Fighting the Good Fight
Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for BTVS through Normal Again (Minor spoilers for Season 7, but not for the major story arc) and for HP through Goblet of Fire. AU as of Year 5.
Reviews: It would be very much appreciated if you did review. Thanks.
Distribution: If you have a home that might benefit from this, drop me an email and we’ll talk.
Disclaimer: Not that this will save my hide at all, but I don’t own any of this, I am merely borrowing. Thanks to Mutant Enemy, Joss
Whedon and J.K. Rowling for not suing me, as well as creating these great worlds. Any references to other copyrighted material outside the HP/BTVS realms are also not my property.
“I appreciate you coming here.”
“Not much of a choice, was there?”
Albus Dumbledore peered over the rims of his spectacles at the man seated across his desk. He saw his own countenance flicker in the shiny bald head and wondered again about his newly-developed reticence. The visitor had barely spoken at either of their previous meetings, and this one was no different.
Lack of understanding gnawed at the elderly wizard. He was quite unaccustomed to that, and it bothered him greatly. Since they had met five years before, the young man had been nothing if not friendly and outspoken. Something had changed. Dumbledore had a good idea of the what, given that the young man was here by himself, but he had no idea of the how.
He suspected the how was very bad indeed.
“I suppose not. The arrangements are acceptable?”
“Are they coming?” Dumbledore strained to hear his voice, even in the silent office.
“I believe so, though I have not heard back from Ms. Rosenberg. Mr. Giles assures me that she will be amenable, however.”
“She’ll be safer here. What about the vampire?”
“He has accepted as well. We have something of a history together. His acceptance was not in doubt.”
“Good. If he’s as good as you say, he’ll be a help.”
Dumbledore’s concern finally overcame his natural reserve.
“Dave, I must ask. What has happened to you?”
“Life, Albus. Life happened.” The young man got up and walked out of the office.
“I pray you can stop it from happening here, my friend.” Dumbledore’s voice echoed heavily in the empty room.
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea, Giles,” Willow said, propping her feet up on her bags in the living room of Giles’ flat.
“Nonsense, Willow. I will need the assistance.” Giles sat across from her in his father’s chair, sipping tea. They still had a few hours before their departure.
“But there’ll be so much magic. I don’t … what if … it could be bad,” she concluded. He smiled softly at her.
“As I said when I came to Sunnydale with the offer, it will be difficult. However, I am convinced you will be able to master your magic much more easily away from the Hellmouth.” And be safe from anyone who might try to master you, he added silently.
“Or there will be plenty of wizards to shut me down if I can’t,” she added bitterly. Not that she had much left for her in Sunnydale, with Tara leaving her. Buffy and Xander begged her to stay, but after her problems with dark magic, she knew the Hellmouth was too dangerous for her.
“Would you prefer I lied to you, Willow? Hogwarts does indeed provide ample safeguards against such an occurrence. But you are by no means being incarcerated.”
“I know that. I just … I’m scared, Giles.” Her eyes dropped to the floor. “What if I can’t control it? What if something happens?”
“Then there will be an equal number of wizards to help you as there would be to ‘shut you down,’ I believe was the term.”
“I need some time. Before I can start with the magic again. I guess to purge the badness, y’know? No magic for awhile.”
“That’s quite alright, Willow. Professor Dumbledore fully understands. No one will push you into something you are not ready for. And I will certainly be there for you, should you need me.” She still seemed sad and withdrawn. Giles briefly wondered where the young girl with the ready smile and resolve face had gone.
“I know. Just last minute tummy flutters, I guess. We’ve been through this before, over and over. It’s just so much new stuff, I mean, a society of witches and wizards? And a school full of their kids? Even for a girl from the Hellmouth, it’s hard to believe.”
“You have every right to be nervous, Willow. I must admit that I’m facing this with a bit of trepidation myself.”
“You? Why? You were born to teach this stuff.” She gave him a brief smile. “I mean, you taught me and Buffy and Xander everything we know about killing the things that go bump in the night. That’s all this is, right? And we know more than most people.”
“Perhaps,” he said with a small smile. Actually, he wasn’t that nervous, but he knew trying to comfort him would make her feel better. It was a uniquely Willow phenomenon, and he had no shame about taking advantage of it. “You should be excited about the teaching as well, you know. It will be an excellent opportunity for you, and as you said, you know quite a bit about those ‘bumpy things’.”
“I am. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“Excellent. It will be quite the opportunity. Speaking of which, while we have a moment, I’d like to go over the plan for our class. Would that be alright?”
That perked her up, he saw, and soon they were chatting about lesson plans and assignment topics for the school year that was three weeks from beginning. It was a discussion that lasted well into the night.
Four of them waited for him to make his move, typical English punks leftover from the seventies with garish colors in their hair and dirty leather vests. They leered at him like fresh meat waiting to be devoured. The leader had a dozen piercings above his waist, some of them linked by chains. He was as good as anyone Spike had ever come across, and now Spike had only one shot to avoid what would probably end up as a thorough dusting.
