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Dark Fall (revised)

Chapter Text

The revised Dark Fall.
by Lucinda

 

 

Severus Snape had made a few arrangements for the end of summer.  He planned for the group to return to Hogwarts early, and then they could test Willow to see exactly where she would need to focus her studies.  He intended for his niece to get a complete, proper magical education despite what his sister wanted.  Which of course, in his opinion, meant taking her to Hogwarts.

But not until they'd made a trip through Diagon Alley to pick up all the supplies that she might possibly need.  There were a few things that he wouldn’t mind picking up for himself as well, since he’d be in the area.  He had the feeling that she would be amazed at the Wizard's shopping area, especially since there was nothing like it in Sunnydale.

His father had been delighted at the news, having given up all hope for anything civil from Sheila.  Learning that he had a magically gifted granddaughter had been a pleasant surprise.  Willow would gradually meet her other relatives, the ones that weren't the Rosenberg side.  The interesting ones, if he did say so himself.

She'd delighted in Diagon Alley, and Draco had snickered and had great fun teasing her about the way she’d stared and babbled questions and observations at them, asking about everything from wizarding wardrobes to why anyone would want pickled newt’s liver, to the use of owls to goblins.   Her enthusiasm couldn't be curbed.  The oddest thing was that she seemed a bit reluctant about the brooms, whispering a soft, slightly worried "But what if I fall off and break something?" while she watched Draco practically drooling over the new broom by Nimbus.

The part that had made her giggle like a small girl had been Ollivander's.  He'd insisted that she would need a wand, and that she should really try to learn the proper way to use one.  So, there had been the interesting occasion of watching her test wand after wand after wand, wrecking havoc on the careful organization of Ollivander's, and causing the small man to scurry all over, searching for just the right one.  She finally ended up with an eleven inch willow wand with a core of powdered basilisk scales.  The question of just where Ollivander had found basilisk scales would be something to come back to on another occasion.

Ollivander had seemed delighted, and Severus had known that his father would be impressed that Willow had such an unusual wand.  With such a core, would she be sorted into Slytherin?  He sighed, remembering yet again how difficult it could sometimes be to guess where a student would go.  Though it might be easier with someone who was already fairly grown instead of an eleven year old child.

They'd then taken floo powder to Hogsmeade, another experience that had left Willow amazed and impressed.  It was such a pleasure to introduce her to his world, something he felt was obviously long overdue.  He could hardly wait for her reaction to the actual school. Hogwarts Academy was located in an old castle, one with an assortment of towers, and high, vaulted ceilings, with enchantments worked into the very stones.

Her reaction proved to be everything that he could hope for, a look of wide-eyed astonishment as she looked over it, seeking to memorize the impressive silhouette.

"You want me to take classes in magic inside an enchanted castle?  It's amazing... no wonder Draco wasn't impressed by my parent's house."  Her voice was filled with wonder.

Hagrid was waiting when they reached the lake's edge, watching Draco with a slight scowl, and giving a nod when he saw Severus.  "I see yer back then, Professor Snape.  Who's the lass?"

Willow froze for a moment as she caught her first look at Hagrid. Her gaze traveled up, as her eyes grew larger.  "Wow... he's really big."

Draco leaned over, a sly smile on his face as he murmured "Hagrid's half giant.  Giants have a bad reputation in wizard circles.  Granted they are even bigger, close to thirty feet tall…"
 
Willow glanced at Draco, and then back at Hagrid, her eyes wide and unsure.  With a slightly shaky smile, she held out one hand to Hagrid, and offered a quiet  "I'm Willow... umm... pleased to meet you, mister Hagrid?"

Hagrid's huge hand engulfed Willow's and he grinned at her with his dark eyes gleaming.  "Pleased ter meet ya."

Severus sighed to himself, before clearing up the remaining confusion for Hagrid.  "This is Willow Rosenberg, my niece, the daughter of my younger sister Sheila, whom you haven't met.  Willow is coming here to fill in the gaps in her magical education."

"No place like Hogwarts to learn about magic.  It's a fine school, no doubt about that."  Hagrid's pleased voice was like a small roll of thunder.   "What sort of gaps do you have, Willow?"

"I'm not entirely certain... that’s part of why we’re going here before the term starts.   Uncle Sev said he'd arranged for me to be evaluated and placed for all the classes, and that I'd either have private lessons or sit in with the regular students in the places where I have less knowledge than a properly taught witch should have," Willow blushed and kept glancing up at Hagrid and over at the castle before glancing back at her toes.

"Don't worry, you'll be caught up in no time.  You'll have ta sit in the boat with yer uncle and young Malfoy."  Hagrid's good cheer seemed to reassure Willow.

Willow watched the castle as they glided across the lake in the pair of small boats, the water twinkling in the sunshine.

 

end part 1.

Chapter Text


 

The castle was absolutely wonderful.  Willow was certain that her eyes must be incredibly wide, and she wasn't sure that her jaw would ever return to normal.  Everywhere that she looked, there were things that were just…  amazing and magical and unexpected.  The stone walls made the place feel old and dignified, and she could feel the magic in them prickling at her skin.  There were paintings all over the walls, portraits and landscapes and groups, but the most amazing thing about them was that the people moved.  One person, a Knight in scuffed armor mounted on a gray pony was following them, and had been since they had crossed into the school. She had no idea how he'd crossed the gaps between paintings… well, other than magic, of course.

High vaulted ceilings and what looked like stone bowls filled with fire both gave the place a sort of unreal feeling, as if she'd just stepped into the pages of a fairy tale.  A school for magic... maybe she had stepped into a fairy tale.  As long as it wasn't Hansel and Gretel... Willow’d had nightmares about that mess after they’d turned up in Sunnydale.  She still wasn’t certain if Buffy had killed that demon for good or just for a little while.  She was impressed by the castle, and wondered how she would ever learn where everything was at and the best ways to get there.

"It's huge... and wonderful,"  The words emerged in a whisper, falling into air that felt thick with magic and potential.

"Maybe you'll even like the dungeons then."  Draco sounded a bit amused.   Maybe he was, after all, he'd had five years of attending this school, maybe he'd gotten used to the fabulous architecture, the crowding of moving paintings, the fires lighting the rooms instead of electric lights.

Willow shivered just a little at his words.  "Dungeons?  There are dungeons?  What's... what's in the dungeons?"

Draco grinned, his eyes sparkling as he replied, "Your uncle.  Remember how we said he teaches potions?  That's down in the dungeons with cobwebs in the corners, and slime on the walls."

"Uncle Sev teaches his class in the dungeon...  But why... ?”  Willow’s mind was going through all the reasons why chemistry labs would be separate, and thinking that they might apply to magical potions as well.  “Oh!  Uncle Sev, are some of the fumes from the potions... um, volatile? Or maybe they smell bad?  Or are there explosions if things go wrong?"

He smiled at her, his expression pleased.  "Yes, some of the higher level potions have potential hazards.  There are also certain ingredients that need to be kept away from sunlight."

"I haven't done a lot with potions, but some of the ones in Draco's books looked pretty interesting.  Sort of sounds a lot like chemistry... only with bits and pieces of things... and you can turn yourself into a pink elephant.   Umm... has anyone ever really... you know, did something sort of bad and um... not lethal?"  Her mind was racing in different directions, producing images blended from her knowledge of chemistry and a Xander influenced history of watching horror and mad scientist movies, the sort with mutant things from beyond or escaping from the lab out to create mayhem and terror.

Her uncle chuckled, a dark sound that went perfectly with the dark robes and teaching in a dungeon.  Had she ever mentioned how much he looked like a villain?  "I teach students, half of which would rather be anywhere but class, some of which don't bother to pay attention at all.  There are always accidents.  But I haven't actually had a student die in one of my classes."

"They probably look at the swoopy robes and dark hair and think you look like an evil villain.  You have the loomy ominous look... Mom can do it some, but normally it's a more professional suited psychiatrist menace.  How come I didn't get any menace at all?  Did it just decide to skip me entirely?  … and I'm babbling again..."  Willow's voice chattered on, asking questions about all sorts of things as she was given a partial tour of the school.

Her uncle was laughing, and Draco alternated between giggling in a most undignified manner and trying to answer a few questions, from the perspective of a student, of course.  Among other things, he gleefully told her that the other students DID think her uncle looked villainous, and had running speculation as to what went into some of the potions, and whispered horrible stories about bits of student ending up pickled in dark bottles.

The trio didn't seem to notice the old man in blue robes with swooping golden comets and glimmering silver stars who stood on one balcony, stroking his long beard as he watched them.  Albus Dumbledore smiled, certain that Severus' niece would be a most interesting influence on the students in this coming year.  She already seemed to be a good influence on her uncle, if the sound of what had to be Severus Snape laughing could be used as an indication.  He was looking forward to things unfolding.

 

end part 2.

Chapter Text


 
Willow had been rather worried about the testing, to be honest. She'd never even had a chance to learn most of this, and now that lack of learning would be ripped out into the open for everyone to see.  Fortunately, everyone was only most of the teaching staff and Draco instead of the whole student body. But knowledge was the one area that she was used to excelling in.  There had apparently been heavy debating before a decision was made to just test her in her knowledge of everything except Muggle Studies and figure out where she fell with her knowledge.  Then, somebody would figure up a schedule of classes, some with other students, and some as private instruction from the Professors.  It had sounded reasonable enough in theory.  Willow had even wondered if this might help her figure out some of the areas of magic that she’d particularly want to study, and maybe some of those electives that were offered.

That was before she'd taken the tests.

Willow had found herself looking through scrolls of questions, as opposed to the typed, copied, and stapled tests that she was used to, seeing detailed questions about things that in some cases, she'd only recently even learned existed, such as this 'Arithmancy' stuff.  Charms and Transfiguration were both rather disastrous, and as for the bit on Care of Magical Creatures?  She'd grown up on a Hellmouth!  She hadn't learned anything about keeping odd things alive, just about how to kill them, as quickly and safely as possible.  The teacher for the Divination class was one of the freakiest people that she'd ever met, and she was including cheerleaders and homicidal vampires in that list.  Potions with her uncle wasn't too bad, although she did feel like her experiences with potions was woefully inadequate.  On the bright side, Defense against Dark Arts was amazingly simple.  The mentioned creatures had all been in Giles' books, and she'd even fought a number of them.  She was a bit less experienced with the hexes, but... it felt good to finish with that one.

She'd made her way out of the room, feeling drained and ignorant, and given a shaky smile to her uncle.  "Well... finished now.  And might I add that I've never felt this reluctant to find out my test grades?  Most of those... well, Arithmancy isn't taught at Sunnydale, Transfigurations... I caused an indoor rainstorm, four small explosions, and turned a pin into a wooden stake.  The only one in there that I actually felt comfortable with was the Defense.  Are you sure I'll be welcome here?"

He'd pulled her into a firm hug, stroking her hair soothingly. "Willow... you'll do fine here.  This is where you come to learn, and I promise that the other teachers will be delighted to have someone who wants to know what's going on for a change.  Most of it is simply the result of no previous experience on your part, and I have faith that you'll rapidly fill in the gaps of your knowledge. The single requirement to learn here is the ability to do magic, and you have a generous amount of that."

"Promise?"  She knew that she sounded like a small child seeking reassurance that the bad dreams wouldn't come true, but... This was an entirely different sort of school.  The rules were different, the classes were different, and she would have the added hindrance of not quite fitting into any of the established groups.  If it weren't for the fact that she'd have her uncle, and Draco, who was at least trying to improve, and that most of the teachers that she'd met seemed awfully nice... well, she'd probably survive school here.  Especially since they hadn't had any students die during the school session in, well, not for fifty years.  She was having trouble wrapping her mind around that idea... a school where nobody died. It seemed almost like something from a fairy tale, or unrealistic television.

"What could possibly you so worried, Willow?  I rest assured that you did not fail your potions exam, you seemed far too cheerful.  Though in the future, you need to stir more slowly when adding venom to a potion, you should be able to count at least twenty between each drop.  Perhaps thirty for your counting…"  Her uncle was trying to make her feel better.

"Well, you weren't the only one to give a practical exam rather than just a test on theory and history, and I still think that there was a potion for detecting demonic possession that I saw in one of those old books that Giles had by a Greek… Theseus or Rhese…. No, not Reese’s Pieces, but maybe we were eating those when I saw the potion… and that’s not the point.   The whole scrolls and parchment thing makes everything feel a bit different, you know?  But... I sort of caught the Charms teacher's robes on fire, and there was the nightmare of Transfiguration... but the worst was Divination,” Willow shivered as she remembered the woman staring at her from behind those thick glasses, her necklaces rattling as the Divinations instructor swayed.  The woman had been incredibly creepy, worse than being chased by zombies or finding an insane vampire in the library. “That woman was scary!  Please tell me I don't have a lot of time anywhere near that woman?  And are you sure she's not some sort of giant mantis thing in disguise?  We had one of those in Sunnydale... and Trelawney's eyes look way freaky."

Draco had apparently decided that she was fretting too much, it seemed.   He'd just been there, right behind her and slightly out of range, and spoke up, amusement in his voice.  "If I didn’t know better, I'd think you were pacing and fretting, like someone who has something to worry about."

She'd spun around, body tensing at the words, even as she placed the voice and tried to calm down.  "Dread might be more like it... I'd never even heard of Arithmancy before you arrived, and there was a test on it.  And practices for things that I know I didn't do very well in, and this scary, weird bug eyed person, and..."

"And you need to not worry about it.  I'm sure you did fine, and what you didn't know today, you'll learn fairly soon.  And that's why I'm here.  Today, you are going to learn how to fly on a broom."  He'd gotten his smug look again.

Willow felt herself being pulled along by his hand at her elbow, and she was still worried.  Then, she remembered the pictures he'd shown her of a Quidditch tournament.  "Draco!  I can't... I can't fly like that!  Those evil bludgen things will smash me to a little red smear, and what if I fall off the broom and..."  Yes, she was now panicking over something entirely different.

He grinned at her, a most infuriatingly superior sort of grin. "Everyone can fly on a broom, even Longbottom.  Today is just a little basic flying, not a Quidditch tournament, so there won't be any Bludgers.  You can do this, and if we start now, by the time everyone arrives for the start of the regular term, they won't know that you'd never flown a few months ago."

"How can you be so sure?"  She could feel herself calming down.

Again he flashed that annoyingly superior smile, the one she'd labeled his 'rich snob smile' at her.  "I'm Draco Malfoy, child of the Malfoy line.  We are never wrong in matters of ability."

For a moment, all Willow could do was blink at him, standing there in his school robes, looking all superior and smug and... arrogant, and then she saw the little twinkle in his eyes.  Maybe in the spring, he would have been serious, but now?  He wasn't trying to be the arrogant rich wizard, he was trying to distract her from her worries.  She found herself trying not to giggle.  "Never wrong about abilities, hmm?  So, you really think I can do this? Where do I even start?"
 
She felt better as he explained the very most basic things about broom flying to her, slowly and with the careful expression of someone trying to take apart and explain something that they've long since stopped thinking about.  Sometimes looking at what he was doing was as helpful as listening, because then she could see what he meant.

To her great relief, it wasn't nearly as difficult as she'd worried that it might be.  Parts of it were rather intuitive, and she could keep the broom from going any higher than she wanted.  She was making careful arcs and sweeps when her uncle came out, trying to learn exactly how to move her body when she wanted the broom to do something.  Draco had been right, a few weeks of practice, and she'd do just fine.  Granted, she certainly wouldn't be ready for the house Quidditch teams, but she wouldn't look like someone who'd never been on a broom before.  That would be good enough for her, especially since she’d never been good at sports in her life and she doubted that a magical sport would change that trend.

Flying was fun.  The feeling of the air whooshing past her was wonderful, and it gave her this sense of freedom that was almost indescribable.  As she made a swooping arc along the wall of the castle, she saw a figure in billowing dark robes emerge from the door.  Her uncle was here, maybe that meant they were done with her tests.  She smiled a bit nervously, and came slowly down, landing beside him, thanking chance that she could use so much of her geometry towards broom flying.

"Are they... umm, are the tests done?"  She felt a bit tense all over again.

He smiled at her, and gave a small nod.  "They are indeed. You're doing quite well with the flying.  Your test results were... somewhat scattered, as I'm sure you expected.  There is some discussion going now about scheduling your lessons... you'll be spared the ordeal of dealing with Trelawney.  Seems that she thinks you have a disturbingly noisy aura or some such nonsense and insisted that you shouldn’t take her class.  A great deal of work for Charms, Transfiguration, and Herbology.  There is the suggestion that you might want to consider taking a class in Arithmancy when you've got yourself caught up, and Hagrid thinks that you most assuredly should take his class, to what was his phrasing?  'Learn to appreciate interesting creatures.' It might be good, that will give you a little time outside every day.  But the most unexpected to the grading panel were your potion and Defense results."

Willow felt herself tense.  She'd thought she did fairly well in those two.  "Were they that bad?"

He chuckled, seemingly amused by her question.  "Willow, you did that well on them.  You'll be taking potions with Draco and his yearmates, and they've asked if you might be willing to assist teaching some of the Defense Against Dark Arts classes.  It appears that the new teacher has very little field experience.  I could have filled the position, but..."

"Uncle Sev, if you taught Defense, you wouldn't have time to teach Potions, and that's something that you're good at.  There has to be a capable Defense teacher somewhere, and this way, you can make sure that the students can make a proper potion, without causing explosions,”  Willow looked at him, a thoughtful expression on her face.  “Besides, nothing says that you can't cover the defensive potions in your class or on the homework.   Nobody ever told any of the teachers at Sunnydale that they couldn't double cover a topic.  And if this guy hasn't had a lot of practical experience... well..."

Her uncle chuckled again, and smiled at her.  "I don't think the other students will have any idea how to react to you.  I'm looking forward to it a bit, if you must know.  Ah, come with me, we'll go see if they’ve finished plotting out your class schedule."

Willow felt better, knowing that her uncle was pleased, and hoped that she could learn what she needed to.  Maybe things wouldn't be too bad here.  Maybe here would be better than Sunnydale, a fresh start…

 
end part 3.

Chapter Text


 
Draco had agreed to help her with a few basics for her classes, teasing about helping her figure out how to do the things that he'd been taught years ago. It was one thing to grasp the academic principles of it, quite another to actually try to do things. After a few explosions, Willow started to get the idea of the proper way to channel her magic through the wand, which certainly made things... well, not quite easier, but certainly less explosive and safer for bystanders. Naturally, Draco teased her about it, but his words were lacking in venom.  She was fairly sure that it also helped to know the difference between a swish and a flick, or what made a jab different than a flick.

She was just hoping that by the time the regular school actually started she would have gained enough control to not accidentally cause explosions. The magic doing precisely what she wanted was the second goal. Professors Flitwick and McGonagall were both in fervent agreement that a lack of explosions would be a good place to start. She'd apologized to them both repeatedly, but those robes they'd worn for her exams would never recover. Naturally, Draco thought that was pretty funny as well.

Teasing aside, he was being a big help, as was her uncle Sev. Her uncle was telling her all sorts of things about how things were done in the wizarding world, about there being spells for everything. For your hair, for de-wrinkling clothing, for light, for bringing things closer... and there were enchantments for things that there weren't spells to cover. It was amazing. Fortunately, those tended to be easier than most of the things for the Transfiguration classes, or the Charms, which she was having slightly better success at.

There were so many foods that she'd never had before, although she didn't know if it was because they were wizard foods or because they were British food. She'd discovered one afternoon as she was fretting over yet another explosion that the school had small creatures called House-Elves that cooked and cleaned and tended things. They kept everything clean and neat and moving right along, enabling the students to learn and the Professors to teach. In return... well, she wasn't quite certain what they got out of the arrangement, but they must have had some benefit since they seemed pretty content with things. Between the house-elves and all the enchantments on everything from the torches to the books to the bathtubs, Hogwarts was definitely different than Sunnydale.

Gradually, they worked out a tentative schedule. She would sit in with some of the classes, not necessarily those of her own age, and work along with the other students. Other classes she would have one on one instruction from the Professors, among them a few more broom lessons from Madam Hooch, including the chance to ask dozens of questions about the enchantments and the proper care of brooms. But the one that she was going to feel the most awkward about was Defense Against Dark Arts. She would in essence be a Teacher's Assistant, helping to teach the more practical side along with the theoretical. She was just hoping that she could get along with the Instructor, who hadn't arrived yet. Actually, they hadn't even told her what his name was.

Willow did feel a bit nervous about the whole sorting thing that would happen at the start of the school year. Not only would she be standing in front of everyone, some... ancient hat would be deciding her future, at least for the next year. The idea made her stomach positively queasy. Draco was hoping that she got into his house, Slytherin, which was also the house that her Uncle was in charge of. Maybe it would make things easier...

Of course, there were three other houses that she might be sorted into. One house, called Hufflepuff, had a badger for a mascot, and its colors were gold and black. Ravenclaw had a raven, and its colors were blue and gold, Draco and her uncle both said they tended to be clever, sometimes devious. Then there was Gryffindor, whose colors were red and gold, their insignia a lion. Most of the people that irritated Draco and Uncle Sev were in that house.

With a good deal of consideration and some research about the school in some books in the library, mostly from this huge book titled 'Hogwarts: A History' and several conversations with Professor Binns, she had started to get a better idea how the school went.   She’d been a bit shaken by the idea that History was taught by a ghost, and slightly nervous about possessions and lingering bad vibes from traumatic deaths.   He’d shaken his head about that, and recommended a book that went into details about the differences between ghosts who had unfinished business and those who were simply too afraid to move on.  That had drifted into a discussion about the gradual shifts in historical beliefs about what the afterlife might be, and she’d learned that he could only guess as well – after all, if he had moved on to whatever waited, he wouldn’t be here to talk about it, now would he?  Willow had no idea why Draco had been filling her head with those horrible stories about Professor Binns being stuffy and boring, they’d had some fascinating rambling talks about all sorts of things, from enchanting battle weapons for noble champions and knights which had lead to legislation about battle weapons and three goblin rebellions to a discussion about fertility and counter fertility magics and how such accusations had led to feuds between families, including the Weasley-Malfoy feud that had been seething for the last five centuries.

She’d also met the grey and frowning man named Argus Filch who had been claimed by a rather lean light grey cat that she’d found in her room one afternoon.  A couple innocent questions about the different houses and he’d gone into this rant about how most of the unpleasant, evil, malicious cranky sorts went into Slytherin, with the ones too smart for their own good went into Ravenclaw, the ones to reckless to leave well enough alone went into Gryffindor, and the ones who couldn’t go off alone if it killed them went into Hufflepuff.  

She’d found the whole experience rather off-putting and retreated to have quieter words with her uncle.   He’d gotten this horribly brooding look at the idea that his house was full of malicious and cranky people, though he’d admitted that there might have been a few,  and that many people tended to be cautious about the Slytherins, expecting deviousness, trickery, and occasional evil. They expected the Gryffindors to be brave and often noble, though her uncle insisted that they sometimes possessed, 'more courage than wit or sense'.  As for Hufflepuff, nobody seemed to expect more from them than a basic competence and a tendency to be unobtrusive, to not draw too much attention unless it was by wandering around in packs.

It sounded like a recipe for cliques, exclusion, and disaster if ever one had been created. She could just see it now - 'I don't talk to your house, go away' and 'all Slytherins are slime' and 'no more sense than a Gryffindor'... No wonder her uncle got cranky!

Draco kept trying to encourage her as it drew closer to the time the students would arrive, talking about how between her uncle and his charming self, nobody would dare torment her.  Even if someone was foolish enough to do so and lucky enough not to end up floating in a collection of jars in her uncle’s office, she could just set their robes on fire with some of her wandless magic.

Willow was still nervous.   A whole school of new people, most of which were not only younger than her but knew more magic, and most likely a good many of them hating the only people that she felt any degree of closeness to at all, Draco and her Uncle Sev.  They’d already know so much about magical history and traditions.  She’d look like an uneducated uncultured American, the sort that gave tourists a bad name.  Her writing with quills and ink looked like a horrible scrawl, almost doctoral, which gave all sorts of pointless questions about medical handwriting and if her mother could use a quill.  She fidgeted, and paced, and worried, to the point that her uncle had her occupied looking up long forgotten scrolls and books in the library or copying out lists of potion ingredient reactions to keep her busy enough to only worry a little.

Finally, September first, the day of doom and the start of the school term for Hogwarts, the oldest institute for Magical instruction in Britain, arrived. She heard the whistle and saw clouds of steam before the train itself was visible, the impressive scarlet steam engine approaching the castle with a long line of cars carrying hundreds of students and their luggage.  Willow stared at it from one of the balconies, her stomach fluttering, not with butterflies but with the huge bats that nested in the caverns under the school. Everything would change now...  She almost chewed on one of her nails, except that she’d been helping Uncle Sev chop some pickled eels, and the stench of that still clung to her hands.

Willow could only hope that she was ready for what would happen.  Ready for Hogwarts and learning magic.  But ready or not, it was time.  She turned away from the station and started back towards the castle, her feet clicking slightly on the stone floors as she made her way towards the Great Hall.  Time to rejoin her uncle, time to be Sorted.  Time to start Hogwarts.

 

end part 4.

Chapter Text


               

Part of Willow was just wishing that she could hide in the dungeon. Skip the whole big feast, the sorting, maybe even the school year. But that was the nervous, shy, confrontation fearing Willow that had been terrorized by Cordelia and her sheep. And however tempting the idea might be, it simply wasn't practical. With a deep breath, she made her way towards the Great Hall, figuring that maybe she could meet this mysterious Defense instructor before she was supposed to assist them in class.

Slipping into the hall, she felt awkwardly self-conscious about the long dark robes, despite that her uncle and Draco both assuring her that everybody wore them. Her uncle was talking to somebody, not one of the people that had tested her. But there was something almost familiar about him...

Edging closer, she moved so that she could see him, and felt this wildly confused blend of shock, and relief and this sense of irony.  "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce? You're the new Defense Against Dark Arts professor?"

Wesley turned, looking at her, making it clear that yes indeed, it was Wesley. "Willow? But... how did... Aren't you a bit old for this school?"

Her uncle gave a small, almost amused smile accompanied by the lifting of a single eyebrow. "You know each other? Then I won't need to introduce you to your assistant for your class, Professor Wyndham-Pryce."

Snickering, Willow felt herself relaxing. She was supposed to work with Wesley, not some unknown person with bizarre quirks and expectations of advanced magic. She could handle this. "Remember I told you about the second Watcher that the council sent? That was Wesley. And Uncle Sev brought me here to get a real magical education."

She was feeling almost calm by the time Draco came in, his robes flaring behind him with confidence. Willow just sighed, shaking her head. "He can pull of the 'look at me, aren't I menacing' thing. Looks almost like a younger Spike with a robe instead of a duster. But can I look the least bit scary? Nooo..."

“What’s so funny here?”  Draco stopped beside them, eyes flickering over them as if trying to figure out why Professor Snape and the new Defense instructor were laughing. "Must be something you said, Willow. But everyone's here now. Good luck with the sorting."

Willow found herself waiting up near the teacher's table, her uncle standing near her offering a few comments. He explained how each house would sit at one of the long tables, one of the things that were supposed to help the houses become like a family. When the returning students had started coming into the hall, taking places at the long tables, he mentioned a few of them, pointing out the trio of Potter, Granger, and Ronald Weasley, not to be confused with the older Weasley twins who were incorrigible pranksters. He pointed out a few of the students that she might want to avoid and a few that she might want to study with to catch up in charms and transfigurations.

Neither of them seemed to notice the amount of speculation and whispers that she was causing. Or the whispers that were resulting from Professor Snape actually appearing to be enjoying a conversation with a pretty female, even if she did seem much too young for him.   Draco was busy talking to several people at the Slytherin table, though Willow couldn’t be certain if he was catching up on the summer’s gossip, or professional Quidditch scores, or just mocking some of the other students.

Finally, it was Willow's turn to be sorted. She felt horribly awkward in front of everybody, but it had settled her mind a bit to watch all the young students go before her. She walked slowly to the stool, hoping that her knees wouldn’t wobble too much and that nobody could see them shaking under the robes.  One hand brushed over the stool before she sat and lowered the Sorting Hat to her head. It settled nicely, just resting on her eyebrows instead of covering her head like it had done for several of the first years.

'What have we here? Hmm... quite a bit older than most I get to meet. And you have so many interesting experiences already... my my, hunting vampires? Falling into magic by accident? So much potential, and courage, and some ambition... Quite the dilemma you present, Willow.' The hat's voice flowed into her mind like water, entirely bypassing her ears.

She frowned, wondering exactly what the hat used to place people. 'The American schools didn't teach me. I had to learn some things on my own.'

'I could put you in almost any of the Houses. You have the right sort of abilities...' She almost felt like the hat was trying to get a reaction so that it could use that as some sort of indicator.

Willow sighed. 'I don't like the whole idea of houses. Doesn't it just encourage division and arguments? Petty bickering and blind dislikes?'

The hat was laughing now. 'Quite the thinker, aren't you? I know just where to sort you now.' There was a pause, and Willow knew that it was about to shout a name like it had for everyone else.

"RAVENCLAW!!"

Willow removed the hat, her mind feeling off balance from everything. It was as if the hat had stirred everything up to look underneath. Ravenclaw, hmm? It sounded like she would be seeing a good deal more of Professor Flitwick. Hopefully he wasn't still angry about that robe she'd burned.  He kept saying that it was alright, but still…

With a small shrug, Willow took the hat from her head and walked back towards Professor McGonagall to give her the Sorting hat.  Off to join her house. A group of people all younger than her, all with a more normal magical education, all knowing what they were doing here.   A group of people that were supposed to become like a family to her.  In a place where everyone knew about vampires and magic and things going bump in the night. Oh, things would definitely be different now.

 

end part 5

Chapter Text

Willow was escorted to the Ravenclaw table, where there had been some polite clapping at her sorting.  The older students, closest to her age looked like they were trying to measure her, to evaluate and figure out as much as they could before she even said a single word.   Younger students seemed as if the greatest puzzle to their minds was that she was so much older than the first years, and where had she been before this?  A whole gathering of smart people, which might be good or bad, depending on how they used that intelligence.  Willow suspected that her own intelligence, regardless of how much it had impressed Xander and Jesse, and later Buffy, would be less impressive here, and odds were good that a fair percentage wouldn’t even know what a computer was, let alone care what she could do with one.  Not that she’d brought one to Hogwarts anyhow, between the lack of power lines and the possibility of the heavy amounts of magic and wardings scrambling electronics she had felt there would be no point.

“I don’t believe that Rosenberg is the name of any of the established British wizard families.”  The sly comment was made by someone that looked close to her own age, a girl with a cap of dark curls and almost gypsy dark eyes.  She looked…  well, something about her reminded Willow of an early Cordelia.

Willow settled into a space, waiting a moment for the food to appear before giving her answer.  “It isn’t.  While my mother does come from an old British wizarding family, she married an American.  Which is why I have an American accent, I grew up in California.  It was decided that I should come here to complete and polish my magical education.”

“You went to one of the American schools for witchcraft?”  This question came from a fragile looking girl with golden hair and hazel eyes, seated two people past the smirking girl that had asked about her family.

