a peek. “Merlin, is it really who it looks like?”
“If it looks like Black, Potter, and Pettigrew, than I’d have to say yes.” Severus smirked.
“What is that? Let me see.” Lucius moved Rastaban out of the way. “What were you looking at, I can’t see anything.” Lucius complained loudly, not noticing the rest of the Slytherins taking a step back.
“Perhaps it would help if you pointed your telescope at the sky Mr. Malfoy?”
Lucius stepped away to find that Mademoiselle Sinistra was standing directly in front of the lens. “Sorry, professor, but you see, this isn’t even my telescope.”
“Oh? Then perhaps you should return to your telescope. It will help you finish your assignment.” She suggested, indicating no room for debate.
“But, Professor, the Gryffs are sneaking out!” Lucius insisted.
“I’m well aware of that, and their Head of House will hear of it, but it is not your concern.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lucius walked back to his telescope.
“And Mr. Malfoy, it generally helps to start using the colored star charts to do this assignment. The black and white ones just aren’t as pretty.” The professor added, on her way to help some of the Slytherin girls.
“Wow, that was a close call, Lu.” Rookie breathed a sigh of relief.
“What are you talking about? That’s Sinistra. She wouldn’t give us detention even if we showed up starkers to class.”
“Ugh. Do you know how fast you’d freeze if you showed up starkers?”
“You’re nuts Evan, and you’re using the wrong star chart.” Lucius replied. “You’re supposed to use the colored ones.”
“Oh, you mean the ones Severus told us to use?”
“Shut up.” Lucius muttered.