If he hadn’t been the Big Bad, Spike might have been afraid.
As it was, he just grinned and shook a cigarette loose from his last pack. The glow from his lighter illuminated his cheeks and cast harsh, angled shadows over his other features. In the firelight, his scar cut an angry swath across his eyebrow. The other patrons stared at it as they clustered around the group, waiting impatiently to see what would happen.
“Guess this’ll be my last chance, then?”
Their leader growled, motioning with a head toss for Spike to get on with it. The blonde vampire reared back and fired; locked in a tight spiral, the dart slammed into the center of the bullseye with a sharp thwack. Spike watched it vibrate for a second, momentarily certain it would fall free, then broke into a satisfied grin when it didn’t.
“Bastard,” one of the punks breathed.
Spike tried to remember if he was Leon or Jeremy. Not that it mattered.
“Pay up, ya wankers. What was it you said? A hundred pounds that I couldn’t beat you? That’ll be cash, a’course.” He held out a pale hand, glad he had landed the last dart. He had ten pounds left, and not covering a loss to these freaks would have meant serious trouble.
The three lesser punks started to make negative noises, but the leader held up his hand and motioned for them to pay Spike. He didn’t want the rest of the bar to see him welsh on a fair bet.
They grudgingly handed the money across, and Spike smiled cheerfully.
“There now. Wasn’t so hard, was it? How ‘bout we toss back a few, celebrate my victory?”
The voice rumbled from somewhere in the bowels of the earth.
“Get out,” the leader told him.
Spike felt the threat and took the hint. He needed to buy some smokes anyway, and didn’t feel like fighting the whole bar with no backup.
“Right then, off I go.” He tossed back his shot of blood and shrugged to straighten his duster. “Best not to drink with you losers anyway. Hurts the image.” Without a backward glance, he strode out the front door.
He left the bar and walked casually through the foggy London evening. He hadn’t been to England in years; it no longer felt like home, but the last few days had been a hell of a good time.
“Won’t be many a’those up ahead,” he muttered to himself as he took a short pull on the whiskey flask in his pocket and headed up a short rise. He was 100 yards from the Thames, and decided that would be worth a look while he contemplated his English holiday.
He knew it would be good to see Dumbledore again, and to be away from the damned Slayer. He had to get away from Sunnyhell; being around her but not with her was more than he could tolerate. He knew that if he hadn’t left, the pressure would have been too much. He would have attacked her, or worse, and he couldn’t live with himself if that happened.
“William the Bloody King Poof, that’s who you are, mate,” he told himself as he finished his cigarette. He flicked the spent butt into the river and reached for the pack with his left. Empty. Damn.
“Gonna be poofed is more like it, yeh fairy,” squeaked a nasally voice behind him.
Spike turned around; the four punks stood in a semi-circle around him, cutting off any avenue of escape. Their feral stances and amber eyes told the story even more than their fangs. Two of them had wicked-looking hunting knives, while a third carried a wooden spear. The leader dangled a length of chain from his left hand that ended with a curved blade.
“Who do you think I am, the tax collector? No refunds here, kiddies. Now run along home to mum. Wouldn’t want you to get hurt.” He dragged the last sentence out and added what he knew was a rakish grin. Actually, he rather hoped they stayed. He’d been days without a good row, and now there wasn’t a bar full of demons watching their backs.
“I’ll do for yeh, ya cheatin’ …” The stake slipped from inside the sleeve of Spike’s duster as the blonde vampire lunged forward, ending the punk’s sentence in a cloud of dust. His knife clattered to the ground.
The other knife wielder sliced at Spike with his own blade. Spike dropped under it, landing on one knee with his duster billowing out along the ground behind him, and snatched up the fallen knife. With no hesitation he rammed it into the vampire’s crotch. He screamed in agony and dropped to the ground, where Spike promptly staked him.
Suddenly wary, the other two stepped back and appraised him.
“Now, what’s this about cheatin’?” Spike asked. “I don’t mind bein’ called a cheat when I cheat, but I expect a bit o’ credit when I’m playin’ fair.” He twirled the knife in his fingers, letting the blade glitter in the light from the street lamp.
The vampire with the spear watched Spike grin for a half-second before exercising the better part of valor; he tossed the spear to the ground and ran off into the London night. The leader shook his head in disgust. His bladed chain spun lazily from side to side in front of him.
“Still lookin’ to have a go at it then, mate?” The vampire nodded, a creepy smile forming on his lips. He was at least four inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than Spike. “S’pose I could accommodate that, but I got to warn you, I don’t have a whole lot o’ time. Got a train to catch.”
The vamp grunted and closed the distance between them until they were a few feet apart. With lightning speed he whipped the spinning blade at Spike’s head.
Spike spun to his left, avoiding a cleaving blow, and gripped the knife blade in his fingers. With supernatural strength he flung it at the other vampire, hoping to gouge his ridged forehead. The vampire plucked it from the air inches away from him and laughed.
“You got a name, chuckles?”