With a small smile, she remembered the lively discussion that Draco and her uncle Sev had carried on for hours over the American Magic Schools.  The shortest version was that none of them impressed Draco, who still had that old-fashioned is better snobbery.  Uncle Sev had admitted that Salem had ‘a decent Potions program, and produced a number of Seers’ while Sierra produced highly skilled arithmancers and enchanters, even if they tended to work more with modern items than old and traditional things, with the exception of brooms.  He’d refused to talk about the Aztec school beyond stating that she lacked the proper heritage to be accepted, and that they considered ethnic heritage, not magical.  “No, instead of attending one of the American schools I had private instruction.  Naturally, that left my education a bit unbalanced.”

“I see.  Unbalanced.  Poor thing, I hope you can keep up.”  The dark eyed girl apparently decided that Willow was no longer of interest, and turned away, speaking to a chocolate colored boy with laughing eyes about the chances of the Applebee Arrows and the Holyhead Harpies this coming season.

“Alacia is a bit… well, she thinks that pureblood wizards are better than muggle born wizards.  She’ll probably avoid you if she decides you don’t have a family with enough wizards.”  The boy talking to her across the table sort of resembled Oz, but he was far more talkative.

“Would that be so terrible?”  Willow wondered if she might have the chance to make friends here after all.

“That depends on how ambitious you are.”  His eyes were laughing.

Willow giggled a bit, sipping at her pumpkin juice before responding.  For a moment, she wondered just what sort of ambitions they meant, if they would care about her ambition to one day hack into the Pentagon, or the way she’d fought to restore Angel’s soul – both ambitious projects, only one of which she’d accomplished.  Or perhaps they meant ambitions closer to Cordelia or her parents, social recognition of one sort or another?   “I came here to learn, not climb the social ladder.  As long as she doesn’t interfere with that…”

“If you were transferred in, I assume they had to test you for placement?”  This was someone else, a girl with light brown braids and freckles.  She had a shining badge that proclaimed her a Prefect.  “I’m Jasmine Burke. After the feast is over, I’ll show you to your room.”

Willow nodded slowly, remembering those tests all too clearly, although she had managed to get it so she never accidentally blew things up anymore.  “My results were a bit scattered.  Which I sort of expected.  I’ve already got a schedule, and it’s a bit erratic.  They couldn’t quite make it work for me to have all my classes with any set house, so they’re all over.”

“Considering that times are becoming more dangerous, especially for those without old and powerful families, how did you place in Defense?”  Alacia sounded as if she was waiting to gloat over some superior knowledge.

Willow looked at her, already disliking Alacia.  “If you refer to Defense Against Dark Arts, I tested out of the lessons.  I’m going to be assisting Professor Wyndham-Pryce with some of the lessons.

Murmurings began to spread up and down the table.  There were also many quick glances at Willow.  Apparently, testing out of Defense, wasn’t a very normal thing to happen.  Willow sighed, disappointed that she’d already marked herself as different.

“That’s not possible!  You can’t test out of Defense.”  Alacia glared at Willow, as if certain there was some deception that she could ferret out.

Willow settled back a bit on the bench, smiling cheerfully.  “Well, if you don’t believe me, ask any of the teachers.  They all worked together on my schedule.  I also received an OWL in Divination, though we decided that I wouldn’t be taking it and the NEWT level.”

The rest of dinner was fairly quiet, and at the end, Willow followed the line of Ravenclaws into one of the towers, climbing through a passage behind a painting of a graceful woman with gray streaked hair reading a book beside a lovely stream.  They were then split by gender, and Willow eventually found herself in a round room near the top of the stairs, roughly the same size as her room in Sunnydale.  The single bed made it clear that she would have it all to herself,

“This one’s your room, Rosenberg.  You might be able to talk the house elves into a few little changes if you want, but…  This is basically it.”  Jasmine gave a small smile.  “Some of the other girls are rooming with their friends, it’s generally something that we can do after our fifth year.  Just a few people or alone instead of all the girls from one year in a larger room. The added privacy is nice.”

Looking at the room, with a thick blue rug and matching lapis blue velvet curtains by what was either a very large window or a small door window, she smiled.  Despite the gray stone walls and lack of electricity, this room already felt more like home than the Rosenberg house had.  There was a four posted bed with a canopy in the same House blue, and a wardrobe with a side devoted to drawers, and the other side holding a small bar where her robes already hung.  Peering past the curtains she discovered that the whole paned glass assembly would open, revealing a balcony, just large enough for a chair and a little round table, overlooking the lake.  “It’s great.”

"Welcome to Ravenclaw, Willow Rosenberg.  Hope you learn well with us.”  Jasmine left her to settle in.

 
end part 6.

Chapter Text


 
Willow had retreated to the library for her between-classes break.  She’d just finished a private lesson in Herbology with earmuffs to protect her from a screaming baby Mandrake, completely unlike the mandrake roots that she’d known about before this summer.  There was an hour before she had to help Wesley with his afternoon Defense classes, which would be fifth year Slytherins and Hufflepuffs, followed by the sixth year Slytherins and Gryffindors.  She’d made the discovery over the past couple days that while the castle was indeed huge, it didn’t feel nearly as spacious with several hundred students milling about everywhere as it had at the end of summer.

But much like Sunnydale High School, the library was hardly ever used by most of the students.  It became a sanctuary from the bustle and noise of so many people.  She had yet to see Alacia in here, and Madam Pince had a fearsome enough glare to keep those students who did brave the library on good behavior.  It reminded her a great deal of the High School library, before they’d blown up the school.  She’d had several long chats with Madame Pince before school had started, so she knew where to go to find any of the books.  She had even been taught the small charm that would allow her to enter the restricted section, although she would still have to talk to Madame Pince before she could take one of those books away.

She was reading a book on Charms, trying to sort out the snags that she kept stumbling over.  There were a few common elements in the Charms spells that gave her troubles, and she really wanted to get them cleared up, especially since her mistakes still tended to result in smoke, scorching and occasional fires.   Professor Flitwick insisted that he had forgiven her about the burned robe when they’d done the placement testing, but she still wanted to improve.  She was making faster progress with Charms than Transfiguration, not that she had the first idea why Charms was coming easier.  The biggest problem with her transfigurations was that they seemed to only go one way, refusing to reverse.

“You’re glaring at the book, Rosenberg.”  Draco’s voice sounded a bit smug.

“Everybody else that’s even close to my age already knows this stuff.  They’ve known it for years.  I’m terribly behind.  He was coving the evanesco group with his second year classes.”  She looked at him, slightly envious of the way that Draco always seemed to look perfectly together.

“Everybody else your age has been being carefully spoon fed magical instruction since they could walk.  They still can’t do everything that you can, even if they did learn the standard evanesco spell when they were twelve.”  His pale eyes were intent.

“Is this where you tell me that I’m studying too hard, and I should relax before I give myself a headache?”  Willow could feel herself smiling.  Draco seemed to have decided that the best way to keep her from stressing too much was to drag her off to fly on brooms, or to wheedle a quick lesson on wandless magics from her, or just a few Sunnydale stories.

“Absolutely.  Besides, as an added benefit, the terrible trio is over there, staring at us.”  Draco’s smile was just a bit wicked, a little too full to be a smirk, as he tilted his head to the left.

“And why would they be staring at me, your arrogance?  How do you know they aren’t staring at you?”  She teased Draco.  Willow was probably the only person in the school that might tease him without intending to be cruel.   He was making progress from when they’d first met, when he’d been an arrogant snot, but that was no reason not to keep him from falling back into old habits.

“Because… you’re voluntarily reading one of your class books?  Maybe it’s the hair.  Maybe it’s that American accent that you have.  Or maybe they just can’t figure out how you make Defense sound so easy.”  Draco teased back, but there was something a bit off in the way he was standing.  If this was still Sunnydale, she’d have suspected bruises.

Willow looked at Draco, wondering what was on his mind.  Despite his almost casual teasing, she was fairly certain that there was something bothering him.  Maybe she could help him out with it.  "What's on your mind, Draco?  I can tell something's not right."

"I got a letter from home.  It's... complicated.  Maybe we can talk about it later?"  He sounded... almost as if his feelings had been bruised by something.  And he didn't want the chance of people overhearing things from the letter.

For a moment, she wondered what could be so bad about this letter, before she remembered that part of the reason he’d spent the summer with her uncle was the fear that his father would sacrifice him in some dark ritual.  Before she’d remembered that his relations with his mother were as strained as her own with Sheila Rosenberg.   Rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand, she gave a small smile.  "Okay... after Potions, the usual place?"

"You have a double session just after lunch today, right?  I'll be waiting.  Maybe I can even get something to snack on while waiting for you to deign to join me.  Last time we ended up talking so long that I missed dinner."  His voice sounded close to the old arrogance, but his eyes conveyed his thanks.

Looking over, she smiled, and decided to remind him a bit of one of the classics of film that she'd introduced him to over the summer during a break from the crash course on wanded magic.  "Join me on the dark side of the tower, and together we can rule this school!"

"I'd join you over Vader any day, Tree.  Go now, dazzle people with your knowledge of dangerous and loathsome creatures."  He was smiling now, his eyes a bit less weighted by pain as he fought down laughter.

 

End part 7.

Chapter Text


 

Willow sighed as she entered the classroom, wondering if Wesley would have any magical suggestions for dealing with these ghouls, and how difficult the spells would be.  Or maybe it would be potions...    Large posters had been placed on the walls, covering the four main types of ghouls, with notes on the sides about their distinguishing features.  Absently, Willow decided to study the last one later, as she didn’t recall seeing any dark grey with hints of purple ghouls over the Hellmouth.  The pale grey ones, the scrawny looking green ones that lurked near the water, and the swifter flesh eating ones...  Seen them, helped slay them, had bad dreams from them. "Here I am, ready to assist."

"Good.  You looked over the material?  This is...  well, far more useful than being the ignored Watcher."  Wesley looked nervous, even though he'd been doing wonderfully so far.  He had several familiar old books in front of him, and a small heap of rolled parchment, presumably the notes for the students.

Shaking away the memories, Willow nodded.  "Flesh eating ghouls... we've had those in Sunnydale.  But the stuff here is all neatly organized in one or two places, not fragments scattered through half a dozen books...  And you'll do fine.  At the very least, the whole British aspect of a lot of things here should be a piece of cake for you."

"Practical knowledge is always useful.  But Willow, this is Scotland, not Britain, there are some substantial differences,"  There was a trace of something in his voice.  He turned to check his papers again, his robes a somber dark gray.

Willow looked at him, wondering if maybe he would have been able to fit in at Sunnydale if he'd been given a chance.  Wondering for the first time if the exclusion had hurt him.  "Wesley... you're a good teacher.  It will be just fine."

"It's certainly kind of you to say so..."  Wesley frowned a bit, his voice less than confident.

She grinned at him, pulling out the stack of essays on boggarts from his third years this morning and dropping them into a satchel so that she could grade them for him later.  "Nah...  I've been spending a lot of time with Draco and Sev, I don't just blindly say nice things anymore.  Uncle Sev even admitted that you were doing pretty good so far.  So, considering the source..."

"Really?"  Wesley smiled a bit, almost visibly perking up.  "He doesn't often offer compliments.  I've also been warned that he objected to my getting this position..."

"It wasn't anything personal.  He just thinks he'd be well able to hold the position himself.  Therefore, he gets cranky when anyone that isn't him gets the job."  Willow smiled, offering the reassurance to Wesley.  "And you're doing a lot better than you were in Sunnydale."

"Who would teach potions if your uncle taught Defense?"  Wesley looked curious, and maybe a bit relieved that it wasn't anything against him personally that had caused the scowls of the Potion Master.

Willow gave a small shrug.  "I tried to tell him that, but...  I think he's just a bit stubborn."

Wesley choked back his laughter, eyes filled with mirth.  "One of your relatives, stubborn.  Imagine that."

Things went almost uneventfully until it was time for the Gryffindor-Slytherin class that held Draco as well as Harry Potter, her uncle's most 'interesting' - in the sense of getting into trouble- students.  Willow had to smother her laughter as she watched for the first time just how much Draco was irritated by the Gryffindor Trio, consisting of Harry Potter and his two closest friends, a red haired boy that Draco had never called anything but 'Weasel' and a girl named Hermione Granger that annoyed Draco to bits by always trying to show off how many of the answers she knew.  They looked somewhat startled to see her standing at the front of the classroom.

Harry's expression was baffled, and he looked at her with shock.  "But that's... why is she...?"

Wesley looked at him with something almost like annoyance.  "You must be Harry Potter.  Take your seat and stop gaping at my assistant.  It's rude.  Now, everyone, today's lecture will be about ghouls, focusing more on the dangerous flesh eating variety and how to recognize them.  Hopefully, you will also learn to avoid them, but we will also cover the methods for killing them, which I urge you to consider very carefully."

 

end part 8.

Chapter Text


 
Willow was sitting on the roof of the small tower halfway along the northern wall, watching things fly over the forest.  Some of them were birds, or close to birds, others looked for all the world like skeletal horses with bat wings.  There hadn’t been anything like them in Sunnydale, and she decided that she’d really have to find a moment to ask Mr. Hagrid about them.   The tower that she was sitting on wasn't heavily used, there was a class in Arithmancy taught in the bottom most chamber in the afternoons, and that was about it.  She'd decided that it was a lovely place to think, and smuggled a few large cushions onto the flat rooftop.  She’d found this place her third week in the castle, and had spent a little time here every day that it wasn’t raining since then.  It was her usual place for a quiet talk with Draco, away from the teachers, out of sight of any of the talking, moving portraits, and off the beaten track for the other students.

She just didn’t know where Draco was, or why he was late.  He’d asked her to meet him here after her potions lesson, and she’d expected him to be waiting here, one foot tapping as he looked over the forest, trying to look smug and superior.  But he wasn’t here at all, and while she had called one of the House Elves and asked for refreshments for two to be sent up, she was still waiting alone.

"Hey Tree."  Draco dropped next to her, his movements lacking their usual grace.  "Is there any pumpkin juice?"

She held out a glass to him, offering a small smile when he took it.  "You don't sound very happy.  Not even a little arrogant."

"I got a letter from Mother.  She... it was upsetting."  Draco looked at the walls below, one hand holding the glass, a finger of the other hand tracing around the rim.  "My father is having an affair."

Willow looked at him, feeling something between sympathy and dismay.  "The same father that's working for Voldewarts?  I take it that there's more than upset feelings?"

Draco made a small noise, almost a snort.  "Voldemort, not warts.  You must have picked up that awful habit from your Slayer friend, but it’s dangerous to mock dark and evil wizards names, even if they are strange and pretentious sounding.  Mother married him for the status of the Malfoy name, not out of any sense of love or expectations of loyalty.  The Malfoy family is one of the oldest and richest pure blood wizard families in England.  In wizarding circles, being able to trace wizardly ancestors back for centuries is a very big deal.  To have him cheating on her so obviously...  It hurt her pride.  If he’d just been keeping a mistress in one of the smaller estates, or calling her his secretary, nobody would care."

"So... what sort of person has caught the eye of Malfoy the older, the incredibly rich Dark wizard?"  Willow tried to take some of the sting from her words.  She just couldn’t wrap her mind around such a calculated sort of emotionless ambition.  Maybe it would have made sense to Cordelia, or Buffy who had said that she’d been a lot like Cordelia before she’d become the Slayer, but it didn’t make sense to Willow.

"He took a fancy to this woman..."  Draco gave a small shudder, still staring into his pumpkin juice.  "She apparently sounds like she's from London, but none of the wizards seem to know who she is.  Dark hair, dark eyes, really pale skin.  Goes about in long, old fashioned gowns, her hair in fancy up twists...  She's supposed to be some sort of half crazed seer of some sort.  Mother's not even sure that she's a witch.  Worse, they’re going everywhere together, with her hanging on his arm and calling him pet names in public."

A dark and scary suspicion formed in Willow, and she sipped at her cider, which she preferred to pumpkin juice.  "This woman, the loony seer.  I’m not sure how much your mother would have included about her, but her name...  it wouldn't happen to be Drusilla, would it?"

"I think so.  Why?  Is she someone that you know?  A friend of Giles, perhaps?"  Draco looked at her, his eyes troubled.  Over the summer, he had come to respect Giles, perhaps not his family, but he’d respected Giles’ knowledge and his skills in fighting vampires, even if Giles did have a nasty habit of getting hit in the head.

Willow pulled her feet up, almost curling in towards herself.  "It sounds like Drusilla... as in Spike and Dru?  Remember, the listing of Sunnydale's big scary bad guys?  She's not a witch, although she is supposed to be a Seer.  Drusilla's a vampire."
 
"Do you think my father knows?"  Draco's voice was low, as if he was sinking into his thoughts.  "Do you think he'd care if he did know?"

"I don't know if he'd think he should care, but... she's a crazy woman that talks to the stars and can rip someone's arm off.  If he didn't care at first, he will the first time something doesn't go her way.  Insanity is scary, not sexy,” Willow insisted.  Her mind turned over the idea of Drusilla with a wizard lover, and skittered back to an empty factory, with another blond rambling, growling and waving a broken bottle at her.   Part of her wondered just how long the insane vampire would keep a mortal lover alive before turning him, wondering if a wizard or witch would keep their magic if they became a vampire.  Another part twisted back to her memories and the words slowly emerged, “If Dru is there, where is Spike?"

"Can she really..."  Draco looked appalled.  Swallowing, he paled a bit, probably remembering his kidnapping over the summer.  "Maybe we'd best start on that whole no wand magic thing sooner rather than later.  And I should practice how to call fire."

"Yeah... calling fire might help.  Maybe we can figure out that pear thingy, I can't remember what you called it, but the teleporting spell?"  Willow ran her fingers through her hair, the other hand reaching for a wedge of apple stuffed with bits of nuts and spices and glazed over with honey.  They were sticky, but delicious.

Snickering, Draco took one of the slices as well.  "Apparating.  Pear thingy indeed, Tree, maybe you should get some rest."

"You've just told me that the second freakiest person that I've ever encountered is snogging your father the evil wizard, and you want me to think slowly enough to get all the proper terms?  What if she turned him?  What if she's planning another end of the world ritual?  Where's Spike during all of this?  Why is she even in England and when did she leave Brazil?  Does your father have a history of breaking spells?  Does she think that he can bring back her Daddy, because we don't want to see Angelus again."  Willow paused, sucking in a deep breath.

"Second freakiest?  Who's... wait, you think Professor Trelawny is stranger and more scary than an insane vampiress?  Willow, has anyone ever told you that you are just not quite normal?"  Draco shook his head, trying to keep from smiling, although the corners of his lips kept twitching.  "Besides, how bad can she possibly be?"

"You realize that's one of the worst things you can say, right?  Inevitably, that causes the universe to show you just how bad bad can be.  She's killed a Slayer, just hypnotized her and then..."  She made a slicing gesture towards her throat, shivering as she did.  "She found Acathla, and had her Daddy - Angelus the Scourge of Europe, try to open him up and suck the world into hell.  Which, you know, obviously didn't work, but still... the point is that she wanted to do it.  She’s very bad."

"Okay, I'll remember.  So, you say that her boyfriend Spike might be around?  What does he look like?"  Draco faced her, looking a bit worried.  "I don't want mum to get bit by the angry other man, and beware of angry vampires sounds too vague."

"Hmmm... maybe five ten, blue eyes most of the time, ummm... other than that, sort of like an older you.  With a scar on his eyebrow, and he always wears black jeans and a black leather duster."  Willow paused, trying to describe Spike.

"I'll let her know then.  I just hope... I hope she doesn't get hurt out of all this.  I’m almost certain that she wouldn’t agree to any plans to sacrifice me in dark rituals, it might reduce her chance of eventual grandchildren," Draco sighed, and for a while, they just sat there, looking at the stars as they thought.

 
end part 9.

Chapter Text


            
Willow enjoyed having most of her morning free on Friday.  No classes until after lunch, although she was supposed to spend part of that time going over lesson plans with Wesley and helping him grade homework and tests.    So, a large block of time to puzzle things over, and she was sitting in the library, surrounded by books on Transfigurations.  There were assorted textbooks, the ones now in use and older ones as well, opened to various sections in an effort to make the diagrams and formulae easier to find and cross reference.

Willow stared at the book of Transfiguration, wishing that it would make sense, like potions or algebra.  But no, this was all strange, with marks that were supposed to indicate the magical flow, and some things that she couldn't quite figure out.  "And they expect eleven year olds to make sense out of this mess?  Who writes these books?"

"It's not that difficult."  The voice came from the table to the left, the careful tones of Hermione Granger.

Willow looked over, a small, ironic smile on her lips.  "Right... that's why my teacups still have handles as turtles.  And McGonagall still keeps an anti-flame charm on during all my lessons."

"How are you assisting in Defense if you can't transfigure a teacup into a turtle?"  The other girl looked caught between shock and curiosity, and one hand was twinning around a section of wild brown hair while the other held a quill over a notebook.

"Defense?  That's easy stuff.  Name that monster, how do you kill it, where do they lurk... that’s just the basics.  Pattern is impale it, cut off the head, and burn the body, and it won't probably can’t come back.  Finding curses on things isn’t that hard either,” Willow decided not to mention that she just looked for something in an object’s magic that reminded her of home.

“Now this?  Teacups to turtles, buttons to beetles...  I'm never going to get this all figured out."  Willow sighed, looking at the offending tome.  "Why is this all so complicated?  Can't they just say... picture this turning into that and push?"

"Identifying monsters is a dangerous thing, and very tricky.  It's not something to laugh about.  A mistake can get you killed,"  Hermione frowned, her quill digging into the parchment that she’d been taking notes on.

"Are you going to complain about the leviosa thing while you’re at it?  Just remember to accent the last syllable and flick the wand instead of swishing,"  the red haired boy grinned at her, his face full of mischief and laughter.

Willow looked at him, wondering if the laughter was directed at her.  "Levitating things is easy.  Just, you know, float it."  As if to demonstrate her point, she gestured at the farthest Transfiguration book, causing it to raise a good six inches above the table.  "It's the changing things that's giving me the most trouble."

The Weasley's eyes were incredibly wide, and he made a few vowel noises before managing a soft "Criminy..."

Hermione was staring at the book.  "But... where's your wand?  How are you doing that?  Magic follows rules..."

"Tree, what has you scowling at the book like that?  And you're baffling Granger and the Weasel... wait, keep it up."  Draco's teasing voice came from the steps.

Willow gestured again, and her wand floated up from her backpack sitting on the floor and into view above the table while the transfiguration book kept hovering.  "Wand.  Nifty thing, but not required.  Book, written in the language of confusion.  Teacups to turtles... without the how."

Draco laughed, shaking his head as he walked towards her.  “Would it make you feel better if I said Madame Pomfrey is still trying to figure out how to change that rat back to a girl?  Apparently, nobody from Sunnydale is terribly good at Transfigurations.  At least yours are only affecting the class supplies, not the students.”

“Will you quite laughing?  This is… frustrating.”  Willow glared at him, wondering what had caused his almost perky mood and how she could keep him from having any more of it.  She’d always hated people laughing at her, and it only made things a little easier if they were her friends.  Maybe he’d convinced the House-Elves to make espresso?

“You aren’t perfect, Tree, accept it and move on.”  Draco grinned at her.  “Only I am perfect.”

Willow grinned back, the book settling back on the table with the others, and closing her fingers around the smooth handle of the wand.  “Liar.  Now, why are you so cheerful?”

“We get to go to Hogsmeade this weekend.”  Draco’s voice was smug.

Willow nodded, remembering that her Uncle had mentioned most of the students enjoying those weekends.   “Right, all the shops, with candy and stationary and a bookstore, and Quidditch supplies and brooms, that haunted shack, and even a couple pubs.  Are you even allowed to go to pubs while you’re still in school?  And time to meet some more of my British relatives.  Wish me luck?”

“You won’t need any.  But if Professor Wyndham-Pryce is going to have a legible lesson plan, you might need to go there.”  Draco glanced over at the pair of Gryffindors and scowled for a moment.  “Granger, Weasel.  Good morning and goodbye.”

Willow gathered her things together, putting them quickly into her bag.  “You’d think he’d have better handwriting, but no, terrible writing and he can’t type because it’s not traditional enough… Maybe we can find him one of those enchanted quills?”

Draco just laughed as he followed her out, both of them on their way to the Defense classroom.  He had one hand on her elbow, and made certain that the doors were open for Willow as they left the library.

“That was weird.”  Ron was still staring at the doors, where Willow and Draco had left.  “And not quite natural.”

“Magic without a wand… I haven’t seen anything about that in any of the school textbooks.  Maybe I should start checking the magical history…”  Hermione sounded a bit dazed.

“Well, that was a bit odd too.  But I meant Malfoy.”  Ron looked at Hermione.  “He was acting all polite.”

“I know.  It sort of makes me wonder what he did over the summer break.”  Hermione sounded thoughtful, the tip of her quill feathers brushing her chin.  “I wonder if we can find out…”

 

end part 10.

Chapter Text

It hadn’t taken that long for Draco and Willow to make their way to the Defense classroom, or for her to collect the lesson plans from Wesley.  As his assistant, Willow would be taking his scrawled notes and turning them into legible lesson plans, complete with the occasional note, referring to this book of demons or that book of spells.  After that, Draco made his way off towards the pitch for the Slytherin Quidditch practice and Willow made her way to meet her uncle.

“How much of his lessons are his own, and how much of it is assistance from you, my dear?”

Uncle Sev’s voice pulled Willow up from her worry about the Hogsmeade trip.  He’d mentioned that his father, her grandfather would be there, that he’d wanted to meet her.  Her grandfather Snape…  Grandfather Rosenberg had been disappointed that she wasn’t a son, that she had ended up an only child, that she wasn’t interested in sports… in so many different ways.

Willow looked at him, smiling.  “He does actually know his material.  But his handwriting is terrible.  I was thinking maybe I could find him one of those enchanted quills that would write things for him, only legibly?  Sometimes I have to remind him that the students aren’t going to be able to follow some of the bigger words, so he needs to use language appropriate to the grade of students…  But that’s not the same as telling him how to organize his stuff.  Those are just organizational details.”

“A competent instructor who is truly who he claims to be and entirely human… we haven’t had one of those in the Defense position for years.”  The amusement in his voice was easy to hear.

“Really, Wesley isn’t that bad.  He’s a bit nervous, but a bit of practice will take care of that.   There’re a few Cordy-clones, but…  I think that probably falls under the category of normal school misery.   I didn’t expect to get along with everybody at school.  What’s the plan for the meeting today?”  Willow smiled at her uncle, walking beside him through the halls and towards the gate, where they would find the carriages to Hogsmeade.

“Today, you will be meeting your grandfather, Darius Snape.  He stays in a cottage in Hogsmeade.  Father has mentioned meeting you since we learned that you were born.  The discovery that you have magic… that made things even better.  He’s hopeful that you might want to learn the Snape family traditions and history,”  He smiled at her, looking oddly reminiscent.

After a brief pause, he continued, “Your mother was the one who chose to leave, although I will admit that some of the Snape family did not precisely make her feel welcome when it became known that she lacked magic.  She wanted to go far away and pretend that she’d never known anything but the Muggle world, somewhere that she could forget.  California was just about as far as she could go unless she went to the Southern Hemisphere and took up residence in Australia.”

“So she picked Sunnydale?  Way to go Mom,” Willow wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry at the irony of it all.

Uncle Sev just laughed, the sound echoing through the halls, startling many students.

Arriving at the carriages, Willow blinked.  Each carriage was pulled by one of those skeletal looking winged horses, which looked almost lizard up close.  “Uncle Sev?  What are those things?  They look like winged demon horses, and there’s one hitched to each of the carriages.   I’ve seen them flying over the forest, but… Am I the only one that’s a bit unsettled by them?”

“Demon horses… ahhhh.  Those are Thestrals.  Most of the students are unable to see them, and thus believe that the carriages pull themselves along the lane.  Some people believe them to be creatures of ill-omen, but they are simply… creatures.  They have a strong sense of direction, are rather territorial, and are scavengers.  Thestral skin is used in several potions, as are their tears and the trimmings from their feet.”  His voice slipped into his lecture mode, and he continued on about the uses of various thestral bits in potions.

Willow decided that she’d rather find another way to repel something called klopper-sneiths, rather than surround her house with a grease made from a base of thestral dung and augry blood.  Hoping to distract him from the long and disturbing list of potions and ingredients, she slipped a question in when he paused for air, “Uncle Sev, why would someone think that they’re ill-omened?  Why don’t the other students see them?  They are sort of large and hard to miss.”

“To see a Thestral, you must have seen someone die.  That is also considered a bit of an ill-omen by some,” he replied.  “If I recall correctly, there aren’t any wild herds of them in America, let alone near Sunnydale.  You should never have been living in a place like that…  But I suppose Sheila always had some of the most dreadful luck.  Combined with the fact that she is appallingly stubborn…  But you don’t have to go back, unless you choose.  You have family here, and you’ll always be welcome with me.”  He smiled at her, most likely hoping to sooth her worries.

“Thanks, Uncle Sev.  That sort of helps.  But I’m still nervous.  What if he doesn’t like me?  What if I’m a disappointment because I’m still fighting with the second year charms?  What if he’s ashamed to have someone in the family that has so much trouble with transfigurations?  What if I’m not witchy enough because of growing up mostly muggle?  What if he’d rather have a grandson?  Or someone who can do that swoopy menace thing that you and mom can both do?  What if….”  Willow didn’t quite mean it, but some of her worries began to slide right out of her lips.  The worries slipped out as they stepped out of the carriage, and walked towards a row of little cottages, with thatched rooftops and boxes of plants, some holding colorful flowers, some cooking herbs, and others things that could only be Wizarding plants.

 “Severus, you didn’t mentioned that she babbled quite so much.”  The voice had a very similar sound to her uncle’s, but it was a bit lower, a bit harsher.  “Come in, I don’t bite.  So, you’re Sheila’s girl.  Little slip of a thing, aren’t you?”

Willow blinked, discovering they had arrived at a grey cottage while she had been nervously babbling.  The door was open, and there was a man standing just inside, a little shorter than her uncle, dressed in dark robes with graying hair.  The family resemblance was unmistakable.  She felt herself blushing as she walked inside, biting her lip in mortification.  She hadn’t even been introduced to her grandfather and she’d already convinced him that she was a babbling twit…

Uncle Sev followed her inside, shutting the door behind them.  He gestured for her to have a seat in the living room as he settled at the end of the couch, which looked to have started out Slytherin green before fading.  Willow sank onto the cushion beside him, hoping that she wasn’t shaking quite as visibly as she felt.

“Hello, I’m Willow Rosenberg… Sheila’s daughter.”  She smiled, hoping that she didn’t look as nervous as she felt.  That he wouldn’t be as disappointed as Grandfather Rosenberg.  That he would be family, like her uncle Sev.