Rather than answer, he dropped the knife and attacked. This time, Spike caught the chain in mid-air, allowing it to loop around his right arm and hold him tightly. The punk vampire smiled; Spike closed his hand on the chain and yanked as hard as he could, jerking his opponent off balance and slamming them into one another.
The punk’s face was a study in astonishment as he turned to dust.
Spike slid the stake back into his sleeve, then tossed the chain into the river.
“Bloody amateur,” he muttered. “Told him I had a train to catch.”
2: Higher Learning
Willow stepped through the wall, marveling at the seamless transition to Platform Nine and Three Quarters and glad that she had stepped through walls before. Still an eerie experience, but not terribly frightening, aat least.
The train and passenger cars seemed to have been plucked right from one of her grandfather’s model train sets. She walked up to the locomotive and ran her hands along the smooth paint. Then she saw someone in the distance and called out.
“Hey, Giles, look, somebody else! Hey, over here, hey …” Her enthusiasm trailed off as the black clad figure came closer.
“Red. Nice to see you. Rupert,” the blonde man nodded.
“Spike.” Giles said to the vampire. “I guess that explains the night run. What are you doing here?”
The vampire lit a cigarette and savored the smoke leaking out of his nostrils.
“Albus and I go way back. He asked me to come, look after things a bit.”
“You know Professor Dumbledore?” Willow asked, surprised.
“Yup. We’ve been on the same side o’ some nasty tussles over the years. Plus, I needed out of Sunnyhell for awhile after … things, you know?”
Willow could certainly sympathize with that. Giles knew about the affair and didn’t approve, but he hadn’t had a great deal of say from across the pond. He and Willow traded a look that screamed ‘it’s for the best.’
“Perhaps we should finish this on the train?” Giles suggested. The three of them grabbed their luggage and climbed aboard; Spike surprised Willow by wordlessly hefting her largest bag and bringing it with him. Giles settled in to his own cabin, content to grab a few hours sleep during what was certain to be a long night.
The flight to England and two days of sightseeing with Giles had nearly worn Willow out, but the battle between anxiety and excitement had her all wound up. She sat awake, restlessly staring out the window.
Spike silently smoked in the seat across from her, watching the redheaded witch think about the trip. Her evident sadness didn’t surprise him at all. Glinda had given her a rough time over the magic. She had, he supposed, been pretty reckless, and he was still right pissed that she’d endangered the nibblet with her addiction, but she hadn’t meant any harm. Same thing, he figured, with bringing Buffy back, a disaster that he knew hung around her neck like a thousand-pound ball and chain. She certainly had enough reason to get away, but he knew it must be hard for her.
And he could relate to that.
They were both pretty much alone, both cast out suddenly by people they cared for, both riding a train to a place that might not hold some answers for them. Then again, it might not have any.
“Red?” Startled from her reverie, she turned and looked at him warily.
“Do you … want to talk about it all?” He asked tentatively, knowing it wasn’t really his place. The Big Bad should not be asking something like that, his demon thought. But the demon had lost control sometime over the past two years, and what was left of William remembered Willow’s endless kindness and patience with his chipped self, and besides, he was bored out of his bloody mind not saying anything.
“With you?” She responded in a less than friendly tone.
“Sorry, pet. I just thought … you look so sad.” His voice actually sounded sympathetic. Is he serious? Her mind found that reasonably easy to accept, once she considered it at all. He had changed, and he had to be miserable about being away from Buffy. I can empathize with that.
“I just miss home, you know?” All of a sudden, her real feelings blurted out in a rush. “And the way it used to be. Me, Buffy, Xander, Giles, save the world and watch bad Indian t.v. and all that and doing research in the library and even hacking the coroner’s office, thinking a single vampire was serious danger and avoiding Cordelia at the Bronze a-and …” She cut herself off, her face flushed from the speech. “I’m sorry, I’m rambling.”
“I know what you mean, Red. The last few years have been more complicated than the whole century before them. I miss … not the killin’ and rampaging and feeding so much as the simplicity of it. Now I think about everything. It makes it harder, you know?” He realized as he said it that it was the truth. He didn’t mind being the white hat; he hated the complexity of it, but not the role itself.
“You don’t miss the killing and feeding?”
“It’s been so long … want to hear something odd?” Probably shouldn’t tell her this, he knew. What the hell, though, might as well. He was what he was.
“Remember when Dru came back last year?” She nodded, also remembering that Spike had chained Buffy up ‘for love.’ “We went out, to the Bronze. She killed two lovebirds that night, gave me one to eat. I knew then that we could be together, that everything could actually be how it was if I wanted it to.”
“Boy, that’s romantic, Spike. Thanks for sharing.” She turned away, disgusted.
“No, you’re not listening.” He grabbed her shoulder and gently turned her around. “I didn’t want it. Didn’t want her. Thought at the time, a’course, that it was because of Buffy. Maybe it was, or is. But I just don’t want to.” Not that Buffy sees that, he added mentally. “When Dru handed the girl’s body to me, I wondered what she had been like, wondered if she liked the bloody Ramones, would you believe? Now, I look at humans and see … people, not food.”
“It makes sense, I guess,” the redhead said. “You’ve had no choice, living with us for so long.”
“I know, but it’s a bloody enormous change for a vampire, luv.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” He could see she didn’t understand his point. Well, they had plenty of time. At least she had listened to him. Maybe he could help her, eventually. He lit another cigarette and joined her in staring out the window.
Spike and Giles knew the enormous bearded man that met them at the train station was part giant. Nothing else could explain his size. Giles seemed a bit taken aback, but Spike, who had known more than a few giants, remained unfazed. Willow was simply overwhelmed.
“Rubeus Hagrid’s tha name, folks. Keeper o’ the Keys and Grounds and whatnot here at Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore sent me down ter get yeh. Don’t worry ‘bout yer bags, we’ll have ‘em sent up ter yer quarters special. You must Professors Giles and Rosenberg, eh?” He looked first at Giles and Willow, who each nodded. “Right then, that makes you the vampire,” he said to Spike. “Been awhile since I seen one, and he wasn’t too friendly. ‘Course, Dumbledore trusts you. Good enough for me. Great man, Dumbledore.”
“I’ll agree with you there, mate,” Spike said. “Call me Spike.”
“Mos’ people here jus’ call me Hagrid. All’a you might as well.” They nodded. “This way, then.” He led them to a set of boats without oars, motioning them to get in. Willow stumbled and nearly fell in the lake, but Hagrid picked her up with one hand and deposited her in a seat. She smiled her thanks, then let out an ‘eep’ when the boat began to move on its own.
“That is so …” Willow said, words not forming in her mind. The enormous silhouette of Hogwarts came into view, dark against the night sky except for the lights of individual rooms. The giant turrets jutted defiantly into the night, giving the entire fortress a sinister appearance. “Like a fairy tale,” she finished.
“Indeed,” said Giles. He had never seen its like either, and gaped in awe. Spike and Hagrid, having been here before, merely watched as the outline grew and details began to emerge. The sight left them speechless as they landed and made their way to the school’s entrance.
“Dumbledore’s waitin’ for yeh in his office. I s’pect he’ll have someone show ya ter yer rooms an’ all.” Hagrid pointed out the directions to Dumbledore’s office. As the three newest staff members turned to go, Willow patted Hagrid on the arm and thanked him sweetly. Embarrassed, the half-giant stuttered out a ‘Yer Welcome’ and headed off to his home. Spike knew the way, and they headed out to meet their new boss.
3: Joining the fight
“Come in, come in,” Dumbledore said, coming out from behind his desk and waving them forward. His white beard hung over his blue-robed chest, reminding Willow of a thinner Santa Claus. His voice reminded her of freshly-sanded wood. She liked him instantly. He shook hands with Giles and Spike, then turned to her.
“Miss Rosenberg. I am so glad you chose to join us this year.”
“Th-thank you, Professor. I’m glad you wanted to give me a chance.” He waved them all to seats, but Spike remained standing and glanced around the office. Nothing had changed from his last visit, including the beautiful red and orange phoenix perched over Dumbledore’s shoulder. Spike winked at the bird, who winked back.
“Rupert tells me you have quite a large capacity for magic, young lady,” Dumbledore said once they had been seated, casting a fatherly eye on the girl. Willow dropped her eyes, embarrassed but unsurprised that Giles had told him of her recent history. “Addiction to dark magic is very dangerous, and also very easy for someone with your facility. It speaks volumes that you have been able to restrain that at all. I hope you understand that for that reason, I consented to bring you here as an Assistant Professor.”
“I-I … you hired me because I’m a magic crackhead?” She blurted.
“No, Miss Rosenberg. I hired you for a number of reasons. However, the foremost was this one: strength of magic is far less rare than strength of character. You would do well to remember that while you tear yourself apart with guilt.” With that pronouncement, he closed the subject and moved on to another. “Rupert, you should know that the Defense Against the Dark Arts position is … somewhat coveted among the current staff. You might prepare for some trouble with one of our professors.”
“Severus is still hangin’ about then, is he?” Spike said, leaning against the wall.
“Indeed he is, William.” Giles looked at Dumbledore questioningly. “Severus Snape, our potions master, is a bit … difficult. He is a good man, but his checkered past has made him touchy. I fear he will be most displeased with the hiring of both of you, as he desperately desires your post.”
The honesty of the statement surprised Giles. Most of his employers had not been quite as forthcoming about potential difficulties; but then, Dumbledore had earned a great deal of respect the hard way.
“We shall deal with it in due course, Albus,” Giles said. “However, should he attempt to harass Willow…”
She cut him off.
“I can handle myself, Giles. I’ve been a geek for a long time. I know how to deal with people who don’t like me for no reason.”
The Watcher smiled. Suddenly he was glad that he was not Severus Snape.