“Severus has mentioned you often.  For years we thought that you were lacking in magic, as your mother had been, due to the simple fact that none of the American schools offered you an acceptance letter.  But it appears that this was not the case.”  He was looking at her, the same dark eyes as her uncle, peering at her from under thick dark brows.  This was what her uncle would look like in about forty years…

Willow didn’t know quite what to say.   She could feel her face burning, and knew that she was blushing again.  “I’m not exactly a proper witch… I have some huge gaping holes in my magical knowledge.  Things that second year students are doing and they give me problems.”

Her grandfather chuckled, the sound almost dry.  “But not from a lack of magic, grand daughter.  Severus mentioned purchasing a wand for you, what was in it?  And how did you study before it was presented to you?”

The porcelain tea set on the table was pouring them all cups of tea while Willow watched.  “It’s an eleven inch Willow with powdered basilisk scales.  Mister Ollivander looked really pleased, which could have just been because of the big mess that we ended up with testing the other ones or maybe because we finally found one that didn’t make something catch fire - and I really hope that his eyebrows grew back - but Uncle Sev said that it was rather unusual, so maybe it was just that he was glad to see it get a home… I’m babbling again, aren’t I?”

“That is most unusual… Basilisk scales?”  Her grandfather looked thoughtful as he took a cup of tea.

Willow reached towards the mug of steaming tea, discovering that it was just out of reach.  With a small sigh, she used a tendril of power to float the cup to her, as well as a cube of sugar to sweeten it a bit.  “Basilisk scales, and I think Uncle Sev went to talk with Mr. Ollivander about where he managed to get those and what other basilisk parts might have been available.  I tested out of Defense, was awarded an OWL level qualification in Divination which I am not taking further, and I’m taking fifth year potions, but my Charms and Transfiguration are… weak at best.  Patchy.”

Her grandfather looked sharply at her, brows pulls towards each other in what she hoped was intense thought rather than aggravation.   It could be tricky to read Uncle Sev’s expressions, and he had such a strong family resemblance that it was even harder to read her grandfather’s face. “You just floated that teacup over.  Without the use of your wand.  Do you do that sort of thing often?”

Willow paused, about to take a sip of the tea.  “It’s just a teacup… It’s really not that heavy.  You just have to watch the balance or it spills…  Levitating things was the first magicy trick that I learned to do.  I can also summon… umm… three of the four elements and read auras.  And I can cast barriers, and there’s an uninvited spell to rescind a vampire’s invitation to a house…”

“Without a wand.”  His voice had gone lower, almost but not quite soft.  It didn’t quite sound like his voice could get soft.  “You cast and summon without a wand.  Is this a trick that you learned while helping that Slayer?  What was her name, Bitsy?”

She snickered, wondering if any of her relatives besides uncle Sev would ever get Buffy’s name right.  “Her name is Buffy.  I sort of stumbled into magic helping her, but… Nobody ever told me that I was supposed to need a wand.  I had to figure stuff out from the books… Giles wasn’t very good at magic right then, more on the rituals, potions, and prophecies part.  And figuring out what that icky and dangerous thing was and how to kill it before it got us.  Jenny was the witch, more of a techno-pagan actually, but she… she died.  And after I sort of had the jump in the river and try not to drown version of yeah, I do have magic, and I wanted to learn more.  But it’s sort of hard to figure out from Watcher books while helping fight evil and going to school.”

Her grandfather was smiling at her again, and he glanced over at her uncle as if to ask if Willow always babbled so much.  “Exactly what was this throwing into the river method?”

Willow blushed, and looked into her tea, noticing some tea leaves swirling at the bottom.  Her voice was faint when she answered.  “umm... There were a few potions to fight the demons, and I learned to float some pencils which make tolerable emergency stakes for vampires.  But the big one was the Soul Restoration.  Jenny got killed before she could cast it.”

“That is a bit more extreme than most.  Are you certain that it worked?”  Her grandfather sounded stunned.

She knew that she was blushing again.  “Oh, yeah.  Next time we saw him, he was Angel, not Angelus.   He even sent me a birthday card…  really surprised me.”

After that, there was quiet while the three of them drank tea. Willow studied her grandfather, trying to figure out what he was thinking, but he was harder to read than her uncle.  He kept glancing from her to Uncle Sev, those dark brows lowered, and he was muttering things under his breath.  She caught something about potions and vampires and souls, as well as American schools, but it didn’t seem like he was trying to talk to her or Uncle Sev.  Better still, he didn’t seem to be inclined to throw her out.

For now, she’d just sit here and drink the tea.  It seemed so much better here than back home, maybe that was why Giles kept muttering about ‘American tea’ as if he was using dirty words?

 

End part 11.

Chapter Text

Grandfather Snape was the first person to speak, breaking the soft sounds of teacups and the background noises of Hogsmeade.  “I would say that this certainly means you have magical talent.  As for using magic without a wand… a most impressive accomplishment.  Perhaps one that you can help more people learn to duplicate.  I must admit that I wasn’t certain what to expect of you, but… you are most definitely welcome, and I assure you that I wouldn’t prefer that you were a boy, or had dark hair, or whatever other nonsensical worries that may be whirling in your mind.”

“Really?  Not even… you know, sort of wishing that I could manage the same basic transfigurations and charms that a normal thirteen year old witch could do?  Or at least not worry the teachers about accidentally setting their desks, the chairs, or their robes on fire?”  Willow felt hope fluttering inside.  She had always wanted her family to accept her, and while she did have Uncle Sev… well, she’d always envied people with large, affectionate families.  People who knew they belonged, and that they were loved.

He just laughed.  “Willow, you can do controlled magic without a wand, something that most wizards never manage. You have not only attempted but achieved a Soul Restoration, which probably less than a dozen people in the world would be willing to try to attempt.  I think the Charms and Transfigurations will come with a bit more practice.”

“I’ve been practicing, although the transfiguration diagrams are a bit hard to follow sometimes.”  Willow sipped at her tea again.  “Are there a lot of Snapes?”

“Enough of us.  We’ll introduce you to more of them, but not all at once.  It wouldn’t do to overwhelm you.”  He looked almost amused.

“Oh good.  I umm… I sort of get nervous in front of large groups of people.”  Willow was blushing again.

Uncle Sev chuckled.  “Willow, you had no problems when you and Draco were attacked by four vampires, or when we were invading the lair of a Dark Sorcerer to get him back, and you’re nervous about meeting your relatives?”

“Well, yeah.  I know how to deal with vampires.  And an evil mage… scary, but he was just another big scary evil.  We went, and he went down.  But meeting relatives, that’s a whole different story.”  Willow tried to explain her concern.  “You just kill the vampires, defeat the evil mage and probably watch them get taken away.  You’re stuck with your family, and it’s illegal to kill them if they bother you.”

“I don’t think anyone has ever been more worried about meeting the family than a pack of vampires before.  Not even our family,”  Her grandfather looked amused.  “Do not worry too much.  You have plenty of power, and I’m sure that they will come to understand that you do indeed belong with the family.”

“Grandfather?  Why did you look… well, like you hadn’t expected the wand to have basilisk scales?”  Willow couldn’t quite contain her curiosity, but she didn’t want to offend her grandfather.

He chuckled, looking a bit amused.  “Most wands are made from unicorn hair, or phoenix feathers, or dragon heartstrings.  Occasionally there will be more exotic things, like griffon feathers or powdered doxie wings.  Those are unusual, but not entirely abnormal.  Few witches or wizards would dare use basilisk scales because they are considered to make a temperamental wand, powerful but a bit finicky.  If the spell went wrong, they fear the backlash. Some also would fear to use something that contains part of a basilisk.  Giant serpents are considered quite monstrous and terrifying.”

“Basilisks… we never faced one of those in Sunnydale.  But actually, I haven’t had any problems with the wand being touchy or cranky or anything.   Just… the transfiguration books are sort of confusing.”  Willow smiled a bit.  “Besides, all the phoenix feather wands jumped away, the dragon heartstrings caught things on fire, and the unicorn ones just… they felt horribly wrong and almost fragile.  Probably a side effect of growing up in Sunnydale…  Anyhow, after a few dozen of those, Mr. Ollivander started trying what he called the more exotic combinations.  There was siren hair, and griffon feathers and claws, and augry feathers, and cerebrus hair, and grindylow tendons, and manticore venom…  it was fascinating.”

“I’m sure that it will come to you.  Perhaps you can find someone to help you learn.  Will you come to the Snape home for Christmas?”  He was smiling at her, looking pleased.

Willow paused, considering things.  Should she bring up the fact that she’d been raised Jewish?  Would he already know?  “I really don’t do a lot of Christmas celebration, but it might be good to meet everybody.  I think I’d like to go.”

Willow was feeling surprisingly good as they left the house where she’d met her Grandfather.  “He sort of… I think that’s what you have ahead of you when you’re going gray, Uncle Sev.  And he has the whole swoopy intimidating thing that you have.  Am I the only person in the family who doesn’t have some form of swoopy and intimidating?  Will there be people trying to be loomy and intimidate me?”

“Willow…  I somehow think it will take more than the Snape family to intimidate you.”  Smiling, he rested his hand on her shoulder.  “Now, was there anything that you wanted to buy while we’re here?”

“Can we try to find a magic quill for Wesley?  One that will write out what he’s saying, only legibly?”  She smiled, feeling just a little mischievous.

His eyes sparkling with laughter, her uncle gasped in mock horror.  “Disrespectful bratling!  Don’t you realize that it’s not appropriate to speak of one of the faculty in that manner?  What would you do if someone told him what you’d said?”

“Pout about the surprise being ruined?”  She grinned at him, entirely unworried at his mock glare.

“What are we going to do with you,”  He sighed, smirking just a bit in an effort not to smile.

“Hmm… I thought this was a school?  Aren’t you supposed to teach me?”
 
"Brat.”

 “Grump.”

Things continued in that vein as they headed towards the stationary store.  Neither of them paid much attention to the stares of younger students, or the shocked expression on the face of Professor McGonagall.

 

End part 12.

Chapter Text


 
Rumors were flying the next day.  Whispers and speculations spread, based on the fact that Willow had been seen walking with Professor Snape, laughing and joking.  Willow had managed to be blissfully unaware of the speculations for almost three days.

She was sitting in the Ravenclaw common room, looking over a Transfiguration book with a fourth year student named Emily Wickham.  They’d set up a deal: Emily would help Willow with Transfigurations, and Willow would help her with Potions. The next thing she knew, a group of sixth and seventh year Ravenclaws appeared, including Jasmine.

Unfortunately, it was Alacia who spoke first.  “Are you having an affair with Professor Snape?”

Willow blinked, her face shifting to an expression of shocked horror.  “You think… you think that I’m having an affair with…  with Professor Snape?”

One of the other students, a sixth year named Kim, scowled at Willow.  “Justin told me that his sister Kelly saw you laughing with him and calling him… Sev.”

“That sort of trick may have helped you in America…” Alacia’s words dripped scorn. “ Things don’t work like that here.”

Willow shuddered.  “Glehhh.  I’m not having an affair with anyone right now.  And if I were to change that, Sev would be the absolute last person on the list.”

“Sev?  That sounds… awfully close for someone that you’re behaving properly with.”  Jasmine was frowning again.

“For crying out loud, the lot of you sound like some sort of Inquisition!  He’s my uncle!  My mother was his little sister, and he’s always been my favorite uncle, why not call him by his name?”  Willow glared at Alacia, debating an attempt at turning the girl into a vase or a statue or something.

“Your uncle?”  One of the guys who had been sitting playing a game of Exploding Snap looked over, startled.  “I didn’t know that Snape even had any family…”

“Yes, my uncle.  Now, since it’s impossible to study with so many people staring, I’m going to go somewhere else for a while.  Jeez, some people.”  Willow closed her books with a snap, dropping them into her book bag.  She shook her head as she left the Ravenclaw tower, wondering just how such a ridiculous idea had got started anyhow.

She was still grumbling and cranky as she made her way to the small field where Hagrid taught Care of Magical Creatures.  It turned out that his lesson for the day was over Griffons, and that distracted her so much that she actually found herself in an almost cheerful mood.   Willow decided to take shameless advantage of the fact that she had a free period, her uncle thought getting outside for a while was good for her, and Hagrid would welcome anyone to listen to him talk about his interesting creatures and joined the lesson.    When he asked for volunteers to touch the griffon, Willow found herself running her fingers over the fur covered shoulder, tracing over the feather crest on his head with the most delicate of touches.  The griffon closed his eyes, making a sort of warbling noise, and tilted his head towards her just a bit.

“He’s very soft.”  She smiled at Hagrid, delighted at the chance to learn about unusual animals when they weren’t trying to kill her.

“A wrong move and it could rip her arm off.”  The mutter came from Ron Weasley, who was looking at the griffon with concern.

Smiling, Willow turned.  “Draco, why don’t you come touch the griffon?”

He chuckled, looking at Ron and his friends as he came closer to Willow and the griffon, moving very slowly and carefully.  “Are you sure it’s safe?  He had hippogriffs here once, and one of them ripped my arm open.”

“He seems pretty calm right now.  Don’t make any sudden moves and don’t make eye contact and it should be just fine.” Willow smiled at him.

Draco reached out, his hand brushing over gleaming bronze feathers and sleek amber fur.  “It is soft.”  Carefully, he walked back away from the griffon, making his notes at what he hoped was a safe distance.

One of the other Slytherins leaned over, whispering something to Draco and gesturing at Willow, who was now scratching under the griffon’s jaw.  With an expression of dismay, Draco slapped the other Slytherin’s hand away.  “She is NOT!  There is no way on Earth that she’d be having an affair with him!”

“But… they were all…”  The Slytherin made a few gestures, looking confused.

“What is he talking about?”  Ron’s whisper carried a bit better than he’d probably intended.

“Probably the rumors concerning Willow and Professor Snape.”  Hermione’s voice was disapproving.

“Now, let’s have no more o’ that!  Just t’ set the record straight for all of yeh, Willow over there is Professor Snape’s niece.”  Hagrid was frowning at the boy who’d brought up the rumors, looking very intimidating.

Willow chuckled a little bit, looking at the griffon out of the corner of her eye.  “You’d think that everyone just thought he sprang from the ground one day, the way they’re carrying on.”

The griffon just made a noise that would have been described as a chirp on a canary.  He then butted his head against her hand, an unsubtle hint to get back to scratching his chin.

The rest of the day seemed to be filled with yet more people thinking that she and her uncle were having an affair, an idea that was just… wrong on so many levels.

Even Draco’s offer to have an affair with her to defuse the rumors didn’t make her day particularly good, although it did make her smile.

Hogwarts was certainly not like Sunnydale High, even with the Cordelia-clones and abundant homework.  She liked most of it, especially the wonderful food and the part where she had family that cared, but…  Willow hadn’t even considered the idea of someone assuming really untrue things about her and Uncle Sev.

 

End part 13.

Chapter Text


 
Willow made her way into her Transfiguration class, feeling awkwardly too big, too old, terribly ignorant.  She was sitting in with a group of second years, going over beetles to buttons.  And she was having more trouble with it...

One of the other students, a dark eyed girl with a wild mane of pale hair that almost looked like a dandelion gone to seed looked over, glancing first to make certain McGonagall was looking elsewhere.  "I heard there's something up with you and Professor Snape.  What's going on?"

Sighing, Willow looked over.  It really wasn't Susan's fault that there were so many gossips in the school, and at least she was trying to get the truth directly.  "He's my uncle."

"Didn't know he had any family."  The mutter was from a slightly larger boy, with close cropped dark hair and a name that she kept forgetting.  "I always thought he sprouted like a toadstool."

Willow scowled, certain that it would be bad form to scream at him. She put her wand on the desk with a firm click, counting to ten in an effort to calm down.  English, French, German, Latin, Hebrew...  Nope, definitely not working.  Stabbing her finger at the scurrying beetle, she turned it into a button, a thin dark line passing down the center of an oval brown button.  Amazing... and all she'd had to do was put down the wand.  Hmm... maybe she could try that again.  Several buttons later, she tried it with the wand.  Hmm... well, it wasn't a very good button, but it was a button instead of a beetle.

"Excellent, Miss Rosenberg.  Now, try changing them back."  Professor McGonagall's voice was approving, and caused the murmurs about Professor Snape to fade.

She was feeling almost cheerful as she made her way towards the dungeons for her Potion class.  She'd actually gotten her transfigurations right... even using the wand.  She just might be able to get the hang of all this after all.

" ... with Snape ...  Imagine... just disgusting."  The scattered words carried towards her, coming from a tall boy with long blondish hair pulled into a ponytail.

As Willow swept past him, trying not to show anything on her face, she saw that he had the gold and scarlet badge of a Gryffindor.  He was scowling at her as if she was some sort of dreadful criminal.

She gestured, the door to the Potion room swinging open before her. She was determinedly not scowling as she walked in, taking her place beside Draco for the class.  Glancing at the chalkboard, she placed her cauldron on the table, a small gesture putting a fire under it, a dark sullen green flame that made the eyes itch to look at.

"Calm down, Rosenberg."  Draco hissed towards her ear.  "Before you blow something up."  He paused, looking at her face, continuing in a softer voice.  "Before you blow somebody up."

"What makes you think I'm not calm?"  She didn't quite look Draco in the face, knowing full well that 'calm' wasn't how she felt right now.

"Apart from the way the door almost smacked Potter on your way into the room?"  He gave a small grin, amused by Harry Potter being endangered by the oaken door.  "well... there's the green fire, the fact that your book bag's doing the Hokey Pokey...  Should I go on?"

"Drat.  Okay... I'm not calm.  There have been the most horrible rumors... and some arrogant jerk was going on about how it was just disgusting to think about Snape and... grrrr."  Willow frowned, thinking of the various bits of rumor that she'd overheard.  "Made me want to turn him into a...  turn him into a fat toad.  With warts."

"Relax, Tree.  Just have him serve as the demonstration the next time you need a victim in Defense class.  Half the time, you seem to be able to get away with near murder in that class..."  Draco's eyes seemed almost too bright at the idea of some obnoxious Gryffindor being the monster/victim in a class demonstration.

"Draco... she's...  You don't need some foreign mud-blood to help you with your Potions."  The girl was wearing a Slytherin house badge, and her robes seemed to cling to her generous curves far more than the standard fabric.  She looked up at him through dark lashes that framed eyes that gleamed like sapphires.

Willow gestured at her, murmuring a few words under her breath, and the perfect coral hued lips seemed to just... vanish, leaving her without a mouth.  "I don't like being insulted."

"If you do not return Miss Zabini's lips to her at once, I shall be forced to remove points from Ravenclaw."  Her uncle's voice flowed through the air, rich with amusement.

Willow paused, tilting her head as if in thought.  "Very well.  How did that go?  hmmmm..." She picked up her wand, pointing it at the girl with a slightly exaggerated look of concentration.  "Finite Incantium."

The girl’s lips returned to her, their color oddly paler.  Her lashes had also paled, and the smoky shadows around her eyes were gone, her cheeks pale and looking thinner.  Her hair lacked the same shine, and the curl began to fall out, the robes suddenly relaxed, as if they were no longer held to the girl's body by static.  As the Slytherin gasped, Willow looked at her uncle, smiling sweetly.  "I have removed my spell."

Zabini looked as if she was about to protest, but held her words in. Instead, the obvious anger returned the color to her cheeks, and she spent the rest of the class glaring at Willow.  Willow ignored her, certain that there was no point in tempting herself to practice any more hexes or creative curses against anyone today.  Besides, it made her uncle cranky if he didn't think people were paying attention to his lessons.

Draco leaned closer, and whispered, “Can you do that with your wand?  Or... forget the wand, can you teach me that one?”

 

end part 14.

Chapter Text


 
Willow had slipped out of the Ravenclaw tower, finding her way to the roof of the Arithmancy tower.  She couldn't sleep, her mind too busy pulling at the various thoughts.  The rumors about her and her uncle, Draco's father having an affair with Drusilla...  and where was Spike during this affair?  She'd met her grandfather, and would be meeting more Snapes... there were British Cordelia clones in her tower...  and Draco was on his broom, dressed in silk pajamas, hovering in front of her.

"Aren't you supposed to be off sleeping?"  She spoke the words softly, without bitterness.  After all, maybe he was too twisted up by worry to sleep.

"What if his crazy girlfriend turns my father into a vampire?"  Draco moved over the roof, stepping down from his broom.  As he got closer, she could see that his left eye wasn't in shadow, it was bruised, and his lip seemed a bit swollen.  "My mind started thinking about all the ways that that could go terribly wrong."

Willow looked over Draco, wondering how he'd been injured.  He'd looked perfectly healthy during Potions...  "I don't know.  I was actually worrying more on the line of where's Spike during all of this, and how many people is he going to kill out of annoyance?"

"errr... good question."  Draco looked over the tower, frowning suddenly.  "Willow, do you see that?  Does the grass look like it's moving to you?"

Willow looked, making a small 'ohhh' as she saw what he meant.  "It is moving.  But... are there ways to become magically invisible?"

"Of course there are.  Shall we go figure out what... or should I say who is out there?"  Draco smiled a little, pulling his broom closer.

Willow carefully put herself on the broom behind Draco, feeling extremely glad that her flannel pajamas had pants instead of just a big tee shirt or a gown.  They swooped away, moving closer to the rippling in the grass.  There was an area where the air seemed almost distorted, like a heat shimmer.  The grass was moving as if two people standing close were moving, and they were going towards Hagrid's hut.

"I bet it's Potter."  Draco's whisper carried back to Willow.  "I think he has an Invisibility Cloak."

"There are really cloaks to make you invisible?  Oh, wait, focus." Willow felt questions bubbling inside.  She could ask questions later, but watching now might answer some of them.

There was a sudden shimmer, and Harry and his friend Ron were standing in front of Hagrid's door.  The door opened, allowing them to go inside, and Hagrid looked up, his eyes finding them in the night.  "What're you two doing there?  Yeh might as well come on in."

Reluctantly, Draco brought the broom down, allowing Willow to dismount first.  They followed Hagrid inside, Draco somehow managing to keep Willow between himself and Harry.

"None o' yeh should be out t'night."  Hagrid muttered, passing them each a mug of hot tea.

Draco just shrugged half glaring across the table at the other boys, while Willow offered a small smile.  "Too many thoughts.  I couldn't sleep."

"Yeh know there' safer ways t' deal with that than be flying around on brooms in the middle o' th' night?"  Hagrid sighed, passing a plate of fudge around.  "Why not jus' ask yer uncle for a sleeping potion?"

Willow sighed, feeling almost grateful that she wouldn't have to explain her relationship to her Uncle here.  "No... some of these thoughts are important, and need unraveled.  Preferably when I'm not in class."

Something thumped against Hagrid's door.  The sound repeated, an insistent thudding that sounded almost but not quite like something knocking.  Willow wondered why she'd phrased it like that... something, not someone.

Hagrid walked over, muttering things under his breath.  Opening the door, a spider the size of a donkey was revealed, moonlight highlighting the gray fur that covered the massive body, gleaming on facetted eyes.  Ron and Harry both became very tense, with Ron's face taking on an unhealthy greenish cast.  Draco looked at the spider, eyes very wide and whispered "Can we trade that to get the griffon back?"

"What seems t' be the matter then?"  Hagrid sounded reasonably calm, as if he saw nothing wrong with giant spiders coming to his door.  It was more like he was wondering why the spider was here than what it would do.

Leaning over to Draco, Willow whispered "Is that an Acromantula?"

"Yes.  Almost doesn't seem surprising that he's got one...  There was that dragon, and those awful hippogriffs."  Draco was trying to stay calm, but Willow could tell that he wasn't quite as calm as he wanted to look.  "They eat people."

"Something hunts in our Forest, Friend Hagrid."  The words were slightly garbled by the clacking of the spider's mandibles.

"Not like it was a few years back, I hope?  Not... not after the unicorns again?"  Hagrid didn't sound happy at the news.

There was a slight wheezing sound from the spider.  "No... not the unicorns.  It hunts the lesser beasts, killing them, leaving the bodies nearly whole.  We do not know what it is..."

Willow felt a dark suspicion forming in her mind.  She'd been kidnapped the last time Spike and Dru had relationship problems, now that Dru was involved with this wizard, could another kidnapping be in store? "Excuse me... these bodies.  Have they been... torn at the throat?  Is the blood gone?"

"Yes."  The spider seemed to shift, and Willow could feel it's attention on her.  "How did you know?"

"I think... I'm worried that there might be a vampire hiding in the forest.  A vampire would only be feeding on the blood of his prey, so the rest of the body would be of no use.  Although he'd need somewhere out of the sun to sleep in the daytime..."  Willow had been hoping that she was wrong.

"Vampire?"  Ron's squeak went unheeded in the hut.

Hagrid looked over, a frown on his face. "Why would there be a vampire in the forest?  Not safe... not safe for a vampire."

"Well, it sounds like the sort of remains from a vampire kill.  And... umm... there's this vampire that I think might be there.... he's trouble, and he takes a lot of risks.  Spike."  Willow paused, trying to think of how much to say.  "It has to do with his girlfriend Drusilla... Scary things happen when they have relationship troubles.  He might... he might try to kidnap someone and force them to do a love spell to get her back."

"Do you have problems with vampires a lot then?  You seem rather calm about it."  Harry was looking at Willow, who had just taken a bit of Hagrid's fudge.

"mmm."  Willow paused, swallowing the last of the mouthful of fudge.  It was thick, and sticky, and she was almost certain that it held pecans, maybe even cinnamon roasted pecans.   Absolutely wonderful, but not something that could be eaten in a hurry. "I haven't had to worry about anything vampire related for almost two months now.  I think that's sort of a record."

"How likely is this one t' cause problems?"  Hagrid was clearly not happy, even after the spider had left.

"It's Spike.  There will be trouble for someone..."  Willow closed her eyes, sipping the tea.  She could almost imagine Giles over there, looking in a book murmuring 'oh dear's and making those unhappy thoughtful noises.  "He's got a short attention span, little patience, and hates to be bored.  He's spent over a century doting on his crazy girlfriend who's almost as scary as Trelawney. err.. Professor Trelawney that is.  He'd killed two Slayers.  Spike is trouble."

"Why's he here then?  Why not somewhere with more people then?"  Ron sounded almost curious.

Draco sighed, sipping a bit at the tea himself.  "I would have thought he'd be more... south.  Where Dru is."

"He's here because we don't want him here.  Because he can cause problems and trouble, and he probably doesn't want to try to attack Dru's new boyfriend directly."  Willow sighed, wishing that things would stay simple, just a little bit longer.

"D'you think he's working for... for You-Know-Who?" Ron's whisper shook with fear.

"You-Know... oh, that Voldemort guy."  Willow stopped, glaring at Ron and Hagrid for flinching.  "He's an evil wizard, and it won't hurt you to say his name. But if it'll make you happier, no, Spike isn't working for the dead-warts sorcerer.  He has issues with authority figures and doesn't take orders.  So he won't be a minion of the evil wizard because he's a master vampire, not someone's minion."

"I still don' like t' sound o' this guy."  Hagrid didn't look at all happy.  "Yeh should all go back t' the school where it's safe."

Draco sighed, running his hand through his hair.  Collecting his broom from where it leaned against Hagrid’s hut, he glanced at her, "Right.  Shall I give you a lift back, Willow?"

"Sure."  Willow mounted the back of Draco's broom.  Just thinking about the idea of any vampire, let alone Spike, made the solid stone walls and the fact that boarding schools counted as a residence far more appealing."What about Ron and Harry?"

Draco shrugged, and Willow imagined that he was probably grinning. "I'm not worried about either of them getting eaten.  But I like you."

Willow just sighed, trying not to smile.  "Draco... would it kill you to try to be nice?"

 

end part 15.

Chapter Text


 
The rest of the night had been miserable. Willow had hoped that she would just sleep, hopefully without dreams, after Draco had dropped her off, but it hadn't worked out that way. First, she'd spent what felt like hours tossing and turning as her mind went over the idea that a vampire, probably Spike, was in the Forbidden Forrest. She knew for a fact that more than one student had slipped out there to gather some potions ingredients, or have some time alone with the person they were dating, or to study a few things for their classes, especially Potions, Herbology, or Care of Magical Creatures. Her mind painted horrible images of what could happen to the students sent out gathering nocturnal plants and fungus as a detention, images of Spike kidnapping someone else, terrorizing them before snapping necks, tearing open throats... Images of vampire students infesting the forest, besieging the walls of the school.

When she'd finally fallen asleep, she'd had dreams about being kidnapped by Spike again, protesting that he wasn't even supposed to be here. She tried to explain Spike and Dru were supposed to be in Brazil, enjoying tequila, Brazilian dark roast coffee and dancing with a lot of drums. He'd laughed, explaining that they'd left to get away from the Chaos demons with their slime and antlers... and then he'd lunged at her throat. She'd awakened with a near scream, only slowly able to return to uneasy slumber.

She'd dreamed about students going into the forest on detention and getting turned, with disappearances and vampire students trying to attack the rest of the students and the faculty. Students from Sunnydale had found their way into the mix, ones that she knew had been turned and a few that had just vanished, not seen alive again. The high point of her night was a dream where Alacia had been turned into a vampire, and Willow got to stake her with Alacia's own abandoned wand. The memory of watching Alacia's look of disbelief as she crumbled to fine ashes, leaving only her wand and the blue and bronze striped tie, was delightful. Probably mean, but still an enjoyable image. It would probably be best if Alacia didn't get turned into a vampire, especially since Willow didn't know if turning a witch would remove the magic or just leave a soul-less, bloodthirsty spellcaster. Best if none of the students were turned into vampires. Not the faculty either, now that she was thinking about it.

Eventually, Willow decided that it was late enough that there was no point in trying to sleep any longer, and she might as well get out of bed. Willow ached from the lack of restful sleep, her eyes felt scratchy, and the stone floor was cold. She didn't feel at all cheerful or frivolous this morning, and it didn't bode well for her first day of assisting Wesley. After several moments of staring at her wardrobe as her mind faltered between nightmares of vampires, dead bodies, and pop quizzes and unreadable essays. After several moments, she pulled out something conservative that made her look more like a teacher than a student, pulling her hair back into a French braid that hugged her skull. Although since the horizon was only barely tinted with any color, the sun not even peeking over the lake yet, Willow wondered if it was actually 'morning' yet or if it was still part of the night.

She would make her way to the kitchen, collect a breakfast tray and a pot of very strong tea before making her way to her uncle's rooms. Someone had to tell him about the vampire in the forest, especially since the teachers most likely to assign after dark harvesting as a detention were her uncle Sev or Professor Sprout. Considering the rather short list of people who knew, it looked like she had become 'someone.' Sunnydale had taught her that being 'someone' could really suck.

It wasn't more than a half hour before she was reminded that her uncle was not a morning person. He came staggering into the sitting room, his dark robes like a mass of slightly wrinkled shadows, his hair falling into his eyes as he glared blearily at her. "Willow? What... it's too early. Why are you here?"

"Sit down, have tea. I didn't put any sugar in yours, but it's here if you want." Generally, her uncle preferred his tea strong and bitter, claiming that it served its purpose more effectively that way. She gestured, floating a teacup across the table to sit at his chair. "And I brought breakfast."

"Mmm." He sat down, collecting a cup of tea, swallowing some with a slight wince at the temperature. "You look... pale and rather professional at this ungodly hour. I could mix you a sleeping draught if you're having difficulties with your rest."

"There's a vampire in the Forbidden Forest." Willow decided to be blunt about matters. "I couldn't sleep... pondering some of the things that Draco's told me... that I probably shouldn't go into yet. But those problems raised the possibility of other problems. So I was out trying to think, and there was something moving down in the grass, but we couldn't see it, so Draco and I took a closer look and ended up in Hagrid's hut when this Acromantula the size of a pony showed up and said there was a vampire in the forest, well, actually it said that something was killing animals and leaving their bloodless bodies, but that's a vampire. So if there's a vampire in the forest killing animals then we don't want the students out there because almost any vamp out there would rather have a nice tender teenager than a deer or a wolf, and I thought that I should tell you so that you know and don't give any nighttime detentions. Because I like the fact that Hogwarts doesn't need an obituary section all the time because you don't normally loose a quarter of the students out of each graduating class to death before they can graduate…"

Her uncle winced, slowly chewing some toast spread with berry preserves. Raising one hand, he spoke, clearly attempting to sort out her babble. "You were out past curfew last night and discovered that there is an Acromantula in the forest? And the acromantula said things that revealed the presence of a vampire in the forest? So I should not give detentions that will send out the students. You were out of your rooms with Draco, and Hagrid is still convinced that dangerous beasts are just misunderstood and make acceptable pets?"

Willow spread a slice of toast with preserves, holding it in the firelight to get a better look at the color, uncertain as to just what sort of fruit preserve was in the little jar. The color was pleasant reddish plum, with seeds rather like those of a strawberry. "Pretty much. And Harry Potter and Ron Weasley also know about the vampire out there. I think it's Spike."

"Wonderful. I shall have to inform Poppy to make certain that she's got the proper preparations to treat vampire bites when one of them inevitably gets half killed trying to stop this vampire," Her uncle sighed, spearing a sausage with a small fork. "Wasn't he mentioned in some of your rather edited Sunnydale misadventures? Something about a demented girlfriend? And how likely is he to be working with... the Dark Lord?"

"You're thinking of Drusilla, the only person that comes close to the level of weirdness that is Trelawney. She's his Dark Princess, they've been mostly on and occasionally off for over a century... umm... I think she's left him again. Last time that happened, he… ummm, you know, we don't need to worry about what happened the last time," Willow blushed, regretting her tendency to babble.

" Spike's a Master vampire, he wouldn't become a glorified minion of someone hiding in a dark robe in a cave or something in the middle of nowhere, he's too impatient and independent for that. No ideas about whether or not Dru would do that... And she could change her mind and go away. But Spike is still bad," Willow shivered, before eating the toast. Licking the bit of preserves from her thumb, she frowned. "Although there would have to be... I just don't know why he wouldn't try for someone closer to where they are. Or it might not be Spike, I suppose it could be some other vampire in the forest. I think I'd prefer it if it was some other vampire altogether."

"How do you know what happened the last time his lover left him?" Her uncle's voice had this tone that was sort of worried and sort of angry.

"ummm... he sort of kidnapped me." She looked up, trying to look capable, responsible, and completely uninjured.

Allowing himself to slump in his chair, her uncle sighed. "Willow... you're going to be the death of me yet. Be sure to inform Wyndham-Pryce and Professor Flitwick of this news, and I will speak to Minerva and Dumbledore. After the sun has properly cleared the horizon."

"Yes, Uncle Sev." Willow sighed, hoping that her uncle wouldn't be too cranky for his potion classes. She had the feeling that this would be a very long day.

End part 16.

Chapter Text

To start what promised to be a long day, Willow made her way to the Defense classroom to lurk in wait for Wesley. She knew him better than Professor Flitwick, and thought that he might know more about hostile vampires, being Watcher-trained. She'd brought more tea to ease the bad news. It felt like a long while before the door opened, revealing Wesley with his arms full of scrolls. Willow had been able to help a little with grading the papers and tests for the younger years, since she didn't know them and couldn't be accused of having a bias. She smiled just a little, wondering if he could actually see over that pile. "Morning Wesley. I have tea and bad news. Which would you like first?"

He allowed the scrolls to fall into a somewhat messy pile on his desk, and sighed. "Tea first, then the bad news. Is there sugar and lemon?"

Willow placed a slice of lemon in the cup, along with two lumps of sugar, and floated the cup over to Wesley, sparing another bit of concentration to neaten up the pile of scrolls and slide a couple paperweights to the sides to keep the pile in place. "Here you go, already sugared, lemon wedge inside the cup. The bad news... there's a vampire in the Forbidden Forrest. Possibly Spike."

"Just once, when you said that you had bad news, I wish that it had to do with entirely normal things, like unrequited crushes, annoying classmates, the trouble with getting impressive transportation, difficult schoolwork... But no. You say bad news and it concerns demons, vampires, and catastrophic events." Wesley sipped his tea, frowning. "At least you have a sense of proportion."

Giggling, she nodded. "Proportion. Well, that's something at least. And I'm doing better with my Transfigurations too, so that's also good. I can do most of the second year transfigurations accurately, and about half of them with the wand."

Remembering some of the gossiping and glaring students from yesterday, she glanced at him before offering request, "Umm... Can we have a demonstration for one of the upper classes? Something a little embarrassing for a student vic... umm... volunteer? But not just embarrassing, it should be something that actually has some educational value."

"Willow, who are you annoyed at now?" Wesley tried to look stern, he really did. But the way his lips kept twitching before he hid them behind his teacup betrayed the lack of stern disapproval.

Willow sipped at her tea, considering the differences between this pot and the batch that she'd taken in to Uncle Sev. Wesley's tea was lighter, with a hint of citrus even without the lemon wedges, where her Uncle's had a bit of cinnamon and clove to it… maybe some ginger as well. "Some sixth or seventh year Griff who's certain that I'm having an affair with Uncle Sev and was muttering about how gross and revolting the idea was. Which... well, he's not the only person muttering it, but..."

"Certainly. And perhaps we need a bit of a rescheduling, we can cover vampires next instead of debilitating hexes." Wesley's smile held a little bit of mirth. Perhaps he'd had vindictive fellow classmates when he was in school? He certainly didn't object to her choosing people that had offended her as student victims for the demonstration. Then again, she didn't always pick the same person. And there was always some educational merit in the demonstrations, enough that it wasn't just to humiliate someone who'd been obnoxious.

"Good. Well, not that there's a vampire, but that... umm... well, moving right along... I need to go so that I can talk to Professor Flitwick about this..." Willow sighed, not looking forward to that. She would have to explain to the Head of her House that there was a vampire in the forest, and then follow that up with a charms lesson. Joy. At least she wasn't accidentally setting things on fire all the time anymore.

Willow made her way through the halls, their emptiness a sure sign that the rest of the students were either at breakfast or still in the dormitory towers. Considering the hour, she would bet that most were still in the dorms, possibly still asleep. As she made her way up a flight of stairs towards the Charms room, she became aware of a ghostly presence behind her. Not that this was particularly unusual at Hogwarts, being as there were at least twenty ghosts, one of them Professor Binns, but... She didn't think that she would ever really get used to it. Turning around, she saw Peeves, undoubtedly planning something troublesome.

"Ikkle Willow Snape wandering the halls a bit early?" He cackled, either unable or unwilling to simply laugh like a half way normal person.

"Don't. I'm not in the mood for teasing today." Willow glared at the poltergeist, somehow doubting that he would just leave her alone. Of course, if he was anything like the bullies at school, telling him she wasn't in the mood would only encourage him. She might need a better, more intimidating argument. Would Dumbledore be very upset if she tried to exorcise Peeves?

"Aww.... Are the girls being mean to you again?" His mocking tone made it clear that there would be no sympathy.

"There's a vampire in the forest. He'd probably love to kill some of the students. It might be a vampire that I've met before. Someone's going to have to deal with him." She scowled, wondering just how troublesome Peeves would be today.

"A vampire?" Peeves seemed a bit quieter. "Who do you think it is?"

"Spike." Her voice sounded oddly flat.

Peeves almost seemed to be relieved. "Why should we worry about some muggle punk vampire with aspirations of terror?"

Willow looked at him, thinking that Peeves' behavior seemed a little bit off. "Spike is what he goes by now, not what he's always been called. Spike, longtime paramour of Drusilla, childe of Angelus, part of the Scourge of Europe? Formerly known as William the Bloody?"

At that name, Peeves almost seemed to grow paler, and zoomed off, howling loudly, sure to wake the students. "Baron! Your Bloodyness, where are you? Rally the defenses, batten the hatches! Baron? Where's the thrice blasted Defense Instructor?"

Willow blinked, startled by the reaction from the poltergeist. It wasn't at all normal, if she didn't know better, she'd say that he looked… could Peeves be frightened? Shaking her head, Willow continued over to the classroom of Professor Flitwick, letting herself in with a feeling of resignation. Time for sharing the bad news with yet another person, though hopefully she could leave out the part about being kidnapped. There was no chance of avoiding the fact that she'd been out after curfew.

"Morning, Willow. Have you any idea what set Peeves off? I could hear him wailing for the Bloody Baron…" Professor Flitwick shook his head, rubbing at one ear. "Hardly the best way to start the morning. That sort of racket will give me a headache. Me and everyone else he passes while screaming his head off."

"Yeah, about that. Before we move on to me mangling my charms again, I have something to tell you... Uncle said it would be poor form to let you find out from rumors," Willow started explaining about the visit to Hagrid's, the Acromantula's worries, and her fear that it could be Spike. Today was already shaping up to be very long and not so cheerful. She supposed that it might be good that there wasn't more tea, she probably had quite enough caffeine in her system already. Twitchy, jumpy witches with imperfect control combined with giant spiders tattling on vampires in the forest were bad enough, adding over-caffeinated jitters would just bring things to a whole new level of lessons gone wrong.

End part 17.

Chapter Text

She was supposed to have a pineapple tap dance, but it looked more like the Macarena. At least that one caused Professor Flitwick to chuckle with amusement.

Her color change charms changed the colors, but rather than the soothing pale green that she'd intended, she got a rather lurid lime. Her efforts to change it to a dusty rose produced a color that she could only classify as screaming neon, though it was thankfully a soundless color. When her effort to leave the pillow a subdued grey left it more of a tie-dyed pattern of reds and purples that reminded her of multiple aged bruises. Willow sighed, "This is… changing, but not how it's supposed to."

"You need to keep the color that you want firmly in mind. Don't let that image waver, or… well, you can see what sort of things happen if the color wavers in your mind," Professor Flitwick had been so worried about the as yet unidentified vampire and the Acromantula that he didn't even have the heart to do more than a token scolding for her rather dreadful efforts with today's lesson.

"I guess I'm more than a little worried about the vampire in the Forbidden Forest," she rubbed the pillow, which was still tie-dyed bruise colored, "At least it's still soft and pillowy."

"Aren't we all," he sighed. "You might as well go, but I'd suggest looking into the theory of the color changing charms, there have been several variations. Perhaps an essay, though I'll let you decide what's a suitable length. You might also want to review the animation charms, your efforts with the wand are still a bit off from what I'm asking for. Off with you, you have Transfiguration later, don't you?"

Willow couldn't help but feel disappointed with her lesson and her performance. She was having more trouble with these charms...

She was practically shuffling as she made her way to her Transfiguration class, barely doing more than nodding at the assorted greetings of the students who sat next to her. Today they were changing birds into goblets, or at least, they were supposed to be changing them into goblets. Things tended to be very off when she used her wand, resulting in a winged cup that chirped, a bird with a stem instead of legs, and a metallic sort of hollowed bird with feathers that clinked as it tried to flutter away, discovering that it was now too heavy to fly. Willow was only able to return it to its proper bird shape when she put down the wand. She was reminded that she'd had better luck with the beetles to buttons when she'd started without the wand, and vowed to herself that she'd start wandless next time.

"I wonder if this is what Grandfather meant by a temperamental wand? I get emotional, and it makes the spells go wonky?" Willow sighed, looking at the now very nervous bird.

"That is the general idea. Very few witches or wizards are capable of creating controlled magical effects without their wands." Professor McGonagall's voice behind Willow was soft. "The fact that you've actually had more practice with wandless magic than with a proper wand is rather unusual."

Willow looked at her, noticing something in the older woman's eyes. Was it sympathy, or relief that Willow hadn't caused the bird to explode? "I didn't even know that most people used wands until this summer. The whole wizarding world... My mother didn't want me to know. And now, it looks like my old life is sort of colliding with things here."

"You refer to the rumors of a vampire in the Forbidden Forest." She sounded almost resigned, and unhappy.

"Something like. Especially if it's the particular vampire that I think it might be. If it helps, I hope that Harry and Ron stay far away from him." Willow managed a tiny smile.

"We can all hope so. But those two... they have a positive gift for finding trouble. Mr. Weasley was taking about the vampire at breakfast, which has spawned all sorts of rumors," Shaking her head, Professor McGonagall moved over to help one of the students coax her bird-cup down from the rafters.

"Can you really work magic without a wand?" Asked Michael, one of the second year students who were in the class.

Blinking, Willow looked at him, levitating a cup of water over to her. "Of course. It takes a bit more focus of your will, and it's apparently a bit more exhausting, but it can be done."

"I thought... my Dad said that it wasn't practical, and my Mum said that was just the sort of thing that happens in stories." He smiled a bit, watching her carefully. "But I don't think you're a grand sorceress out of legend."

"Now, if I were a legendary sorceress, couldn't I turn a bird into a cup with my wand?" Willow smiled a bit. Leaning a bit closer, she whispered, "I didn't have a wand to learn with, and it sort of was a matter of trial and err. You get a lot more problems without a wand... things don't work the way you want them to, or you call too much of the elements and your campfire is ashes, or your sandcastle's drowned... But it can be done. I suggest practicing with something small, non-breakable, and spill proof. And when you start trying to call fire, don't try it on your bed."

Snickering, he nodded. "I'd guess so. Are you really sure that it's possible to do magic without a wand?"

"Absolutely positive. I can, and someone else did a little... he said it makes everything harder, and it can leave you with a headache, but I swear to you that it is possible." Willow sighed, packing her books back up. "I'm going to have to go to Potions next, but... really, it's possible."

"Cool." Michael grinned, and nudged his friend Danny, whispering something. Possibly ideas for pranks done without wands.

Shaking her head, she headed towards the Potions class. Today was supposed to be interesting, with a discussion about something called PolyJuice. Apparently, the potion was extremely tedious, taking almost a month of careful work and precise ingredients to brew, so they probably wouldn't be making it. Her Uncle still wanted to give a lecture on it, and explain about it and some other related transformative potions. It should be interesting, at least.

Blaise Zabini avoided her, watching with nervous eyes the whole class. Half of the other students also seemed nervous, as if they feared that she would do something dreadful to them. When it came time for them to make a potion, which wouldn't be the PolyJuice, she ended up partnered with Neville Longbottom, who looked almost as if he'd prefer the dungeon floor to swallow him than to make a potion with her.

"I don't bite. Really." She tried to offer a bit of reassurance to the awkward student.

"But... I'm terrible at Potions." He sounded mournful and resigned.

Willow leaned in, whispering conspiratorially. "Uncle won't be glaring at you today. You have a chance to do this calmly, and I'll try to help. It'll be okay."

"really?"

The tiny spark of hope was easy for her Sunnydale-trained eyes to notice. Opening the textbook, Willow smiled at him, and set him to gathering some fo the ingredients from the cupboard as she prepared the cauldron. She just hoped that Neville wasn't as bad as her uncle kept claiming.

end part 18.

Chapter Text

The potion that she and Neville had worked on turned out quite well. Everything seemed to have been prepared and blended perfectly, and it looked exactly as Uncle Sev had said that it should. Neville had looked just about as surprised by that as her uncle, and most of the rest of the class. He'd still been looking at the successful potion even after her uncle had moved past.

"It really... the potion is right. It's actually... right." He'd sounded amazed, and delighted.

"Well, you actually do know what you're doing, you just get so nervous that you go all tense, and... well, sort of like stage fright, only with potions. Uncle Sev isn't that scary, there's a lot out there that's much much scarier than he is." Willow smiled reassuringly at Neville. "And working with you is a lot better than working with Percy back in Sunnydale... you just need me to keep you calm, he wanted me to do all the work."

"Thanks." He seemed so pleased by today's class that it was almost sad. There was an uncharacteristic smile as he left the dungeons.

The rest of the day... well, it went. She tried her best to ignore Alacia and her flock, but the snobby girl was just... her mere presence was irritating. At least things were easier now that it was known that Sev was her uncle, and not anything else. But still, the rumors of some sort of illicit sexual affair hadn't quite been buried, which was rather unsettling to Willow. Some people just had filthy minds.

She was sitting in the library when she felt the cool prickling of a ghostly presence. Putting a scrap of paper into the book to mark her place, she looked up. The Bloody Baron stood in front of her, looking almost at attention, and very unhappy. Wondering what was the matter, Willow offered a tiny smile, not having a lot of experience with the ghost that predominantly remained in the dungeons. "Hello, Baron. Is something wrong?"

The Baron made a sharp nod, scowling much the way her uncle did. "Peeves was blathering about a vampire in the forest. What did you say to him?"

Willow sighed, a corner of her mind wondering if the Baron might be a Snape relative or ancestor. He had the same sort of scowl, and looming presence that her uncle and grandfather had. "One of Hagrid's spiders, which I assume that you already knew about, but anyhow, one of them said that something was killing animals, leaving bloodless bodies in the forest. That sounds like classic vampire behavior, and I really hope none of the students go looking for the vampire, because they would probably be tastier than deer or something, but... I'm worried that it might be a particular vampire. Spike, formerly known as William the Bloody. I mentioned the older name and Peeves just... well, I guess he wigged out, as Buffy would say."

"William the Bloody... are you certain?" The Baron was frowning now.

"Not exactly, and I don't have any logical evidence... not to say, yeah, it's Spike. But... there are a few things. Circumstances, past experiences, and they add up to this nasty, scary suspicion. I can't prove it, but I think it's Spike." Willow sighed, at the same time wishing for more evidence and hoping that there would be nothing. "I just have no idea why the idea freaks Peeves out so much."

"William the Bloody was the one who killed Peeves. As I understand, it was a most excruciating death. We will look into the forest, after all, a vampire can not harm a ghost." The Baron frowned, and marched away, passing through a table and making a pair of first or second year students squeak.

Willow shivered, and opened her book, trying to keep from thinking about that. She'd heard a few things about how Spike had got his nickname, about the horrible things that he'd done. Had Peeves been tortured to death with railroad spikes? Had his bones been slowly broken? Had he been an amusing diversion for Spike and Drusilla while the sunlight trapped them inside? Or worse, the unlucky victim of Spike's anger if Drusilla had left him again…

Somewhat numb from her thoughts, she shivered, the library suddenly reminding her too much of the one that had been at the Sunnydale High School, before they'd blown it up. The place where she had nearly been flattened by a falling bookcase, and where Kendra had died. It had felt like home before that, before it had nearly been her tomb. Yet another lesson that nowhere was entirely safe, nowhere entirely free from danger. Though this library was crawling with magic, none of it had the greasy feel of the Hellmouth.

She closed the book again, tucking it into her bag. In this mood, it would be best to get back to the Ravenclaw tower, to settle by the fire in the common room and just... surround herself with the noises of people who weren't afraid. People who didn't really know how bad and scary the world could really be.

Even if it did mean she might see Alacia again.

End part 19.

Chapter Text

The Ravenclaw tower was... well, not quiet, but free of Sunnydale memories. Alacia wasn't there, and nobody else quite felt up to trying anything more vicious than ignoring her. After a few moments, she admitted that thinking about her Housemates that way was a bit of a disservice to most of them. Most of them were nice enough, in the sort of distant civility of people that really didn't know her as more than a face that was supposed to be here. Some of them were nice, if not precisely friends, and there were some that were nice in the sort of way that meant they might want to be friends. Really, most of the problems were from Alacia and probably no more than a handful of others who were just as petty and self centered as Alacia, like Cordelia had been before Buffy.

Some of them were even trying to help her study for her classes, which was a wonderful and welcomed thing, even if it wasn't something that she was used to. She'd never needed anyone to help her with schoolwork before, although she'd never actually had a chance for formal training in magic, either. This was a whole different world, and not just because she was in England now.

"Willow? Do you... have you heard anything from your parents since you got here?" Jasmine's voice was soft, possibly not wanting to startle, or to draw the attention of the other students.

Willow looked up, offering a tiny smile to the Ravenclaw prefect. "No, but I didn't really expect to hear from them. They were away... missed my, well, I suppose that you'd call it muggle school graduation, and they probably aren't even back home yet. Not that I'd expect to hear from them anyhow."

"Why not?" Jasmine carefully perched on the chair facing Willow, the fire reflecting on her face.

"I've had a friend for three years and if my mom's even there, she calls her 'that Bunny girl'. Her career is far more important to her than I am. I told her that I was a witch once... and there was a whole ugly mess, and then she just... repressed everything, made herself forget." Willow sighed. "Mom left England because she wanted to be away from her family... which includes uncle Severus. Somehow, the idea that I'm here, with the family that she turned her back on really isn't likely to score brownie points with her..."

Jasmine looked at her, a small frown on her face. "Brownie points?"

"It's sort of an American saying. Has to do with Girl Scouts... umm... it's not really formal, but it works sort of similar to the House points. And if a Brownie - the little girl in Girl Scouts, not the magical creature, but if a Brownie gets enough points, she gets a badge. Saying something gets you brownie points with someone means... well, it means they think a little better of you." Willow sighed, reminded yet again of how different things were.

"Family arguments are the worst." Jasmine nodded, her eyes having the sort of distant look that hinted at her own unhappy memories.

They ended up sitting there, talking about the reading assignments for the History of Magic class. Discussing the Goblin Wars, and the assorted official and less official reactions and views on non-human creatures, even getting into a friendly debate over the 'human' status of werewolves that dragged in a few other Ravenclaws, some of whom had very strong fears f werewolves, and others who thought that it would be best if they were kept somewhere far, far away.

"Jasmine!" The panicked voice was from one of the fourth years, a girl with long pale braids falling to wisps and wide, tear filled hazel eyes, someone that Willow recognized but couldn't quite match a name to the face. She was looking around, tears running down her face as she gasped for breath. "In the infirmary, Lucas and his friends... They've been hurt. And nobody will tell me what's happening!"

Willow grabbed a box of chocolates, handing one to the girl even as she looked for some of the other people that the blond - Sandy? Some of her friends would be good to help calm her down. Spotting one, she darted over, towing the baffled girl closer. "Something's got her all upset, you need to help calm her down."

Jasmine looked up, her face filled with worry and shock. "Some of the fourth year boys decided to sneak into the forest. They're in the infirmary now." Looking at the second girl, Jasmine smiled. "Good, Kelly, you stay here with Sandra, Willow and I will go find out what's going on from Madam Pomfrey."

Jasmine skidded to a stop, tugging frantically at the door to the infirmary. "It's stuck, or locked..."

Willow nodded, gathering her concentration. She focused on the doors and pushed with her power, feeling something resist for a few moments before there was the same sort of 'pop' that happens when you open a new jar of preserves from the store. With a squeal the doors flung open, thumping against the walls. "Unstuck."

Five boys, all the right size to be fourth or fifth years, were stretched on beds, with Madam Pomfrey hovering near them, holding what Willow thought might be a sleeping potion. Closer inspection showed that one of the boys carried a strong resemblance to Jasmine, a younger brother or maybe a cousin. One of them was still awake, half sitting and shivering.

"Mina? Are we safe now?" His voice was quavering, still full of fear.

"Well, mostly. What were you doing out in the Forbidden Forest? You know that you aren't supposed to be there..." Jasmine gave him a quick hug, a tear of relief slipping down her cheek. "I'm going to have to give you all detentions for this, after Madam Pomfrey lets you out."

"It wasn't supposed to be like that. We just... well, it was Dan's idea. Sort of a dare." He paused, licking his lips. "We were just sort of poking around, sort of laughing. Wondering what sort of things Hagrid's let loose in there, you know? Matt said he had a hippogryff, and Allan in Hufflepuff said that Hagrid wanted a dragon…"

"Matt, you have to know that was not a smart thing." Jasmine sighed, a tiny smile hovering as she looked at him.

"What happened to you? You all look..." Her words trailed off, as she fumbled for suitable words.

"Does Malfoy have a big, scary evil brother? We saw someone else, and Justin wanted to see if he knew the way back to the school, only... well, the guy had this pale, slicked-back hair like Malfoy, and light eyes, and what we thought were robes but it turned out to be some sort of leather coat. He grabbed Justin, and I swear to you, he just... vampire! He was going to eat us, and we panicked, and managed a few spells... I think it was surprise that made him let go, and then we ran... Evil vampire Malfoy." Matt shuddered again, looking very small and young as he lay in the bed.

"Spike." Willow's voice sounded oddly loud in the quiet infirmary, although she was barely speaking over a whisper. "That was Spike... William the Bloody. He's a very dangerous vampire. I guess that solves the question of what vampire... I don't think he's actually a Malfoy, but I've never asked. It doesn't matter, avoid him."

end part 20.

Chapter Text

"How bad is this vampire, this Spike?" Jasmine looked at her, her face filled with worry and fear. "Would he really... do you really think he would have eaten them?"

"He's very bad. Other vampires are afraid of him. He's killed two Slayers." Willow paused, trying to get some moisture in her mouth, which had gone dry with fear. "And I don't think he would have eaten all of them at once. Six people, even six kids would be a bit much at a time. He'd probably just drain two or three, and knock the others unconscious, drag them elsewhere for later. Maybe try to terrify someone into helping him with his evil plan. He's always got an evil plan. And if he didn't think whoever it was would be useful, then he'd kill them."

Matt whimpered a little, shrinking back into the covers. "No.... I don't want my blood drained!"

"Very few people ever want that. But that's what he'd do. Spike is not your friend. Spike is a very scary bad guy." She felt guilty, seeing how frightened Matt and Jasmine were, and remembered, too late, that they weren't from the Hellmouth, and hadn't learned to take this kind of horrible news in stride. "But this is at least a positive confirmation that it's Spike, and not some other vampire in the forest. Which is... more information, even if it's not good. I'll go tell a couple teachers."

Willow made her way to the dungeons, confident that she would find her uncle making potions. He'd been worried about the dangers ever since she'd told him about the vampire in the forest. A cool prickling let her know that she wasn't alone. The Baron was there, and beside him was Nearly Headless Nick, looking uncharacteristically grim.

"Did the children get away?" Nick's question was full of dark worry.

"They're in the infirmary now. Minor injuries, scared half to death, one of them suffered minor blood loss. Madam Pomfrey said most of them could probably leave now, but she wants them to stay since she gave them some hefty calming potions for their age, and one of them needed a blood replenishing draft. It was Spike. Of course, they're convinced that Draco's evil vampire brother is lurking in the forest," Willow sighed. "Any idea where he's lairing?"

"No." The Baron was scowling again. "We've been searching, but have not found his home. Peeves is cowering under the school."

"Something about railroad spikes... I didn't want to ask for details." Nick's words were filled with unease and dismay.

Willow shivered, remembering those terrible images that the Watcher's Journals had provided for her. "Spike is a very bad man. He is not our friend. Peeves has my sympathy on that... I've read the Watcher's Journals. I can guess about the railroad spikes. You don't want to know."

Her uncle's laboratory door was closed, so Willow stopped outside it, feelign to see if he'd used magic to keep it shut. Not feeling any locking spells or barriers, she carefully opened the door, seeing her uncle slowly stirring a cauldron that appeared to be filled with rust colored smoke. She walked softly, uncertain how delicate the potion was, and not wanting to cause a disaster by interrupting his concentration. Maybe it would be best to just sit here and wait for him to say anything.

Nick patted her shoulder, in a gesture of support that left her shoulder cold and numb. Leaning closer, he whispered to her. "Don't worry, you won't be alone in this. I'll just go see if anyone's figured out his hiding place, shall I?"

Finally, her uncle sighed, and removed the cauldron from the fire, obviously intending for it to cool. He looked over, seeing her, the Baron still at her side, both of them looking unhappy. "What news?"

"A group of students went into the forest and narrowly escaped being eaten by the vampire. It is indeed Spike." The Baron frowned, clearly unhappy. "We, the ghosts, have been trying to find his lair, with little success so far."

Willow made a small shrug, as if uncertain how much she could add. "That's the most of it. He scared the kids, they're in the infirmary. No serious injuries. They think he looks like a Malfoy. It could make a bit of trouble for Draco, I think."

"We are most fortunate that none of the students were killed. I'm surprised it wasn't Potter and his friend," He shook his head, looking somehow wearier than he had a few minutes before. "I think that's all the more we can do without knowing where he is. Will Madam Pomfrey be needing more blood replenishing draughts?"

"Tthere isn't much more we can do without knowing where Spike is. Or why he came here. On the bright side, Madam Pomfrey only needed to use one blood replenishing draught, but she gave all five of them a dose of a calming potion, I think she called it the Pacifae Draft?" Willow whispered, feeling something stirring in her mind. Maybe it was the start of a plan, or of insanity. Maybe it was fear, no, there was definitely fear. "I think I'll just go back to the Ravenclaw tower for now."

end part 21.

Chapter Text

Willow slept badly, her slumber interrupted by images of Spike. Spike standing over the dead bodies of the younger students in the Forbidden Forrest. Spike standing over a bloody and very dead Xander in the abandoned factory back in Sunnydale. Spike, about to sink his fangs into Draco in the Great Hall. Spike, demanding that she cast a love spell, make Drusilla come crawling back to him...

By the time she'd made her way down to breakfast, feeling worn and more tired than she had been last night, the news was all over the school. How the fourth years had been attacked by a vampire in the forest. The vampire had looked like Draco. He'd tried to kill them. Now, there were all sorts of rumors flying, including the idea that Draco was a vampire, or that he'd sent the boys out for his vampire kin to eat. After all, two of them were muggle-born. Of course he wanted them to suffer and die.

Willow tried to ignore the rumors flying about. They were more intrusive than the owls, even the particularly clumsy one trying to deliver a letter to the girl next to Willow, that accidentally spilled her goblet of pumpkin juice, nearly drenching Willow's lap. That was when she decided to leave the Great Hall, slipping out quietly. Probably everyone would be too busy with the rumors to even notice.

She wasn't quite certain how long she'd been in the hallway, staring out a window, letting her eyes go unfocused at the sparkles on the lake. The squid was quiet today, and the sun was shining. It should have been a wonderful morning. Her attention was brought back by someone tugging at her elbow. She spun around, gathering magic around her other hand, stopping herself when she realized the someone was Draco.

The only obvious signs were the fact that his hair had been mussed, and there were a few tiny traces of tension at his eyes and mouth, but Willow could tell. He looked miserable. Maybe nobody else would see the tension in his shoulders, or the way his fingers twitched for a weapon… Probably a wand for Draco.

"Calm down, tree. It's me, standing in the sunlight and alive." Draco's voice was tight as he tried not to let any emotions out.