Giles could feel the film forming over his eyes as he stared at his lesson plans. The torches and candles provided sufficient illumination, but his eyes seemed to burn every time he focused on the printing on the page. Willow, ever the student at heart, had color coded the various aspects and talking points for each class to make it easier for him. It wasn’t helping. The students would arrive tomorrow, with classes to begin the day after. He knew he had to finalize these papers, but his whole being balked.
After another ten minutes, he gave in to fatigue and removed his glasses. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he realized that he was not alone.
“Dammit, Spike. Do not sneak up on me like that.”
“Sorry, Rupes,” the vampire said with his usual cocky grin. “You know, for a guy whose birthright is Watcher…”
“Yes, yes I know. What is it you want, exactly?”
“Something you should see. Up on the roof. I think it has to do with that additional assignment we talked about with Albus after Red left.” Giles put his glasses back on and looked at Spike, whose grin had been replaced by concern. They had decided not to let Willow know about the special assignment that Giles and Spike had actually been recruited for. The Watcher put his papers down and followed Spike to one of Hogwarts’ few flat roofs.
The moonlight pierced the cloudless sky effortlessly, opening a clear view for miles around. The two former Scoobies emerged at the corner farthest from the object of Spike’s concern. Giles heard the music before he saw the man. The thump of the bass vibrated across the open rooftop. He vaguely recognized it from Buffy’s massive workout ‘music’ selection.
Then he saw the man.
Bald, medium height, some sort of light-colored sweatshirt and denims, Giles observed. He was doing katas from an art Giles had never seen. Even from thirty yards away, though, the Watcher could recognize a deadly expert. He moved like water sliding along glass. In its own way, it was physical art, and he suddenly hoped Buffy would be around if he and this man were ever on the opposite sides of an argument.
“Like watching the Slayer, innit?” Spike commented quietly.
“Yes,” Giles agreed. “Do you know who he is?” The vampire shook his head.
Dave Grey had heard Spike on his first trip. He detected the vampire’s return, with a friend, the moment they reached the roof. He had subtly adjusted himself, as he always did now when he was watched, weakening his form, lessening his expertise for the spectators. Hiding his true skill. Allies could become enemies instantly.
He should know.
They waited for him to finish and begin toweling his head off before walking over.
“That was quite a good show, young man,” Giles began. “What discipline was it?”
“Mixture.” Grey offered no further explanation.
“Yes, well, impressive regardless,” Giles said, discomfited by his brevity. “I’m Rupert Giles.” The Watcher extended his hand, which Grey shook.
“Spike,” said the vampire, not offering his own hand.
“Do you prefer William?” Grey asked politely.
“Not likely, mate. You know who I am, then?”
“Dumbledore is thorough. I’m Grey.” While he said it, Rupert realized the man naturally stood in a balanced position, as if an attack might come from any quarter. Grey paused, obviously realizing Giles was uncomfortable with his lack of communication. “I’m sorry if I seem rude. I don’t talk much these days, just lurk.”
“You’re here about the Death Eaters,” Spike said. It wasn’t a question.
“Who isn’t?” Grey asked rhetorically. He looked directly at Giles; the Watcher found it every bit as disconcerting as the silence. “I was glad to hear that your Slayer returned. We don’t have enough heroes as it is.” With that pronouncement, he glided across the roof and went back inside.
“Worse than the bloody poof, that one.”
“Americans can be a bit strange,” Giles said offhandedly. He wondered exactly who the young man was, and why Albus had not said anything about him. He made a mental note to bring it up the next time he found himself alone with the headmaster.
4: Lost souls
Willow kept glancing covertly at Grey while she worked on scheduling for the Dark Arts class. The two of them were alone in the library; she was curious what the bald man was reading, but she couldn’t exactly see from where she was. Giles had intrigued her when he reported his encounter with the mysterious warrior to her, and now there he was, three seats away. She continued with her surreptitious perusal for almost twenty minutes.
“It’s not anything profound and deep,” he said without lifting his eyes. Even at such a low volume his voice jolted her.
“S-sorry. Didn’t mean to stare,” she said nervously.
He looked up at her, his face neutral.
“Not a problem.” He held up the beat-up book. “Sword of Truth. Terry Goodkind. Ever read it?” Part of him wondered what he was doing, starting a conversation with this extremely dangerous girl, about whom he had been given the executive brief by Dumbledore. Another part of him, nearly dead, told him they both might need a friend before this whole thing ended, so why the hell not?
“Actually, I have,” Willow said. She smiled, lighting her face up like a candle. “I read them all. The fifth one, Soul of the Fire? Not so good, but I loved the others.”
“Definitely. I wasn’t wild about Temple of the Winds either, but overall, the man can write.”
“I’m Willow,” she said, setting her work down and turning to face him. She thought she caught a hint of a smile on his lips, but it was fleeting, and possibly hadn’t been there at all.
“Grey. Giles probably told you.”
“He did. Is that your whole name? Grey? ‘Cause that would be silly.”
“And Willow is a dour and serious name,” he said. The sarcasm seemed at odds with his facial expression. She wondered if he had once been cheerful and funny but had stopped. “Dave. Dave Grey.”