"I guess you've heard them then. The rumors." Willow sighed, letting the gathered magic dissipate back into the surroundings. "It's not your fault."

"Think it would help any if I said that I don't have any older brothers?" Draco tried to smile, but it didn't quite work, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his robe to disguise the twitching fingers.

"Considering the time it took to convince the majority of the school that I'm not having an affair with Uncle Sev... maybe in a few weeks. There is a bit of a resemblance, but..." Willow shrugged, looking back out the window. "He tried to grab little kids, Draco."

"I was hoping for a bit more optimism there." Draco shook his head, taking hold of her elbow and towing her along the hallway. "A bit of reassurance that I won't be having people jumping out at me with crosses and sharp bits of wood."

"Optimism? When Spike's around? Not too likely. He's got half the school terrified, and the other half should be." Willow glared at a passing student, someone that she remembered having made a few cutting remarks about her uncle.

"I still don't know why he's here. He should be near Bath. That's where they are, after all. And Mum's gone on an extended family visit. Checking up on a few relatives that she despises." Draco sighed, glancing at the floor. "I hate this. I'm pretty sure it's all father's fault."

Willow followed Draco, lost in her thoughts. Draco was right, Spike should be trying to come up with a way to get Dru back, not here, almost on the other side of the country from her. There had to be some sort of reason why he wasn't where Drusilla was, though it was possible that they hadn't separated in Bath. "We need to know why he's here and not there. That's the key with him, knowing what he wants."

Draco stopped so quickly that Willow ran into him, and his face was ashen pale as he looked at her. "You can't possibly be thinking about what I think you're thinking..."

"You've been spending too much time with me. Nobody else would we have understood that." Willow almost managed a smile. "But I probably am thinking what you think I'm thinking."

Draco made a small noise, and shook his head. "If Spike doesn't kill you in this mad plan, your uncle will. Living over the Hellmouth has left you entirely devoid of any sense!"

"Got a better plan? We have to do something. We have to keep him from killing the students. And we have to save your father from Dru, or maybe it's save Dru from your father, I'm not quite sure which..." Willow was thinking out loud, hoping there might be a satisfactory ending out of this mess. One that didn't involve any students dead, or kidnapped, or suffering from any new mental traumas.

Draco made a sort of choking noise. "Have you forgotten that we're students? What's to keep him from killing us?"

"Spike's a lot of things, but not an idiot. There has to be a reason why he's here. They're in Bath, and there has to be a lot of witches between Bath and here. And he can't possibly still be drunk, which means there's a plan. Maybe not a good plan, but there will be one," Willow looked at Draco. "Will you help me?"

Draco closed his eyes, sighing. "You're going to get me killed, Willow."

"Remember rule one: Don't Die," She looked at him, and placed her hand on his shoulder. "It's the only plan I've got."

Draco looked at her, shoulders drooping, "Right. And if we survive this and the wrath of your uncle, I suppose that we'll bloody well be heroes."

end part 22.

Chapter Text

After a whispered debate, they decided to go out after his last class of the day, which was History of Magic. Draco had tried to talk her into the pair of them leaving during class, which he claimed was so dull that nobody would be awake enough to care that he left. Maybe not awake enough to even notice.

That didn't make sense to Willow. First off, Draco's History class was early enough in the day that a vampire would still be asleep. Secondly, while her private study sessions with Binns may have wandered occasionally… regularly… okay, every single time they talked about history, she'd never once considered them dull.

Draco had given her the 'you're insane' look again when she'd said that.

One of these days, when they didn't have to worry about insane vampires sleeping with Draco's father the evil wizard who'd wanted to use Draco in some horrible ritual for the Dark Lord, or maybe drunk and maybe hung over impatient vampires in the forest, or mounds of homework, she might have to drop in on an actual History of Magic class, just to see what everybody else was talking about. There had to be some sort of reason.

Draco still thought her half of a plan was a fragment of insanity. Honestly, she wasn't entirely certain that she could argue about that. Sneak out of the castle into the Forbidden Forest, a place inhabited by all sorts of monsters including giant spiders, and search out an unbalanced, possibly hungry vampire that enjoyed killing people, so they could find out why he was here and not off killing someone else far away. Except that she couldn't stop thinking that there had to be a reason why Spike was here instead of lurking near Dru.

"We can still change our minds. Plead a sudden attack of sense and self preservation, and follow the rules that say we should stay inside." Draco's voice was soft, as if he didn't want the sound to carry.

For a moment, Willow was tempted. Very tempted. But then her mind flashed back to those frightened kids in the infirmary, to the whispered rumors about Draco-the-vampire. "We're going to do this, to solve this. We figure out what he wants, and we find a way to keep him from eating any of the students. It should be… well, at least our goals are pretty straightforward."

"If you get me killed, I'm haunting you for the rest of eternity." Draco glared at her, his arms folded across the front of his black robe. It was amazing how Spike-like the expression was…

Willow winced a little at the idea. But she didn't like the seriousness that his words implied, so she tried just a little to lighten the mood. "And here I thought that guys were supposed to be commitment-shy. Especially young guys."

"Very funny. But I mean it – I don't want us to get killed." Draco was trying very hard not to let the broom that he was carrying shake as they slipped out the front gates. He wasn't having much luck, and the broom was long enough that the shaking showed.

"I know. I don't want us to get killed either." She tried a whispered spell to deflect attention, not something as complicated as invisibility, but more of a don't-notice-us effect. Slightly nervous, she settled behind him on his broom, and they started towards the forest.

"What if someone asks why we're out here? Before we get to the forest?" Draco's soft words held some nervousness.

"Umm… assignment from Hagrid on the proper care and feeding of something dangerous?" Willow tried not to worry, tried to remember all the reasons why this had to work.

"That would only work because the forest is filled with something dangerous – lots of them. I think it's the Hellmouth, it corrupted your brain. Not in a simple, easily understood I-want-power-and-world-domination sort of way, but the way that has us looking for a vampire." Draco sighed, shaking his head. "And you don't see the problems with this insane plan of yours."

Carefully, they flew into the forest, going into the murky twilight that filled the spaces between the huge trees. Willow created a globe of pale green light, which gleamed off trails of slime on the ground and massive spider webs among the trees. They tried to skirt around the webbed areas, partly to avoid the spiders, and partly because Spike couldn't actually be in the spiders' area without them having found him already.

There was a hint of motion on the ground, and something the size of a rabbit darted away from a tree, fleeing their presence. It was heading towards some thorny looking branches that seemed to hold a scale covered horse with huge bat-like wings. Willow blinked, trying to figure out if it was a Thestral or soemthing even stranger, and how dangerous it might be.

But the maybe-rabbit never made it to the thorny shrubs. A pale headed shape lunged from behind a tree, snatching up the small animal and biting into it. After a very short time, the now-carcass was tossed away. Spike looked around, scowling with yellow vampire eyes and traces of blood on his lips.

Draco was staring at the vampire, ignoring the fact that the leathery Thestral was now eating the carcass of the small animal. "He does sort of look like me…"

Soft as the words were, they were loud enough for Spike to hear. He looked up, spotting the pair of them hovering in the air on a broom. "Well now… if it isn't little Red again. And who's that with you? Hmm… he reminds me of someone…"

"This is your fault, Willow." Draco's whisper almost managed to hide his fear.

"Right, he reminds me of that bastard who lured Dru away." Spike glared at them, one hand curling into a fist. "Now, what shall I do about this?"

Willow tried to speak, pausing to moisten her lips. Spike was scary, even if they were on a broom hovering out of his reach. "I figured that you had a plan. Some reason that you're here instead of in Bath, plotting ways to kill Lucius Malfoy."

"Bit far from home, aren't you, Red?" Spike leaned against a tree, arms folded over his chest as he stared at them. Absently, he licked the last bit of blood from his lips before continuing. "So, if you're smart enough to figure that out, why the bloody hell are you out here looking for me? That Slayer isn't around now to keep you safe."

"See, I'm not the only one who thinks this plan isn't so good." Draco muttered, then paused before he whispered, "and I just agreed with the vampire."

"You have a plan, or part of a plan, or else you wouldn't be here. And there isn't anywhere that you could possibly have found enough alcohol to keep you drunk for the whole time, so there must be a reason why you stayed." Willow looked at him, part of her mind insisting that she'd gone crazy, and another part demanding to know if someone had spiked her pumpkin juice that afternoon. "And I sort of wanted to find out what the plan was, in case it involved any potential end of the world, large scale death and destruction, or the kidnapping of me or my friends."

He shook his head, one hand running through pale hair. "Right. Bloody bleeding heart you are, out hugging trees and trying to save the fluffy little animals of the world and all that… So you want to know what I want? I want Dru back where she belongs, with me. I want that damn wizard that she's off shagging dead, and his damn snake lord killed for good measure. Dru's off her rocker saying how she's going to help raise the great serpent and make the world over, how the stars were talking about the fear and death. Who the bloody hell are we supposed to eat if some crazy wizard kills most of the people off?"

Willow blinked, wondering if this was the same sort of near-logic that had lead to Spike helping Buffy to prevent Acathla from sucking the world into hell. "This is… wait, snaky great lord… Voldemort? Dru's trying to help return Voldemort to power?"

She could feel Draco wince at each mention of Voldemort's name. Looking at Spike, she wondered how far he would go. "So, if you wanted to help… err… have someone help you to get rid of Voldemort, why are you here?"

"Because everything that I've heard pointed to only two people who weren't afraid of him, only two people that damn dark lord fears: Albus Dumbledore and some kid named Harry Potter. And they're both here." Spike stepped away from the tree, his gaze fixed on Willow. Giving her a surprisingly charming smile that showed disturbingly red smeared teeth, he continued, "If I'd known that you were here… Well, it might make a few things easier. Care to come down where we can talk about this more reasonably?"

Draco turned, looking at Willow, "There is no way that I'm landing this broom."

"I'm not certain that I trust Spike that much either." She barely managed to restrain the giggle that his words prompted. Looking down at the smiling vampire – which was a cause for unease all by itself, she tried to smile. "Umm… not really. But how about we go tell Dumbledore that you'd like to talk? He is here, the Headmaster of the school."

"Fair enough, Red. You go talk to the old wizard. I'd like an answer tonight." He was definitely smirking as he added, "I'm not the most patient bloke, you know."

"Time to get out of here, Willow." Draco spoke even as he turned the broom to leave the forest. "And since this was your plan, you can do the explanations."

Willow sighed, closing her eyes as she leaned against Draco. A tiny, traitorous part of her wondered I it might have been easier to let Spike kill them as she admitted, "I guess that's fair enough."

End part 23.

Chapter Text

Willow's mind was trying frantically to come up with a plan on the way back. It didn't have to be brilliant, or terribly long term, just enough to keep them from having to scrub floors and polish the trophies from now until oh, sometime next century for this one. Not only had they've been out of their rooms after hours, and in the Forbidden Forest, they'd… well, was there actually a law against talking to vampires, or was that just the sort of thing that was so crazy and foolish they didn't bother? Any way it fell, this was a bad thing. Even for a school with the motto of 'never tickle a sleeping dragon' – and what demented individual thought that saying up? Wasn't that the sort of thing that went without any need to say, as it was so obvious?

"We need to talk to Dumbledore really quick. And I don't know where he is right now, in his office, or asleep, or… what. So, I think... I think we need Uncle Sev in on this." The words emerged reluctantly.

"And after he kills us for this, then we won't have to worry about Spike, will we?" Draco's sarcasm wasn't quite covering the fear.

"He's not going to kill us. We'll just be scrubbing the encrusted gunk off cauldrons for the rest of our time at school," Willow's protest was weak.

"I knew you'd be getting me into trouble," Draco muttered.

"You make it sound like you've never been in any trouble at all before you met me. We might as well get this over with. Spike wasn't kidding when he said he wasn't known for his patience."

"Somehow, that's not reassuring." Draco sighed, "Right, let's get this over with."

Draco followed her as she made her way to the dungeon hallway where her uncle's rooms were. She leaned over to the painting, one of a large dragon fighting a group of armored knights, and murmured to the dragon. "We need to see my uncle. Ambrosius."

The dragon muttered, and growled, tail lashing as the knights pulled back. "Fine. Go in. But if he screams at you, I will laugh."

"Right..." Willow shook her head as they shuffled through the door towards certain trouble and disapproval. "Talking paintings... Whose idea was that anyhow, and why'd everybody like it so much?"

Draco just shrugged, "It's traditional."

Her uncle was seated in a large chair covered in dark leather, scowling as he read through scrolls, marking on them with a quill and red ink. A small fire crackled in a large fireplace, something that would have easily been large enough for three grown men to stand inside of. A pot of tea sat on the small table beside him, necessarily close to the ink bottle.

"Uncle Sev? We need to talk to you, and to Headmaster Dumbledore. It's important." Willow's voice only quavered a little. "and don't be too mad at us, please?"

Placing the quill back into the bottle of ink, her uncle put the scroll down, the open length falling over the rest of the stack of similar scrolls. "What have you done now, Willow? You seem far too nervous for it to be something simple."

"It was all her idea." Draco's words were soft as he quickly pointed at Willow.

Willow glared just a little at Draco. "Stop looking so guilty." Looking back at her uncle, she tried to smile before the words came out in a rush. "Well, it's... okay, it was my idea. We... sort of went out into the Forbidden Forest to find out what Spike's evil plan is. And it's not quite so evil, and he wants to talk to Headmaster Dumbledore about helping or having someone help him kill Lucius Malfoy before Lucius and Drusilla can return Voldemort to power and Spike wants Voldemort dead for good measure. And he wants an answer before sunrise, so we need to talk to Dumbledore and we can't get in, not that we're even sure that he's in his office anyhow, so can you help us? Please?"

"What?" Severus looked at her and Draco. "Could you go through that a bit more slowly, and taking the time to breath this time?"

"We went looking for Spike." Willow paused, glancing at her uncle. He had that closed, blank expression that he normally reserved for class, but this muscle at the corner of his jaw was twitching – not a good sign. "We were careful, we stayed on a broom, and up above him. There had to be a reason why he's here, not trying something directly."

"My father's having another affair. This one's with Drusilla, who's Spike's… something, and he wants her back and my father dead for touching her." Draco added the next bit, sort of edging closer to Willow as he spoke.

"But apparently Drusilla and Lucius Malfoy are planning to restore Voldemort to power, and Spike didn't think he could deal with that alone. And he's only heard of two wizards who weren't afraid of the big dark snake lord, Dumbledore and Harry Potter, so he came here looking for them." Willow tried to explain the situation as best she could, even though her own grasp was a bit sketchy.

"Considering his reputation, why is he opposed to someone causing fear, terror, and confusion?" There was definitely sarcasm in those words. Probably anger as well.

"He said if they killed off all the non-magical people, who would he have left to eat?" Draco spoke again, his voice a bit higher than normal. One hand was touching Willow now, his knuckles brushing against her arm.

"He said that he wants to talk to Headmaster Dumbledore, and we said that we'd relay that message." Willow looked at her uncle, trying to gauge his mood. "We both made it back safely. Nobody was kidnapped, impaled, or bitten."

He nodded once, still with that same expression. "This is definitely something for Dumbledore to know about. Well then, follow me, and you can explain all of this to him as well."

Feeling rather unsettled, almost like a leaf in the current headed towards a whirlpool, Willow followed her uncle. Draco followed her, looking rather unhappy. They walked back out along the dungeon hallway, up the flight of stairs, and along a much less dismal looking hall to a huge gargoyle carved from dark gray stone. Facing it, her uncle sighed before speaking in a voice filled with unhappiness. "Gummy Bears."

The stone began to twist, and slid around, revealing a spiral staircase leading upwards, soft golden light spilling down. They made their way up the spiraling stairs, emerging in a warm office, almost cluttered with strange objects, the walls lined with paintings of old wizards and a few old witches. A brilliant scarlet and gold bird that didn't quite look like anything that Willow could recognize sat on a perch, preening feathers that wouldn't have been out of place on a peacock or parrot with the sort of beak that belongs on a hawk. It almost looked like there were little sparks as the feathers moved.

Draco leaned over, tilting his head slightly to indicate the bird. "That's a phoenix, Dumbledore has him instead of an owl. His name's Fawkes."

"Headmaster, these two have... a very interesting evening to explain to you." Uncle Sev didn't sound at all happy.

Looking at them both over the rims of his glasses, the Headmaster nodded at them. "Young Mister Malfoy, Miss Rosenberg – how unexpected. Please, sit down. Lemon drop? Is this something of a family matter, perhaps?"

Draco made a strangled noise at the mention of family matters.

Willow took one, feeling rather nervous. "Thank you."

"Now, if you could just explain what happened... and the events leading up to it?" His question sounded calm enough.

"Well, I guess it really started when... um... I guess it started a couple nights ago with the really big spider that came to warn Hagrid about something killing animals in the forest..." Willow started to explain.

End part 24.

Chapter Text

"Well, I must say that that is quite a tale. If only more students had such interesting reasons for breaking the rules. Not the sort of problem that I was expecting with a young wizard, a pretty witch, and an angry relative at all," Dumbledore shook his head, eyes twinkling. "I suppose that I shall have to meet with this vampire. The two of you... You are supposed to be in your respective common rooms studying or resting, I believe. Perhaps you should go there."

Draco nodded, looking relieved. "Yes, sir. Umm... You will be careful? He's... he's dangerous."

Severus spoke, his voice nearly flat. "Dumbledore has not reached his advanced age by being entirely careless. The two of you may rest assured that he will be able to speak with a vampire and return safely. That resting should also take place in your rooms, as you are both supposed to be sleeping now. Tomorrow, I will let you know what sort of punishment you will receive for entering the Forbidden Forest."

For a moment, Draco looked as if he was going to protest. Then it was as if he sort of sank back into himself. "Yes, sir, Professor Snape."

Willow shook her head, thinking about all the times she'd ended up receiving disapproving looks in school for helping Buffy. "At least you know that we're trying to help people, and not just fairly certain that I'm hanging out with a bad influence. I mean, Mom's disappointed lectures in 'that Bunny girl' leading me astray... they were bad. And sort of frustrating. She kept telling me that I needed to be more responsible, and I was out late fighting vampires and helping identify killer demons."

"Yes, I know that you were only trying to help." He herded them out of the office, scowling the whole time. "You are still in trouble. There are reasons why the Forrest is forbidden, and many reasons why you shouldn't look for vampires. Now, off to your rooms."

Draco glanced over at Willow, and muttered, "I knew you were going to get me in trouble."

Willow nibbled on her lip, half studying her toes and half glancing at Draco. "Like you never broke any rules before you met me. And nobody has killed either of us – that's always a plus."

"Well..." Draco paused, clearly considering her comment. "I suppose that's true. But it was never Professor Snape that was angry at me before."

"He can't stay mad at us forever," Willow looked at him, realizing just how much her uncle's unhappiness was affecting Draco.

"Probably not, but..." Draco shook his head, letting the words fall unfinished. "I'll see you tomorrow, tree."

Willow made her way to the Ravenclaw tower, her mind filled with memories of Sunnydale, speculation as to what Uncle Sev might decide on for punishment, and worry for the Headmaster. It wasn't until she was making her way up the Ravenclaw tower that it hit her just what the Headmaster's first thought about why she and Draco were being brought to him by an angry uncle Sev. She turned crimson, making a few vowel sounds as thoughts and images flickered across her mind about how Dumbledore had thought that she and Draco were having an affair, maybe been caught by her uncle.. How he might have even feared that there would need to be a visit to the school nurse.

She barely noticed the Baron stalking along one hallway, his scowl nearly a match for the one her uncle had displayed. She let herself into the common room, almost missing the figure curled up in one of the large chairs near the fireplace.

Alacia sat there, the firelight making the tear tracks on her face shimmer. One hand held a long scroll that she was staring at. She looked so upset, as if she'd just learned something terrible...

Willow blinked, feeling an unexpected surge of sympathy. She didn't like Alacia, and Alacia couldn't stand her, why did she care what was happening to the other girl? "Umm... Alacia? It's sort of late, you might want to go to bed."

Alacia didn't even look away from the paper, but one hand was twisting a strand of hair around her fingers. New tears began to fall, and Alacia began to sob, managing to stammer out "My grandmother's been kidnapped. Whoever did it killed her toy poodles. Just left them in the park, their necks... just..."

Willow moved closer, a quick gesture bringing a handkerchief that she offered to Alacia. "I'm sure that there are people trying to find her. I mean, people look for missing old ladies, even in England, right?"

Wiping gently at her cheeks, Alacia nodded. "Of course they're looking. But she's from Bath, they just don't get that many kidnappings. What if they... what if they're not very good at finding people? What if Grandma's heart gives out?"

Something cold moved into Willow's gut at those words. Alacia's grandmother was from Bath? The same city where Dru and Lucius Malfoy were plotting to restore Voldemort to power? The chances that this could be a coincidence, considering what Alacia had just said about Bath being unusued to crime was disturbingly small. "Alacia, if she's your grandmother, I'm sure that she's stubborn enough not to let her heart give out on her now. Is there... Why would someone kidnap an old witch? Umm... I meant that in the magical way, not the insulting sort of way, because I don't know your grandma and... umm, I'm not helping, am I?"

Alacia gave a feeble chuckle, looking up at Willow for the first time. "Well, you made me smile at least. I'm not sure. If it was for ransom, there would have been a message by now. There wasn't... nobody saw the Mark, so it couldn't have been that.

"Grandma... she opposed the Dark Lord. Loudly. That's... some of his Death Eaters tried to kill her, and that's why she's got a weak heart now. But my family's not the richest in England, or in Bath, so I don't think that sounds likely. She's not as beautiful now as she was in her youth, so that's not it. The only thing that I can think of... Grandma sometimes has visions. Of the future. She got an O for her Divinations NEWT. But... there are scrying spells, and other ways to consult a Seer, if that's what someone wants."

Willow bit back the half formed suspicions and worries. Even if it was Dru and Lucius that had kidnapped Alacia's grandmother, what good would it do to mention that right now? What good would it do to bring it up to a distraught Alacia? "I'm sure that when she's found, the police... umm, wizard police are called Aurors, right? I'm sure they'll be able to figure out why."

"I hope you're right, Willow." Alacia slowly stood up from the chair, using the sort of slow, careful movements that said her legs had fallen asleep. "And I do need to go to bed."

Willow walked with Alacia, partly to make certain the other girl didn't tumble and fall down the stairs, and partly because their rooms were in the same direction. It was almost unsettling to see such a human side of Alacia. Of course, it still didn't make her nice, or Willow's friend, but... She could understand the worry.

End part 25.

Chapter Text

Morning somehow didn't make things feel better. Willow had that stiff feeling of not enough sleep, accompanied by the feeling that she'd had unpleasant dreams, not that any of them remained in her mind. Spike was in the forest, had tried to eat some of the students, and wanted to kill Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort. Alacia's grandmother had been kidnapped, possibly by Lucius and Dru. And she was pretty sure that she was going to be in trouble for going into the Forbidden Forest and talking to Spike. Maybe even for breaking cufew if her uncle remembered that detail… and he probably would.

Eventually, Willow managed to pull her clothing on, and grabbed one of the black robes, gesturing for it to button itself up. She decided to just brush her hair out and leave it loose, not quite feeling up to messing with it yet, and grabbed some of her books before stumbling down the stairs.

Collapsing into a seat, she flipped open the Charms book, thinking that it might be easier to try some of these without her wand, since it had helped so much with the Transfiguring beetles to buttons. As she flipped through the pages, Willow sighed, wondering why on earth they felt the need for so many specific spells. Why not just learn to do a bit of general telekinetics to move this or that, or to summon things instead of that accio object? 'Accio broom' might be nice, but what if you wanted a list? Or if you knew what the thing you wanted was but didn't know the name of it?

"Scowling at the book won't help you figure the Charms out." Alacia's voice sounded a bit different than her usual cool mocking, tighter, as if she was trying to keep any emotion from emerging at all.

"It's more like trying to figure out why you have so many specific things and not more general ones. What if you need an object, and you know it's the third one on the shelf, but not the name of it? You can't accio it over then, and if you need it really badly right now, you're toast." Willow looked at the other girl, noticing the way that her hair looked a bit less perfect, and the way that Alacia's face had waxy look of osmoene who hadn't slept much, if at all.

"And did your private tutor have a way around that?" There was almost a sneer in her voice, but no true malice. Maybe she just didn't have the energy for it. She looked like she was taking her grandmother's kidnapping hard… it made her seem more human.

"Actually, yes. Generalized telekinetic movement. I will it to move, and it moves. Not as limited as leviosa or accio, and all you have to do is watch the weight. Anything from quills to teacups to swords and books. I've actually moved a…" Willow glanced at her audience, and amended her words slightly. "I've moved a person with it before."

"How?" Alacia's eyes were locked onto her, entirely focused.

"Because magic isn't about little sticks or old books. It doesn't depend on cauldrons or herbs – though they can help. Magic is about using your will and inner power to make things happen. Wands help you focus that power, but without the will, nothing happens." Willow closed the Charms book, dropping it into her satchel. Looking over, she pointed her wand at a chess set, and gently floated it over to the table.

"And when someone takes your wand away?" One of the seventh years, a rather solid looking boy who was a beater on the Ravenclaw Quiddith team asked.

"The wand isn't where the magic comes from. The magic is mine… well, it's inherent in the witch or wizard. The wand is a focusing tool, sort of like using binoculars to look at something. It helps, but it isn't what makes you see." Willow looked at them, wondering if she could actually make them understand what had always seemed so obvious, or at least, had seemed obvious since she'd learned that magic was real. "If they take your wand, well, you'd probably hit them with your bludger bat, and that would solve that problem. Lots of problems can be solved by hitting things until they stop bothering you. But the point was that it's possible to do magic without a wand, just a bit harder."

"Prove it." There was something in Alacia's voice, something hinting that the possibility of wandless magic was suddenly important to the other girl. It could be that Alacia wanted something – anything – to distract her from her grandmother's kidnapping.

Shrugging, Willow tucked her wand into her satchel, and meandered across the room, far enough that it would be obvious that she wasn't using it. Glancing around at the room, Willow smiled and reached her hand towards a fallen embroidery hoop with someone's fallen cross-stitching. It lifted into the air and sailed over, just like the accio summoning charm, and hovered there, the edges unfolding so that it was more clearly visible. There was a large raven, with gleaming blue and black feathers, the eyes still not sewn in, perched on a mostly finished Ravenclaw crest, part of the letters placed in, so that it proclaimed 'Ravenc'. Looking at it, Willow smiled. "This is very nice, and probably shouldn't stay on the floor. With another gesture, she floated it over to the same table that held the chess set.

"But… no wand." One of the second years protested, his eyes wide as he stared at the embroidery. "You can't just… that's controlled! Only accidental magic happens without a wand."

"Isn't real wandless magic… only in faerie tales?" Jasmine's voice was uncertain. "And I was looking for that last night. It must have been kicked under the chair."

"Magic just is. There's probably at least a dozen different ways that people use it now, and who knows how many have been used in the past. Magic without a wand is as real as people turning into cats or vampires or flying on a broom." Willow smiled a little, remembering watching as Professor McGonagall had turned into a very ordinary looking striped cat. "It's just a bit harder to control."

"Well, maybe we should all think about that over breakfast. Let's go, everyone." Jasmine shook her head, fingers brushing over her Prefect's badge.

With assorted mutterings and comments, people started on their way towards the great hall for breakfast, not being curious enough to skip the meal. Willow found herself wondering just what Alacia might be planning, and the question nagged at her – if it had been Drusilla and Lucius Malfoy who had kidnapped her grandmother, why? Drusilla might be crazy, but there would be a reason why she'd kidnapped someone, even if only as a snack for later… eeew. Willow just hoped that they managed to figure it out in time. Alacia's grandmother suddenly had a lot less of it than she'd had last week.

End part 26.

Chapter Text

Breakfast was quite normal, right up to the point where the morning owls arrived with letters, packages and a few Howlers. The whole hall learned that one very embarrassed small Hufflepuff named Aurora Marie Halloway had utterly appalled her mother as a result of several letters sent home about her conduct at school, and she 'had best keep her school books presentable this year, as they would NOT be replaced!' Another person from the Gryffendor table had grabbed their Howler and bolted from the hall, actually making it out the door before there was the sound of a loud detonation, with wisps of reddish smoke drifting into the Great Hall. Three owls dropped letters in front of Alacia, one of them being an official looking document with a green wax seal that caused her to tense and grow very pale.

Willow watched as Alacia had dropped her toast, and lifted one of the normal looking letters with shaking hands. She opened it and actually became paler as she read, her face taking on an unhealthy waxy color that Willow had previously only seen on vampires and corpses right before she lurched to her feet and stumbled out of the hall. Willow wasn't certain how much Alacia was actually noticing, but knew shock when she saw it.

Glancing at Jasmine, she floated Alacia's other two letters into her hand and left the table also. "I'm going to see if I can help her out."

As Willow hurried after Alacia, she tried to figure out why she was so worried about Alacia. The British girl wasn't her friend, and she reminded her more of early Cordelia than anyone else. But… Maybe it was a leftover effect of helping Buffy, or maybe it was her near certainty that Alacia's grandmother had been taken as part of some nasty plan of Drusilla and Lucius Malfoy. All she knew was that she felt the need to help out, and Alacia could be in danger stumbling around like that. Drat, maybe Draco was right, and Sunnydale had given her all the wrong reactions to trouble involving vampires.

"Alacia!" Willow tried to get her attention, and then broke into a run, actually grabbing her sleeve to drag her to a halt. "You can't just go around like this."

"She… they…" Tears were forming in her eyes, and Alacia's arms wrapped around herself.

Willow pulled Alacia into an empty classroom, pulling up a chair for the other girl to sit on. "What was in the letter?"

Alacia just pushed the slightly crumpled page to Willow, dropping it as if it would turn and bite her. "Read it."

Willow glanced at the page, her eyes skimming over it. There were comments about relatives, which she tried to ignore, although apparently an aunt had been having horrible dreams about snakes and porcelain dolls. What jumped out at her was the word 'vampire'. Heart pounding, Willow reread that section. The investigating Auror had found signs that a vampire had been present when her grandmother had been abducted, and a silencing spell had been placed to mask the event. Her mother felt certain that this could only mean that Granmere was dead.

"A vampire and a wizard… Dreams about snakes and porcelain dolls…" Willow let the letter fall, looking at Alacia. "I think I know who's responsible for this. If I'm right, your grandmother's not dead. There's this vampire – her name's Drusilla. She's gotten involved with a Death Eater, and they plan to do something to put Voldemort in a position to rule England."

"Don't say his name. He's not back, he can't be back, and he can't rule England… it would be too awful." Alacia's protest seemed equal parts habit and fear. "Why would she take my grandmother for that? She's violently opposed to the Dark Lord."

"They probably found some sort of ritual. There's a plan, or else they would have just killed her and left her body with her dogs." Willow paused, realizing how harsh that must have sounded. "Alacia… I didn't mean… I don't want anything to happen to your grandmother. But she's slightly safer for now if they have a ritual that they need her for, even if we don't know what that could be. Maybe they just wanted a sane Seer."