“No. Never.” The look on his face might have soured milk. His tone would have done it for sure.
“No, don’t be. You didn’t know. It’s just … bad memories, okay?” It was more than he had offered of himself in a long time, even if she didn’t know it. Damn. The girl was really getting to him after two minutes of conversation.
“Okay. Dave it is,” she said, smiling again. “So what do you do here? Giles, as my friend would say, vagued that part up.”
“Buffy Summers, right?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“Dumbledore briefed me on the staff. I … know about Slayers and the Watcher’s Council from some work I used to do. Buffy’s a legend.”
“She’s pretty special. But don’t think you’re getting out of my question, mister. I want to know.”
He wanted to laugh at her indignance. And that hadn’t happened in a long time either.
“I’m Dumbledore’s insurance policy,” was his cryptic answer.
“Do you know about Harry Potter and Voldemort?” he asked.
“I know that Voldemort’s this uber-bad wizard and that somehow he couldn’t defeat that Potter kid. I read it in one of Giles’ Wizarding histories. What does that have to do with Hogwarts?”
“Harry’s a fifth-year. Voldemort has tried to kill him several times since he arrived. He killed Harry’s parents.” He said the name Voldemort as if it was a dirty and offensive word. Willow’s face shifted from interested to aghast at the news. She hadn’t known Harry Potter was a student here. All of a sudden, Hogwarts didn’t seem like such a safe haven from dark magic.
“What does that have to do with you?”
“I’m an old friend of Dumbledore’s, with certain useful skills. I’m here to keep an eye on things, said things being Harry and his friends. They wreak havoc without a thought for there safety,” he said simply. “I’m the thought.”
“Wow. Mucho responsibility, huh?”
“Actually …” He realized he was about to say something personal to someone who had known him for an hour. That didn’t happen anymore, and it sure as hell wasn’t happening now. “Never mind. I hear they’re good kids. It shouldn’t be too bad.”
They looked at each other in horror.
“I just said that aloud, didn’t I?”
5: Missing in Action
Willow watched from the table as Minerva McGonagall led the first-years in for the sorting ceremony. McGonagall had explained the ceremony and the house system to her two days before. Though eager to see the ceremony itself, she found herself distracted and glancing around. The dining hall amazed her anew at every meal, even after three weeks. The sky-ceiling glowed a deep, rich indigo that night, speckled with stars. Candles hovered just out of reach above the tables. The older students had already marched in; glancing about, Willow saw no one resembling the published pictures of Harry Potter at the Gryffindor table. Their seemed to be an unusual amount of commotion there, though, which told her that something was amiss. Probably Harry’s absence. She snuck a look at Grey, seated several seats down, and noticed the concerned look on his normally-neutral face. Something was clearly rotten in Denmark.
She was starting to like the very odd man. For one thing, he was her age, a seriously rare commodity for someone older than the students and younger than the teachers. He surprised her the day before by accepting her invitation to dinner. Though he hardly could be called talkative, he at least had been pleasant and companionable about his silence. She had thought about it before bed and realized that he very much wanted to say more, to be more friendly. Something held him back, though; Willow figured it had to be something large and scary. He didn’t seem like the type to be cowed. Plenty of time to decipher that mystery later, though
As the ceremony commenced, the trepidation on the faces of the first-years was almost cute, vanishing instantly when they were shuffled off to one of the four houses. Most of the unpleasant and haugty visages went to the Slytherin table, she noted. Fortunately, she had avoided Snape for three solid weeks, and intended to do so for as long as possible. The commentary by the rest of the faculty had not excited her about the prospect of a meeting with him.
Though it must have seemed interminable to the participants, the sorting ceremony actually went quite quickly. Professor McGonagall returned to her seat with a smile and nod to Dumbledore, who rose regally and brought swift silence with a raised his hand.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I bid you welcome once again for a new Hogwarts year. For those of you joining us for the first time, I bid you your first welcome. Before we begin our meal, you older students will be surprised to know that I have several announcements.” A small chuckle vibrated through the crowd. “As always, no one is to enter the Dark Forest at anytime. It is a thoroughly unpleasant place, and as such is quite off limits.” He paused, and gestured to the faculty.
“This year, as we often do, we have several new professors at Hogwarts. First, allow me to introduce Professor Rupert Giles, who will be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. Professor Giles is a former Watcher, the definition of which some of you older students may recall from your Magical Creatures classes.” Giles stood, earning a small smattering of applause. “He will be assisted by Miss Willow Rosenberg, who will also carry the title of Professor. Miss Rosenberg has worked with Mr. Giles and his student for a number of years.” Willow stood as well, to even greater applause, especially among the older students. “Though she is the youngest member of the staff, I assure you Miss Rosenberg is quite capable. Thank you both for coming.” He looked at Spike, who stood as well. “Also joining us this year as an assistant to our own keeper of the keys, Rubeus Hagrid, will be William T. Blood. He prefers, the moniker, however, of Spike. Should you require assistance from Hagrid during the evenings, we ask that you direct your queries to him instead.” Spike received no applause, only frightened silence, and sat back down with a smirk. Taking his scare thrills where he can, Willow figured.