"Sane?" Alacia frowned, her color looking a bit more human and less waxy. "My grandmother is sort of eccentric, but what does that have to do with anything?"

"Drusilla's insane. She has been for over a century, as a result of what her Sire did to her before he turned her. She's pretty enough, if you like girls, and she was brought up to have nice manners, but she's an insane vampire, and they're all pretty big with the blood and the violence and the scaring people. Now she's got herself mixed up with an evil wizard. Maybe they wanted a Seer who didn't always have tea parties with her dolls." Willow held out the other envelopes, "These are yours."

"Dolls?" Alacia looked at her, eyes narrowing slightly. She ignored the other letters, demanding "What about dolls?"

"Drusilla collects porcelain dolls. Apparently, she thinks that they talk to her." Willow offered, wondering if Alacia was thinking about the nightmares of her aunt or just wondering about the absurdity of discussing porcelain dolls in the same breath as vampires.

"How can we save my grandmother? If we tell the Auror investigating…" Alacia stood up, looking as if she wanted to go charging to the rescue herself.

"They probably wouldn't believe us. And I don't really have the sort of evidence that would hold in a muggle court, so I doubt it would hold with magical judges either." Willow sighed.

"What is your evidence?" Alacia looked curious now, and slowly sank back into her chair.

Willow paused, trying to figure out the best way to explain this without airing Draco's family troubles. "I knew that Drusilla is in Bath, and that she's having an affair with a wizard. Her wizard is a Death Eater who's tried to help V – oh, fine, tried to help the Dark Lord regain his strength before. You remember the fuss over the attacked students? The vampire in the forest is Spike, who's been involved with Drusilla for over a century. He's really angry that she left him for this wizard, and he wants the wizard dead, Dru back with him, and the Dark Lord squished on general principle."

"Is that a good thing?" Alacia looked fascinated. "And how do you know all the names involved?"

"They were in Sunnydale, where I'm from, last year. It's also the home of a Hellmouth, or maybe it's the Hellmouth, Giles wasn't quite clear on that part. But they were there, and we learned a bit about them as we were trying to keep from getting killed. Spike is not a good guy, and I don't think he's a Malfoy either," Willow shuddered, disliking the whole mess. "If the Death Eaters weren't planning to kill as many not magical people as they could, he wouldn't care. A few deaths and a bit of torture of a house full of people here and there would probably be completely normal to him. But they're threatening his food supply, and he doesn't like that sort of thing. Same reason he didn't want the world to get sucked into hell. No more people to eat."

"That's why he's wanting to do this? So he can keep eating people? Eeww…" Alacia looked pale again. "Do we… should anyone interfere? I don't know enough to try to get rid of a vampire, even a sane one."

"I think we should help make sure Dru's plan to raise his evil snakyness fails. I don't really care if Spike is happy or not, I just don't want the nasty plan of the worse guys to succeed." Willow sighed, thinking that things could get so complicated. Life was easier when everything was in black and white.

End part 27.

Chapter Text

"How do we ensure that they fail?" Alacia's soft question revealed that she was pulling herself back together.

"We… actually, I don't know. That's why we're going to go talk to my uncle and see if he has any plans. When in over your head, ask someone who has experience in the subject. I don't know how to stop a fully trained evil wizard, so we're asking another fully trained wizard for advice. Maybe two if Professor Flitwick's there." Willow stood up, tugging on Alacia's sleeve. "And you're coming with me to explain about your family."

She tugged Alacia all the way down to the dungeon, where her Uncle was busily brewing up something orange and shimmery through a range of orange, gradually getting darker and closer to red. She wasn't quite certain what it was, but she recognized a couple of the ingredients as things used in healing potions. Waiting until he wasn't slicing or adding anything, she spoke up. "Uncle Sev, we have a complication."

"Since it appears that Miss Clearwater still has her lips and presumably all other parts, shall I assume that you aren't coming to mention a fight?" There was a hint of sarcasm in her uncle's voice, and his eyebrow raised a little. He continued to stir the still shimmering potion, which was now giving off thin wisps of reddish orange steam and a scent like cinnamon and rust.

"Her grandmother's been kidnapped. Not only that, but according to… well, according to a letter explaining what the Auror found, there was a vampire and a silencing spell. I don't quite know why anyone would want to kidnap an aging seer, but I don't think it's anything good." Willow tried to hurry the words out before he could protest.

"Miss Clearwater, where does your grandmother live?" His voice was as smooth as it seemed to go, and almost non-threatening.

"She lives in Bath." Alacia's voice was slightly curious. "You… You know about this vampire that Willow mentioned, don't you?"

"Indeed." He looked positively grim in that moment. "More telling, I know who her wizardly paramour is. Your grandmother is in danger, Miss Clearwater."

"How much danger is she really in? An insane vampire seeking to restore the Dark Lord doesn't exactly…" Alacia swallowed, as if trying to control her emotions. "She sounds dangerous, but I'm not certain how successful her plans would be."

"Her paramour is my father." Draco's voice was filled with tension as he stepped into view, carrying a handful of pale green leaves. "The vampire in the forest is her lover, or maybe it would be closer to call him the jealous discarded lover."

Alacia swayed on her feet, one hand reaching out to lean on a table. "My grandmother has been kidnapped by… by Lucius Malfoy and a lunatic vampire? Merlin help us all."

"Merlin hasn't been very helpful lately." Draco dropped placed the leaves on a table near Uncle Sev, his hands shaking just a little. "So, my father the Death Eater is having an affair with a vampire, whose scorned lover is lurking in the forest and further tarnishing my reputation. Now he's kidnapping old witches. Mother always did tell me that my final year of schooling would be memorable."

"And you're not working with your father on this?" Alacia looked doubtful.

Drawing himself very straight, Draco put on his most haughty expression. "I am Draco Malfoy, and I refuse to become a minion to somebody that can be defeated by a baby. "

"After years of you taunting the muggle born, and going on and on about how pure-bloods are better, I'm expected to believe you don't want to join up and get yourself a new tattoo?" Alacia arched one eyebrow and tried to sneer.

"I still don't like muggles, I still think that bringing in all the muggle born and raised is eroding the traditions and history of the wizarding world, and I'm still sure that most of the time, pure-bloods are better," Draco sighed, seeming to crumple inwards, even though was still sitting mostly straight in the chair. "My father was planning to do… something to me over the summer, as a sign of his loyalty to the Dark Lord. It would have destroyed… what made me Draco, maybe killed me. There's a big difference between not liking muggles and demanding that people destroy their children because you say so. I don't like muggles, and probably never will. But the Dark Lord… no. Just… no."

"Lucius didn't even hesitate," Uncle Sev whispered.

" Oh… I didn't… I'm sorry," Alacia mumbled, her cheeks turning pink.

Several moments of awkward silence passed, with Willow watching as Draco chopped up the leaves and her uncle slowly stirred them intot he steaming potion. This caused it to change from a reddish orange to a deep plum color, thogh it still shimmered and steamed.

Alacia fidgeted a little, her fingers tracing over the hems of her sleeves before she blurted out, "Is somebody doing something about the vampire in the forest?"

"Vampires can be pretty hard to deal with." Draco's voice was quiet, and his fingers brushed the top of his shoulder, where he'd been bitten in Sunnydale. "Those eyes, and the teeth… they're a lot scarier up close."

"Dumbledore has insisted that he shall be able to handle Spike, though he neglected to share his plan with me before he left." Uncle Sev's voice was a bit sharper than usual. "I hope that this isn't the time that his tendency to trust people leads to tragedy."

Alacia shivered, and folded her hands together in front o her, perhaps to still the fidgeting. Her eyes apparently focused on a silver ring set with a moonstone and a piece of jet. "I just want Grandma home safely. The aurors should be able to deal with this… Drusilla, they're trained to handle vampires and dark wizards and nasty spells."

"The complication is that to get Grandmother Clearwater safely home, someone will have to go through or around my father and an insane vampire." Draco leaned against a table, and glared at the cauldron. "For her sake, I hope they sent an Auror who isn't impressed by money or politics."

"I don't know, the name isn't one that I recognize. Someone called Enyos Kalderash?" Alacia sighed, her hands dropping to the pocket where she'd stuff her reclaimed envelopes, still unopened.

Willow blinked at the name, certain that Kalderash had been the name of Jenny Calendar's gypsy family. They weren't known for being easily intimidated, and if this Auror was from that curse-wielding clan, then things might be okay. "I knew a witch with that last name once. She… it turned out that she was a gypsy."

"That might actually help. There's supposed to be some gypsy blood in mother's side, it's where the Sight was supposed to have come from. Apparently, a century or so back, a pair of sisters ran away from their clan. One of them was killed by a vampire, and the other married a wizard and became our ancestress. Grandmere's mother. It's supposed to be where Grandmere got her visions," Alacia sighed, looking very tired.

"What happened to the vampire?" Draco's question was soft.

"I don't know. I don't even know if they ever knew which vampire had done it, or if she was killed, or killed and turned." Alacia frowned, "At this point, how would we ever find out anyhow?"

"It was Angelus. They cursed him with a soul, and he has a detective agency in Los Angeles now. Of course, now days he uses the name Angel." Willow murmured, wondering at the coincidence of it all. Alacia didn't look much like Jenny at all, though maybe there was a bit of a resemblance around the eyebrows, and maybe her chin.

"That's the Angel that your friend…" Draco's voice squeaked. "But… you said… well, you did say, actually. I just didn't realize how dangerous he could be."

"You know him?" Alacia blinked, looking at Willow. "You know a vampire?"

"Sort of. We weren't particularly close, although he did date one of my friends, and he helped us fight demons." Willow smiled faintly, deciding not to go into explaining the whole soul mess. "For what it's worth, he didn't turn her. The Kalderash gypsy girl that he killed."

"Your life in California must have been very strange."

Willow fought the urge to sink into a chair and shake like Draco, or to laugh hysterically at the idea of things crashing together like this – Spike, hung over and heartbroken again, someone else affected by Angel's past, her own still half trained magic, insane vampires, evil mages, and a bad guy who wanted to remake the world in accordance to a crazed, blood soaked vision…. It was just like Sunnydale. "You have no idea."

End part 28.

Chapter Text

"Is there anything else that needs done? Something besides sit here and shake and worry. Other than Professor Snape brewing up healing potions and having me fetching him ingredients… as part of a punishment for being out past curfew," Draco's question betrayed his frustration.

"We can't make a complete plan yet, we don't have enough information." Willow sighed and pulled a scrap of parchment and a quill from her bag and started writing. "We need to learn how Dumbledore's talk with Spike went, and… wait, Draco, does your father have a place near Bath, something he's had for a while?"

"Yes. It's been in the family for several generations. We used to go there in June for a while. Why…" Draco paused as his eyes suddenly lit with understanding. "Oh, you think that he's more likely to be staying in something he already owned than to get a new place. Which means that Alacia's grandmother is probably inside."

"Exactly. It's easier to do big rituals and workings when you not only know you've got a space that will work and won't be interrupted, but all the ingredients are already there. He's a traditionalist wizard who doesn't have to hide what he is, he's probably got most of everything that he might need already." Willow nodded, and then passed Draco a scroll. "Can you draw up as much as you can remember of the floor plan, any passages, wards or traps that you know of as well?"

"I suppose so. But there were parts that I've never been into. Some of them would be perfect for keeping ingredients… or a prisoner." Draco began to sketch things out, his quill scratching over the paper.

Alacia looked at Draco and his poorly concealed dismay, and the scowling figure of Severus Snape before glancing at Willow. "Why do you look so calm about this? And why do you sound like you don't trust the aurors to handle things?"

"You mean, why aren't I panicking?" Willow glanced up at her, putting down the feather that she was using to list the things that a fully trained wizard could do, knowing that her list wouldn't be complete. "It's a terrible thing, and I am worried, but… I've faced worse things. This isn't bad enough to make me panic anymore."

"Why not? Don't you know what will happen if they bring He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named back to power?" Alacia's words were filled with worry and anguish.

"I've been kidnapped by vampires and found dead bodies in my school. I've had people that I cared about die. I've faced attempted apocalypses on a deadline, although never alone. Yes, Voldemort is a scary guy. But he's NOT the end of the world, and if he got defeated and weakened once, it can happen again." Willow sighed, curling her feet underneath her. "We're going to come up with a plan, and we're going to stop them. And no, I don't want to just sit back and hope that the aurors can handle the problems… trying that would drive me crazy."

Willow tried to ignore Draco's mutter of "Crazier, you mean."

"Based on what?" Alacia sighed, her hands running over her letters. "How can you be so confident about all of this?"

"Well, I could say that it's because we're the good guys, so that's a big help. But if we give up, then they've won, because you can always try to fight back against the evil." Willow gestured, even as she wondered how Xander and Giles and everybody were doing back in Sunnydale. Had Xander and Cordelia…well, maybe she didn't want to know. What was Buffy doing now that she'd be back from the summer with her dad? "I refuse to give up just because the bad guy has more money, more magical training, and minions on his side."

"Personally, I'm glad of that stubbornness. I just hope you aren't going to get us killed with it," Draco sighed, glancing back at the scroll. "I know some of these rooms are warded. What I don't know is what's in them, and how nasty the wards are. Father's more than willing to use a ward that would kill."

"Somehow, I'm not comforted." Alacia's words lacked their usual bite.

"Draco? Willow? There you two are." The soft voice held a bit of old fashioned flavor. "The Headmaster asked me to pass on an assurance that he is perfectly safe, and has returned from a conversation with someone called Spike. He's also asked… ah, Hello, Professor Snape. The Headmaster wishes to speak to you in his office."

Willow smiled at the ghost, thinking that her gown looked quite similar to the one that Buffy had worn for Halloween. Except for the fact that it was all in silver and gray, from being a ghost. "Thank you. That's very reassuring to know."

The ghost drifted out through the wall, looking as if she was already thinking about something else. Willow smiled, looking over at Draco. "Dumbledore's okay. Spike didn't…. This is looking better."

"He didn't get killed talking to the fellow shouldn't be considered an improvement. An improvement would be oh, maybe the plan is this? Here's a portkey to the house?" Draco scowled at the table. "On second thought, maybe not to the house. Maybe just to Bath?"

"Would you trust a portkey into your father's chosen lair?" Alacia's eyebrow raised as she asked the question.

"Ummm…." Draco paused, the feathery end of the quill brushing over his chin before his shuddered and mumbled, "No. It would probably take us to the dungeons. Or somewhere equally nasty. I just keep feeling like I should be doing about this."

"But what? It's not like there's a handy prophecy that says you will triumph over them." Alacia glanced back at the letters, her hand shaking as her finger traced over the wax seal. "The idea about a prophecy concerning ordinary… well, almost ordinary witches and wizards is ridiculous. Those are for great heroes and Slayers."

There was a snapping sound and Draco's wide eyes focused on Willow. He seemed not to realize that he'd snapped the quill in half, and he swallowed twice before he managed to croak out "What about the people who associate with Slayers?"

Willow glared at Draco, feeling herself shiver from the emotions, the tension, and just plain fear. "Draco, this is already enough of a mess without adding in any prophecies. Do you happen to know how long it takes an owl to fly around the world? Well, to California, wait for a response, and then fly back? Or do we have a faster way to ask Giles?"

"Who's Giles?" Alacia asked, looking at the two of them.

"There are faster ways. But students aren't allowed, and you probably don't know them. Not that he's probably on the Floo network anyhow," Draco shrugged, and then looked very thoughtful. "Didn't you say that Professor Wyndham-Pryce used to be a Watcher as well? Would he know anything about prophecies?"

"Oh!" Willow straightened, blinking in surprise. "That's a great idea! Why didn't I think of it, of course Wesley was a Watcher… Okay, maybe he still needed a lot of… but still, books, he was good at the book part."

"In complete sentences, please?" Alacia's voice could almost have frosted glass.

"Wesley – Professor Wyndham-Pryce. The Council sent him after Faith got to town, and… well, that doesn't matter. What does matter is the fact that he's a Watcher. A fairly junior Watcher without a lot of time out in the field, but still a Watcher. So, he'd got all sorts of knowledge about rituals, demons, spells… and especially prophecies. Watchers are big on prophecies" Willow was almost smiling now. "Someone else to help with the researching…"

Draco threw a crumpled bit of paper at her while Alacia just groaned. "Stop sounding so enthusiastic."

"But Draco, we have lots of big old books, a Watcher, and we know just who the baddie is this time, and we already know what the baddies are, so there's no identify that demon. I don't even know if there are any demons involved. Things are looking up." Willow smiled as she jumped to her feet. "I'll just go find him."

Draco scowled, his arms crossed over his chest. "She's forgetting the part where we have a bloodthirsty vampire lurking in the forest giving me a bad name."

Alacia smirked, looking back at her letters. "You say that as if you'd had a good name to start with, Malfoy."

"It was better before people started to think that I was a vampire." He sighed, and tried to consider their options. "I suppose the question becomes how much faith do we have in the Aurors assigned to the matter?"

End part 29.

Chapter Text

Willow made her way to Wesley's classroom, a corner of her mind surprised that the conversations hadn't taken longer. People were still in the Great Hall having breakfast, going on as if everything was normal. As if there wasn't a vampire lurking in the Forbidden Forest, as if that vampire wasn't Spike, as if… But they didn't know most of it. They only knew that there was a vampire, that they were inside in the daytime, that there were adults around. It gave Willow a pang as she tried to remember if she'd ever been that confident that the adults in her life could fix everything. Fortunately, Wesley was in the Defense classroom, one hand holding a cup of tea as he glanced at the pages of a book.

Waiting until he'd put the teacup down, she tapped one hand on a desk to make a bit of noise and spoke. "Wesley? We need some research."

"What sort of research? I'm afraid that most of the demon books… well, I don't have the whole set anymore." He looked a bit unhappy, possibly ashamed by the admission.

"Wizarding and ritual research. We've got a Dark Wizard and Drusilla kidnapping Seers in Bath, and there has to be a reason. Their big plan, according to the scary vampire in the woods that turned out to be a hung-over Spike, is to bring the great snake back to power, which we're all pretty sure means Voldemort, the guy who's name freaks out every in Wizarding Britain. And we don't have enough information, and I'm not quite sure where to start, and Lucius probably has a gazillion nasty wards and defenses on his house and I don't know what to do about them all, and Alacia started asking about prophecies, and she said her great-great grandmother was a Kalderash and…"

"Willow, breathe!" Wesley raised one hand, looking disturbed by her flood of words. "I can find the books to research. The same with the wards. But surely you realize that the Ministry will send Aurors to deal with the situation?"

"Yeah, well…" Willow paused, trying to figure out how to explain their concerns. "Alacia mentioned that the Aurors near Bath don't run into this sort of thing. Draco said that his father has a long history of buying his way out of trouble. And I'm sort of… well, I want to think that they'll send capable people, but I can't quite convince myself of it."

"Do you have any names of any of the Aurors involved?"

"Apparently the Ministry or whoever tells Aurors where to go…" Willow paused, considering how that had sounded. "um, gives the Aurors their professional orders, that is… They sent one guy to deal with the kidnapping of an old lady. According to Alacia's letter, it's a guy named Enyos Kalderash."

"Kalderash… Where have I heard that name before?" Wesley muttered, sipping at the tea as he tucked a ribbon into the book before closing it, and pulling a handful of slender volumes from a drawer. "No, not there… no, that wasn't it either…"

"The gypsies that cursed Angel. And umm… the computer teacher that Angelus killed." Willow sighed, for a moment wishing that she had her own cup of tea. "If he's anything like she was, then he won't be impressed by the Malfoy fortune. I just hope he's got better luck."

"mmmm. I can see how that would help him. But surely if he's an Auror, he must have had better luck so far," Wesley asked, returning the books to the drawer.

"Hopefully. But the thing is... After Sunnydale, after helping Buffy, I can't just sit back and tell myself that someone else will take care of it. I can't do it. Because too often, I've seen the someone else bungle things and then more people die. And Draco can't just sit back either, I think it's some sort of guy honor thing. Or maybe something about trying to redeem the family name, but I'm not sure how well that would work, and it's really… We don't quite know where to start." Willow sagged, leaning against a student desk. Maybe she was getting a bit wound up about this?

"Yes, well… We can research. Perhaps wards and counters for Dark wards should be the next unit for the Defense classes to start?" Wesley had pulled out another sheet of parchment, and was already scratching notes into it with his left hand.

Willow blinked, momentarily confused. "Wesley? Aren't you right handed?"

"I can take notes with either hand - the result of a few too many injuries while training in my youth. Several casts, and numerous sprains… It simply wouldn't have done to not take notes, so I was forced to learn." He paused, frowning at a darker spot on the wood of his desk. "My father insisted, and well… It's legible enough."

Willow had the feeling that there was probably a lot more to it than what he'd mentioned, but asking more would be prying. Wesley didn't look like he wanted to talk about his family. "Okay. I think I'd better go, I have to gather my books for class anyhow."

Transfiguration went about as usual, with a few complications at figuring out how to use a wand for something and some delays as she tried to sort out the reasons why a spell worked in addition to how it worked. She'd come to the conclusion that part of her delay was that she spent as much or more time trying to figure out HOW the magic could turn a goblet into a bird or a button into a beetle rather than making certain her pronunciation was right, or the exact angle for the swish and flick. But she didn't break anything, and there were no explosions or smoke, or anything worse than a metal-feathered bird that chirped with the sound of water dripping.

Herbology was fun, although it was the sort of fun of something interesting, slightly dangerous and entirely new. Wizarding plants were a whole new type, and while she'd been able to successfully kill Muggle potted plants for years, it was just fascinating to learn about them. She recognized a few of the names as things that Giles had ordered for a few rituals, and something that the Zoo-Keeper had used in his possession ritual, but this was a whole new way to see them. This wasn't some chopped dried bits of green, or some twigs in a bottle, but living plants, dark soil and humidity.

Then, it was time to go help Wesley with a First-year Defense class. It should be simple things, and maybe Wesley'd figured out a few things, or at least a couple places to start? With a sigh, Willow realized that it was almost good that she had so many demands on her time. It didn't give her very much free time, but it kept her from sitting and fidgeting herself into a fit of hyperventilating babble, or walling herself behind a stack of old books until three in the morning.

End 30.

Chapter Text


The research and her regular studies kept Willow fairly busy. It wasn't until dinner, when she settled down at one end of the Ravenclaw table to eat her meal that she had time to think about the whole mess. The fragments of conversation going on didn't help very much.

"… still think Malfoy was behind them almost getting eaten. I mean, we all know how much his family despises muggle-borns, and there were two of them. And Tommy's a half-blood." The Beater shook his head, glaring towards the Slytherin table as he spoke.

A pretty Asian girl gave an exaggerated shiver before announcing, "Madame Pomfrey let them out of the infirmary, but I saw the bandages …"

"Pass the pumpkin juice, please. Do we know if there any Malfoys who are also vampires?"

"I'd say that they're close enough anyhow. Pale enough that they look like they'd burn up in the sunshine, both of them."

"… but how am I supposed to find enough to write a two page scroll on fighting and killing vampires? That's what aurors are for, not students!" One of the pretty popular girls wailed, her curls held back by sparkling pins.

"Vampires? Easy, but I've got to look up werewolves. I'm allergic to dogs, that means I'm probably allergic to wolves, and if I'm allergic to wolves, I'm probably allergic to werewolves!" The girl was working her way towards hysterics.

"So, does that mean if someone makes you sneeze, they're a werewolf?"

"I don't think Malfoy was trying to kill those kids. We all know that if there's anyone he really can't stand in this school, it's Harry Potter."

"I hope that vampire can't get into the school! We'd be helpless."

Willow debated trying to drown herself in her pumpkin juice, before deciding that it would be much more productive to drown someone else in the pumpkin juice instead. Of course, the goblets were much too small to drown anybody in, unless they were as small as a smurf or a mouse.

Of course, she still didn't know what sort of punishment her uncle was going to give her for sneaking out into the forest and talking to Spike. It would probably be something horrible, like scrubbing nasty cauldrons, or picking out every cobweb in the dungeons and carefully bottling them for future use as potion ingredients, or scraping the slime off the rocks by the lake or helping Professor Trelawney make tea for her divinations classes. He could be sneaky, and sometimes even a little bit cruel. He'd already started Draco's punishment, having him help gather ingredients for what was undoubtedly only the first of many vampire-related medical potions.

Willow tapped a roll, transfiguring it into an apple, and then took a bite out of it. It tasted almost right, and while it was a little dry, it was definitely an apple. A yellow apple, but still, she was doing much better now than she had been when she first arrived at Hogwarts. She managed to eat a reasonable meal, though other than the transfigured apple that had been a roll – and she was a bit curious if that would fall under the bread group because it had been a roll or the fruits and vegetables because she'd turned it into an apple – she wasn't certain what she'd eaten.

Draco sauntered over to the table, giving an arrogant but polite smile to several of the nearby girls and ignoring the way some of the people cringed away from him. "Willow, Professor Snape asked me to tell you to report to his office after you've finished eating."

Ignoring the whispered speculations about what she might have done and the chances that vampire Draco was trying to lure her away, possibly to vampire Snape, Willow put down her goblet of pumpkin juice. "I could go now."

As Willow left the table, someone started to hum a dirge, and she was almost certain that she could pick out the rhythm of a traditional funeral march. She refused to turn and look, confident that the students of her house, known for being clever and accomplished at all forms of knowledge, wouldn't be easily caught. Sighing, she decided not to bother telling them that a few words with her uncle were hardly a death sentence. They probably wouldn't believe her if she tried.

"I think one of the first years just flinched," Draco muttered. "And there's at least two holding crosses at me."

Patting his arm, Willow offered, "I know. They should settle down fairly soon."

"And how long did it take people to stop accusing you of being a vampire when they saw what could have been your vampire relative?" Draco growled, glaring at her.

"My close friends stopped by the end of the week. Some of the rest of the people who saw her were twitchy right up until I came here. I almost got staked because of it," Willow shuddered as she remembered the vampire version of herself. "Of course, she was dressed entirely different than me…"

"Another Sunnydale story?" Draco asked, his face pale and eyebrows attempting to become one with his hairline. "I didn't know that there was actually a vampire Snape out there…"

"Not a vampire Snape. She was a vampire Willow, from… oh, never mind just now. Curiously enough, I trace the blame for that one back to Spike. The important point is that I know how the flinching feels, and I managed not to get staked or beheaded because of her," Willow could feel herself blushing as she remembered Vamp Willow. The tight leather, the licking, the wandering hands and all the flirting… No. She wasn't going to talk about the hands, or the flirting, or the things that she'd whispered about games with Puppy...

"Maybe you'll tell me about that someday," Draco murmured, adding, "I'm glad that I only spent the summer in that hellhole."

"Hellmouth, not a hellhole," Willow corrected. "I'm almost certain a hellhole would be more predictable."

"Only you, Tree." Draco shook his head in imitation of Professor Snape. "What did you mean, her clothing was different?"

"Oh, she was dressed in tight, black leather, with this corsety thing," Willow answered, her ribs aching in the memory of that outfit. "Barely enough room to breathe, not that she needed to."

Oddly enough, Draco didn't say another word the whole rest of the trip to her uncle's office. Willow debated the chances of the summons regarding Alacia's grandmother, the trip into the forest that had led them to speaking with Spike, or something else entirely.

End part 31.

Chapter Text

Willow knocked on her uncle's door, absently reflecting that his door would fit perfectly into a classic horror movie. Was that why so many of the students kept wondering if he was a vampire? No, there were an astonishing number of people who had no contact with the world that Willow was familiar with, people who'd never seen a movie, didn't know about the convenience of modern ink pens, or the glory of computers. "Uncle Sev?"

"The door is unlocked," her uncle's voice called.

Pushing the solid door open, Willow stepped inside. There were tall shelves full of all sorts of potions ingredients, including jars with bits of things floating inside – eyeballs in translucent fluids, dark masses of preserved livers, a jar full of some sort of bird feet. Stacks of essays were piled in front of him, and her uncle stood there, his black robes enveloping him. This was not an office intended to be comforting. Though it would fit perfectly into a movie with a mad scientist… maybe a spooky wizard… well, her uncle was a spooky wizard.

"You do realize that some sort of punishment is required for your after-curfew adventure in the forest?" There was a definite smirk as he made the statement.

Draco groaned, and shot a glance at Willow. "I told you we'd get in trouble for that."

"There's trouble and there's trouble," Willow replied. Looking at her uncle, she asked, "Exactly what sort of punishment have you decided on?"

"Ordinarily, students caught violating curfew are set to unpleasant cleaning tasks, or possibly the unwelcome gathering or preparation of potions ingredients, which I've already had Draco begin." Her uncle's voice held an edge, and then he smiled. Somehow, the expression wasn't comforting. "I think both of you can spend your time more productively than scrubbing cauldrons, or writing lines. I have some of the books that I know that Lucius has studied from, and I want the pair of you to look through them, and try to determine what wards and protections he might have used, and how to counter them."

"Won't the aurors be doing something similar?" Draco asked, a small line between his eyebrows as he considered the idea. "How do they plan what they do anyhow?"

"Assuming that they don't succumb to your father's frequent offers of galleons, yes. But you know more of how your father thinks, and Willow has a greater experience with the Dark than most properly trained wizards or witches. It is also," Professor Snape gave a thin smile, "an educational means of punishment, rather than mere tedium. The school has an abundance of idiots who can clean cauldrons, and most of the students are capable of writing lines, or some similar drivel."

Willow looked at a stack of books, most of them bound in dark leather, and sighed. So much for thinking that she was done with barricading herself behind a stack of old books while she searched with a desperate hope and a deadline. These weren't even familiar books, so she wouldn't have the thin advantage of knowing more or less what was in each book and where to look for one specific type of information. "What if the things we come up with are completely different than what Lucius Malfoy is using? What about the protections left by however many previous generations owned the house?"

"If unraveling the defenses of the Malfoys were an easy thing, the family would have fallen generations ago," Draco commented to her. "We've always had enemies, and I suppose some of them are well-deserved."

Professor Snape nodded, "I'll expect the both of you to come back here tomorrow at seven, and probably for several days after. Officially, you are in detention, and I leave you free to give any explanation other than unraveling the Malfoy protections."

Draco sighed, eyes darkening. "I'm not the only student who has a Death Eater for a parent, and if word reached the wrong ears that we were plotting anything… At best, we'd be killed."

"Precisely. Headmaster Dumbledore is convinced that he can come to an agreement with the vampire, though I fear that he is being overly trusting," Snape snarled.

Willow nodded, remembering some of the Watcher's Journals about Spike. "He might be perfectly willing to make a deal with the Headmaster. But if he makes it, he might just as easily break it, or find something that completely breaks the spirit but holds to the technicalities of it."

"I'll be sure to pass that caution on to the Headmaster," One hand motioned towards the door. "Remember, these books do not leave this room, you do not speak of them to anyone else, and the details remain between us. You have a couple hours tonight, and then I want you back in your dormitories before curfew."

"Yes, uncle Sev," Willow called, her voice blending with Draco's "Yes, sir."

End part 32.

Chapter Text

"You said that you know something about this vampire woman, Drusilla," Draco's words didn't sound like a question.