“Last, but certainly not least, is Mr. David Grey. Grey will serve this year as Deputy Head of Gryffindor house, and as a guest lecturer in Defense against the Dark Arts. He will also oversee certain aspects of Hogwarts security, and I would ask that you discuss with him anything that seems amiss on the Hogwarts campus.” The last sentence was clearly directed at the Gryffindor table, though Willow could not see the specific target. “Now, for my final words…” Dumbledore paused in thought. “Hephalump, cantankerous, Xanth, utz. Thank you.” He sat down amidst more raucous applause.
As always at Hogwarts, the excellent food appeared on the plates in vast helpings. Willow watched the Gryffindor table intently; very little of the food reached any students mouths. The Gryffindors were clearly distracted, while the others houses went about the business of eating and welcoming with great fervor. Looking at the headmaster, she saw the old wizard deep in conversation with a … little green man.
The little green man had enormous eyes and a huge head; he wore a sweater far too large for him, allowing it to hang to his ankles like a dress, and a pair of mismatched socks in orange and fuschia. He was alternating between gesturing wildly and bowing his head in submission. Dumbledore seemed concerned. So engrossed in the display was Willow that she failed to notice Grey sneak up behind her and tap her on the shoulder. She turned with a startled ‘eep’ that made McGonagall and Giles smile.
“His name is Dobby. House-elf. Works for Albus,” Grey said tersely.
“What is that on his head, a tea cozy?”
“Yeah. Clothes are a big deal to house-elves.” She looked to see if he was being sarcastic, but it didn’t seem that way. “Harry’s not here.”
“I sort of got that part. You’re worried.”
“Dumbledore isn’t. But Dobby is. He and Harry have been … allies in the past. I think the elf is going to go look for him. House-elves stomping around muggle territory is a bad thing,” he concluded. “Dumbledore will send me with him. You in?”
“Field trip?” she asked, hoping to hide her nervousness. Without magic, she wouldn’t be very helpful. And for the time being she had promised herself to be strictly spell-free. She said as much to Grey.
“No magic, Willow. I just … could use some company.” She saw how much it pained him to say that. He covered it quickly. “Besides, you fought with the Slayer. You know non-magic fighting and how to sneak around.”
“A little bit,” she admitted. “What the heck? Sign me up.”
“We need to make a stop first. Meet me after dinner at the Gryffindor common room.” He walked over to tell Dumbledore and Dobby about his plans.
6: Sidekicks unite
Willow lingered outside of the Gryffindor common room, attempting not to stare at the house-elf pacing in circles in front of her.
“You are being a friend of Harry Potter, Miss Willow?” Dobby asked. He seemed intent on calling her Miss Willow, despite her insistence to the contrary.
“Never met him, er, Dobby. But everybody says he’s a nice guy.”
“Oh nice Harry Potter is. He be freeing Dobby from service. I’se never had as good a friend as Harry Potter. Every year Harry Potter gives Dobby new socks.” He pointed to the garish pair on his feet.
“Why doesn’t he give you a matching pair?” Dobby looked at her strangely.
“Harry Potter does, Miss Willow. Why would Dobby wear them together?”
Willow couldn’t figure out how to respond to that, so she let him get back to silent pacing.
At that moment, Grey walked out of the common room with two students in tow, a red-haired boy with freckles and a brown-haired girl. The girl spoke first.
“Hi Professor Rosenberg. I’m Hermione Granger.” They shook hands. “This is Ron Weasley.” Willow and Ron shook; she could tell the red-head was trying not to stare at her. Well, somebody finds me attractive still, she laughed to herself, thinking of Tara’s abrupt departure. “We’re Harry’s friends. Mr. Grey said you guys are going to try and find him?”
“I told you, Hermione. It’s just Grey. No mister.” She looked at him, slightly annoyed, as if to say ‘You’re a teacher. You get respect whether you want it or not.” Willow almost chuckled.
“We’re going to try,” Willow told Hermione. “And if we aren’t in class, call me Willow. I’m not old enough to be Professor Rosenberg.” Hermione nodded. “Do you guys know where he might be?”
“He owled me two days ago, said he would meet me at the train,” Ron said, clearly distraught. “We waited until the last possible second…”
“Which was so dangerous!” Hermione cut in. “As if he couldn’t find us on the train. Then I had levitate you, breaking the no-magic rule…”
“Look, ‘Mione, I could’ve made the ruddy jump…”
“Not without your stupid broom…”
“Still didn’t need your help…”
“Enough.” Grey’s voice came out whisper-quiet, sending shivers up three spines. Dobby merely looked on, eyes wide. “Dobby, take a walk for a minute.”
“Sir?” The elf didn’t understand.
“I need to speak with them in private. You need to not hear.” Willow shot him a look, but Dobby got the message and disappeared with a snap of his fingers.
“That was way rude, Grey.”
“Look, Willow, Dobby means well, but …” He looked to Ron and Hermione for help.
“He gets us in worse trouble than we would’ve anyway,” Ron said. “He got Harry’s arm broken in a Quidditch match one time, and we had to steal a car to get to school another time.” Willow didn’t know quite how to respond to that, either. Knowing what Quidditch was wouldn’t have made it better, she decided. For some reason, though, she wasn’t bothered too much. Ron kind of reminded her of Xander.
“He means well,” Hermione said. “He just overreacts because he loves Harry, who got him released from slavery.”
“Don’t ask her,” Ron said. “We don’t have time for a lecture on the rights of house elves.” Hermione glared daggers at him, but said nothing.
“Can we get to the point now?” Grey asked. Everyone leaned in expectantly. “You two know I’m the Deputy Head of Gryffindor. You heard what Dumbledore said about security, right?” Ron and Hermione nodded. “I’m here to keep an eye on you and Harry.” Their eyes went wide. “Not to keep you out of trouble, since I think Dumbledore finds your assistance very helpful. I won’t stop your midnight wanderings and I won’t confiscate your invisibility cloak. I don’t take away points and I don’t hand out detentions for being out and about after hours. Are we clear on that?”
They nodded again, taken aback by his directness. Hermione couldn’t believe a teacher would have such a blatant disregard for the rules. The glint in his eye and even tone of his voice, however, convinced her that he was serious.
“But I’ve got to insist on a few things. I’m in the club now, with the three of you. This isn’t negotiable. If strange stuff starts to happen, WE will investigate it. If you have to prowl the castle looking for clues, WE will look for them. If Malfoy starts trouble with you, WE will kick his ass.” The last line brought a smile to Ron’s face and a frown to Hermione’s. “Don’t frown. I’m not a teacher. I’m a guard. Big difference.”
“Didn’t think you could say that many words in a row, Mister silent-and-grumpy,” Willow said, smiling at Grey’s effort to befriend the kids.
“Yeah, well, just remember them all when they get in trouble and you need to get Giles to bail them out.” She gave him a horrified, I’m-not-involved look. “You think I let you hear that because you’re not in on the need to know? Besides, the things you don’t know about me would fill up a pretty large book.”
“But I can’t…”
“What, break rules? You’re telling me the Slayer never broke school rules?”
“No, it’s just … hmmph.” She said, hands on her hips. She hated channeling her inner geek, but there it was.
“Don’t worry about it, Professor,” Hermione said. “No one can stop it anyway. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s better to just hope you don’t get in trouble with someone like Snape then to try and stop Harry and Ron. What?” Ron was looking over her shoulder in fear. Hermione turned slowly, coming face-to-chest with the black-robed potions master himself. He spoke before Willow or Grey could intervene.
“Miss Granger,” he snarled. “What exactly do you mean when you say ‘someone like Snape’? I’ll remind you that if you lie to me, I will be forced to use a truth potion of a most unpleasant variety.”
“I-I-I … b-b-ah …” Hermione stuttered, mortified.
“What was that?” His glare threatened to melt her in place.
“You leave her alone, buster!” Willow shouted at him. She stepped between them and gave Snape a look of utter loathing. “We were having a private discussion that is absolutely without a doubt none of your business, but here you are threatening a student just like they said you do. How could you, you stupid, ignorant …” Her rant halted as Snape’s face flushed crimson.
“How dare you speak to me in front of the students that way,” he hissed. “I’ll have your job for this.”
“I think not.” Grey had remained apart from the discussion, gauging Snape for himself. He knew all about the rumors; in thirty seconds, he saw they were all true. Snape gave him an evil look filled with anger, which Grey met with stony impassivity.
“It doesn’t much matter what you think, knuckle-dragger. You’re a bodyguard. I am a full professor here and in this school…”
“We won’t always be in this school, will we Severus?” Grey eased into Snape’s personal space. He was several inches shorter than the darker man, but somehow seemed more menacing. “You’re a bully. I hate bullies. According to Dumbledore, though, you’re useful. Fine. I don’t give a shit.” Hermione gasped at the swear. “I’m here to keep these kids safe. From everything. Give them trouble, and we’ll see how much of a ‘knuckle-dragger’ I really am. And Willow? Not my job to keep her safe.” He leaned even closer to Snape’s face. Ron idly wondered if Snape’s hook nose might poke Grey’s eye out. He was loving this. When Grey spoke, his voice dragged over the stone hall like a knife.
“You do anything to make her uncomfortable and they’ll have to call out the hounds to find your pieces.”
Snape stepped back, unable to respond. No one had ever emasculated his authority that way before, let alone threatened to chop him into bloody bits. He spun and walked off without another word.
The group stood quietly for a minute or two.
“Wow,” Willow said. She couldn’t believe Grey had done that.
“That was so great! I wish Harry had seen it! He would’ve…” Ron trailed off. “We still have to find Harry.”
“I know,” Grey said. “If anyone knows where he might be, it would be you two. Any ideas?”