Willow glanced at him, noticing the way that he was biting at his lip, his eyes flickering from the pages to her and back to the pages, with his free hand twitching as if he really wanted to grab his wand. All signs of nervousness. She rather doubted that talking about Drusilla would help him feel better, but at least he would have a few answers. Remembering a few years ago when she was the semi-sheltered teen that the adults wouldn't give answers to, she sighed. "I can tell you a little, but you won't like it."

"I already don't like this situation," he placed his hands over the pages, now focusing on Willow. "I'd rather know, especially since vampires can be deadly. I still have a scar from Sunnydale."

"Okay," Willow conceded. She couldn't argue his logic – and she certainly couldn't argue about vampires in general and Drusilla in specific being deadly! "To begin with, she's got dark hair almost to her waist, dark eyes, and very pale skin. She's very pretty when she's got her human face on, and she tends to wear long, flowy gowns. Her sense of style is rather Victorian, which makes sense since that's when she was alive."

"Not a new vampire then. The books did say that the new ones tended to be easier to get rid of and survive," Draco swallowed.

"She was turned by Angelus, one of the Scourge of Europe. He's in the Defense against the Dark Arts book that the sixth years are using, and in the NEWT History of Magic text. He went after her for several reasons, one of them being that she's a seer. She can also do some nasty mind control tricks, just… catch your eyes and convince you to do whatever she wants, or to just hold still while she slices your throat open," Willow shivered, remembering how Drusilla had killed Kendra.

"A vampire seer? That won't help us any."

"She sees, but she can't always explain what she's seeing in a way that makes sense to anyone else. Or she says that the stars are talking to her, or her dolls. Angel said that she's been that way since he broke her mind back when he was evil," Willow paused, trying to figure out if Drusilla was just always intended to be one of those collector people or if the dolls were some part of her insanity. "It doesn't help that she's got daddy-issues, and thinks that sending the world to hell sounds like a grand adventure."

"Angel's in California, though. How does any of that bring her into a relationship with my father?" Draco whispered.

"Maybe she thinks he looks a bit like Spike. Maybe she thinks that he can give her a lot of people screaming and bleeding. Maybe she thinks he might kick start an apocalypse. The woman's insane, I don't know what she's up to. But she doesn't do well on her own. That would explain why someone, but… Maybe Headmaster Dumbledore will learn something useful when he talks to Spike," Willow shook her head, certain that talking to Spike would lead to trouble.

"That doesn't sound like a good idea," Draco murmured.

Willow could only agree, "Definitely not a good idea. But I think he's going to do it anyhow."

Draco sighed, mumbling, "Well, the man is insane. I just… isn't the wardrobe and making us sing bad enough? And some of the awful teachers that he's hired? Does he have to walk into the path of danger and twinkle at the vampire?"

Willow snickered, trying not to think too much about the apparent link between magic and questionable sanity. Everything that she had seen so far, both in Sunnydale and here at Hogwarts suggested that magic eroded sanity and the ability to deal normally with the mundane world – the one without demons, vampires and magic spells. She didn't want to think about what that might mean for her own future. "You did say he has a phoenix for a familiar. Vampires and fire are pretty unmixy."

"Tree, we are in Scotland. It might not be the most civilized land, but please, at least try to use the Queen's English and not… not that American nonsensical slang. We can't always follow what you mean," Draco shook his head at her, rubbing at his temple. "Unmixy… That isn't even a real word."

Willow smothered a giggle, deciding that if Draco could insult her American words then he was obviously feeling less worried about Spike, Drusilla and his father. With time, she could probably get him to the point of joking before facing potential death and certain pain, just like the gang back home. It might go faster if Xander was with them, but he'd gone away on his road trip… and might be safer away from the Hellmouth anyhow. She hoped he was safer.

"So why is there a separate spider-repelling set up instead of just tying them in with the other creepy crawlies?" Willow asked. She rather doubted that it would have to do with deep defensive mysteries, but if there was a reason, it might help her figure a bit more of this whole secret world out a bit.

"Acromantula."

"In more than one word, please?" Willow countered.

"Acromantulas are a type of spider. The eggs are about the size of a football, and they get bigger. The books say that an adult is close to the size of an elephant, and can have a leg span of over thirty feet. Naturally, they're carnivorous, and feel that humans, including wizards, are quite tasty," Draco shivered. "As if ordinary spiders aren't disturbing enough…"

"Okay, that's not nice sounding at all. What's their native habitat?" Willow agreed, certain that she hadn't seen such a thing in the demon books that they'd researched in Sunnydale.

"I think they were first discovered on or near Borneo, and they live mostly in tropical areas. Except that there's been rumors for the last few decades of giant spiders in the Forbidden Forest. The overgrown spider that tapped on Hagrid's door had to be an acromantula… though that certainly didn't look like thirty feet across to me."

"Maybe it wasn't full grown," Willow offered. The problem with that was that for an immature spider to be around, that meant that there either were adults, or had been adults very recently… "How long do they live?"

"Nobody's quite sure. They're fiendishly difficult to capture, and tend to either get killed attempting to escape, get killed after eating some of the handlers, or disappear into the countryside before the magical researchers can find out. Naturally, acromantula eggs are a class A non-tradable item, the same as dragon eggs."

"That probably means that the grown-ups are considered highly dangerous, also like dragons," Willow was thinking out loud. "So of course there are some near the school, because God knows I didn't have enough of the lethal carnivorous things trying to eat me at school the first time around. I wonder if we could send one or two to Drusilla… no, they have Alacia's grandma, and with dangerous beasts, you don't have to be faster than the beast, just faster than the slowest person with you…"

Eventually they separated to return to their dorms for the night. Neither one had pleasant dreams.

End part 33.

Chapter Text

Willow woke in the morning, one hand reaching towards… she could almost remember what she'd been reaching for in the fading dreams. Whatever it was, it had been small and very important. With a yawn, she stumbled out of bed, dressing in warm clothing and splashing a bit of cool water over her face to help her wake up. It helped enough that she shouldn't have any problems heading down for breakfast.

Alacia was sitting in the common room, her knees pulled up to her chest and dark circles under her eyes.

That haunted expression reminded Willow that most people weren't used to dealing with this sort of mess. They took it poorly, with numbness, and panic, and maybe denial. A twinge of something made Willow sigh and decide to help Alacia get started in her day.

Pulling Alacia to her feet, Willow gestured and made the wrinkles in her clothing fall away before towing the other girl with her to the Great hall for breakfast. She settled Alacia at the table with a plate with toast dripping with butter, a small heap of scrambled eggs, and a cup of sweetened tea. Taking some toast and eggs for herself, Willow sighed before spreading strawberry preserves over her toast. "You need to eat something, Alacia."

Alacia picked up her teacup and took a sip, but Willow rather doubted that Alacia was really aware of her surroundings yet. Maybe the caffeine would help, or the sugar. Maybe the situation was a bit much… but Willow intended to try to help her.

Alacia had eaten some of her toast and was on her second cup of tea before she spoke. "Does it get easier to deal with nightmare situations like this?"

Willow almost wished that she'd have to offer guesswork and platitudes. Unfortunately Sunnydale had left her well prepared for this sort of occasion… well, with fewer wands and magical traditions. "Being sorted into Ravenclaw means that you're the type who wants to know, even if the truth is ugly. For you, yes, it will get easier. The more ugly, nasty situations that you survive the less the next one throws you into shock. Some people try to repress instead, but that normally doesn't end well the next time there's trouble."

"You look like everything's just fine," Alacia whispered.

"I'm a lot farther along the learning curve for vampire related chaos and trouble than you are. Eventually, you get used to it enough that it doesn't' interfere with toast and preserves, though it can still put me off meat for dinner," Willow admitted.

"Oh," Alacia murmured. "I think that helps me feel better."

"I don't keep fish anymore either. I used to, but… there's a sad, ugly story behind the demise of my fishies that you probably don't want to hear," Willow shook her head. "Now, I think you have Charms class. Your friend with the curls should bring your books, you have your wand up your sleeve, and it will help a bit if you focus on your school stuff while you can."

"The Ravenclaw approach… focus on class work…" Alacia shook her head, and took another sip of her tea. "Let's hope I don't blow anything up in Charms class today."

Willow watched as Alacia's friend towed her off towards the classroom. She'd be alright for now. With a bit of luck, lots of research, and trustworthy aurors, this should be over soon enough. Hopefully without an attempted apocalypse. Those were so overdone and dark ages…

Taking her last bite of toast, Willow left the table to go talk to Wesley. He had almost certainly done a bit of research last night, he might be a teacher now, but he was still a Watcher. Watchers researched vampires, evil wizards, and potential doom - it was kind of like drinking tea and breathing for them.

She almost laughed when she found him in his office, desk piled high with old books, and a pot of tea at the edge of the table, with a cup within easy reach.

Trying not to smile – there really wasn't anything that good – Willow asked, "Morning Wesley. Did you find anything particularly useful?"

"Several leads, but no firm answers yet. The good news is that what I've found so far suggests that there won't be anything particularly potent that they can try until the full moon," he paused to sip at his tea. "I want you to take my classes today. There's a class of second year students right before lunch, and first years just after. While you deal with them, I'll continue researching. There's also a couple prophecies that I want to get a better look into… I've contacted a friend of mine and should have the appropriate texts within four days."

"Way to go," Willow smiled at him. She couldn't fault his reasoning, and decided to hope that she could deal with the lessons. She'd taught before, but those were older, and it was computer classes… then again, this would be survival basics, she should be able to handle something like that with no problems. Except stage fright. Though eleven and twelve year olds shouldn't be that scary… not compared to Spike, giant spiders, and Trelawney.

Willow sighed, deciding that she must be the only person in the castle that would rather face a vampire than a classroom full of eleven year olds. She really needed to work on that.

End part 34.

Chapter Text

Willow faced the class of second year Gryffendor and Hufflepuff students, her hands firmly on the desk so that they wouldn't shake and silently blessed Wesley for the detailed lesson plans and gave herself a mental pat on the back for giving him the dicta-quill so that they'd be legible. They were a group of children, not monsters. Nobody was planning to kill her, maim her, or try that to anybody else… and her mental pep-talk wasn't helping.

So Willow tried a different strategy. She imagined that they were a group of half-wild demonlings, sent to learn how to move among the humans without drawing the wrath of the Slayer. That one with the wild yellow hair… it could almost be a mass of horns on his head. And how many humans had eyes that shade of purple? The lingering scents of scales and smoke from potions class definitely helped…

…. And sadly, picturing them all as little demons calmed Willow down. She should consider therapy for that after this was over with and Spike gone away, Alacia's grandmother rescued, and Draco's father safely in prison. "Morning, class. Professor Wyndham-Pryce has a few things to take care of, so as his assistant, I'm your instructor for today. We should start by having you all turn in your homework, which should have been an essay on small garden pests, and all of you should have read the chapters on larger garden pests. Now, who can tell me the differences between a weasel and a jarvey?"

Lunch came as a welcome relief, and Willow was glad to dismiss the class. She wasn't so glad that she forgot to remind them of the assigned readings or the essay on common home protections. As the last student who wasn't really a demonling bolted out the door, Willow made a mental note to find out from one of the Ravenclaw second years what they were studying on Herbology. If things were really organized, she'd expect them to be studying easy to grow potions ingredients that they could keep in their gardens, and what to watch out for in their care.

She made her way towards the Great hall for lunch, feeling rather pleased that she'd survived the class. Xander should have returned to Sunnydale from his roadtrip – her friend had been planning to take a driving tour of the continental states. Maybe she could send him a letter, tell him a little about what she'd been doing? On second thought, some of this wouldn't go well in a letter at all… He'd worry an awful lot if she mentioned Spike, or that Drusilla was kidnapping seers and having affairs with evil British wizards. Another letter to Giles was definitely in order, and maybe a shorter one for Buffy, who'd spent the summer with her Dad in LA? There wasn't much point in sending one to her parents, and… and that was really everyone.

"I need to talk to Uncle Sev about what I can and can't tell my friends. And see if Giles and Buffy have different rules on account of special scary duties," Willow muttered.

Lunch started off quite normally. Gradually, more and more of the Ravenclaws wound up staring at the Gryffendor table, most of them focused on a section near the end away from the teacher's table. Willow glanced at the table herself, but didn't see anything worth staring about. Just a stressed looking girl with wild, bushy hair and a red-haired boy with a plate piled high with food. There were a set of twins with the same red hair closer to the teachers, and a girl with the same hair near the middle, but they didn't have the same sort of numbers staring at them. In fact, she recalled being warned about Weasley twins and their pranks…

"Okay, I give. Why's everyone staring at the Gryffendor table?" Willow asked the student next to her. If she was remembering right, he was a fourth year named Julian.

"Harry Potter isn't at lunch, and his friends look quite worried," he replied. "Since it turns out that he was right about You-Know-Who returning…"

"Ah." Willow sighed, remembering her uncle ranting about arrogant Potters. She'd managed to sort out that he went to school with one, possibly the father of Harry Potter the current student, and James Potter had been a wretched, insufferably arrogant arse with a sadistic streak, an obsession with a lovely girl, and a habit of bullying. At least, that was her uncle's version. She took that to mean that they hadn't gotten along at all. Draco had also explained enough about the Dark Lord Voldemort – the one that Draco's father served – that everybody seemed to call You-Know-Who and terrified grown and allegedly capable wizards – had attacked the Potters years ago. Something had gone weird, the older Potters died, Harry Potter survived, and the evil wizard was gone and presumed dead, so all the wizards made little Harry Potter a hero. Now it looked like some people wanted him to somehow make the evil wizard go away again.

The whole mess reminded her of some of the Watcher's Chronicles. If he was really unlucky, there might even be a prophecy or two involving doom, pain, bloody violence, and someone dying. But if he was expected to be the hero again, someone was sure to be training him in a hundred and one ways to kill evil wizards. Right?

Someone had to be training him. Willow wasn't that someone, she had her own problems to deal with. Helping Wesley with classes, improving her own magical skills. Helping Draco get over the disturbing comparisons to a vampire and planning the siege of a Malfoy family stronghold. Maybe even helping keep Alacia from having a mental breakdown while she was at it.

"And to think Giles was afraid that I'd get bored over here in Scotland," Willow snorted. To tell the truth, Hogwarts was starting to remind her a little too much of home.

End part 35.

Chapter Text

The rest of the day dragged on, with nothing that seemed particularly important occurring. She talked with the first years in Defense about the importance of proper aim and the equal importance of not being hit by spells. Rather than simply sticking with the traditional 'use a shielding spell' she and Wesley had decided to emphasize the importance of dodging. After all, shield spells didn't stop everything, and the spell that never hit you was much easier to fix than the one that did very bad things to you. Someone had played a prank on the Hufflepuff Quidditch team, leaving them all with black hair with a pair of yellow stripes down their faces, up to their temples, and through their hair - rather like a badger. While there was no evidence, the Weasley twins were being blamed. Crosses were still being waved at Draco, and the students had all been released from the Hospital wing.

"Hello, uncle Sev. I need to talk with you about what I can and can't tell people about what's going on here," Willow greeted her uncle as she walked into the empty room where the books on wards, defenses and nasty spells had been piled.

"Ordinary muggles should only be informed that you are staying with your uncle, that there is an exclusive boarding school here in Scotland, and that several students were recently injured by a wild animal in the nearby forest," Her uncle began. "I would advise the same to your parents if they are unaware of your friend Miss Summers and her calling as the Slayer. If Sheila hasn't mentioned Hogwarts to you, perhaps it would be best not to tell her that you are here."

They both ignored Draco's incredulous "a wild animal?"

"Your friends that helped the Slayer, the Slayer and Rupert can know the details, but I suspect that with the exception of Rupert and possibly the Slayer, they would be unable to find Hogwarts. The Slayer is probably needed where she is, and should not let the concerns of Wizarding Britain's internal politics pull her away from whatever dangers she may be facing, especially since you've mentioned such dangers including the too-frequent need to prevent the apocalypse." His shudder was quite visible.

"Someday I really need to figure out the right plural for that," Willow murmured. "Apocalypses sounds like a bunch of evil punctuation. Apocali sounds like a Caribbean island, or maybe somewhere near Asia."

"Focusing on grammar in regards to such a question makes me wonder about your sanity, Willow. Please cease such questions and return to more productive matters, such as plotting the safe entry to one of the Malfoy residences." With those words, uncle Sev began dicing the first of a collection of long, bumpy roots that looked rather too much like bony demon fingers.

"Most people wouldn't consider trying to break into a Malfoy residence to be very sane either," Draco muttered.

"We aren't most people, and we make our own fun." Willow quipped. "Maybe we should also be looking for possible rituals that they might use to get their big snake?"

"Those could be quite dark, you may not find such materials in the Hogwarts library, even if you access the Restricted Section." Her uncle was giving her a disapproving glance.

Willow had looked through most of a thick text on lethal defensive spells, many of which seemed to involve elemental effects, like freezing or boiling someone's blood in their veins, or converting bones to solid, unmoving stone. Just as she was trying to not look at an animated image of a person clawing their own eyes out, she had a distraction in the form of Draco.

"Tree? Is this Spike half-way sane? And if so, why would he give killing father's dark lord a separate mention than raising the great snake to remake the world? Isn't... Isn't Vol... the Dark Lord the great snake lord?" Draco was looking at her, his hair mussed from running his hands though as he'd read.

"Spike's not the picture of mental health, but I'd say he's as close to it as the average wizard," Willow looked up from her book. They both ignored her uncle's muttered comments about that not saying much.

"Isn't the Dark Lord the Great Serpent?" Draco repeated, his voice sounding more unsure.

"Ummm..." Willow paused. "It would certainly be easier if they were the same baddie."

"Which means that they are most likely separate entities," her uncle scowled.

Willow found herself muttering a few words that she'd picked up helping Giles research, and feeling most glad that her uncle had no idea what she was saying. A separate baddie... but who else could the Great Serpent be if not Voldemort?

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, an old woman wept into a pillow. It was part of a lovely matching set, all in soft ivory with lace edging, a matching comforter, and similar lace curtain held by the pillars of the bed. The bedroom was lovely, as was the attached facilities for bathing and other bodily needs, done in cream and light green. The furniture was the style that had been popular in her youth, solid and elegant and all matching wood - though she could do without the row of porcelain dolls, all of them tied up, three blindfolded, one gagged with a tiny green ribbon, and another with her tiny eyes gouged out, perched on the dresser in front of the mirror.

The dolls were Her spies. The mad vampire that had ordered her kidnapping. The one who'd arranged for her to be held here, in the Malfoy's Retreat, where she'd visited in her youth when courted by Bellapheron, though they'd decided that they didn't suit that well. The vampire dressed in the same way that proper young ladies had when she was young, could perhaps have been of an age with her. And while Drusilla was a perfectly charming name, the kidnapping, the separation from her family and her wand... terribly uncivilized, even if she was served a proper tea every afternoon. The shackle around her ankle and the chain that was fastened to the bed made her stay far less comfortable. It didn't seem likely to be good for the furniture either, though there were spells to protect the carved wood from damage...

Without her wand, with that shackle on her ankle, she couldn't escape. She was trapped here until... well, rescue would be nice, but it seemed a bit unlikely. She would be held here, captive to their whims until the time for whatever unpleasant purpose that they'd abducted her for came to pass. And it would be an unwelcome end, why else would they have abducted her, killing her dogs, and now be keeping her trapped in a room?

"Now, if I were a hundred years younger, this being kept chained to a bed might wind up quite differently. But I'm not as young as I once was, and this is the wrong Malfoy," she sighed. "I'm much too old for this sort of thing now."

 If only she'd tried to learn even a few little tricks of wandless magic instead of that charming assortment of cosmetic spells for her N.E.W.T. projects... But it was a century or so too late for 'if only's as well as being kidnapped as a love-slave to a handsome wizard who dabbled in the Dark Arts, no matter how many unlikely books with just that plot she'd read in her... well, the privacy of her sitting room. Claiming that she'd only read them in her youth wouldn't be quite honest, especially since she'd just bought a new one at the start of the month. Dash it all, now she'd never find out if the Earl of Lancashire discovered that Melisande was carrying his secret baby and if they would be reunited and live happily ever after.

End part 36.

Willow wrote a letter to Xander, planning to ask her uncle about the best way to make certain it reached him. She couldn't just have it sent to the Harris house - Xander should be well into his cross-country tour of the United States by now. While she wasn't planning to try to have Xander show up here, especially since Uncle Sev had told her that Xander probably wouldn't be able to find the school, she wanted to hear from him, even if only a letter.

There was also a bit of guilty amusement in wondering how Draco and Xander would get along.

After lunch, she found herself helping Wesley make an index of his books, by author, specific subject - demons, artifacts, prophecies, journals, rituals, and active spell-work. As she found herself flipping through a book of demons, one of the pages flipped open, and folded over, revealing the very large illustration of an old Ascension, where the Ascended Sorcerer was killed in a volcanic eruption. The Ascended form looked very much like a gigantic, evil snake-monster.

"Oh... a giant snake... a great big, evil, ugly snake..." Willow blinked. "Snakes are also called serpents. Great is often used for big, or powerful, or terrible. Great Serpent could mean giant evil demon snake."

 Her voice was a half shriek as she pointed at the folded out picture, "Wesley! We may have a problem!"

"What could be worth shouting about in the school?" Wesley sounded rather cross as he walked towards her.

"Spike said Drusilla and her wizard wanted to bring back the Great Serpent. We thought it meant Voldemort, their scary dark wizard that has most of magical Britain shaking in their robes. But what if... I mean..." Willow pointed at the unfolded picture. "What about that? Remember Mayor Wilkins?"

"Oh dear..." Wesley stared at the picture in dismay.

"If by that 'oh dear' you mean that would be a really, horribly bad thing and that we barely managed to get rid of him the first time and only because we..." Willow paused, glancing around to make certain nobody would hear her before she whispered, "blew up the school around him" and continuing in a more normal voice, though rather higher pitched and rushed, "and we don't want anybody to be bringing him back and horrible immortality rituals and warped families sound like just his cup of tea, then I'll second your 'oh dear' with a we need help!"

"That would be a reasonable translation of the 'oh dear' in this case," Wesley agreed.

Willow took a deep breath, and tried to calm herself to the point where she wouldn't squeak or babble incoherently. "Do we have any way to find out if this is what Drusilla meant by the Great Serpent? If I'm wrong, there's no need to panic. I kind of really want to be wrong about this, but I don't want to count the idea out just because it scares me."

"Very sensible," Wesley admitted. "I have some people that I can contact to look into matters. They aren't very useful in a direct fight, but they excel at gathering or verifying information. We should have an answer by Friday."

"And what do we do if she does mean him, or someone else that tried the same thing?" Willow asked.

"I... don't know. Perhaps we should consult with a few other people about that possibility?" Wesley sighed. "I think I want a cup of tea... and I'd like you to ask your uncle for some calming potion to add to that cup of tea."

"I'll ask him right away," Willow folded the illustration back into place, marked it with a dark ribbon, and closed the book. Considering the Mayor, she decided that she'd best ask for a strong calming potion. Just about as strong as he could give them that wouldn't put them to sleep.

End part 37.

"Uncle Sev? What's the strongest calming potion that you have that leaves someone conscious and at least mostly clear-headed? And dare I hope it can be added to tea?" Willow called as she poked her head into her uncle's office.

"Dare I ask what you've been doing to need such a potion?" Her uncle's voice emerged from the shadows, giving support to all the vampire rumors about him.

"Ugly and currently unverified suspicions about danger, doom and the confusing words of a crazy vampire," Willow offered. "We'd like to keep the hysterics at bay until we know if they're really merited."

"Delayed hysterics are generally beneficial, at least until such time as the delay ends," her uncle grumbled, moving out of the shadows and holding a dark bottle filled with a darker liquid. "Do I want to know about your suspicions?"

"Nope. But Wesley says that his sources should be able to confirm or deny by Friday. Calming potion?" Willow made a 'give me' motion with her hand.

"I will go with you and ensure proper dosage, lest you accidentally calm yourselves comatose," Uncle Sev grumbled. "Oh, fine, Mister grumpy swoopy robes of intimidation and maybe doom. Make sure that we're properly calmed but not too calmed, and maybe you can intimidate some details out of Headmaster Dumbledore of the colorblind robe choices. It might not hurt to give Alacia a dose too, she's not as practiced at coping with vampires and kidnapped relatives and possible doom yet," Willow grumbled.

"Colorblind? That might actually explain quite a few of Headmaster Dumbledore's robes..." Uncle Sev mused.

"Anyhow, Alacia's not coping too well, she could probably benefit from something to help her calm down," Willow fretted. "Draco might be able to use a milder something too, he's still pretty freaked out by everyone thinking that Spike's a vampire Malfoy. Did you see the people waving crosses at him? He's not sure what to do about it, and I'm sure he's really glad that he still has his reflection and all that, he does seem to spend a lot of time fussing with his hair, though Spike and Angel both took pretty good care of their hair, and nobody'd believe that Drusilla doesn't worry about hers... and Angel never did tell me how vampires manage to shave without reflections..."

Her uncle flicked his wand towards her, and Willow's babbling fell silent.

Willow gave a silenced sigh, thinking irritated thoughts about grumpy uncles with swoopy robes of doom and silencing spells. Just because she was babbling a little... okay, babbling a lot... She followed him back to the Defense classroom. It was actually a bit interesting that she didn't have footsteps while silenced, and her robes didn't make any of the quiet flapping noises that she'd become almost used to hearing. It only took a few moments before the tea was suitably dosed and drank, and Willow managed to pick apart the spell silencing her.

"Someone has to teach me that one," she glanced at her uncle with a glare that probably didn't intimidate him in the slightest.

"While I do not intend to ask for the potentially disturbing details of your suspicion, I must ask for a general direction of your suspicions," he drawled.

"Yes, well..." Wesley sighed, and poured them all a cup of un-potioned tea. "We have been assuming that the Great Serpent that Spike said that Drusilla planned to restore to power was Voldemort. It has come to our attention that there are other possibilities, and that assuming she refers to Voldemort solely due to the fact that one enemy is more convenient than two would be a very foolish course of action."

"Quite true. Though I must admit that I do not think the Dark Lord would share power easily."

"Willow raised an ugly possibility, that my associates should be able to confirm or deny. Should they confirm, I believe we shall take a few moments for hysterical panic before attempting to plan the destruction of the Great Serpent. In the meantime... In the meantime I must thank you for this calming potion, it's quite effective," Wesley's voice had a slightly distracted tone, and completely lacked the stress and panic from before.

"If we're unlucky enough that it is, maybe they can't be brought back at full power?" Willow offered.

"That would be a lovely thing," Wesley nodded, his smile a little too cheerful, "But we really don't know enough about resurrection rituals. So... so I will look through the books, and you will cover the third year classes today, and your uncle will make certain there are blood replenishing potions for the infirmary and calming potions for everybody."

"Both of which I have been working on since receiving the news that a vampire was in the Forbidden Forest," Uncle Sev grumbled.

"Kinda hoping that nobody else needs the blood replenishers," Willow murmured. "Though those would have been great to have back in Sunnydale."

"Yes they would," Wesley agreed. "Now, books for me, potions for your uncle, and off to class for you."

"One more detail," Uncle Sev looked up.

"Ohh?" Willow looked at him.

"If we aren't fighting a homicidal drunken vampire emerging from the Forbidden Forest or storming the Bath residence of the Malfoy family, Father wants to see you again this weekend." His lip twitched in something that could have grown into a smile on someone else.

"Cool," Willow grinned.

"Again with your appalling treatment of the English language," Wesley muttered. "I don't know how Rupert managed."

Willow ignored Wesley's muttered complaints as she made her way to the Defense classroom. "Third year... they'd be thirteen and fourteen. Let's see what's on the lesson plan..."

Apparently, what was next on the lesson plan included boggarts with a note about one being in the locked chest in the unused classroom across the hall, and the note to continue into discussion about other creatures that feed on or react to emotions. The one name that wasn't familiar was something called a Dementor, and the name wasn't encouraging.

"I guess it's some research for me, so I can know what I'm going to be talking about," Willow murmured.

A quick word with a House-Elf resulted in Willow sitting at the desk with a thick book on magical dangers, opened to the section on Dementors, another pot of tea, and a plate of what she swore were chocolate chip cookies, though the House-Elf had called them biscuits.

It took one paragraph to decide that she didn't like Dementors at all. The second gave her doubts about the curiosity and courage of the wizarding world, or at least their ability to break things - no known way to kill a Dementor? Had they tried fire? Beheading? General dismemberment? Modern firearms? Explosions? She'd feel better even if it read that they'd tried and determined that such a list didn't work, but... this made it seem like they hadn't even tried. And it was followed by the statement that the Ministry used them as prison guards at Azkaban and as a means of execution!

"The magical world is run by lunatics," Willow muttered as she turned the page.

The book stated that while certain wards would keep Dementors out, these were difficult and rarely used. It followed by stating that the Patronus charm was the only other known way to repel a Dementor. "Kay, I've got to learn that one too."

When it was time for the class to start, Willow planned to begin with a bit of lecture, discussing the generalities of emotion-feeding creatures, how there were some that were considered harmless, and others that were dangerous. She would then explain that while some creatures had a diet of emotions and food, others, such as the boggarts, only fed on emotions. She'd mention that boggarts weren't the only emotion-feeding dangerous creature, and that boggarts had an overlap with certain other types of creatures in that they could also sense and react to emotions.

Willow's plan hit a snag about two minutes into the class, when one child raised their hand and asked, "How can something that feeds on our emotions not be dangerous?"

Deciding that the saying 'no plan survives first contact with the enemy' might include students, Willow sighed. "I know that this is what the class is supposed to teach you, but can any of you name something right now that feeds on emotions?"

 The students began whispering, trying to ask each other questions without her noticing. It was a bit amusing. Some were flipping through their textbooks, and after a few moments, one student raised their hand.

"You have an example?" Willow smiled.

The boy with his green and silver tie nodded, "My dad's an auror, and he told me a few things. Dementors feed on emotions. The books claim they feed on happy thoughts and memories, but... nobody manages to be happy around those things."

"Correct in that Dementors do feed on emotions, good point about the happiness, and I'm not about to call those things harmless. Five points to Slytherin for your example, and does anybody else have an example?" Willow smiled at the boy.

"Our books talk about boggarts reading our fears and changing to match them. There's a theory that they feed on the fear..." offered a girl in a blue tie.

"A widely accepted theory, and while boggarts aren't as dangerous as Dementors, they still aren't harmless. Most of the books that I've read seem to either favor the idea that boggarts feed on fear or consider it reasonable. Five points to your house also." Willlow glanced around the room, seeing no other hands. "No other suggestions? An example of a harmless creature that feeds on emotion is the puffskein," Willow paused to let them murmur, and fought a smile at the questions.

"Most of the books will tell you that puffskeins eat wizarding boogies. There's not a lot of nutrition there. Puffskeins also feed on the ambient magic of a wizarding home, and the affection of their keepers. So every time you look at your pet puffskein and think it's cute, every time you pet it and rub its belly and think happy thoughts about it, you help nourish your puffskein. And about the only ways that anybody's ever considered puffskeins dangerous are a few people who are allergic to the fur, very ticklish people, and a few times when they've been tripped over."

"Puffskeins?" emerged from many of the students.

"Yep, they feed on emotions, and they're pretty much harmless. Most species of fairies also feed on emotions, with the ones you use for holiday decorations feeding on cheerful happy feelings and doxies feeding on gloom and depression and fear. Doxies are mostly harmless, and we'll talk more about them next class." Willow looked at the students. "Now, the big focus for today is the boggart. They most likely feed on fear, they definitely read and react to your fears in a way that encourages you to be afraid. The books claim that nobody knows what a boggart looks like when nobody's looking. They also have a habit of lurking in small areas, like closets, wardrobes, small alcoves, cellar corners..."

 End part 38.

Chapter Text

After the second lesson for third years, this one with Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, Willow had slouched her way to Professor Flitwick's office for her charms lesson. She was making excellent progress on the theory side, and felt quite confident in the idea that she was past accidentally blowing things up or setting them on fire. But the professor still cast spells to protect everything from fire before her lessons. Almost depressing, but she was getting better.

"Good afternoon, how has your day been so far?" asked the cheerful little Professor. Willow smiled, recognizing the small motions with his wand to be his fire-prevention spells. He was casting them silently, but she could still feel the magic.

"I wound up instructing the third years today while Wesley was doing some important research." Willow paused, wondering just how much about the mess with Spike in the Forbidden Forest and Drusilla kidnapping Alacia's grandmother as part of a plot he knew about. "You know what's going on with Alacia and her grandmother, right? How much do you know about what's going on with Spike?"

"That you and young Mr. Malfoy went searching for him in the Forbidden Forrest after he attacked those children, and you found him. That trip is why you and Mr. Malfoy are in detentions with your uncle and Professor Wyndham-Price. Headmaster Dumbledore has spoken to him, reaching some sort of agreement. That half the students are convinced that the vampire in the forest is a Malfoy. Is there something else that is important to know?" Professor Flitwick looked at her, folding his hands on the top of his desk.

"He said that Drusilla and her boy-toy are trying to bring back the Great Serpent. Probably a plot to either destroy the world or start the conquest of England. Her boy-toy is Lucius Malfoy, by the way. We've been worrying about what Spike said - who's this Great Serpent, what're they going to do, how can we stop them... the usual sort of worries. This morning brought up a horrible suspicion that won't be settled until Friday," Willow sighed.

"On a slightly related note, I want to learn the spell my uncle used when he decided I was babbling and it made it so there was no noise, and I want to learn the patronus charm mentioned in some of the books I used to prepare for the third years' defense lesson," Willow looked at the Professor, "Please?"

"The silencing charm is fairly simple, and we can cover it in today's lesson. I doubt that you'll have much trouble with it," Professor Flitwick paused, one hand lifting to rub his chin. "As for the patronus charm... A very difficult spell. One that many adults never master. It requires more than correct wand movements and a clear incantation, there is a very important emotional component."

"You're saying most people have a lot of trouble with the emotional aspect," Willow considered his words, and what he hadn't said. "And you probably think I should cover more basic things first?"

"Indeed, though you are making excellent progress," he assured her.

With a sigh, Willow concluded that he wasn't going to teach her a very complicated and demanding spell when she still had so many 'basics' to learn. Which meant that she'd have to learn it somewhere else. She'd been sorted into Ravenclaw, the house of people who studied without being dragged into the library and beat about the head with books first. If none of the rest of her house could teach her that spell, then they should be able to point her towards someone that could!

Willow figured that she could start her efforts over dinner. Ravenclaws had a habit of discussing 'interesting magical trivia and spells' over their meals. She'd just need to consider how to bring up the matter.

As it turned out, she'd barely had the chance to sit down before hearing, "Nice job with the third years today, Rosenberg."

"What was their lesson about, Diggle? Not all of us have third year brothers to fill in the details," asked Jasmine.

"Mostly boggarts, but there was discussion about other emotion-feeding creatures. And apparently, that includes puffskeins," Diggle laughed, "I never thought that there was anything a puffskein had in common with a boggart."

"Not anything?"giggled a girl down the table. "They are both magical."

"Oh, I guess I'll give you that one," Diggle agreed. "Boggarts weren't the worst thing in that category," Willow mused. This seemed like a decent opening for her patronus questions.

"No? They can be quite nasty," insisted a seventh year girl named Eleanor.

"No arguments about that! But the feeds on emotion category includes Dementors, which sound much worse than a boggart. Especially since they can do something worse than killing you - sucking out your soul," Willow shuddered at the very idea.

"True, but there's some wards, and the patronus charm," countered Julian Bell.

"Not that most people ever manage to cast it," grumbled a sixth year called Ty.

"So, is there anyone at Hogwarts that can cast the patronus charm?" Willow asked. "I'm assuming that Professor Flitwick knows it, but is there anyone else?"

"Headmaster Dumbledore can, he cast one when they attacked the Quidditch match," offered a scrawny looking fourth year that answered to Dal.

"Harry Potter can, he cast it at those idiot Slytherins who put on a dementor costume and tried to scare him at the next Quidditch match that year," offered a sixth year with a lovely calico cat.

"McGonagall might," suggested a voice down the table.

Willow listened with interest. McGonagall probably wouldn't teach her the advanced spell when she was still learning basics, even if Willow was a fast learner. There was a bit of uncertainty about whether the Transfiguration Professor even knew the charm. But Harry Potter... she could probably trade some simple wandless magic lessons for patronus lessons and they'd both be happy.

End part 39.

All she needed to do now was find an excuse to talk to Harry Potter and offer her lesson exchange. Something that could be easier said than done, even if she did take the things that Draco and Uncle Sev said about Harry Potter with a chunk of salt. He seemed rather wary about people, even those who had been here at Hogwarts for years. But the idea of something that could rip someone's soul away from their body... She didn't have words for how creepy and evil that sounded. And those things should be kept as far from Angel as possible.

She shivered at the very idea of a dementor getting to Angel, unleashing Angelus again. Then she wondered if it would be possible to modify the Soul Restoration to help dementor victims. "That might be a good project to work on after the whole mess with Drusilla is taken care of..."

Slipping away from the table, Willow left some of the other Ravenclaws to continue with dinner. She made her way up a couple flights of stairs and over to the library. First, there should be information about this patronus charm. Second, there would be other books that might help identify magical creatures that could be used as defensive measures near or inside a magical home, and books were always good for identifying those things. Third, Madam Pince would make certain that things were relatively quiet while she flipped through books for information.

Willow found a nice table, and began stacking promising books on it to further her research. Research that would be recorded in a spiral bound notebook and jotted down with a pencil, as parchment seemed a bit too much like animal cruelty to use for random notes and quills made her handwriting almost illegible.

"... honestly, Harry, just because there's a vampire..." The girl's voice quickly lowered, perhaps in an effort not to aggravate Madam Pince.

Willow looked over, noticing the wild mane of Hermione Granger, and the bird's nest of Harry Potter's hair. For a moment, she wondered what sort of mops the children would have if those two got together, and decided that obviously a lot of magic would be needed to tame the resulting hair... then again, if magic could do that, why would those two have such wild hair? This could be her opportunity. Willow slid out of her chair and walked towards them, part of her mind thinking that they - especially Hermione - looked so young, and another part insisting that she was that age when she started helping Buffy.

"But there has to be a good way to get rid of a vampire," Harry insisted.

"Magic isn't always the best answer," Willow offered. "Sorry, you were a little loud."

 "But considering a vampire's incredible strength and bloodlust, getting close to one is a terrible idea," Hermione insisted. "Of course you'd want to use magic. How else could you keep your distance?"

"Crossbows work well, as do squirt guns filled with Holy water," Willow replied. "We've used them for years in Sunnydale."

"And did you run into very many vampires in Sunnydale? California doesn't really seem like prime vampire terrain according to my research," Hermione sniffed.

"Considering that Sunnydale is home of the Hellmouth, lots of them. Most of them behaving very badly, and more than a few that were all about the end of the world, which I could never figure out - I mean, where would they go if they destroy the world?" Willow shook her head.

"Other than crossbows and Holy water, what did you do?" Harry asked, looking very serious. Willow looked at him, considering that he looked a bit too thin. He also had that not quite hidden enough stressed look that Buffy got all the time.

"A really bright light won't kill them, but it can keep them from seeing right and let you run away, or maybe stake them while they're seeing spots. Fire spells are good if you can control them. Levitating some wood works pretty well, especially if that wood is a stake."

"And how do you prevent the vampire from just... taking your wand and attacking you?" Hermione frowned.

"It helps if you can do your magic quickly, not needing a wand keeps them from being able to take it away from you, and not being alone means you've got someone else to help you kill it or run away," Willow grinned. "Sunnydale has taught me that if they are trying to kill you, the best strategy is to kill them first - then you live. And the first rule of living in Sunndyale is Don't Die. We all try to follow that one."

"The wandless thing sounds useful, but none of my classes have covered how to do that," Harry sighed.

Score! Willow grinned, thinking that he'd just given her the perfect opening. "I could teach you. If you'd like."

"Really?" He blinked, and then frowned, "Is this because of my scar?"

"Doubt it. It's because some of the birdies at the Ravenclaw table said you know how to cast the patronus charm, which is apparently the best way to get rid of the most vile sounding things that I've heard of - dementors. I'm not sure when or why you learned that, and maybe that had to do with your scar. You teach me the patronus, I teach you to do some magic without the wand and you keep applying that to other spells that you know, and we both benefit. Considering the way everyone seems to expect a lot out of you on account of Voldan the Destroyer, I figure you probably get all sorts of special training. But wandless seems to be pretty unusual over here." Willow shrugged.

"You'd expect a lot of extra training, wouldn't you?" Harry muttered.

Willow looked at him, wondering just what was going on with the boy. "It wouldn't be very good to stick a lot of expectations on you and give you no help in preparing for them, would it?"

"No, not good at all," Harry murmured. "Only a bunch of idiots would think that was a good idea..."

"Harry!" Hermione glared at him.

"You have a deal, Miss Rosenberg," Harry smiled at her.

"Call me Willow if I'm not in the front of Wesley's classroom! I'm not used to all the formality that seems so big over here," Willow laughed. "Miss Rosenberg makes me feel like I'm teaching computer class again."

"Is it quite proper for you to be calling our Defense professor by his name?" Hermione frowned.

"Considering everything that happened when he was with us in Sunnydale, there's no reason not to call him by his name. We fought vampires together, prevented a werewolf from escaping, banished demons, researched all sorts of icky things, and prevented several apocalypses." Willow shrugged. After staggering back from patrol splattered with blood and slime and dirt, the whole Mister and Miss thing went away fast.

"Is wandless more difficult than wanded?" Harry asked.

"Mmmm," Willow considered. "I started with wandless, so I might not be the best person to ask. It's a lot easier to get something with a wand, and it helps your control, but the spells seem so rigid and narrow in focus. Wandless is a lot more flexible."

"Sounds good to me, I need to improvise a lot," Harry admitted.

Willow grinned, "Sounds like you do get into trouble just as often as Uncle Sev tells me you do!"

"I don't go looking for trouble!" Harry protested.

Hermione sighed, "It just finds him. All the time."

Willow resisted the urge to giggle. "Okay, let's figure out times..."

End part 40.

"Dare I ask what you are doing with Potter?" Uncle Sev's voice radiated disapproval.

"And good morning to you as well," Willow looked up from a stack of first year essays. "I have more tea."

"Potter. Explain. I didn't think you to be the sort to fall into a fan club," her uncle scowled, and then poured himself a cup of tea.

"You remember that I covered some classes for Wesley. Third years had emotion-reactive magical things. The most common, according to a whole stack of books, is believed to be the boggart. But those aren't the most dangerous. That distinction goes to the dementor - and I have to say I can't think of anything that sounds more completely designed for badness. It drags up your worst memories, freezes you, keeps you from feeling happy, exhausts you just to be around, and oh, as if that wasn't bad enough, they can rip your soul out of your body!" Willow shivered.

"How does that involve Potter?" Her uncle's fingers were tapping against the desk.

"Souls make me think of Angel. As hard as it was to give him back his soul, the idea that some really creepy magic boogie-man can yank it away is both irritating and terrifying. So I wanted to know if there was a way to get rid of dementors. Being as I can't set permanent spells, and don't have one of the nifty amulets that the Ministry is supposed to have, I'm left with the option of a spell called the patronus. Professor Flitwick said I should learn a few more basic things before he'll teach me that one. But some of the little birdies in Ravenclaw said that Harry Potter can cast it. I agreed to teach him some basic wandless magic in exchange for him teaching me the patronus. As many things as people seem to expect him to handle, knowing a little wandless magic could only help," Willow explained.

"And was Potter your only option?" her uncle sighed.

"Wesley said he knows the theory of why the patronus works, but he can't cast it. Flitwick said I need to learn more basics first. Apparently Headmaster Dumbledore can cast it, but I think I've maybe talked to him once, and that was when he said I was welcome at Hogwarts... no, twice, he was there for my placement results. Not someone I can ask to teach me a spiffy magic trick. None of the other Ravenclaws 'fessed up to being able to cast it." Willow sighed, "I didn't see any other options."

Her uncle closed his eyes, his lips moving as he counted to ten. "I suppose your logic is sound."

"To completely change the subject, is Headmaster Dumbledore talking about how his chat with Spike went? Do the aurors have any information on Alacia's grandmother? What about this weekend?" Willow asked in a rush.

"No, not that they have shared, and you will be able to visit your grandfather Saturday morning," her uncle was smirking at her as he answered the questions in order.

"He should be pleased to know that I probably won't accidentally break, vanish, or set anything on fire if I wave my wand at his house," Willow gave a weak chuckle. "And does it show that I'm still a bit upset that nobody ever tried to teach me this stuff before?"

"You are making remarkable strides. Considering your analysis of possible defenses on the Bath property, you might have a future as a curse-breaker. I suspect that Sunnydale would be counted as prior job experience," her uncle murmured.

"I did more than just break hostile magics," Willow huffed. "Actually, there was a lot more potions and demon-slaying than curses. Lots of rituals. Most of them would probably be considered dark arts."

"Most likely that experience is a benefit to unraveling Malfoy defenses," he mused.

"They sound like the Sunnydale sort. Only with more tea and scones," Willow flipped the essay to the graded pile.

"Do try to avoid picking up any of Potter's bad habits," her uncle sighed.

"Oh, fine. But you should try to remember that this one isn't James Potter that you went to school with. This one's Harry Potter, and there's some serious social inequality going on." Willow looked at her uncle. "I won't argue about anything you want to say about the Potter you went to school with. But you need to try to keep straight who's doing what, otherwise you can start making mistakes, and I'm used to Sunnydale, where mistakes can get you killed. With Spike and Dru showing up in this mess, death seems a little too likely here, and I like having you around."

 Her uncle merely snorted, and left the room, teacup in hand.

"And I guess nobody in the family likes to hear that they might be wrong," Willow muttered. Not that she enjoyed hearing the idea either...

End part 41.

Chapter Text

 

                As Willow gathered her things in preparation to leave her private history lesson with Professor Binns, she paused.  “Professor?  Everyone says… it sounds like you’re different with a whole class than you are here for my lessons.”

 

                The ghost looked at the desk for a moment, before looking over at Willow.  “It is different with one student instead of a few dozen.  Easier.  Though I’ve stopped losing my place in the lectures.”

 

                “A whole class is too many people?” Willow considered that, and with it her own experiences in front of a classroom.  The pieces clicked together for her, and she blurted, “You have stage fright!  All those people looking at you scares you.”

 

For a moment, Professor Binns glared at her.  The expression was unexpectedly menacing for the ghostly professor.  Then he seemed to slump, and shook his head, “I’ve been trying.  You have no idea how long I’ve been trying to give a good, solid lesson without stammering, forgetting what I was supposed to be talking about, or putting the students into a daze.”

 

Willow considered him, and guessed, “Probably since you first found yourself as a Professor?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Being able to go through the whole thing without forgetting what you’re saying is a step in the right direction,” Willow conceded, and then decided to share her own experiences.  “Fear of talking in front of people is something I’ve got too.  It’s pretty common, but not something I can talk too much about with my friends.  We’ve been hunting vampires and fighting demons, how am I supposed to say that I’d rather be running for my life from a pair of hellhounds than standing in front of a couple dozen people talking about something?”

 

Professor Binns gave her a thin but sympathetic smile.  “I suppose most wouldn’t understand that.  I’d rather deal with the hellhounds… not that they could do much to me now.”

 

“Someone once suggested that I try to imagine everyone in the audience or the classroom naked,” Willow paused, remembering that disaster.  “That didn’t really help.  I’ve found that I do better when I imagine the students as a bunch of young demons trying to learn – pretty backwards, huh?”

 

“Quite, and I begin to understand you uncle’s despair at your language,” Professor Binns teased.

 

“I got stuck teaching before, and it really helped when I avoided eye contact.  If I never saw more than a couple people in my field of vision at once, it became easier.  You might try that – I don’t see how it could hurt.” Willow suggested.

 

“True, I don’t think it could get much worse,” Professor Binns murmured.

 

“I’ll see you in a few days, I’ve got to scoot for Charms,” Willow smiled.

 

Professor Binns made a small shooing gesture, no longer paying much attention to her.  “Naked?  No, I don’t think that would help.  Most of them are much too young for that to be anything but disturbing…”

 

                Willow made her way to the classroom where she met with Professor Flitwick for her charms lessons.  It hadn’t been used for multiple student official lessons for almost a century, due to a combination of a smaller student population and several classes having been removed from the curriculum.  Professor Flitwick had mentioned in one of their earlier lessons that during his third year, this had been used for some of the Arithmancy lessons, and that during his sixth and seventh years, it had been used for some lessons in basic household magics that had been given to some of the students, most of them muggle-born. 

 

                “You seem quite alert for someone who just spent a few hours with Professor Binns,” murmured Professor Flitwick.  “Most of my students can hardly stay awake during his classes.”

 

                Willow considered for a moment, and then leaned closer.  “Can you keep a secret?”

 

                “I have quite a few years experience with that,” he smiled.

 

                “He’s completely different one on one and with a whole group.  With a whole class… he gets stage fright up in front of all the people and has trouble talking.  And so, you get the whole recite the words without looking, which really saps the delivery, you know?  He’s been trying, apparently for a really, really long time, but public speaking can be really hard.  I’d rather have to banish a hellhound, it’s less stressful,” Willow shared.  “But it’s also the sort of thing that’s embarrassing, because really – being afraid to stand up and talk in front of people?  My friends laughed when I admitted it, and I’d think that wouldn’t be less embarrassing for someone who’s all grown up and professionally established, y’ know?  So I don’t think he wants to talk about it much.  Or at all.”

 

                “That… actually explains a few things,” Professor Flitwick nodded slowly.

 

 

                “So, more of the wonderful things that can be done with charms, and the much simpler ones that you’re willing to teach me,” Willow prompted.

 

                “Yes, today we’re going to discuss shielding charms.  There are a variety of spells to offer a magical protection, most protect against magic.  Some protections are geared towards specific types of magic, and there are a few that offer physical protection.  Now, the basic theory is quite similar…” Professor Flitwick began with the theory of the magic.  He seemed to prefer when his students understood the whys in addition to simply moving a special stick, clearly and correctly pronouncing a few words, and watching as something happened.

 

                Willow listened eagerly, taking notes.  Maybe this wasn’t the special dementor-repelling patronus charm, but magical shields and barriers still sounded pretty cool.  And all sorts of useful, even away from the Hellmouth.  And shields specifically focused a protecting from one type of magic?  Like dark, hellmouthy-feeling magic?

 

                It didn’t take a genius to figure out how those could be useful.

 

                Maybe she could get wandless shielding and use her wand for some attack spells… perhaps a nice fire spell next time she was fighting vampire?

 

End part 42.

 

 

                After dinner, Willow made her way to an empty classroom to practice her shield spells.  Professor Flitwick had seemed quite pleased with her grasp on the theory, and had recommended a few books to look up more details.  They’d also gone over five different types that he’d had her practice casting, and mentioned another three.  There had been one spell that made a physical shield like something a medieval foot-soldier or knight might carry, two variations of a personal energy based shield, and two variations of a shield that formed like a magic wall.   Earlier, he’d told her that she had the incantations and wand motions correct, and she’d actually had shields form, though she had no idea how effective they would be.  They might be just as solid as a sheet of tissue paper.

 

 

                With that in mind, as well as the facts that Spike was in the Forbidden Forest, and Drusilla and Lucius Malfoy were plotting, and the fact that trouble kept finding her, Willow wanted to get the shields right before she needed them in a fight.  It was so much less stressful that way. 

 

She started with the spell for the physical shield, the one that was good for spells – unless they were fire or electrical – and hurled objects.  A physical shield formed the first time, but just like when she was practicing with professor Flitwick, it felt a little flimsy.  A careful tap with her finger made a noise that sounded more like poking an aluminum bake pan than a useful metal shield.

 

Three more tries and she finally had a shield that felt like it deserved to be called a shield instead of a toy.  But it might still be a good idea to test it a little for more than heft and the tone of sound she heard when flicking the metal with her finger-nail.  “Good, it’s a real shield now.  But will it hold against things?”

 

                The door opened with a creaking squeal.

 

                Willow spun, facing the door with the shield still in place and her wand raised, tip glowing pale gold.  She blinked at the sight of Harry Potter.  “Ohh… Harry.  I wasn’t expecting company.”

 

                “Errr…. I come in peace?” He rubbed at the back of his neck, looking embarrassed.  “Didn’t mean to startle you.  I can go if I’m in the way.”

 

                “You aren’t in the way,” Willow smiled.  “Professor Flitwick showed me a few shield charms today, and I was trying to practice them a bit.”

 

                “Like that one?” Harry gestured at the gleaming metal shield on her arm.

 

                “Yeah…” Willow paused, considering Harry.  “You’re a trouble magnet, Moldy-what’s-his-name keeps bothering you, and you have those fancy magic tests coming up at the end of the year.  Help me work on these?  We can take turns, one do a shield and the other toss spells at it to see if they hold.”

 

                “What kind of spells did you have in mind?” Harry had a small frown.  “And aren’t you normally studying with Professor Wyndham-Price, or Malfoy?”

 

                “Little ones, the sort where you can tell if it hit, but nothing that would send up to Madam Pomfrey if it gets through the shield.  Like the tickling spell, or the little paint dots.  Really simple things.  Maybe if they seem to be holding well, tossing pebbles at them.  Wesley has a project, and Draco’s working on a paper for Transfiguration,” Willow explained.

 

 

                “Oh, that should be okay,” Harry seemed to relax.  “I think Professor Snape might turn me into potions ingredients if he found out I was hexing his niece, even if it was for practice.”

 

 

                Willow sighed at the reminder of how everyone seemed to view her uncle.  Though he did seem to have a lot of issues with Potters…  Harry might have a point.  “You cast something at the shield for… ummm… three spells and then we switch?”

 

                “Sounds like a plan,” Harry nodded.

 

                As it turned out, Harry picked up the metal shield quickly.  By the sixth time it was Willow’s turn to cast little spells at Harry’s shield, she had tucked her wand back into her bookbag, casting both the shield and the little stinging hex without.  The stinging hex felt remarkably like a mix of a static shock and a wasp sting, though without the welt.  Harry didn’t quite feel up to trying the shield wandlessly, though he did manage a weak stinging spell without his wand.

 

                All in all, Willow thought things went quite well.

 

……………………………………….

 

 

“Why do my dollies say you are asking about someone named Melisande?” Drusilla sounded puzzled.

 

For a moment, Charlotte considered the addled vampire and how to answer before she sighed.  “Melisande was the main character in a book that I have been reading.  You and Malfoy kidnapped me before I could finish the story.  And now I’m uncertain if I will ever learn how the story ends.”

 

“What had been going on in the story before then?” Drusilla sounded curious, her head tilting to the side.  Then she looked over at the row of dolls and waved a finger at them, “Hush you.  She is going to tell Mummy, and it is very rude to interrupt.”

 

“Melisande was the second daughter of a Viscount.  She had been seduced into an affair with the Earl of Lancashire, who was described as having soft brown curls to his hair, and warm eyes the color of honey.  A handsome man who warmed her stomach and weakened her knees,” she smiled, reminded of her own youth when handsome men had made her feel weak at the knees with their smiles, not that those smiles were always directed her way.

 

“Did her parents approve of the affair?  Were there whips and chains and blindfolds?” the vampire moved into the room, her pale hands clasped together in front of her.

 

“Her parents would not have approved, as they hoped for Melisande to marry someone responsible and respectable, while the Earl was considered quite a rake.  He was also sufficiently higher in station that they did not expect a proposal to be forthcoming.  Her parents were also quite caught up in her elder sister’s impending child and her younger sister’s debut in society.” Charlotte let her fingers wander over the comforter, “I do so enjoy historical novels.”

 

“So her family did not approve, and they were still together,” the vampire murmured.

 

“They wouldn’t have approved at all, had they paid enough attention to realize it was taking place,” she agreed.  “There were no whips or chains mentioned, though there was this scene with him putting a blindfold on her in chapter seven.  I thought it was quite forward to write such a thing.”

 

The vampire giggled, looking remarkably like a harmless young woman instead of a ruthless killer, “Forward for them to play like that, or forward for it to be written in a book?”

 

“I was told that it was not proper for a lady to discuss such details, regardless of whether or not she indulged in such things,” she admitted.

 

After a few moments, she added, “The Earl had just decided that he should end their affair before it ruined Melisande’s chances to make a respectable match with someone stuffy and dignified and everything her parents expected for her.  And then he left for London so that he would be away from the temptation to kiss her again.  But Melisande had just discovered she had conceived a child during one of their playful encounters…”

 

“What happened next?  Did he come back to keep her with him?  Did she die in childbirth?  Live to raise her child alone with the scorn of society?”  Drusilla’s eyes flickered golden with her questions.

 

“I… I don’t know.  That was the end of the chapter, and I had intended to keep reading after my walk in the park.  However, I was kidnapped and brought here without my book.  Though that was only about halfway through the pages, so I rather doubt she simply died in the next chapter or two,” she admitted.

 

“Hmmmpf.  Well, if you survive the ceremony, you shall have to finish your book to be able to tell me how things turn out,” Drusilla declared.

 

“What ceremony do you mean?” she asked.

 

“At the new moon.  The one to bring back the Great Serpent Lord… ohh, don’t fret yourself, your part isn’t anything complicated.” Drusilla then tilted her head, “What is that silly wizard doing now?  Honestly, he has no patience…”

 

With those words, Drusilla left the room.

 

End part 43.

 

Friday morning meant Herbology lessons in the greenhouse, with dragon-hide gloves and tiny bronze clippers.  Willow had chosen a thoroughly muggle pullover to keep her arms safe, and the sleeves would tuck neatly into the gloves.  She still felt a little bad about the fact that so many people wore dragons hide gloves, and boots, and some people even had jackets and robes made from dragon hide.  What about the dragons, and weren’t they a protected species?  Did the magical world even have the concepts of species and habitat conservation?

 

“Good morning, students!  Today we will be working with Sonnovelenoso vines, so you will all need to wear your gloves and be very careful,” Professor Sprout seemed very cheerful this morning.

 

One of the students tried to repeat the name of the plant, “son of leno…  so no veela…   soni what?  Do we have to spell that?  How do we spell that?”

 

“There’s a handout that you should collect on the way out with names and chapter references.  Today we will be trimming out the wilted leaves, and collecting them.  They are highly useful for a number of medical potions, most of which are N.E.W.T. or higher difficulty.  Mind the thorns, they are venomous and a deep scratch will put you to sleep for a couple hours.  Don’t crush the berries, we’ll harvest those when they ripen in December.  I want each of you to collect at least four wilted leaves by the end of the class, and with proper care, all of you will stay conscious,” she chuckled.

 

The leaves were easily as large as a normal grown man’s hand, someone like Wesley, or Uncle Sev, or Headmaster Dumbledore, not somebody extra large like Grounds Keeper Hagrid.  The healthy ones were a deep green color with purple veins running through, a purple that matched the half inch long thorns that glistened in the light.  The wilted leaves darkened, taking on an almost bluish color as they curled inwards.  The whole procedure would have been much easier if there weren’t more thorns than leaves, or if the vines didn’t sway in this slow, hypnotic pattern.  They also had a faint, sweet smell that reminded Willow of soft comforters and warm towels…

 

Shaking her head, Willow reminded herself to stay awake!  No matter how much the vines made her think of soft, comfy beds.  Which was actually rather alarming, once she realized it was happening.  Vines that seemed to make you feel sleepy even without adding in sleepy-poison thorns?  What possible good could come of falling asleep beneath magical thorny vines?  Willow had never heard of anything that induced sleep being beneficial, with the maybe exception of medical sedation.  Did they feed on still bodies?  Draw the moisture from their prey so that you were too weak to get away once you woke up, and then nutrients from the decaying corpses?  Was it some sort of magical drain to help nurture the plants?  Ancient magical people developing home defenses that got out of control?

 

She’d have to look up those chapters mentioned in Professor Sprout’s handouts.  Otherwise the scary possibilities would keep her awake at night.

 

Willow felt much safer when she could retreat from the thorny vines, handing a basket with five curled up blue leaves to Professor Sprout.  Still eyeing the plants, she edged closer to the door, collecting one of the handouts.  It gave a few paragraphs about the plants, claiming that ancient magical had used them to surround their strongholds.  It mentioned keeps and huts edged with plants that would render any invader unconscious, mentioned less social witches and wizards lurking in caves and planting those vines near the entrances.  There was also mention of an angry witch seeking revenge against the nobleman who had scorned her, surrounding his keep with dozens of Sonnovelenoso vines and rendering his entire household into an enchanted sleep – allegedly the basis of the Sleeping Beauty story.

 

She found Draco on the way to lunch.  “Hey, about that vacation home you were telling me about…”

 

“Vacation house?  Whaa…” For a moment, he gave her a blank frown, before his eyes widened and he said, “Ah, that vacation house.  What about it?”

 

“What kind of flowers does it have?  You know, in case of allergies and stuff,” Willow hadn’t had the chance to read the chapters for Herbology, but that couldn’t be the only plant with uses in home security.  “I was hoping you could remember.”

 

“That’s something I hadn’t thought about.  I think it’ll take a bit to sort that out.  I’ll talk with Professor Snape,” Draco murmured.

 

As Willow found a seat at the Ravenclaw table, she hoped that Draco understood that she’d been asking about plants used for defense or inconveniencing potential intruders.  She thought he had, and he did keep saying Slytherin was the house of the cunning and sneaky, but...

 

Ahh well, at this point, all she could do was hope for the best and ask Uncle Sev later.  She had another study session with Harry Potter this evening, and he’d promised to start her on the patronus charm.  She expected he’d start with talking about how it worked and then move on to the doing part, and she doubted that he’d spend a lot of time on the history and theory.  Besides, Wesley had explained quite a bit about the theory of that charm, and agreed that dementors sounded quite dreadful, which she assumed was British for freaky and creepy and awful.

 

End part 44.